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David Cassidy

Posted January, 2010

CassidyhbIf my aging, feeble memory is serving me as I hope, I was introduced to David Cassidy by way of TV.  The year was 1970 and it was during my family’s first trip to Tennessee to see family since our move to Arizona.  A bunch of family was gathered at my maternal grandparents’ house when my cousins started to excitedly chatter about the Patridge Family about to come on television.

I thought to myself, “What’s this?  My cousins would to quit playing so we can watch some dumb documentary about BIRDS???”

Silly kid.

I quickly discovered what all the fuss was about.  The show was an engaging, fun filled, innocent show about a single mom (the ever gorgeous Shirley Jones) and her singing brood of talented kids.  The eldest of these was David Cassidy and, judging by the sighs, giggles, and muffled squeals, it was apparent that he was the biggest star of the show.

Over the next four years, I had to endure the many girls of my various dreams swoon over the image and voice of Cassidy.  Yeah, as I’ve already admitted previously, I was mildly jealous of the teen heart throbs of the day and all for legitimate reasons.  That said, I quickly outgrew the jealousy, but not the healthy admiration, of Cassidy and his peers.

Many years have passed since those days.  However, Cassidy is still wowing girls of all ages by way of concerts, TV appearances, films and Broadway performances.  It was because of an upcoming concert with fellow teen idol, Davy Jones, whom I had the privilege of talking with David by phone.

Cassidy projects a warm and gracious presence over the phone.  I say this because I knew that he literally walked in to his Florida home from the airport after a long flight from LA.  And, yet, he enthusiastically obliged to the interview.


We first chatted about a friend of his (and acquaintance of mine), legendary record producer and former U.S.

manager of Apple Records, Ken Mansfield, whom I interviewed in 2009.  Ken produced an album for David that, due to corporate thick headedness, never made it to American record stores.

Mansfield said of Cassidy wrote in The White Book, “David and I had spent an intense six months together, and I don’t believe I ever enjoyed my chosen vocation more than I did when I was working with him.”

In chatting about his upcoming Dallas appearance, David relayed his last experience in the DFW Metroplex back in 1995.

“I had such an amazing experience there.  I’ve done a couple of concerts there but I also did a Broadway show, Blood Brothers, with my brother, Shaun, in Dallas in ’95, I think it was. The audiences were amazing and my fans have been fantastic.

“Because it’s been so long since I’ve done a concert there, I’m going to do, basically, a whole – I’m going to do a lot of hits - both Partridge Family and myself.  I’ve gone back and dug out the really great songs from the 70’s.  I’ll take people through a musical journey of my life.”

At this point in our conversation, Cassidy takes a surprising and entertaining turn down memory lane.

“When I was thirteen, the Beatles broke.  I got to know all of them.  I got to know John very, very well.  I played with him a couple of times.  He came over to my house and we played some great Beatles songs.  He had forgotten them – the early stuff which I had really remembered.  I’m talking about Meet the Beatles and The Beatles Second Album.

“You know, when you’re thirteen and I saw them on the Ed Sullivan Show, like a million other guys, I went out and bought an electric guitar – like the next DAY!  I started playing in bands and garage bands through junior high and high school.  It was such an amazing, musical time.

“I also played with Paul once.  They were doing their final dress rehearsal for their Wings Over America tour (spanning 1975 and 1976). They did it for me and my guitar player.  They were in Paris at the time, rehearsing and I got to hang out and play a bit.

“But I got to know John really well.  I really think his spirit and his impact on the planet was so great.  I truly believe that he had more to do with changing the world and was willing to die for what he believed in.  He was just lambasted by the media and the press when they did the Bed-In; Nixon wanted to deport him.  But he was such incredibly inspirational guy – hysterically funny and amazingly bright.  They (The Beatles) all did – but he had such an incredible impact on me.”

Later in our conversation, I brought the subject of Lennon back up.  I asked him what his reaction was and what went through his mind and emotions when John was killed.  I could tell that Cassidy genuinely felt angst and pain as he recalled that horrible night in December, 1980.

“I got on an airplane and flew back to New York for reasons that are personal.  I didn’t want his funeral to be a circus.  I spent some time with Yoko at their apartment with a mutual friend of ours.  I spent a couple of days there.  It was, for me, a very personal thing.  I actually never talked about it because I talk about him and his life as opposed to the tragedy.

“But I miss his voice.  And I mean his voice, now more than ever, his belief in ‘All you need is love.  Love is all you need and all we’re saying is give peace a chance.’”  Trying to choke back tears, David continues, “And his commitment to that was a real and genuine as anyone as I had ever known.  I think he had a lot to do with changing the world and its perception.  He was a tremendous spirit.”

However, well before the emotional remembrance of his late friend, he excitedly shared his musical influences and memories, he lists a “who’s who” of rock royalty.

“I saw Hendrix when I was a kid FOUR times.  I saw Clapton and Cream.  I think it was the last show they did.  The live version of Crossroads – I think I was there for that legendary, incredible performance of Crossroads.  I saw THAT SHOW.  They did two nights.  I believe that was the last show they ever did until a couple of years ago when they got back together and played Royal Albert Hall. That’s gotta be, shew, forty years ago!”

As if to snap back from memory lane, David seamlessly brings the conversation back to his upcoming Dallas appearance.

“I might take people back to when John and I first got together and played.  Anyway, I might take them all through that and up through my last platinum album.  I’ll do a couple of my remixes from two years ago which I premiered on Oprah.  It was February two years ago and my album went to number one on Amazon the next day.  The impact of Oprah is quite remarkable.

“I just came off of doing a television series with my brothers, Ruby and the Rockets.  I cut down a lot of the dates because of my work back in television and I’ve moved back out to L.A.   I’m going to start doing a feature film – really a great script.  I’ve only done three features in my life – I’m talking about theatrical releases.  So, we shall see how it goes.  It’s the first show of the year for me and I’m very excited to do it.

“I did a show last year with Davy Jones, which was really successful.  He’s going to open for me and do the first half.  God knows, he really surprised me.  We forget that the Monkees had an awful lot of hits.  His shows are REALLY good. I think a lot of the audience – they were from the 60’s and mine are from the 70’s.  I think the audience will be filled with a night of incredible high energy.

“I’m chomping at the bit to get back and do it.  With all of the work and being in Los Angeles, I haven’t performed, I think, since the first weekend in December so it’s been a while.  I’ve got a lot of different sets that I do.  Every show I do different.  I don’t have any set pattern.  Who knows?  I may do a little bit of blues since I’ll be in Texas.  I’ll do some acoustic stuff.

I’ve learned from Cassidy and others that he is quite the equestrian.  I got the impression from him that, aside from his career and his family, that horses are the next thing nearest and dearest to his heart.

“Oh yeah!  I raise and breed thoroughbred race horses.  I’ve been doing that for over thirty years.  I race in New York.  I’ve got one in Louisiana at the fairgrounds that actually is going to start tomorrow.  He’s going to make his first start.

“But I’ve been breading and racing almost exclusively for the last ten years in New York.  I’ve been the leading breeder by percentage of stakes winners and average earnings although I don’t have anywhere near the kind of earning that some of the big farms do.  I have a small breeding operation with six or seven mares.  It’s been a real passion of mine, too.”

Ever the gentleman, David Cassidy brings the conversation back around his appreciation for Dallas.  He starts off by saying, “I am genuinely, genuinely excited about going back to Dallas.”  Then, switching gears, he tells a story about one of his last visits to the Metroplex.

“I had come from Detroit.  It was, like, 37 degrees and freezing in Detroit.  I got there (to Dallas) and it’s, like, 89!  And this beautiful, BEAUTIFUL girl, who was working for the promoter and producer, greeted me.  She said (and he puts on his best genuinely Southern, make that, Dallas, accent), “Hi, David!  Welcome to Dallas!”  It was 89 degrees and we’ve got gloves on.  It was night and day!  So, I have great memories of Dallas.

“I’ve played the Houston Astrodome.  I played a big Reunion Arena there in Dallas.  I’ve heard fantastic things about the Nokia Theater so I’m looking forward to playing there.  We’re going to try to blow the roof off of that place when we come down.”

THEN, he dropped this little teaser that I don’t think anyone has heard yet.

“My brother, Shaun, actually may come.  I don’t know for sure.”

You heard it here first, Dallasites.  If you were contemplating buying tickets for the Cassidy/Jones show, there MIGHT be an extra added bonus.  I dunno.  I’m just saying.

With our conversation about to wrap up, I asked Cassidy if there was anything unique or special that was going to be offered at the souvenir tables in the lobby.  His answer floored me.

“I think the experience itself – for me – it’s a celebration.”  Clearly, for Cassidy, it’s about the fans and the memories.  Isn’t that what it’s all about?

To relive your teenage thrills, catch David Cassidy in concert at a venue near you.  His tour schedule is available at www.davidcassidy.com.

Jonathan Cain

Posted February/March, 2011

1cainathomePhoto Courtesy of Jonathan CainIf you are into rock music at all, then, in all likelihood, you’re more than aware of the incredible musical legacy of Journey.  How many school dances in the late 70’s and throughout the 80’s played such great slow dance songs as Faithfully and Open Arms?

In their concerts, these songs and many, many others are greeted with squeals of approval and delight at the very opening piano riffs on those songs as well as on Who’s Crying Now.  The closest that I came to ever experiencing anything close to that reaction was the shrieks of horror during my piano recital performances.

But that’s a whole story of its own.

Always a huge Journey fan, my daughter bought me the Journey: Live In Houston 1981 Escape Tour DVD this past Christmas.  I smiled as I enjoyed the performances and remembered all the thoughts and memories their treasure chest of musical gems brought to mind.  Gems that drove worldwide sales of their albums to over 75 million. What also came to mind is the idea of chatting with one of the boys in the band.

I tracked down Journey keyboardist and co-writer of many of the band’s hits, Jonathan Cain.  He was gracious enough to grant me a phone interview. I was especially flattered that he would spend a considerable amount of time on the phone immediately after spending an hour in the dentist’s chair near his home in the Nashville, Tennessee, area.

After living in California for 30 years, Jonathan, his wife, Liz, and his three children, Madison, Weston and Liza, moved to Nashville late last year.  I go to the Bay Area a couple of times a year on business and, while I do find that part of the country absolutely beautiful and vibrant, I must confess that I left my heart in Nashville long ago.    I started our chat about what prompted his move to God’s favorite city.

 “Well, you know, I’ve been coming here since 2000 – writing with different people and we made a lot of friends in the last 10 years.  My daughter’s doing a recording down here.  We have this friend that was writing and I heard her (his daughter) sing country and I said, ‘My god, you’ve gotta sing country!’ because she’s got a great voice.  She was messing around with different styles and I heard her sing Redneck Woman and it was like, ‘Girl! This is your deal!’

“I wanted to get her in the studio right away so we did. She cut a couple of sides and we kept coming. Then, I got her into the songwriting room.  Now, she’s seventeen.  She auditioned for Capitol records a couple of days ago, so it’s pretty serious. We’ve got a couple of other labels and some other people interested in her.  She’s got a Carrie Underwood kind of thing going on.  She’s into the progressive country – kind of ‘crossover’ country.  She has a very strong voice and she writes some good songs.  She’s been fortunate enough to get into some songwriting sessions.  I’m getting a few licks in myself.”

Bringing the subject back around to why he moved to Nashville, Cain said, “I started in Nashville back in ’69 with Buddy Killen (the late, legendary producer and publisher). He signed me to Dial Records. I just had a singles deal down here. I kind of come full circle by coming back here.  Plus, I guess we kind of wore out our welcome in the Bay Area. It used to be such a vibrant, musical community and I think it’s kind of missing there.”

However, there was more than just the change in the music scene that compelled Cain to move his family to the Volunteer State.

“The whole school thing there (in the Bay Area) wasn’t so good and we knew that the schools are great here. You just know when it’s time. I just wrote a song about it – about leaving a place and just knowing that it’s time to go. I’d been there 30 years so my kids were all excited about meeting some new friends and getting the heck out of where they were. I guess we needed a life change and now we’re getting snowed on!”  With a laugh he adds, “They say that an ice age is coming and I believe them!  That’s what everybody’s saying – it’s not global warming – it’s the ice age!”

As a die-hard Nashville fan myself, I’ve been to the town several times and found how “celebrity friendly” it is compared to, say, Los Angeles, where there seems to be paparazzi behind every bush . . . or Bentley, so to speak.  Cain’s response reflected a refreshing matter-of-fact humility that permeated the rest of our chat.

“It is cool. I don’t have to worry about that, being a keyboard player. It’s a different way of life. I find people here are accountable citizens for people who live here.  It’s like a welcoming spirit – more than ever. It used to be, ‘Californian’s, go home!’ but I think they see that the changes are cool. The town really has a lot of culture and it has a conscience. I love the writers that are here and to get the opportunity to sit down and to sing with these great songwriters.

“I did a show on (satellite radio) XM with Jonathan Singleton, who wrote Red Light for David Nail. The opportunities you get are just incredible. I did a show with J.D. Souther and Brett James at Tin Pan South last year. So, it’s pretty cool to kind of sit in. My daughter (Madison) and I will do gigs. I’ll sit in at Puckett’s or the Blue Bird with her. Just the other day, she was asked to sing on a David Nail record.  That will be her first background on a big time record. So, yeah, you just get opportunities here that you never have in California.

“We got to go to the CMA awards together. My daughter has a website (www.madisoncain.com) and she’s tweeting all the time. She got to go down the red carpet at the CMA’s and she drug me along. She actually had a little feature on the E! Channel. It was ‘Rock Dads and Their Daughters’. They interviewed me, her and the family. It was a pretty good little blurb for her.”

One thing that many Journey fans may not be aware of is that Cain is quite the wine expert.  My pre-interview research uncovered the fact that Jonathan moved from an expert wine connoisseur to a successful entrepreneur of higher end wine.  Cain explained his venture to me.

“I’m sort of a wine savant. I go out and find the best grapes I can and make really high quality juice. We get a lot of money for it - $50 to $60 a bottle. I really like great wine. The wine I make is not for everybody. You have to have a palette to spend that kind of money on wine.

“I’m a ‘virtual winer’.  I don’t really have my own vineyard, per se. I get grapes from cool places and make the wine. I only do a couple of hundred cases a year. I do business here in Nashville and am trying to break out in Atlanta with it.  I’m trying to get into Chicago. I partnered with Horizon Wine and Spirits here. But that’s it. We have fun.  I like wine making and I think they’re (Horizon) awesome people. We have a lot in common.”

One of the tragedies in Chicago history took place on December 1, 1958.  A fire broke out at Our Lady of the Angels grade school, killing 3 nuns and 92 children.  From the research I conducted on the sad tragedy, families moved away, divorces destroyed several marriages of the parents of the victims, and emotional scars remained on all who were touched by the fire.

One of the children who was at school that day was Jonathan Cain.  The fire obviously had a tremendous impact on young Jonathan and was instrumental in leading him to immerse himself into music.  It’s against that backdrop that Cain uses to write a book.  I asked Jonathan about the yet-to-be published tome.

“It’s a memoir.  I end the book where I’m about thirteen years old. It’s about nine years of my life that I spent in Chicago. The new consensus is to finish the story and tell everybody how I got into Journey.  I don’t know. I’m going to give it a shot in the next couple of months. It’s called Mixed Blessings. I’m probably going to self-publish. It’s been a labor of love. I’ve been at it for four or five years. I’ve got some interest. I’ve got to keep going at it. The book business is in bad shape right now. It’s not good. So, the audio books are a good way to go. There are some more meetings we’re going to have next month. So, we’ll see. At this stage of the game it’s just a neat thing to be able to say you did.”

 “I was in a school fire back in ’58 where a hundred kids were killed and three nuns.  It’s telling the story of that neighborhood and how music really saved my life – from going insane. It helped me out a lot. I’m an old accordion player. We didn’t get any grief counseling or anything like that. I think that getting that squeeze box helped me get my mind straight. It’s really about the love affair I have with music.”

Cain continued, explaining how he got into songwriting.

“It was challenging. I wrote my first song in 8th grade. I had a piano teacher who saw something in me and challenged me. She was actually the music teacher at school – she taught choir. I wanted to get off the accordion and start playing the piano. So, she came to the house and gave me lessons. She said, ‘You have a good imagination with your music. You should try to write a song.

“So, we had this school play – an 8th grade play – so she said, ‘I want to leave a spot in that play for your song.’ So, I was on the spot to write the song. I wrote the song about a little girl that I had a crush on. I got up there and sang it and played it. It was copyrighted and the whole deal. That was the beginning. But it wasn’t easy. I was going to school and I was interested in the writing part – and my dad thought I could do it – so I kept writing, trying to get songs done.

“Then, when I was playing in clubs, we had a little slush fund that we saved money for studio time.  After about a year and a half or two years, we had enough money to go into the studio so that drove me to come up with ten songs. We went into a studio down in Pekin, Illinois, and recorded these songs I had written. I had been going downtown to see this guy, Bill Trout, from RCA. He would see me at the end of the day and listen to my songs and critique them and help me. I kind of had a mentor there. I was really fortunate to have him because he was big time – for Chicago, anyway. He was a producer and had his own production company.

“So, we made this little demo. The studio owner was sending tapes around to different people. He was quite a cool dude. He sent my demo to Buddy Killen – a big time producer and publisher – and that’s why I came here (to Nashville) in ’69 and did two or three sides with him.  We had about three years together, coming down here and doing that.

“That was my first plane flight. I got on an airplane to Nashville from Chicago and signed a record deal. My dad was with me. He was kind of my Svengali. Dad was always believing that good things were on the horizon with me. He pretty much was my cheerleader in rock for me.

“I always tell kids when I give seminars that you have to have a ‘vision keeper’. Somebody that buys into your plan and believe in what you want to do.  He (Jonathan’s dad) was that for me. I was blessed to have a vision keeper who was my own father.  In his mind, I was always going to be a success no matter what happened. No matter how dark or shadowy the thing got – and it certainly got like that a few times.  We thought we were off to a roaring start, getting signed at 19.  Then, it was just harder than hell after that.

“We slugged it out. Ended up on American Bandstand – went to L.A.  It was funny.  I had a friend who had seen the band. He liked our songs and liked what I was writing. He said, ‘You should come to L.A.’ It turned out that his partner was managing Wolfman Jack and they signed me as a solo artist. So, I moved to L.A. and slugged around there for awhile – hung out with Wolfman.  We got a little indie to sign us and had a Top 40 record in L.A. called Until It’s Time To Say Goodbye.  Then, I got on Dick Clark. Wolfman knew him and Dick Clark wanted somebody different. I was on the show with Natalie Cole – 1976. It was a pretty big break for me but it didn’t matter much having a single out in L.A. on the L.A. charts didn’t mean much so I still ended up doing gigs. That kind of went by the wayside. I kept going out with my band and playing different places and continuing to right a little more rock stuff.

“We were seen by Albert Grossman, who was Bob Dylan’s manager and Janis Joplin and Albert signed me to Bearsville in ’76 or ’77. I made an album in Bearsville called Windy City Breakdown. That didn’t go so good. Everything went wrong that could go wrong. Albert said, ‘Oh, come to Bearsville.’ And, I said, ‘Why can’t we just do it here? It would be so much easier.’ We had several studios we could have done it at.  We could have done it for nothing, you know?  But he was insistent that we go all the way up to Woodstock and record this thing.

“We went there and the studio was in shambles. Nothing worked.  The air conditioning was out and it was the dead of summer, out in the middle of forests. The place was haunted.  We were like, ‘What the hell?’  Everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong.  Tape machines breaking. Counts were going out. Not having enough tape. So, we would make little trips to New York City and party, trying to make the best of it. We were far from focused. You take city boys and bring them out into the woods and they go nuts.

“He (Grossman) got me to the Chateau Marmont and he said, ‘You made a piece of crap album.’ First he got me stoned – good and high – and then he told me that he didn’t like my record and he wasn’t going to put it out. So, I stormed out, telling him, basically, to stick it you-know-where. I got my lawyer and said, ‘I want the album coming out.’”

“We printed five thousand of them and made them put it out. And, nothing happened. Then, I got dropped from that shortly after.  I got to make a demo that was fun – with some of the Toto guys.  I got close to getting some interest but they didn’t want to know about it.”

While Cain was one of the few people to successfully flex his muscle against the notorious manager, the experience left him disillusioned about the music business.

“I quit the business for about two years and sold stereos in L.A. I just kind of had it. My dad was, like, ‘Well, you gotta do what you gotta do.’ I remember I had Manpower gigs where I would stack beer – Budweiser. I would do anything to get my mind off of show business. I continued to write songs in my apartment there.

“Then, I got a phone call from some guy that found me that wanted to write with me. I said, ‘Well, sure.’ I went over to his house. He had been writing with Fleetwood Mac. His name is Robbie Patton. We wrote a couple of cool songs. He was telling me about this audition for this band called The Baby’s. He said, ‘You know, you’re a rocker. You should really go there.’ I go, ‘I don’t know. Maybe.’  He said, ‘Well, show up for the audition and see what happens.’

“So, I did. It was a song I had written, really, that I think got me the gig. It was called Stick To Your Guns. I wrote it for my dad because that was his war cry.  When I would call him up and borrow money from him, that was the last thing he would always say to me, ‘Stick to your guns.’

“The audition went well but it was the song that stuck in their head.  So, I was the Stick To Your Guns guy. They had auditioned 40 people.  These guys (The Baby’s) were completely in debt.  It was just John (Waite), Wally (Stocker) and Tony (Brock).  They had been through it already in L.A.  They had a manager that just completely buried them.  They did a 99 city tour and he let them live like rock stars. They had roadies from England and rental cars.  After a year or two of that, you’re buried in red.

“I got the gig.  They called me a month later. I must have went back about six times and jammed with them and played with them.  The next thing I know, I was flying off to Amsterdam to do TV shows with them because they had just released Head First. Hanging out with John and those guys was really cool because they were really the rock and roll that I always wanted to know about. John had that voice. I wished that I could sing like John. He had a swagger about him that he taught me. I learned a lot him and those guys real quick – how to be a pro and how to act like a pro; how to do an interview.”

After the proper grooming, Cain’s education into the rough and tumble world of rock and roll went to the next level.  While the lessons learned were invaluable, the expected big payoff didn’t happen.

“We went on tour with Alice Cooper. That was an awesome tour, meeting Alice and his wife. He flew us around on his plane and pretty much treated us gold plated. Being around him is an honor because he’s a legend. It was the Welcome To My Nightmare tour. So it was me up there opening up with The Baby’s and Alice.  The Baby’s had been doing a bunch of Midnight Specials for (Burt) Sugerman back in L.A. We were almost like the house band for Wolfman. He was so proud of me because he had seen me kick around in L.A. When he found out I got the gig, he always had us on it seemed like. God bless Wolfman!

“It was cool.  We were just kind of bubbling under but we just couldn’t seem to get over the hump – so in debt and selling records but not really getting air play to sell enough to go platinum – you know, break the big one. I guess Midnight Rendezvous was the biggest record we had after those ballads that they had out and they didn’t even write them.  These two guys wrote them – (Jack) Conrad and Raymond Kennedy – these two songwriters from L.A.  They had worked with (Ron) Nevison, so we branched away from that Nevison thing and worked with Keith Olsen. So, we made a new album with Keith called Union Jacks.

“Then Chrysalis (The Baby’s label) wanted my publishing. I’m like, ‘No, you can’t have my publishing. I’m only making $250 a week.’ So, I had to get a lawyer to slug it out with Chrysalis and we won and I kept it.  I was fortunate – not unfortunate as with John, who they had a lien on. They had John’s publishing. It was one of those deals like with The Police. I felt bad for John because, even when he left us and went to EMI, Chrysalis was there attaching his new deal.

“Anyway, we had some success with Union Jacks. Union Jacks was what got me into Journey.  Journey always was kind of progressive. They heard the Union Jacks album and loved it so they wanted us to open for them. So, we showed up in San Diego and began a tour with them – 50 cities or so. I’d get to watch them every night. I started hanging out, watching the band because I was kind of curious as to what their deal was. I really liked the pieces. I liked Steve Perry voice. I liked Neal’s guitar playing. The fans were just unbelievable. They just loved that band.

“We used to open every night. We’d do our little 40 minute set and they’d get up there and figure out how to follow us.  So, they kept changing their set around. And, finally, they hit on this much more Spartan rock and roll set than what they were doing. They really started tearing it up.

“After the shows, Neal and I would go out drinking and jamming. John Waite would go out with us on some nights and Ricky Phillips, our bass player. Sometimes, Steve Perry would show up. We’d stick him on the drums and then we’d do all these old Motown/Wilson Pickett songs – all this old stuff and just have a good ol’ time.  Neal and I got going with each other and he would go, ‘Wow, I didn’t know you knew all those chords!’ and we’d get pretty out there and start fusing.

Taking the conversation off course just a bit, I asked Jonathan what he feels is the most positive change in the record business that has taken place.

“I guess digital downloads, really. The internet is somewhat honest now. You still have the sharing sites that you can’t stop – the Limelighters and stuff. I think iTunes and the iPhone have really revolutionized music in the way it’s played. The fact that Don’t Stop Believing is number two in the most downloaded songs is still outrageous to me.  We get compensated for the downloads. ASCAP and BMI are looking after us.  It’s all worked out. It’s a far cry from when our album was ripped off back in 2000. Napster got hold of it and people were getting it for free. I hate to see people giving away music. I think it’s disturbing. These young bands have to stop that or they’re not going to get anywhere.”

I asked what Cain what he thought it’s going to take to fix all that’s wrong with the music business.  Again, his shrewd business sense kicks back into high gear.

“The biggest problem is sustainability. You have to have a sustainable product. That means when you sign an act, they have to have a place to play. You have to get the fans out to see them. You have to make sure that the fans are kept up to date, all that stuff. That’s a whole look at how we’re going to continue the process. If you sign an act that you think is great, you have to make sure that the garden is tended to and that it will continue to flourish. It’s a brand.

“Back in the old days, we had an army of people doing that on behalf of Journey. Today, they put a band out there and unless they have a shrewd manager and a team behind them, they just get lost in the shuffle. I think that’s a big issue. And I think that the places to play are sort of vanishing and clubs are dying. It’s not good.

“I talked to Bill Graham about this before he died. We need a sort of circuit that you can count on. A record company’s music people need to look at making sure that these places stay open. Maybe getting creative and doing things with the malls or something. If there’s no place to play for these acts to grow then how are they ever going to get anywhere?  How are they going to get seasoned? It’s a problem – the performing venues that are available. They’re far and few between. It all takes money but it can still happen.  You have the live streaming stuff that can happen. I just don’t think that the labels are thinking progressively enough.  If they’re going to feature a band and do a live feed somewhere and get the stream on the internet and let them have their shows and let the people see what they’re going to be buying. Show them what they’re doing. There’s just too much of this cloak and dagger thing going on right now.

“Rock and roll is dying because of exactly what I said, the sustainability, the places to play, the crowd’s interest is moving away from rock because there’s Lady Gaga and Katy Perry and all this other junk. Kids are listening to rap, grunge. The alternatives are dark. Rock has gotten a black eye for being depressing, gothic and dark. Heavy metal fans have taken over the rock and roll venue and that’s fine. There’s other music out there that’s not getting heard and not getting signed and that’s unfortunate.”

Obviously aware of the numbers side of the business, Cain adds, “Rap takes its place. It’s far more lucrative. They sell far more units than rock does. Rock is kind of out right now. It’s passé. It’s not the flavor of the month any more. These rappers have really honed in and taken MTV away from rock. I don’t think it’s going to change because they’re real avid buyers and they know what works. It’s all money driven in the end.

“But, again, I go back to where can you play? If there’s no place to play, I don’t know where you play rock and roll unless you’re a big time band. You’ll have to play in some little dive club. So, yeah, I feel bad for the young musicians trying to make it. Kings of Leon did it. They managed to slug it out. I don’t know their story but you certainly see enough of them, I know that.

“Now they’re talking about closing down the Hard Rock’s. They’re in trouble. The casino’s are keeping the old fogies alive and that’s good but it’s a tricky time. I think the whole business is up for grabs. I think whoever’s smart and can survive can do it. There’s sort of an upheaval going on.”

Who IS commanding Cain’s attention these days as far as the newer talent is concerned?

“You know, I’ve looked at a few different people. I thought that Carrie Underwood has done a nice job with her career. I’ve seen her show and it’s pretty darn good. I’ve never seen a bad show from her. As far as rock is concerned, there isn’t a whole lot out there that I even like.  I was kind of into Coldplay for awhile. I thought they were cool but they’re not really rock.

“Probably the neatest thing that’s come down the pike is Kings of Leon, I think. They’re pure cool rock and roll – that sounds like something.  It’s got that vintage thing to it which maybe appeals to me. I like Switchfoot. I like a lot of that stuff. I like some of the Nickelback stuff. They’re a successful group that has done well with their brand. They’ve done a really good job with branding their thing. I just think they play too loud.” He concludes with a chuckle. “They’re still a good brand. They’ve done a good job staying alive in this market which says a lot about them. They’ve written some cool songs. They’re good. Young guys, but smart. I got to meet them a couple of months ago – the two brothers, Chad and Mike. They’ve done a really good job. So, that’s about it, really.”

Wrapping up my chat with this legendary artist, I asked Cain what his plans were after Journey wrapped up its tour.

“Chilling. If all goes right and I don’t get cold feet, I’ll go ahead and finish up my studio. I’ve got grand plans for it. I’d like to get it to the point that it’s a facility and I can go in there and try some things. Maybe do some producing and help my daughter down the road. That’s what I’m hoping to do – make a little noise here in Nashville.”

Keep up with Journey at www.journeymusic.com.

Bebe Buell (2011)

September, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Burton

Posted June, 2011

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

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

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

Louisiana Hayride

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

Dale Hawkins

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

Ricky Nelson/Ozzie and Harriet

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

Shindig

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

The Wrecking Crew

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

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

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

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

Chuck Leavell – Keyboardist for the Rolling Stones

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

Rick Derringer – Legendary Guitar Player and Producer

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

Bruce Kulick – Guitarist for Kiss and Grand Funk Railroad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Burton Foundation

714 Elvis Presley Avenue

Shreveport, LA 71101

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And just how many guitars does Burton own?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bebe Buell (2009)

October, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about?  

The lady has a lot to say.

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

Enjoy!