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Tommy Emmanuel

Posted January, 2011


tommyemmanuelWhile attending my “30-something” class reunion last fall, a classmate and I were exchanging names of various artist who we had become fans of but others might not have heard about.  In the course of the conversation, she mentions the name, Tommy Emmanuel, whom I haven’t heard of until then. She raved about how great this guy was on the guitar and strongly encouraged me to check him out. She assured me that my feeble mind would be blown.

I did and it was.

I scoured YouTube for some of his performances and was entertained by a rich list of some of the best covers of some of the more memorable songs from the last 50 years. There were also lots of video of Emmanuel performing some of his own creations, most notably, Initiation. It was that last song that sealed the deal with me, making me a new Tommy Emmanuel fan for life.

Further research showed me that Emmanuel was performing professionally with his family’s quartet by the age of five and performed all over Australia by the age of 10.  Tommy and his brother, Phil, were appropriately deemed child prodigies, further broadening their appeal to Australian audiences.  His fame and appeal has continued to grow, eventually branching out well beyond the shores of his homeland and to audiences around the world.

Naturally, I wanted to speak with this acoustic thunder from down under and was fortunate to line up a phone interview during the Knoxville stop during his U.S. tour last October.  The engaging warmth and conversation that I saw in the concert videos were evident during our chat.

I began our conversation by asking him to, for benefit of the uninitiated U.S. crowd who might not have ever heard of him, how would he introduce himself?

“Well, I’m a 55 year old guy from Australia who plays guitar because I love to play. I’ve been on stage ever since I was five years old. I’ve never wanted to do anything else but play the guitar and entertain people. I see myself as a person who entertains people using whatever gifts I have and I work tirelessly on the instrument. I try to learn from every musician I come across. I guess I’m a person who loves to entertain people.”

Tommy continues by segueing from his introduction to sharing how his love for music and entertaining was nurtured.  “My mother gave me my first guitar for my fourth birthday but I didn’t play in public until I was five. She showed me how to play rhythm for her. She was playing the lap steel guitar at that time. We both loved to try to make music together.

“My brothers and sisters all took up instruments as well. My brother, Phil, my older brother, he has a similar gift to me except he approaches things in a different way. When we were kids, I was the rhythm player and he was the lead player. He would learn a song – he could figure it out pretty quickly – and he would say, ‘Here are the chords’ and then I would learn the chords and the structure of the song and then we’d play it together. 

“Then, when I got a little older, I discovered that, because I’m an ear player – I play everything by ear – I don’t read music, I never had any formal training of any sort - I discovered that I could figure out a song pretty quickly and hear the pattern in the song and work out where the song went. I got interested in song writing and that’s when my world exploded and that’s when I discovered that I could write songs and that I had a gift in music somehow.

“Of course, being on stage is whole different thing to being a song writer. It’s like two different roles. I loved being on stage. I loved performing. I loved getting a reaction from the audience. I loved making the audience laugh and surprising them. We’d be doing a song and I’d dance across the stage and people wouldn’t expect it. Stuff like that. I discovered that that was what I enjoyed the most was to make people laugh and to feel good and to take their mind away.

“These days, what I do on stage is I use every element of whatever I have to distract people from whatever they’re thinking and take them into another space kind of thing- make them feel good. So, I try to dazzle them with whatever technique I’ve got. I try to disarm them with the fun that I have and then make them laugh at me laughing at myself.  So, it’s like I’m the Three Stooges in one person.” He says with a laugh.

“It’s also so much fun and challenging to play the instrument. The instrument is so beautiful and so challenging. But I enjoy playing my songs and telling my stories and try to paint a picture in music without words for people.”

When I made a comment based on the assumption that he only played acoustic guitar, Emmanuel politely corrected me.

“I do play electric guitar. Certainly, I do!  All of my early albums – my really successful albums in Australia – were seventy percent electric and just a few acoustic songs. I do a bit of everything.”

The video of Tommy’s performances revealed that he is as also a master in the use of the electronic effect known as delay.  I asked him what inspired him to use delays and if there was somebody who used them that who inspired him.

“I was just messing around with a delay one day. A lot of people have done that. Les Paul did it a lot. Chet Atkins did it a lot. People don’t realize that the sound they were listening to is a guitar playing against itself.  It’s a brilliant sound.”

Ah! The great Chet Atkins!  My pre-interview research revealed that Emmanuel discovered the incredible talent of Chet Atkins in 1962, becoming a lifelong fan of Mister Guitar, spending countless hours as a student of learning Atkins’ style of playing.  He established a long distance friendship with the guitar great via mail and, 18 years after first being turned on to him, finally got to meet his idol and established a close friendship until Chet’s passing in 2001.  I asked Tommy about his relationship with Atkins.

“Yes, I wrote to Chet when I was eleven years old. He wrote back to me. We became kind of pen pals with me living in Australia, of course.” He then shares what his first thoughts are when he thinks of Atkins.  “Oh! There’s so much! He was like a daddy to me. He was a innovator. He was a great leader. He was a great organizer. He could put the right team together to do a certain project for a certain artist. He knew exactly who had what gift. He was very clever in that way. But the thing I learned the most about Chet was look for a good song and look for a melody that touches your heart and your soul and play it for people.


“Before he died, we had a beautiful day together. There’s a song he used to sing for his dad called I Still Can’t Say Goodbye. He asked me to keep singing that song. He said, ‘When I’m gone, I want you to sing that song.’ I said, ‘I wouldn’t do that. That’s sacred to you.’ He said, ‘You don’t understand. People need to hear that. That’s what’s important and therein lies the lesson. Forget what you think. Do what you know is going to be good for other people.’ That summed him up perfectly.

“The same thing for me. I’ve been playing Guitar Boogie and Classical Gas. I’ve been playing them all my life and you would think, ‘Why don’t you play something different?’  The moment that I don’t play Guitar Boogie, Classical Gas or whatever, people will come up and say, ‘I drove 500 miles to hear you tonight and you didn’t play my favorite song!’  You’re there for the people. Forget yourself! Get out there and do what you were born to do and do it for the people.”

As he wraps up his thoughts about the lessons he learned from Chet Atkins, Emmanuel shares the thoughts of a man truly in awe of the blessings in his life and the lessons he has been fortunate to learn.

“If you would have told me twenty years ago that I would be laying in a bed in Knoxville, talking to you, I would have told you that you were crazy. But so much has happened in the last twenty years of my life, it’s been extraordinary. I’ve taken my music to everywhere I wanted to go like Russia and China, Croatia, Hungary, Brazil, Africa. It’s just been an incredible journey. It’s only really just beginning. I’ve been playing for 50 years and I feel like I’m just getting going now.”

Who else has inspired and influenced Tommy?

“Oh, man, there were so many! Last night, I watched Carole King and James Taylor. They’re two of my favorites. I draw a lot of inspiration from those two. Carole King’s songwriting is just on a level that’s just so stellar – so beautiful. Same with James.

“I listen to everything. The only thing I don’t like is rap music. I don’t criticize it or say that it’s bad. I just can’t stand it. I listen to all music from Beyoncé to Metallica. I listen to everything. I don’t like everything but I listen to things to try and learn and to wake up my senses to hear something different.”

Having graced stages and delighted audiences all over the world, I asked Tommy if there was any place he hasn’t performed yet.

“Well, next year I’m playing in Chile, Argentina, Venezuela and places like that – where I haven’t been. So there are a few other countries that I haven’t been yet. I’ll be in China next week and I was in Russia last month. They are countries I really wanted to take my music to because I knew something was up. Especially with Russia and China because there were Russian and Chinese people coming to my shows in Amsterdam, Berlin and places like that and they had come from their countries for the show. When I met people to sign autographs, they were like, ‘When are you going to come to Russia? When are you going to come to China? We come to your shows from China. Why don’t you come to China?’

“I got a lot of e-mail from those countries so I found a promoter there and put the show on. Two thousand people came. It was unbelievable! A lot of that has to do with YouTube.”

I’ve read lots of interviews, biographies and autobiographies where an artist gets bored with what made them famous and no longer derive satisfaction from their work.  With that in mind, I asked Tommy what is the biggest thrill or satisfaction he gets from his work.

“We’re travelling on a bus for this tour and I have a great guitar player named Frank Vignola playing with me at the moment. Frank’s one of my favorite players. Yesterday, we learned a bunch of Charlie Christian songs. That was so cool to go back and listen to Charlie Christian again. That was just like going to school yesterday. We spent the whole day playing in the bus. It was great and I learned a lot of new songs.”

As I stated at the beginning of this article, I was particularly blown away by Emmanuel’s composition, Initiation.  I asked him what inspired that song and how long did it take him to put that piece together. 

“That’s the song I use the delay on. I spent most of my young years based in the outback in a place called Alice Springs. I played to mostly Aboriginal audiences and I heard a lot of Aboriginal music. What I tried to do with that song is tell a story of pain and suffering of the hardship of life for those people and to make it a haunting kind of thing. Some nights, I can really conjure up the sound that I heard as a kid. The sound of when an Aboriginal group is doing their corroboree or their getting together and making music, they’re telling stories and acting out dances. The sounds of all of that are in that song somehow.  It’s a very simple piece. It’s not brain surgery. I try to keep it as simple as possible because you don’t want to be putting the influences of other things in that. You want it to be as pure as it can.”

I said, “You say it’s simple but you’re talking to somebody who would just love to play your mistakes!”

He laughed and said, “Yeah, you leave my mistakes to me!”

Tommy Emmanuel has played on some well known hits and performed with some pretty big names.  Thinking of that, I asked him a two part question. First, what kind of project would he like to do that he hasn’t done yet?  Second, who hasn’t he played with, on stage, on record or in private that he really wants to play with?

“I’ve fulfilled a few goals – a few lifetime dreams in the last year. Larry Carlton was my guest a couple of weeks ago in Austin. I’d love to work with Larry more. He’s one of my big influences and one of my favorites. And the other guy that I got to really know and would love to work with is George Benson. They’re two of the guys that I would love to play with and love to work with.

“I’ve yet to find another singer that I would love to work with because it’s all about the songs. For me, it’s the quality of your work and the quality that you put out to the people that is important. Sometimes you can do that with a complete unknown. Sometimes you can do that with someone really famous. So I’m still on the lookout for the right kind of partner to either write songs with.”

Almost as an aside, Tommy dropped this bombshell on me.

“I just played on a track for Michael Jackson which I love. I hope that they release it. I don’t know what is going to happen with Michael’s new stuff. I just played on a beautiful track on his – I hope it’s on his new album! They haven’t told me if it’s going to be released or not but they asked me to play on this track and I did. When I was in London they sent me the stuff on the internet and we downloaded it in the studio in London. I played a solo and a backing part for Michael who has been one of my heroes in my life, too. It’s an incredible vocal, I’ve got to tell you. I hope it comes out.”

The Jackson album Tommy referred to did, in fact, come out in December.  Entitled, Michael, it does include Much Too Soon and is a phenomenal piece of work. Congratulations, Tommy!

As he concludes his story about working on Much To Soon, Emmanuel says: “It’s been really good – it’s been a great journey. A couple of years ago I got a call from a guy named Peter Asher who used to manage James Taylor.  Peter’s a great producer and a good singer himself. He was managing and producing Diana Ross’s new project and I ended up playing on that as well. Things like that come along now and then and I really enjoy that. It’s so exciting and so challenging. I can’t tell you the feeling I had, especially with Michael’s track.  I was in London and the producers were in Los Angeles and they’re trusting me with his track. That’s a big responsibility and I have such a big respect and admiration for Michael and the quality of his work. Nobody raised the bar like him. It’s phenomenal.”

When answering my question as to what can a new fan expect from one of his shows and who makes up his audience, Emmanuel says, “To be surprised and to be reminded to have fun in life and to fly your kite as high as you can. Live in the moment. Be in the moment. Be in the moment!” Regarding his audience demographic, “Baby’s to grandparents. Everybody! I get heavy metal guys. I get jazzers. I get folkies. I get blue grassers. I get blues guys. I get grannies. I get pimply teenagers. I get everybody and that’s great. That’s the human race!”

For the pure musician Boomerocity readers out there who are learning of Tommy Emmanuel for the first time, I asked him to share what kinds of guitars he plays.

“I have a quite a collection of guitars in my homes. I have a home here in America and one in England and I have guitars stored in Australia as well. I have some homemade guitars that are made by friends of mine that I don’t take on the road. My main instruments are made by the Maton Guitar Company in Australia. These guitars are not like other instruments. They have a beautiful sound but they have the best electronics that you’ll ever hear. It was Jean Larrivée from  Larrivée Guitars who said to me, ‘Building a great guitar is a no-brainer. Getting the pickup right is almost impossible and that’s what these people have done!’

“So, if you want an acoustic guitar that you can mic up or, more importantly, you can plug in and get a good sound, there’s no guitar like a Maton guitar. As you can see by the finishes on my guitars, they can take a beating, too!” He concludes with a laugh.

After my chat with Tommy, I was struck by the fact that it took me so dang long to discover this gifted artist.  So that YOU won’t be the last one on this fan train, I would encourage you to tell others who love great guitar work or gifted entertainers about Tommy Emmanuel.

You can keep up with the latest news with Tommy Emmanuel by signing up for his mailing list at If you don’t order any of the music flagged in the pages of this interview, then you can certainly order his great CD’s, DVD’s and other great times from his online store.  Oh, and, of course, you can be among the first to know when he’s going to appear at a town or city near you – wherever you are in the world.

Rick Derringer

Posted May, 2009

RickDerringer1In the early Seventies, many a teenage boy fantasized about being able to play guitar just like their favorite guitar hero.  When they’re favorite guitar song would come on the radio or while listening to it in their room, they would imagine that was THEM playing that song.

One such song during those innocent times was a song that helped define the music of the Seventies.  That song is "Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo".  The guitar virtuoso wailing on the guitar on that song was a 26 year old man by the name of Rick Derringer.

By the time that song was rocking the airwaves, Derringer was already an 8 year veteran of the rock scene.  He recorded his first huge hit, Hang On Sloopy, at the tender age of 17, with his band, The McCoys.  He also performed the guitar solo on Alice Cooper’s 1971 album, Killer.  Soon after “Hoochie Koo”, Derringer had a follow-up hit with Teenage Love Affair.  With those hits under his belt, Rick worked with Johnny Winter and his brother, Edgar, as well as the jazz rock band, Steely Dan.

In the Eighties and Nineties, Derringer has been involved in a plethora of projects and bands, including working with Weird Al Yankovic, Barbara Streisand, Kiss, and Cyndi Lauper, as well as work for the World Wrestling Federation.  This was all in addition to his continual touring and working on his own projects.

In recent years, he’s converted to Christianity but still tours and performs his past hits as well as his more recent work.  In 2006, he was featured in a Fidelity Investments television commercial.  In 2007, “Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo” was featured in the Xbox 360 version of Guitar Hero 2, which will inspire another legion of teenage boys to fantasize about playing just like Rick.

I had the privilege of sitting down with Rick Derringer during his appearances at the 2009 Dallas International Guitar show.  We covered a wide range of topics that included his new CD, Knighted By The Blues, and his line of guitars. We also discussed his vintage guitar business and the market in general, as well as his faith and several other topics.

A scramble-brained rock star he is not.  Derringer is an affable man who can converse on almost any topic and smoothly segue from one topic to another.  His business finesse and command of current events and how he views it all through the lens of his faith is evident from the git-go.

I started off by asking Rick Derringer how the guitar show was going for him.  “Very good!  I mean, I come here, more than anything, to just do my concert, be a part of this great roster of guitar players and Jimmy Wallace, who runs the show, is also a good, strong Christian and I like to help him out.  One of my favorite parts of the show is Sunday morning, before the show starts, we have church over there.  So, I come here for a lot of other kind of reasons that aren’t necessarily connected to selling guitars.

“On the other hand, I do work with Warrior Guitars.  We’ve created a Rick Derringer Signature Model guitar.  And, uh, I always spend a quite a bit of time at their booth showing people that guitar.”

When asked how sales of his Signature Model guitar were, he enthusiastically responds, “They do pretty well!  It’s a custom guitar company.  They make them by hand.  You don’t see them in many music stores so it’s kind of a smaller number of sales than like a Paul Reed Smith or something like that.

Paul Reed Smith, I think, makes 70 a day at this point.  And we make about, I think, 30 in a month, which is still pretty good volume but – and there are all other (Warrior) guitars as well as the Rick Derringer model.  But people that play it enjoy it and because of that, most of them that are really ready to buy a guitar – after they play it, will buy that one! “

We then segued into a discussion about his vintage guitar business.  He describes it this way:  “Yeah, well, always in my life, I’ve been a lover of toys.  A new guitar, to me, is a toy.  And, so, I enjoy acquiring the NEW guitars.  So, what I usually do is, I take my old ones and I play them for awhile.  And they end up sitting somewhere in a vault or somewhere.  Eventually, I sell those old ones so that I can get more NEW ones!  And that has turned into being kind of a business over the years. I always have guitars in my collection and whenever I put a few up for sale, they seem to go pretty fast.  We always provide a certificate with them saying that they’re from my collection and that adds a little bit to the value, as well.”

However, Derringer acknowledges that the current economy is impacting his business.  “I think that it’s affecting everything!  Not just the vintage guitar business.  It definitely affects everything.  I mean, we’ve all heard that people thought that they had money.  They thought they had invested wisely in real estate and they looked at that equity as their nest egg.  And they looked at themselves as affluent!  As soon as that disappeared, as that nest egg became, apparently, gone, that affluence that they felt was gone, too.

“So, all of a sudden, when people felt that they had money that they could spend for whatever it was, they don’t feel like that anymore.  So, I think it’s definitely affected the vintage guitar business from one point of view.

“Now, here’s the other side of the coin:  People are nervous about putting their money in real estate.  They’re nervous about putting it in stocks.  And there are some things that have intrinsic value that will not go away.  One of those things is rare instruments and from that point of view people that see that are still there and they’re actually looking to buy up instruments right now when they’re cheaper – a little cheaper.”

With the help of a weak dollar, Rick is seeing continued purchases not only domestically but from overseas, especially Japan.  “It’s a world-wide business. Certainly the Japanese like to come over and take the guitars back over there.  But it’s a worldwide business.”

We turn the discussion to Derringer’s touring.  “Touring this year is less.  This year, I decided to just really tell my agent that I was retiring from concerts.  He chose that as a opportunity to say, ‘Well, if I got you ‘this much’ money, would that mean that we could still get you out there?’  And, I said, ‘Yeah’.  But it was quite a bit more than I have previously charged.  So, I didn’t expect to get any gigs, frankly.  I just said, ‘Okay, I will put in the hands of the Lord and He will provide.’

"And what has happened is He has!  Just by not having as much of my time tied up travelling, I’ve been able to work on a lot of other kinds of projects.  Albums, CD’s and things like that.  And, also, then just devoting time to properly focusing on our business.  We also manage other artists and produce other records and things like that, too.”

Derringer has a new CD out entitled, Knighted By The Blues.  I asked him to tell me about it.

“Yeah! ‘Knighted By The Blues’, it’s called.  It’s on Blues Bureau International Records.  I’ve done – this will be the fifth one for them.  And each time – in some ways – they’ve given me a little more freedom.  But Mike Varney, the president of the company, really is a very strong president.  He has his definite ideas.  He’s a guitar player himself.  He wants to make records for guitar players.  And he wants, somehow, to make sure his interests are protected.  He helps you choose songs for the records and things like that.  And this is the first one where he’s actually allowed me to just ahead and do it without his – I did it in the studio where I like to record as opposed to his turf.  I used the musicians that I like as opposed to the ones HE likes.  I chose the material myself as opposed to him having any input.  And from that point of view, it certainly reflects more what I look at as a blues CD.  And that is not necessarily the strict, old-timey, kind of blues that – it’s a different kind of blues CD.

“It’s a little more current.  The songs are more relevant to subjects that I think are current.  It doesn’t rely as much on just old songs, too.  There are not as many covers there.  And the covers that I have done, I am personally fond of as opposed to somebody saying, ‘Well I think everybody else is going to like this song.’

“I’ve done Jimi Hendrix’s, “If Six Was Nine”, which is a song that I always enjoyed.  We changed the lyrics just enough to make them reflective of my Christianity.  And it’s not one that a lot of people have covered.  So, it’s one that people will find refreshing.

“I did a very rare Ray Charles song that I don’t know – I think only one other person has ever even recorded it as far as I know.  Diana, uh, not Krall. Ah, it doesn’t matter.  At any rate, only one other cover that I know of, of the song.  It’s called, “Funny, But I Still Love You” and I LOVE that song.  We closed the album with that one.

“So, most of it, though, is brand new original stuff.  And it expands the gamut from the slow, what we call “gut bucket blues” all the way to – one which seems to be finding acceptance with rock radio.  I can’t believe it!  I never would’ve expected it!”

Later in the conversation, Derringer glows as he describes his wife’s contributions to the CD.  “She’s written about – we wrote seven songs – original songs.  And I think one or two of them I wrote.  One of them, she wrote. And the rest we wrote together.  She’s right there all the time!

“One of the songs – the one that rock radio likes – she didn’t even present that lyric to me.  She said, ‘Here’s some stuff that might be good for the blues album.’ But that’s not one of them.  I actually was able to go into her computer and pull up her song file and go through things.  And I found that one that she hadn’t even taken that much of an interest in, frankly.  But I said that this could be really cool!  So I took that one myself without even asking her and took it to the studio and turned it into a song, which she was pleasantly surprised!”

Later, when asked about the rest of his family, Derringer’s eyes light up again, telling me that he has a 16 year old and a 17 year old.  I comment that “they’ve obviously got to think that it’s pretty cool that their dad is a rock ‘n roller and can show them a thing or two.”

He shoots back, “They do! They do!  My daughter really sings well as does my wife.  And my son, he’s turned in to more of a writer.  He’s turned into a lyricist, so he’s writing words for songs.  And that’s cool.  So, we’re just – whatever they want to do, is pretty much up to them.  I try not to be the boss too much.”

One of the questions I like to ask those that I interview is how, if they were starting today instead of when they did, would they be able to start the same way?  I asked Derringer this question.  His reply surprised me.

“It wouldn’t be a lot different.  I mean, we were out there in the grass roots, just trying to be a good band.  And that doesn’t change.  You’re not going to get anywhere if the band isn’t good enough.  So, the first thing you concentrate on is on being a really good little band.  And we then went out, using that.  (We) got local gigs – as many as we could and tried to find gigs with radio stations and things like that, that would give us a little more visibility.  And that’s no different.  Everybody has to do the same kind of thing in that respect.  And, obviously, the end result is that somebody will find YOU.  The music business will find YOU.

“People have it a lot easier in some ways now.  They can supply their music to download sources, iTunes just being one of them.  But they – without a record company – can get their music out there and, theoretically, grow and become more well-known.  So that’s the only thing that’s really changed is the way – the ease – which you can get into the music business.  In some ways, it’s easier now than it even was then.

“The music business still loves young people – the young artists.  From that point of view, that hasn’t changed, either.  It’s easier for a young person to get a contract or record deal – or even a place on American Idol than it is for an older person.  That hasn’t changed.  So, uh, in some ways, I’m giving a message of hope and blessing because it’s just – all they have to do is be good.  Practice enough to be good.  The rest will come pretty easy.”

“So, is there a guitarist today – new – that really commands your attention?  I don’t want to put you on the spot!”

After pausing for just a moment, Rick answers, “Nobody in particular.  I was going to say a couple of names but – nobody in particular.  In fact, the lead guitar has kind of been downplayed, and it’s just more about the music and the songs than ever.  That hasn’t changed.

“But, you know, people are starting to find – I understand that the vinyl records has gone up over 30% last year.  And a lot of that is specifically college kids – people in dorms.  And they found that they don’t just have to have ear buds and only be by themselves.  They can actually put a turntable in their room, with speakers, and play music and other people can come in the room and all of them hang out at the same time!”

“Interaction, imagine that!”

“Yeah!  So, from that point of view, it seems to be growing more and more all the time.

Bringing the discussion back to the theoretical “then and now” discussion, I asked, “If you were 16 today and starting a band, would you be doing the kind of music you’re doing now?  Do you feel that was just what you were cut out to do?”

“ Yeah, music has to be reflective – every kid will find the kid of music he likes.  But they are finding, like I said – through the LP’s and stuff – they’re finding those guitar players.  They’re finding me and they’re finding Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page.  All the music from the era that we’re from is being found, whether it’s by young kids or college kids.

“Guitar Hero (Xbox 360) used “Rock and Roll Hootchie Koo” in its very second incarnation, Guitar Hero 2.  So I was only one of the first 20 songs that were out there and that is giving us a world-wide presence again, too.  So, that kind of stuff is making – in fact, they accounted for 1/3 of the world wide music business in the last few years - Guitar Hero alone!  It’s incredible.  Everybody has one now.  The family has one.  Some families have several!  But it’s amazing what that has done for music, too.”

I add, “Our generation of music, it just spans.  It can stand on its own.  And people reach back to it as a foundation.”

“Well, it meant something special to us as a generation of – I don’t think that it holds the same place.  Music is viable, certainly, and kids will always go there.  Music is always going to be something that helps people.  Music is a different language – language of our soul, in some ways, (the) language of our heart.  And that’s not going to change.  We are humans.  As long as we have souls and hearts, then music will be viable.  And that hasn’t changed at all.  Like we said, kids will find the music they feel is important to them.  And that’s the stuff they’ll do!”

Derringer is not the least bit shy in letting it be known that he is a Christian.  Since he brought it up a couple of times, I drilled into how his faith has impacted his relationships within the music business and with his fan base.

“It hasn’t hurt anything!  It hasn’t hurt at all!  As a matter of fact, the idea is for some of ‘me’ to rub off on them!  And that’s what we’re really most excited about.  THAT’s the idea.  I mean, if all of a sudden I changed as a person and I – my music started sucking – uh, they’d all have a pretty bad image of it.

“They’d blame it all on it (his faith), huh?”, I added.

“Yeah, but, in reality, what happens is, you know, you’re still the same person you always were.  Where the Lord loves us THEN, He loves us NOW!  And music doesn’t have to get worse.  The fact of the matter just have to have ear buds and only be by themselves.  They can actually put a turntable in their room, with speakers, and play music and other people can come in the room and all of them hang out at the same time!”

“Interaction, imagine that!”

“Yeah!  So, from that point of view, it seems to be growing more and more all the time.

Bringing the discussion back to the theoretical “then and now” discussion, I asked, “If you were 16 today and starting a band, would you be doing the kind of music you’re doing now?  Do you feel that was just what you were cut out to do?”

“ Yeah, music has to be reflective – every kid will find the kid of music he likes.  But they are finding, like I said – through the LP’s and stuff – they’re finding those guitar players.  They’re finding me and they’re finding Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page.  All the music from the era that we’re from is being found, whether it’s by young kids or college kids.

“Guitar Hero (Xbox 360) used “Rock and Roll Hootchie Koo” in its very second incarnation, Guitar Hero 2.  So I was only one of the first 20 songs that were out there and that is giving us a world-wide presence again, too.  So, that kind of stuff is making – in fact, they accounted for 1/3 of the world wide music business in the last few years - Guitar Hero alone!  It’s incredible.  Everybody has one now.  The family has one.  Some families have several!  But it’s amazing what that has done for music, too.”

I add, “Our generation of music, it just spans.  It can stand on its own.  And people reach back to it as a foundation.”

“Well, it meant something special to us as a generation of – I don’t think that it holds the same place.  Music is viable, certainly, and kids will always go there.  Music is always going to be something that helps people.  Music is a different language – language of our soul, in some ways, (the) language of our heart.  And that’s not going to change.  We are humans.  As long as we have souls and hearts, then music will be viable.  And that hasn’t changed at all.  Like we said, kids will find the music they feel is important to them.  And that’s the stuff they’ll do!”

Derringer is not the least bit shy in letting it be known that he is a Christian.  Since he brought it up a couple of times, I drilled into how his faith has impacted his relationships within the music business and with his fan base.

“It hasn’t hurt anything!  It hasn’t hurt at all!  As a matter of fact, the idea is for some of ‘me’ to rub off on them!  And that’s what we’re really most excited about.  THAT’s the idea.  I mean, if all of a sudden I changed as a person and I – my music started sucking – uh, they’d all have a pretty bad image of it.

“They’d blame it all on it (his faith), huh?”, I added.

“Yeah, but, in reality, what happens is, you know, you’re still the same person you always were.  Where the Lord loves us THEN, He loves us NOW!  And music doesn’t have to get worse.  The fact of the matter is, your conscience being freed up just lightens your load so that your creativity and music can soar!  That’s what I’ve found and people are excited about hearing that.

“So it hasn’t turned anybody off and, as a matter of fact, I have people telling me all the time that they appreciate seeing my testimony on the website.  And we’re actually spreading that more all the time, rather than less.  And that helps people see that they can, you know - they’re not alone!  The Lord can help ME.  He can help them!  And that’s the message that we have!”

Rick becomes even more animated at this point.  “Amazing!  Yeah!  Yeah!  You just put your – live by faith!  LIVE-BY-FAITH!  Because HE will provide!  “I will take care!” Like this year, for instance, like I said, I raised my price pretty drastically.  And, all of a sudden, I was turning down some shows because they were for less than what I was asking for.

 “And my road manager called me up and he was a little concerned, you know?  “You’re turning down this show!  This is a good concert!”  And I explained to him, ‘You know? Look. I put it in the hands of the Lord.  I told the Lord that I have FAITH that He will PROVIDE what we see as necessary.  If all of a sudden we take the first gig that comes along that is way less than what I asked the Lord for, what kind of faith is that?’  What kind of faith does that show?!  You HAVE to have the faith!  I mean, you just can’t pretend.  It has to be real!  As long as you put your faith in the Lord, He will provide!”

Curious how the church world was receiving him, I asked, “Are you getting any interest from church circles for your work?”

“Uh, well, we haven’t really tried to go out there and, uh, shoot for that.   But slowly –“

“You’re a different kind of gig than that.”

“Yeah, and I do have more churches and stuff, though, that are coming around, asking me to perform, and things like that.  But here’s what happened.  When I first started doing more Christian based music and changing some of my songs to reflect that standing, I was a little concerned about the kind of shows – we’d play for biker events.  And I don’t play anymore - we were playing bars and those kinds of venues.  And I was a little concerned so I asked my pastor at that time for their advice.  And what they told me was that, really look at it as the opportunity that the Lord has given me!  If I go into a church, playing for a bunch of believers . . .”

“You’re preaching to the choir!”

“Yeah, it certainly reinforces THEIR belief.  Once again, their saved!  You’re preaching to the choir!

“On the other hand, the places that I just mentioned where I play, they don’t necessarily ever invite a Christian artist to play those places.  So, I’m able to go in there – totally with their approval – and they’re even paying me – and play my concert and throw in a few songs that have now been changed to reflect that Christian standpoint.  I’m given that opportunity that nobody else has!  So I’m able to go in there and just do what Jesus said to do!  Be that light in the real world and, uh, deliver that message.  And even if some people don’t hear the lyrics, if they just – if I’m reflecting Jesus to that audience and they should be able to feel that and see it . . . and it works!  They said, ‘You should be doing THAT! That’s a responsibility that you’ve been given and you should honor it!’ And that’s what we do!”

Later, when mentioning other rockers who have also proclaimed their faith, Derringer interjects, “We call ourselves, ‘Double agents for the Lord!  We’re working behind the enemy lines!”

We wrapped up our chat with what he’s got coming up, which includes some dates with Edgar and Johnny Winter in September.  Rick Derringer’s appearances are listed on his website,

This article written by Randy Patterson.  All rights reserved and cannot not be used without written permission, which can be obtained by writing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Ron Dante

March/April, 2011

RonDante1As a pre-teen kid growing up in the Phoenix area, one of my usual Saturday morning routines was watching “The Archies” cartoon show.  It was good, clean entertainment and had me hooked for a year or two.  I also developed a crush on Veronica but that’s a whole ‘nother story and one that will be kept between me and my therapist, thank you.

As a teen, I began buying as many record albums as my meager, minimum wage funds would permit.  Among my pristine vinyl discs were some Barry Manilow albums.  There just wasn’t a better love song writer in the 70’s than Manilow.  Oh, and the girls I wanted to date seemed to like him a lot so that helped my record buying decisions significantly.

I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking, “Great stories, Randy, but what the heck do The Archies and Barry Manilow have to do with each other anyway?”

I’m glad that you asked.

It just so happens that one man, Ron Dante, had everything to do with both The Archies and those Barry Manilow albums.  Dante sang all of the male parts on the Archies’ records.  He was also the singing voice of many commercials including the famous “You Deserve A Break Today” by McDonald’s.  A few years later, he produced the first six albums that Barry Manilow recorded and which sold multiple millions of copies around the world.  He has also produced albums for countless other artists including Cher and Pat Benatar.

As if all of that isn’t enough, Ron Dante is also well known by theater goers for his production of “Ain’t Misbehavin’ (which earned him a Tony) and “Children of a Lesser God” which won the Tony for best drama.  He’s also invested in the stage versions of “Crimes Of The Heart”, “Whose Life Is It Anyway”, and “Duet For One”.   For two years, Ron also held the position of publisher for Paris Review.

Do you think the label, Over Achiever, could be slapped on this guy’s forehead?

When I was planning the launch of Boomerocity, I made a very long list of people who I wanted to interview.  Ron Dante was on that list but I hadn’t approached him.  During a conversation with a dear, mutual friend of ours, Rob Parissi, Rob encouraged me to contact Dante for an interview.  Introductions were made and, soon, I had the privilege of talking with this musical icon.

As I just mentioned, Dante has his hands in a lot of different projects that include live shows and producing other acts and shows.  I first asked Ron about his live work.

 “I go out about once a month – in between session dates and things that I do here with my music in Los Angeles. I do go out and perform. I just got back from New York City where I did a gig at B.B. King’s on Broadway. That was fun. I play Jackson, Tennessee, every year for a charity benefit. I play Boston regularly. I get around and really enjoy it.  The last couple of years have been a little leaner than others because of the economy. The first things to go are the live shows – they usually get impacted.  I have a group of guys that I perform with – legendary lead singers from different groups from the sixties and seventies – we go out.  I have the lead singer of The Buckinghams, Dennis Tufano, who does Kind of A Drag, one of the big hits of the 60’s, as well as Susan.

“Also part of the group is Sonny Geraci, who did who did the hit Precious and Few with the band, Climax, and Time Won’t Let Me with The Outsiders.  I also go out with Gary Lewis and The Playboys. I’m working with them here in town this month, actually.  So, I get around. I like the live stuff. It keeps me fresh because you can’t hide in the studio. You’ve got to go out and perform. I do enjoy that.”

As if his schedule of live performances aren’t enough to keep him busy, Ron is neck deep in other creative work.

 “I’m doing that and I’m working on a brand new company in Vegas that I can’t say much about right now but it will be debuting in a few months.  I’m in the studio with a legendary guy by the name of Steve Lawrence.  Guys like Tony Bennett and Steve Lawrence have a following and they’re not forgotten.”

I thought that avalanche of work was all there was but, like the old Ronco commercials of the 70’s used to say, “But, wait! There’s more!”

“I just did a children’s project for PBS. I supplied the voices for a bunch of songs. I brought in Tommy James  to sing one song. I brought in Davy Jones from the Monkee’s.  I brought in both of those guys to sing for this kid’s show called Shush-A-Bye which will be on in April.  I always have something to do. I keep myself active, I must say.”

No kidding!

Of all the variety of accomplishments that Ron Dante can proudly point to, I wondered which area of work he enjoys doing most.

“I’m basically a singer who, by necessity, has become a producer. So, singing is my first love. Producing is my second love. I have found magical moments in both of those endeavors over the years. They have brought me great happiness, I must say - especially in producing with Barry Manilow. We had three or four number one records. We had ten hit albums. I did some vocal work with him on his latest album, recently. It’s a 35 – 36 year relationship of knowing him and producing with him. Both of those things do give me pleasure but I do love performing live. That’s a great kick – to get out on stage and interact with the audience with my hits and with songs that I like. That’s a lot of fun. “

“If I had to put it in order of preference, on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 would be performing; 9 would be producing.  Producing is so much fun.  Orson Welles once said, ‘Producing movies is like having the biggest train set in the world to play with.’ It’s the same thing with making a record – producing an artist like Manilow or Cher or Benatar or my own records. You get to play with every aspect of it, from the inception to the rhythm section to the strings to the mixing, then, to get it out and even help promote it. It’s a full event for anyone like me. I always enjoy it. I never get bored with the music. Anything to do with music, I have the most fun – whether it’s a live show, recording or producing. Thank goodness, it still inspires me because the music keeps changing and evolving and I have the energy and imagination to keep it going.”

As we chatted, our conversation drifted to the current state of music.  Ron shared that, “It’s tough.  The pop music field has gone to pot.  Unfortunately, singing and songwriting has gone out the window and what you hear is a new form of entertainment but it’s not music.  A lot of it is in between music and live performance.  There’s a lot of very strange stuff out there and I’m not very impressed. I love country and Christian music. All of the good songwriters and singers have gone into those fields.  Country music is the pop music of the late seventies. To me, it’s unbelievably good. There are some great, heart-felt songs out there and great lyrics. People are still writing songs and good singers are singing them. That’s why I was so placed pleased to see Lady Antebellum win their five Grammy’s this year.”

While talking about the current strength of country music, I asked Dante if he thought the strength was due, in part, to the fact that there are two strong cable channels that drive interest in the music.

“Thank god!  The boom in the music industry came when MTV debuted in the early 80’s. All of a sudden, there was a visual medium that helped promote the music.  Now, MTV has gotten completely away from that. So, who has picked up the slack?  The country networks.  You get to see a visual of your favorite song.  The thing is, they get played in a regular rotation and people get to catch it.  I’m a big fan of that and I’m so sorry that MTV became the ‘reality show network’ because it absolutely ruined music television and pop music. 

“I remember that Epic Records almost had to sue MTV to get Michael Jackson on there.  They weren’t playing R&B or black music. They had to say, ‘Listen, Michael Jackson is bigger than all of that.’ That’s when Beat It and Thriller got all of its exposure. That was a great time but, unfortunately, it’s not happening today. Thank god for YouTube where you can pick up your favorite artists and listen to everything that they’ve ever done, almost, and see it. It’s an amazing medium.”

Having witnessed several paradigm shifts in the industry, I asked Ron what he thought, from his unique vantage point, were the biggest positive and negative changes in the music business that have taken place during his career.

“Wow! The positive change has been access. That has been the overwhelming positive change for me. It has to be the internet and places like YouTube and iTunes. iTunes, especially, revolutionized the music business. Until iTunes came out, nobody had a handle on this internet thing. It was all thievery. The record companies – the MAJOR record companies – who knew what to do, didn’t do it. They lagged behind and got caught in the switch between how they (the record companies) delivered music and the way people access it. That’s been the revolutionary change – the way people can listen to their favorite song, their favorite album, their favorite artists, anytime, 24 hours a day; buy it and have it instantaneously. That’s unbelievable! And, thank goodness for Steve Jobs who, ten years ago, was on the cover of Newsweek with Sheryl Crow and said, ‘I’m opening up a company called iTunes and everything is going to be 99 cents.’

“Some scoffers said, ‘He’s not a music guy. He doesn’t know what he’s doing.’ Now, everybody has taken his model and run with it. That’s a very good development.  And people can see you. The technology allows you to make a video of your music – doing whatever you want – because the cameras are so inexpensive and so high def. You can put it on YouTube and start a fan base and you can interact with millions of people who are like-minded and who like this kind of music. The opportunities have grown so much. That’s the very good thing that has happened in the music industry, in my opinion.”

And what does Ron feel is the biggest negative change in the business?

“The negative change is the lack of songwriting credentials. The good songwriters in popular music and the top 40 area, they can’t seem to find a niche and they get pushed out by the new ‘beats’ and by the new types of entertainment that are intruding into it. That’s been the biggest negative, is the rise and the preference of the radio stations around the country that only play hip-hop or rap or the latest novelty record. That has hurt. 

“The demise of the songwriter has been a terrible thing. They have to look for other avenues for their songs nowadays. If Paul McCartney and John Lennon were starting out and writing today, they couldn’t get anybody to record their songs. It would be very difficult. They would have to go into the Christian market or country music because popular music stations wouldn’t play them.  It’s a tough time and that’s been the biggest negative – the demise of the songwriter.”

With an added touch of melancholy, Ron adds, “I’m looking for the resurgence of the independent songwriter/singer, people who can touch you in many ways through a melody and a lyric and not get too angry. A lot of the stuff today makes you angry! It’s venting and raging against things. I understand that there’s an area for that but there should be room and balance. That’s what I miss.”

I often ask the following question of many people I interview.  I was especially interested in what Dante would do to fix the music business and it’s business model if he were made Czar of the music industry.

“Well, it’s a question of talent rising to the top. You must find the best talent. Not the derivative talent. The best talents, the new Bruce Springsteen, the new U2, the new Garth Brooks in different areas. These people who are coming up who have incredible talent and expose them on a platform that people can access and listen to and watch. I’m actually working with a new company – a press release will be coming out in the next few weeks – that will allow new bands and new artists to show their wares and rise to the top and to be seen by professionals in the music industry – songwriters, producers, musicians who have succeeded in the music business over the years – and they will help and mentor these young artists and new artists coming up. It will give access to millions of people. That’s the kind of thing that I would do and, in fact, am doing now with a good friend of mine from Las Vegas.”

“If I was running the world of music right now, I would start new radio stations that would come to you through Sirius, through local distributors that give you the opportunity to listen to a collection of different music instead of bombarding you with just one type. That would be the second thing I would do – revamp radio a bit.”

What about the societal and cultural similarities and differences he sees today from when he first started out in the business?

“One of the similarities that I’m seeing is that teen pop is still prevalent and making in-roads and is a huge influence on America. Look at the teen idols of the 60’s – the Monkee’s to Bobby Sherman to David Cassidy to today’s young teens – the Disney group of teens like the Jonas Brothers, Hannah Montanah and that beautiful country girl, Taylor Swift, she seems to be the Shelly Fabre of this generation. She’s very talented, very pretty and a great singer/songwriter. I love her success!   But, there’s a connection between the girl groups and the girl singers of the sixties. That’s a similarity that seems to go on forever and I love that: that the teens want their own idols and their own music. 

“Even the pre-teens want their own music. The Archie’s was a pre-teen group, really. Even though we crossed all generations and it became an adult hit all over the world, it was mainly aimed at pre-teens and young teens and succeeded beautifully on that front.

“The dissimilarities are that more people were exposed on TV and radio – Shindig, The Ed Sullivan Show and the Dick Clark shows – a lot of acts got on those shows and got to show who they were.  Today, there’s a narrower focus so not too many acts can get their shot nationally. Not everybody can be a Lady Gaga in terms of publicity – getting all of that media attention. Unfortunately, it’s become narrowed so much that they’ve become a sound bite.  There was a broad exposure in the 60’s and 70’s of the artists and now there’s a very narrow exposure of artists. Thank goodness for the internet because it’ll open it up to new and upcoming people.”

As I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, I watched “The Archie’s” cartoon as a kid. I also had the Sugar, Sugar 45 rpm.  Even in those pre-teen years, certain musical hooks caught my attention.  One of those hooks was the soulful voice on the line, “I’m going to make your life so sweet . . .” on Sugar, Sugar.  While conducting my research on Dante, I got the impression that he overdubbed his voice on all of the parts of that song, singing falsetto on the ‘Betty and Veronica’ parts.  I asked Ron about that.

“No.  On Sugar, Sugar, there’s a female voice singing for both ‘Betty’ and ‘Veronica’ and that’s Miss Toni Wine.  She’s the voice of ‘I’m going to make your life so sweet’.  She sang the lower part and the higher part. So, she was both ‘Betty’ and ‘Veronica’.  She’s a fabulous singer and a fabulous Nashville songwriter.  She wrote Tony Orlando’s biggest hit, Candida.  She also wrote the Mind Benders/Phil Collins hit, Groovy Kind of Love and another song called Black Pearl (recorded by Sonny Charles and the Checkmates).  She was married to a legendary Nashville producer, Chips Moman for many, many years.  She was also the voice on Gene Pitney on his song, It Hurts To Be In Love – a very cool song. In the middle of it, there’s a little female ‘answer’. That’s her doubling her voice.  She was ‘Dawn’ for Tony Orlando and Dawn. She was the background group on that Candida record, Knock Three Times and a whole bunch of other songs.  She has a very beautiful voice.  She still sings and is on the road today with Tony Orlando, in his band.  Everywhere he goes – there’s Toni on the keyboards, singing background.

 “No, I did a lot of voices on all of those records but, especially that first album, that’s all Toni Wine and myself.”

Our conversation migrated to the subject of his musical relationship with Barry Manilow. I was bragging about Manilow’s body of work – especially in the 70’s and in which Ron played a key role.  From the first album through Even Now and the various compilations and greatest hits albums that the first albums fed, Dante’s skilled production was instrumental in helping drive multiple millions of album sales around the world.

Ron shared his thoughts and feelings about that music. 

“Those songs hold up.  Mandy stopped traffic.  We knew we had it the night in the studio when it was recorded. We knew that lightning had struck.  That was a live vocal. That’s Barry playing the piano. We just did it with a few instruments.  The third take was the final, magic take. Later, I overdubbed strings and backgrounds, horns – you know, beefed up the track. But that’s the live vocal.  We just knew that we had some very special – a special song and the voice that was meant to sing it sang it.  It launched his career.

“Then, six months later, we put out a song that we recorded before that called Could It Be Magic.  That solidified his hold on that part of the music industry. Those were very wonderful sessions.  It’s amazing, the strength of the music and the records we made that, to this day, get used in movies and they get played constantly. I’m very proud of all that work. It was the best years in the studio. It was just so smooth.  The musicians were the top guys in New York City and L.A. The top people were arranging for us. It was a labor of love. I just had to make it perfect. 

“Each album was a little gem – especially the Even Now album. I’m very proud of that one.  That was the first one we did in Los Angeles.  We had done two or three albums in New York City and then he moved out here to do some work so I came out here to produce him.  We worked at the A&M studios on Even Now.  The magic of that studio got into our music, too. It’s the same place that Carole King recorded, the Carpenter’s, Sergio Mendez,  and Herb Albert. It was a great studio.

Ron concludes his thoughts about Manilow by sharing some news about his soon-to-be-released album.

“He’s got a new album coming out. It’s called 15 Minutes. He’s written all the songs. It’s great. It’s about 15 minutes of fame – what fame does to an artist in this world. It’s very deep and, yet, very entertaining. It’s a very entertaining album. It should be out this summer.”

What advice does Dante have for anyone wishing to enter the music business?

“I would say to really concentrate on the songs. Really find or write the very best melodies and lyrics out there. Record it on your own dime. Do a little video and put it on YouTube. Develop a really hot live act and get it out there in some cities. Develop your fan base that way because the internet is the new star making vehicle. Look at what it’s done for Justin Bieber. He might have never gotten a shot if it wasn’t for the internet. Look at what it’s done for him.  There are stars being developed on the internet. 

“More and more, artists are going directly to their fans. Every artist I know are selling their CD’s at their live shows. Everybody has a CD at the show. That would be what I would be doing but I would start with great material - something that is a little different – something that catches people’s hearts and minds. That’s very important. That would be the first order of business. You can’t go out and make a great movie without a great screenplay and it’s the same thing with a new artist. You can’t make a great, new artist without a cool song that breaks down the barriers.

“This is all off the top of my head – that’s what I would be doing if I were starting out today or advising new people. You also have to concentrate on the look. Not everybody can be an instant star on American Idol. Some people have to work long, hard years to develop their style, their look and their songs. It’s, like 0.1 percent of the population gets a chance on American Idol. The rest of the population has to really get out there and work the clubs and bring what they bring.  Also, have a good PR person if you can find one. It’s very important to have a good PR person when you do perform to let people know about it.”

As for the style of music that he would gravitate to if he were just starting out, Dante says, “There are great bands out there with lead singers that are writing great songs – really cool songs and are accompanying themselves really well with their bands. I would be doing a band type of thing.  Also, as a producer, I would be doing exactly what I am doing now and that’s working with younger people and older people – everybody!  That’s because there’s a market out there for everyone. I would work with teens on Disney projects, which I have. I would also work with the classics of the 60’s and 70’s who want to make new records. I would honor the music.”

I’m always curious what people have on their iPod’s that they’re listening to and I’m never afraid to ask. I asked Dante that question, expecting to hear some cool, eclectic range of music.  His answer surprised me.

“You know, I’m not listening to much lately. I’m trying to my input to a minimum since I’m producing an album. I try to keep music in my head. I haven’t been listening to a lot of music. When I do, I listen KOST (103.5 FM) which plays the greatest songs in the world. It’s a big radio station here in Los Angeles. It’s a middle of the road station. And, of course, I listen to 101 FM out here.

“When I’m at home, I’m listening to new songs from songwriters. I’m producing this incredible girl from Australia this summer and I’m now looking for songs for her. She’s kind of a Katie Perry type of artist. I’m listening to people submitting songs for her by MP3. I spend most of my day listening to those. When I have to relax, I listen to a little bit of classical music once in awhile.  That’s it. I try to keep the input a little low when I’m making an album because you don’t want to be influenced by too much. You want to go by your instincts and create a combination of things and you don’t want to be influenced by one genre or another.”

Bringing the conversation back around to our own generations, Ron adds, “When you look at the biggest tours of the last two or three years have been Paul McCartney, Simon and Garfunkel with the Everly Brothers was a huge tour. Or Carole King and James Taylor together was a huge tour. Bon Jovi, which had their biggest tour ever. And my friend, Davy Jones and the Monkee’s are regrouping and they’re doing a tour in Europe, as you know. That’s going to be a huge tour when they hit the states.”

“I just produced a single with Davy called Amoré and it’s on iTunes. It’s a really cool dance number that I did with him. He sent me a video of him at a concert with U2. Bono brings Davy up on stage a couple of years ago at Dodger Stadium, I think.  Eighty thousand people were there and the entire audience was singing Daydream Believer.  I said, ‘Look at that! Bono brings Davy up and the entire audience sings the choruses!’  The music stops and all 80,000 people were singing the chorus!  Think about that!  That audience wasn’t full of people in their 60’s. It was a cross-section of people of all ages.  I find that inspiring that music can still bring a crowd to its feet.”

As our schedules pressured us to draw our conversation to a close, I asked the legendary singer/songwriter/producer what haven’t he done yet that he would like to do, career wise?

“I’ve been very blessed and fortunate. Every dream I had as a kid came true. So, right now, I’m just doing what I love to do. There’s nothing that I haven’t done. At one point, I’d love to produce Aerosmith or the Rolling Stones.  I’d love to do a couple of records with those people or Elton John.  Faith Hill – I’d love to produce her. Those are the kind of people that I would like to work with. I’ve gotten to do a lot of what I dreamed of as a teen and young man.”

Jan Carlo DeFan

Posted April, 2012

ELAN main LOWL-R: "Cheech" DeFan, Elan, Jan Carlo, Charlie Padilla and "El Pato" LopezWhat does the Guadalajara area of Mexico have to do with rock and roll?  Well, I can’t say that I would blame you much if the only answer you could come up with is that Elvis sang the song, “Guadalajara” in that movie, Fun In Acapulco.

What isn’t known here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. is that in a small village just outside of Guadalajara, Mexico, a brother and sister were born, raised on rock and roll and learned to speak English – perfect English . . . better English than I speak – and grew up to form an incredibly success rock band that literally blazed its own trail of success.

That trail is fifteen years long and marked with 1.7 million albums sold and will be marked with a lot more in sales with the release of their new album, See Us Spin and a tour that will wind up hitting the U.S. in the near future.

Oh, yeah, the band!  The band is called ELAN (spelled with all caps) which also happens to be the name of its beautiful and highly talented lead vocalist (and keyboardist), Elán DeFan.  Her brother, Jan Carlo, is the lead guitarist for the band and they are joined on drums by Michel “Cheech” Bitar DeFan, Jan’s wing man on guitar, Maurico “El Pato” López, and, on bass is Carolos “Charlie” Padilla Maqueo. Together, they make the latest 15 year long overnight sensation to hit the U.S.

I recently received an advance review copy of See Us Spin (as well as a copy of their Retrospective 2002 – 2012 2-CD set) and I became an instant fan.  It’s great rock and roll in all its varied beauty.  Hard. Soft. Bluesy. They’re great. Really great.

Naturally, when the opportunity arose to interview Jan Carlo, I jumped at the chance.  He called me from his home in Mexico and, if I do say so myself, I immediately felt as though I was talking to an old friend.  Not the kind of old friend to whom I’ve owed fifty bucks to for the last 30 years but you get my point.

As I said earlier, Elán and Jan Carlo were raised on rock and roll so I asked the guitarist to fill me in on some details of that starting with who his biggest musical influences were.

“Well, actually, it was Mom and Dad. My father and mother had a really beautiful – actually, they still have – a really beautiful vinyl collection. It was a very big one. You have to understand that we grew up in a little town on the outskirts of Guadalajara, Mexico, so radio and television were kind of rare. The radio signal did not get there that well so we grew up kind of isolated from what I think now would be called Modern Music. So, for us, the Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan and Zeppelin III and all those records that are cherished for us were our cornerstone. I mean, that’s what we knew. That’s the music that we liked!

“So, I think when we got a little older, technology advanced a little more and we actually had a chance to listen to “modern music” and we didn’t really know what was going on. We were really turned off by it.

“My first acoustic guitar was my father’s first acoustic guitar – which I loved to death. My mother played the piano a little and I think that’s what got us going. Between the Stones – to us Sticky Fingers was really modern. It sounded really new. So, when we finally got radio, needless to say, we kinda had a consistent case of explosive vomit! We really didn’t like the way things sounded. This must’ve been ’86, ’87 – that’s when I first became aware of music on the radio. It was a very shocking time for me . . . because the vinyls that we listened to had emotional impact. I felt that and I feel that now more than ever.

“I feel that people really have this need to be liked. When you write a song for radio – the concept of a single, to me – I try to comprehend but I just do get. How do you write something so that somebody else will like it?  You can’t do that. Either you write and you play because you love it – and, I mean, you hope that people like it but you can’t do it so they like it because it has absolutely no class. It has no honesty to it.”

Regarding other influences, DeFan added, “If you listen to the Allman Brothers and then you move into Skynard, when you realize that Warren Haynes walks on water, that’s when you understand guitar work. That man! It doesn’t get much better than that!”

While listening to Jan speak, I was struck – confounded even – by the clarity of his English.  As I wrote at the beginning of this interview, his English is much better than mine.  At the risk of offending him, I asked how was it that he was able to speak such flawless English.  His answer is a testament to the wisdom of the child-rearing skills of his parents.

“Basically, we’re really bi-cultural. Our parents made sure that we spoke both languages without any accent and they used to do it with vibrations. You can actually pick up accents with vibrations – cheek-to-cheek or hand-to-cheek. You can pretty much pick up any accent that way.”

My daughter has said a time or two that, because of the music, she feels that she was born about 25 to 30 years too late. Because of Elán’s and Jan’s love for classic rock, I asked DeFan if he felt the same way.

“To be honest, we feel so disconnected from – I love how people say ‘the music scene” – we’re so far away from that. We’re so disconnected from it. I wouldn’t know how to describe where we’re at regarding that thing because we’re just not part of that ‘music scene’. So, I definitely feel – oh, god, if we could only go back to those times, things would be really, really good!”

My next question pertained regarded if there was a particular one who turned Jan on so much that he knew that he wanted to pursue a career in music.  I expected an answer that included – oh, I don’t know, say, the Stones or Janis Joplin, judging by the incredible sounds that he, his sister and the band produce.  His answer surprised me but it was a great one.

“To me, I think that there was a more modern band that, to me, was very modern but they didn’t sound modern to me which really gave me an uplifting hope which were the Black Crowes. When I heard the Crowes, I thought – and I had a chance to hang with them for a little while – the Crowes were very, very key. There’s a buddy of mine that I had a chance to record with, he’s been a very dear friend for many years, Nathan East, who plays the bass for Clapton. He made me feel that it didn’t matter when you were born, you had to make the kind of music that you love and everything was going to be okay.

“So, I think between the Crowes being a younger band that was playing real music – they still had slide guitar and Rich (Robinson) really cared about the sound and the lyrics still mattered.  After some years passed I realized that it didn’t matter the age, what mattered was the fact that they had something to say and they didn’t care what other people thought of them. That was a cornerstone for me.”

The band is almost single-handedly responsible for blazing the concert touring trail in Mexico, playing wherever they could – from small cantinas to large venues.  DeFan shared the story with me. With a laugh, he said, “We call it a ‘paper route’. We figured out how to make our own paper route and we’re very proud of it. And, yes, we still do it to this day.

“You have to carry three of everything. Whatever guitar you’re going to use with a certain tuning, you have to have three of them because if one breaks down.  I read articles all the time and we meet bands from other countries – especially the States and England . . . and a little bit from Australia – and they complain so much about how tough it is to tour. We just look at them and we laugh our butts off. They have no idea how hard it is to tour.”

So, does ELAN still run into surprises that they have never anticipated?

“No, no, no, no, thank goodness. After success comes, you start having a crew and you start needing guards and you start needing chauffeurs and all that stuff. After awhile, you’re travelling with a whole bunch of people – really nice people. We’re a big circus family! The checklist started maybe eight years ago so now that’s all taken care of before the tour starts. Things just run smoothly. All we have to do now is step on stage and have a good time!

“We do most tours on land. The whole flying thing has become a real pain in the butt. We travel in vans now. We can’t do buses because the buses can’t get through the streets in some towns so we do a van caravan. We’re not very high maintenance. We’re very easy to maintain. We have a couple of bottles of Jack and tequila every night and everybody’s happy!”

With the release of See Us Spin, the band’s attention is now focusing more in other countries in addition to Mexico. While they’ve had exposure overseas, Jan and the band realize that keeping the buying public’s attention is very, very tough. In talking about previous attention in Australia, DeFan said, “These days, people’s attention span is so short. People now – they don’t read and everything’s Twitter, which is 140 characters. So, they might like you one day but they’ll forget who you are the next. The way we do it, we try to do it the Rolling Stones way. We record once a year and then we’re on tour all year long because, if not, they’ll forget you in one second flat!”

As for formulas for success, I shared something with Jan that Sam Andrew from Big Brother and the Holding Company shared with me three years ago. It had to do with the fact that, when BBHC was starting out, there were no classes, training books, videos or anything else to help them.  They were inventing the sound from their heart as the went along.  Jan pounced on that.

“That man really knows!  I don’t know if we’ve really got a formula and I don’t know if we’re going to be successful but something that was true with Janis and Jimi and the rest of them was that they didn’t really care if they were successful. I think that’s important for us because we’ve had this conversation many a time when we’re re-evaluating things.  We realized that we really don’t care. We’ll do this for beer or for money. Nowadays, when we get paid to do this, it’s amazing to us. We would’ve done this for free if someone wouldn’t have told us differently.”

Since Defan is coming with the whole band instead of by himself, I wondered what he’s anticipating while in the U.S.

“I’ll be honest. I’m really, really excited about the south. If we get to play Texas, Alabama, Louisiana – if we get to go to Jacksonville, Florida, I’ll pee myself twice!  Other than that, we’re just excited to be playing in front of a crowd that speaks English! At the beginning, that was a tough call for us (singing and recording in English). It wasn’t like we were trying to do something so that we could sell records. Everybody now, these days, are very calculating. Everybody calculates everything. If you make this kind of music, it will be this successful. The only thing we were calculating was if we get paid enough beer to get drunk and, if we were really lucky, we would have a bottle of Jack. That was, basically, the biggest calculation we did was that!

“We hear a lot of ungrateful bands. We’re really grateful! We’re really grateful to be alive. We’re really grateful to keep on playing music for a living. The fact that we now get to play in the states – we just can’t wait to play in front of a crowd that speaks English. Down here, you have to try fifteen times as hard because we chose the kind of music that we know how to make. I think that God and destiny and life allowed us to play the kind of music that was kind of hard to translate to other people. When people are playing pop in Spanish and you’ve got all these guys singing and dancing and then you go up there with a slide and my sister gets up there with that fantastic voice and yelling into the mic, it was, I guess, shocking, to some and disappointing to others.”

Jan’s comments begged the question of whether or not singing in English caused them any problems such as people wanting to beat them up or anything along those lines.

“Well, people love us here, we are kind of a source of pride now. But of course you get in a little hot water! The good thing was that our parents put us into martial arts when we were young so, before we had body guards, we could just get down, you know? but truthfully we are so loved down here . . . we have had tons of support. And there are mean people everywhere but they are very few and far between.”

Shifting our conversation to the subject of how ELAN approaches recording an album, DeFan said, “Let me put it this way: I don’t want to sound like a snob. I need you to understand this part. For us making an album, it’s a process of putting down, on tape or hard drive, one year – a chapter of our lives. We do it every year. They’re all our babies.

“We do it, number one, so that we can get it off our chests so that we can move on with the memories and the stories. Number two, I think we do it so, next year when we go on tour for another eleven months, that we’re happy to play some new stuff so that we can mix it up a little bit. The way we do it, we usually do three takes as a band with Elán gone. But, usually, she blows it out on the first take. If it takes more than three, we skip the song and it doesn’t go on the record because we figure that, if we can’t get it down in three takes, we’re not really going to get it down live.”

Like many other artists, Jan just said that the band’s songs are like their babies. Even so, I asked him if he could pick one song that he would like Boomerocity readers to listen to that he thinks would make you want to buy See Us Spin, which song would it be.

“To be honest, my sister’s voice on Stranger – you know, she doesn’t do two or three takes. With Stranger, there’s something about it. We always have Dad come to the studio and take pictures. He’s an amazing photographer. I looked over. My sister was belting it out. I remember looking at my dad and seeing tears coming down his face. So, I think Stranger would be the one for me if I had to pick one.”

Since Elán’s and Jan’s parents were – and are – rock and rollers, I was curious what they had to say about ELAN’s music.

“Just to clarify, we also had classical music shoved down our throats, too. We also listened to a lot of mariachi and a lot of flamenco music. My dad flamenco. He made me and Pato – the other guitarist – he, Charlie the bass player, we’ve all be friends since we were eleven years old. He (Mr. DeFan) made us study flamenco. He said, ‘If you want to study guitar, you can’t play like Keith if you don’t study flamenco.’ So we studied flamenco for a little while. I only went to one class because I’m not very good with school or authority figures so that didn’t work out very well.”

Then, with some emotion, DeFan continued answering the question.  “To be honest, now that you mention it, they’re proud. It’s kind of touchy to even think about it now. They’ve been so supportive for so many years. They weren’t the typical parents who wanted us to be doctors or lawyers. They’re just two of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. What’s weird is today, when everybody get divorced 16 times and nothing really matters, they come from an age where, if there’s something broke, you didn’t throw it away, you fixed it. I think they passed that on to us. I’m in such awe that two people can give so much love to five other people – actually more – that pride makes us work harder.

“It’s weird because we really come from a country sensibility - familiar with family ties. I think it’s a southern sensibility – ‘good day, sir’, ‘good evening, Ma’am’, ‘yes” and ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. I think that they gave us a foundation where you’re grateful for everyday regardless of what you do. Sometimes it rocks, sometimes it rolls but you smile every day and you’re just thankful for what you’ve got.”

As ELAN begins to make forays into the U.S., I asked Jan what he hopes the American audiences take away from their shows and how they view the band.

“To be honest with you, I hope for the same thing that I hope for every night. When you decide to become a musician, there’s a couple of things that my grandma asked us to do and our parents asked us to do which is your problems are secondary to everyone else’s because, basically, you’re soul doctors. You go to that night and people get to get drunk off their butts and forget about their problems for a little while.  It’s tough sometimes. We’ve had two recent deaths close to us in the last year and a half. My grandma being one of them. We had to play the show, go to the wake and then fly to the next show. We have to do that because that’s what we do.

“So, what I hope is that they enjoy themselves at the show and that we take a little pressure and weight off of the life we all have to live every day. Times do get easier, they get tougher, the economy gets a little tighter and the government gets a little crazier. That’s the way life goes. Hopefully, they’ll come to the show and they can forget about all that crap for an hour or two and we’ll enjoy each other’s company, get down and have a drink together and tell each other stories, move on and become better people.”

In his career, DeFan and the band have collaborated with the likes of Slash and David Immergluck.  I asked him if there is anyone he still wishes to work with.  His answer came in the form of a great story.

“One day, I was at Capitol Records, mastering a record. The gentleman there who used to be our mastering engineer – an amazing man by the name of Mark Chaleki – tells me that we have to go down to Studio C where we’d recorded before.  He wanted me to help him put up a mic, which I did. Then he said, ‘Now we get to hang out here and meet George Harrison’. I said that I couldn’t do it. The best way to put is how Jim Keltner put it – an amazing drummer and I had the pleasure of working with him.  He’s seen so many people come and go who have died from all the crazy stuff but he’s very straight forward.  We were having lunch and I asked him what John Lennon was like. He said, ‘Exactly the same person that you think you know through his music. That’s who he was.’

“I didn’t want to meet George – Mr. Harrison – because I didn’t want to have that changed. So, I never shook his hand. But, to be honest, when things happen naturally and when you meet somebody and you both laugh and you’re both having some drinks and things flow like they had with Slash or Dave or any one of those guys we’ve had the honor of working with, that’s wonderful. But when you get all these labels, these money people and bankers who need you to do something with somebody because they think it will sell more records, it makes me want to puke. So, if we’re lucky enough to work with people that we meet or we love and admire, that’s wonderful. But if we gotta do it forcefully and it’s gotta be done because you want to be liked – people just got to stop trying to be liked!  People have to go and do what they think is right and if you me for it, great, and if you hate me for it, then that’s life and you move on.”

When asked if he thinks that ELAN’s music has the message and passion that the music he and his sister grew up with, Jan replied with an very insightful answer.

“There’s something about being born Mexican is the Spanish, sadly, when they came here, they instilled a thing in the local tribes that I don’t think is very good called humility. I think respect is wonderful but the brand of humility that was installed in this country was not a very good one because it basically means that you have to look down on yourself. You can’t get rid of that with a song.

“I would love to say yes to your question but we’re not trying to carry on a torch because I don’t think anyone in the 60’s were carrying a torch. They were free enough and they were educated enough where they were going to say what they were going to say. Sometimes it was a beautiful thing, sometimes it was a horrible thing to say. But I think that amount of freedom alone allowed them to do the best they could with what they had. All I know is that we’re truly trying to do the best we can with what we have. I don’t know if it’s a big thing or a small thing but it is what it is. I’d love to say yes because I’d love to feel that we are part of that musical family – part of that generation that had the audacity of being honest – the audacity of being who they were. I think only time will tell that. The only thing that I can say is that we’re not going to stop until our heart stops ticking.”

As for the band’s plans for 2012 and their goals five years from now, DeFan said, “Number one, we’re going to try not to die. Number two, we’re going to be on tour for the entire year and, hopefully, we’ll bring out another record like we’ve done every year. I don’t think we’ll stop until one of us is gone. I think it’s going to be our version of Groundhog Day.

“Five years from now?  We’ll have recorded five more records!  Ha! Ha!  To be honest, I’m not that ambitious. I don’t think any of us are. We’re so truly happy to do what we do every day that I honestly believe that, if life gives us a chance to keep on doing this, we’ll hopefully be in the exact same place and continue to tour.”

While Jan Carlo, his sister and band mates presumably have a long and prosperous career ahead of them, I asked him how he hopes they’ll be remembered and what the band’s legacy will be.

“Wow! I love it! I hope we go down as boozers and brawlers and womanizers – and ‘maninizers’ in my sister’s case, I guess – I  hope that we’re known as good sons and daughters and pretty good brothers.”

Then, getting more serious, he added, “I hope that we’re looked at as amazing friends because when you look back at the records, you realize they’re not just musicians, they’re your friends.

“I remember the first letter that we got from this boy from Canada of all places. He wrote us a very nice, kind, long letter saying that his mom had cancer and that one of the last moments that he had to share with her was with our music. I realized then that we have a really interesting career because we get to take a little weight off of people’s shoulders if we do it right.”

Then, with a sincere humbleness that permeated our chat, he concluded, “We’re just really grateful and hopeful that we’ll have the chance to continue that.”

Ken Corday

Posted August, 2010

KenCorday001Corday Ken Corday with Alison Sweeney (L) and Kristian Alfonso Photo Courtesy of ©jpistudios.comMy first few years of life were spent in the states of Tennessee, Florida, Alabama and Texas. Whether my playtime was on the rolling hills of Tennessee and Alabama or the sandy beaches of Florida, there was one thing I could almost always count on: My mom stopping whatever she was doing so that she could watch her “stories”.

Now, in my childish southern lexicon, “stories” had several meanings.  One meaning of the word, of course, was something that would be told or read to me at bed time.  Another meaning of “story” was a sugarcoated word for telling a lie. For instance, if I ate a cookie when I was told not to, and, when asked if I ate one, I said I didn’t, my mom would ask (knowing the answer), “Randy, are you telling me a story?”  You get the picture.

Finally, “story” is often used by the broadest cross-section of America to refer to daytime soap operas.  Soap operas was what Mom was talking about.  I believe that every mom and housewife in the country would pop up their ironing boards, fire up the iron, and watch their favorite “stories” while pressing pants and shirts with the grand finale being the sound of Faultless Spray-On Starch sizzling as it was being pressed into our clothes.

By the way, the commercial that I just hyperlinked to was so convincing to me that, while my mom left the room during a commercial break from one of her “stories”, I tried spraying stars out of her can of Faultless Spray-On Starch.  Nothing.  It must have been how I was holding the can.

Back to the “stories”.

One of the giants of daytime soaps, both in those by-gone days of the sixties as well as today, was (and is) Days of our Lives.  Even now, as I evoke the name of that monster hit program, the majestic, authoritative voice of Days’ late cast member, Macdonald Carey, gently echoes in my brain, “Like sands through the hourglass . . . so are the days of our lives.”

Days of our Lives debuted 45 years ago this November. I didn’t stutter: Yes, I said, “45 years ago”.  Let that sink in for just a moment or two.  The show was created by Ted and Betty Corday , Irna Phillips and Allan Chase. Sadly, Ted Corday passed away before the show completed its first year on the air.  Betty Corday helped lead the show to incredible ratings popularity.  In the late seventies, Ted and Betty’s youngest son, Ken began his work on the show by writing music for it.  He learned about production along the way, eventually earning the Associate Producer slot and then ultimately took over the reins of the show when his mom felt that she was no longer strong enough to produce the show.Ken Corday has recently published a book about the history and family (both cast and “blood”) that have been or are currently involved in the iconic TV drama,  entitled The Days of our Lives: The True Story Of One Family’s Dream And The Untold History Of Days Of Our Lives. While I admit that I’ve never had the opportunity to be a regular viewer of daytime soaps, I was very intrigued by the engrossing history of the show (as well as of him and his family) that Mr. Corday shares in his book.

One of the stories that I was naturally intrigued by involves Ken’s band, Lucky Mud. that he played drums in.    I asked Ken what it was like opening for Jimi Hendrix in Hawaii in 1970 and for more details about it.

“Well, I hate to use the phrase ‘out of body experience’ because the band had moved to Hawaii approximately three months before, playing with some ‘name’ groups over there like Quicksilver Messenger Service and Buddy Miles’ band – which was then called ‘The Buddy Miles Band’ before it was called A Band of Gypsys. That’s how we got to meet Jimi Hendrix.  We played with Buddy on July 4th and word got around. Then Hendrix came and played in Hawaii – I believe that it was on August 2nd or 3rd, 1970 and the concert promoter booked us as the opening act – the only other act on the bill.

“So, you can imagine playing what was then called the Honolulu International Center – HIC – it’s some other name now. It’s the biggest concert venue in Honolulu .  We got to spend some time with him when he arrived during sound check and after sound check.  Then we played.  It was an amazing hour because we hadn’t played in front of that many people.  You can imagine that many people coming to a Jimi Hendrix concert – the level of their intoxication or drug influence.  It was pretty much as high as it was going to be – or, at least, getting there – so we had a captive audience, so to speak.

“He looked like any guy coming in off of a golf course when we saw him  before the show – a golf shirt, white Levi’s, VERY short, black hair.  We went back into the dressing room before he went on and he put on the big afro and all the rainbow colors  . . . “

It was at that point that I had to interrupt Ken.  Hendrix wore a wig?

“At that time it was a wig. Yeah, he went on and he played for over two hours. As I said in the book, it was the most " allowtransparency="no" width="120" height="240">remarkable performance I had ever seen – before or after – from any musician – classical included. The energy he exuded was incredible and to do it with just a trio and to play for that long  . . . we were literally stage right and stage left watching.  I remember looking at our guitarist and he couldn’t close his mouth. Jimi Hendrix could do so many things with a guitar. He had amazing physical ability.  He had very large hands. He was able to use his thumb to play the bass line, chord with his three fingers and trill with his pinky.

“But he was a very soft-spoken fella. After the concert was over, we talked to him and our guitarist gave him this peacock feather, of all things.  He was into the Hare Krishna thing. Jimi said, ‘Hey, thanks, man!’ and he laid it on top of his Stratocaster and closed the case. The next day he was on his way to England to play the Isle of Wight concert the last week of August and he was dead almost three weeks after that.”

We continued discussing our classic rock roots, chatting about icons like Janis Joplin, the Stones and many others.  Corday opined, “I think it was the seminal moment in changing rock and roll from, say, 1964, not including the advent of the British invasion but what happened to rhythm and blues rock and roll in this country – moving into a different place – first in L.A., really, and then in San Francisco.

“You know, I don’t think anyone will ever get close to Janis Joplin for female blues singer. I remember watching her jump in what was then the pool in front of the stage at the Hollywood Bowl, mic in hand. Those years – I would say 1966 thru ’70 – spawned so many amazing groups that then continued to influence music. Well, there was a strange period called ‘disco’ but after that went away, that influence was still there AND is still there today.”

Wrapping up the subject of music, I asked why he got drifted away from rock music.

“Well, funny that you should ask.  Coming out of that period – I talk about it in the book – from ’70 to ’73, the band came back to California and knocked around.  Rock and roll had kind of the fatal shot fired at Altamont and just faded out in the next three years. I found myself in ’73 without the real musical knowledge to do what I wanted to do except play the drums. So, I was fortunate enough to enter the University of California in Santa Cruz in ’73 and graduated from there in ’75. I went to graduate school at San Jose State and graduated in 1977 with a Masters in Music and was going to teach composition because that is what I always wanted to do.

“You know, percussion performance is somewhat limiting but I always had the desire to write so I learned how to write for the entire symphony orchestra in those four years.  That was it!  That was what I was going to do and happy doing – write symphonies and concertos and a song or two here and there.  As luck would have it, I came to Los Angeles in the summer – I believe it was the summer of ’77 and met the music director of Days – I should say ‘dated’ the music director of the show.

“She said, ‘Well, why don’t you write a few music queues for the show?’ The rest is history.”

Corday joined the Days staff somewhat reluctantly.  However, he did so out of love and support for his mother.  I asked Ken if he ever looked back after making that decision and wished he had stayed in the music business.

“I never looked back because, of course, this is an amazingly larger pond down here than in the academic world. But, the grace of it all – my mental health break, so to speak – is that I still write all the music for the show unless we license a song from a popular artist. So, being able to go into a recording studio two or three times a week in the afternoon and either pen or score a song for the show  keeps my hand in that (music). Things have changed over the last 30 years of writing music for daytime television. 

“So, in direct answer to your question: no, I never really looked back and went, ‘Darn! I should’ve stayed in school!’” Concluding his answer with a chuckle, Corday adds, “Actually, in hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t because at 27, with all of those beautiful, young coeds and being a professor, I probably would have found myself married and divorced a few times.”

I commented that my mom would say when I was a little kid, “It’s time for me to watch my stories.” Ken enthusiastically pipes in by saying, “Oh, I know! And I think it’s such an apt thing to say because I hear it all through the nation – rural and urban – ‘I want to watch my story.’ And that’s what it’s about.  People don’t want to see one actor or one set. They want to watch ‘the story’ and if the story is not there, the viewers aren’t there. If the story is there – and I hate to say this, but – no matter how terrible the acting may be, they (the viewers) are still with us. The acting is important. I shouldn’t diminish that but stories are what drive daytime drama.”

With its remarkable ability to stay on the air with an incredibly loyal fan base, I asked Ken what he felt is the single biggest attribute or reason why the show has been so successful and has had the staying power that it has.

“It’s simple. Again, my mother’s lesson to me was it’s about the ‘story’. You’re only really as good as last week’s ratings. You can’t rest on your laurels.  But, directly, it’s about family values. I’m sure that all of the other shows would say this but this show, more than any others, still has the founding family at its center – the Hortons and two other families, now, over the last 35 or 40 years: the Bradys and the evil DiMeras. But, more than anything, it’s about family values, the redemptive power of love and, to be honest with you, we deal with the Deity on this show – much more than any others.  We take flack for it from certain of the less religious groups but I believe that it’s an important part of the show. It’s referenced right back to the opening couplet, ‘Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives” - I believe that is the second or third  to last line of the 23rd Psalm.

“So, whether subtle or not, whether people cop to it or not, it’s there. We try to keep our pulse more on the mainstream --- what is really the quiet, common person in this country as opposed to the outspoken Conservative or Liberal.”

Is Corday saying that faith and the family values stance has been the one constant throughout the life of the show?

“That is the one constant. It also holds true behind the scenes.  What I call our ‘Days family’ – the crew, the cast, the staff .– they know – how do I put this - that I ‘have their back’.  This is the only one hour soap opera that’s family run – it’s a family business.  The others are owned by ABC or Sony. Bill Bell did start The Bold and the Beautiful and kept that one in the family but, again, it’s a half-hour show. I don’t know if the same thing is going on with their set. But, yes, that’s what has kept us together: a belief that in loving the genre and loving the work we have to do every day and loving each other, there’s something greater than the sum of all of the parts.”

In order for the show to survive for 45 years, Corday most definitely had to make sure the show adapted to the plethora of changes that have bombarded the genre over the years.  I asked him what was the biggest of those changes.

“That’s a VERY interesting question and is somewhat tough.  I would just have to ‘knee-jerk’. I’d have to say the financial changes – hopefully, you won’t see it on screen.  We used to be able to do the show five years ago any way we wanted to – all hours of the night.  Lavish exteriors.  Lavish locations. Because of the constraints of the economy, we’re dealing with a budget, now, that is less than half of what it used to be.  I don’t think it shows on screen as much as it does with whom we cast.

“So, the thing that has changed most is the economy and the networks’ desire for paying top dollar for a soap opera. In the nineties, the joke was that Days of our Lives and the Jay Leno Show – and, before that, the Johnny Carson Show – paid the rent at NBC and allowed them to do all of the pilots that never went on the air. That really isn’t the case as much today.  However, last year, we were the only show on the network that showed growth. They don’t want to admit that but they’re happy to admit that in front of their advertisers when they sell time for the next year.

“So, yeah, that is the biggest change and it certainly affects my job daily.  How do we make the same product every day for half as much?  I think ‘downsizing’, unfortunately, is the word. We still want the show to seem larger than life.  It can’t be the news.  It can’t be public service.

“I see other soap operas get stuck in that rut. ‘Let’s do something that’s topical or public service oriented; do something current.’ I think that you lose the fantasy. It’s about romance. Period.  Our show is about romance.  You can call it anything else but it’s about watching two people fall in love for the first time or the first time again after 25 years. That’s what makes it go.”

The business geek in me couldn’t help but ask Ken if he saw signs of the economic pressures turning around so that you can go back to the way it was producing shows or was the proverbial genie out of the bottle.

“It’s hard to say. I have very optimistic feelings – and, certainly, more optimistic associates that believe – that soaps MIGHT make a comeback. My feeling is that the genie really is out of the bottle. Once the network gets something, they are very, very much chagrined to give it back. We deal with what we deal with today. My job is to keep the show on the air year-to-year or, in some cases, 18 months to two years at a time and let all of the employees know that they don’t have to look over their shoulder every year.”

Corday starts his book with a tragic “bang”, literally, and shares his heart as to how that event impacted his late brother. Near the end of the book, he shares a great story as to how he obtained closure with his brother’s passing.  I asked Ken what he says to people who have family or friends who are suffering as his brother did and what advice does he have for them.

“Well, the first advice that I give them is to not keep it in the closet. Mental illness is something in the country that is swept under the carpet - kept in the closet. ‘Oh, there’s nothing wrong with him or her. They’re just having a bad week.’ Or, ‘It’s just the affects of this, that or the other thing.’ We’ve come miles in the last ten years in medical treatment for mental illness.  Yet, it’s still that six or eight inches between our ears that’s still the new frontier – the unknown.

“So, the advice that I would give to someone who has a family member who’s suffering from this is, a) EXTREME patience. B) Faith.  Whether it’s through a psychologist, a therapist, a minister or priest, try to believe or reach out for this person – for themselves - through faith. And, C), most importantly, don’t hide it because, with hiding it, the same wound scabs over and over. It needs to be cleaned out.

“This was the case with my brother.  My parents really, really never had to look square in the face how ill – how tragically ill – he was.  I dealt with that in the three years after my mother died to the point that it was dangerous to have him around my family. My wife was afraid of him for her sake and the children’s sake. This is the case with someone who is paranoid-schizophrenic or severely manic-depressive.  You know, one day or another, it can be night or day – a totally different person.

“Bottom line: Don’t give up hope. Hemmingway said it best.  ‘I’m not hopeless as long as I have hope. The day I don’t have hope, you’ll know it damn quick.’ And he did.  He certainly did.  Without hope we have nothing. That’s what people have to hold on to. There IS light at the end of the tunnel with ALL mental illness. Some people would say that I’m extremely naïve or ridiculously optimistic to say that but it’s not as terminal as some might think, you know?  The day that my brother was diagnosed, it was as terminal as having cancer only there was no period of time.  It could be a year or it could be twenty years, as it was with my brother. But that’s not the case these days.”

Moved both by Ken’s comments and the stories about his brother that he shares in the book, I commented that I think the book will be a helpful read to those who have family members who suffer from mental illness. His humility and sincerity was clear in his response.

“Thank you very much.  To me, that was the most curious thing in the way this book resonated was that I had a number of psychologists, talks shows, radio shows call me – not to talk about Days of Our Lives but to talk about this very issue.  If I can be of any help to anyone by writing about it, then it’s extremely gratifying.”

Shifting my emotional gears to a lighter speed, I bring up the hysterical story Corday tells in the book about Andrew Masset being accosted in the produce department of a grocery store by a lady with a zucchini.  I asked him if he felt that much of the viewing audience has a hard time separating life from art.

“I think that because we have  a shrinking world, more of an informational world these days, it’s not as much as we would see in the seventies or eighties. People are less naïve no matter how far into rural U.S.A. they are.  Yet, I still see it. I still see, at fan events, crazy fans just run up to the actors, refer to them by their character name and say they want to have their baby, et cetera, et cetera. And they’re completely in earnest about it!

“The eye opener was in New Orleans, I believe in 1983 or 1982, with our two characters, Bo and Hope, who were very young then.  We landed at the airport there and there were ten thousand people waiting. Fire Marshalls were beside themselves and all the crowd wanted to do was see this couple. And it was the same. “Oh, Bo, I want to have your baby!” or, “Hope, will you marry me?”

Ken shares a couple of incredible paranormal events that happened in the studio; one involving Deidre Hall and the prop man, Bob Bateman, and the other having to do with an apparition that he and the cast felt was Macdonald Carey. When you read about those events, you’ll swear that they could have been right out of the show’s script.  I asked Corday how he interpreted those events and, “We have a celebratory pictorial coffee table book coming out the first of November for the 45th anniversary It’s beautiful because the pictures are not what you would call ‘posed pictures’. They’re a behind the scenes look at mostly cast and crew. So, people are allowed inside the walls of the studio.

“We have three romance novels that are extended stories of very popular characters who are no longer on the show. ‘What happened to . . . Jack and Jennifer, Deidre Hall’, etc, etc, etc. written by our former head writer. And, then, I have a work of fiction – my first work of fiction, good lord! – that will be out next May.”

After our conversation, reflecting as I always do after an interview, I was struck but the sheer calm and serenity that Ken Corday projected over the phone.  I can imagine how much more warmth would permeate the room if I were meeting him in person.  Despite incredible pressures from all directions because of the crushing responsibilities he carries for the show and its cast and crew, he is calm.  Despite the pain of losing his father while young, losing his loving mother or the trauma and challenges of coping with  and then tragically losing his brother, Corday exemplifies a peacefulness rarely seen in the world today.

That’s my kind of story.