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Jo-Ann Geffen

Posted March, 2010

JoAnnGeffen3When one hears the words “publicity” or “public relations”, one normally doesn’t think of the people behind the scenes who craft and guide the activities that fall under those two umbrellas.  One such person who is a legendary veteran of the crafts of publicity and PR is Jo-Ann Geffen, President of JAG Entertainment.

Since moving to the Los Angeles area from New York to open an office for the Commodores back in 1978, Jo-Ann’s finesse in the booking and PR field led her to represent such artists of interest to the Baby Boomer generation as:  David Cassidy, Diahann Carroll, the Commodores, Smokey Robinson, The Temptations, Robin Gibb, Barbara Walters and Nancy Cartwright, to name just a few.

However, Ms. Geffen is more than a leader in the entertainment industry.  She has recently become an author of note, writing a fascinating and captivating book in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series subtitled The Story Behind the Song.  It provides the personal stories behind 101 songs such as My Way, She’s Gone, Cruisin’, The Heart of Rock n’ Roll, and many, many more (97 more, to be exact).

I recently spoke with Jo-Ann by phone about her book and her insights into the music industry.  Speaking from her home in lovely Southern California, she graciously shared her time as well as her insights to her book and into the ever changing world of the entertainment business.

In telling me about the 90+ artists covered in the book, she explains that, “There are only a hand full who have multiple songs in the book.  Lamont Dozier has two; Diane Warren has two; Richie Sambora has two; Melissa Manchester has two because they were so different.  Other than those people, they were individual songwriters but mostly singer/songwriters”.

How did the book come about?

“I was invited to a meeting for publicity in Las Vegas.  I was sitting in a room with a host of people and amongst them was one of the creators of the Chicken Soup for the Soul brand – he wrote the original books – and the gentleman who bought the publishing arm of the company.

“I was listening to them describe and discuss the Chicken Soup brand and all of the various titles they have.  I was, frankly, shocked.  I had no idea.  I mean, I was familiar, certainly, with the brand.  You would have to be under a rock not to be.  Beyond that, I had no conception that they had touched so many different areas.

“They’ve got books for the golfer, the teenager, dog lover, whatever.  They’ve got everything.  But they had nothing that dealt with entertainment, specifically, celebrities or music.  So, as I was sitting there, I was remembering some of the fabulous stories that I had heard – be it personally or on the radio or whatever – and thinking, ‘Wow!  These are great inspirational stories! Why haven’t they done this?’

“So, when the meeting was over, I got to chat with the publisher, I asked, ‘Do you ever take outside ideas?’ He said, ‘Yeah, all the time!’  I said, ‘What do you think about Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Story Behind the Songs?’  He said, ‘Oh, my god!  Let’s do it!’  It was really that simple!

“He said, ‘Get a list to me of the people you think you can get and I’ll put together a deal memo.’ That’s exactly how it happened.”

As a celebrity interviewer, I know that it can sometime be difficult to persuade people to chat about their work.  They’ve been asked the same question a million times.  I asked Jo-Ann if she encountered any difficulty in getting any of the artists to tell her their stories.

“Actually, it wasn’t.  There were some people that I would’ve like to have had that I don’t but, you know, I’m very satisfied with everyone in it. I really like the fact that it does not align with any specific genre of music.  It’s a fairly eclectic mix so it makes it, I think, more interesting.  It also shows the commonalities between people.

“Just because one song is set to country music and one is set to rap or one is set to hard rock, it doesn’t mean that the sensibility is any different, that the emotions are any different or that the experiences are any different.  The specific experience may be but, basically, human experience is human experience.  We have love, we lose love.  There are traumatic things that happen to a lot of these people just as they happen to each of us.

“We think that their lives are all rosy but the fact is that a lot of these people have overcome horrific, horrific experiences and very tough lives.  We tend to forget that and expect them to be these iconic human beings who don’t have any baggage or don’t have any bad memories and they should be tolerant and patient and all loving.  It’s a tall order.”

I wondered if, conversely, what the differences she views between the genres.

“I think you see a lot of different cultural history.  In other words, some of the country artists describe lifestyles or homes that are very different than what I grew up in, for instance.  I think it was Billy Bob Thornton or Tracy Lawrence who talks about a ‘shotgun house’. He simply describes what that is which is, simply, a one room house with a front door and back door that were parallel and, if the doors were open, you could shoot a shotgun straight through the house!  That’s how it got its name. I never heard of that.  I grew up in New York City.

“Things like that I found intriguing, interesting and informative.  There were different experiences like that.  There were a lot of Pop Culture references.  There was Ray Stevens’, The Streak, so that kids, who weren’t around in the 70’s this ridiculous fad, would know what we’re talking about.  It’s kind of fun that that’s the way it’s introduced to them.

“Of course, there’s very serious topics. You have Jewel talking about her homelessness and how, because she didn’t have health insurance, she almost died.  It was only by the grace of a young doctor, who was caring, treated her laying in the street.

“Then you have Christina Aguilera, who was abused as a kid and escaped her house and managed to still become successful. Therein lies the inspiration.  What you see is not always what is.  You have to explore peoples pasts, their nature and their experiences in order to understand them.  And, also, that we can all, if we try hard enough and if we work towards it, can all overcome tragedy and horrific experiences. We just have to learn how to rise above it.  Not IF we can, but HOW we can, and these are great examples because no one gave these celebrities anything.  They pulled themselves up by the bootstraps and worked for their success. 

“These are self-made people who have turned out to be happily married, with kids and successful. But the business success is almost secondary to the fact that they’ve even been able to succeed at life. These are very personal insights and the fact that they shared them, I thought, was very special.”

One of the more poignant chapters in The Story Behind the Song is the story behind the Commodores’ hit, Zoom, written by group member, Ronald LaPread.  I won’t tell you the whole story here (you must buy the book!), but I will say that it is a real tear-jerker.

“I’d worked with the Commodores . . . since their first audition in life!  I’ve known them all since we were all kids.  I knew Ronald during this whole thing (the experience that lead to the writing of Zoom), and have remained friends with him, and I was actually shocked by some of the details.  I was not aware of a lot of it.

“I knew that it was during the time that Cathy (LaPread’s late wife) was sick.  I knew that she had passed away.  I knew the song was a kind of tribute to her.  I didn’t know how involved she was.  I didn’t know what all he went through.  I didn’t know about the kind of paranormal experiences he had.  It was quite enlightening for me and I wound up saying to him, ‘I feel terrible! I wish that I had known.  I would have been there for you more.’  He said, ‘Well, you’re here now’ and he just sort of laughed it off.

“Sometimes, you just have no idea.  He (LaPread) is a very private person and really didn’t feel it necessary to discuss what was going on.  The guys knew because they were right in the thick of it with him.”

Geffen went on to say that this story was one of the more personally enlightening pieces in the book.  “I knew it but I didn’t know the details – quite how intense of an experience it was in the writing of that song in relation to her being sick.”

What were some of the more surprising tales in the book?         

“Several were surprising to me.  Jerry Cantrell’s (from Alice in Chains) was pretty amazing.  His song, Rooster, is really about his dad who went off to Vietnam – obviously, not of his own volition.  Jerry was a young guy at the time and really resented his dad for going.  Also, when he came back, he was such a different human being that it was hard to comprehend. There was no communication between them.

“I guess that his dad didn’t have it within him to explain himself and Jerry never turned to him and said, ‘You know, I’m in pain.  Help me.  Talk to me.’  It took writing this song and playing it for his dad – his dad hugging him and began opening up and telling him what he went through and Jerry doing the same.  It (the song) was the bridge that gapped their relationship.  They’re now the best of friends and business partners.

Everything is great but it took this form of communication, this venting through music, to be able to actually open the door to that relationship again. You would never know any of this by listening to the song. ‘Rooster’ was his dad’s nickname – that’s where the name of the song came from.

“Art Alexakis, of Everclear, wrote Father of Mine.  He came from a family where his father was a dead-beat dad.  When he (Art) had his first child, he realized what an honor it was to be a parent – what a terrific experience he was having with it.  He couldn’t understand how his dad could not have gotten that – how he could have walked away from that opportunity and not take any responsibility for it.

“Art has become an active spokesperson on behalf of people with deadbeat dads.  He’s appeared before Congress and has done a whole lot to help in this area.  The song is about both sides of his experience – being the victim of a deadbeat dad and being fortunate to be a father of young children.”

One of the stories behind the songs that I got a big kick out of, though it wasn’t a surprise to me at all, was Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, written by band member, Doug Ingle.  Jo-Ann shares the story:

“There have rumors about the song but I don’t think they were ever definitive.  When he (Ingle) was writing it, he and his pals were drinking up a storm, as many did in those days, and having a good ol’ time partying with some girls.  He was on deadline to finish a song for the album because the album was almost finished.

“Interestingly, a lot of these songs were the last song on an album.  Several were written under pressure.  But in this case, Doug had told his band mates that he would get it done that night. He wrote a good part of the song and was intent on finishing it but as he was singing it, he was slurring his words so badly that they were almost indistinguishable.

“What he wanted to say was, ‘In The Garden of Eden’.  Instead, it came out as ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’.  It became so catchy that they stuck with it! Night Ranger – the same thing.  Sister Christian was supposed to be Sister Christy, Kelly Keagy’s sister’s name, but it came out sounding like Sister Christian and it sounded so much better and they stuck with it.”

In the course of our conversation, I asked Ms. Geffen if there were any songs covered in the book that were typically misunderstood.  Her reply was interesting and insightful.

“I don’t think that there are any songs in the book that are misunderstood – just not understood but I don’t think that there are any that are so ‘polar’ from perception.  I think that a lot of the ones we’ve mentioned were not understood.  What the writers do is give more insight into the songs.

“For instance, Melissa Etheridge, Come To My Window.  That’s quite interesting, too.  Although, superficially, it was what it was, in that she was writing it about a bad relationship, as time passed, it took on whole other meanings.  One was that it became an anthem of the Gay Rights movement.

“Then, secondarily, after she had her cancer surgery, she and some friends were at home and they were trying to entertain her.  And one of the friends said, ‘Have you ever listened to all of your recordings back to back chronologically?’  She said, ‘No, why would I?’

“So, they did and it took three days because they talked about the songs. When Come To My Window came on, there’s a phrase in there that refers to removing the blackness from her chest.  She, of course, was talking about her heart, her soul, her third eye kind of thing, in terms of removing the emotional pain.  But, she just had the ‘blackness’ in her chest removed and it was prophetic in that sense and took on a whole new meaning for her.  I had not thought of that part of it before but it was quite enlightening and special.”

As we wrapped up talking about Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Story Behind the Song and move on to other industry related questions, I asked Jo-Ann if there was a sequel planned for the book.

“I don’t know.  Hopefully.  I guess it’s a matter of how well it sells and if they want to do another one. But, yeah, it would be fun! There are certainly a lot more people to talk to!”

As we turned to discussing the music business in general, I asked Ms. Geffen some of the same questions that I have asked others in the business, starting with if she thought that the music today was lacking the same “meat” and substance that “our” music did in the 60’s and 70’s.

“Well, as I was saying with Art Alexakis and Father of Mine, maybe not as lyrically articulate, should we say?  Maybe not Paul Williams’ style of being that lyrical but certainly I think that the essence is there. I think that a lot of it has to do with the music because we don’t hear the lyrics as clearly now – or, at least I don’t. I can only speak subjectively.

“But, when I’m listening to songs, I just kind of hear the beat more than the words.  But when we heard ballads or even Ray Stevens type of songs – country songs you can still pretty much hear the words.  But a lot of the Pop and Rock, you just don’t.  You never did but you really don’t now.  Some of these songs are really impactful but you have to get past the drums and the guitars!  You have to try that much harder to get the words. Before, the melody line was the key.  That was the first thing you heard but now it’s not, at least as far as I’m concerned.”

The second standard question I asked Jo-Ann was what did she see as the biggest positive change in the music business?

“I guess the ability to say almost anything you want to say.  I mean, I don’t approve of everything being said. I think that a lot of the offensive and murderous language could be curtailed.  I don’t think they should be provocative in the sense that it incites people to do something that they might not ordinarily do in terms of violence or things that can provoke people to that point.

“Having said that, we do have freedom of speech and it does allow us to say, ‘Oh, my god, I’m not the only one who thinks that!’ It doesn’t mean I have to act on it.  I think that, as much as society is open with our feelings, the music is reflecting that.  So, it’s become more insightful and more personal and more open, I think.

“I do prefer the days, for instance, when the Commodores were in the studio with six guys who just played their instruments and that was it . . . and played them simultaneously!  I think there’s a synergy that’s reflected in the music itself when people work together, literally in concert. They can make changes as they go.  It makes the groups more cohesive, too, because they’re on the same page.”

I wrapped up our conversation with asking Jo-Ann Geffen a question that I’ve never had the privilege of asking others I’ve interviewed: If there was one thing from her perspective as a PR guru, what would she like to tell Boomerocity readers about celebrities?  Before I could even finish the question, she answered with point blank precision.

“That they’re human.  They are human!  Our expectations of them can only be what we expect of ourselves. You have to think about the responsibilities that they have and the work load they have.  Yes, they have a lot of money and, yes, they have fame.  But there is a price that’s attached to that and I think that we have to respect that.

“I think that too many people think that they can run up to a celebrity while they’re in the middle of changing a diaper or having dinner with their wife or husband or exhausted after a show where they’ve put everything into it and they’ve been on the road for weeks.  They expect them to stop everything and pay attention to them, take a picture, kiss their babies.  Sometimes that will happen if they’re able to pull it off but sometimes they’re just too bloody tired.  Or, they’ve been through a traumatic experience that they try to cover up on stage but they can’t cover up one-on-one.

“I think we really need to think about people – not just as objects and not just as our personal entertainment but they’re human beings!  Yes, we’re paying for it and, yes, we deserve to have a great show.  But, that doesn’t mean that we have to be personally entertained on their time.  I think there’s a fine line that has to be drawn and respected.

“There’s nothing wrong with going up, politely, and saying to someone, ‘I just want to tell you that I’m an admirer.’  That’s always appreciated but you also can’t get angry if they say, ‘Would you mind?  I’ve really got to go.’  I think that, if that is the response, that people should respect that and understand it.”

Well put.

After our conversation, I couldn’t help but think of the music this legendary woman witnessed, promoted and influenced in her life and career.  Yet, rather than draw attention to herself in her first book, she, being the consummate professional, promotes others and their work.  A lot can be said about putting others first and Jo-Ann Geffen does so in a classy and intriguing way in her book, Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Story Behind the Song.

Why don’t you pick up a copy for yourself? While you’re at it, why not pick up extra copies to give to family and friends who might enjoy the incredible stories behind their favorite songs?

Ace Frehley

Posted October, 2009

acefrehley1Photo by Kevin BrittonIt’s the summer of 1974.  I was 14 years old and spending the summer in the beautiful,  rolling hills of Eastern Tennessee.  Like all teenage boys in those days, I was rocking out and playing air guitar to many of the great, straight-forward rock and roll being produced at that time.

It was during those days that I heard a brand new band that was taking the country by a storm with their bone-jarring, thunderous music.  But what was also commanding the world’s attention was the mystique they created by only being seen in public with their uniquely applied kabuki stage make-up.  Their fan base was legion almost instantaneously and they quickly were referred to as the “KISS Army”.

Each of the band members had their own distinct “mask” that was painted on for each performance.  Commanding the bulk of the limelight was the blood-spewing “demon” bass player, Gene Simmons.  Next in command was Paul Stanley, the “Star Child” who often shared the spotlight with Gene while playing rhythm guitar.  The foundation for that rhythm was provided by drummer, Peter Criss, whose character was the “Cat Man”.

However, the opinion of most guitarists who know these things, the person who was providing the prolific guitar work in almost every technical sense of the word was Ace “Spaceman” Frehley.  While Gene and Paul commanded most of the visual attention, musicians and musician wannabe’s were captivated by Frehley’s blistering licks and pyrotechnics emanating from his guitar.

Of course, we all know that KISS went on to accomplish international fame for their music and antics on, and off, the stage.  Eventually, the make-up went away but the band continues as a wildly successful musical and marketing sensation.

Well, members of the KISS Army, you’re going to be absolutely jumping with joy to learn that Ace Frehley has come out with his first album in twenty years!  It’s titled, “Anomaly”, and it’s about this project that my interview with Ace Frehley begins.

I started our chat by commenting that I get the impression that he was having a lot of fun while recording “Anomaly”.  Ace agrees.  “I feel the same way I felt 31 years ago when I finished my 1978 solo record. I'm very proud of both records.  From the great reviews I've read about ‘Anomaly’, I think the fans agree too!”

When I first listened to “Anomaly”, I immediately recognized the classic tune, “Fox On The Run”, originally recorded by Sweet.  When I asked Frehley what was behind his decision to cover that song, he says, “My make-up artist for photo shoots, Pam, suggested that song.  And after discussing it with everyone in the studio, they all thought that song was suited to my voice.  It's funny but I'm reading a lot of fans saying that they thought that was me singing the original version from the 70s.”

Hoping to get a little inside scoop from Ace, I asked if the song, “Pain In The Neck” is about anyone in particular.  Laughing, he shoots back, “What do you want to do?  Get me in trouble or something?”  Hoping for at least a little be of juicy gossip, he chooses to leave me hanging on that one.

It’s honestly hard for me to pick a favorite cuts off of “Anomaly” but one that would have to be on my short list of top picks is “Space Bear” and the iTunes bonus track, “The Return of the Space Bear”.  I asked Ace what was the story behind those tunes.

He enthusiastically says that, “Space Bear was originally called "Skels".  The associate producer of ‘Anomaly’, Frank Munoz, was the one who came up with the idea of leaving it as an instrumental. And then (he) came up with the concept of adding my lines from Tom Snyder's Tomorrow Show where the somewhat ‘drunk’ me tried to capture Tom's teddy bear.  We had a blast recording it.”

Another great cut from the disc is an acoustical instrumental number entitled “Fractured Quantum”.  Ace fans will immediately notice that, as in the case of “Fractured Mirror” (from “Ace Frehley”) and “Fractured Too” (from “Frehley’s Comet”), 12-string guitars form a catalyst to the tunes.  I asked Ace about the significance of the 12-strings and what gear he used to play the tunes.  His answer was interesting.

“If you listen to the end of ‘Quantum’, it finishes where the original (‘Fractured Mirror’) begins.  I use the same 12 string & the effects.  It’s come full circle and this song completes the series.  I'm thinking of maybe piecing them all together in a row.  Maybe I'll throw it up on iTunes or something.  Who knows?”

Remember, Ace fans, you hear it here first!

Dave Fields

Posted October, 2012

davefieldsbybobgruen2Photo by the Legendary Bob GruenLast month I had the privilege of reviewing a CD of an artist who I had only very recently became aware of. The CD was entitled Detonation and the artist is a great guitarist by the name of Dave Fields.

The album is great, the sounds addicting and the whole approach is fresh and new.  I knew that, after listening to the CD for a bazillion times, I wanted to interview the up and coming guitar slinger and so it was.  Mr. Fields called me from his Manhattan apartment to discuss Detonation, his career and, of course, guitars.

As we started off our chat, I asked Dave what the reception has been so far to Detonation.

“It’s been amazing. People have really loved the CD and I’m pleased with the way it’s been going. You know, it’s already number eight on the RMR Top Fifty Blues charts after ten days. I just couldn’t be more pleased. It’s number twenty on the House of Blues charts. It’s been wonderful. Everybody keeps telling me that this is a great next CD for me to do. It’s my third one. Exactly what I wanted to have happen is people embrace it that way.”

As Fields mentioned, Detonation is his third album, following 2008’s All Wound Up and Time’s A Wastin (2007).    I asked him how this album was it different for him personally, technically, musically, and process-wise, than the other albums.

“Well, you know, I’m a producer in my own right. I produced a CD that one ‘Best Blues CD’ in 2006 at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. I have a long track record of producing things. And on this CD we actually hired David Z – who is a Grammy winning producer – to do the CD because I wanted to try to capture something live in the studio. I wanted to capture the essence of Dave Fields live and it’s very hard for me to be playing and doing my thing and producing myself live. It’s very tough.

“We put the whole band in the studio which is, basically - what the CD is – with minimum overdubs. We just kind of did the whole thing live. All the guitar solos and lead vocals are basically live.

“So, what I had also done in the process was I rehearsed the band as best as I could. We picked the songs with David Z. He came a couple of weeks earlier to New York. We had it all ready to go, went into the studio, we played, got the best takes and, hopefully, people will hear the fire.

“My first two CD’s were more ‘studio’ CDs. There were a couple of tunes that were live in the studio like this.  I crafted some of the songs – and being that I’m an engineer, too – I record in a certain way. David Z had a completely different approach to the way he did things. He’s more old-school about everything. It turned out beautiful. I’m still pinching myself from working with him! He’s a wonderful guy.”

As I’ve said before in other interviews: Long ago I gave up on asking artists what their favorite song on their latest album so I wasn’t going to ask Dave any question of the sort.  However, what I did ask him was: if there was only one song off of Detonation that could be listened to as a sample before one were to decide whether to buy it, what song would he point them to?

“Well, you know, that’s a very subjective question because it will change with how I’m feeling that day. If it’s somebody off the street and I have no idea who they are – hmmm, that’s a good question. I will tell you that all of the songs are about personal things that have happened to me – with the exception of one that I kind of crafted. Lately, though, I have been loving, You Will Remember Me, which is the last song. To me it’s the most powerful one on a personal level. They all have different meanings to different things, though.”

As Dave was giving his answer, the thought popped into my head as to how raw those emotions can be when pouring your heart out into a song. I asked him if it’s difficult to open one’s heart up in a song for the world to see.

“You know what? My favorite artists always did that. They always poured their souls into their music. That, to me, is what made them so powerful. That was the connection. They shared something – some human emotion that they went through that was very powerful – that we all felt. I’m always driven to do that.

“That’s not to say that I don’t ‘craft’ songs. Doing Hard Time, for example, I kinda crafted. I mean, I don’t aspire to be in jail! Ha! Ha!  It’s a funny song. It’s also a part of me that likes to have fun and silly with my songs. Like Bad Hair Day – a silly song. On my last CD I have a song called Big Fat Ludus. It’s a song about nothing. It’s about silliness. I think that’s important, too. There are many different facets to who I am as a person and I don’t mind barring my soul. I have a song called Rabbi Blues. I grew up as a Jewish boy in New York so I had to do a little dig at my heritage – but in a fun way! It goes both ways.

“Same Old Me is another personal song. It’s about my dad. I’m definitely barring my soul on that one. I think it’s more powerful. I want to connect with people on that level, if that makes any sense.”

As for touring in support of the album, Fields said, “Right now, because the CD just came out, we’re working on doing an east coast tour. We’ve got a bunch of places lined up that are in the works right now that are coming down for the east coast. I’m also working on a Midwest tour which will probably be Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois at this point. We’re still working it all out. Oh, and I’m going to Norway in two weeks! I’ll be there from the 16th through the 30th of October and it will be my fifth time going back there. That’s really exciting.  The crowds are there amazing!  Norway is such a beautiful country. Everybody speaks English, which is wonderful for me. They love American music. They grew up listening to American music. When they actually get to hear a real American playing American music, it’s a big thing for them. I’ve got a great following there and it’s been a blessing to be able to connect with them. I love my Norwegian friends! I feel blessed. What can I say?”

While listening to Detonation, it was pretty easy for me to pick out some of Dave’s musical influences in his music.  However, I asked him to share with who those musical influences were and are.

“There are so many. My gosh! As a kid, the first thing I loved was ‘50’s rock and roll. I loved Chuck Berry. I loved Fats Domino. I loved Jerry Lee Lewis. I loved Elvis Presley. My dad is a noted composer/arranger/producer here in Manhattan and he’s a virtuoso piano player. He started playing this kind of New Orleans thing on piano once. It was a boogie-woogie kind of New Orleans thing. When I heard that I went wild. It was like, ‘Oh, my god! I love this!’ From there it grew into blues.

“You know, early rock and roll is blues as far as I’m concerned. As I listened to more and more and more of it, I asked my dad, ‘Who’s the best guitar player in the world?’ ‘Well, some people say Eric Clapton or Jimi Hendrix.’ I started listening to them and I was, like, wow!  I love the British rock guys. You can really hear Jimi Hendrix a lot on the CD. I was exposed to so many different kinds of music. Growing up in New York City, it’s a melting pot of music, as well, besides cultures. I listened to everybody from Roy Clark to George Benson to Alan Hallsworth to so many people – James Taylor to funk guys. I just tried to take it all in.

“I also studied piano. Piano was my first instrument. There are a lot of musical influences that go with my guitar playing that had nothing to do with guitar. They’re just musical influences. I used to listen to John Coltrane, the famous sax player. I used to listen to Charlie Parker. Lee Allen, one of my favorite horn players.

“Lately, I’ve been on this Chopin kick, believe it or not. Yeah! I just love Frederic Chopin! What can I say? My musical listening is so diverse. The thing is for me – the key component on everything I listen to, to me, I just like it to be real. I don’t like people lying to me or trying to take me out with their music – which happens with a lot of pop music or a lot of artists who are trying to sound like somebody else. We all have our influences but – it’s just about the sincerity. That’s the thing I judge it by.”

Dave Fields has jammed with some pretty impressive people. I asked the guitar virtuoso who he hasn’t worked or played with that are on his dream list of people to work or play with.

“Growing up in New York City and listening to a lot of jazz – it was something I was exposed to. I always wanted to play with Randy Brecker. He passed away a couple of years ago. I always wanted to play with Miles Davis. He’s passed away.

“People who are alive now who I would like to collaborate with – gosh, there are so many! Gosh!  Eric Clapton. There are tons of blues rock people who are friends who I would still like to continue collaborate with. I got to collaborate with Joe Lewis Walker on my CD. I did that duet with him. That was amazing.”

The first guitar a guitarist owns is never forgotten.  I asked Dave what his first guitar was and if he still owns it.

“Great question! The first guitar I ever owned was a cheap K-Mart guitar. I don’t even remember the name of it. It self-destructed after a week. Literally, it did! After that, I used to borrow my friends guitars. In fact, I was playing piano at the time, still. I’d be playing piano in the band and dream about playing guitar. I’d like, ‘Hey, let me borrow your guitar for a second’ and I’d noodle around on it. The first guitar after that was a Sekova = a Korean guitar. It was a Les Paul copy. I had no money. I was the son of a single musician parent. I begged my dad to buy me a guitar. Finally, a year later he took me to a music store and I bought a white Les Paul – which I still have – and Les Paul wound up signing it. So my first real guitar was a white Les Paul. I don’t remember the year of it off the top of my head.”

And how did Fields wind up playing a Fender?

“Well, I’ll tell you, first of all, most Les Paul’s are too heavy for me. I just can’t deal with how heavy they are. As I explored other guitars there were things I liked about the Strats. What I’ve come to now is I’ve decided that I don’t even want to buy a guitar off the shelf.  I’ve just been playing custom guitars because I know exactly what I want in guitars.

“Basically, with the guitar I’m playing now – which is on the cover of Detonation – is a Fender style guitar. However, it’s kind of a hybrid between a Gibson and a Strat – a Fender. For example, the body is mahogany and maple, just like a Les Paul – like a maple top Les Paul. And even though the neck is solid maple like a Strat, it feels like a Gibson because it has a flat radius which means there’s no curve to the fret board. It’s completely flat which, is something that Fender doesn’t do. It’s something that I always liked. That’s what I loved about Gibson and it’s a really thin neck – like an old Stratocaster. So it’s really a hybrid of both things.

“I always tinker with my guitars and my amps. It took me all this time to finally realize this is exactly how I always want my guitars all be. Warmuth made the body, which is a custom shop out of Oregon and this company called ‘Musikraft’ in New Jersey built the neck for me. They’re building me another one, I liked it that much. I’ve got to have two of everything in case something breaks, unfortunately.”

When I asked Fields how many guitars he owned, I was a little surprised by the answer he gave me.

“Let me clarify this by saying I play electric guitar, acoustic guitar, a little bit of classical guitar, mandolin, pedal steel, ukulele, banjo, lap steel, and bass as well as upright bass. So, I have a lot of stringed instruments and living in an apartment in New York City, I’ve got a have storage space filled with them!  But I have close to thirty if not more. But, truthfully, I’m really considering selling all my guitars I don’t play anymore because I really just want to play my custom guitars because I know what I want and the other ones I can’t play anymore. They just don’t feel right to me.”

Every serious guitarist has an idea of what they consider the holy grail of guitars to be. Dave Fields is no different.

“Yeah, there is a holy grail of guitars I’d like to own. It would be one I would like to build to my specifications. It would be a one piece maple neck Strat – with super jumbo frets, flat radius, and the body would be chambered mahogany - which means that they put holes in it so that it’s lighter – with quilted maple and would want it painted either a blue jean dye or if they could do a gold dye with gold glitter in it. I would deck it out with all the pick-ups I would want in it. It would only run me $1,500 – that’s it!”

As for what’s on the docket for the next year and planned for the next five years, Dave shared, “As I said before, I’m going to Norway in two weeks.  Between now and then I’ve got a bunch of dates here in the New York City area that I’m playing – like in New Jersey, here in the city and Westchester. Next year we’re doing a tour through the east coast. I’m scheduled to do a couple of festivals next year.

“My five year plan is to connect with so many people. One thing that I love about being a musician is the opportunity to meet so many amazing people who love music. I get to see them, help them put a smile on their face and make them feel better. It’s really rewarding for me to entertain people. There’s nothing more exciting and more fun for me than to strap on my guitar, plug into the amp and just play for people. I get so worked up and fired up!”

Wrapping up our chat, I asked Mr. Fields to think ahead to when he’s stepped off the stage for the final time and has gone to that great gig in the sky. What does he hope that his legacy will be and how does he want to be remembered?

“I would like to be remembered as somebody who brought joy to this world and made people feel good – feel happy; brought happiness to people. I hope that my music touched and made their life better or made them not feel alone in this world.”

Bernard Fowler

Posted February, 2013

bernardfowlerfinal cropPhoto by Jonnie MilesIf you think you haven’t heard the name Bernard Fowler, think again. If I point out to you that if you’ve listened to any kind of popular music over the last, oh, say, nearly thirty years, you’ve absolutely heard Bernard’s voice, trust me, you have.  Remember the early eighties tunes Don’t Make Me Wait or Life Is Something Special by the New York Citi Peech Boys?  Bernard was an integral part of that band.  Oh, and remember Herbie Hancock’s albums, Future Shock and Sound-System?  Yeah, Fowler fronted those.  Then there’s Philip Glass’s Songs From The Liquid Days and Bootsy Collins’ album, What’s Bootsy Doin’? Bernard’s voice comes through on those, too.

In 1986, Fowler was hired for vocal and vocal arrangement work for some guy named Mick Jagger on his solo album, She’s The Boss.  Maybe you heard of him?  That project lead to Bernard’s twenty-seven year long (and counting) gig with Mr. Jagger’s struggling little band called The Rolling Stones.

You get the picture.

Over his many years of excellence-making work, Fowler has earned the respect of the upper echelon of music makers and shakers around the globe.  When I asked guitar great Steve Lukather for his thoughts on Bernard’s craft, he said that Bernard’s “one of the greatest voices I have ever worked with and also one of the coolest people.  We have done a bunch of stuff together - writing, jammin', hangin'. He sang on some of my solo records. I played on his and I am a fan. And he plays with the Stones! It don’t get much cooler than that!”

Stones band mate and legendary sax player Bobby Keys said, “I was thinking back to when I first saw Bernard – I can’t remember which Stones tour it was but it’s been several tours back – over twenty years ago, I think – when Bernard first started singing with the Stones. When I heard that the Stones were gonna have singers, I thought, ‘Well, that’ll be good. Let’s see what they sound like.’  And, Bernard, man, the first time I ever heard him sing – I think Keith told me about Bernard before I actually heard him sing. The first time I ever heard Bernard sing, man, I really thought I was listening to Sam Cooke and Otis Redding tied together!  I was, like, ‘Damn! This guy’s too good to sing with this band!’  I really did.”

Continuing on, Keys said, “Then came Bernard’s work with Charlie (Watts). You know, the big band albums?  He handled those ballads, man, just like he was born to it. I remember Bernard never hitting a bad lick. He’s one of the gifted people, man, who just has an inbred instinct and feel for music and expresses it vocally. As a musician, I really respect him. He’s not just a vocalist, as such. He’s a musician, man. His voice is an instrument. I find it to have been a great pleasure to work with him and hear him sing. Gettin’ ready to do that again in a month or so.”

It was to that point about Bernard’s voice – and even his stage presence – that caused me to lead off with an admittedly unusual – if not unusually placed – question.  I’ve grown up in church circles where southern gospel was prevalent.  Knowing that Fowler was NYC born and raised gave me pause, however, some of his mannerisms might lead some to conclude that his musical background might involve church music of some sort.  I asked Bernard if this was the case.  And he answered.

“That’s a funny question you’ve asked. It’s a “yes” and it’s a “no” -  only because I’m from New York City – specifically the Queensbridge Projects.  I was born and raised in New York City. But both my mother and father are from North Carolina. My father was from Zebulon. My mom is from Raleigh. So, yes, both of my parents are from the south and church was a big part of our lives.

“As a kid growing up in New York City, my mom sent me away to North Carolina every summer.  Every summer until I was about sixteen years old, mom sent me to Big Mamma’s house. Big Mamma was my grandmother and Big Mamma was a Christian woman. And let me tell you, you weren’t walking in or out of Big Momma’s house without her praying for you.

“So I was pretty much introduced to the church at a very young age.  I heard gospel music when it was gospel music. What I mean by that is that there weren’t no drummers. Wasn’t no bass players. Wasn’t no guitar players. It was straight-up choir, organ and piano. So, there’s a yes and no answer to that question.”

bernardfowler2As it was, Bernard and his family’s religious life was within Baptist circles.  Bernard remembers, “It’s funny, I just left North Carolina. I went down to see my mom for Christmas. I hadn’t seen her in a while. My mother’s sister – my Aunt Nell - lives nearby in my grandmother’s house.  As I was driving down for a visit, I was thinking about going down there when I was growing up, including this one time Aunt Nell set off for church on what turned out to be anything but a normal Sunday. This time Aunt Nell and I went church hoppin’!’ We spent the entire Sunday visiting different churches in North Carolina. And this was all day long! ALL DAY LONG!  When I say ‘all day,’ I mean all day!  We’d go to one service and then scoot off to the next.

“I remember there was this one church in particular – it was different. It was different. I can’t explain how different it was but it was different. Trust me. We were deep in North Carolina. I remember my Aunt Nell saying ‘Baby, you like this church?’  I replied, ‘No, Aunt Nell, I don’t like this church.’ She said, ‘Me, either. Let’s go!’  And off we went!” After laughing an infectious laugh as only Fowler can, he added, “That just explains how much time we spent at church from a very young age.”

Concluding his thoughts on that early part of his life, Bernard said, “So, yeah, although that’s not where my singing career started, it’s very much a part of me.”  Then, with a smile that came clearly over the telephone line, said, “Very perceptive, Randy.”

In pre-interview communications with Fowler, I became aware that he was working on a new solo album. I asked him to tell me a little bit about it.

“I’m working on my second solo record. I’m excited about what’s going on and what’s happening with the music thus far. Right now I’m about eight songs in, and I plan to record five or so more. Out of those, I’ll pick ten to make the album. Of the songs that don’t make the album, we’re working on a way to give them to people – a little something extra. People don’t buy albums like they did when I was a kid. People buy songs. So, yeah, that’s what I’m doing. I’m trying to get this record done by at least the end of the month or half way into March. I want it done. I want it finished.  I’m hoping that there could be some Stones shows coming up.  You never know until you know, but regardless, I want to get it done.”

That comment prompted me to ask Fowler what drives his solo sales: his own solo reputation, his association with The Rolling Stones, or his work with other people?

“Um, I think it’s a combination of everything that I’ve done in my career which, you know, has been pretty varied. Some know me before the Stones, and some only with the Stones.  And some both.  But yes, there are lots of people that have become aware of me through my work with the Stones, which is great, but I’ve always had such a diverse career. Ultimately I think it’s a combination, which is good.”

Bernard is enjoying an amazing career – working first with Mick Jagger and then with the rest of the band.  I asked, when looking back, is there was one pivotal part of his career where he can say that, if it wasn’t for that instant or experience, he would’ve never gotten the Jagger or Stones gig.

“Absolutely. The New York Citi Peech Boys. That, along with Herbie Hancock.  Those two projects – they’re what brought me to the Stones because I would say that before the New York Citi Peech Boys, nobody really knew who I was. At that time I was just a young vocalist trying to make waves. I had my first hit record with the Peech Boys. It was a club record and the Peech Boys were also the first to have a DJ as part of the band. Before that – before the Peech Boys – that did not exist.  That was Larry Levan. He was the premier star DJ. There was nobody bigger than Larry at that time, DJ wise. Now, DJs are as popular as the artists that they sample!  It’s totally amazing. I don’t get it!  People will fill a hall and watch a guy spin records. Where’s the entertainment factor?  I’m still trying to get that. Maybe it’s the big room – the congregation of everybody – I don’t know.”

And, then, bringing the conversation back around to the DJs who play the Peech Boys and other work that Bernard has been involved with, he added, “My hat is off to them.  And I’d like to say thank you.  Thank you for help keeping my voice in people’s ears.”

While the focus of my interview with Bernard was on his own work and career, I couldn’t resist asking him one Stones related question.  I was curious what he thinks is the biggest misconception that people have when it comes to The Rolling Stones.

“I think it’s the hype about ‘sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll’ that people think about the band. That’s probably the biggest misconception people have. When I talk to people and they’re, like, ‘Oh, man, you must be doing this and you must be doing that’ – it’s just wrong.  Sure, everybody knows that, yes, there was a point in their lives that they may have done a lot of that – they talk about it honestly. But it’s like every other job, there were occupational hazards and sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll are occupational hazards for rock and rollers. But I have to say this.  It’s all bullshit now. When I’m on stage with the Stones night after night – and I’ve been there. I’ve been there about 27 years now, and I’m here to tell you that the experience is incredible. Sometimes, I get mesmerized when I’m on stage with the Stones.  I’ll be singing, and watching them do their thing. Mick, without a doubt, is the hardest working man in show business. James Brown had that title but he’s gone now so that’s Mick’s. Hands-down, Jagger has that title. I watch him – all of them – and listen to them.”

“I think the biggest misconception of them is that drugs play such a big part of who and what they are. That’s the biggest misconception.  Maybe at one time in their careers it was but since I’ve been there, it’s not. We’ve had some fun times. I’ve been fortunate enough to be there and grow along with them. There are things that I did and we did when I first hooked up with them – we don’t do anymore. The one thing that has not left the band is the passion for the music. That has not left one bit. And I’m telling ya, that passion shows!

“I’m sorry to go off on this but, real quickly, through the years, I see things and hear things that people write about The Rolling Stones and I want to take a moment to agree with all the accolades that Keith and Ronnie have gotten over the years and say that, without a doubt, those accolades are well deserved. Those cats are – they are our blues men now. Muddy’s not here anymore. Howlin’ Wolf ain’t here no more. But Keith and Ronnie learned from them. We did a show, I guess it was in London and Eric Clapton was there and we were playing and Eric did his thing. He’s a beautiful player, no question about it. He did his thing and it was great. But, when Keith did his thing, the hair on the back of my neck stood up and I’ve got thick hair! It was like, ‘Oh, my God!’ And Ronnie…wow. The two of them.   Amazing.  All that stuff they had listened to coming through, you could hear it – like a direct connection to the old blues cats. A direct connection! 

“I grew up listening to that music. Going back to my folks, all those records that they (the Stones) listened to over in England were also in my house. My mom and dad listened to those records. It’s funny because, when I met the Stones, I remember spending some nights with Keith and I was listening to what he was playing and I’m like, ‘I know that song!’ And he’s kind of looking at me. One night, I’m with Keith and my mother just happened to call me. I’m talking to her and she could hear the blues in the background and she said, ‘Bernard, where are you?’ I said that I was at Keith’s and she said, ‘Is that him playing that music?’ I said, ‘Yeah, Mom’ and she said, ‘Let me talk to him!’ So, there you go.”

Much later in our conversation, I found myself gushing over the lovely and ever so talented singing mate of Bernard’s, Lisa Fischer. He jumped right on my comment.

“That’s my baby! I can’t imagine doing The Rolling Stones without her.”  When I commented about her always stunning performances on the solo on Gimme Shelter, Fowler gave me some of his thoughts on that, too. “Randy, I’m with you, man, I’m with you. Mick knows I am such a fan of what Lisa does with that song that anytime they have any guest artist sing the song, I’m always walking around with a frown” he said with a laugh and then added, “I try in my way to talk him out of it because I’m just a fan of what she does with that song. It’s either Lisa Fischer or Mary Clayton, who sang the original and who nailed that tune. I’ve not heard anybody else – anybody else sing it like that.”

When asked what have been the biggest challenges to his career, Bernard said, “The biggest challenge has been building my career. That’s been the biggest challenge because I’m a soul singer from birth. It’s in me. I am that. Growing up I listened to everything – everything. I listened to everything my mom and dad had at home like Muddy Waters and Little Richard and all of that. Mom would put me down for a nap and that music was playing. That is definitely part of me – and Motown and Atlantic and Stax – that’s all a part of me. I always had this thing for rock and roll. I remember when I was in junior high school and we would play hooky. I had a friend that had kind of the same musical tastes as I did – which were a bit off.  I grew up in Queensbridge. If you’re familiar with the rapper, Nas, he’s from Queensbridge. We grew up in the same area. We grew up in the same projects. My musical tastes were a lot wider than the people that I was growing up with. Carole King, Three Dog Night, Santana, Buddy Miles, Hendrix. Some people in the hood might have listened to some of it but not like I did. I always thought that I was born a little late because I was supposed to be at Woodstock.  I was born but I was too young to go. Something about seeing that film is like, ‘I was supposed to be there!’

“I was a different cat when I was growing up. You know, the hood has its style of dress. I could’ve gone with the crowd and dressed like that but I had my own thing. I wore bell bottoms and a dashiki or a shirt that I had made or a hat that I had made.  I walked around with a question mark on the back of my head. My head was bald except for the question mark.  I was a different kid.  A lot of kids in the hood said, ‘Damn! Bernard’s kinda strange!’ And I was super athletic as a young kid. People couldn’t quite figure out me. And neither could I. I just knew that I was different. I felt different.”

Fowler concludes the thought with story filled with irony.

Bernard Fowler has been referred to in other interviews as a sort of Renaissance man, musically speaking – very diverse in his musical talents.  I asked him what he attributes that to.

“It’s a compliment to hear somebody describe me as such. I really appreciate that because I always try to go out of the box – out of my comfort zone. Some people will like something but they won’t go for it. They will listen to this thing they like from afar but are afraid of being ridiculed. I was never afraid of anybody talking about me – even when I went to school with Beatle boots on. I didn’t care. To me, it was the sharpest thing in the world and I begged my mother for those Beatle boots and I still wear that type of shoe to this day!

With over thirty years in the music business, Fowler has witnessed a lot of changes.  I asked him what, from his perspective, have been the biggest changes in the music business – both positive and negative.

Still chatting along that same vein, I asked Fowler to imagine President Obama calling him up and offering him a new cabinet position, Music Czar and that he’s been tasked with fixing the music business. What would he do?

“The second thing is: kill auto-tune. Kill it right now!  Kill it dead!  Kill that damn auto-tune!  I don’t mind someone in the studio working – singing over and over until you get it right. That’s what a studio is for. I’m going to say it but I don’t really mean this: Auto-tune has made great singers out of non-singers. You know what I’m sayin’. Let’s kill that auto-tune dead!  I’m from the school, hey!  You know what?  You go into the studio and you’re going to record a song, sing the song from the top to the bottom.  Before you start overdubbing, sing it from top to bottom. That’s when you know you know your craft!  You know your craft! There’s such a thing as one take.  It’s a magical thing when that kind of thing happens. Auto-tune is probably the worst thing that could have ever happened. I wasn’t a fan of home studios but, you know, not everybody can afford to go to a recording studio. But, recording studios are there for a reason, people!  They’re there for a reason!  All of my favorite stuff was recorded where?  In a recording studio.  I’m just sayin’.  I may be a bit of a snob and someone younger than us will say, ‘He’s old!’ but I tell you what, I’ll take that old quality any day! Any day!”

“I was talking with someone yesterday - I don’t know if you know but I did a tour with Joe Walsh. I sang for Joe Walsh. The DeLeo brothers (founding members of the Stone Temple Pilots) were the rhythm section. Anyway, someone yesterday was telling me something about Joe Walsh. I guess he was talking along the same lines as I have been. Good for him. Good for him!  Yeah, Joe!”

“That’s kind of a difficult question because there’s my heroes that I grew up with and then there’s some of the young cats that are doing stuff now. Marvin (Gaye) is no longer here. I’d have loved to sit and sing with him. That’s a hard question because, I’m not a big fan of what they call R&B these days. I’m not a big fan of that. I’d rather listen to the other stuff. I’d rather listen to Marvin and Jimmy Castor; some old George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic. I’d rather listen to that stuff than to listen to a lot of (the new) R&B.  I tell you what: I’d love to work with Bill Laswell again!  It has been years since we’ve worked together so I’d like to do that again. Wow! That’s a real heavy question!  I’d like to do Herbie (Hancock) again.  I’d like to do Dave Grohl. I’m definitely a fan!  I like his energy. Oh! I’ve got one for you!  David Bowie! A couple of others that would be on my bucket list are Ryuichi Sakamoto and Philip Glass. I’ve worked with them both before but I would love it if I could work with them again. They would definitely be on my bucket list.”

As for up-and-coming talent is on his radar, Fowler said, “I love – what’s that cat’s name? Gary Clark, Jr.!  He’s on my radar!”  Then, when Joe Bonamassa’s name was brought up, Bernard shared a great story.

“When I met Jagger, I did his first solo record. I didn’t just go and sing, I did the vocal arrangements for his first solo record. It doesn’t say it on the record but that was all mine. I had a Fostex four track machine. When I met him, we sat on the floor, sang a bit and he gave me a cassette. I went back to the hotel, put it in my four track recorder and did all my background stuff. The next day, when I went to the studio, that’s what we did.

“I was insulted. ‘He would like to know if you would like to audition.’ And I’m like, ‘Wait a minute. I did his solo record.  Audition?’ She left the room and, when she left the room I said, ‘I’m not going to audition. I did his first solo record and now he wants me to audition?’ 

“Carmine’s a lot older than I am.  He’s like my big brother so he gave me a good talkin’ to. So, I took the tape that the girl left – a tape of four Rolling Stones songs that I had to sing. The band that he had was red hot.  Simon Phillips on drums, Doug Wimbish on bass, Jimmy Rip on guitar, Joe Satriani on guitar. So I walk into this room and all these cats are lookin’ at me and one of them looks at me with his arms folded like, ‘Here we go again. We got another guy.’ Made me feel like a chump and I didn’t like feelin’ that way. I remember saying in my head, ‘You know what? I’m gonna give them a dose!’ I remember there were all these chairs lined up with all these people and I said, ‘You know what? I’m gonna give ‘em a dose and I’m gonna show my ass!’ 

With our scheduled 30-minute chat running thirty minutes over time, I asked Bernard what was on his career radar for the next year, five years and the rest of your life.

My final question to Mr. Fowler before we both had to get on with our day was: When your life is over, how do you want to be remembered and what do you hope your legacy will be?

And, man, can that cat sing.

Mark Farner

Posted July, 2011

markfarner1aAs I’ve written several times before in other interviews and pieces, when I was a teenager, I played a mean air guitar while accompanied by some of the best rock and roll to come across my stereo.  One of my favorite tunes to play some of my best air guitar to was Grand Funk Railroad’s, We’re An American Band.

My sweet rock star, guitar god poses and moves were often best struck to that tune as a teen.  For those of you who are wondering, I refuse to answer if those same poses and moves are still being struck at my tender age of 50 – something. A guy’s gotta maintain a certain level of dignity.

When the opportunity presented itself to interview the driving force behind those aforementioned moves, Mark Farner, I gently laid down my air guitar and replied with a resounding yes.

Farner called me from his home in Michigan where he and his wife share the responsibility of caring for their son, Jesse, who was severely injured in an accidental fall.  Despite the very serious circumstances of his son’s condition, Mark’s chooses to maintain a positive, sunny disposition.  This is evident in his response to my typical phone greeting of, “How are you doing?”

He has me laughing with his reply, “I’m doin’ but I’m not mildewin’!”

Mark then slightly cracks open the door into the Farner household by sharing, “I’m so busy here at home. I’m ‘handicapping’ the house for my son. I didn’t know if you knew what happened to our youngest boy.  He broke his neck last July and he’s quadriplegic. So, we’ve had to revamp our home. We had to take all the carpet out because he’s a vent patient, too. Not only is he quadriplegic, it takes electricity to keep this boy alive.  But we’re praying for a miracle.  The doctors say he’s stuck where he’s at and to not expect any better but we do.

“We feed him fresh juice and my wife is into all the alternative medicines. He’s only on a blood thinner.  He’s doing a whole lot better because he’s got a girlfriend in his life now. Yeah, man! It’s like a miracle there!  That’s an answer to prayer.

“Anyway, I’m used up. When I’m home, you can’t imagine how busy I am.”

I complimented him as to his selflessness in attending to the needs of his son in a day when we read about parents accused of abandoning or, worse, killing their own children.  Farner responds with continued positive perspective that is founded on a faith that might blow some peoples minds.

“It’s spiritual growth and whatever it takes, that’s really to our benefit to allow it to be and to accept it. That’s where I think that I’m at with it. I have seen other things – other than what people normally see.  I’ve seen – in the supernatural  realm – I know of this realm – I haven’t seen the angels that stand on either side of me but people in three different states at three different times, of course, have seen them and identified them to-the-t!”

Farner then quotes what the people in the three different states have told him.

“‘Ten feet tall.  One has his hand on your left shoulder, the other one has his hand on your right shoulder and they’re just lookin’ out!  They’ve just got you.  They’ve got you!’  So, I’m thinkin’ that’s where I’m feeling that. Something besides what I feel when I looked up into the heavens.  Now I look into Heaven because that’s where Heaven is.  The kingdom is within. That’s what it says in Luke. That’s where love is. That’s who I really am. The original blueprint is down there. It has been obstructed by a few events.  I go back and recoil, and retreat and go back. But I’m coming back out because that’s what love does – coming out. I’m going in and it’s coming out!”

We began chatting about more carnal things such as Farner’s participation in this summer’s Hippiefest tour along with rock legends, Dave Mason, the Rascals’ Felix Cavaliere, Gary Wright and Rick Derringer.  I asked Mark if this the first time he has been involved with the show.

“I worked with Hippiefest for a few dates – oh, man! – when they first got started a few years ago. But I haven’t been back out because I’ve been doing other things, of course.  This year, it happened to line up with the time they wanted me for. I hadn’t been booked yet. We worked it out and I’m glad to be on there with them.”

With a stellar roster like Derringer, Wright, Cavaliere and Mason, I asked if he had ever worked with any of these giants before.

“I worked with all those guys before. Gary – I didn’t work with him. When he jammed – he came out to one of the rehearsals when we were in Vancouver rehearsing with Ringo’s band.”

Farner then goes on to share what fans can expect to hear from him at the Hippiefest shows.

“It’s gonna rock, I know that!  They’re gonna hear the hits (from his Grand Funk Railroad days). That’s what the people want to hear – mainly the hits but there might be a couple of three piece numbers thrown in there because people want to hear that, too.”

While the subject of GFR came up, I went ahead and asked Mark the obvious question that I know he’s been asked at least ten thousand times: Are there any plans at all for any kind of temporary reunion between him and his former GFR band mates for a few shows?

“Randy, I’ll tell ya, I’ve been tryin’ to do that very thing for a number of years but they’re just – it’s like putting a man and wife back together that got a divorce. You know, try that once and see how far you get with that!  That’s kinda like what it is.  That’s really how it is putting a band back together.

“But, I am willing and I have made it known to those guys.  In fact, even though I’m not an officer in the corporation because they threw me out in ’98, I still sit in on a phone call of the corporate board meeting. Every once in a while I’ll say something. Like, last time I said, ‘While we’re all three still sucking air, why don’t we give the fans what neither one of us can do separately – give them Grand Funk Railroad.’

“Brewer said, ‘Put something together and bring it back to us after we get done touring in the fall.’”  Farner laughs and then adds – with just a little bit of sarcasm, “So, I’m going to do that. I’m going to run right out and do that since I have all this time on my hands.  But that’s where it is.  I’m willing but only for the sake of the fans, brother. I’m telling you, Randy, I am a fan – I wanted to see the Beatles get back together while they were all still on the earth at the same time.  What a magnificent thing that would have been and I missed it!  I thought that’s how bad I wanted it.

“From the fans viewpoint, there are some fanatics who want to see Grand Funk. They don’t care about the internal bickering or anything, they just want to see the band.  For that purpose – for the fan – for the sake of that loyal fan – I would go out there and not pay any attention to the other stuff that’s going on and just rock the crap out of it.”

Acknowledging the financial rewards of such a reunion, Farner adds, “Wouldn’t they be doing the corporation a better service by making as much money as they could?  I’m just a minority shareholder over here.”  He concludes with a laugh.

So, until the fan-demanded GFR reunion takes place, I wondered if Mark has any other collaboration or solo projects in the works in the mean time.

“Yes, a matter of fact, Ronnie Montrose, Eric St. Holmes, Pat Travers and myself just did a gig in St. Louis as The Guitar Godz of the Seventies. That’s ‘g-o-d-z’ of the seventies – and it came off.  People showed up and we rocked them.  Prior to that show, I had been with Pat Travers down in Tallahassee shooting a 3D video – the first 3D rock video ever shot – Panasonic actually sponsored it and supplied all the gear. It’s awesome!

“There’s only a few cable satellite channels that carries 3D content but they are looking for content because 3D – by next Christmas – everybody will have a 3D iPhone.  3D is coming on!  You’ll have a screen that’s 3D without glasses. You hold it right there in  your hand and see 3D! I’ve got one already on a camera and it works great – it actually does it!  When they come out with a TV that will do that, then they’ve got something.  Right now, you’ve got to have the glasses but, even with the glasses, it’s awesome, man!  To be in a rock concert?  You standing right with these guys!”

Bringing it back to the “Guitar Godz” concept, Mark adds, “We’re definitely going to bring that show to more locations. And, as far as working with Pat . . . he came up with me and did Closer To Home  and a few of my songs at a concert in Tallahassee at a club down there where we taped the whole thing in 3D with the audience.

“That (Guitar Godz) is a strong possibility because Pat’s coming up to my place to write.  He know that I can’t get out from here because I’m strapped but I can take a few hours here and there and he can be there and we’ll write.  We’ve already got a spark and ‘iron sharpens iron’.  That’s one of our songs already and that’s going to rock.  And that boy is playing some slide! Woo, man!”

Of all the questions and interest in you/your work, what would be the one thing that you feel has been least covered and understood about you, your work and your legacy?

“I believe it’s the sincerity to which I am committed. It’s been the same the whole time but it’s been obscured in the early years by different things, events, consequences, recoveries, collisions – life goes on.  But, what’s driving me is love. I gave myself to love. Every day that I stay in the bones, love becomes more a part of me. It becomes bigger because it’s erasing that hurt and the things that shove me back into the hole that I was buried in. But that is emerging, coming out of me and emerging into who I am. I believe, because I gave myself to love, love has given itself to me and that I might just flip out of these bones without even knowin’ it - that’s how good it is . . .” and, with another chuckle, he reiterates, “. . . without even knowin’ it! Just to the next stage. Not bad!” Mark then cackles out loud at the thought of the beauty of that realization.

As I have with many other icons, I asked Mark what negative changes, culturally and within the music business, he sees between now and the sixties and seventies.

“Generally speaking, it’s the shock value that one has to go for or, like when Kiss came out and dressed up and became bigger than life – dimensional.  They added more to it.  It was a theatrical performance with fireworks and everything. Now, to see what live shows are about, to see the culture of music reflects a ‘debt consciousness’.  We’re in debt to something. The whole move is based upon ‘debt’.

“What influenced back in the day, making music, was I had a DJ in my local town who went to California. He was in L.A. for a week and he came back. He said, ‘This is what I heard. Listen to this!’ and he spun Deep Purple’s Hush and Flint, Michigan, fell in love with Deep Purple and Hush, dude! That’s how music got around. That is no longer possible since 1995 because the FCC had the 7/7/7 rule which limited you to the ownership of 7 AM, 7 FM and 7 television stations.

“Until 1995, the culture – what we saw – was pretty much based on fact and actual news reporting and people who weren’t paid off to say certain things and to make things appear as though they were but they’re really not. That’s what’s going on now. You used to have a moral conscience that governed our cultural and now what governs our culture is the influence of distinct, utter – you talk about the devil, this is evil. This is evil.  There’s no devil because, in my opinion, when Christ came out of the earth with the keys to the kingdom of Hell and of death, that just showed – not only the resurrection, the power of the resurrection – it showed unconditional love because He redeemed his brother, Lucifer’s, soul and now holds the keys that Lucifer once held. We’re ‘in’ because of that.

“That’s the Jesus I know and these people that used to have a moral conscience to govern that and to instill morality in our children have lost the grip to all the fantasies – the computer generated bull*** they see on the television. It’s not good. It’s in the hands of sick men who have never had to earn anything. They don’t have a sense of value. It’s skewed and they’re hell-bent on taking over the world – this one world order, new world order, Global baloney B.S. and, really, nobody is stopping them.

“Music had a chance before they had a grip on us. Now, it’s a stranglehold.  Clear Channel owns everything and Live Nation went in and bought up all these promoters, all their contracts with all the amphitheaters in all the major cities.  You can’t go in and play a market unless you play at Live Nation and if Live Nation ain’t playin’ you, you’re not going to play that city and that is B.S.!”

It’s at this juncture of his comments that Farner injects his political and economic views that aren’t always popular with folks but he puts them out there anyway.

“It’s in the hands of Mr. Money and Mr. Money happens to be the European families who own the Federal Reserve and have no patriotic interest in the United States of America. Their interest is in destroying the potential for freedom because we were getting strong with our factories. We were getting debt free. We were getting towards that when they pulled the rug out from beneath us. We were getting to be a strong nation but they control us by the issuance of our currency. The fact that they are all Jewish families is not coincidental and the fact that we are kicking the crap out of Palestinians in Afghanistan and in Iraq and they’re rattling the saber to go into Iran.  It’s them in control by virtue of television to confuse people and put us in a state of disinformation and we base our opinions on B.S.  Well, what does that say about our opinions?

“Man is such an egomaniac anyway, we believe what we believe is true. We’ve been lied to so much, we believe it’s true. Really, the acting out before us shows selfishness. As long as this evil rules – and that’s what it’s going to do to every country that it issues currency to – that country will become ruined.

“It’s just like following Rome. You’re going to follow that?  You’re going to follow Rome. You’re going to follow that you’re going to follow the false god because those guys are the ‘Wizards of Oz’. They’ve got the big levers. They’ve got the buttons and the whistles in their hands but they’re hiding behind a very expensive curtain.

“The internet has helped expose who these rats are.  They’re just insane with the lust for power. It’s not about money. If you own the machine that prints money – just by virtue of the scenery on a hundred dollar bill and what I have to do to earn it and what it’s face value is and what it costs them to print it – are you kidding me? How are you ever going to overcome that debt and they charge you interest to borrow some of it! Unbelievable!”

One may not agree with Mark Farner’s view of all things political and economic but one thing is for certain: You’ll know exactly where he stands when you discuss them with him.

And what Farner view as being the biggest positive changes in the music industry since the 60’s/70’s?

“The positive is there are a lot of people coming to things like that Guitar Godz show – the first 20 rows were all young people – to the shows where I’m playing music – I don’t know if it’s because of Guitar Hero or what but there’s a lot of kids coming. They want to shake your hand. They want an autograph. That’s great. I love that because they’re gettin’ a grip on it. They’re fed up with this other stuff. They don’t want to hear the negative point of view. They want to hear the hope. I’ve always stayed with the lighter side but I’ve always been political, if I felt it, in my writing and I’ve been spiritual at times. I stay true to my heart and that’s what the young people want – somebody that is staying true to their heart and is saying what they have instinctive for. That you can’t deny.

“We are people. We’re men. We have needs. The women have needs.  We need balance. The problem is balance. It’s a man’s world and how does feminine energy – how do we let it in?  How do we let it balance us?  If we don’t, these men are going to get us all killed!” Farner concludes, laughing.

“My Cherokee blood is to esteem my woman to be equal with myself. How could you love somebody with all your heart unless you did?”

One thing that is apparent in the music world is that what we all refer to as “classic rock” is still incredibly popular as evidenced in its inclusion in movies, commercials and video games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band.  Also, acts like McCartney, the Stones and Springsteen are still clocking in record revenues and attendance records. I asked Farner why he thought it was that classic rock still has the “legs” that it does.

“The groove.  I mean, you can flash your guitar and rip the neck off of it and it’s fine. But there is a groove and rock and roll has a groove to dance to. It has a groove to set your soul to – if the words are right – and take you in that direction. You have a natural inclination to follow the groove because the groove is made out of love. This other stuff that masquerades as rock and roll, they’ve missed the whole groove. It’s got all the flash and the audience has bought the marketing scheme or scam, whatever. It doesn’t fulfill them. They’ve got to have the groove and, my friend, we gotta to have the groove. That’s what sets our certain music apart – it’s got a groove to it. I fit right in there.”

To that point, I asked Mark if he felt if any of the new music had a message that compelled people to action like it did in the sixties and seventies.

“I don’t listen to the radio enough to give you an answer. I really don’t listen to the radio at all. I only hear what my son, Jesse, is playing.  It’s in the house because he’s in the house and I can’t deny him his music because it overshadows the sounds of that vent. It’s a noisy S.O.B., it really is. But that’s what I hear. I don’t know the group names. I’m not in an out of that room enough to stay on a song to say, ‘Oh, who’s that?’  I’m trying to keep my mind clear too, Randy, so that I can stay open to ‘incoming’.

What is coming to your town is this former member the American Band, Grand Funk Railroad, to help you “party it down” during the Hippefest Tour next month and concluding in early September.  You can find out when and where it stops near you by clicking here.  You can keep up with Mark Farner and how things are progressing for his son, Jesse, by visiting www.markfarner.com and signing up for Mark’s free newsletter.