Ruthie Foster

Posted July 2017

RuthieFoster001 cropped 3Rarely does an artist grab one’s attention right out of the musical chute. Sometimes, their music must grow on you. Other times, you’ll love some aspects of their work but other parts turn you off.

In the case of Texas born and bred Ruthie Foster, her voice, musicianship and songwriting mastery will grab you from the git go and won’t let you go. Such is the case with Ruthie Foster. To say that the woman has the voice of an angel my sound a bit hokey but it would, in fact, be an understatement.

Her amazing talent has placed her on stage with the Allman Brothers as well as singing with such greats as Bonnie Raitt and Susan Tedeschi.  The accolades and awards she’s received aren’t too shabby, either. She’s received the Living Blues Critic’s Award for Female Blues Artist of the Year, the Grand Prix du Disque award from the Académie Charles-Cros in France, seven Blues Music Awards, and three Austin Music Awards.

Not too shabby.EverythingKnoxvilleLogoEdited

I caught up with Ruthie while she was on tour. She’d literally just stepped off the hotel elevator and walking into her hotel room when I called. After she got settled in and caught her breath, I asked about her church related musical background and influences while growing up in Gause, Texas.

 “Well, it was Baptist – the Missionary Baptist Church. The artists that I did a lot of were Dorothy Norwood on guitar, a lot of

Andre Crouch. So, yeah, that was the stuff that I was listening to growing up. And, of course, the staple songs that come out of the church. We had a youth choir, I guess you could call it, that would take the songs and spin ‘em around, which is really where a lot of that comes from when I do that on my own albums. Just take a song and put a little spin on it so that it doesn’t sound old timey. Try to give it a little something.

“We would take songs like Pass Me Not Oh Gentle Savior and speed it up a little bit and give it a little guitar riff. We’d push the limits as far as we could go with the sisters in the church. They kinda liked it, though. They were glad to see us involved in the church. We made it fun because we were there all the time. I grew up with a lot of cousins and we were always involved with the church, whether it was helping keep it clean, keeping the graveyard clean, or just cleaning the church, even. I was always there – choir practice on Wednesdays. It was just down the road from my grandmother’s where I spent a lot of my summers and a lot of my time. It was just another house. It was our other house. Yeah, very much part of the family.”

I was curious as to what or whom had pushed her towards playing the guitar.

RuthieFoster002“I grew up watching a lot of TV and it was during that time when everybody had a variety show. I remember watching the Glen Campbell Show, The Carol Burnett Show, Midnight Special Olivia Newton-John had a show for a minute and I loved that. The Mac Davis Show. A lot of these people were musicians that played guitar. I just thought that that was the coolest thing to play guitar. Plus, it’s portable. So, I could do that to bring something different to the gospel music I was doing as a kid, traveling from church to church. I had played piano but bringing a guitar, that was something really different. And, it kind of opened me up to different types of churches. The Church of God in Christ, they were more contemporary instruments that they would use. And what we called, ‘Holiness Churches,’ that’s where any instruments were used. It really opened up my world to going to being in a different type of denomination when it came to playing the songs that I did. So, I loved that! I played piano, but guitar became my mainstay because it was something really different.”

If you haven’t heard Ruthie’s latest CD, Joy Comes Back, do. Order it now. It’s that good.  I asked Ms. Foster why she chose that title for the disc.

“Well, it was the title of one of the songs on the CD. We looked through them all and thought, ‘Well, this one pretty much says it all’ because this CD came about in the middle of a big transition. My personal life was changing. I was moving out of a long-term relationship and trying to figure out how to co-parent a small one in a respectful way. Turning into my fifties, getting well into my fifties, that was a big transition, has been. Turned fifty-three a few weeks ago. That was the age that my mother passed. So, getting to that age was something really different.

“And, quite frankly, I was really working a lot on the road and I needed a break from recording. I didn’t spend much time in the studio all at once to make this record. I kinda went in when I was actually rested. That way, I was able to find my joy, if you will, in recording again. It didn’t feel like, ‘Well, it’s time to make another CD.’ I was able to do it in my own time. I paid for it myself, the recording part of it. I felt more in control of what I wanted to do on this record. Not to say that I never had control, I just felt more in it even though I didn’t write much for it. I did write a lot but a lot of the songs I had, I wasn’t ready to share that just yet.

RuthieFoster003“Dan and myself just had a pow wow and decided to put the one about opening up to a new relationship on the CD because that was part of my transition: coming out of a relationship; being single – learning how to do that, again. And, then, meeting someone I really wanted to be close to – a really, really delicate part of my life. Learning how to navigate around that and having a kid and having an ex – all of that.

“I had some difficult times but I had music and I had this studio, this little, tiny studio that Dan had around the corner and I just kind of found my way back to music, to recording, to being okay with where everything landed and where everybody landed, and my personal life, and just my own journey, being in my fifties and all.”

Ruthie shared about the process of putting together Joy Comes Back.

“It took about two and a half years to do because I didn’t sit down in one week and just record. I really took my time with it. On a few days when I thought I was ready to record, Dan knew enough about me to just hold that space for me and let me just kind of sit and drink coffee and watch funny videos for a while so I could come down from being on the road. So, it took a while. I didn’t go into it ready, I really didn’t, to record. I spent a lot of time just doing side work – as a background vocalist or doing commercials that he (Dan) was working on. It gives a chance to meet a lot of side guys – side men like Joe Vitale, the drummer on this album, was working on another project when I met him. We met at the studio. He was working for someone else.

“So, it gave me a chance to kinda be a musician and be a listener. I did a lot of listening to a lot of different songs and RuthieFoster004different types of genres. So, yeah, it took a while – about two and a half years. And, this was different because, I guess, because of that. I took my time with it. I didn’t write it and I do get a little beef about that sometimes but I’m over it. You know? When a song – when it just says what I want it to say, there’s just no reason to not re-record these tunes. They were done so well! Like the two written by Grace Pettis who happens to be the daughter of somebody I actually toured with. I toured with Pierce Pettis for a while – a few shows in Texas, anyway. So, first of all, getting the chance to see Grace, again. I had met her a few years ago and see how her songwriting has just come full-blossom was exciting to me! And to even to hopefully be a part of her career as it grows and to honor her writing, that was just huge for me to be able to do.”

When asked which song would she use as a calling card, so to speak, to entice them to purchase the CD, Ruthie said:

“Hmmmm. Probably War Pigs just because it’s different. Ha! Ha! My version! A lot of them, really. Good Sailor that was written by Grace because that, again, is saying what I wanted to say. Working Woman is another great one. That’s my Phenomenal Woman. It’s the new version of woman power. Yeah, those are the ones that stick out.”

Since Ruthie revealed that the CD is revealing and introspective, I asked which song was the most personal to her.

RuthieFoster005“Oooh. Probably Forgiven - the last cut - because it really started with that song. Dan asked me to go along with him when The Weepies came to town to play there in Austin. I’ve been a big fan of theirs. I didn’t even know that they were on the road. So, we went to go see them and had a great time at that concert. I met up with Dan a few days later and he let me hear this song because he’s a good friend of Deb Talen.

This song just floored me. He put this song on and by the end of it, I was in tears because it said exactly where I was. This is the song that started the whole recording process for me. Up to that point, I was just in his studio doing backup work. But, then, it occurred to me that that was where I was in my life – with my personal life. It was just time to let go and just gently move out of the dark side of it all. I pushed myself to just go through it. I tried to go around it. I tried to close the door and avoid it. But I just gently pushed myself through it. That song is exactly that.

“That song has a way of opening up – it had a way of opening up my spirit and touch me in a way that I didn’t expect at all. So, it kinda started with Forgiven. Learning how to forgive myself. All the shame and blame that goes along with leaving a relationship – especially with a kid involved. It was HUGE.”

When I offered that one finds out who their true friends are in situations like a divorce, she said, “Yeah, you find out who – I had friends who held me up. They definitely kept me up right. That’s very true.”

The compelling question that was weighing heavily on my mind and I was dying to ask was what made Ms. Foster choose to RuthieFoster006cover the Black Sabbath classic, War Pigs. Don’t get me wrong. She does an amazing, bluesy, acoustic version of the tune that won’t let you go. I just couldn’t get my head around what provoked her to cover that song and what would the ladies back at her childhood church think about her singing it.

“Ha! Ha! It’s not a statement at all for me. I always thought the song was a blues song to me. It’s like, what would it be like if Son House was in a room somewhere with his resonator and stompin’ the floor and doing what he does with that big, booming voice and just sing it and Ozzy walked in and they decided to just sit down and have a little acoustical moment. I just thought the song really needed that. Throw it down. Let that melody in how it starts really ring out. I happened to have the resonator on. I think that I had just done Richland Woman Blues. I’d been sitting on the idea but I put my slide on and asked Dan to roll some tape because this could be fun. And it turned out that it really worked. We stocked the tape, set up the mics, and recorded it for real. It really was an experiment. It was something that was in my head. The idea was in my head – just seeing if it would even work or just fun. And, what it says, I found it interesting because it’s pretty much right on time, too, as far as what it’s talking about. For whatever it’s worth, hopefully that song – I can do my part in putting it back out there and letting folks realize that the song is very relevant, even now. Very interesting.”

As for what she hopes people take away from Joy Comes Back, Ruthie said:

“That this is my journey and that I am a real person even though I do these kinds of inspirational songs and I know that a lot of our shows are very uplifting. But, at the same time, I want folks to know that, yeah, I’ve been there and I’ve been there recently and had to re-learn to get myself back up again. If anything, to give people permission – it’s okay, it’s okay to be down. But the deal is to surround yourself with true friends, first of all, and know that time is huge healer. And that time, plus music, is a beautiful thing! Keep music in your life. I think it’s really important.”

Looking ahead, Ruthie shared what is on her radar for the next year to five years.

“Mmmmm. Goodness gracious! Well, watch my baby girl grow up and come up with more exciting costumes for Halloween that blow her away. Every year’s a challenge. I hope to keep recording because I’m finding my love for that, again. I like travelling. I would like to get to where I’m actually doing more work within communities that I’m visiting and actually get a chance to visit with people when I’m there. That means less shows and more time really engaging with schools and all that. I’m fine with that. I hope to become more of a teacher because I’m learning a lot. That’s the best way to learn is to teach through my music. That may just be to keep doing what I’ve been doing. I’m cool with that.”

As we wrapped up our chat, I asked Ms. Foster how she wanted to be remembered and what she hoped her legacy would be.

RuthieFoster007Yeah, that’s really close to what I just said. I want to make every day count. I want to be remembered for putting out the healing aspect of music can do for you. Just reminding people that music can heal in any situation – whether it’s my music or someone else’s. I just think it’s really, really important. And these are things that I’ve learned over the years with being able to have conversations with folks like Pete Seeger and Odetta and Peter Yarrow – people who’ve been there when music was a huge part of change within the government. These people stood up and put their own careers on the line in order to be a part of that change with what they do and that was music. That says a lot – so the rest of us can get out here and sing songs like Phenomenal Woman and Working Woman and just be true to who we are. We’ve had these people come before us and they stood up for change and they used their music – they threw down a gauntlet through song and voice. That’s a beautiful thing.

“So, yeah, just that folks remember that music has played a huge part in our history and our culture – in any culture, and that starts healing.”

Enjoy Ruthie Foster’s healing music on her latest disc, Joy Comes Back, and keep up with the latest on her at RuthieFoster.com.

Sonny Landreth

Posted June 2017

SLandreth promo press1Cropped2 byTravisGauthier crop cropPhoto by Travis GauthierI gotta tell you a true story. I first became aware of blues great, Sonny Landreth, when received a review copy of his CD, Elemental Journey, before it was released. I had it in my car when I was picking up Andy Timmons to head out to see Boston in concert. The disc was playing when he got into the car and the first words out of his mouth was, “Great tone!” and he didn’t even know it was Landreth. Even without Andy’s enthusiastic endorsement, I became an immediate fan.

So, when the opportunity recently presented itself to chat with Sonny, a) I immediately and eagerly agreed; and, b) I started our chat by mentioning the story, above, to which he said:

“That’s a great sign. I like that! That’s cool. That’s really cool.”

The main purpose of our chat was to discuss Sonny’s latest live CD entitled, Sonny Landreth Recorded Live In Lafayette. I asked if I had counted correctly that this was his seventeenth album and second live disc, to date.

 “Uh, the first number is kind of a gray area. It’s kind of a tough question. But, yeah, it’s the second live album. There’s been various incarnations of some really old stuff. If you count all those incarnations, it adds up to more than it actually is. Ah, it doesn’t matter. As long as they’re all out there, I’m glad to know that.”

I was curious as to why this album and why Lafayette.

“Well, Lafayette because advantage of proximity and resources here. The venue, first of all, is downtown. It’s a beautiful place. It was designed for performance arts. Real nice theater. I played there with a bunch of other people in other shows. And we’ve played there with our band with some gigs. So, there’s that and it’s set up really well for production.

“My engineer is only a few blocks away. Some of the other players are real close. Some just down the road. So, we would pull all our resources in the way of gear an being able to get back and forth. And, really, there’s nothing like sleeping in your own bed at night and, at least, take the discomfort factor out of it. And it also enabled us to get in and have different nights – more than just one night. We went in on Monday and set up and did sound check and went through the songs with our guest artists. Then we recorded Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at the end of January with the idea of getting the best out of all of that. So, that was the deal with the venue.

Sonny Landreth Photography C Marco van Rooijen 002Photo by Marco van Rooijen“And it felt like a good time to do this in terms of a retrospective album with a body of work over the years and different time periods in my career. I’d been thinking about doing the acoustic thing but I didn’t know if I wanted to just to do that or do some of my trio like we typically do. I knew that I wanted to get a couple of my close friends – Sam Broussard and Steve Conn. We’ve never done that together – just the three of us like that. We just ended up doing all of it. I can’t really say I planned it that way but once we got into it – well, I should back up a little bit.

“We booked a number of shows going into the recording days that was really important to get a head of steam going and to sort of sort some things out, musically. So, that helped to have a little bit of an edge. As that progressed -and as the set kind of evolved – then that helped me determine kind of what we were going to do as a concept and which songs and so forth – in particular, with the acoustic material; sort out which ones worked and would bring a different version that we have done before. So, I think the end result is – I hope that it’s something that fans and people are familiar with our work will appreciate the diversity of it and the different versions of these songs and they were played. And, also, I think for someone that’s never heard us before and heard any of my songs, I think it’s a good introduction, as well.”

Which cut would you point to as a calling card, if you will, for this album?

“Well, that’s a little bit of a tricky call because what ended up happening, in a way, is two albums in one. Like I was explaining earlier, the end result was we would come out and do a set – an all acoustic, take a short break, then go out and do the electric material. What that involved in terms of production was setting up the acoustic instruments in front of the backline that we normally use for playing the electric songs, so that was really cool. Having done that, it helped set up for production when we cut into the album.

“So, I’d have to pick one song from each of those, I guess would be the best thing. And, probably, Blues Attack – and that’sSonny Landreth Photography C Marco van Rooijen 001Photo by Marco van Rooijen kind of what we led off with on the acoustic disc. And, then, on the electric, I would have to probably pick Bayou Teche, which is the first one, because all of us played on it, including our guest artists and sort of embodies the spirit of it, I think, in a good way.”

Regarding if there anything unique about recording this album compared to the other live work he’s recorded, Landreth responded:

“Yeah. Absolutely! Just the very fact that we had two completely different experiences with the acoustic and the electric. That took some work and it brings up a whole different vibe and the dynamics of the room. That was different because before Grant Street’s an old warehouse and your sound’s bouncing off the brick. It’s real cool live, edgy sound where this was a real nice venue tailored for sonics and was a completely different feel and vibe to it than Grant Street. Also, as we got into the third night, we noticed how the crowd got more and more into it even though it was a lot of different people each night, be that as it may. Maybe because it was closer to the weekend, people were ready to let loose more. I don’t know but most of what we kept was from the last night.”

As for tour support for this album, Sonny shared:

“Yeah. Yeah, we are, actually. We’d been doing that and we continue to do that on through our shows; through the festival season that kicked off with Jazzfest and our usual run of dates that we do that time of year. We played in Sao Paulo, Brazil recently. We didn’t do it there because it was just too hard to bring that down there under the circumstances. But we will be doing that. When people come out to the shows, they can expect to hear – we’ll do a short acoustic set, take a break, then come back. We’ll probably change up some of those. There’ll be some different songs just to keep it fresh. I think that’s real important, too. That’s basically what we’ll be doing.”

In conducting my research for this interview, I read somewhere that Landreth actually got to meet Jimi Hendrix. I asked him to fill me in on that lucky meeting.

SLandreth promo press3 byTravisGauthierPhoto by Travis Gauthier“Well, yeah, I had a run of it there for a while in kind of the beginning with big influences on me as a teenager because I heard B.B. King, Jimi Hendrix, and Clifton Chenier – the zydeco king – all within about a year – a little over a year, maybe a year and a half. I met all of them on those gigs.

“For Jimi’s, me and my buddies went early during the day, which is funny looking back on it. What the hell are we all gonna accomplish if we all are gonna try and find Hendrix?  And we did! I mean, there was a hotel next door to the venue and he was in a room. He had adjoining rooms – two rooms and the doors open and he had a reel-to-reel tape player that he was listening to and he was smoking a cigarette.

“This big, English road manager ran us all off. Me and a friend of mine was hiding. There was a little convenience store in the hotel in the lobby. We’re hiding in there, hiding from the tour manager. And in walks Hendrix. He was buying some toothpaste and a toothbrush. We’re like, ‘We got nothing to lose’. We couldn’t believe it, how this came about. We went up and started talking to him, met him, and shook his hand. That was a big mojo for me. I was real surprised. He was much shorter than I thought he would be. But, when I shook his hand, I couldn’t believe how long his fingers were. I was, like, ‘Okay. No wonder I can’t reach those positions.’”

Shifting gears, I asked Sonny Landreth what he thought the state of the blues is today.

“Well, I think it’s evolving, as always. I don’t think it’s going anywhere in the way of being lost. I think it IS going somewhere in the way of some of the young kids coming up. What I’ve noticed - the connection of families, very similar in my area where the Creole and Cajun communities’ music is a huge deal. It’s part of the culture. These kids are all growing up in a family. There could be four kids in a family and they all play music. They all play an instrument. And they’ve all gone on to play with others and make their own music. They have one foot in the path with traditional music, which they learned from their parents who learned it from the grandparents. There’s some cool stuff, too. Incorporating new ideas and I think that’s good. Music needs to mutate in a way to evolve and to stay – not just relevant – but to resonate with people and to make a difference in people’s lives. And I see that with the blues, too.

“I’ve noticed over all these years, there always seems to be like a ten-year cycle where you think it’s going away and not SLandreth promo press2 byTravisGauthierPhoto by Travis Gauthieraware of its presence. Then, there’s this resurgence in the way of a revival, of sorts. It can happen with individual artists and different groups. There’s definitely something to that. I don’t really worry about it as long as there are people that hand down to the next generation their ideas and their values with the blues. I think it will always find its way into good hands. The old masters are gone. I mean, we lost B.B. – just a handful of them left in that generation who came after Muddy Waters and earlier Delta bluesmen – a lot of the migration to Chicago and so forth. And, here, with Zydeco music with Clifton Chenier and there was a lot of people who ended up in Texas but even more like entire constituency went out on to the west coast in California when they were looking for work. I think the same thing has happened.

“But the blues is much more, in my mind, I feel that it’s the universal language. And that’s what the last album was really pretty much about in the way of a tribute to heroes and those songs and how the themes of grace in the face of adversity is something everyone relates to. And ever though the language has changed, the blues speaks to everyone universally in that regard. That’s always going to be the spark that lights the flame for a new generation coming up with new ideas.”

Sonny has played with some great people like John Mayall, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Buffet, and John Hiatt. So, I was curious as to whom he would like to play with that he hasn’t already.

“I’d like to play with Jeff Beck. It almost happened a couple of times. So, I’ve just sort of given that a rest. Ha! Ha! It didn’t work out. Maybe one day. I hope so. But, I tell ya, I wish – I have this fantasy of amassing the chops to play with Wynton Marsalis. I’m not even sure he likes guitar players. I’m open. I like doing other projects with people that creative because it’s good to keep the antenna’s up, pick up something new from working with people. You always hope their cosmic dust rubs off on you, too.”

As for what he’d like to record that he hasn’t done yet?

“Man, that’s a good question. I would like to do another instrumental album and incorporate classical and jazz. I have a lot of exposure to that as a kid growing up playing trumpet in school band and orchestra and so forth. There’s some of that I’ve hit on in some of the albums – just a taste, you know? The concepts. I’m not a jazz musician. I’m not a classical musician because I don’t have the repertoire. It’s something you have to live and breathe every day. But I do relate to it. I think that’s a valid thing. As long as I can keep pushing the boundaries and come up with new ideas. A lot of times it’s good to try something that’s out of your element, so to speak, because that’s where the really cool surprises – that’s when they happen. One thing can lead to another. As long as that’s happening, I’m in.”

Looking ahead for the next one to five years, Landreth shared:

Sonny Landreth Photography C Marco van Rooijen 2002Photo by Marco van Rooijen“Well, we’ve got a lot of shows coming up. I’m really excited about the fact to do that. In addition to the double disc, we’re also doing a vinyl. It’s coming into prominence and really cool. We’ll be out playing the shows. Concentrating on that. For me, in particular, it’s trying to perfect more of the acoustic thing, keep improving on that. I got my work cut out for me.”

I often ask artists how they want to be remembered and what they hope their legacy will be so I asked Landreth the same question.

“I hope that people remember me not just as an instrumentalist and anything that I may have accomplished in my own right with that, but also maybe more so the songs. In particular, the lyrical style of writing. I hope that these songs stand the test of time for people and that it still touches those that hear them on down the line. You never know. I always strive to write songs that would last. It’s easy to sit down and write a song. Not so easy to listen to it a week later. ‘What was I thinkin’?’ you know?  But to write a song that really stands the test of time, there’s something about that. Well, it’s not a fad, just kind of the latest thing, whatever. That would be my hope, that those songs do hold up and people find something in music that touches them in a way that makes a difference in a good way.”

Please do keep up with the latest on Sonny Landreth at SonnyLandreth.com.

Todd Rundgren Discusses White Knight, Music, & Ringo

Posted May 2017

 

ToddRundgren001 cropSometimes when an artist of any stripe is described, the word “genius” is used. I’d go so far as to say that it is often overused. However, one artist who more than deserves such a label is Todd Rundgren.

Rundgren is one of those rare artists who require more than one superlative to describe his creative output. Innovative? That’s a given. Prolific? Just look up his discography and the answer will hit you between the eyes. Timeless? Absolutely. All of those certainly work and are quite applicable. I’d also go so far as to describe Todd as being often on the bleeding edge of musical evolution yet has the uncanny ability to create classics that will endure the ages.

How else would you explain his popularity to sell out his own tour, be asked to join Yes on their Yestival tour and the work with Ringo Starr’s All-Starr band for the past six years?

His fans loyalty are the stuff of folklore. Affectionately referred to as “Toddies,” their passion for all things Todd could be to those of Deadheads and Trekkies combined.

prior to a show with Ringo as he fervently looked for some guests who were apparently no-shows. He was desperately attempting to find them so that they could meet the band. In either case, his stardom could’ve garnered disinterest in either story but he and his team displayed incredible graciousness. That’s what makes me a fan.

Everything Knoxville Logo EditedFrom a statistical standpoint, Rundgren has a musical catalog that has – and will continue to – stand the test of time. SteveI view Rundgren and his team from a slightly different perspective. For one thing, Todd and his management team have tremendous hearts. They didn’t know me from Adam when I contacted them for an unearned favor to cheer up a friend and loyal reader. Without any question, the obliged. I also watched Todd backstage 

Orchard from the radio station, The Frog, in the upper peninsula of Michigan, tells me that Todd’s biggest selling project was his 1972 double album, “Something/Anything,” which included his huge hits, “I Saw The Light” and “I Saw the Light,” and “Hello It’s Me” (his biggest hit that charted at #5). Other Toddie hits include “We Gotta Get You A Woman,” and his remake of the Beach Boys classic, “Good Vibrations” in 1976 which reached #36.

It was for the promotion of his current tour to promote his new CD, White Night, that I had the distinct privilege to interview Todd by phone. While making small talk, I had mentioned that I had interviewed his lovely wife, Michele, a few years ago (here) for her work on a voice training app, he piped up and said, “Well, she’s moved on from that. Now she’s a restaurateur. Ha! Ha! She opened up a tiki bar/exotica restaurant out on Kauai where we live. She’s probably there at this moment.”

With an extensive tour schedule slated for this year – both for his own work as well as with Ringo Starr, I asked if he still enjoyed touring or did he prefer to work in the studio.

“I enjoy being at home and I enjoy the process of making music. But, that doesn’t necessarily require me at home. But touring actually is, I think, a vital aspect of contemporary artists’ life. For one thing, you’re gonna make most of your money touring. You’ll only make a fraction of that selling records. And, so, if you really want to capitalize on any success that you had, you have to go out on the road, anyway.

“But, for me, I think, despite the fact, after a while, you get into a routine of sleeping in different beds all the time and eating different kinds of food all the time. And you start to miss the stability of your own house. Still, being on the road is the best way to communicate with the audience. Also, depending on the kind of show that you do, it keeps you fit. When I’m at home, I just kinda sit around most of the time. But when I’m out on the road, I get two hours of exercise a night.”

ToddRundgren003As for what Toddies can expect from the shows on his solo and Yestival tours later this year, Rundgren said: “Well, we’re doing pretty much the same thing on both tours. Although, probably a shorter set when we go out with Yes. Our own show, it is close to two hours. It’s a pretty high level of production, this time. A lot of video. Full band and, also, background singers and stuff, so it’s a really big “shoe”, this time.”

As was mentioned earlier, Todd has been working with Ringo Starr for approximately six years. I asked him how working with the former Beatle affected him as a songwriter, performer, and producer.

“Let me see, now. The first time I played with Ringo was actually in the late seventies. We were playing a Jerry Lewis telethon. We put together a little super group just for one gig. Played over on the UNLV campus in kind of a gymnasium or something like that. Jerry would kind of wave to us every once in a while and he would send the limousines full of show girls over to hang out with us, Ha! Ha! in our dressing rooms. That was years and years before he (Ringo) started the All-Starrs.

“He didn’t start the All-Starrs until the late eighties, I guess. I didn’t play with the All-Starrs until the third iteration of it, which was around 1993, I think, or ’92. And, then, I played with him again a couple of years later with a different line-up. And, then, a long time went by and, then, this particular line-up got put together. This is kind of the band that he’s been looking for all these years when he’s been putting together combinations of musicians because this will be the sixth year that the same line-up has actually been playing under the All-Starrs banner.

“So, by now, it’s not the same sort of, ‘Oh my gosh! I’m playing with Ringo!’ Ha! Ha! Because we’ve become, like – we’re in

 

our sixth year, now. If we go to a seventh year, we’ll have outlasted the Beatles!”

During an interview a couple of years ago, Toto’s Steve “Luke” Lukather (who is also an All-Starr band member) commented about how cool it was to be able to travel the tour in a private Gulfstream jet. When I mentioned that to Rundgren, he added to the comment.

“Uh, yeah! Ringo has a way that he does things – that he’s comfortable with. There are some things that are maybe a little strange or something like that when you’re in the band. But one of the things that definitely – one of his behaviors that we definitely appreciate is the fact that he insists on flying in a private aircraft whenever have to go any distance. He doesn’t like traveling in a bus. He doesn’t even like being in a car for that long. If it’s longer than, like, a two or three-hour drive going somewhere, we’re going to wind up flying. Yeah, an incredible perk!

I said, “It kind of spoils you, huh?” and he replied:

“Yeah, it does! It’s like after you’ve been on the road a month or two months flying in a private plane and the first time you ToddRundgren006go on a commercial jet, you’re kind of, like, pissed off, ha! ha! about all the stuff you have to go through just to get into your crappy seat and eat the crappy food.”

At the time of our chat, I hadn’t yet received an advance copy of Rundgren’s soon-to-be-released CD, White Knight. I asked him to tell me about it.

“I imagine what’s going out now is links. I don’t know if they’ve got actual hard copies of anything. The record label, Cleopatra, is very much into kind of the material artifact – the old fashioned productized music. They wanted to have an LP come out the same time as the CD and the electronic release happens. So, essentially, it’s the tail wagging the dog process like it was back in the seventies. Ha! Ha! We have to wait for the LP to get made and, then, everything else can happen. Ha! Ha! That, apparently, has the longest lead time – like, almost three months to get an LP made. There’s a lot of demand for vinyl. A lot of vinyl collectors now and a lot of the old plants went out of business. There’s just more demand than there is manufacturing.”

And about the album itself?

“Yeah, an album doesn’t have to necessarily have a singular theme beyond the fact that I’m working with a lot of other musicians. That’s a decision I made when Cleopatra approached me about making a record. I made most of all of my recent records myself out on the island because it’s too hard to call up somebody and have them come on over for a casual session. It requires a different process. But things have come along in recent years in terms of file sharing services and greater bandwidth available to people. It’s become a lot more commonplace to do these kinds of collaborations where you send files back and forth and you’re not necessarily in the same room.

“So, I thought I’d take advantage of that. I started calling up people who I wanted to work with. Whenever somebody agreed, I got the process started. They’re actually more potential collaborators than appear on the final record just because at a certain point you have a deadline. You say, ‘Okay, this is when I have to deliver.’ If somebody doesn’t send in whatever it is – send in their contribution – then, it just doesn’t make it. But, it could possibly come out later. That’s the electronic part. But, as you may guess, by the range of different artists that are on there, the music is, likewise, eclectic. If there’s a musical theme in it at all, I was trying to recapture a little bit of a certain era where funk music and eighties synth-pop overlap. Kind of lush sounds of eighties synthesizers and the funky bass lines of Earth, Wind and Fire and that sort of thing. That’s the area that I’m trying to be rutilant of in a musical sense but the lyrics are any variety of things but certainly more contemporary than that.”

ToddRundgren007With the music business in a wide bit of disarray, I asked Todd what he would do to fix the industry if he were made Global Music Czar – or did it even need any fixing.

“Global Music Czar. Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Well, people tend to think – and especially the public at large tends to think – that whatever they hear at the Grammy’s, that’s what’s happening in music. And, certainly, that’s what’s happening in the industrial part in music. A lot hasn’t changed. I have to say that, in recent years, most of pop music has been dominated by female artists. The biggest artists in the world are like Taylor Swift and Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. And their audience is all teenage girls. Ha! Ha! The music industry has been dominated, quite a bit, by whatever the spending habits are of adolescent girls. They’ve made Taylor Swift the most highly paid artist/musician in the world.

“But there are other things going on that – if you go online and do a little research – you should find out that there are a lot of different ways to approach this; a lot of different levels of success and some of them don’t have anything to do with the traditional record business.

“I know of an artist – his name is Bones – I know him because I knew him when he was born. Ha! Ha! He’s the son of the guy who does my merchandise – who also does their merchandise. They have never sold music. They have never made a record deal and has never asked for any money for the music that they post online. They make all their money doing concerts and selling merchandise. No records at all. They make minute and a half videos and now there’s probably three hundred of them up there. That’s how they popularize themselves – using the internet exclusively and, at this point, they’re making incredible amounts of money without anything that looks like a record label – without any of those issues. I don’t know what they’re doing about the publishing the songs that they write – if somebody covers one of their songs. I’m sure that there must be some sort of publishing arrangement. But they have no record label. They have no masters. No CDs. No video discs. Nothing of that sort of nature. Only t-shirts. They just sell hundreds of thousands of dollars in t-shirts. Ha! Ha!”

With Rundgren remaining neck-deep in the music business, I asked him who was commanding his attention, musically, theseToddRundgren010 days.

“Commanding? Ha! Ha! I happen to be in L.A., now. I’m on my way to rehearsals for my tour but I happen to be in L.A., now, because I am sitting in for a couple of nights with a young band named the Lemon Twigs who are playing Coachella tomorrow night and playing in Pomona tonight. They wanted to have me guest on a song so I will sit in with them in Pomona tonight which will give us an opportunity to work through the song. Then, tomorrow, the Coachella Festival I will sit in on the same song with them. And, then, I will move on to rehearsal for my own thing – then doing some press and PR for a couple of days.”

Todd Rundgren is known to be a great collaborator so I asked who would he like to collaborate with in the future.

“Well, like I say, there’s still an outstanding list of collaborators that we never got anything – we didn’t get anything completed, yet. But things could still happen with some of them. A lot of times people have their own releases and that conflicts, in a way. They want to focus on what they’re doing. So, anything’s possible. But, at this point, I’m on the road. I’m trying to get a show mounted. Things are pretty hectic in that regard. Until we get into some sort of stride or routine with that, I’m going to stay focused on that.”

When you step off the tour bus of life up at that great gig in the sky, how do you want to be remembered and what do you hope your legacy will be?

“Well, if you don’t leave a legacy until you die, ha! ha!, that’s kinda sad, you know? If people can’t figure out what you’ve done until after you’re dead, that’s kind of – you really don’t want to have to go to that extreme to get remembered. I would rather be remembered while I’m still alive.

ToddRundgren012“Musical success is something that comes and goes. You’re popular. People forget about you. Maybe you can come back. Maybe you can find an audience to sustain you for the rest of your career – however long that lasts. The thing that I always wanted to do was to become a father. It’s not like a big public thing that I talk about all the time but, for me personally, that’s the most important thing that I did was to become a father. That, I’ll be remembered through the kids that I have, I guess. Ha! Ha! And what they do in life and their kids, as well, because I’m just part of a lineage of fathers and sons, anyway.”

And, that, my friends, is what makes Todd Rundgren a real man.

Keep up with all things Todd at www.tri-i.com or here on Facebook. 

Gregg Rolie Discusses Ringo, The Rock Hall, Santana, Journey, and Life

Posted June 2017

Gregg Rolie by Maryanne Bilham 001Photo by Maryanne BilhamOdds are pretty strong that you have heard Gregg Rolie on some of your favorite songs but you probably aren’t familiar with his background and his huge accomplishments.

Let me fill you in.

The first big band that Rolie was involved with – and made his voice and organ work internationally recognizable – was the original Santana band. The opening organ notes and his voice on “Black Magic Woman” is, to this day, instantly recognizable. It took the band to Woodstock and, ultimately, provided Gregg’s first induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The next huge band Rolie helped form was none other than Journey. He was keyboardist and vocalist/co-vocalist on the band’s first six albums. He left the band (“retired”) in 1980. However, Gregg recently re-joined the boys of Journey for their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, making it his second induction to its sacred halls.

EverythingKnoxvilleLogoEdited the past six years, Gregg has been keyboardist/co-vocalist in Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band. How cool is that? I recently called up Gregg to chat about his induction, his work, and what it’s like working with Ringo.

As I did in my recent interview with Rolie’s All-Starr Band mate, Todd Rundgren, I mentioned about meeting him backstage a couple of years ago at a Ringo show in Greenville, North Carolina, and how gracious and friendly each of the band were to their guests.


“You know what? That’s because everybody is that way. I think it’s one of the major reasons why it’s lasted five years. Have a good time and treat each other 

with respect and love the music. It doesn’t get much better than that. You travel well. You’re playing with great players. Good music. A Beatle. And, everybody gets along. It’s just so enjoyable!”

At the time of our conversation, it had been a few days since Gregg was at the induction ceremonies with the other Journey bandmates.  Since he had some time for it all to sink in, again, I asked the obvious question of what his thoughts were about it.

“Well, you know what? That’s what I always said. I’m so stunned by it. It got to the point where I was going, ‘Are they sure they got the right guy?’ I’m in there with people that I hold I such high esteem. It’s a very select group of musicians to be in really good company. I was blown away by it. I still am when I look at the list. It’s all of my heroes! So, to be added to that list is just stunning! And now that I’m home, it’s like, ‘Yeah, it’s cool. I did do the work!’ I mean, there’s no doubt about it!

Gregg Rolie color by Scott Robert RitchiePhoto by Scott Robert Ritchie“Still, I always looked at music as just one foot in front of the other. It’s never been a goal to have – just play great music and have a nice living and enjoy myself while I play. Just take it one day at a time, basically, because you just never know. In my life, it’s just gone on and on and on. When I gave my acceptance speech, I mean, think about it: From Santana to Journey to Ringo Starr, various solo projects, back to Santana IV, and up on stage with Journey, again.

“The other part is, about eighty percent of my music has Neal Schon on it – from Journey. I had to go back and take a look at it being that this is kind of his historical event. I went back and took a look at it. I go, ‘My god! He’s on almost all my solo projects. Whether it’s one song or two songs. We’ve stayed together apart for a long time. I found that amazing. Without Neal and Herbie calling me in the first place, I wouldn’t have been there. It really was Neal’s band all along. When the singer appears, it’s like it all changes. But it really is Neal that started the whole thing.”

Looking over his career, being a co-founder of Santana, playing Woodstock, co-founding Journey, in his sixth year playing with Ringo, and reuniting with Santana to recreate that past magic, it all begged the question of where does he go from here.

“I know! It’s one foot in front of the other one! Who knows? I’ve retired several times and it just doesn’t seem to hold. I get calls to do things. ‘It’s a great idea! Let’s do that!’ I mean, it just keeps going on and on. I’ve been so fortunate. Going back and taking a look at the history of my work with all the guys I met, when I met them and everybody had the same ideas. We just grew. It was all about the music and all going forward and building it. We have played to so many generations of people. And it continues. Santana will never – I don’t think it will ever stop because of the style of music it is. Blues. It won’t go away. It is what it is. People still love it. Young people get hold of it. ‘Wow! This is great!’ It just keeps going on and on.

“The best news for me is I’m like a lot of painters like Van Gogh who didn’t get any acclaim. Probably died a pauper, as far as I know. He didn’t get any acclaim until he was gone. I’m still alive and I get to look at it! Ha! Ha! I get to see this and realize how much impact the music I’ve been associated with has had on the world. Yeah, it’s pretty incredible!”

Shifting our focus to working with Ringo Starr, I asked Gregg for his thoughts about working with such an icon.

“The best that I can say is you’ve seen movies on Ringo. You’ve seen interviews on Ringo. That’s Ringo. There’s no façade here. He runs a band really well. I’m minimizing it but, basically, it’s like (going into a Ringo accent), ‘Don’t be late or I’ll leave you on the tarmac.’ It’s cut and dry just like his wit. It’s very simple. Everybody has such respect for him in the band and respect for each other. That’s why it works. It comes from him! It took me a year and a half to not sit there and spin my head around when I was on stage with him going, ‘I can’t believe I’m sittin’ here!’ Rivera told me, ‘That’s going to last about a year.’ ‘Oh, c’mon!’ I’ll be damned if he wasn’t right. I finally feel comfortable – really comfortable.

“It’s because of the Beatles – I was going to be an architect. The Beatles came out and I was, like, ‘Wow! This is cool! So, I should try this!’ Ha! Ha! It’s cool. Adding up everything, like I said, going from the groups that I’ve been in and the amount of time that it’s taken. I had retired pretty much at thirty-three and it just didn’t hold when I left Journey. Things just started poppin’. The Ringo thing came out of the blue. I was blown away. It’s been one of the finest things that I’ve ever done in my life.”

When I asked if he were made music czar, how would you fix the business – or does it need fixing, Rolie said:

“The business needs fixing. I think that one of the main things that’s happened is just in the record company side, they got a bunch of bean counters in there instead of real music people. You know, there’s not many Clive Davis’ or Ahmet Ertegun’s – there’s just not a ton of those people around any more. Rick Rubin – a great producer – has kinda gotten into Sony and has the right idea about it.

“But the business has changed so drastically because of the internet. There’s a million bands out there. There’s a lot of music out there and selling CD’s is a thing of the past. It’s really about playing live and we still do and a lot of younger musicians really don’t play live. So, where are ya gonna go? I think that it limits what can happen because if you can’t do it live, you’re not going to sell anything because it just doesn’t sell like it used to. If you sell two hundred and fifty thousand units nowadays, you’re doing really well. Back when I was doing that, you were fired. The real place to make money is to play live, which is what’s happening. Younger bands, they’ve got their own little tribe of people and they go all over the place. They can do quite well. I think that the days of the enormity of it have gone by the wayside. That’s about all I know.

“The only thing that I can say about playing music is that even if you’re just doing it for yourself, it’s so good for your soul. If you can do something like that, you can disappear on the world if you can play. You sit down and play something, you become yourself and forget about all this stuff that’s going on in the world right now – which has gone crazy, by the way. To quote Perot, ‘The world gone crazy!’ Ha! Ha! Anyway, playing music is that for me. It’s good for your heart and soul no matter what.”

My final question for this rock and roll royalty was: When you finally step off the great tour bus called life up at that great gig in the sky, how do you want to be remembered and what do you hope your legacy will be?

His answer was humble and heartwarming.

“I’ve thought about that before and it’s very simple. My epitaph would be: Great guy. Cool job. It’s that simple. It’s all I want to be known for. ‘He was a great guy and what a cool job he had!’ Ha! Ha!”

You can keep up with Gregg Rolie’s activities at GreggRolie.com as well as his work with Ringo Starr at RingoStarr.com.

 

Brian Wilson and Pet Sounds

Posted May 2017

 

BrianWilson001 photo creditBrian Bowen SmithPhoto Brian Bowen SmithIf you’re a baby boomer and/or a music nut, you have heard of – and probably all about – the Beach Boys and the various members of the band. Of all the music they recorded, probably the most lauded LP was their ground-breaking “Pet Sounds” – largely written by the band’s co-founder, Brian Wilson, and released fifty-one years ago this month.

While I was researching for this article, I called up a music statistician friend of mine,
Steve Orchard of 101.5 The Frog in Kingsford, Michigan. He told me, “Brian was always considered the mastermind behind those guys (the Beach Boys). Pet Sounds debuted on May 28, 1966. It’s probably faired better over the years than it initially did. It only climbed to number ten. It spent thirty-nine weeks on the charts and it has been certified platinum. My guess is that it’s more than one million (in sales).” He later added, “The last time Rolling Stone did their top 500 albums of all time, they had it ranked at number two. That’s some pretty weighty company right there for that album. You can see that it certainly faired a lot better over the years than its initial chart position would indicate.”

Also chiming in with some input on the music legend was Boomerocity friend, Greg Harris, CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  He had th

Everything Knoxville Logo Edited

is to say:s

“He is truly one of the greats! Top of mind about Brian Wilson: One of the greats of not just rock and roll but of all of twentieth-century music. Really incredible songwriting and also the ability convey a sort of sensitivity through sound as well as lyrics. Some of the most enduring songs of this century he is responsible for.

“Things that connect millions of people when they hear the opening notes to not just one or two of these songs but dozens of these songs. You know, when you hear the organ come in or when you hear the harmonies come in at the start, that’s really where it’s at.

“It’s especially incredible that he made amazing, popular hits. His focused studio work on Pet Sounds and on Smiley Smile 

the genius of his ear and the creativity that got those sounds – just remarkable.”

“The fact that he continues to make great records and continues to be open to collaborating and working with so many other musicians is a testament to his creative ability and just massive impact.”

Greg continued by adding, “We do celebrate and honor the band at the museum. They have a very nice footprint in our main exhibition hall as fitting for their impact on rock and roll and the fact that they were just after the first pioneers.

“It’s amazing to have a writer in a group that reaches such great popularity early but, then, can also back it up over a long period of time. That’s really where they fit in, I believe, into the rock and roll canon and their impact and influence on so many others and their creativity.

“The whole election piece . . . they were inducted in 1988. Let me take a peek and see who else they went in with in ’88. Well, you know, they went in with the Beatles; with Bob Dylan. To be inducted in the same year as the Beatles, as Bob Dylan, as Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie, Les Paul, the Supremes, and the Drifters. It’s truly a testament to their stature and fitting. I think that every artist that I named would turn around and voice their admiration for Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys. I skipped over in that run Berry Gordy, Jr. was also inducted in that year. The architect of Motown.

BrianWilson photo2 credit Brian Bowen SmithPhoto Brian Bowen Smith“So, you’ve got the Beatles, you got Dylan, (and) the Beach Boys. That’s pretty good company. That’s the big Hall of Fame story there is to look at them in the context of those people as – it’s not by accident that they went in all together. Their impact and their influence has been massive.”

Fans already know that Wilson is a tough interview. He’s not rude. He’s just a man of very few words as compared to his prolific and genius-laden musical productivity. His reputation is that his answers as short and to the point and it’s not unusual for him to stand up and walk out of the interview when he believes it’s completed. Again, he’s not being rude, it’s just how he rolls.

Such was the case when his publicist called me for our interview. As you will see, his answers were short and when he was done, he was done. And that’s just fine with us because it’s not every day that one gets to spend a few minutes on the phone with the likes of Brian Wilson.

Our chat was to talk about his current tour that’s promoted as being the final Pet Sounds tour. I asked Brian why this was the case.

“Well, we toured the world on a world tour so we’re just about ready to wrap up.”

As for what fans can expect from one of the shows on this tour,

“Well, they can expect Pet Sounds and a lot of Beach Boys classics!”

Wilson said of crowd reaction so far, “Very good. It’s gone over very well!”

I interviewed Jim Peterik a couple of years ago and he was so stoked to have been privileged to work with Brian Wilson on his last album. Obviously, many people look up to Wilson as a real mentor. I asked Brian who he would like to work with in the future.

“Paul McCartney!”

And what kind of project would he want to work on with him?

“Maybe recording.”

When I asked who was commanding his attention in the music business, Wilson was blunt.

“Nowadays? Ah, none. I haven’t been listening to any of the music because none of it’s good.”

With up and coming artists emulating the classics, I asked Brian if he listening to any of those people?

“Yeah, I’ve listened to quite a few. I really like that kind of music!”

Anybody in particular who stands out?

“No.”

With such a prolific body of work already to his credit, I asked what would Brian still like to accomplish in his career.

“Me? I would like to accomplish a rock and roll album.”

What would that album sound like?

“I don’t know. I don’t know. It’s just going to be a rock and roll album.” BrianWilson photo3 credit Brian Bowen SmithReducedPhoto Brian Bowen Smith

With his answer giving the impression that such an album may already be in the works, I asked if that was the case.

“Yeah.”

And when will we be able to hear it?

“Next year.”

Wilson has been about his personal battles and spoken out so much about it, which is very brave. When I asked if there is a particular story from anyone whom his story has helped, he replied, “No, not really. No. No.”

What does Brian Wilson love most about life these days?

“Music. I love music mostly.”

Shifting gears (and being aware of his past battles with record labels), I asked the rhetorical question: if he were made Music Czar, what would he do to fix the music business or does it even need fixing?

“Well, I think people should never take drugs, you know?”

What about the industry’s business model?

“I can’t answer that question.”

Wrapping up our chat, I asked the icon two final questions: What’s on his radar for the next year and how did he want to be remembered:

“A rock and roll album and maybe another tour. I want to be remembered as a good singer. Thank you for the interview.”

As I said: short and to the point and when he was done, he was done. No harm, no foul and still feeling good vibrations.

Keep up with Brian Wilson and his upcoming tours and projects at BrianWilson.com.