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James Burton

Posted June, 2011

burton1bcroppedFor many, if not most, Baby Boomers, the days of their youth are marked and heavily influenced by music.  Some have even referred to the music of those days as the “soundtrack of our youth”.

I’ve said it before but I think that it’s worth repeating:  Many of us are instantly transported back in time as we hear a few notes or words of a song.  Music takes me back to my earliest memories.  It reminds me of school days and old flames.  It reminds me of dating and marrying my wife.  It takes me back to my daughter being born and watching her grow up.  It brings back memories of good times and not-so-good times.  I’m sure that music does the same to many of you.

One man who has been an integral part of the “soundtrack of our youth” – or, at least min - is guitar legend, James Burton.  Think back to the country music of the 50’s and the early days of rock and roll and some of the people, places and shows that fostered the genre’s birth and growth. In those memories, you’ll see James Burton.  Don’t believe me?  Then check this out:

Louisiana Hayride

Burton was there as part of the show’s staff band at the tender age of fourteen playing behind Johnny Horton, George Jones and other greats.

Dale Hawkins

The teenaged James Burton wrote the famous guitar licks of the rock standard, Suzie Q, and recorded it with Hawkins.  The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame included this record on its list of 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.

Ricky Nelson/Ozzie and Harriet

Did you ever watch that show?  Well, that’s James playing in Rick’s band.  In fact, Burton lived with the Nelson’s for about two years.  The June, 2011, edition of Guitar Player magazine listed James’ solo on Nelson’s Hello, Mary Lou as one of the 40 Most Influential Rock Guitar Solos.

Shindig

Among the regulars on this popular hit TV show that aired on ABC was the house band that was ultimately called The Shindogs.  The band consisted of James Burton, Delaney Bramlett, Leon Russell, Glen Campbell, Larry Knechtel, Glen D. Hardin, Chuck Blackwell and Joey Cooper.  This show hosted some of the most legendary names in music – often with the Shindogs playing right behind them.

The Wrecking Crew

Burton and some of his Shindog band mates also became much sought after session musicians.  Along with some of the other biggest names in the business like Carol Kaye, Tommy Tedesco and Hal Blaine (to name but just a few), this band of merry musical men (and woman – sorry, Carol!) became known as the Wreaking Crew.  This group of highly talented musicians played on some of the biggest hits in music history.

Some of the artists and bands that Burton played on back in the Wreaking Crew days are Dean Martin, Jackie DeShannon, The Crickets, Dick Dale & His Del-Tones, The Everly Brothers, Bobby Vee, Buck Owens, Jan & Dean, Merle Haggard, Buffalo Springfield and the Monkees (and that doesn’t name anywhere near all of them).

However, it’s likely that you know James Burton more from his work as Elvis Presley’s lead guitarist from ’69 through his death.  Or, perhaps you know him from his work as John Denver’s lead ax man for 15 years. Then again, you might remember him during his days of backing up Emmylou Harris or from playing lead guitar on Roy Orbison’s last recorded performance film, Black and White Night.

Regardless of where you might think you know Burton from, one thing is for certain: It’s no surprise that he’s a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer among many, many other honors bestowed on him.  It’s also no wonder that many of his fellow – if not equally as prolific – musician friends and industry insiders selflessly heap accolades on the man. Here is a sampling of what some of them had to say to me about Burton:

Chuck Leavell – Keyboardist for the Rolling Stones

“While I've never had the honor of playing with James Burton, I did have the honor of meeting him backstage on a Stones tour in Keith Richards' dressing room. He is certainly an icon of rock 'n roll, and is revered by every guitar player I know. James is the Real Deal.”

Rick Derringer – Legendary Guitar Player and Producer

“James Burton is one of the true innovators on the electric guitar. As a kid, I always looked forward to the OZZIE & HARRIET SHOW. When he was in his late teens, Rick Nelson would always perform his new music each week, and of course his guitarist was James Burton. Rick Nelson's records were alright, but the high point for me was hearing the guitar solos performed by James Burton. It was a real thrill when I finally had the opportunity to perform along with him at one of his benefits several years ago. I pray that he lives for many, many more years and I'll still look forward to hearing him every opportunity that I get.”

Bruce Kulick – Guitarist for Kiss and Grand Funk Railroad

“James Burton has always been a unique guitarist I think of whenever I hear Elvis Presley's name.  His biting attack on the Fender Telecaster was an important part of Elvis's later years of his career.  Although I am not the biggest fan of clean guitar tones, James made it magical working with The King and the other huge stars he recorded and performed with. Las Vegas era Elvis would not have been the same without his contribution.  Burton is a legend.”

Terry Stewart – CEO, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum

“There are only a few guitarist that you hear across the breadth and the landscape in the history of rock and roll and, certainly, James Burton is one of them.  Whether it’s that enormous, extraordinary riff on Suzie Q with Dale Hawkins to all the great Ricky Nelson records that we’ve heard like Hello, Mary Lou; the various sessions with Elvis Presley – how much better does it get.  And, on top of that, he’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet.

Is it any wonder, then, that I would want to have a chat with this iconic man of the strings?  It was a pleasant surprise that I received word that I would get to have a lengthy chat with Mr. Burton.  He’s an incredibly youthful, vibrant and active 72 years young with a schedule that would exhaust many a teenager.  He’s still in huge demand all over the world and counts many of the biggest names in the business as his friends.

I called up Mr. Burton at his offices in Shreveport, Louisiana, in the middle of a very busy, hectic morning there.  Despite the flurry of activity, with laser-like focus, he blocked out that commotion and zeroed in on my questions.

Before I asked my first question, he apologetically told me, “It’s a mad house here right now. We’re changing things around. We already have ‘Studio A’ and we’re going to go for ‘Studio B’. There’s just a lot of stuff going on right now.  People like to come in on tours and see things.”

I first asked James about his charity, The James Burton Foundation.

 “Well, I’ve always wanted to do ‘my show’.  All of my friends in the business that I’ve worked with, we’re like a big family. I’ve always wanted to do my own show and invite my friends. Well, in doing that, there was something missing – something that I really wanted to do. I discussed it with my family – my wife and I, my son and my daughter – and we decided that this would be a great opportune time to form a foundation.

“So, we formed The James Burton Foundation because I wanted to give something back to the kids and work with the kids to give them the challenge of music in their lives.  In doing that, it was fantastic to be able to help the kids. We got music back in schools with teachers teaching kids how to play. It’s just unbelievable – and being able to go to places like St. Jude Children’s Hospital and furnish instruments to kids in Danny Thomas’s hospital there in Memphis is fantastic.

“Also, to do things for the Shriner’s – to give guitars to the Shriner’s because they have a wonderful hospital for the children and to go to the V.A. Hospital for the veterans – to do all those wonderful things like that and to get music back in schools is unbelievable!  Fantastic!

“And the show (the James Burton International Guitar Show in Shreveport, Louisiana) – the thing that we do for the kids, is non-profit - all volunteer.  Nobody gets paid. We don’t make a dime. The money goes strictly to the kids and music. That was a great thing about the studio – to get them in and do some recording and see how they’re progressing with their music and what they’re doing with their lives.  It’s just a great thing to invite my friends – the artists that came and performed at my show and donated their time for the kids and the foundation – it’s just unbelievable.”

Quite the salesman, he got me so excited about the foundation, I asked when the next show was going to be.

“Hopefully, we’re looking at next year.  This year is a very, very busy year. We’re going into (building) Studio B.  We’re going to have two nice working rooms. We’re going for that – to get that happening. Hopefully, if everything comes together the way we’ve planned, we’ll be able to have a wonderful show next year.”

Burton excitedly shared the names of some of the artists who have performed in past shows.

“Oh, yeah!  We’ve had some incredible talent. I mean, the list of talent we’ve had would just blow you away. You know, Steve Lukather and Eric Johnson, Brad Paisley, Steve Wariner, Dr. John, Steven Seagal – the list just goes on forever. The wonderful people that came and donated their time is just amazing. To continue what we’re doing to teach the kids through the foundation is just wonderful.”

 “One of my long term goals is – I’ve bought a building around the corner so we have the whole corner there – I want to put in a car museum.  It’s going to have cars, guitars and lots of memorabilia. It will be incredible.  The kids love stuff like that.  And then we have a lot of wonderful folks from around the world who come here – the tourists – they love it here.  We just had a group of people from Canada – from Ontario – walking around, taking pictures.”

Putting on his Shreveport Chamber of Commerce hat, Burton plugs what the rest of the city has to offer. “We have a statue of Elvis and myself right in front of the municipal auditorium.  I played there when I was 14 years old with all the top artists. Elvis came there – performed there. Hank Williams.  You’re talking Jerry Lee Lewis.  All the top artists. Roy Orbison.  Everyone performed there.  All the great country entertainers, a lot of rock and roll entertainers.  Even Jimi Hendrix performed in that building. Oh yeah, it’s just incredible.”

Continuing his sharing of the foundations goals, Mr. Burton says, “You know, though, the great thing is working with the kids, teaching the kids. Another goal we have is we’re having volunteers come in and teach the children how to play. We have a gentleman who volunteers his time to work on the guitars for the kids.  He works on professional people’s instruments, as well. That’s another part of the business . . . fix the instruments and put ‘em in top shape and to keep the ball rollin’. I’d like to record the kids and, hopefully, add a DVD to that, as well – of them sitting there playing so that they can see themselves doing what they’re doing and have a CD of what they played.

“When we opened on January 8th – on Elvis’ birthday – we had some young kids come and play – we recorded them in the studio. We had some of the young singers and some of the young players – it was fantastic!”

With such great work being accomplished by the foundation, I wondered if he is getting a lot of support from instrument manufacturers and artists.

“Yes, yes, we are. We certainly are. A lot of companies, they’re just so blown away with what we’re doing with the kids.  They’ve offered their services in any way possible to make it happen. I think it’s wonderful along with the artists that come and do the shows and the manufacturers that furnish things that we need to make all of this possible.”

With these great, lofty goals in mind for the future, I asked James what is the most memorable thing that the foundation has accomplished so far.

“I think that working with the kids and bringing the studio into the function and getting the music in the schools, helping the kids – it’s truly an honor and blessing from God, to be able to pull this together and make it work.  You know, getting music back in schools was a wonderful challenge, and we did it! That was a great thing. I think, just to remember what we’re doing for the kids is very important. It gives them a new life.

“It’s amazing the e-mails the letters and the phone calls that I get from all the kids, the parents and all the people that are involved in music, what it’s doing for the kids and what it’s doing for them in school. It’s just amazing. Teachers call and tell me what a wonderful thing it’s done for the kids. They want to go to school. They can’t wait to get there and play their instrument, do their homework and make good grades. It’s wonderful what’s happening.”

Knowing that many Boomerocity readers from around the world would want to be a part of what all the James Burton Foundation has going on, he shares, “We have the website, www.jamesburtonfoundation.org, that people can go to and make donations.  People can also send checks to:

James Burton Foundation

714 Elvis Presley Avenue

Shreveport, LA 71101

In 2001, James Burton was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with such huge names as Aerosmith, Chris Blackwell, Solomon Burke, The Flamingos, Michael Jackson, Johnnie Johnson, Queen, Paul Simon, Steely Dan, Talking Heads and Richie Valens.  To add to that honor, Burton’s induction was presented by none other than Keith Richards.

I asked Burton what were his thoughts when he learned that he was being inducted.

“It was incredible, man!  The excitement and - I mean, what an honor!  Truly an honor!  I believe that any award that you accomplish in your career – music or whatever you’re doing – it’s truly an honor and it proves the hard work that you’ve done and the hard work that you’ve accomplished over the years and how it’s accepted and appreciated, you know?  And, either way you look at it, it’s an honor. Incredible!”

I asked if Burton and Richards were friends before that or if that was a relatively new friendship.

“Yeah, Keith and I go back to 1964 – Shindig!  I had a group called the Shindogs.  Keith and the Rolling Stones came and they brought a singer that was on the show – Howlin’ Wolf – and I was nominated to play guitar for Howlin’ Wolf on the show. It was great.  Keith and I have been friends forever. He has been wonderful and has helped us with the foundation in all kinds of ways – like making donations. He’s a very busy person – one of his goals and one of my goals is to play together on my show – the show we do here – the guitar festival. Of course, Keith and I have worked together on the Gram Parson taping that we did up in Santa Barbara and in Universal City in California there. We’ve played together so it was an incredible honor to have him induct me into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I don’t know if you know some of the other people that were inducted at the same time: Michael Jackson, Aerosmith, Queen, Solomon Burke, Paul Simon and the list goes on from there.”

When I asked James if he and Keith were going to work on anything in the future like, say, at the guitar show, he gave me his signature “awe, shucks” tone as he said, “Ah, well, we hope so. I’m hoping to get him down here in my studio and do some recording together and have some fun.  He’s always there with me in the foundation for the kids because he believes in the same thing that I believe in – in helping the kids and doing all of those good things like that.  It’s all a blessing from God that we can do this.  He (God) makes all of these wonderful, great things happen.”

In addition to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Burton was inducted into the Musician’s Hall of Fame in Nashville, the Rock Walk in Hollywood, the Fender Hall of Fame, countless Country Music Award nominations with 7 awarded, a statue the aforementioned statue in his honor in Shreveport, a Grammy for your work on “Cluster Pluck” with Brad Paisley, and ranked 20th on Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of top 100 guitarists of all time, among many other awards.  I put James on the spot by asking him, out of all of those awards, is there one that makes him keep pinching yourself and say, ‘Look, Ma!’.

With what sounded to me as the utmost in humility and sincerity, he said, “You know, I pretty much look at all of my awards like that. To me, it’s an honor to accept any award. I do have one coming up here real soon, matter of fact. On September the 10th, they’re going to induct me into the Delta Music Museum Hall of Fame in Ferriday, Louisiana, with Jerry Lee Lewis, Mickey Gilley and I don’t know who all else is there. But I’ve had the call and they’re going to present me with the induction there.

“Again, all of these awards show the work that you’ve done through your career – all these awards to me are truly an honor and a blessing from God because it proves that you’re working towards some goal to do good things and you’ve given 120 percent. I believe that that’s what it’s all about.”

Despite the countless numbers of albums that he has played over his long career, Burton has come out with precious few of his own recordings.  His first was recorded with Ralph Mooney in 1969 and is entitled, Corn Pickin’ and Slick Slidin’.  His second album was a true solo effort in 1970 entitled, The Guitar Sounds of James Burton.  Recently, though, he released a family gospel project entitled, The Spiritual Strings of James Burton.  Since the interview took place before James sent me my own copy of the CD, I asked him to tell me about the album.

“Yeah, you know, I came home off of a tour.  I love gospel music.  Elvis, after every show, he loved singing gospel music. After performing two shows a night in Vegas, he would want to go upstairs to his suite and sing gospel music the rest of the night which would go on for hours and hours and hours.” Burton said with an effortless laugh that comes from obviously very pleasant memories.  “I’ve always loved gospel. I like playing in church. I think it’s great. My wife had a great vision – God came to her in a vision of me doing a gospel album with family.  My son plays and sings and she (Mrs. Burton) has two nieces that are really good singers.

“So we put this project together along with a friend, keyboard player and great singer and entertainer, Eddie Anders, a good friend who is up in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  Eddie talked to my wife and they came up with an idea to do this project.  We went into the studio and cut that record.  It’s really great. I had some wonderful guests like Marty Haggard – Merle Haggard’s son and a great singer – he came on and performed a couple of songs with us. My son played and sang on it. It’s a great project. We had so much fun doing it. I want to do another one as soon as I can slow down enough to get back into the studio and do it.”

As one might imagine, with countless Presley fans the world over, Burton’s time on the road is filled with Elvis related appearances and performances.  I asked about the demands on his time.

“Sometimes I think that I’m busier now than when I started!  It’s just amazing. Yeah, it’s non-stop. What little time that I have off I try to spend it with my family here in Shreveport. When I’m not travelling then I’m here working and helping with all of these projects going on for the foundation and in the studio. Also, I’m starting up work on the museum thing that we’re putting together.  I travel a lot. As a matter of fact, I’ve got so much stuff coming up the rest of the year I couldn’t find the time to even do a foundation show this year because of my schedule. I know that next year is looking quite the same way but I’m going to try to fit it (a foundation show) in for next year if it works out.”

“I’m doing a show coming up with Gunner and Matthew – Rick Nelson’s boys – we’re doing that up in Wisconsin – way up in that area. I’ve got a couple of shows that I’m doing with them.  The next day after that, I’m heading out to Vienna, Austria.”

When I commented about how wore out I got from reading his schedule when he’s hot and heavy on the road, he replied with a laugh, “Now you know how I feel! Ha! Ha!  Nah, I’m just kidding.  I really love it. Once you get busy, you’ll always be nineteen.”

Before the interview, I solicited some questions from Boomerocity readers for me to relay to Mr. Burton.  One question that I shared was: Who inspired you to pick up the guitar?

“You know, my mother said that, ever since I was big enough to walk, I ran around the house singing, beating on stuff and pretending I was playing on a guitar. God blessed me with my talent. It’s pretty much born in me. I never had training or lessons or anything.  I just picked it up ‘by ear’.  The good Lord was my teacher.  I don’t think that you can get any better than that.

“But being able to pick up an instrument and play by ear with whoever and any place and to love it and enjoy it and be right on, that’s truly a blessing.  I played the radio a lot. I pretty much was raised on country music and got into rhythm and blues, bluegrass, gospel, which turned into rockabilly then rock and roll. I guess that I was pretty much born at the right time. I got into music when the music was really good, simplistic and great.  You could understand the lyrics – good songs and good music. I was blessed with the right time – the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. It wound up changing quite a bit in the 80’s and 90’s.”

I asked James if my research was accurate in saying that his first electric guitar was a 1953 Fender Telecaster.  He shared the story around the purchase of that guitar.

“My mother and dad bought me my first Telecaster – a ’53 Tele. Oh, yeah!  I saw that guitar in a music store here – J&S Music here in Shreveport – I was walking down Milam Street and looked up and saw this guitar hanging in the showroom window there.  Boy! That guitar really caught my eye so I went home and told my mother about it. So, my dad comes home from work and she says, ‘Well, I think he’s found a guitar that he’s pretty much set on – one he really likes.’ So, my dad said, ‘Well, take him down there and get it for him.’ We went down the next day and looked at it. I played it and, aw, man!  That was me!  It had my name all over it!

“So, mother and dad bought that for me. That was back in the 50’s – I guess around ’52, 3, something like that. Beautiful guitar, man!  I still have that guitar. It’s been on thousands and thousands and thousands of records.  It’s been with most of the top artists of the world. In ’68 – ’69, my ’68 paisley (Telecaster), I played with Elvis - it became very famous with Elvis, Emmylou Harris, the Hot Band and just a lot of great artists that I played that guitar with. Then, I did my signature guitar with Fender – the James Burton model – which everyone pretty much got what they call a “signature model” but I started that telecaster program with Fender – me and Dan Smith – the signature model, the JB model.  Of course, other guitar players – Eric (Clapton), Jeff Beck, Yngwie Malmsteen – everybody got signature models.  Fender started planning it out but I started that program – the signature model.”

Since he brought up his signature model, I asked how sales have been with the line.

“Fantastic!  I’ve done two or three different models – the black and gold paisley, the red and black paisley with some different colors – the solid pearl white, the solid red. Then, my latest one – the one with flames on it – they all sold really well and they’re still selling. It’s amazing. It’s a great guitar. I did a three pick up telecaster with a five-way switch. I put the flame paisley together for my show in 2005 – when I did my first show. I presented every artist on the show with a James Burton Signature Model – a flame guitar.  Eric Johnson looked at his – he was standing there, holding it – and he told me, ‘Oh my god! I don’t even own a Telecaster!  This is my first Telecaster!’  And then he told his tech guy, ‘Go set it up for me. I want to play it on the show!’ So, he played it on the show – as well as Brad Paisley and Dr. John.”

When James mentioned Brad Paisley, I couldn’t help but blurt out what a huge fan of his that I am.  Burton conveyed the same kind of excitement when he commented about Paisley.

“Oh, he’s a sweet man.  He’s just a wonderful talent.  He did my very first show.  Him, Eric Johnson, Dr. John, Steve Crawford, Gunner and Matthew (Nelson).  The list goes on forever– even my old buddy, Seymour Duncan played.  We just had a big line-up.  Johnny Rivers – I think we had 18 or 19 on the line-up for the first show. “

I asked the Master of the Telecaster how he feels about how technology has impacted the construction of guitars today.

“Well, you know, Leo (Fender) and I were talking and I told Leo one day – Leo Fender never stopped experimenting.  He felt like that if he handed a guitar to someone, that was the best guitar in their lives and they felt that there was nothing could be better on that guitar. I think they’ve made the best guitars.  I think making something different is what the manufacturer’s are trying to do – the technology they’re trying to change – the pick-ups, the different knob controls – you know there’s a lot of technology stuff.  The actual instrument is up to the individual.  When you pick up an instrument, how does it feel for you? Another person might pick up that instrument and say, ‘Nah, this is not for me’, you know? The technology is one thing but the actual playing – when a guy’s fingers – hands – touch that instrument, that’s when it happens. The instruments are all different. There’s hardly no two guitars alike, even though they came out of the same mold and they have same equipment on them and everything, there’s a difference.  Isn’t that amazing?

“The actual playing of the instrument is in your hands and your touch and your feel and things that come from the heart and the soul. I mean, just like two people can pick up the same instrument and what you hear is two different people. Some of these questions are very hard to answer but I just think that technology is one thing and the actual person playing the instrument is another thing, you know? Every person playing an instrument has their opinion of that instrument and the way they play.”

And just how many guitars does Burton own?

“Oh, my god, I have no idea.  I’ve got a few guitars and I just want to play some of them. I don’t know. I couldn’t even put a figure on it. I know that it’s more than two or three because I like to play more than two or three different instruments” James said, laughing.  “And I enjoy playing different instruments, you know? And the thing that you’ll know about a studio player is that they’re pretty much required to play different instruments. I like playing a dobro, banjo, mandolin, slide dobro, acoustic dobro – most all stringed instruments. Most guitar players sort of fall into that bag. But when you go into the studio to cut with an artist, the producer might say, ‘Hey, how about playing 12 string today? Or acoustic or, hey, put some dobro on this today?’ That’s the thing that we do.”

While even the casual observer can tell that Burton is just a tad partial to the Fender Telecaster, I wasn’t at all sure what his acoustic preferences were so I asked him.

“Well, I play a lot of different acoustics. I love a Taylor.  Taylor Guitar is probably one of my most favorite guitars now.  Bob Taylor and Kurt Listug, these guys are my friends.  When these guys got started with their company, they were building , like, five guitars a day. They went from five guitars a day to, like, five thousand a day. Just unbelievable. And QUALITY !  First class quality instruments and they would not release an instrument unless it was inspected, perfected and ready to go. They were my friends and they gave me some Taylor guitars when they first got started that I played and I loved. I just think that it’s one of the finest guitars made today.”

I try to remember to ask all guitar players if they have a guitar that they consider the “holy grail” that they either own or want to own.  I happened to remember to ask James. His answer was almost like peering into guitar history.

“You know, I can’t think of what that would be.  What would that be? Hmmm.  You know, I can’t think of anything – you know, there’s a lot of old guitars that you want to get a hold of – that Jimmie Rodgers played or something that’s, like, Marty Stuart playing the Clarence White B Bender.  Clarence White and I were friends.  He brought me this guitar and said, ‘Tell me what you think about this.’ He started building the B Bender, right?  He did – and I took him to Fender to see if they might be interested.  Of course, at that time, they weren’t ready for the B Bender but Marty Stuart’s playing Clarence White’s B Bender which is, I thought, a pretty interesting deal. And there’s some other guys – Gene Parsons and a lot of different people that had put some of those together – the B Benders.  But I can’t really think of anything unless I could come up with an old Martin that is too good to be true or an old, old, old Gibson,  something like that.

“You know, acoustic instruments are very, very fragile instruments and they’re very popular with the collectors to get, really, a good one, you know.  Like, if you can get the Stradivarius violin, that’s the one to have, you know what I mean? (Laughs) Of course, if you’re looking for a guitar or something like that, call George Gruhn, he knows guitars in and out.  He knows the real collector ones. I have several collector guitars and, you know, the pink paisley that I played with Elvis became very popular, you know, famous with a lot of the guitar players out there because they all wanted one. They didn’t make a lot – a lot of the originals.  The pink paisley – the one I played with Elvis – is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame up in Cleveland, along with one of my jump suits and some other stuff.”

As often happens when I interview people, an off-the-wall question comes to my mind that I feel compelled to ask.  Such was the case when I asked Mr. Burton whatever happened to the famous black Gibson Dove acoustic guitar that Elvis was seen with on stage in the early 70’s.

“Well, you know, I really don’t know but he went through a lot of different guitars. He played the Jumbo 200 – the blonde ones.  He threw two of those away one night, uh, in one show – the two blonde ones.  But then he played the Gibson guitar with the insignia – the karate insignia on it. I don’t know what happened to all of those guitars.  I’m sure they’re probably someplace in the collection at Graceland – I don’t know.

“I tell ya, Elvis did not care about material things, you know? He would give you the shirt off his back. He enjoyed giving stuff away to people – cars and all that stuff. He enjoyed it. That was one of the things that made him real happy, doing that.”

When I commented that there wasn’t enough people at that level who have a philanthropic heart like Presley’s, James is quick to add another icon to that list.

“John Denver was a wonderful, generous man, too. A great guy to work with and a great talent. But, you’re right. Elvis, he loved his fans. He loved his God. He always took his Bible with him every place he went. He really enjoyed reading it. Once in awhile, we’d all sit down and he would quote scriptures out of the Bible. Everybody’s looking around and he would say, ‘Let me go to my room and get my Bible and check this.’ I mean, he could not even open a Bible and quote all these scriptures, man, almost word-for-word, man. Unbelievable!  He loved it. He was just a great guy, man. Put aside being a great entertainer, singer. He was a natural talent. He was another ‘God’s Gift’ to the music world – the industry. He became THE icon.”

I mentioned to Mr. Burton that I’ve often wondered what would have happened if Elvis hadn’t gone into rock and roll and, instead, followed his passion for Southern Gospel music.  Mr. Burton shares a story that Elvis shared with him that took place before Presley broke into the music business.

“Oh, absolutely!  Absolutely!  Can you imagine what he could do for the young folks today – bringing them into the love of God, being a Christian and all of the wonderful things goes with it?  Elvis told me stories about when the (southern gospel quartet) Blackwood Brothers would do shows and J.D. (Sumner) was singing bass for them.  Elvis loved bass. He loved gospel.  He would go to the back door and try to sneak in to see the show because he loved gospel and he wanted to be there. So, J.D. let him come in and be there.  It was great.  Of course, he loved J.D. and all the gospel groups and quartets around the world.  He talked about it a lot and he always wanted to sing gospel after the shows. As I said earlier, we would go up for hours and hours and sing and play gospel music.”

When I asked James if the gospel singing was his most poignant memories of Elvis, he was quick with his answer.

“No, no. Just memories of being with him in general. It was a wonderful nine years – just what a great man he was. He touched many people around the world and did so much to help people.  I just remember what an incredible, great person he was other than being an incredible entertainer, actor, singer, even just a wonderful, fantastic person. He loved his family and all of his cousins, ‘brothers’, uncles and aunts. When he called me and asked me to put a band together for him in ’69 – he called me in ’68 but I was doing an album with Frank Sinatra – but, when he called me in ’69, we talked for three hours on the phone. He wanted me to put a band together for him and open Las Vegas at the International Hotel, which is now the Hilton.

“Incredible things happened through all of that. First off, it was a very hard decision I had to make because I had so many clients that I worked with in the studios, recording and that field.  It was a very tough decision on my part to say, ‘Okay, I’ll do this and I’ll go.’ But, I did do it and it worked out wonderful because I didn’t lose anything. I continued my career because I had a career before Elvis and a career after Elvis and this is all a blessing from God on me, you know what I’m saying?  To be able to work with so many great entertainers in the world – and I love it.”

Since Burton has seen and done it all, I asked him if there was any new talent that has commanded his attention.

“Well, you know, I think a lot of them sound alike, look alike.  I think that they’re all great. I still miss some of the old ones that aren’t being played on the radio. I think the radio has changed an awful lot in this business. I miss a lot of them. I miss Hank, Jr. I miss Merle Haggard. I miss a lot of the old Hank Williams. I miss some of the people that really made the music world opened up the lives of a lot of people. Of course, I appreciate a lot of the new talent, too. There’s a lot of great ones out there like the Keith Urban’s and the Brad Paisley’s – oh, wow!  These guys – they’re all fantastic.

“They’re just a whole bunch of them out there that’s just fantastic. I like them all. Of course, I don’t get a chance to listen to a lot of radio because, when you’re in the studio creating music, you don’t get a chance to go back and listen to a lot of stuff. But I like a lot of stuff out there.

“There’s a little girl out there, Christina Aguilera, she is fantastic!  I’m tellin’ ya, it’s unbelievable the things that she can do.  My wife and I watched her movie that’s out with Cher (“Burlesque”). Oh! You gotta see it, oh man!  That little girl – she can perform. She can get up there with the best and top of the line. She can lead the show. She’s just an AMAZING singer! I won’t say much about that (the movie) but you DO need to see that, if you can!”

“I’m doing a book – my life story. There’s so many things that I could write about. I could do a whole book on Elvis and a whole book on Ricky.  But I’m going to get my story out there and I think everyone is going to enjoy it.”

Any idea when it will be released? “Not at the moment. I’m ready to get rolling!”

After the call, I was struck by something Mr. Burton said during our chat.  He said, “I’ve been wonderfully blessed and I have a wonderful family and all of the wonderful support from my family and my mother and father.  My father has passed away and my mother is 96 years old and she’s a wonderful lady, hanging in there. I go visit her every chance I get and we spend as much time together as we can. She’s here in Shreveport so we’re truly blessed.”

On May 23rd, just a couple of weeks after our chat, James mother, Mrs. Lola Poland Burton, passed away at the age of 96 years young.  Among all the treasured memories that James and his family must have of Mrs. Burton, the world owes her a debt of gratitude for her fostering little James talent and making the sacrifice in purchasing that ’53 Telecaster.

You can keep up with James Burton’s incredibly busy world and the tremendous work his foundation is doing by checking out his website, www.james-burton.net.  While you’re at it, why don’t you drop by his foundation’s website and make a donation to the worthy cause that James is pursuing?  You can make your donation by visiting www.jamesburtonfoundation.org/supportus/

Bebe Buell (2011)

September, 2011

bebebuellhardloveI have to start this piece off by emphatically saying that Bebe Buell has been a good, supporting friend of Boomerocity.  She was among the first ten interviews granted to this site and she has been so generous in voicing her support of our endeavor ever since.  For that, I’ll be forever grateful.

I’m not alone in feeling this way.  It’s that kind, loving heart that has drawn people into her vortex and her music has been a melodic hook that has kept them captivated.  All one has to do is read her interaction with fans on her Facebook page and the incredible, favorable press that she receives – even when she doesn’t have a new CD to promote.

And, speaking of new CD’s to promote, Bebe has a tremendous new project that lands on September 27th entitled Hard Love.  It’s here first album since her highly acclaimed Sugar album and promises to not only solidify her already strong fan base but will result in adding more people to it.

Bebe called me recently to discuss Hard Love and starts off by bringing me up to date on what has been filling her calendar in recent days.

“I’m just basking in the afterglow of a year of really, really hard work, making this record, meeting Wendy. I’m coming up on the anniversary of when I met Wendy Dio, which was October 26th, 2010.  It’ll be a year and in that year I’ve lost 35 pounds, recorded a new album and getting ready to play live shows again.  It’s just amazing. I think it’s a message to anyone who thinks there’s an expiration date on our art.”

Did she say “35 pounds”?  I had to ask how she lost that much weight.

“Jenny Craig!” And she then breaks out into a song about Jenny that she improvised on the spot. After extolling the virtues of the Ms. Craig’s dietary program coupled with exercise, Bebe concludes the subject by saying, “I think that it was Michele Rundgren (wife of her former beau, Todd) that did that fabulous video of how you incorporate exercise into your everyday, domestic goddess duties. Very funny!  I laughed so hard. She really is a funny woman.”

Ever the rocking artist, Ms. Buell then segues into the realm of music.

“But, for me, too, being blocked into this creative space and actually having a manager and somebody giving me advice and guidance, it puts a whole different spin on the work.  You can actually concentrate on the work. You don’t have {mprestriction ids="*"}to worry about all of the other stuff as much, which is a luxury for me. I’ve been a one-woman army for 35 years.”

I asked Bebe about how Wendy is doing since the passing of her iconic husband, Ronnie James Dio, on May 16th of last year.  Buell is very protective of Wendy’s privacy but was very quick to genuinely and sincerely brag on her new friend and manager.

“Everybody knows what a brilliant, skillful manager she is. It’s not a secret in the industry. She’s very, very well liked and respected. She knows when to play a heavy hand and she knows when to be sweet. Like any of the great managers, you don’t want to be in the room when she’s ticked off.  It’s really wonderful to have somebody like that looking out for me that I can talk to.  Niji Entertainment is her and Ronnie’s label and I’m just so honored to be on it. I’ve acquired a new family but it’s a life changing, life affirming family and it’s really wonderful.

“It’s all come full circle: seeing my dad again for the first time in 2010, finding Wendy in 2010 and then the growth period in 2011 and getting ready to move into 2012 with a brand new, shiny product. I don’t mind being the poster child for ageism and sexism and all that stuff. I really want to represent somebody that has absolutely squished that and kicked it’s butt!”

With Bebe living on the east coast and Wendy on the west, I had to ask how the two maidens of rock wound up in each other’s orbit.

“She saw me live and that’s the beauty of this. We didn’t know each other. We weren’t ‘rock chicks’ together. We weren’t rock wives together. We didn’t know each other. I knew of her as a brilliant manager and I think I met her once briefly in the 70’s when Ronnie was in Rainbow – a sort of backstage exchange of two fairy princesses. I think we immediately liked each other, I was thinking she was so beautiful.  She looked like an ethereal Maid Marion with the long, gorgeous white hair – that’s really her hair that fairy color – like the girl in Game of Thrones on HBO – that fairy white color!

“Somebody from the label, Dean Schachtel, had had his eye on me for a couple of years wanting to sign me. He was at Warner Brothers for 18 years and then he moved over to Steve Vai’s label and he wanted to sign me to that label. I respect Steve Vai but I didn’t think that I would fit in on Steve Vai’s label. Where would I fit in here? I don’t think they would know what to do with me, quite frankly.

“Dean - he and I had been talking on the phone. I had never met him in person. He’s a person that I met through Facebook that had been following my career for awhile and had some leverage and power in the industry - somebody that was respected. 

“He was at some T. J. Martel event here in New York – uptown.  They noticed that some people were gathering their belongings and getting ready to get out of there.  Dean asked somebody, ‘Where are you guys going?” ‘Oh, god, we’ve got to get downtown.  Bebe Buell’s going onstage at R Bar for Bob Gruen’s birthday party in 15 minutes.’ He’s never seen me live. His interest in me and the band was strictly from out music and from what he’d seen and heard on video and that kind of stuff.

“To make a long story short, he grabs Wendy, throws her in a car, literally, and they zoom down there. I guess that I was already into my first or second song when they arrived and they sat down at the bar. 

“If you’ve never been to the R Bar, you don’t realize that the room where the music is, you have to go through another door to get to the show but they have my show blasting through speakers throughout the whole place.

“Wendy said to Dean, ‘Well, I like whatever I’m hearing here. Whatever music they’re playing, I like that!’ Dean goes, ‘That’s Bebe, Wendy!’  She just thought that I had an unusual, distinct sound is what she told me after meeting me. 

“She went in and watched me.   I remember seeing Dean from the stage and thinking, ‘That can’t be Dean’ because I only knew him from photographs. ‘He lives in California. What would he be doing here?’ It did turn out to be Dean. He’s 6’7” so he was standing in the middle of the room like a giraffe and I keep seeing that beautiful head of fairy dust hair shining and I kept wondering who it was.  The way the lights were hitting me I couldn’t see that it was Wendy and I don’t know if I would have even known at that point. I never met her since we were kids.  I had seen pictures of her but I wouldn’t have put that together on stage.

“I came off stage and Dean came over to me and I said, ‘I thought that was you but I couldn’t be sure’.  He turned around and said, ‘I want you to meet Wendy Dio’.  The next thing I knew, we were all out to dinner then the next thing I knew, she flew back to New York.”

With the infectious passion that I’ve come to love about Bebe, she then tells me what sealed the deal with her regarding wanting to work with Ms. Dio.

“I’ll tell you what sold me – oh, my god!  She was in upstate New York and was meant to fly down for a show that I was doing. It was a very important show – a showcase that I was throwing at S.I.R. 

“There happened to be huge snow storm – one of those storms that scared everybody to death. Of course, her flight was cancelled.  Well, Wendy rented a car and drove five hours to be at my showcase!  That’s when I knew that she was it. I knew that we had a connection and I knew that we had something. 

It didn’t take long at all for the two female rock powerhouses to kick it into high gear and get Bebe and Jim working on a new album and honing her image.  Buell says that it was, “ . . . pretty immediate. She brought me out to L.A. in February to be a presenter at the Pollstar awards. She also felt that I needed to get some new pictures and a little styling. I mean, she thinks like a real manager. Alan Mercer took these amazing photos. We did the wonderful angel/devil photo (Bebe and Wendy together) and we announced our partnership. 

“I began Jenny Craig in March. It was not just a joint decision but it was a decision for me. I think that I owe it to my fans when I go on stage to look like a rock star because of the way that I move and the kind of music I play. It’s been an incredible challenge and she (Dio) has made me want to be the best ‘me’.  She’s given me a lot of confidence in my talent because I always wondered, ‘Am I too unique or is what I do too ‘underground’’ to ever be something that everybody would get’?  She seems to think that the statement I’m making is powerful and it’s time.  We’ll see.”

As we begin to segue to talk about Hard Love, I remarked how it has a different vibe and sound that her previous project, Sugar, has.  Buell shared why that was, which lead her to include Black Angel, Timeline and Sugar in the Hard Love playlist.

“Well, Sugar was Pro Tools – it was a ‘machine’ record.  It was made because we didn’t have any money. We didn’t have a label and we didn’t have a band. It was just me, Bobbie and Jim in Bobbie’s ex-wife’s home studio.  We really had to pool ourselves to get that record made. We jumped around a little. We did the vocals at someone else’s little home studio and then I went up to Boston and mixed at Wooly Mammoth Studios – David Minehan’s studio. We had to call in a lot of favors to get that record made. Jim and Bobbie wrote almost all of the music and we, together, wrote almost all of the lyrics. 

“Bobbie’s vision about how things sound, he had a very different vision than Jim and I.  Jim and I really wanted to play rock.   Bobbie’s the one that hears all of that noise and all that busy stuff in there. That’s why we parted ways because we just don’t see eye to eye musically.

“I still stand by that record (Sugar). I love it. It was my ‘Enya moment’. I stepped out of the box a little and I made an experimental kind of record and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that in an artist’s career.  Sugar did a lot for me in that it let a lot of people know that I was back and that I’m not some punk rock chick.  I make a lot of music that’s filled with depth. I had to make the record or I was going to lose my mind. At that point in time, I would have made it with spoons and pots! I mean, I was desperate!  I was ready to start singing in the subway.  I wanted to do my music so bad that I was about to have a heart attack over it.  The stress was enormous.  My shrink said to me, ‘You know? God bless you, child! You crossed over.  You truly are an artist!’

“Not only have I gone through this huge transformation but I’ve done it without the aid of any anti-depressants or any of that kind of stuff that women think they need when they get older.  You don’t need that crap!  You don’t need to put that stuff in your body.  You really don’t. I don’t want to sound like a Scientologist right now because I’m not. I know there’s bipolar people and people who really do need medication. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about women that start thinking, ‘Oh, man!  I feel a little freaky. Maybe I need to take some Zoloft or maybe I need to take this one or that one’?  Lexapro.  That’s the one that really seems to be luring women in now. I’m not going there. I’ve been blessed.  I don’t even know what a hot flash feels like!

On Hard Love, Bebe comes blasting out of the chute with Mother of Rock and Roll. I almost expected it to be a look at her reputation as the muse behind some very big, iconic rock tunes but it’s more about her current place in life.

“I just decided to own it. People are always calling me the mother of Liv Tyler; the girlfriend of this one, the this or that one, the blah blah of this and that. I was thinking of that Keith Richards song where he sings, ‘She’s my little rock and roll . . .’ (from the song T&A) and I was thinking of Liv.  I was walking down the street when the lyrics came to me. I started singing, ‘I am the mother of rock and roll’ and then I stopped myself and thought, ‘Is this too narcissistic?’ Then I thought, ‘I can do this!’

“Then I started thinking that everybody calls me the mother or the lover or the this or the that of everything all the time – and because rock and roll is who I am and my heart and my passion, I decided to take that ‘I am THE mother OF rock and roll’ and what they don’t realize is that I’m saying Liv, too, in that because of Little T&A – my inspiration. There’s a lot of people who inspired me in that song and there’s a little Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, too.

“I’ve also added a background singer – Louisa Bradshaw. I call her Mysteria. It think having another woman to sing with that completely understands my voice and completely knows how to sing with me has really, really, really given me a whole different kind of freedom to just really express myself and go with the mood.

“So, yeah, Mother of Rock and Roll is meant to be playful but it’s also meant to be in your face. I’ve decided to own it. Okay, I am a mother and I do mother my friends and I mother the bands that I love. I’m the first one to want to get out the iron and iron the pants and make dinner for everybody.

“So, there’s that mother in me but there’s also that savage, ravenous rock and roller that could probably out run every single one of them.  That’s the part of me that decided, ‘Don’t get even. Don’t get angry. Don’t compete.  Just give yourself your own title and go out there and own it. It’s an expression of self invention. I tell people, ‘Forget everything that you think you know about me. Forget it all because the person that you’re going to meet onstage has nothing to do with it. Come with an open mind.’  It’s my statement and it’s very freeing. 

“Did you watch the Grammy’s? Well, it wasn’t the Grammy’s, it was the Mick Jagger Show because Mick Jagger came out and blew away every single performance of the night. You go, ‘Yes! This is what it’s all about!’ Somebody who gets out there, he’s in great shape. He hasn’t gotten paunchy. He cares. He cares about his fans – looking like Mick Jagger, you know?  He just came out there and, oh god, he was devastating how good he was! He ate the show alive!

Buell and the band offer up three cover songs but the most intriguing to me was their interpretation of the Gang of Four’s I Love A Man In A Uniform? Last year, Bebe reconnected with her father after over thirty years.  She wrote briefly about when she had last seen her father, handsomely dressed in his navy uniform.  I naturally thought that her choice of the song had something to do with her father.

“You know, it’s funny, it is by coincidence but it’s just a song that I always wanted to cover. I wanted to cover it in the Gargoyles but the Gargoyles wouldn’t do it. A couple of other times I thought about it and I wanted to cover it. It’s just one of those songs that I felt that I had my own way of delivering it and I thought that I had my own spin on it.

“That’s one of the things about me: people look to me to see what choice of covers I’m going to have because I pick obscure, fabulous covers – maybe not completely obscure but I take them and make them my own. I felt that this song was appropriate in the climate that we’re living in right now – so many young, beautiful boys going off and getting killed. 

“When I see the firemen and the cops or even the guy that has to dress up for his job at a restaurant, there’s just something majestic and wonderful about people who aren’t afraid to put on their uniform and go out there and do it, no matter what it is.  I just have a connection to that right now.

“I covered two British bands on this record. The Vibrators Baby Baby and the Gang of Four, A Man in a Uniform. I cut my teeth on the British invasion and I’m still pretty much wrapped up in the whole British thing. I love the English. Right now I’m so madly in love with the Jim Jones Revue. It’s amazing. They are just the real deal. It’s so exciting when a band comes along that’s old enough that you can take them seriously for having their chops but young enough that sound fresh and vibrant. It’s exciting!  They use real piano and stuff.

“A couple of people have said that the sound of this record is the best sound I’ve ever had on a record. It was produced by Stephen DeAcutis (“Stevie D”) and my husband, Jim. A couple of my favorite sounding albums like Damn the Torpedoes by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Electric – The Cult, that album that Rick Rubin produced.  I thought about the production of those records and I thought about, when you listen to those records, you start with song one and you go all the way to the end of the record because every song is listenable; every song has a story and you want to listen to the whole album. I was determined to do that on this record.”

My personal favorite on this disc is Got It All Wrong and Bebe was kind enough to share the story behind that song.

“Oh! Well, that’s an interesting one. That’s a song that my husband, Jim, wrote. He wrote that back in the nineties with Frank Ferrer who played drums on 8 of the tracks on the record, who’s now Guns N’ Roses’ drummer. He and Jim used to be in a band called New United Monsters Show and he and Jim wrote that song. And there was this guy named John Robinson who did some lyrics for it. Then I heard the song and I said, ‘Wait a minute! This is an incredible song!’ and I felt that it needed all new lyrics.

“So, it’s a song that my husband wrote with Frank Ferrer, John Robinson wrote the hook and I wrote the lyrics and the lyrics just poured out of me. The ‘got it all wrong’ hook is John Robinson’s and I just took that – it just spoke to me. 

“What’s it about? It’s about someone that has lied, done horrible things and has tried to destroy your life but they’re just not winning. It’s almost like a wake-up call. One of the lines in it is, ‘Tell all the people in your head here’s their note of eviction’.  People who do the most damage usually create all the drama in their head. It’s not real.

“But now we have the internet and all these places where people that have issues with celebrities can go in there and they can slaughter you and there’s nobody that can protect you. Because you’re a public person, people can write whatever they want about you. They can write complete bull. Lies. They can fabricate. They can do parodies. This is America! It’s part of it! But those who are a victim of it have the right to say, ‘Nope! That’s not the way it is, babe! Here’s the real story: That a******’s a fruitcake!” Buell says with a laugh of knowing satisfaction.”

Bebe concludes by saying, “Unfortunately, for me, the fruitcakes – the people that hurt me the worst – it’s usually people that know you who try to seek revenge or are on some sort of vendetta. They’re cowards. They don’t want to come from behind their mask. There’s an actual word that’s been accepted by Webster: frenemy. We’ve got ‘em!  I believe that social networking has created that word. We wouldn’t have words like that if it wasn’t for social networking.”

As for tour plans, the Mother of Rock and Roll says, “I’m opening for the Smithereens on October 8th at The Stone Pony and they’re one of my favorite bands. I’m really excited about that. Then, I’m doing a big unveiling of the new line-up and all the new songs on October 12th at the Hiro Ballroom. The following month I’m going to be opening for a band in the UK – I wish that I could tell you who it is but at this point I’m not allowed to talk about it because it’s going to be a big show and it’s going to be sort of like my unveiling in the UK because I’ve never played London.  The fact that I’m going to get to open for this band – it’s a really big coup.  I’ll keep you posted.”

Oh, I just love surprises but I do hate waiting for them!  But do know that she’ll be hitting the road and just may be appearing in or near your town and Boomerocity will let you know.

Tyler Bryant

September, 2011

 

tylerbryantshakedownTyler Bryant (second from left) and the ShakedownThere’s nothing like being on the ground level of something big that’s starting.  Whether it’s investing in a stock of a young start-up company or the early stages of an underdog political candidate who goes on to win the office they’re seeking against incredible odds.

That’s how I feel about a young guitar prodigy by the name of Tyler Bryant.  Several months ago Desiree, a loyal Boomerocity reader from Pennsylvania, turned me to Tyler, encouraging me to check out some of the video of him on YouTube.  What I saw held me spellbound and I was immediately hooked as a fan.  I also felt like I was getting in at near the ground floor level of something phenomenal that was going to be big.  Really big.

Tyler is already commanding attention and creating an incredible amount of buzz wherever he goes and plays.  The crazy thing is:  There are people – very talented people – who have been at it a lot longer than he has and haven’t achieved ten percent of what he has.

Since learning of Bryant, I’ve been researching his history and work and what an incredible story it is.  He first picked up the guitar at 6 years old. A few years later, he reportedly sold a dirt bike that his parents had just given him so that he could buy an electric guitar.  He was turned on to the blues at the age of 11 when he walked in to a Paris, Texas, music store and heard Roosevelt Twitty playing a Lightning Hopkins tune back in the corner of the store. From that point he was hooked on the blues.

By the age of 15, Bryant had his own touring band, gaining notoriety in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma – even winning the Robert Johnson Blues Foundation’s New Generation award. The following year, he was tapped by Mr. Slow Hand himself, Eric Clapton, to play at the 2007 Crossroads Guitar Festival in Chicago.  Having finished with high school early, he packed up and moved to Nashville at the age of 17. 

Once he hit music city, he formed a band consisting of fellow guitar player Graham Whitford (son of Aerosmith co-guitarist, Brad Whitford), Caleb Crosby on drums, and Calvin Webster on bass. Together, they form Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown and are enjoying a gradual, high-climbing trajectory that is sure to place them in ever larger venues and played on a growing population of fans. 

So far, that ascent has had them share stages with Jeff Beck, Heart, REO Speedwagon, B.B. King, Paul Simon, Vince Gill and quite a few others.  In fact, a couple of years ago Vince Gill said about Bryant, “To be 18 and play like this dis is the rarest of the rare. Hands down a future guitar god.”

Tyler and I recently spoke by phone to, among other things, discuss his upcoming album, From The Sandcastle, that will be released on Tuesday (read the Boomerocity review here).

Before we started chatting about Sandcastle, I asked Bryant if he misses Honey Grove, Texas.

“Yeah, I do. I just got back to Nashville last night. We went to L.A. and played a {mprestriction ids="*"}show and then flew to Texas. We played a thing called ‘Red Dirt Revolution” out towards Deport, Texas, which is actually a really cool festival. So I got to go home and see my family and spend the night in Texas. I miss the people more than anything.”

However, when it comes to his new, adopted home, he adds, “Oh, I love it, man!  I moved here over L.A. just because it kinda had a small town feel to it and it’s still in the south. The people are really nice and it’s got a lot of the same qualities that I love about Texas.”

We quickly shifted gears to discuss Sandcastle.  I asked him to give you guys a heads up as to what to expect from the album.

“Oh, it’s just dirty rock and roll! There’s ups and downs on it but, for the most part, it’s simple rock and roll - very guitar driven. It’s the first band album we’ve done as Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown just because my band is such an instrumental part in creating our sound. They were very instrumental in making this record. So, yeah, I’m very excited about it!  It’s pretty high energy for the most part. It sounds like a couple of kids got hold of a couple of microphones.”  He says, chuckling.

Comparing it to his last release, My Radio, Tylers says, “We’ve just grown since that project. I mean, that project was pretty much straight ahead rock and roll, too. This one has a few more songs than My Radio. We tried to bring out a lot of our roots and where we come from on this record. 

Listening and watching Bryant perform his craft it’s clear that his influences are many and varied in their genres.  I asked him who his musical influences were and are.

“Oh, there’s so many. Lightnin’ Hopkins was one of my first blues influences. I got turned on to him by a guy that was probably one of the most influential people in my life, Roosevelt Twitty, a Texas blues man who lives in Paris (Texas). I was really big into the acoustic blues guys like Robert Johnson, Son House and that kind of thing until I got into high school. Then I heard the Black Crowes and the Rolling Stones.  I started listening to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and started to want to write songs.  Not long after that, I moved to Nashville – when I was seventeen. I moved out and found a couple of guys who were in the same spot I was in and we put together a band.

“It definitely all happen to come together really fast. Everybody in the band knew exactly what they wanted. I knew exactly what I wanted. I knew that no one was going to stop me. That’s why I got out of high school early and why I moved to Nashville. I just started calling everyone I knew, including people I didn’t know. ‘Hey, do you know any musicians?’  One thing led to another and, yeah, it’s still one thing leading to another.”

On impulse, I asked Tyler what he’s been listening to on his iPod recently.  He just happened to have it on him .

“Let me look. Right now, it’s on Iggy Pop and the Stooges.  I just bought something from an Austin guy. His name is Gary Clark, Jr. just released a couple of songs that I thought were amazing. Have you checked out Grace Potter and the Nocturnals yet? Love them!”

The fact that Tyler has, in less than three years, hit Nashville, formed a top shelf band, and getting the traction that he has is the stuff that many, many aspiring artists have dreamed about and never attained. Aside from such early career traction, there’s also the realization of his dreams to share the stage with some the legendary artists I mentioned a few paragraphs ago.  Most recently, he was asked to tour with the iconic Jeff Beck with several performances having found their way onto YouTube. I encourage you to check them out.

On the subject of Jeff Beck, I asked Tyler about his experience with the rock icon, who else he’s played with and who he would like to work with.

“He (Beck) doesn’t talk all that much. He’s always been really supportive of me. He had me up there jamming with him every night. He’d kind of push me on stage, ‘Come on! Come on!’ – that kind of a thing.

“We’ve played with a ton of people so far. We toured with Heart and Pat Benatar, Jeff Beck, REO Speedwagon. We played with Aerosmith. We still haven’t played with the Crows. I’d still like to play with the Crows. I think that would be fun!  The Heartbreakers would be awesome. The Stones would be cool. We’re also trying to get on with some younger tours with this new record – taking the music to the kids and give ‘em what they ain’t gettin’!” 

I typically ask the “more mature” artists what they haven’t done, project-wise, that they still hope to accomplish.  Since Tyler is still clearing the launch pad of his career, relatively speaking, I chose, instead, to ask him what his dream project would be. His answer was immediate if not also short and sweet.

“Oh, man!  I’d love to have Tom Petty to produce a record for me. It would just be American rock and roll!”

And, as far as touring to promote Sandcastle, Bryant says, “We’re going to be doing our own shows. We coming to Texas on the 15th – I think in Lewisville.  Then we’re playing the Austin City Limits Festival on the 17th.  We’ve got a lot of our own shows coming up. I honestly don’t know where they’re all at.   Then, in October, I’m going out with 25 more shows with Jeff (Beck).  Well be doing the west coast and Canada.”

As for his long term plans and goals for, say, the next one to five years, they’re crystal clear in his mind.

“We’re planning on going into the studio again in November and working on a full length record. We going to be touring and I’m pretty sure that we’ll start the process all over again – record/tour, record/tour, until I die.”

I was curious what was Bryant’s guitar weapon of choice on stage and how many guitars he actually had in his arsenal. 

“I pretty much only play my Fender.” And as for the number of guitars in his arsenal, “Oh, around 45 or 50” he says matter-of-factly.  I suppose a man can’t have too many guitars. He continued by saying, “I’ve got all kinds. I collect vintage guitars.” He says that his pride and joy is a 1960 Fender Stratocaster. “I’ve got a 1960 Fender Strat, a 1965 Gibson SG, a 1956 Gibson 125.”

At this time, Tyler feels that he is fortunate to already own the guitar that he considers his “holy grail”.

“Fender built my dream guitar which is a 1960 Cadillac Pink Strat. It was a guitar I always dreamed of and they built it for me. It’s pretty much the only guitar that I play now.”

Even though, at the time of this writing, Tyler Bryant isn’t even quite 21 years old, I was curious if he had any idea as to how he wished to be remembered after he’s no longer on the sunny side of the earth’s crust.  Surprisingly, though he indicated that it was a tough question, he quickly and succinctly had an answer. 

“Hmmm, that’s a tough one. I’ve definitely thought about it before because I had a producer say to me one time after playing a guitar solo, ‘Hey, if you died right now, would anybody remember that guitar solo?’  It was kind of an intense thing to say but it’s so true. If you want to be an artist that’s remembered, you have to be an artist that someone can remember.  You can’t be forgettable and you have to do your own thing.

“I speak for myself and the band when I say that we want to bring it to the kids because, when I was growing up, fortunately I had people in my life to play good rock music for me. But it seems like it’s a little harder to find these days. I want to keep blues alive. There’s this massive form of American music that’s been pushed under the bus a little bit by mainstream radio. It’s just the way things are now.  It’s cool because there’s a lot of really interesting, great music out there now. But there’s some soul that’s missing in a lot of it and that’s what I want to bring back.

“So, I think we’d like to be remembered as a good rock band that was really honest.  Nothing more than a really honest band that did what they believed in and gave it to the people, you know?”

If you want to fill  your mind with incredible memories of phenomenal, guitar-driven rock and roll, then you will definitely want to, a) purchase your own copies of Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown’s work – especially From The Sandcastle and, b) sign up for e-mail blasts from Tyler and the gang by visiting his website, www.tylerbryantmusic.com.  You will be kept up to date on the band’s touring, recording plans and whatever else of importance might crop up.

Be prepared to become an ardent, life-long fan.

Bebe Buell (2009)

October, 2009

bebeguitarBebe Buell.  To those of you who know who she is, the name conjures up several images.  Highly successful model.  The girlfriend and wife of rock stars.  For those of you who were only reading the articles, you wouldn’t have noticed that she was Playboy’s November, 1974, Playmate.  Best selling author. She’s also the mother of world-renown actress, Liv Tyler. 

Bebe is also a very successful recording artist and, while she has promised Boomerocity a follow-up interview to discuss her life and views on things of interest to Baby Boomers, it is about her latest project, “Sugar”, that we recently chatted about by phone.

Bebe is a very warm and engaging person to talk to.  You instantly get the feeling that you’re sitting across the table from her, enjoying a great cup of coffee along with the intriguing conversation.  I’m not a master linguist but, if I were to play one on TV, I would say that you could easily pick up her Northeastern accent layered on the foundation of her Portsmouth, Virginia, roots. 

I first asked Ms. Buell why it took so darn long for her to come out with “Sugar” since her last album, 2000’s four song disc, “Free To Rock”.

“Well, you know, life is just something that happens while you’re busy making other plans.  The last record I made was 10 years ago and I wrote my autobiography with Victor Bockris and then 9/11 happened.  And it sort of changed the face of everything, even artistically. 

“For those of us who lived in NY, it was horrifying.  So, I returned to Portland, Maine, bought a house up there and thought that’s what I really wanted.  But it just started to dawn on me that I was miserable when I wasn’t creating music because, what people don’t seem to realize is that I’ve been making music and fronting bands and involved in this (rock) world for much longer than anything else that some people like to remember me for. 

“Playboy takes very little time of your life and it’s really only one appearance.  Once it’s done, it’s done.  My modeling career only lasted a few years and I think that these are natural progressions when you’re a young girl and you’re in NYC -  to try a few different things but I think that I was very committed to get into a band and starting to write songs.

“So, at the age of 26, that was what I finally did.  So, I guess you could say that was a late start to some people.  I’m not sure.  But it’s just who I am, basically.  I’ve been doing this a long time.  Thirty years.  More.  More, when you think about all the touring I’ve {mprestriction ids="*"}done in both of my bands, the “B-Sides” and “The Gargoyles”.  I wanted to also make autobiographical record.  I wanted to make a personal record.  I wanted to make a record about people I loved and things that have happened that maybe the right explanations weren’t ever out there.  It’s a very personal record.  I don’t know if you noticed.

Not one to ask prying questions, I couldn’t resist the urge to ask Bebe if there was going to be anyone out there who would be worried about what she’s saying in “Sugar”.

“I hope not.  It’s a loving record.  ‘Black Angel’ was written about my friend, Joey Ramone.  And, in the first song, ‘When We Were Godhead’, I’m sort of am touting all the people that had an impact on my life from that time, like Cameron Crowe, Rodney Bingenheimer, the whole LA scene.  You know, going out there from NY.  It was the Continental Hyatt House.  That was a celebration of 1973.  And ‘Grey Girl’ was about my beloved Chihuahua.

When she mentioned “When We Were Godhead”, I interjected that I honestly thought I was going to hear David Bowie slide in on harmony because the song is very Bowie-esque.

“That’s an enormous compliment and I appreciate that.  I was thrilled because two days ago, somebody handed the record to Cameron Crowe for me.  I’m dying for him to hear that song.  I mean, his spirit is such a big part of it!”  Laughing, she adds, “I wish it had been around when he was looking for songs for ‘Almost Famous’ sound track.  Let’s hope that people do appreciate the cinematic aspect of the record.  It’s VERY cinematic.  I wanted to make something very deep and thoughtful. And I wanted people really to sink their teeth in to it. 

“I remember when I use to buy albums.  I loved albums. People have forgotten about ALBUMS.  Everything is about singles now.  Even I put out a single.  You gotta play the game a little.  But there’s this thing about journeys and voyages that you take when you listen to a real album - where you want to listen to the whole record from the first song to the last.  That’s what we tried to do with this record.  That’s what my producers and I really took into account, was that we wanted it to have a cinematic voyage feeling.

I was curious if there is any indication as to what her fan base is responding to from the album, to which she observes, “Yeah, the two songs that peoplebebebuellhardlove are really responding to are ‘Sugar’ and ‘Untouchable’.  Not to mention many other ones.  I mean, some are really loving the second track, ‘Love Is’.  The last track, ‘Fall and Rise’ – it’s very, very interesting.  I swear, it’s very inspiring to me because I took big risks, a big chance in doing this.  I thought, ‘Okay, maybe nobody will notice this.”  I didn’t do it for any other reason but to just do it – for myself and for the people I work with.  We all want to do this.  And to be getting this kind of response, I’m telling you!  I didn’t expect it!”

Still talking about “Untouchable”, I state, “Well, it obviously has a very personal message to it.  I don’t know who it’s about but I thought the hooks on it were great.”

“Well, it’s not just about one person.  You know, there’s a lot of stuff on there.  You know, there’s songs directed at several people and at nothing.  Some of it is just feelings.

I comment on the butt-kicking sound of ‘Fall and Rise’ and that it must sound great in concert. 

Buell responds by expanding on that thought:  “Yeah, well, the album live is a whole different experience.  Rock is loud.  I have three guitar players.  And they’re all brilliant.  So, there’s a lot going on in a good way.  It’s not tepid, light rock show.  It’s not supper-club stuff, you know?  When I do ‘Untouchable’, which I think is one of the more quieter songs on the album, it still kicks ***.  One of the reasons why it kicks live is so many people singing along with me.  I get a lot of the “sing-alongers”!  I love it!  I get a lot of that.”

So, folks, you heard it here first.  If you plan on seeing Bebe Buell in concert, you should not expect The Captain and Tenille as the opening act.

Buell came back around to the crowd response to “Sugar” and what appears to be their favorite cut off the disc.

“Well, the one that everyone thinks should be a single is ‘Sugar’.  We put out a single in May called, ‘Air Kisses for the Masses’, which is the 10th song on the record.  And that was sort of to let everybody know, “Hey, here I am.  I’m back.  I’m making an album.  What do you guys think?”  I threw a party.  I was like, ‘Hi, guys!  I haven’t seen you in a while.  I’m having a party at the Hiro Ballroom to celebrate that I’m doing music again.’” 

“I just sort of thought to myself, ‘Okay, if anybody comes, I’ll keep going and this means that I’m on the right path. If it’s sparsely attended and nobody comes, I’ll just a great time and realize that I’m just doing this for myself and nobody’s ever going to hear it.’  So, it turned out to be neither of those things.  It turned out to be beyond the best thing it could’ve been.  I mean, seriously.  Everybody and they’re grandmother that I’ve known through my whole life was there.  I saw people that I haven’t seen in 30 years in that room!  And then I saw . . . the young kids – the under-thirty set.  It was just really pretty wonderful.  Now I’m all hopped up!”

I asked Bebe the one question that most artists hate to answer when it comes to their new projects:  What’s their favorite track on the album? 

“I have to tell you that I’m in love with all my songs.  I’m especially in love with these songs.  It’s really hard for me to – I mean, I can listen to all of them.  It’s interesting, when you’re so close to a song, so many times you would think you would lose that personal connection that you might have.  I will still sometimes cry when I hear ‘Black Angel’ or ‘Grey Girl’.  So far several who have heard the new record have commented that they actually cried when they listened to a couple of the songs.  So, I thought that’s very interesting that we created something that actually tugged at somebody’s emotions.  I feel very proud of that.  I’m not saying that I’m proud that I can make people cry.  I’m saying that I’m very happy that I’ve been able to touch somebody emotionally. 

“For people that don’t know that ‘Grey Girl’ is about my dog, like, somebody asked me, ‘Is that about Nico?’ (The late German model, singer/songwriter and actress).  I thought, ‘How can anybody get Nico out of this?’  My drummer was going, “You know, you shouldn’t tell anybody what that song’s about.  Remember when we all found out that ‘Martha, My Dear’  was about Paul McCartney’s dog?’ I just said, ‘You know?  I don’t care.  I’m telling people that I wrote it about my dog.’  She was my best friend, this creature – 14 years old when she passed.  God!  I still miss her every single day of my life and cry over her every day.  So, the fact that, when people listen to that song it makes them cry and they don’t even know the dog or me, makes me feel that that’s a song that I’m very proud of.  ‘Black Angel’ makes me well up.  But the one I think I like doing live, believe it or not, is ‘Love Is’.  The real dramatic one. 

“I guess the thing I’m finding is the kids are telling me, ‘Oh, that sounds like Portishead or like Massive Attack.’  I wasn’t even thinking about either of those people when we wrote that, which is interesting because I love both of those bands – Portishead AND Massive Attack. “

To hear Bebe describe the disc, she says that it is , “Genre-less, darling!  It’s everything.  It’s every musical influence me, Jim (Wallerstein, Bebe’s multi-talented musician/husband who happens to be the guitarist for the two man band, Twin Engines) and Bobbie (Rae, the drummer for “Twin Engines”) had ever had that we’ve loved, with a little bit of our own flavor; our own taste that we don’t think anybody else has ever touched on.  I mean, I don’t mean to sound narcissistic but I was hoping that I have done something different.  I’m hoping that I have identified myself in my own individual form, as a singer and as a writer.”  With her infectious laugh, she adds, “I don’t think anyone even sounds like me, god forbid!”

Having read great reviews about Buell’s performances in the New York area, I asked if she was going to promote “Sugar” with a tour or were the Yankee’s going to hog her all to themselves.

“I’ve been playing on stage a long time.  I actually get physically ill if I don’t, you know, play gigs.  It’s the opposite with me.  Most people get sick if they play to many gigs. I get physically ill if I don’t play.  I start moping around.  I get like an old angry dog.

“We want to do an entire world tour but there’s a whole process.  I’m doing something that not many people would tackle at this time of their life. Most people are going, ‘Bebe, just enjoy all the success that you’ve had in your life. Go live on the beach.  Why are you working so hard?’  You know, it’s just because I want to make my own personal statement because I set goals for myself which are very unreasonable and. I guess that comes from being a competitive basketball player in high school.  I don’t know what it is but I’ve always got to keep going.  Plus, I get it from my mother.  She calls herself a burr monkey.  She’s very active and vibrant and she’s going to be 80 and she looks beautiful.  People really enjoy her company – of all ages. I’ve seen from that - that music should be ageless, inspiration, and achievements should be ageless.

“People shouldn’t just stop doing what they do.  And the thing that’s beautiful about this project, to me, is nobody seems to care that I’m not 18 like Britney Spears or – not that Britney’s 18 anymore - but nobody seems to care that I’m not a Jonas Brother.  It’s okay. 

“I’m finding that my audiences are very, very diverse.  A lot of young people; a lot of my peers; a lot of  Baby Boomers; a lot of kids that come with their parents because they’re curious.  They want to see Liv’s mom.  So, I get so many different kinds of people. I get the Mohawk next to the grandmother.  I get all of these interesting audiences.  My gigs have become more like events.  The gigs are very colorful and very exciting. 

“I have to say that the Hiro Ballroom – the show I did in June – which has really, really put fuel on this whole project – it’s the most exciting show that I’ve ever played in my life.  It just goes to show you that you never know when the public is going to decide or discover that what you do is something that they like.   It’s a surprise.”

It doesn’t take long to learn that, though Bebe’s background and foundation is deeply rooted in the Classic Rock genre, she is very in touch with the new music generating excitement with today’s youth.

“Yeah, I mean, I love the ‘Kings of Leon’.  I like ‘Living Things’.  I like a lot of new music right now.  I don’t shut myself off.  I’m not one of those people who sits around and goes, ‘Ah, Woodstock!’.  I was too young to go to Woodstock!  I just don’t believe in that.  I believe you have to sort of flow with the universe.  And, if things are the way they are, people are going to walk around with the faces buried in their Blackberry’s and all of that, I mean, you can rebel or you can sort of jump in there, too, and put your own spin on it,  you know?  I can’t even text!  I swear to god!  You know, my husband is the texter.  I’ll say, ‘Jim!  Will you text Liv and tell her this?’”  She admits that, “I don’t know what it is about text messaging.  I mean, the computer is stressful enough for me. Just going on there and having to check the e-mails, you know, say hello to everybody and then.  My PR guy goes, ‘Bebe.  You have to go on your Facebook page every day.’  And I go, ‘OKAY!’  Now he’s trying to get me to Twitter.  I’m like, ‘Dude, I cannot Twitter.  Please!’”

As we were deeply engaged in our phone fueled coffee klatch, we drifted into the subject of one of mutually favorite bands and their late vocalist.  I’m talking about Big Brother and the Holding Company and Janis Joplin.  Reflecting back on “the day”, she said,“I was a HUGE fan of Big Brother.  I remember thinking as a young girl that it was really stupid for Janis Joplin to get rid of her band, listening to those corporate ***holes and, you know, start playing with studio musicians.  Oh well, what can I tell ya?  There was a magic to the Big Brother and the Holding Company and the Janis Joplin thing.  There was a real magic there.”

While still in the vein of talking about the music business, then and now, she offers this view from the vantage point of seeing the business from various vantage points over the years.

“I tell you, a lot of people complain about the state of the industry right now but I want to say one thing in its defense. At no other time in the history of the music business has an artist been able to put their records out legitimately and manage their affairs and own their songs and create their own universe than ever before.  You get to really know how many fans your really have.  You find out really quickly.  You know, I just go and check my little MySpace page once a day, just to see what’s going on – to look on there just to see that 700 people, 800 people yesterday, several hundred people today have gone to listen to those snippets.  I’m like, “god, this is exciting!  If all of those people go and download it, that’s the whole point. 

“People complain, ‘Oh, it’s not like it use to be in the good ol’ days.’  Well, honey, the good ol’ days haven’t been here for a long time.  I remember when people didn’t even have answering machines.  I remember when you walked down the street, you didn’t have an iPod.  You didn’t have a cell phone.  You didn’t have a Blackberry.  You smelled the air and you thought and you looked up or down or whatever.   You know, it’s funny, Chris Rock said, “If a UFO came over us now, no one would see it anyway!” Nobody looks up anymore!

Buell continues on, focusing on the lost art of album covers.  “You could prop the cover up and stare at it.  Now, things are so tiny.  You prop up your little CD and you can’t really sit there and go, ‘Oh, I really love this band.  I love this artist.’  Remember when you could prop up your Beatles – I don’t know.  That part of it is just different.”

Ms. Buell and I closed out our chat by talking about our beloved dogs (comparing notes and mutually agreeing that they are darn-near human and part of our families) and the promise that we’ll chat again soon. 

What about?  

The lady has a lot to say.

All the songs on “Sugar” (with the exception of “Untouchable” by Johnny Thunder on his “So Alone” album and “Fall and Rise” (originally recorded by The Velvet Mafia on their “Cheap But Not Free” disc) were written by Bebe, her husband, Jim Wallerstein, and Bobbie Rae.  You can download Bebe Buell’s “Sugar” at her website, www.bebebuell.org.

Enjoy!

J.B. Brightman

Posted March, 2010

BlackRobot1When I launched Boomerocity.com almost a year ago, it was my original intent to have the occasional interview with an icon or two from the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s.  So far, we’ve had a pretty good run of it and have a lot more planned for the future.

However, in the course of my networking for interviews, reviews and stories, I quickly learned that I was doing a great disservice to you, our very loyal readers.  See, here’s the deal: There are some great bands and artists out there that have a sound that we Boomer’s would love if we were just exposed to them.  If you were to  listen to all this new talent, you’d swear that they are from our day. Black Robot is just such a band.

Black Robot is a band you’re really going to love.  Why? Well, they’re like a tasty desert with all sorts of your favorite ingredients mixed in.  When you devour the tasty treat, your taste buds will recognize each ingredient without one flavor dominating the others.  Black Robot is much like the decadent desert I just described.

Do you like AC/DC and Black Sabbath?  You’ll love Black Robot.  Do you like Lynard Skynard?  You’ll love Black Robot.  Do you love Cream, Clapton and Harrison?  You’re gonna love Black Robot.  Do you love the Partridge Family?  Then you WON’T love Black Robot.

I was just seeing if you were paying attention.

Black Robot is the brainchild and creation of JB Brightman and lead singer, Huck Johns.  Does Brightman’s name sound familiar?  If it does, it’s because JB was a founding member and former bassist for the band, Buckcherry.

I recently had the distinct privilege to chat with Brightman about his new band. At the outset of our conversation, I noted the various classic rock influences that I mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago.

“I think that we were heavily influenced by the generations that {mprestriction ids="*"}were before us.  I would say to myself, ‘Man!  I wish that I was born just a little earlier and could’ve seen all the cool stuff that you saw, you know?  A lot of people I know that are my age, or younger, are wishing that we were there for all that cool stuff.”

JB’s answer was pretty much matter-of-fact when I asked him for the “Reader’s Digest” version of the story behind the creation of Black Robot?

“I played in a band called Buckcherry.  I was the founder of that band.  We had a really good run for a point in time.  We made two records together but then we just couldn’t stay together as a band. So, we broke up in 2001.  We had been through a lot and saw a lot.  It was, basically, a bad experience for some of us.  That’s why we had to get rid of the band.

“I kept in touch with some of my old band mates and we talked about getting together and making some music.  I was introduced to our singer, Huck Johns, through some of the guys in Kid Rock’s band.  They said, ‘You’ve got to hear this guy.  He’s out of Detroit and he’s a great singer.’

“We became friends and we spent a couple of years putting songs together, getting together whenever we could.  The guitar player on this record, Yogi (Lonich), who was in Buckcherry with me, was touring with an artist, Chris Cornell, from Soundgarden (and former lead singer for Audioslave), so it was REALLY hard to get everybody together to do this.

“We finally got together, booked a couple of weeks in a studio, and we said, ‘Hey, let’s make this record the way The Rolling Stones use to make records – the way we heard people use to do – and just go in there with no ideas and just start jamming and rockin’. We’ll just do it the old fashion way.’

“So, we put together the record.  We got vintage equipment and vintage amplifiers and vintage microphones and we just started rockin’ out.  We recorded everything during 12 to 14 hour days and nights. We just kicked it down.  It was an exhausting process but our whole goal was to make a record in the way that older records in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s were made because we thought a lot of the music was degenerating.  We wanted to restore some of the feeling of traditional, classic rock and roll.  We thought that we could make something that would stand up if you played it 10, 20 or 30 years ago or 10, 20 or 30 years from now.  That was our objective and we feel that we hit the mark.”

I used that comment to jump into a discussion about one of the more poignant songs, Mamma Don’t Cry, which sounds like a throwback to the late 60’s or early 70’s with a Hendrix meets Lynard Skynard feel to it.  I told JB that I could’ve sworn that the song this was a cover of an older song but my search couldn’t find it, thus, telling me that it was a new, original song by Black Robot.

“You definitely get it.  You got us on that one.  When people say that they pick up where we’re coming from, then we like that.  We think that’s great.

With the exception of the J.J. Cale classic, Cocaine, all of the tunes on this disc are original Black Robot creations. I wondered if the band has had a chance to preview the songs in a live setting and, if so, is there a particular song that resonates with the audience?

“We’ve done these songs live before.  We live in the Hollywood area and we’ve been playing shows just in this area for now. We just love it because people out here are a little bit more discriminating and there are a lot of people in the audience that are musicians. So, once they’ve got themselves open to the idea of having a good time, then they seem to like it (the songs from the disc).

“It’s kind of weird.  We’ve had this music available for preview and sold a couple of copies from when we had an independent version.  Now we have a major release of this project.  We booked some shows and we were surprised because people were singing along with the lyrics.  The one that everyone likes to sing along with is ‘Cocaine’.  It’s high energy and they, at that point in the game, they just start rockin’ out with us.”

I ventured a guess that one of many of my favorite songs, Dissatisfaction, was a real crowd pleaser.

“Yeah, that one definitely rocks.  We have a couple of slower songs and people catch that.  But, if we have a shorter set then we go right to our rockers.  I think it’s really easy music to rock out with.

“A lot of bands want to get more complicated or have a competition of who can do something more elaborate. But we’re just here to be straight up and straight forward and make it really easy to rock with.  As you said, you can hear the influences so that makes it even easier for everyone to have a good time because it’s just good time rock and roll.”

Yep, well, it’s definitely ‘there’ – the hooks are there to – it has legs and will be around for a very long time.  I gave Brightman my prediction that, in ten years, would be featured music on a future version of Guitar Hero or Rock Band.

“I hope so.  I really do.  It’s funny that you mention that.  For a while, I wasn’t hearing a lot of rock and roll that was new that was in this way.  I saw these kids that must’ve been 10 years old, singing these songs from bands like ‘Mountain’ whenever I was in Best Buy.  If they’re exposed to rock and roll, they’re going to embrace it.”

I brought the conversation back around to ‘Mamma Don’t Cry’.  With the wars going on today and the Vietnam feel of the song, I wanted to know what influenced the creation of that song.

“We all grew up with the impact of Vietnam in our lives - me, particularly, my mother, after her divorce, wound up with a Vietnam veteran who was a Green Beret.  He was shell shocked.  I had been exposed to that and a lot of us who had grown up in the 70’s, including our singer, did, too.  We have a feeling that war is tragic so we’re very aware. Though we’ve never served, we have friends who are in the military.

This song, in particular, is based on a story about a letter to Huck’s mother that he had read.  He decided that he wanted to put something on the record that had meaning – that we can kind of give back. We’ve had some people in the military – some military wives – who have discovered our music.  It’s really cool to have music that people appreciate that you’re writing about what’s going on in their lives.”

The very well written, I’m In Love, intrigued me so I asked what inspired it.

“With that song, we just really wanted to connect with that feeling of love, what it feels like for anyone to have those feelings.  When you try to translate them into songs, it’s really difficult.  But, we’ve been through enough relationships that we were able to come together on that. “

When I mused that this song must really have the girls in the audience eating out of their hands, JB responds with a laugh.

“That’s interesting because our girls were all saying, ‘You wrote that about me, right?’ We were all, like, ‘Yes! We did! We wrote it about YOU!  EXACTLY about you!’

“Of course, we did, in all seriousness. It’s good because the way we made the record, we wanted to have all different feelings.  When you play the record from start to finish – if you can imagine playing a vinyl record the way you use to, you would go through these different feelings – different tempos.  We wanted to take it there.”

Thinking that another song on the disc, Stop The World, was another love song, Brightman’s comments about it caught me by surprise.

“Well, that’s actually a song about our singer, Huck.  He’s got a child in Michigan and, unfortunately, he can’t be with him because he’s got to work and play music which requires him to live out here (in California).  It eats away at him that he can’t be with his son when he wants to be.  He wrote that song to talk about him being a dad to let his son knows that he misses him every single day.

“It’s one of those songs, when you miss someone or are thinking of someone, it could be interpreted as something romantic or the feeling you get when you miss someone in  your life in general.”

Black Sabbath and Ozzy fans are going to love, 23 Days of Night.  When I mentioned to JB that the song put me in mind of Sabbath’s, Killing Yourself To Live, he chuckled and said, “That is SO on the money!  I think when we get in there and we have something that sounds like something from other artists, our goal is to write the song they didn’t have the chance to write.   We’re, like, ‘This is a song that Black Sabbath never got a chance to write!’”

Well, the boys definitely met and exceeded that objective.

The final cut on the CD, Nervous Breakdown, is one of the most intense songs that I have heard in quite awile.  I asked Brightman to fill me in on some of the background of it.

“With that one, we all connected because we’ve all had REALLY bad relationships, as everyone does.  It’s part of the learning process. We sat down and talked about things before we started writing lyrics together.  It’s just a song that we were all able to throw in our mutual experiences, talk about it, and then approached it in the song. It’s about when things are really, really good with someone and really, really bad with someone.  It’s a difficult thing.”

When asked about touring plans and other supporting projects, JB indicates that, “We’re going to try to hit everywhere in the U.S.  We’re making that a priority.  Since we live on the West Coast, we’re going to start with some dates nearby and maybe on up near Seattle.  We’ll get out to Las Vegas and other cities in the West.  We do plan on making a couple of trips to the Midwest and to the South, as well.  We’ve just got to work it all out.

“Texas is a great place to play.  It just takes awhile to get through there.  I was thinking about getting a one week mini tour going.  Now that you mention it, it’s something that I should focus on.

“We’re also working on a concept video right now.  I don’t want to blow the surprise but it’s going to really bring some interest to the band. It’s a pretty good concept.  Anyone can keep up with us at our website, blackrobotmusic.com, and we’ve got Twitter and Facebook.  We’ll have our video posted on YouTube, as well.”

You’ll definitely want to keep your eye on Black Robot.  They’ll are already a band that commands attention wherever they perform.  As long as they maintain their high level of songwriting excellence, we’ll be hearing from JB and the boys for years to come.

They’re self-titled debut album will be available April 13, 2010, on Rocket Science Ventures.