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Jason Bonham

Posted May, 2011

JasonBonhamI remember the first time that I saw the epic Led Zeppelin movie, The Song Remains The Same. It was during the long Thanksgiving weekend of 1976.  I distinctly remember the collage of family footage of the Bonham family that were intertwined within the footage of John “Bonzo” Bonham’s signature drum solo during Moby Dick.

Among the various scenes of Bonzo with his lovely wife, the lovely Pat Phillips, walking the country side or driving one of his favorite hot rods or chopper.  What I found (and still find) particularly cool, though, is scenes of his young son, Jason, playing on a miniature, clear drum kit with all the coolness, seriousness and confidence in the world.

Fast forward to 2011.

Watching footage of a now 45 year old Jason, on a near exact, “grown up” version of that drum set, one still sees the same coolness, seriousness and confidence as he plays for his own band as well as a wide variety of other groups.  The most notorious performance being, of course, the one show reunion of his dad’s Zeppelin band mates for the Ahmet Ertegün Tribute Concert in 2007 in London.  Clearly, his dad would continue to beam with uncontainable pride watching his son pound the skins.

Bonham Sr., would also be very proud of Jason’s show, Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience, currently touring the U.S.  One would be sadly mistaken if they thought that this was some lame attempt of a Zeppelin tribute band.  In fact, Jason addressed that question during a recent phone interview.

“Well, one thing I kind of give it is that I’ve actually played with the band a couple of times and had some moments in authenticity. First and foremost JBLZE is a concert. But I give it a slightly different angle from the story content of the show and I release and show some very tender and pure moments that not many people have seen such as my dad as a child growing up with his father and interacting with his own family and his brother and his children.

“And, you know, this is a man that would grow up to be the Beast, the guy--Bonzo, the legendary guy that was one of the first to throw a TV set through a window. But realistically he was my dad and just an everyday guy, really. So within the context of the show I talk a little about him as a personal person, you know, as a guy that I knew not so much as the guy that you know as ‘Bonzo’, but as my father. I show some of the moments we shared together which were and are, you know, very cherished now.

“We didn’t live in the era of everything being recordable on your phone and very easily accessible. So when you see these moments, they’re very few and far between as my Dad could record and capture. And also, I like to touch on the love I {mprestriction ids="*"}have of the music, playing with the guys every kind of song that has a different story, a different element of where I put it in the show. And each song is chosen for a reason. There’s nothing we’ve put there because it was a popular song or whatever.

“I have a story for each one. But the music does the talking in itself and I just, tell a few moments that were not spoken too much about, the reasons I do certain songs in the set and my own personal take on when I played them with Led Zeppelin.

“So that’s why it’s my, Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience and this is where, I suppose, it’s different from the others. But obviously one of the major differences is I have been lucky enough to have played with the band a couple of times. Not many of them can say that . . .”

For most of us who love music, certain songs serve as benchmarks to our soul, tied to memories and events that are burned into our minds that turn up, front and center, and the sound of the first notes.  Bonham shares his personal memories behind his choice of songs for his Experience show.

“Well for me the song choices had to be everything that meant something to me. From my first memory of hearing Zeppelin, which was Your Time is Going to Come. The song is in the show, all my life from the first moment I ever heard that song it stood out to me, since as a child I was terrified of church organists (re the song intro). Other key early memories of Led Zeppelin for me, was the black and white TV Danish TV special which included, Babe I’m Going to Leave You. That was a key moment and I always thought Lemon Song was a key moment for me from the early days of Zeppelin.”

While those are Bonham’s “special memory” tunes, they are aren’t considered his favorite songs.  When asked what his favorite Zep song is, he replied, “Well, there is always going to be two, there’s number one which is Kashmir and The Rain Song. And while I didn’t do The Rain Song on the last tour and this time around, I never really imagined this thing to be taken in as well as it has been, to be honest. But since we’re in this position now where we can go out there with our heads held high, I wanted to make sure that this time we have some of the later Zeppelin.


“On the second half of the show this time we’re having songs like The Rain Song, Achilles’ Last Stand, and In the Light, which is another rare one which Zeppelin never, ever did live. So I always come and try and keep some element of a natural show and make it a little unique.”

With what I consider to be the most touching statement by Jason, he shares the story behind the more surreal parts of the show.

“We do When The Levee Breaks, which is a wonderful part of the show and one of my favorites, because I get to play with Dad like when I do Moby Dick - it’s a moment when I’m actually playing with my father.

“We didn’t have two drum kits in our house. So when I get to do this these days it’s, you know, really for the first time ever that we actually get to play in tandem together because, sadly, we never did in real life. We never actually got to experience that. I’ve read in many articles that my father had said, ‘My son plays drums and I’d really love for him to play next to me at the Royal Albert Hall.’

“That means so much to me, especially when, at the start of the tour I had no idea that the first part of Moby Dick that I use to solo with dad on the screens where we play in tandem is his original performance at the Royal Albert Hall.

“So in essence I actually get to fulfill one of his wishes as well as mine: to play with him. And then somebody pointed out, ‘Well, what’s it like being the kid who’s now the old man playing with the young kid?’ Because now I’m playing live along with my father, who’s 22 years younger than me in the clip.

“It’s kind of a twist on things but, you know, I try and give it a - make it as real as possible to make it. There’s no fake in the show, you’re there.  You’re exposed to all the elements that could go wrong, but it’s heartfelt and that’s what makes it very unique.

“Each night’s a different feeling, and a different experience to the people coming. The people that come share stories with me after the show as much as I share stories with them during the show. And that’s been one of the key elements of keeping this thing going: the story, the fans, the letters I get and receive and it’s been a wonderful, wonderful experience for me. The tour is something that I will treasure because I’ve learned so much about my father, more so than I ever imagined I would know - from just the moments where people met him in their life and captured, photographs of them together and - yeah, it’s been very special."

Closing out his thoughts about his song choices for the show, Bonham says, “The song choices will always be a key part of this because I listen to what the fans say but I also want to keep it as true as I can. We’ll never do a song we don’t think we can do well. So, if for some reason there’s certain songs we don’t do in the show, we probably haven’t tried it yet or we have tried it, and it wasn’t up to standard. We’ll only do the best ones we can so they sound the best.”

When asked how he feels playing his dad’s part on the songs, expecting a short answer like, “Weird” or “Surreal”, I’m surprised at the thoroughness of his answer.

“To go out and play these songs on a nightly basis on a tour like this is a big task to take in and I try and stay as true as I can to what I grew up on. Most of that is generally The Song Remains the Same version, which is a major part of my performance. The people who really know the movie, they’ll know some of the things that I might change from the album which would be the live version to what I remember, you know? Like my version of “Kashmir” is more from the version of how dad would play it.

“In my head I have all these, outlines, sketches of what I’m taking different versions of Dad actually performing. And I try and stay as true as I can to those - mixing up the different styles as he evolved. One thing it was made clear to me at one point and something that Dad could never do- was go back through time.

“Now I can play a song like, A Whole Lotta Love, and sometimes I like to put drum fills in that he did from the Presence period, so I get to mix the two together. It’s something that he hadn’t done yet, I mean, he hadn’t starting playing that way. So you can incorporate the two different styles of how he progressed as he got older as a player and mix them into the one time period. At the same time I try to stay as true to the original groove as I possibly can which, with the wonders of bootleggers now, there’s copies of the drum track of Whole Lotta Love on the internet. I get a hold of those and listen to the nitty-gritty of what actually was playing and it’s very funky. It was a lot funkier than people really remember.

“So, it’s been a wonderful learning experience to actually go back and study the music again. I really do feel like sometimes I’m hearing it for the first time - it’s been that much of a learning curve. Recently, we just added a couple of different songs into the set which we started before I left to come to England.

“In just the very first rehearsal for the spring shows, I said to the guys, “If we get it that good on the first night, I’ll be happy. We did The Rain Song first and it sent the hairs on the back of my neck up. It’s such a beautiful piece of music; I can’t wait to perform it live. Such great drum parts, such beauty within a song in itself, these days you don’t write a song where you go right into the next segment and don’t have any vocals for another minute and a half. Nobody does that anymore.

“As I said, I try and stay as true as I can to the different performances and I think on the next tour what we’re going to, hopefully, do is have some kind of description of where we get the ideas from within a program or something. So people can actually do their homework after and go, ‘Well, yeah, I see why he did that version.’”

Later in the chat, Bonham shares who the band is made up of.

“On guitar is a friend of mine Tony Catania who’s been playing on and off with me for 20 years or more now, he is from Long Island. Big Zep fan, big Hendrix fan, big Floyd fan - just an all around good guitarist that really excels on these songs. I know some people have seen the YouTube clips that people have put up and now obviously the news is out there but before we did the first tour, we did not tell anybody who was in the band. I didn’t want anyone to have a prejudged idea of what we might sound like until we actually played because then people could make their own judgments. This worked because there was no preconceived idea.

“The singer himself, James Dylan, I found on the internet through a virtual Zeppelin Website. He’s now fantastic if you go onto YouTube clips look him up doing That’s The Way. I saw it and went, ‘Okay, he’s in.’ What really pleased me was the fact that he didn’t have brown curly hair and he wasn’t, you know, a look-alike. The last thing I wanted to do is go out there and do a dress up that would have felt weird."

“I’ll play on my Vistalite which is a play on what my Dad used to use but it’s a slightly different color, it’s yellow rather than amber. I wear the bowler hat for a couple of songs as a tongue-in-cheek reminder and a tip-of-the-hat to the master himself. As far as the dress up, no, it’s about the music and the love and the passion that we all have for it.

“On keyboards is Stephen LeBlanc - another fantastic musician all around. He plays guitar and he plays rap steel - he plays numerous instruments. We all agreed that everyone had to have the knowledge that we all had musically, if we called it out, we could play it, you know?

“On this leg of the tour I have a friend of mine that’s had prior commitments, some scheduling issues and he actually auditioned another bass player for me that’s going to be on this tour: Dorean Heartsong. Dorean is a wonderful bass player who was found by my original bass player, Michael Devin, who had a prior commitment with his other band, Whitesnake. Michael found me a phenomenal bass player that gelled with us all from the get-go.” 

The subject of how long this show will be offered came up.  One can tell that he’s given this matter some careful, serious thought.

“Well if you’d have asked me that about a year ago I’d have said it was going to be a one-time deal. The stories that people have shared with me over the last 12 months, and onward since the first round, inspired me.  I spoke to my mom and she said, ‘Listen, you’re representing the family here and I appreciate you doing it.’ She came out to see the show and said, ‘You know, I was a little skeptical at first, but the show is so wonderfully put together and it’s very special.’ She said, ‘Please continue this for me as long as you feel comfortable doing it.’”

“I’m, hopefully, filming one of the shows on the tour. I know we’re doing the Greek at the end of the tour and that would be a wonderful thing to document. I was very overwhelmed when they told me we were going to do the Greek because I’ve seen so many great bands there over the years. I was like, ‘Wow! I’m doing the Greek!’ Especially with the way it’s been going this year and I just look at it like this: as long as the demand’s there, I enjoy playing this music and as a representation of my father and the family and the music he created with Jimmy and John Paul and Robert.

“I feel very honored and blessed that people want to go and see it, as I say, we will only do it while people want to experience it. The last thing I want to do is tarnish something so beautiful that is held so highly in my thoughts. So it’s one of those things I always say, ‘Come and see it because it might not be here next time.’”

Since the subject of his mother came up, Bonham was asked to share some thoughts about his dad.

“Sure. A lot of people always ask me what kind of music I was into when I was younger, you know, when dad was alive. My dad got me into a band called The Police, which, at the time, my dad had a blue vinyl version of Outlandos d’Amour, which we still might have somewhere so I’ll keep that - treasure it. But he took me to see The Police and it was a cool moment. I had never, I mean, I had never been to a concert with my Dad ever before.

 “I remember we also saw the Osmond’s and Bay City Rollers. Yes, Dad did take me to see the Osmond’s and I saw Marie Osmond with her hair in curlers which ruined the illusion at the time. But I fondly remember The Police and it was a very, very cool concert and I remember my Dad put me on his shoulders so I could see the band better.

“He got us backstage afterwards so we could say ‘hello’ and it was just a great moment when my Dad stepped on Sting’s foot and he was wearing blue suede shoes at the time and Sting said something like ‘Don’t step on my blue suede shoes’. My Dad turned to him and said ‘I’ll step on your head in a minute.’ So that was a nice father, son relationship - the meeting of old and new. It was quite funny looking across and seeing Andy and Stewart sniggering underneath and I’m thinking, ‘Dad, come on! Don’t cause any trouble!’

“We had some very special times. Dad was a gentle giant really. He was a sweet, you know, nervous kind of guy. You’d never imagine that we’d sit and drive. I used to race dirt bikes, so on the weekends, when he was home, he would always be the first one up making the sandwiches in the morning. We’d get in the Range Rover and head off to the race.

“If it was a three hour drive we’d listen to Rumours (by Fleetwood Mac) about four or five times on the way and he was very into his, you know, it was usually Rumours and Steve - Buffalo Springfield - Stephen Stills album or Neil Young or Crosby, Stills and Nash and, Abandoned Luncheonette, Hall & Oates’ first album.

“I found some footage now which I’ve got on film and also audio of Dad being interviewed in ’72 which is really special. One of the extra special ones is the interview from 1970 is a reporter asks, ‘Do you have any family?’ He goes, ‘Oh, I’ve got a wife and a son called Jason and he’s a drummer.’ The interviewer says, ‘Oh, really?’ ‘Yeah’, he says, ‘He’s four years old now. His technique is crap, but he’s got good time. My ambition is that one day he’ll play next to me at the Royal Albert Hall.’ And just reading some of those moments were very, you know, kind of things that you, well I had forgotten what he sounded like."

“You know when you suddenly take things for granted somebody says, what did he sound like and I went, I have no idea. I can’t remember.  That hurt me, that the fact I couldn’t remember his voice. So when I found this audio of him talking and the strangest thing was at first I thought it was me because we sound very similar.

“But yeah, this tour, no matter how old I get I don’t know if it’s because I’ve just become more of a sensitive kind of person, but the hardship is some of these songs to perform them live, they just trigger emotions off of me, memories that some people won’t understand what are you crying for. It’s just moments in my childhood or my past where I go oh my god, I remember doing this.

“We started doing My Brother Jake in the show - which is an old Free song - and I remembered when my dad used to put it on the jukebox and make me play it when I was eight years old. It sent me back to when I was a kid. I closed my eyes and I was looking out and my mom and dad were watching me. It was very special.  These songs mean so much to me, they really do.  There isn’t any other way of doing this but honestly and people see this in the show.”

“So yeah he was a very sweet guy that, as I say, you all know as this ‘Beast’, this animal, but he was actually kind of a quiet chap at home.”

At the tender age of 11, one would have to wonder if Bonham really understood what a big deal his dad and his band mates were at the time.

“Yes and no.  I was 11 years old and I remember coming over to the Tampa Bowl Stadium when the riot happened and 78,000 people suddenly decided that’s is wasn’t not fair and if they weren’t coming back on stage we’ll have a piece of them.  As an 11-year-old you still don’t really get it, you’re like okay, that’s what my Dad does. I didn’t know anything else.

“It was normal that Dad played in the band. That was normal. So for me when the real thought process came about, it was much later after he died and much later still - not till I was about 30 - that I suddenly appreciated it, as well, and understood what dad had done in his life.

“When I got the chance to play with them in 2007, which is four years ago now, I had just turned 40 so for me to do that, it was a great feeling to get the chance to go back in there, listen to it all again, study it and to know I’ve really done my homework this time.

“So yeah, that was the realization, full circle. That’s when you suddenly go, ‘Wow, they were good!’”

The conversational gears shifted from the Experience tour to his work with former Deep Purple bassist, Glenn Hughes, keyboardist, Derek Sherinian (Alice Cooper, Kiss, Alice In Chains), and guitar phenomenon, Joe Bonamassa, in the super group, Black Country Communion.  Jason is, obviously, very stoked about the band.

“Yeah, I have a new album coming out with Black Country Communion which comes out in June which is going exceedingly well. I am very, very pleased with the new album. It’s definitely more of a group effort on this project. It went from a side project to a band which definitely on the second album I was able to get involved more with the writing part of it this time and became a lot more - felt a lot more - comfortable as a person in the band. And it went very, very well.

“There’s a song (on the new album) that started off as an idea that I worked on with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, so I was happy to finish it off with this band and have it come out. I’m looking forward to hitting the road in June. As soon as I literally finish with (Paul Rodgers) on Friday here in England, I’m starting the tour with JBLZE . . . and then, when it ends, I jump on with the Black Country Communion.”

Asked about the song he originally collaborated with Page and Jones, Jason adds, “Oh on the new album, it’s called Save Me.  You’ll notice it in the rift. You’ll hear a slight Zep-esque rift and you’ll go, ‘I wonder if that’s the one he meant?’ and, yes, it’s got a definite feel to it.”

Naturally, the question that begs to be asked is: What about working with Page, Plant and Jones on another project?

“Well, I was very much under the illusion for what it’s, that we were going to write an album and we were going to put together a new project. Whether it be under the banner of Led Zeppelin, which I doubted, but it was going to be a new project that would feature Jimmy and John Paul and myself.

“It was the winter, like early December of 2008, when it kind of came to a halt - which was a hard thing for me to get over for a while. You know, I had just played the concert of my life. Playing with them was a great point, one of the greatest points of my life.  Then when I got the call to come back and do some work with Jimmy and John Paul in the writing environment, it was fantastic. I believed it was eventually going to continue on and be whatever it was going to be.

“But, you know, who knows? There are a lot of things I will never understand and it’s purely, as I say, you’d have to ask them. But on my end, I enjoyed every moment. Anybody would when you get a chance to again. You get the phone call from them to go and jam and in a writing element and go over ideas. It was fun - a lot of fun.”

A question that die hard musicians and rock historians would want to ask Bonham is what did he learn from the couple of Led Zeppelin reunion gigs he sat in on?

“What I managed to take away from the last one was the element of ‘Wow!’ because I was at an age where I was just honored and humbled to be up there. I was such a fan at this point in my life that I always felt that, early on, I’d taken things for granted. When I got the chance to go up there and have a go at it, it was a very special time.  Just to play with those guys and to play their songs and to do the show that we did at the O2 - it was a very special moment that I will treasure forever. Being in the rehearsals and hanging with them and getting to know them as adults - you know, I always knew them when I was a young kid so to relate to them on another level now, in another element was phenomenal.

“I felt like a journalist because I barraged them with questions. I was like, ‘Oh yeah, but you know this in 1977 well now what did you really think when you did this and, you know, did you know at that point you were really special? And if so, how special did you really think you were and - and did you kind of  . . .?’ and they were like, ‘Okay! One question a day from now on!’ But it was a great moment, let me say that”, Jason says with a laugh.

Relative to the “O2” Zeppelin gig and the lead up to it, shares some insight into the decisions that had to be made and how it has impacted his Experience tour.

“When they were thinking of doing the reunion in 2007 it was a key element of where they were thinking of putting it because you can imagine there was talk of the Wembley and the stadiums because, you know, they could have easily done that.

“But to make it as true as they could be in an intimate way they chose the 02 Arena which can be as, you know, for them, an intimate moment and there were moments when you could hear a pin drop when we were talking and Robert was talking to the audience and moments when we bring it down. You can almost hear the squeaking element when you drop the pedal.

“One thing I wanted to come across with in the (Experience) show is the intimate stories and the moments when you’re talking to an audience - when I’m kind of loss for words. In the audience, somebody may shout something and it’ll just stay with me for a moment and I’ll get slightly distracted and lose my track of thought and get a bit emotional. Each night is a different experience for me as much as it is for them, for the band, for everything.

“I mean even then to some nights we would kind of have a song when we were supposed to be doing something else. Much dismay turned out to be the lighting guy who was like, “I have no idea what they’re playing there. What do I do?” We kind of improvised and one thing we changed on the set was we had to be able to switch it up any time we wanted - we had to be able to alter to the mood because that was one of the key things that LZ could do. They could change things up. They weren’t afraid to change and change things around midstride. And if I’ve learned anything from trying to perform something true to the meaning of the song is, be aware of the audience and the environment you’re in. You change the music to suit the environment, the compassion, the personal moments, the energy, the light and shade, the intimacy. You have to take everything in consideration when you’re performing these songs to make them feel believable because if you’re getting out there and just go through the motions, you know, you might as well put the wig on and the dragon suit and go out and do it.

“To play the songs with somewhat of a knowledge of Led Zeppelin, you have to kind of take everything you can from every version you’ve ever heard of them playing live from the bootleg to the song that you sing to the DVDs -  everything - mix it all together and you come out the other side.  Hopefully, everyone so far, seems to keep understanding what I’m trying to do. So, the setting, when we came to choose the tour dates, where we were playing, it had to be an intimate thing.”

Concluding his thoughts on those gigs, he adds, “I treasure it very much and I’ve had the greatest privilege to play with them more than once. When I look back at my wedding video, you know, it’s hard to believe but, yes, they were there and they got up and jammed on the local band’s equipment and we did some Zeppelin songs so that was very bizarre.”

What do the remaining Zeppelin band members think of Jason doing the Experience?  Does he have their blessing?

“Oh, yes, I didn’t want to piss anybody off. So there was one incident and I remember somebody forwarded me something another person I know had said, it was a potshot and it was quite hurtful. I was upset it came from kind of a family friend of the whole band.

“I remember thinking, ‘I don’t like this.’ I just want to be liked; I don’t want to be disliked. I hate the haters, but honestly, you’re going to get them no matter what you decide to do.  I actually called Robert and spoke to him about it. Robert told me not to be concerned and then we went on an interview together and then a DJ tried to throw me under the bus saying, ‘Hey, what did you think about Jason doing a Led Zeppelin tour without any of you guys?’

“Robert turned around and went on the defensive for me and said, ‘Well, Jason can do whatever he wants, when he wants.’ He said, ‘Jason plays these songs like nobody else.’ He said, ‘There’s a few people that think they can play them like him but nobody can and they know who they are.’ He really went on the defensive and he said, ‘And as long as Jason does this with a smile, he has my blessing.’  So it was kind of like, ‘Leave him alone!’

“That was a big step for me when Robert came in there and said, ‘You know what? This is Jason representing his family and his father. Just let him be.’

“There was a big interview with me on a TV show in England and it was about drummers all over the world and I was quite open about what it was like growing up with dad as a drummer.  Robert suddenly went, you know, ‘I just forgot what it would be like for you. I really did, you know, having missed having a hero around to grow up to and him being gone for so long.’

“I think about this more now, when I make certain decisions in my life now that I have my own family, and my son is the same age that I was when I lost my dad.  So it’s a tough one to be in that situation when you haven’t got the advice of a father to give you. So I sometimes miss him there. I miss him when I go, ‘Dad, what should I do?’  And what I said to Robert was, ‘Sometimes when I don’t know what to do I call you because you are the closest thing to dad for me.

“Yeah, I would say I speak to Robert more on a regular basis than I do to Jimmy and John but I find that there’s still kind of that closeness when we all see each other. It’s like we haven’t been apart for years and we carry on the conversation like we just left off, that’s how it has always been.”

Over the years, much has been rumored about an alleged pact that Jimmy Page supposedly made with the devil.  Of course, the rumor wasn’t helped by the fact that, at one time, he owned an occult paraphernalia store in London. He was also widely known to have been an admirer of British occultist, Aleister Crowley – so much so that he, at one time, bought one of Crowley’s former estates.  Did Bonham, Sr., ever talk about any of that with Jason?

“We never talked about it, to be honest with you. That whole side of him - it was never brought up or even talked about in the British press. So, it was of a bit of a far-fetched thing which they probably wouldn’t deal with. I mean, I’ve talked to Jimmy many times about that home and I said, “Have you ever been there?’ And he goes, ‘I went once, kind of freaked me out.’ So he didn’t own it any longer but I never really imagined him being that guy anyway. I mean when you see him with children, he’s just way too sweet. He’s not that guy.”

Still on the subject, but much more philosophical, Jason, adds, “Yes, they had bad luck at certain times but they had success and the price of fame, you know? It’s a similar tragedy and success story that Def Leppard had, from the moment Pyromania became such a huge entity, the next thing you know, the drummer lost his arm. They finally get themselves through that period then they make another fantastic album called Hysteria. It sold millions and millions and millions again, even more than Pyromania and then their guitarist died.  There’s another great band from England that with a double-barrel name that seems to have had the success and the tragedy.

“There was a lot of success and tragedy in Led Zeppelin when you think about it, in ’77 when Karac died and then my Dad, you know, three years later. But, you know, I wouldn’t say the deal with the devil thing was anything. And I’ve been around the boys enough to know.”

Talking about the British press brings up the question of difference of perceptions about Zeppelin.  Does Jason think there’s a difference of perception about the band in the U.K. than there is in the U.S?

“Oh yes, very much so. What I love about the American press and people is regarding, Led Zeppelin, you can’t drive anywhere in America without hearing the unsung form on a station. Where here in England, you know, it would be very difficult to actually hear it at all. I love the fact that America holds on to what is great and classic, you know, it doesn’t move past it and go, ‘Okay move on.’ America pays homage to it.  America took in Led Zeppelin at the start when England didn’t. Only then, once America found them successful, then England started in on the band. Different stories were more important, you know. Hardly any of the stories of the incident of my dead and Peter beating one of Bill Graham’s people really made it to any form of press here (the U.K). There was a big entity there (the U.S.).”

Surely, being the son of the drummer in the band, Jason had to have seen more Zeppelin concerts than he could count . . . didn’t he?

“I didn’t see them often and one of my mates was so shocked that he said, ‘How many Zeppelin concerts did you actually go to?’ I went to Tampa Bowl Stadium which was then (Rain Docks) so I only got to see the first three songs. I went and saw a show in ’77 which was at Madison Square Garden. I saw the show in Earl's Court in ’75; I saw the show in Knebworth in 1979.

“I don’t actually remember seeing the show in ’72 in Birmingham but this is the show they let me see which really stood out for me. I mean Knebworth, I still - when I look back at Knebworth it was such an amazing experience I really remembered, and still love it there when I watch the “Kashmir” version that Dad did in Knebworth then.”

In his autobiography, Steven Tyler recounts a little bit of coming over to audition with Page, Plant, Jones and Bonham. Jason comments about his memories of the event.

“My memories of Steven coming over? I had no idea he was coming because the guys knew that I couldn’t keep my mouth shut half the time because I felt like I’d got the golden ticket but I wasn’t allowed to tell anybody. I remember having an incident while kind of - which is one of the reasons I don’t take it anymore - I used to have trouble sleeping touring on the road and I’d been given an Ambien by my doctor.  All I remember was I kind of got woken up after only going to sleep for two hours to do a radio interview. I did it and thought nothing of it and then suddenly to have my email alert, come up with all these different emails going, ‘Oh, my god! What did you say?

“I’m thinking, ‘What did I say? I didn’t say anything bad.’ I had no memory of telling the world that I was working with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones again. So they weren’t going to tell me that Steven was coming in. Believe it or not, I’d just tied a bunch of scarves to my cymbal stands on the weekend prior to being there on a Monday.  So, he must have thought I knew but I had scarves tied around all my drum stands and obviously that was the thing that Steven did then. When he came in, he sounded great. I remember him being brilliant. I was a big Aerosmith fan. I remember him getting on my drum kit and playing and then he got on the keyboard and played a bit of “Dream On” and, you know, I enjoyed it immensely.

“He kind of went for it the first day, but then when he came back in a couple of days later it was good. I mean for me, my take on it is it sounded like Steven Tyler singing Led Zeppelin songs. You know, there was no mimic, there was no mime. He was Steven Tyler singing Led Zeppelin songs and there was something quite cool about that.

“See, to me I thought that’s the way it worked, you know? Because if you’re going to do it, you can’t replace Robert, you know. If you’re going to do these songs then you do them to the best of your ability. The best of Steven’s ability to me is for him to be himself and that’s why it sounded cool because he wasn’t trying to be somebody else. The music still stayed the same, as close as it could with me on drums.  So I enjoyed it. I must say I had a good feeling about it.”

There have been a lot of bands where, when a band member has passed away, the band ends up replacing them with the usual comment being, “They would have wanted us to carry on and to continue on the way that we are.”  Led Zeppelin called it quits when John Bonham passed away.  With all that has happened with the band since his dad’s passing, Jason shares his thoughts about the band’s decisions and actions.

“Well, I definitely I love the fact that they stood by their word.  It was a respect thing, very much so. It was wonderful when they finally came out and said, ‘We cannot continue on without our friend and colleague, John.’ It’s one of the hardest things to listen to, one of the last-ever things of Led Zeppelin broadcasted was that statement.

“And many years later, after the ‘02’, Robert’s said to me, ‘Jason, as much as you are your father’s son and you play like nobody else, for me, when I revisit these songs, it’s not just revisiting the song, it’s revisiting the whole bunch of memories.’ And he adds, ‘For me Led Zeppelin was with John on drums, not Jason.’  He says, ‘I hope you don’t hate me for that.’

“I said, ‘No, I get it, and there’s a whole bunch of fans out there which are actually okay with it now.”

And that they are.

You can see if Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience is coming to your town by visiting www.jblze.com.  You can also keep up with him by visiting www.jasonbonham.net as well as his work with Black County Communion at www.bccommunion.com. 

Tony Bongiovi

Posted October, 2011

tonybongioviI’m not an audiophile but I think I know good sound when I hear it.  I also don’t mind investing just a little bit into a set of speakers or amplifier in order to hear my music as perfectly as I can on my meager budget. 

Over the years, I’ve accumulated five sets of Bose speakers of different types and configurations and I really do love them.  I even have a pair of Bose Q3 headsets that I use while traveling. One of the sets of speakers I use quite often are the Companion 2’s that hang off of my Boomerocity computer.  I thought that they were a great speaker with the best sound for the money.  They are and they were . . . until a couple of weeks ago.

At that time I was introduced to a little Plug-In that I downloaded to my computer.  After a couple of minutes of setup and configuration, I opened up my iTunes library and picked one of my favorite instrumental songs, Cajun Pass, by guitarist, Phil Keaggy.

I was, like, “Wait a minute!”

I toggled the Plug-In on and off, not believing my ears.  With the Plug-In on, the sound emitting from my speakers was crisp, clean and clear.  When I turned off the tool, my beloved and cherished Companion 2’s seemed to sound like a cheap AM transistor radio by comparison.  This little gizmo blew my socks off!

After listening to my music through my newfound set of ears (and after retrieving my socks), I wanted to know more about the story behind this fantastic application.

Oh, yeah. I bet you’re wondering what this miraculous gizmo is called.  It’s called the Digital Power Station and it’s the flagship product produced by Bongiovi Acoustics.

Now, if you’re like me and mangle the king’s English, that word before “Acoustics” might seem to be hard to pronounce.  However, if you’re into rock and roll, I’ll bet you your next download that you know how to pronounce it.  Think “Bon Jovi”. 

Ring a bell?  The founder and big kahuna of Bongiovi Acoustics is Tony Bongiovi and, yes, he’s related to Jon Bon Jovi (second cousins).  However, Tony’s pedigree isn’t based on leveraging family relations.  In fact, Tony preceded his cousin in the music business by a few moons.

Mr. Bongiovi story is the stuff of legends and the American dream.  Young Tony was interested in the science and mechanics of sound and amplification at an early age.  At the age of seventeen, the Raritan, New Jersey teen was experimenting with sound and uncovered the secret to replicating the Motown Sound. 

Tony contacted the Detroit-based record label and immediately impressed its brilliant president, Barry Gordy.  So much so that the music mogul regularly flew the young Bongiovi back and forth from Jersey to Detroit to engineer records for the likes of Diana Ross and the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, the Temptations, Gladys Knight and the Pips and many others on the Motown label.

Tony was eventually wooed away to a little studio a bit closer to home: the legendary Record Plant in New York.  The studio implemented his acoustic design talents to work to improve an already great facility.  The result was the “Tony Bongiovi sound” and was heard on rock radio in the 60’s.  Tony engineered albums there for such talent as Jimi Hendrix, Dr. John, Vanilla Fudge and John McLaughlin.

It didn’t take long for another studio, Media Sound, to hire Bongiovi away where he added artists like The Isley Brothers, Gloria Gaynor, The Ramones and the Talking Heads to his engineering resume.

By 1977, with a resume loaded down with gold record credentials, Mr. Bongiovi designed and started up Power Station Studios.  Built within an abandoned Con Edison power generation station, the studio provided rooms designed specifically for multi-track recording that gave recordings a live sound.

Ultimately, Tony’s talents and studios have made significant contributions to over 40 gold and platinum albums for artists as the Scorpions, Ozzy Osborne, Aerosmith, and his cousin’s band, Bon Jovi.  He also had a major part in the largest selling disco record in history: Star Wars from the Meco album, Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk.

With this incredible musical history bound up into this one man, even a simpleton like me could see the greatness behind the little Plug-In that I downloaded.  I knew that I had to chat with this amazing man and within a couple of days, a phone interview was arranged.

Our conversation started out with Mr. Bongiovi giving me the Reader’s Digest version of the history of the DPS and how long it’s been available.

“It’s been available for a couple of years now.  This all started many, many {mprestriction ids="*"}years ago. In 1970, I wrote a paper on this. The idea behind this was to create the ability to have sound played back in a high-noise environment using light-weight playback systems. 

“Also, running hand-in-hand with that, it becomes a very cost effective way to bring high quality sound into the hands of everybody.  Up until this time, it was only available through expensive components and it wasn’t practical.  With the advent of digital technology I was able to make this DPS happen.

“In order to make it work in its analog form, it required lots and lots of equipment and, as you can possibly imagine, the progress of this particular technology falls hand-in-hand with the progress of the cell phone. You can see the original ‘brick’ cell phone and now everything’s on my little iPhone.  So, digital technology is what really gave us the ability to make it available to everybody. Now, everybody with the Plug-In or the Bongiovi DPS App iOS can have the same high-quality sound that was only available on exotic equipment just a few years ago.”

Because Tony mentioned that his paper was written back in the analog days, I asked if he actually created analog version of the DPS.

“Oh, yeah! The initial prototypes were analog.  First, I had to go into the lab which was part of our studios.  We had enough equipment in terms of filters, equalizers and automatic gain control circuits that were all part of this. So I was able to test this theory.

“Then, around the 1980’s, we were able to build - in an analog form - a primitive version of what you have now and it worked. I wasn’t able to do anything with that because it wasn’t practical to either manufacture or market it because the person who would be operating it had to have all sorts of skill levels. Of course, with the DPS, everything is automated so you just plug it in or download it, hit ‘Bongiovi on’ and off it goes.

“So, the first iteration was analog and we built several prototypes. From that, of course, we graduated into the digital domain. That’s, of course, what you have now.”

As technology evolved the component costs dropped to the point where what was once high-end technology was pretty much commoditized and provided the perfect entry point for Bongiovi’s creation to hit the mass market.

“I started to investigate consumer electronics because I wanted to bring to the consumer what we’re used to having in the studio in both film and in music. Of course, having access to a lot of consumer electronics in the past years – those components that you buy at retail that are cost effective in their manufacturing. But it doesn’t mean that they sound good.  If you take a look at loudspeakers or even headphones, you realize that that device that reproduces the sound was invented in 1927 and hasn’t changed.

“So, the idea came about, ‘Well, if I can’t change the device – that would be too expensive – I’ll just change the program material to compensate for whatever anomalies exist in the device. In the past few years, there have been all kinds of things available. iHome offers a studio series of playback devices featuring the Bongiovi Digital Power Station technology that are docking stations as well as amplifier systems that are all self-contained.

“So, the size of the playback systems became more available and the cost of the playback systems became more effective. For me, it became a natural progression to say, ‘Now is the time to implement this’ because I have a vehicle that I can put this in which would be consumer electronics and I can make the low-cost consumer electronics sound every bit as good – if not better – than some very exotic, expensive equipment.”

When I shared my story about DPS’s impact on my Bose Companion 2’s, Tony was both complimentary and philosophical regarding the speaker manufacturer.

“The Bose technology is state of the art in terms of the manufacturing of the speaker itself. But speakers are like a little electric motor and there’s a little magnet in there and there’s a coil around a thing called a “former”. That’s hooked up to a piece of paper.  Although the materials are more sophisticated – the polymers are better today – it still does the same thing. You have to move a certain amount of air to make that work. I recognized that very early on.

“Bose makes a good mechanical speaker and, for what it is, it’s as good as it can get utilizing – I don’t want to say ‘old technology’ but utilizing speaker technology that hadn’t changed much.  Now, they have amplifier that’s sophisticated but, even with that, you still have to deal with the mechanics of that speaker.

“Engineers and companies like the Bose’s out there for years have been trying to refine that speaker and make it better and better. Of course, that is the answer if you can afford it.  I decided, ‘You know what? I’m just going to go back and change the content until I get it to do what it’s supposed to do.” That’s why your Bose speakers sound like that because it (the DPS) knows what’s in there and it reacts to that in real time. It remasters the program material in real time so it’s kind of like you re-imagine your audio when you plug this in.”

With Bongiovi’s history in the recording industry, I asked him if there has been any comments from those who have their home recording studios using programs like Pro Tools.

“Most definitely. With the advent of Pro Tools and digital technology to put into the hands of  virtually everyone to make recordings in their homes, what the DPS does is – even with Pro Tools, and generally if you’re going to have a home studio, you have to have reasonably good speakers because, if you don’t, they’ll fail.  You have to be able to listen to what you’re doing. There has to be an investment in speakers. That’s important – and an amplifier so that, if you’re going to make home recordings with Pro Tools, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what you’re doing.

“The problem is, when you take that out of your little Pro Tools studio – or any studio, for that matter – and you go home and play it back on any playback device, the chances of you getting what you had in that control room are, basically, slim to none unless you have playback equipment comparable to what you have in the studio.

“So, what the DPS does is it gives the opportunity to all those people who are working on Pro Tools and little home studios to actually be able to finish their work product, take it home and listen to it so they can determine what, if anything, they want to change. In some cases  - this is kind of a neat thing – DPS enhanced what they already had so some people use it as a form of mastering. They play it back through the DPS and go back into the Pro Tools and finish the work like that because it actually enhances what’s already there. It enables them to be able to play back – with pretty good quality – what they do in the studio. So, it has been a big boom to those people who are into music and are into recording.”

As for feedback from the more sophisticated, discriminating listeners within his large group of recording industry friends, he shares that, “ . . . for the most part, they’re very much impressed with the way it controls the playback environment – mostly on our first entrance into consumer electronics with the iHome iP1. That was the top of the line that iHome had ever released to being a very cost effective company for docking stations and things like that. I actually took that around to professional mastering houses and got opinions from them: ‘How do you think it sounds? Is it pretty close to what we’re doing in the studio?’ because that’s my barometer in measuring it. They said, ‘Oh, yeah! It’s really good!’ 

“In fact, some of them actually use the iP1 – Sterling has one. Masterdisk has one in Manhattan and Joe Gastwirt has one in California. When they load something into a client’s iPod they test it by playing it back on the iP1 to see if it sounds good to them. But other people who are not necessarily professionals or audiophiles themselves begin to develop an appreciation for what you really can have when you show it to them. The average person walking around with ear buds or a set of headsets on is not aware of what it can really sound like until you show them. Once it’s demonstrated to them, they’ve gotten back to us and say, ‘I can’t do anything or listen to anything without it (the DPS)’. 

“Especially with movies on your little iPhones and you’re walking around watching film or you’ve got your music on your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. It makes a big difference in what it sounds like. It changes everything from the little ear buds right up to more exotic headsets – the more expensive types that are available. Right now, there are five products in the iHome studio series that are DPS enabled. Those are things you can find now at Best Buy and other consumer retail store.”

Not only is the DPS technology available via a simple, affordable, downloadable Plug-In, it’s also available in certain models of Toyota’s.

“In automotive, we’re with Toyota Canad now and, towards the end of the year, we’ll have the same technology in other manufacturers. It’s especially effective in a car because DPS can improve the factory speakers that are already there. DPS in automotive is a cost saver and, by having less weight, it uses less gas and is more ‘green’.  That’s what digital technology does: it gives you the opportunity to really explore all of these things. “

As for the future product releases, Tony says, while he can’t discuss specifics at present, “You can look for Bongiovi DPS™ technology in headphones, cell phones, home theaters, televisions, more consumer electronics, more automotive products and medical. The DPS solution is already cost effective so everybody can appreciate it. It is considered by many the state-of-the-art for improving compressed audio sound for playback.

And for those of us who love great sound coming from our stereos, TV’s and other sound-driven gadgets, we can hardly wait to see what kind of toys Mr. Bongiovi will deliver his DPS technology to.  Stay tuned, folks.  This is going to be fun!

To read the Boomerocity review of the DPS Plug-In, click here.  To download your own copy of the DPS to try free for two days, click here and use the promo code, “Boomer” and let us know what you think!

Chester Bennington and Brandon Boyd

Posted August, 2012

LinkinParkJamesMinchinV2Linkin Park Photo by James MinchinConcert season is well upon us and offering up many great entertainment possibilities.  One of the best and most value laden concert offerings for the money is the 2012 Honda Civic Tour featuring two headline bands for the price of one:  Linkin Park and Incubus.  In addition to giving the fans of both bands a chance to see them, the tour also is supporting Power the World to fund cleaner energy solutions and to raise awareness about people who have no access to energy.

In addition to the performances by both bands, each tour stop will feature displays of a 2012 Honda Civic Si Coupe and a CBR250R motorcycle, both Linkin Park customized and designed.  As the old Ronco commercials used to say: But wait!  There’s more!  Fans can enter to win these one-of-a-kind vehicles at www.HondaCivicTour.com.  How cool is that?

In order to help get the word out about the tour and it’s causes, the front men from both bands – Chester Bennington and Brandon Boyd – were kind enough to submit themselves to ninety minutes of questions from a gaggle of us writer types via a conference call.

As we settled into the call and introductions made, the first question right out of the chute asked about what fans of both bands can expect from the shows during this tour.  Bennington responded first by saying, “Well, I think that for us, I mean, really, I think the most special thing about this tour is the fact that you have two headlining bands singing together on one bill, which typically can be kind of hard to do, specifically, because usually when you’re in a position to headline a tour of this kind, you know, there’s only room for one headlining band usually.

“So the fact that Incubus gets to come out and perform a full headlining set and Soul Production and Linkin Park gets to come out and perform our full headlining set with personal production and everything is kind of special. But also, we kind of don’t really look at what the other artists have done on these tours and kind of go, ‘OK, what do we think we should do?’ You know, we’re just going to go out and do what our fans want from us which is, you know, play songs that they’re familiar with and catch up on some on the new music and become familiar with that.

“So really I think from Linkin Park’s standpoint, we’re just going to come out and put on the highest-energy show we can. And incorporate as much of the new music as possible. And I’m expecting that Incubus will probably do the same.”

 

Brandon Boyd chimed in by adding, “I think that, I just think it’s a good moment and a great opportunity to have kind of just a, you know, two big giant rock & roll incubus2012.3Incubus Photo by Brantley Gutierrezbands sharing a stage. I just think that’s going to be better than either of us would do in our own show. It’s two headlining sets, including Mutemath, which is going to be a good time as well. So it’s almost like a minifestival, which is amazing.

“And Incubus has done a Honda Civic-sponsored tour before. It may have been one of Honda Civic’s first ones, I’m not sure, but that was like, over 10 years ago. And I remember it being really, really great. And I think the listeners and friends and fans and family who came out to those shows had a really great experience, too. So I know that we as a band are really looking forward to doing it again this year. And personally, this will be the end of our touring cycle for our newest record and so we’re looking forward to just making some music and I’m very much looking forward to seeing Linkin Park . . .”

With the tour being focused on green energy use and taking place while the current presidential campaigns are getting underway, it was only natural for the guys to be asked if they wear their political feelings and affiliations “on their sleeves”.  Chester answered the question first.

“Well, I know that, within Linkin Park, I’ve honestly never heard anyone talk about who they want to vote for, for example. I think it’s something that we kind of take very personally. It’s so funny, I was watching some comedy show the other day and they were making fun of how Americans won’t talk about who they’re going to vote for.   It’s such a secretive process. Whereas if you go overseas or something, people are talking about who they’re going to vote for and who they don’t like all the time. It’s no big deal.

“But here in the United States it’s a little different for us. It’s such a private and personal moment to kind of choose who you think is going to be the best leader. And the last thing you want to do is influence somebody else to vote based on what they think of you as opposed to what they think of the politician they’re voting for.

“So we definitely don’t really kind of brag about who we’re going to vote for, but we do talk about the things that are important to us. And the things that are very important to us at this point are really making sure that our tours are as environmentally friendly as possible and also giving back to our local community as well as the world community that has been so good to us. So those are the things that matter to us.

“And in terms of the green movement and other things, one of the reasons why we’re so keen on that is because (Indiscernible) and the tie between natural disasters and what we’re doing as a society to the planet. So if we can {mprestriction ids="*"}counterbalance some things or offset some things that we’re doing just naturally through the way that we (Indiscernible) things on a daily basis, if we can make that more efficient and less wasteful, then we can provide families with renewable energy sources, so they don’t have to burn garbage, they don’t have to burn dung.

“Those things actually go a really long way in terms of helping with the recovery process of a natural disaster. So for example if a community is deforesting the areas around their villages, and let’s say a hurricane hits, OK, now all of a sudden not only did the wind destroy the homes that so many people are living in, but it’s also now created flooding and mudslides and all of that kind of stuff.

Those things become very difficult and very costly and time-consuming in terms of the recovery project. So if we can encourage people to use the solar-powered light bulbs, for example, that we’re giving out, via Power the World, instead of chopping down trees, when that hurricane does hit, it’s amazing how roots hold the soil together.

So those are the kind of things that we’re interested in. I don’t necessarily know that either of the future presidential candidates are really thinking that way. So that’s where it’s kind of like I’m not sure exactly how political our green movement is . . . it’s more of a purpose-driven green movement in terms of just wanting to be more clean and efficient with our tours so we leave less of a footprint when we’re out there. But the big picture really is the tie between, you know, the effect that it causes in terms of the natural disasters that hit. So if we plant more trees and put more oxygen in the atmosphere, hopefully the storm systems aren’t so tough every year.

“If we, you know, could help people have clean water and have access to renewable energy sources then they can focus on agriculture and they can focus on getting jobs and stuff and making money as opposed to hunting down water. Or moving a village because it’s been destroyed and there’s mudslides and all sorts of stuff happening.”

Boyd chimed in by adding, “Chester makes a lot of wonderful points, you know, and, um, I think that any type of meaningful movement and/or meaningful change that’s going to occur if you were to measure it based on who people were voting for and/or who even gets elected, it’s like watching water boil. It’s infuriating to try and hang anything worthwhile or legitimate upon that process even though it is a valuable process and an essential one.

“My point is, I truly believe that most of the meaningful change - if not all - is going to come from the ground. And I think it’s wonderful that Linkin Park has the Music for Relief Foundation, and is able to make waves and make moves on the ground there.

“We’ve been trying very hard and very joyfully with the Make Yourself Foundation for many years to do the same thing - both with environmental causes, but also with humanitarian efforts - to inspire people as opposed to hang our hat on a politician or, you know, stuff like that. It’s like I said, it’s an infuriating, fascinating but infuriating process.  So I think that we’re just in a very blessed position to be able to have even, you know, a remote influence on the ground here. I think that’s where the most meaningful change is coming from.”

The fellas were asked why they wanted to team up for this tour.  Brandon eagerly offered up his answer first.              

“I personally think it’s an occasion that’s kind of long overdue. We have a lot of mutual listeners, our bands, and I think that it’s one of those things that once the idea was floated and we really kind of caught onto it, that it seemed like, ‘Why haven’t we done this yet’, type of a thing.

“Linkin Park has a considerably larger reach than Incubus has had and I think it’s going to be wonderful for us as a band to play in front of more people. So we definitely appreciate the opportunity there. But I personally think that it’s just going to be great because of that sort of, because of the carryover between the listeners, you know there are a lot of Linkin Park listeners who are also Incubus listeners and vice versa. But we’ve never done something like this before. So as far as the feedback is concerned from people around the world-—Incubus has been on tour for the past year—once this tour was announced it’s been overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic. So I’m really excited for it to get started.”

Bennington added, “I think that it’s funny because in Linkin Park we all have the things that we do better than other guys do, so for example I’m really bad at reading long-form legal documents. Like I just don’t, like, get it, and most of it doesn’t make any sense to me anyways. You know, there are guys in the band who are much better and more qualified to kind of go through that process than me.

“So, one of the places that I actually can contribute some skill or input that matters is on touring. Typically I’ve been pretty, even in my loosest form, I’ve been involved in figuring out who we tour with for a long time. And so, I swear, it feels like I’ve probably tried to figure out a way to get Linkin Park and Incubus on the road together at least once per cycle since probably Meteora . It just goes to show how difficult it can be to actually get two headlining groups together.

“Kind of going back to that first question, you know, it was surprising to me that we haven’t actually done more touring with Incubus than we have in the last 15 years. Fourteen years. So, for the fact that we do share such a big, I think, group of fans that kind of listen to both bands, I still feel like there’s a large number of people that are Incubus fans that never really got into Linkin Park, or kind of vice versa. But I think that there’s a common interest there.

“And so I feel like that’s one of the things that’s been so positive, overwhelmingly positive, about everyone’s response to our bands going on tour together is that I think it gives both of our fans something that they’ve wanted for a long time, which is to see Incubus and go see Linkin Park, because I think they’ve had to choose a lot of times on which band they’re going to go see because we’ve both been on tour. Or when we’re on tour in the U.S., Incubus is off in the Pacific Rim, hopping all over Asia or somewhere in Europe and we’re down in Asia. It just never works out.

“So, I think the fact that they’re ending their cycle and we’re kind of beginning ours and this is a very specific time in our career that things have lined up for us to be able to do a tour like this together. We get to go out and just fully express ourselves as artists and really do whatever we want to do this energy we feel our fans are going to want. I think that that’s something that’s really special. And so I’m very appreciative to the people on the Civic tour. You know, having the vision to kind of understand, that this is something that is rare and is something that, um, you know, people are going to be excited to go see. You know, you never get to go see Bon Jovi and Kiss at the same time. This, to me, feels as exciting as a lot of the concerts that I would be excited to go to when I was a kid.

“That was I think one of the reasons why Lollapalooza when I was young became so important so quickly. It was because it was the only place that you could go see, you know, the Chili Peppers and Ministry and, you know, Pearl Jam and all these bands play together. And Ice Cube. But there’s no way you were going to see all these bands together, you know? And that’s been the inspiration for modern festivals and I think that the fact that this does kind of feel like a little mini-festival even though there are only three bands. It does have that feeling of something that’s going to be a show that you wanna go see, cuz it’s got something special. I’m excited.

“Honestly I think that, I also hope that our bands can walk away inspired from each other. You know? I’ve always appreciated Incubus for their music. And they’re also very good live. I’ve had the chance to pop over and watch them play a couple songs onstage here and there at some festivals throughout our career and they’re a great live band. So I think the energy is going to be really amazing out in the crowd. So I would actually like to be down there to watch the show but I don’t know if that’s going to be possible.

Since earlier in the interview Brandon Boyd indicated that Incubus was at the end of their current touring cycle, it begged the question as what the guys are planning next.  His response was thought out and measured.

“Ummm… as far as that’s concerned, we have no plans, to tell you the truth at the moment. We are, for the first time since 1996, we are free agents again. We’re without a record label. So what we’re kind of doing is trying to get our bearings as to what we should do next, just as a band but also as a band that is kind of off in new territory again.

“So I have been tinkering around potentially with a second solo record. That’s probably the most likely scenario. But as far as Incubus right now, we’ll probably take another break. Hopefully it won’t be as long. But what we like to do is arrive with the best of intentions and try and create music from a sense of urgency as well as purity and not necessarily based on a schedule. I know that that can be a little bit frustrating for our listeners and stuff. But I think that we’ll make better music as a result. So the plan is to have no plan.

“We definitely got a taste of what it’s going to be like without a record label on this latest album cycle with If Not Now, When? Though we were still signed to Epic Records there was a lot of sort of changing of the guards going on with L.A. Reid being the new president and he wasn’t quite there yet, even though he was technically the guy on the TV show and there was a real lack of direction and leadership when we kind of needed it the most. So it was hard and it was frustrating but it was also very telling for us and perhaps educational.

“Because what we were forced to do was we were forced into ingenuity. And so we came up with this idea to set up shop in this art gallery in Los Angeles and do the Incubus HQ and fly listeners in from different corners of the world and do these live broadcasts on the Internet. And so we started getting these ideas about subscription-based live concerts online and it ended up being a really scary and stressful project, but the fruits of it are still kind of revealing themselves. We have this HQ box set that we’re putting out and the DVD set comes out. I think August 14 is the release date. There’s like the super fan all six nights on DVD mixed in 5.1 with the CDs and pieces of canvases that people were drawing on in the room while we were playing music.

“Like I said, it’s forced us to think outside of that normal music industry paradigm that we had gotten so accustomed to. And so in that sense the lack of attention from our record label and the end days of our record label relationship were really good and very beneficial for us as a band because it gave us a sense of what we might be doing in the coming years. So I’m personally very excited about being in complete control, of being able to be a total control freak. It doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t sign with another record label at some point but it would definitely have to be very, very specific. Not get into just a good old-fashioned record deal again, if they even exist. ”

Counter to how Incubus works, Linkin Park has the habit of their albums starting when they’re on the road. Naturally, we were all curious if the band has already started to work on their next album.

Bennington answered by saying, “Um, usually in the beginning of the touring cycle we kind of focus on what we’re going to be doing with the new music. You know, touring at this point, for us, is pretty awesome and at the same time it works against you to a certain degree. Because I realized the other day, I was thinking about it, why is it more difficult to get casual fans into new music? I think it’s because when we started touring it was just Hybrid Theory and Hybrid Theory was like 36 minutes long.

So basically, you know when you’re headlining a tour, we started out opening shows which was great because we played for 15 minutes and then leave, 25 minutes and leave. So when we got to the point where people fell in love with what we were doing and were listening to us and we were the headlining band, we were forced to play our entire record. Like, every single night. And so people were, I think, falling in love with the record in a different way.

“And even with Meteora, like, um, once we had that record it was like, OK, we basically have enough music to fill a proper headlining set. And so we’ve essentially played both records all the way through for our entire first five years, six years of touring. And so once you get to that point where you have a bunch of songs that people have heard on the radio, and it becomes more, you know, less about playing everything you have and more about playing the songs that people are familiar with. We’re at that point now where it’s like, we’ve been around for over a decade, that makes it sound more important, I think. We’ve been around for over 10 years and we’ve been, this is our fifth record, we’ve been fortunate to have a lot of songs that do really well off of our records and so, you know, a lot of people come there to hear the songs that they know. And adding in new material becomes something that is a little bit more difficult for us over the last few records because most of the songs that are really great are like, mid-tempo songs.

“And Linkin Park isn’t the band that you go to see, you know, chairs on the floor in the arena. That’s, no one wants to come to a Linkin Park show and stand there and look at the band and listen to beautiful music. People want that but they also want to be kicked in the face and they want to, you know, run into each other and they want to jump up and down and sing and have a really great, high-energy time. And so being able to incorporate a lot of new material into our set just felt like it was bringing too much of the energy down. So I think what we’re doing on this tour is, like with the new record, the new record has so much energy that we feel like we could add a bunch of new music to the set and people will be stoked about it. Casual fans are there to hear the three songs that they love, and go ‘Oh yeah, I didn’t know they did this song too!’ Those fans will actually enjoy hearing the new music at these shows.

“Right now at this point we’re focused on making sure the new material is up to speed and that we’re familiar with it enough to go and play it live. And then at that point, you know, once that kind of calms down that’s usually when the creative process starts to kick in. Because now we’re not creating a show and we’re working on learning new music. Cuz that’s something we don’t do, we don’t sit and jam, we don’t hang out as a band and write music together. That’s just not what we do. So a lot of our connection time and what you would think would be stereotypical band moment time really comes from when we’re learning these new songs and rehearsing and going out and playing these new songs as a set for the first time. And then everything’s new and fresh and I think because we’re adding so much of the new record over the next few months to our live set, that’s what we’re focused on.

“But once that calms down, that creative hunger is going to turn itself on and we’re going to start writing new music. So I would imagine by the time we’re done touring this record, we’ll be in a similar position to what we were with A Thousand Suns. Going into Living Things, we’ll be able to just kind of go right into the studio, make another record and put it out and kind of keep that cycle going.

“We’ve really got ourselves in a position now where we kind of feel like we’re touring less as an idea of ‘Let’s go tour really hard for nine months and then come home’ and tour really hard for nine months and then come home, and hopefully have enough energy to want to do anything. It’s like touring for a few weeks and coming home for a month and going out and touring for a few weeks and coming home for a month. So we’re really spending as much time home as we are on the road and I think that also caters to, encourages a creative process because we kind of feel energized more, more often. So I think that kind of answers all of your questions into one ginormous ongoing answer.” 

Both bands have been around for 16 to 21 years (Linkin Park and Incubus, respectively) and have experienced the go-go years when CD sales were exploding and bands still received tour support from their labels as well as the brutally tough economic times currently being experienced.  Both men were asked how the managed to navigate through those different kinds of waters.  Brandon took the question.

“Hmm. That’s a really interesting notion actually. It’s something that I talk about with friends and people in different industries and everything, but it’s been really interesting to me, I’m sure it’s been interesting from Linkin Park’s perspective as well, because they as well were kind of - Linkin Park and Incubus were two of the very few bands who kind of like got a gust of wind out of the old paradigm of the music industry. But like survived out of it. There are so many bands that, bands in a traditional sense, bands who write their own music, and perform their music, that didn’t survive that transition. That fell by the wayside with the industry.

“So it’s been frightening to watch something that you for a very brief moment almost learned to rely on, because we learned the ins and outs of how the industry worked, you know you poured your heart out into making an album and then the label puts the record out and you go out on tour in support of the album, and we even started doing it in the van and trailer. We’d make a record and get in the van with our gear and the trailer and we’d drive ourselves around the country and sell albums and T-shirts out of the back of the trailer. That was sort of our education and then once things started going really well, thankfully, we got a sense of what it looks like when all of the, when the engine is nicely greased and things are working the way they’re supposed to.

“And then it’s like the millennium turns and the technology changed. And all of that became old. It became an antiquated model. And it was frightening at first but I actually have come to appreciate it. I’m going to actually use the pun, a living thing. It’s a living system. Our technologies are a living system just like we are and our communities as human beings, and for us to expect them to remain constant is really just quite foolish. I mean anybody that’s going to come to rely on the way that our music consumption is looking now is going to have the same hard lesson in less time than you think. I think that the technology is going to shift probably sooner than any of us really realize. And that’s a really cool thing, because it keeps everyone on their toes. It levels the playing field, too. It’s allowing for a really wonderful democratization of the music writing process and the music presenting and performing process. So what it’s doing is it’s making us try harder and it’s making us expect the best of ourselves and the people that we work with. You know, do more with less.

“I was talking to my friend this morning about the notion of the music video. Incubus has made a music video. We’ve paid like $500,000 to make a music video that MTV just didn’t play. And that was considered like, “Oh, OK. That’s a bummer, but, you know, next?” But now? Are you kidding me? It’s like if we can get a fraction, a spittle of that amount of money to make a music video, that’s amazing. But the cool thing is, is that the intention is exactly the same. And in fact it’s even better, because now we have to think even further out of the box. We still have to make a music video but we don’t have any money. So we have to have a better idea than we did before. You know what I mean? I personally, when all is said and done, I really welcome these changes. And they excite me. And they scare me at the same time, but I’m choosing to focus on the excitement.”

Both Bennington and Boyd were asked how do they both stay loyal to, and inspired to produce, the style of music on both the record and in concert that their most loyal and long-term fans both love and expect.

Chester responded by saying, “Um, well, I think that’s a good question. I kind of wonder, you know people ask me questions like, you see the Rolling Stones or guys who have been doing this for 50 years, do you see yourself doing this at their age? And in my mind I know that however long I live until the day I die, I’m probably going to feel mentally immature and physically old. But my brain’s not going to be calculating, ‘Oh, I’m 70 years old.’ It’s like, ‘What do you mean I’m almost done? Aagh! I just got started.’

“And so uh I think that it will become a bit more difficult for me to perform a few songs on a roster that I did so easily through my twenties and thirties. You know? When I’m 70 I don’t know if I’ll be, um, screaming Victimized at anybody. Hopefully that will be the case, but I doubt it.

“That’s one of the things that’s so interesting about our business anyways. None of us are guaranteed that anyone can come to one of our shows or care about the last record we put out.  I personally, throughout my own career, every record that we go into, I look at like, this is our very first album and this is the best representation of what we are. And either people are going to love it or they’re going to hate it. Or not care. And so you know, that’s what happens. We take the creative gamble and we write music that we feel passionate about and that we feel is important and that we feel is, um, um, what’s the word I’m looking for, uh, damn it! Giving something to the people who are going to hear it. It’s basically like when you create a song and people hear it and they connect with it, you’re giving that person a sense of inspiration.”

Brandon added, “You made me think of something though when you were saying like, um, will you be screaming some of your most demanding lyrics when you’re 70. You can’t really imagine yourself doing that. I agree with you, we have so many songs that we wrote when we were in our young twenties. Some of them we wrote when we were teenagers and we still perform some of them. It occurs to me now at 36, ‘damn, what was I thinking? This is hard! I have to really concentrate and sit still in order to do it.’

“Two things occur to me. One was that somehow the guys in the Stones still look really cool doing it. And I think that really is a testament to, number one, their talent, as well as their tenacity. If you write good songs and if you write songs that have a potentially timeless quality, yeah, I think that you’ll be able to sing them long into your sunset years.

“I think that’s really one of our intentions as a band. I know for me as a lyricist and as a singer, my deepest intention beyond just trying to express myself with a sense of purity is to hopefully achieve a sense of timelessness. You want to touch on subjects that are potentially universal and that don’t really need to be tied to the 90s. Or the 2000s. Or the 2030s. Whatever. You want to essentially be able to make music that will essentially transcend time.”

Their answers were followed up with being asked how do they connect that to the style of music that is - as they both admitted - very rooted in a much younger Chad and Brandon.

Boyd answered in his typical straightforward manner by saying, “Well you know, actually, it’s been a real struggle, challenge, I don’t know what the right exact word is. But being so identified with a particular style and a particular time, I know that there are certain parts of the world where certain journalism music reviewers will literally have not looked beyond Incubus’s very first album, Science, which we wrote and recorded when we were just freshly out of high school. And it came out in 1997. And we toured a lot on that record, we toured for a little over two years. And we were on tour with bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit and we ended up doing a lot of touring, which was amazing, with Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath and Pantera and all these great tours.

“But what’s wild to me is that it’s been that long and there are still these holdouts that are like, ‘How’s it going, being a nu-metal band?’ And that’s been a real challenge, not to make music that has transcended a genre, because I do believe that we’ve accomplished that and we continue to accomplish that, if I could be so bold, but to sort of shift people’s perceptions and get people to take a second glance at an established artist.

“That’s really the most challenging thing. Once people feel like they have you categorized on the… they’ve put the milk on the milk shelf in the refrigerator, it’s almost like it can never live anywhere else in the refrigerator. I personally am interested in music. I’m not interested in making a kind of music. And I think that’s why Incubus records have changed sometimes dramatically over the years.

“Our newest record, If Not Now, When?, is really a good example of that. It’s different. It’s more different than any of our records than we’ve ever done before and I personally am really inspired by that. I’m proud of that. I want to make music that continues to evolve and challenge people and surprise people. But getting people to let go of a predetermined notion of what you are and what you’re supposed to be is really probably the largest challenge. What I’ve had to do is really let go of perceptions altogether and just make music.”

Bennington chimed right in.

“I agree with Brandon. I think for us, we’ve kind of had the advantage to cross a bunch of different styles of music and bring them together, and we worked very hard from Minutes to Midnight on to change what we felt was the perception of what Linkin Park is, and by people outside of the band.

“I think that Incubus and Linkin Park share a lot of similarities in terms of when we became popular. In a time when selling tons of records was what people did, and the Internet wasn’t really a strong force in the world. And then transitioning into a time where no one’s buying records. And yet people are spending more money on music base than any time before. So I think that going through all that and transitioning and getting older and having all these experiences definitely shapes the way you think about how you do business. But the things that inspire are all the same kind of things that inspired me when I was 15.

“You know, life is very complicated and there’s so much stuff that happens in your life that are so precious and so beautiful and so specific to our individual story. Each person has such a beautiful story to tell and some are horrific and scary but yet there’s still something beautiful happening there. Those are things that inspire me creatively and I think that the older I get the more savvy I become in business and how you view your business. I think it’s because you have more experience.

“The music business is a very tricky business to be in, and so making a transition from focusing on selling records . . . there’s a million versions of our songs out there anyways, good to bad. People can videotape every performance that we do and everything’s out there. It just doesn’t make any sense to me. I don’t think it’s the way musicians would have thought 10 years ago. I wouldn’t have even have thought that 10 years ago. I would have thought, no way, we have to sell records. I think that age brings wisdom and age brings experience.

“But the things that inspire me are the same. Those are the moments that you kind of catch in your web as you go through life. You kind of grab the tastier parts of life and we get to write songs about them, we get to write music about those experiences and then go perform them for people just as often. A lot is different and the same though, at the same time.

Both bands have pretty much kept the core members of each group. The question was asked as to how do they all stand each other after such a long time.

Brandon responded first by saying, “It’s a saying that rings true for me all the time. Being in a band is hard. You are essentially traveling in very small steel tubes, confined steel tubes with family members for extended periods of time - kind of like inhuman periods of time. You love your mom, but how much flight time do you want to spend with her? You know, how long do you want to sit in the car with your dad and your mom and your brothers, you know what I mean? There’s that, but there’s also the understanding that it’s family, and it’s very much a familial thing. That even though there are times when they hurt your feelings or they might get on your nerves, essentially the majority of your experience with them is rooted in love.

“So as long as we can hold on to that sort of transcendent notion, everything usually is OK. And it’s OK to be angry at your family members sometime, and it’s OK for them to get on your nerves. The best thing to do, I think, is just to remember who you are and understand the difference between a need to express frustrations and the difference between that and potentially your own ego, and little moments when your ego flares up for usually ridiculous reasons. Which usually, uh, I know for men, I speak for myself and for the guys in my band, them being my family, most of the times we ever have problems are when someone has under slept or underfed. So as long as we have enough sleep and enough to eat, everyone’s usually hunky-dory. And that’s the honest-to-God truth. Just get enough food and enough to eat, or enough sleep, and you’ll be fine.”

Bennington agreed.  

“I think it’s funny. But that is actually the truth. I mean, we all have the - I think that within Linkin Park we all have similar aspects of our personality that we share with each other. We all are very driven. We all like to work really hard. We all like to do whatever it takes and be involved in every aspect of what we do. But it takes all of us. And I think that when we learned very early on, like there’s a few guys in the studio working on every song, so it’s a whole record, when you look at the business side of things, or you look at like the marketing side of things, the artistic side of things, and what each member brings collectively to the whole, is worth far more than what - together, the band is worth far more than each of us is as an individual. And I think that that’s something we learned about our band very early. It’s not just about one guy or two guys or whatever, three guys. It’s about all six of us.

“And so, having six creative people who are totally different personality-wise around each other all the time, we have to be very realistic about what we expect from each other. And it is a family thing. And once you cross that line of being a friend and then it turns into, ‘Well, now we’re family,’ I mean, life gets real, really fast. You know? I mean you’re now exposing yourself. I mean there’s the dating phase, which is like, ‘Oh, you’re so awesome,’ and everybody is so great, and then when you move in together it’s like, “Oh shit. Who am I actually, like, getting myself involved with?” You know, it’s like you get to see all the dirty parts and you get to be around all the unsavory things about each other’s personalities and so we just basically treat each other with respect. We give each other the space that we need. And I think that being in my band is an example of the most functional relationship I’ve ever had in my life. But I’ve been in band scenarios where it’s just chaos. There’s no leadership and there’s too much ego and there’s too much pride and there’s too much opinion.

“All those things are very important, so I think what makes it work for my band, for Linkin Park is that, you know, we focus on things that are important for the band. And we don’t really focus on what’s the most important thing for me. It’s really about what’s the most important thing for us. And I think that’s something that we carry not only in our professional world but we try to carry into our personal lives as well. We share both of those things together.”

And what both bands will be sharing together from August 11th through September 10th will be great stages in venues all across America.  To find out if Linkin Park and Incubus are come to your city – or to register to win the customize Honda Civic or CBR250R motorcycle, visit www.HondaCivicTour.com. 

Oh, and you may also enter the Linkin Park Fly-Away Sweepstakes, which includes round trip tickets to Los Angeles and a visit to a Linkin Park video shoot. To get further info and to enter go to: www.HFSGrad.com.

Nina Blackwood

Posted September, 2011

NinaBlackwoodToday2Before the days of YouTube, cable TV, DVD players or, heck, even VCR’s, if one wanted to see their favorite artist or band of any genre, they would have to know what time and what show they would happen to be appearing on.  In the 50’s and 60’s, The Ed Sullivan Show was the go-to TV show to catch Elvis, the Beatles, the Stones, Buddy Holly, the Doors, or the Dave Clark Five, to name but a historic few.

Other landmark shows like the Louisiana Hayride, Shindig! or Dick Clark’s two shows, American Band Stand and Where The Action Is were on the scene and catered to specific genres of music which not only carved out a healthy niche of dedicated viewers but a permanent spot in music history, as well.

As the seventies rolled around, teenagers like me had our own arsenal of shows from which to get our live musical fix.   Who can forget Alice Cooper performing Gutter Cats vs. The Jets on ABC’s In Concert or Johnny Winter’s version of Jumpin’ Jack Flash on Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert or Fleetwood Mac performing Rhiannon on Burt Sugarman’s Midnight Special?

All of these shows and historic performances are forever etched on the tablets of rock and roll history.  However, thirty years ago, on August 1st, 1981, there was a seismic change that hit America through the growing avenue of cable television.  Five VJ’s (“video jockey’s”), Nina Blackwood, Martha Quinn, the late J.J. Jackson and Alan Hunter became fixtures on a bold, new cable network called MTV.  The channel provided a continuous feed of record industry supplied promotional videos as well as a growing supply of concert clips. Before too long, “I want my MTV!” became a popular mantra among America’s youth and was captured forever in Dire Strait’s hit (and video, of course), Money For Nothing.

It’s hard to imagine that thirty years has passed since MTV hit the airwaves and changed music forever.  It just doesn’t seem possible.  Neither did it seem possible that the opportunity to interview one of the MTV pioneers, Nina Blackwood, would ever happen but it did.

The perennially beautiful Blackwood called me from her home in Maine while between having just returned from vacation and the start of another round of personal appearances commemorating the 30th anniversary of MTV’s launch. Naturally, that was the subject we started with.

 “It’s been quite crazy, actually, but in a good way. It’s so nice that people are reaching out and remembering us. It’s wonderful, actually.  We’ve done a lot of promotion. We did a VJ special through Sirius/XM on our Big 80’s on 8 channel. I’ve been hosting Absolutely 80’s Presents Freemont Street’s Experience in Vegas every other weekend, flying there to host a show. I live in Maine so it’s not just down the road!” she said with her infectious laugh that immediate endears those privileged to hear it.

Often, reunions of any type can be quite emotional for the participants.  I asked Nina if it had been emotional for her to recollect those years in such a compressed time while being the focus of a lot of attention.

 “Very good question. Very good question because, to be quite honest, when it started, I’d say, back in May, things started gearing up – when I do my shows and we’re talking about eighties music, I don’t go around thinking about the early days of MTV.  I mean, it was thirty years ago!  Around May, things started kind of ratcheting up a bit.  I had a couple of real intense interviews right off the bat. I had to go to New York for a VJ special with Mark (Goodman), Alan (Hunter), and Martha (Quinn) and all of a sudden I’m back here in New York where we did the {mprestriction ids="*"}shows and we’re talking about the old days – it was kind of freaky, I tell you, at first.  I was trying to go to sleep (the night before) but I kept reliving all these memories that the people were asking us about. Really, initially, it was quite unsettling!  I mean, maybe on the 25th (anniversary) we recollected some thoughts but, for some reason, this one really did have an emotional effect and has carried on throughout the entire summer which has been really odd!

“It’s wonderful, don’t get me wrong!  But, all of a sudden, your head is back in those days and you’re remembering this and that – wow! – like it was . . . well, I can’t say like it was thirty years ago but, maybe at the most, twenty years ago – the most!  It does not feel like thirty years ago – especially when we had this dinner when we were in New York with some of the old crew from the original studio which each of us, respectively, are still friends with. We each have our people that we’re still friends with. And for all of us to be back together sitting at this gigantic table in this restaurant in New York was like ‘Oh my god!’.  Everybody’s personalities are pretty much the same, only older!  And that was so trippy. It  really was!  Even though each of us are in contact with certain people over the years and have seen them personally – like, one of the cameramen – a friend of mine – came up to visit me in Maine and we’re always e-mailing; but it was exactly like it was!  It was really weird!  Yes, it was emotion in the fact that you realize how fast time has gone.”

When I asked if there was anything bittersweet about the whole thing, Ms. Blackwood’s response was immediate.

“Well, J.J., of course.  You know that J.J. passed away a long time ago – six years ago, something like that (in 2004 of a heart attack in L.A.). Of course, J.J.’s absence is very bittersweet – especially for the four of us who are left.  But he was loved very much by the crew and the producers that worked with us on a day-to-day basis.  So that, if anything, that was the main ‘bittersweetness’ because we would all say, ‘Ah, J.J. would like that!’.

“J.J. was the guy who had all the stories. He was like our elder statesman but he was also the guy who really partook the most in the quote/unquote rock ‘n roll lifestyle. I mean, he was hanging out with Robert Plant, Rod Stewart, going to all the clubs. In fact, his nick name was ‘Club Man’. So he was the guy that was – if you want to say – not wild because I would classify him as a wild man but he really embraced everything there was to embrace about New York and being in the entertainment business. He really lived a full life. So, that’s missed. He’s just missed!”

And what about any of the artists who dominated much of MTV’s screen time back in the day?

“Well, I mean, that’s kind of a daily thing. I’ll be introducing a song like, say, Robert Palmer and Addicted To Love – I interviewed him a lot over the years. That was sad. I was particularly devastated by Michael Hutchence’s death. I had just seen him, actually, about a month or so before he died. Again, in a professional sense – not a personal sense – I was close to that band (INXS). When they came by for an interview, I was always the one who interviewed them or met them on the road so there was definitely a professional relationship and I thought the world of Michael. I really, really liked him.  I still, sometimes, go, ‘I can’t believe he’s gone’ and in such a horrible way. It was so tragic and just awful. So, Michael’s one that I do think of in that regard.

“I was on vacation so I didn’t even know about Jani Lane of Warrant!  That’s pathetic – so pathetic!  I wasn’t close to him as a person, either. It was all professional. It’s just so sad because here’s this guy – platinum – multiplatinum selling artist and the band kicks him out and he just could not kick his drug habit.  And, to be found in some Comfort Inn in Woodland Hills, California, for crying out loud!  It’s just horrid!  That was the most recent.”

The perpetually positive Blackwood instinctively turns the conversation to more a more positive vein.

“Somebody who is an example of overcoming and thriving and helping others is Slash. I read his biography and I was going, ‘Is he gonna make it?!’ and now the guy is doing so well – beyond well!  He’s actually a really cool mentor, in a way, for kids.  He’s got that cartoony kind of look and he helps animals. He helps young addicts and has a whole foundation (to help).

“Look at Steven Tyler, for crying out loud!  I mean, Steven Tyler was on the brink! I actually met him right before he got sober and, I mean, he was still ‘Steven Tyler’ but you knew that the guy was just out there at warp speed. Look at how he’s turned around.  They all became more successful after they became sober!

“So, along with the horrible deaths, there are a lot of people who have . . .” and then, as she often does, Nina interrupts herself with another related thought,  “Look at Joe Walsh!  Oh my god! He’s an old friend of mine because I grew up in Ohio. I remember getting a call one night. I can’t remember what concert it was – I think it was Stevie Nicks.  I had just seen him backstage at that event. By the time I got home, there was a phone call from a mutual friend of ours saying, ‘Joe’s in the hospital. He has passed out’ and I’m going, ‘Oh, no! He’s dying!’ He turned his life around. He got through it and looks better than ever!  He looks all healthy and ‘California-ized’.

“So, yeah, along with the tragedies there are successes. And, with Michael – god!  That one made me sad because he took his own life. To be pushed to that degree and not feeling that he could turn to anybody and to do that, that’s what made it, I think, hardest for me. It wasn’t like a drug overdose, which is bad enough, but it was like he killed himself by his own hand. That’s painful.  The guy was so charismatic. Like I said, I had just seen the band and was marveling at the fact that the guy could arch his back and the most powerful notes would come out. It sucks!  What can I say? It sucks!  Still, obviously, after all these years later it does bother me.”

To say that Blackwood is a workaholic would be a bit of an understatement.  She hosts two syndicated radio shows, Nina Blackwood’s Absolutely 80’s and Nina Blackwood’s New Wave Nation.  He can also be found on her Sirius XM show, 80’s on 8, at various days and times throughout the week.  And, as if that’s not enough, this summer she was flying back and forth to Las Vegas for appearances at Absolutely 80’s Summer Concert Series.  I asked her how does she do it all.

“Yeah, I am bit of a workaholic.  Four and a half years ago, I was living in L.A. and I realized that all the companies that I worked for were actually in New York. So, I’m going, ‘Why am I in L.A.? It’s hot. I don’t do well in the heat. It’s crowded. I don’t really like it anymore. It’s gotten nasty. Why am I living here?’ I always loved Maine since I was a little girl. I was born in Massachusetts and just always loved Maine. I thought about moving there on a number of occasions and I thought, ‘You know? I’m just gonna check it out and see if I love as much as I think I love it” and I did. I ended up buying a house and, luckily, selling my house (in L.A.) right as the market was crashing – got out of there literally by a hair – by a hair!  The housing market was tanking as the house was up for sale.

“So, I moved to Maine and, like yourself, because of technology, I’ve got a studio in my home and I can do my shows and all my work (from home) – with the exception of going to Vegas and personal appearances. And, I love nature and that’s been my saving grace.

“I was just back in L.A. last week, doing my shows from there so I was in the traffic and all that and my whole body, seriously, went into like an anxiety attack. I was shaking!  I love to drive. I’m not a scaredy cat driver so it had nothing to do with that. It was just so intense and so much – I go, ‘I don’t know how I lived here!’  I probably would have had a very different answer for you if I was still in L.A.”

Nina loves to gush about her life in Maine.

“I have a lot of animals. I have dogs and cats and parrots and there are so many wild animals here. Chipmunks and squirrels and osprey and raccoons and the occasional moose and mink, otter, beaver.  I find solace and peace with nature and only when I’m removed from it for a certain period of time do I get kind of tweaked. I start shaking like I did in L.A.  Nature has always been my solace and it remains to be. That’s the balance. Now, it’s critical, actually. I have to have it.  I’m so hyper and that’s something I haven’t been able to conquer my whole life. I’ve been hyper since I little kid. Still hyper!

“The peace calms me down and it makes me realize, especially in a place like Maine where the people are so wonderful.  They’re workaday people.  They’re really down to earth. They’re really honest. They’re lobstermen, farmers - that type of thing. And I realized that there’s more to the world than the entertainment business and they don’t care what you do. They don’t care if you’re Brad Pitt. If you’re a good person, that’s fine. If not, they don’t care, they’re not going bother with you. It’s really a grounding and I thrive in that.

“I love my postmen. We have a two-person post office and ‘Tiny’ – who is not; he’s a very big guy – we don’t even have regular mail trucks!  He (Tiny) drives his own vehicle. He sits in the passenger seat and he drives with a stick! He has the stick working the steering wheel and, because he’s big enough, he can work the foot pedals.

“I found, the day before I was leaving for vacation, a little handwritten note saying, ‘Have a wonderful vacation. Be safe and we look forward to you coming back”. It almost made me cry. I got choked up. I carried that little note with me the whole time I was gone. He didn’t have to do that. He wasn’t doing that for any reason other than a sweet gesture. I lived twenty years in L.A. and I never even knew my mail man’s name and he probably didn’t know mine except for the fact that he stuck the mail in the box.

“It’s a very long answer to your question but those are the things that help and keep me grounded and also make me enjoy my work more because I gotta work to stay where I am and I love it so much, you know what I mean?”

In preparing for this interview, I wasn’t sure what Nina’s opinion was of MTV today as compared to when she VJ’d for them.  I was relieved to read an interview posted on her website, NinaBlackwood.net, wherein she says that she doesn’t like the current format there.  With that already established, I asked Nina what she thought would “work” for MTV and what changes would she implement if she were in charge.

“Well, the thing is, unfortunately for people like us who don’t like what they’re doing, that (MTV’s current format) is working for them. Jersey Shore has made more money for MTV Networks than any show they’ve ever had. So, the bottom-line is that it is working. I don’t know who watches this stuff. I don’t get it but that’s what’s happening.

“As far as MTV itself, what I would do is start another channel and forget MTV! Or, VH1 Classic – put the music oriented stuff over them; keep MTV – whatever it is now – over there.  Just keep it. It has nothing to do with music . . . or very little to do with music.  Just implement more music programming for people who enjoy it because I hear this all the time! ‘Where are the videos?  Where are the music shows?’

“So, there is an audience out there that wants to see – maybe not 24 hours a day – but maybe, like, three hours to show videos, two hours, whatever, separated throughout the day.  Have music like Storytellers that was a great show or Behind The Music - wonderful shows!  Have more of that.”

It’s been said, to borrow from the Buggles tune, TV Killed The Radio Star, that video killed radio.  I asked Blackwood what she thought killed video?

“Well, first of all, I don’t think video killed radio. That song was written before MTV was even on. It was written in ’78.  It wasn’t specifically about MTV and I actually think video enhanced radio at the time because it (radio) had been in the doldrums. In fact, radio was opened up to all these new bands that I wouldn’t have played in a million years, like Duran Duran, The Flock of Seagulls – for better or for worse.  Video is not what killed the radio star. But the internet is what, I think, killed – or it has been helping to kill – radio, the videos on TV and the record industry across the board. That has been the biggest threat, at least in my lifetime, to the music industry in general.”

When I asked Blackwood if she thought that the MTV’s format change was driven by the record labels’ lack of support for acts, including the financing of videos, she responded by saying, “That’s a good question, also. I don’t know. I think it’s kind of a chicken and egg thing. It really is because things started tanking all around the same time. The record labels.  All the mergers. Then you have radio going through the same thing. These big companies came in and bought up as many channels in one city as they possibly were allowed to. They restricted the formats. I hate to use a trite phrase but it’s all be kind of the perfect storm.”

I asked Nina what videos from back in the day epitomized the best and worst of video on MTV.  Her answer was both honest and diplomatic.

“Well, it’s a really hard question as to which ones epitomize but the first one that comes to mind when you ask that, I think, Money For Nothing, obviously, because it was about MTV. So that kind of epitomized it. As far as the worst, I can’t really say because there’s not one that sticks out in my mind that’s cringe-worthy. There’s nothing that I could specifically answer. I’m sorry. I can’t go, ‘Yeah! That one sucked!’

“Also, whether they hold up to the test of time.  I would have to go back and look at some of these and go, “Uh, that one doesn’t work anymore”. So, I’m sorry to be so evasive about that.”

With a long, distinguished, history making career such as hers, I naturally wondered if she would be coming out with a book anytime in the near future.  Her response was coy, to say the least.

“Oh, those things could be in the works.  Maybe . . . maybe . . .”

Well, until that darn book that may or may not be in the works comes out, I had to ask Nina how she wanted to be remembered after she’s gone to that great VJ studio in the sky.

“Oh, boy!  You know, we’ve often joked about our epitaphs – Mark, Allan, Martha, and myself  and J.J., God bless him, - that they would probably would say, ‘Here lies America’s first MTV VJ’ would probably be how I would be remembered. But, I don’t know, I would like to be remembered as somebody who really strove to keep her credibility and loved animals and nature – along with rock ‘n roll!”

Check out all that’s happening in the world of the lovely and talented Nina Blackwood at NinaBlackwood.net.  Also, if you have Sirius XM radio (and, if not, why not?), be sure and catch Nina’s show throughout the week on channel 8 of your satellite radio dial.  You’ll love it!

Antonia Bennett

Posted September, 2010

 

AntoniaBennettPR2010We’ve all read stories of relationships between celebrities and their kids.  Sadly, too many of those stories are dripping with tales of abuse and dysfunctional relationships between parent and child.  Equally as sad, we learn that this tragic cycle repeats itself in the adult lives of the children.  We pretty much just come to expect that all celebrity kids are just a jacked up mess.

I don’t know about those of you reading this piece, but I always find it refreshing to be proven wrong when it comes to those assumptions.  Because of the people that I’ve been fortunate enough to interview, I’ve slowly but surely begun to change my preconceived notions about kids of celebrities.

Case in point: my recent opportunity to chat with Antonia Bennett, the lovely and very talented daughter of jazz icon, Tony Bennett. The youngest of four children, Antonia has worked and studied hard to follow a similar but different career path Mr. Bennett.

Musically schooled at Berkley as well as trained in acting and dance at the Strasburg Institute, Antonia has the weapons in her arsenal to be the consummate performer.  As for presence, her natural beauty and sense of presence and delivery are attributes one could understandably assume she inherited from her gifted father. That is likely true to a great extent.  However, I would argue that Ms. Bennett has worked and studied hard to perfect her art.

Either way, Antonia has delivered a great debut EP of pure jazz artistry.  Entitled Natural, it’s a six song, multi-genre treat featuring such diverse classics as, Puttin’ On The Ritz, B.B. King’s, The Thrill Is Gone, to Pat Benatar’s, Love Is A Battlefield, which, coincidentally, was written by Natural’s producer, Holly Knight. 

Grammy nominated pianist and arranger, Larry Goldings (and who has also worked with Norah Jones, John Mayer, Al Jarreau, David Sanborn and James Taylor) skillfully arranged the tunes.  With this triple threat of talent and experience, it’s no mystery why Natural is a superb debut offering.

It was the subject of this talented powerhouse that fed the content of my first question as to what brought Antonia, Holly and Larry together for this project.

“Larry, he crosses both worlds. He understands popular music and he really understands Jazz and traditional music, too. That’s important to me because I grew up listening to everything. Larry and I met many years ago.  An A&R guy named Steve Ferrera - at the time he was with Blue Note Records and Angel Records, and is now all over the place, doing everything from American Idol and a lot of other things.  He’s a pretty big A&R guy now. 

“Anyway, he introduced me to this producer, Russ Titleman. Russ had heard me sing and thought I would be perfect for a duet with Tom Wopat on his record, In The Still of the Night. That’s when I met Larry – many, many years ago in New York, when I was living there.  He now lives in L.A. with his wife so, when I came back out to L.A., I said that, {mprestriction ids="*"}when I get organized here, I want to work with Larry.

“Holly and I started writing songs together, one at a time, then slowly, we started doing more and more. We were gearing up to do a record of all contemporary music that we had co-written. I said to Holly, ‘You know? Before we start to do this, I really want to take a snapshot of what I’ve been doing my whole life because this is what comes so naturally to me and it’s what I know. So, it would be a shame if I start going straight for the contemporary stuff without taking a snapshot of what I had been doing up until now.’

“She said that it was a great idea and said, ‘Come on, let’s do it!’ She was nice enough to help facilitate the whole thing. It just kind of happened effortlessly. It all just fell into place. Then, I approached Larry.  He’s so great to work with. We sat down at his piano and started going through tunes and listening to stuff. As I said, it just fell into place.”

Recording projects of any kind can range from 2 years to, seemingly, infinity.  I asked Ms. Bennett how long did Natural take to get out the door.

“We had it sitting there for awhile. We didn’t really know how we were going to release it. We didn’t know if we were just going to release it on iTunes or what. Then Mitch (Davis, son of record industry legend, Clive Davis), my manager, was nice enough to introduce me to George Nauful over at Mesa/Blue Moon Records. He put a deal together for us to release it. After this digital EP is out, we’re going to go back into the studio and make a full length LP with Mesa/Blue Moon. Hopefully, we’ll start work on that in October and have it out soon after.

“Also, I did an amazing tour of Europe with my dad, opening shows for him. We were at Royal Albert Hall, Istanbul Jazz Festival, and the Umbria Jazz Festival in Italy as well as other amazing and beautiful theaters all over the U.K. So, we’re going to take the best picks of the live performances from that tour and release them digitally as an EP to keep our fans engaged and satisfied – the people who were there and would like to have a memory of that experience at home.”

This led to a sidebar discussion about the state of the music industry.  Antonia’s education and unique experience has fed her keen observation of the business as well as a good feel for what it will take to develop a loyal following.

“It’s amazing what’s been happening with the music industry. On one hand it’s difficult because there a lot of free downloading and artists aren’t getting their money for their music. On the other hand, it’s really opened things up for fan because, as an artist, you can do things a lot of different ways and the fans can reach out to their artists in a lot of different ways, as well. There’s no roadmap anymore so you can make it your own. I think that’s a really great thing. The more that I can keep fans involved and reach out to them and show them what I’m doing, and just hope that they like what I’m doing as much as I like doing it. That’s all that I can pray for.”

While asking Antonia what determined which songs she selected for the EP, I also asked if it wasn’t a bit risky to have such a mix, given her current audience.

“We were talking about it and I said, ‘Do you think that this should be a second project?’ because, even though we were treating it like a jazz standard, I thought that I might should do another project of just modern tunes with jazz treatments. I didn’t know if it would all fit together. The great thing is, I was working with such tremendous people that it all fell into place.

“That track (Battlefield) was played and arranged by great pianist by the name of Deron Johnson. He’s super fantastic.  Holly had also wanted a jazz version of it and had talked to Deron to see if he could come up with a great arrangement. Later, I came in and sang it. I love that kind of thing – to dive into the lyrics of something and express it.”

It’s at this point that Antonia drills into an area of particular interest to her: song interpretation. “The way that I grew up, I grew up as an ‘interpreter’ and, as an interpreter, that’s what you’re supposed to do: take a song and make it your own. It’s an art form that’s been ‘lost in the wash’, I think. Everybody’s expected to write and do everything else, too. The art of interpretation has gotten a bit lost and almost looked down upon in some mediums. But, it is a true art form.

“I’ve watched my dad night after night and I can honestly say – it’s not nepotism – I don’t know anybody that can do what he does in the area of song interpretation. And, with Battlefield, I tried to approach it from that point of view. How am I going to make this mine? How would I say these lyrics? What are they meaning to me? What’s the story?”

When Antonia mentioned earlier that she would be going back into the studio soon, I immediately wondered what other songs might be added to the mix.

“I’m not quite sure yet. I would love to share it with you if I knew what they were going to be. There might be a couple of originals. I’m not sure yet. We’re still working it out.”

Currently in the midst of a nationwide tour with her dad, I asked Ms. Bennett what kind of people made up her audience.

“Right now, I’ve been mostly touring with my dad and the audience is represented by a wide range of ages. I’m not quite sure yet since this is just the beginning but I would assume that my audience age range is from age 30 on up. I would say that I have a hot ‘AC’ (adult contemporary) audience and cross over to the traditional jazz audience, as well.”

While the album is still young, Antonia is incredibly enthusiastic about the favorable response – and press – that’s she’s already receiving.

“Wow, I just had a great write u in the Jazz Times (here) and I was really taken aback! I was reading it but I was saying, ‘Oh my gosh! This is about ME?’ It was SO positive and encouraging. When you’re an artist, you get used to the idea that there are going to be people out there that don’t like what you’re doing so I always try to prepare myself for that. But things have been really, really positive and people have been giving me positive feedback. I just hope that it continues. It’s nice to be recognized by your peers – by a magazine like that. For me, it’s a really big deal because they really know their stuff.”

As much as I hated to, I had to ask Ms. Bennett how involved in her album was her famous dad.  She didn’t seem at all offended by the question.

“He was pretty much ‘hands-off’ but he was also very supportive. When I played it for him, he was really blown away and he really loved it. He said, ‘You’re really singing great and I’m SO proud of you! You know I wouldn’t say it if it’s not true! You’re a really good jazz singer.’ Coming from him is a very high compliment!”

Did Mr. Bennett give his daughter any advice before going into the studio?

“He didn’t give me much advice on the album.  He just wants me to sing jazz. He would really love that. He always tells me that I’m a great jazz singer and to always ‘quality’. The other thing that he has said to me is to always breathe before each phrase and, when you get to the words ‘I love you’, make sure that you really mean it.’ That’s his advice and it’s really worked out great for me.

“They sound like such simple things but the truth of the matter is that they get missed in the mix. You really have to take a minute to ‘seal’ it and express it in your singing.’

In developing her career and body of work, I asked Antonia what are the similarities and differences to how her dad developed, and is continuing, his career?

After some careful reflection, she said, “It’s a hard to say. Growing up as an artist, part of it is about him and part of it just about finding your own voice and trying to be yourself. If you just be yourself, you’re automatically different than everybody else but that’s not always so easy to get to.

“I think the biggest difference is that, since I was working since a very young age, I waited a long time to put something out because I wanted to make sure that I was ready. The biggest difference is that I waited a lot longer than he did to start but, then, I think that it’s a generational thing. Kids were adults at seventeen years old when my dad was growing up.

“The other thing is I try to choose to stand in my dad’s light and not in his shadow. I try to focus on that. The rest of it just goes into the wash again. He’s said some other things. He said, ‘You always have a choice no matter what cards you’re dealt. You can focus on the good things or you can focus on the negative. I really, really do my best to focus on the positive and be very grateful and humble for the amazing opportunities that I have.”

Aside from her dad, who have been her biggest musical influences? Her answer surprised me but it really shouldn’t have.

“Gosh, I have so many influences. It’s hard to say. Obviously, a lot of the traditional musicians like Stan Getz, Oscar Peterson, Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole – all of those kinds of people. I’ve been influenced not only but singers but by musicians, too.

“Then, there were also a lot of artists from the 60’s and 70’s who really influenced me. People like Tina Turner. I was always a big fan of Blondie. I always liked her songs. They were always melodic, romantic and dreamy. David Bowie. I listened to a lot of John Lennon. Now, I listen to Kings of Leon and The Killers. I listen to a lot of different things. I soak up as much as I can.

“At the end of the day when I relax, one thing I really enjoy listening to is Louis Armstrong because he always makes me feel good. I don’t know why but, from the sound of his voice, it makes me feel happy so I listen to a lot of him.”

With Antonia Bennett’s spotlight beginning to shine on her now, I asked her what her long range career goals are.

“Gosh, I’ve never been that great at planning but what I would like to do is to continue to put out good music and to continue to grow as an artist, build my fan base and keep touring. Hopefully, I’ll be fortunate enough to have a good career and a fan base who loves my stuff and keeps going out and supporting my music.

“The most important thing for me is to always be able to earn a livelihood. I can always sell records and tour. That’s definitely the most important thing. Secondly, to be recognized and respected by my peers. For me, I feel that I can hang my hat on that if I’m respected by my peers – it would be a really big deal for me.”

You can catch Antonia Bennett and her legendary father at a city or town near you.  To find out where, and to keep up with the latest developments in Ms. Bennett’s career, you can visit her website at www.antoniabennett.com.

You’ll definitely want to keep an eye on this talent. She’s going to be around for a very long time.