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Bob Gruen Talks On Green Day

Posted November 2019

BobGruen CropbyLindaRowePhoto by Linda RoweAs teens, baby boomers very likely have seen the work of legendary rock photographer, Bob Gruen. Boomerocity readers know that we’ve interviewed him twice before. In fact, we’re very proud to say that Yoko Ono posted our first interview with Bob in its entirety on her website (archived here). We’re equally proud of our second interview with Bob (here), though it didn’t make it to ImaginePeace.com.

If you’ve read our past two chats with Gruen, you know that he doesn’t sit still. Always capturing our culture in images that interests us, he has done so, again, with his latest book of photos entitled, “Green Day – Photographs by Bob Gruen”.

Gruen has been a friend of the guys in Green Day for over twenty-five years. During that time, he has shot and amassed quite a treasure trove of images. Thus, the book. I called Bob up at his New York City gallery to talk about the book. But, first, I asked how the book we previously visited about, See Hear Yoko, did, and how Yoko is doing these days.

“Well, people who got it loved it. It was really well made, and it got a lot of great response. It wasn't a huge seller, but I wasn't expecting it to be, But it was very well received, which was what we wanted.”

And how is Yoko doing?

“She's pretty good. She's still busy. She has to get out as much as she used to. She's eighty-six now. She developed a problem with her knees by walking around so she doesn't get out as much, but she's still involved with millions - or dozens of projects, anyway.”

Gruen’s reputation is that he has always liked fast, loud punk bands – especially his friends, The Class. So, it is no surprise that he became a Green Day fan early on. That said, I wanted to hear directly from Bob what drew him personally to Green Day and what is it about them that allows them to connect with so many people around the world.

“Well, I think for me, rock and roll is about freedom. Rock n roll is the freedom to express your feelings very loudly in public. I think that's what The Clash certainly were doing, and I think that's what Green Day's doing. They're also big fans of The Clash. I think they're inspired a lot by them, as were so many bands.

“What I like about Green Day is they're like The Clash. Most of the bands that I personally like, they're saying something, meaning that they're saying something important. And they're not just talking about being lonely or they can't get a girlfriend, or they broke up with their girlfriend. Those are true sentiments, but they're not what I call social politics.

“Green Day is talking to social politics with songs like Minority and just so many of their songs, they're reaching typically alienated, lonely people who need, who want something to believe in. And not to believe in the band, but to believe in themselves. I think that the band inspires people to believe in themselves. I think that's the overall take away from them and the fact that they're just an awful lot of fun.

“They make great records. But they're also a really fantastic live band. They hit the stage running and they stay running for two and a half to three hours. And they just keep the audience's attention.”

Why this book and why now?

“Well, it's interesting, my relationship with Green Day, because I never worked for them and I was never even on assignment C 165 GreenDay 2009 Gruen72Photo by Bob Gruenfor a magazine for them. I met them as friends when I went with my friend, Jesse Malin's band, Degeneration, opened for Green Day. We had seen Green Day once or twice in New York, then - I saw them first in 94 at a party at Don Hill's club. Then, a little later, they had a party at Don Hill's club when their, I think, Dookie record came out. Then, Jesse was going to Europe to open for them and he suggested we come along. I had had a few drinks and I thought it was a good idea. Ha! Ha!

“Next thing I knew, me and my wife were in England and we saw Degen and Green Day three times in England. Then we went to Paris and saw the show there. After a week or so, I was a fan. I thought they were fantastic. I think that's when we first got to know each other. They're fun guys to hang out with. It turned out we had a similar cynical kind of sense of humor. And they were thrilled. They grew up looking at my pictures and they were thrilled that I was interested in taking pictures of them.

“I found them great practice because I don't work a lot nowadays. One of the reasons is it's so difficult to get any kind of access with a band and, when you do, you rarely get to own the photos and get to license them or make any money off them. But, with Green Day, I had complete access and they never asked me for any photos. It almost was a little disappointing. ‘Why don't you want to use my photos?’ Ha! Ha! But I also rarely even showed them to them. It wasn't that kind of relationship. They just like having me around, taking pictures, you know. Sometimes it was one picture in particular, the picture that's on the book cover that I knew that they were in the same building where I took the picture. I took a picture like that of The Clash on top of the roof where you can see the whole skyline of New York. It's in the RCA building where there’s a lot of TV studios and Green Day was there. I mentioned to them that it's the same building I took the picture of The Clash. ‘You could come up on the roof and we take another picture of them like that.

“They immediately wanted to do it, but it was a little difficult because they were in the building for Saturday Night Live, which is a live show. They (SNL) get very paranoid. They start rehearsing on Tuesday and by Saturday afternoon, you have to show up and they don't let anybody out of the studio all day because they don't want to be missing when they go live. It took a lot just to get permission to stay in the building and just go up on the roof for 20 minutes or so. But they did it. And that's all I did that day. And then I made up some prints.

“Later, Tre' was saying to me that they hired another guy who traveled with them for like two months. He was a fashion photographer who were taking a load of pictures with the idea of making a book that he never made because he took too many pictures and couldn't edit it down or something. I don't know. Maybe he took too many and didn't get any good ones.

GreenDay309 2009 0044 Gruen72“But Tre' said that I just show up. I'm there for 20 minutes and I get the money shot and I don't bother them. That's how I worked with them the whole time. Like, as they say, they never hired me and never had an assignment. I just went because it was fun. And after 25 years, it seemed like, ‘What am I going to do with all of these pictures? There's so many great pictures.’ So, we decided to make a book.

“Fortunately, the company that I work with, Abrams Image, liked the idea. And so, we made a really nice book. The art director, Shawn Dahl came up with some great ideas to make the book more interesting instead of just square photos. (He said), ‘We should change the shapes on all the different pages.’ Billy actually came up with the idea of having Avi Spivak do little drawings all over the book and that made it very ‘Green Day’. It makes it very kid like. And then Billy Joe sent it forward that he wrote, which is three pages handwritten on like school paper, like, lined the paper up. And it just looks so Green Day. We printed it as he wrote it. We didn't type it up. We just photographed the pages and put them in. It's really a fun book. Tre' and Mike also added comments - and Billy - throughout the book. It's really fun. I mean, any fans would surely like it. We tried to make and simple. Nothing formal, that's for sure.

As for what the band – and the band – thinks about the book, Bob said:

“The band likes it very much. I mean, the reaction I got back from them, they thought it was great. They're really happy that I GreenDay904 2004 0081 Gruen72Photo by Bob Gruenmade it. And as far as sales, within a month, it went into second printing already. So, that's a good reaction.

Gruen has photographed some of the biggest names in rock and roll. So, I was just curious as for photographing Green Day, was that any different than any of the other bands or acts that he has photographed over the years.

“Well, that wasn't different in the sense of bands like The Clash or other bands that I had total access to, where I was just hanging out with the band and took pictures when they look good. We didn't really ever have a session. I think once, when they were in New York and they were staying on Mercer Street, and they had scheduled to go somewhere. Before they left, we planned to do a half an hour out on the street. I think that was the most scheduled we ever did was just to walk up and down Mercer Street for 20 minutes before they left. But other than that, it was just the idea that I had access to them; that they always look good. As far as photographing them, they move fast, so that made me work, which is what I was looking to do. I mean, I was trying to get some photo exercise there. So, it worked out pretty well on that level. Ha! Ha!

Just as I did during our “See Hear Yoko” interview, I asked what he thinks is the biggest misperception about Green Day or the band members individually.

“I don't know because I don't get to see so much criticism about them. For Yoko, there is often a lot of criticism that people come up with. But with Green Day, I don't know. I mean, one thing that I thought was kind of funny is that people attacked them for having punk roots and then ending up playing stadiums. I remember one night, Billy Joe was kind of upset that somebody in a book called them sellouts because they played such big places. Billy Joe said, 'Is it my fault that we're really good? I mean, should we play in a club for 60 people when 60 thousand wanna come? Do we have to keep fifty-nine thousand people out in the street? Why shouldn't we let them in if they want to come in?'

“So, I think, you know, for me, they've really kept their punk roots. I mean certainly their attitude, their humor. They use common language, the same language that their fans use. But sometimes, like Wal-Mart: Wal-Mart sells about two thirds of the records that are sold in the United States. More than half of the records are bought at Wal-Mart stores, as far as music. But they have strict rules and they don't - so many bands make a G rated album. And there's like an explicit lyrics and a G rated lyrics (version of an album). The G Rated lyrics, they can sell in Wal-Mart because Wal-Mart doesn't like explicit language.

BobGruen MoMA 12 2009 DSC 1523 LindaRowe72wmPhoto by Linda Rowe“And Billy Joe, when he was asked about why they wouldn't change their album, make a second version for Wal-Mart, he said, 'Well, Wal-Mart thinks that some of our lyrics are dangerous. Why don't they just put him on the other side of the store and sell them with the guns and knives and other dangerous things they carry?' That's the kind of, you know, common sense humor that I like. Yeah. And that's why I like Green Day.”

With the Green Day book in stores and online now, I asked Bob what is on his radar for the next year or so.

“Well, right now, I'm working on a biography. I'm hoping to finish that in the next couple months and have that out next year. I've been organizing my archive. I want to have some more traveling exhibits going around because I'm just a lot of pictures here. I'd rather get them on walls out there in the world so people can see them. So, I’m working on exhibit projects and similar projects.”

Until Bob Gruen comes to your next of the woods, you can order his Green Day book by clicking on the widget on this page as well as order some of his other books by clicking on the select items, below. You can also keep track of Bob’s latest activities and offerings by visiting BobGruen.com.

Steve Lukather Talks New Tour, Ringo, and . . . the End of Toto?

Posted October 2019

stevelukatherPRIMARY2019 cropAnyone who has read Boomerocity or any of the publications who have ran abridged versions of our interviews know that Toto’s Steve Lukather is one of our favorite guys to hang and/or chat with. We’ve interviewed him five times and have met him in person three times.

When you chat with him, he’s a blowtorch of unvarnished truth and can string words together in a way that will have your sides hurting from laughing almost non-stop. Whenever we get a chance to chat with him, we jump at the chance. One such chance arose with the band’s release of their CD/DVD, Forty Trips Around the Sun – a video chronicle of Toto’s 40th anniversary tour a couple of years ago. I also want to talk with him about Toto’s current tour that stops at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium on October 8th.

Reached at his home in Southern California, Luke and I chatted with some catch-up talk wherein he shared about the rigors of life on the road. He was humorous and philosophical about it.

"Well, I'm hanging out in my office. I was just about to grab the guitar to start practicing. Then, I went, 'Oh, I gotta interview!' And, then, you rang the phone. I was chasing my puppy out, torturing my old dog, just doing normal human shit like everybody else. As soon as I dump my kids - I got a little kid now, too. I have my grown kids. I have my little kids, too. So, I dumped them off at school. And then I come home, and I got the place to myself for a while. That's what I do, man.

"I'm a creature of habit. I go to bed early. I get up early. I really enjoy my life as an elder gentleman, now, you know. I had my time in the sun, you know. I had the lost years where I was, like, 'Oh, Jesus! What was I thinking?' But you come out of the fog on the other end and go, 'Well, okay. I guess they needed to do that.' I don't know why, but I, you know, poor decisions. Yes, I've made a few.”

Luke then segued into the subjects of women and loneliness.

"I'm gotta say that I had great times with all the women I've ever been with in my life, and I still enjoy the company of a great woman, believe me. I'm not dead. But, you know, relationships scare me at this point. I don't mind being alone. I'm alone so much anyway, on the road. I've gotten used to sleeping alone. I've gotten use to looking after myself. Sure, there's the loneliness of it. It's a give and take situation being that, you don't have anybody nagging at you, either. Ha! Ha!

“But, you know, hey, whatever. You know? I chose this life and a lot of people don't realize that it is an incredibly lonely life. People think, 'How could you be lonely, man, playing in front of f***ing tens of thousands of people every night and whatever?' It's very easy, actually, when you go from the highest highs to the lowest lows in the period of an hour. Very strange to go from the stage - that's the rush. That's what we all live for. We don't get paid for that. That's the fun part. We get paid for the other 20 hours of the day that we sit in a room. Yeah. I mean, I've been to all these cities and countries, you know, for three or four years or whatever the hell it is. So, you know, I've been to the Eiffel Tower. I've seen Washington, D.C. I just kind of keep to myself. It's a weird. When I was young, I was out and about in the clubs and going, 'Where are we, man?' Look, after doing it for most of my human life, I just kind of hang in the room. Read. Try to find myself before the dirt nap hits.”

When we last spoke, Lukather had just released his autobiography, The Gospel According to Luke. I asked him how the book did and is doing.

"Yeah, man! That thing has had a life of its own. I had no idea! The most random people tell me they've read the book or they're reading the book. I get a message from somebody. It's still going, man. They're after me to do number a two, now - Continue the story. Talk a lot more about my session life and certain records that I did in more detail. I got a million stories, Bro. I mean, I had 400 pages hit the floor. So, I'm going to have to have the New Testament, right? Have the New Testament. It will be! That'll be the last chapter on the next book. That's where I get to stand in heaven and burn all those who burned me. We all have them. There must be some form of satisfaction that God would give us after a lifetime of crazy. Although, there might be a few people who want to burn my ass up, but that's a whole par for the course. Yeah, that's true. But you know, I know when I went through my crazy years, you know, it wasn't always pleasant. You know, I took it over 10 years. I'm fine. You know, I mean it over the hump. I could never go back to that, EVER. I just look back on it. I cringe. And then go, ‘What the f*** was I thinking? Oh, my God!’ You know, you have everything. And everyone was just consumed with this one lifestyle. And it was. And we all look back on it and go, ‘What the f*** was that, you know? Are you serious? We did that?’ Yeah. Well, they spent money on doing that, but wasting time of my life doing that?’”

Then Luke wound up his spiel by waxing a tad philosophical, again.

lukejwcoloralbinderreduced“I guess, you know, if all roads lead to today's I need to take the whole experience, addiction and craziness in this life, so could leave it behind me more than I like to rationalize it by saying. I have no idea if I'm totally pushed shit or not. It makes a nice hallmark card, right?”

When I posited that his experiences may be intended to help others, he replied:

“Yeah, pay it forward. Contributions when I see brothers in fame - you gotta hang out with ever so many people that are in AA, I might as well be. My whole gene pool of friends. A lot of those people do.”

When I laughed and said that I can always count on him being a hilarious blowtorch whenever we chat. To which he replied:

I'm sorry but catch me first thing in the morning after three of cups of coffee, I have already painted the house. No problem, brother. I know it's better than, 'Yeah.' 'No.' 'Maybe.' 'I don't remember. Ha Ha Ha'. That's the interview."

Our chat took place on September 11th, so I asked Luke about his thoughts about the horrible attacks and where we are today.

“I think we were all affected by that. I mean, whether it be by blood or by soul. Yes. You know, you look at today and we kind of breeze past it because it’s like driving on the freeway and there's a dead body in the middle of the freeway. You know it's there. It's hard to look at it. And I’d like to say that we're in a better place because of it, but I don't see it. I see things really - we're living in a toxic environment in every aspect -whether it be morally, socially, politically or physically. During a time when I got eight-year-old kid, Twelve-year-old daughter. My older kids are 32.”

We then shifted gears to talk about the “40 Trips” CD/DVD.

“Boy, what an excursion that has been in terms of - we've been through a . . . real bad time for us - all but destroyed everything. And you know, that's a tough pill to swallow and that's why it's taken so long to get this f***ing DVD out, because we were held by hostage by somebody who's evil and we had to live through that. And now, like it was out overseas and people here going, 'What the f***'s wrong?' Making it seem like we don't know how to do business or just a bunch of f***-ups that don't know how to release shit, right? Well, the rules of copyrights and whatnot are way different around the world than they are in the United States and North America.

“So, we had no choice. We didn't mean to do that, but we got held up at the last minute. As per someone who hates you that toto1mbprimaryreducedmuch, likes to plan that way. And then for reasons unknown and we don't even know what the it was all about. You spent so much f***ing money. I wish I had the money we spent. But that's the whole of the story. It's been a whole betrayal and the family. It just got tough. But I don't want to get into that too heavily because it's just another reason to sue me - because I breathe. Sue me because I breathe.
“Anyway, that's that. So that's why I was such a pain in the ass because we actually recorded it and filmed it a year and a half, two years ago when we started this 40 trips tour. We were already 43 trips, almost. Actually, it is 43 trips we're about to embark on our last leg of the tour ever. And the U.S. tour, I mean, this band will be dead at the end of this, at least in its current situation.”

WHAT?!

“Legal killed us, man. Percentages and lots of money burned in the backyard. They could put 10 kids through college. Wow, just as a ‘f*** you’ from a woman who inherited a billion dollars. But that's a whole 'nother story.”

So, Toto will be no more after this tour?

“Well, Toto as it stands right now is over, yeah.”

“Well, you know what, it is, what it is. And the people that destroyed it know who they are. You know? I mean, I can't tell you what's going to happen in years to come in terms of what I may do with any other members of the band or not. At this point, we all have a lot of stuff we want to do, and we have to get back and take a look at this. A lot of debt to pay off. Sad that it ended. Real sad. That's going to be like this. You know, when things were going so great. Things were going so great.”

When I suggested that Toto could go the route that the guys in Creedence Clearwater Revival took, Luke replied:

“I don't know, man. All I know is that I need to get away from this for a while. Business needs to be subtle and people need to chill out. A lot of accusations and false ones have gone around. It's like a cancer. But you know, what can I say? We're going to go out. I mean, everything's cool between us, you know. We're just going to go out and play our asses off.”

Here's what fans can expect from the CD/DVD:

“It's a great snapshot of, you know, living for four years. I'm glad Paige is in it because Dave's not - you know, his health is not great. He's sixty-five and he's is pretty much is done touring, you know?

Bob Clearmountain mixed it. so, you know, it sounds great. And we only have one take, too. Nigel Dick, the director, had to fake a few things in there because some of the cameras didn't work the night of, you know? We only got one shot. One shot. So, you know, other than that, I mean, I think it came out really well. People really seem to be digging it.”

Because Luke hit me with the heavy bombshell of the current configuration of Toto ending, I asked him what fans can expect from the shows of this tour.

“We're going to give it the best we've got, you know? We're fine. We're just gonna - we just want to get through this and have a great time doing it. We've had an incredible run of this. I mean, the band's going to go out on top of the world. You know, we've had the best year of our life in terms of playing concerts and from a financial level and everything like that. And it hurts to have it torn from me at this point. But, you know, things have a way - I don't know. I can't predict the future. I can predict being me in the future. Ha! Ha! I can't predict the long-term future.”

I didn’t want our chat to end on the sad and negative, so I asked Luke about his work on the new Ringo Starr album, “What’s My Name”.

stevelukatherPRIMARY2019“Yeah, I played a lot on it! I think I plan on like five or six tracks. I wrote one with him. The last time I wrote two tracks with him and Paul McCartney played bass. It was, like, total full circle, I-can-die-now moment. And for me, I was like, ‘Okay, I can die now.’ It doesn’t matter if it sold one copy or a billion, it has the same effect on me and I consider that one of the greatest gifts I've ever been given by another human being, aside from my children.

“But you know, in terms of getting to work with him, I'm seeing him tonight for dinner. We hang. He's my friend - a dear friend of mine after almost eight years, I'm going to be coming back next year to work with him. I told him he'd have to kill me to get rid of me now. We've become great pals. If his name was Billy Jones, he would still be my friend. He's just the coolest guy ever, eve. Ever. Ever. Everything you wanted to get to a billion times. He's just a joy.

“I mean, talk about growing old gracefully. This guy is going to be seventy-nine years old and looks 50. Every bit as Hard Day's Night funny as he's ever been. He plays his ass off and loves music, loves musicians, and has a great wife and a great life and wonderful kids and grandkids. I mean, this guy’s got everything you could ever want in the whole wide world and he's still the warmest, most beautiful soul I've ever known. He's the coolest. What can I say?”

I sensed that Steve Lukather was feeling a bit beat up, so I felt compelled to tell him that my experiences with him have always been positive and that I found him to be kind and generous. To prove my point, I told him the story of how he made it possible for me to meet Ringo before a show in Greeneville, SC, and that will always stand out as one of the highlights of my life. I even have pictures to prove it. I told him that I know that he has to take a lot of crap from people, but I find him to be an all-around great guy. He replied:

“Well, I do take a lot of crap but how do you know that? Yeah, I get a lot of shit from people that have never met me. I'm not surprised by all this shit. I've read some things about me and I'm going, 'Well, not only is that not true, but, wow, why would somebody do that? Why would somebody say that? But I have done some crazy shit in my life. And you know, I do remember a lot of it when I'm coaxed.”

As for what’s on the guitarmeister’s radar for the next year or so, Steve said:

“We're working all the way through the end of October. The day before my birthday is the last gig, ironically. I've got a solo record to do, which I'm kind of going to do with one of my fusion bands. Not fusion record. I'm doing Cruise to the Edge with that same band. I'm going to do Ringo. You know, I'm going to do some Lee Rittenour. I've got my New York Toxic Monkey band. I've got some other stuff to do. I got the second book. There's a documentary in the wind. I got a lot of stuff going. I want to be home a little bit more. I've been on the road some crazy - like 230 days a year for the last nine years.

“You know, whatever. I'm just burnt. I want to stay home a little bit. Watch my kids grow up a little bit - the little one, you know? I'll be back out working. There's a whole bunch of stuff in the wind that I can't tell you about that I'll be doing. So, it's not like I'm sitting around doing nothing. Trust me on that.

Next year's filling up quite crazy right now. Doing some charity stuff. I got this other band - I play in a bunch of different all-star kind of bands, you know, which is fun to do because there's no pressure, I show up, get paid, and leave. It's old school like the old days. You show up, you play the gig, you get paid at the end of it. ‘Oh, great! Thanks!’ It's not like you have to wait for months after everybody puts their paws all over it and takes all the profit. 'Oh, it's over and this costs more than this.' Yeah. People don’t really know this life. It's a rather bizarre one.”

Wrapping up our chat, I asked Luke how his shoulder is doing that he injured over three years ago.

“Oh, you know, it's much better. I haven't done anything to it because I was told not to, and everything they said came true. I've got movement up above - almost to my shoulder, without it hurting. And, you know, I've been working it out, but it's been almost four years and the pain has subsided. The body just sort of took it over. And whatever it did do, it's OK. I have no strength in it. I can't lift much, which is a drag because I've got a little boy that likes to be thrown around in the pool. I get my older boy to come over and play with him because I can't lift him up no more. He's nine years old - like a brick shit house, this kid’s in such good shape. I had to spend all this money on fencing – eight-foot fencing - to keep him in the yard. He's jumping up on the roof and doing crazy shit. I'm getting too old to chase the kid off the roof. I break way too easily.”

He may feel that he breaks easily but it’s obvious that Steve “Luke” Lukather is tough – both physically and emotionally. Try to keep up with all that Luke is involved with by watching these websites: SteveLukather.com TotoOfficial.com RingoStarr.com

John Cooper Talks Victorious, Tour, & Comic Books

Posted October 2019

Skillet Press Photo 001 ReducedAs a teen in the 70’s, I grew up in a church world that was, much like Elvis’, centered around hellfire and brimstone preaching and gospel music sung out of a hymnal. Not just any hymnal, but “the red one”. Otherwise, it wasn’t deemed “sanctified”.

For extra sizzle, pizzazz, and goosebumps, we’d listen to Southern Gospel quartets. They brought energy (none dare called it “entertainment”) to a crowd and left self-produced vinyl albums behind.

Then, someone dared to change things. Bigtime.

That someone is believed to have been the late Larry Norman, known for his song, “Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music” and “I Wish We’d All Been Ready”. Other artists and bands such as Barry McGuire, 2nd Chapter of Act, Love Song, and others helped blaze the trail from what was considered to be traditional Gospel music to something that a young kid like me would latch on to and drive my parents crazy with by playing too loud.

Within churchdom, the debate raged as to whether the style was acceptable to God because it certainly wasn’t acceptable to “the church”. Televangelist (and cousin to Jerry Lee Lewis and Mickey Gilley), Jimmy Swaggart, preached against the evils of the genre’s syncopated rhythms (before getting caught indulging in his own “sin-copulated” rhythms – but you know that story).

That was then. Now?

The CCM industry is alive and well on planet earth (thanks for the great line, Hal Lindsay . . . and the pun is most certainly intended). That is especially evident with double platinum band, Skillet. Led by John Cooper and his wife, Korey, the band is bolding going to where CCM bands and artists seldom go. For instance, they’ll be performing at Exit One Eleven where such choir boys as Guns ‘N Roses, ZZ Top, and Def Leppard will be performing.

Yeah, seriously.

While heading to my day job a few weeks ago, I was channel surfacing on my satellite radio, listening to the news when I stumbled upon an interview with John Cooper. I stopped surfing and started listening to him.

Upbeat. Straight-forward. Energetic. Articulate. I sat in my car in a downtown Nashville parking garage and listened to everything John had to say. When he was finished, I was e-mailing his publicist, requesting an interview. It happened within five days.

John called me while still on a press junket in NYC. He came across on the phone just as he did on the cable news station that I heard his interview on.

“We're doing promo for the album and all that stuff. So, it's a nice busy time. Yeah, but it's great!”

As John and I exchanged pleasantries, I summarized my CCM experience as a kid, how the genre was received at that time, that I was glad to see a band like Skillet taking it all to the next level. I then asked if he could give me an elevator speech as to who and what Skillet is.

“Yeah. I'm with you on of your story you were just sharing - early Christian music. I've been a fan, you know, since I was a kid. And, so, Skillet; let's see. We're from Memphis, Tennessee, originally. And my wife, Korey, is in the band. We've been touring for 22 years together as a married couple; had two kids that are also raised on the road and got our start in Christian music; kind of crossed over, if you want to call it that, into rock music. I always believed in playing music for people. I never wanted to play only to religious people. That was, you know, not what I wanted to do at all. But music was a really powerful force in my life as a young person. Got me through hard times; always kind of been there for me. And I always wanted to write music about things that I believed and share that. Skillet is a very kind of upbeat and very inspiring, kind a positive rock band. And, to tell you the truth, we had kind of carved out that niche on our own for a while. And it's becoming, actually, I think, more in vogue in the secular rock world, to be positive and to be inspiring. But, you know, we used to kind of hold that candle all alone for a long time. You heard it actually on rock radio. They didn't really dig that for a long time, but then it didn't get working. And, you know, now it's kind of a thing, I guess. So that's kind of cool.

We’ll circle back to the band’s impact on CCM and the band itself. But before doing so, I asked Cooper to tell me about Skillet’s new disc.

“Oh, yeah! Yeah! The new record is called, 'Victorious' and comes out here. I'm so very pumped about it. Of course, you're always excited about your new album. Everybody just reviewed the record, so far. Every review I've read, it's been like, you know, 'This album makes you feel like you can take on the whole world, basically; take anything that comes along. And I think that's kind of cool because when we finish the album - well, some people might find this interesting. You may. I don't know. Hopefully, your readers will. Sometimes people don't know that, when you buy a record, it's got 12, 10 songs on it, this and that. But usually, we'll write 40, 50, 60 songs as a band. So, you never really know what's going to make the record until the label or whoever, producer, they choose the song.

“So, we wrote about 50 songs; chose the songs; finished recording. If you listened to all 10, you know, together you kind of get a vibe because you never know what's gonna get chosen. It's interesting. You end up naming the record on the backside. And it just felt that ‘Victorious’ was the right name because the record, to me, felt really inspiring and hopeful. It rocks really hard. Like, you could take it to a gym and run and really do some serious weightlifting and some running. But it also feels really positive. And everybody that has reviewed it has said that same thing.

Skillet’s label is Atlantic. I was curious if a label like that one welcomed the band’s message, faith, and lifestyle with open arms.

“They've always been really great. They've always kind of understood the band. Now, I'm not trying to say the very first time they ever met us that they understood it. I think for a while, they kind of quite didn't. In fact, we were very close to getting signed by Atlantic Records in 1998, which was our second release. And after about six months, I think, they sent four different A&R guys to see us play at about six months of talking about doing a record. We just never got a callback, which is really weird because, like I said, four different ADR people. That's a lot. And in the end, they just didn't get the Christian thing.

“But then Atlantic side, P.O.D, which was kind of a known - well, not really a known Christian artist, but they kind of become became known as being religious. And I think they were kind of sort of getting it a little bit more. By the time they (Atlantic) signed us in 2003, Skillet had made four records; on our fifth album. People were kind of learning what the band was all about. And I remember talking to the guy that signed us. At the time, he was president of Lava Records. And he was like, 'OK, so what does this mean? Like, I'm signing a Christian band. What is it going to be?' I remember it hit me because at the time, I don't want to say sometimes, but at the time there was a lot of rock bands - several rock band - that were renown at the time for having to end their tours because - and it's sad - but like some of the singers were getting thrown in jail for drug possession, overdosing on drugs, cancel on half of the tour. People are losing millions of dollars because they they're literally, like, killing themselves on the road from all of that or getting jailed. And, so, he said to me, 'So, what if I sign this Christian band?' And I said, 'Well, I said, Jason, what it means is that you'll never have to lose a bunch of money because we can't do half a tour because I go to jail for drugs. I get up on time.

“There was all these stories at the time of rock stars - that they go on stage four hours late and there's riots breaking out because they're in their hotel room. They don't feel like playing. So, I'll always show up on time. I always do my time. You'll never get a call saying Skillet is really bad because it's just not who I am. It's kind of against my faith. You're never going to get crazy stuff with us. I'm very serious about my job and I'm very serious about treating my fans right. And, hopefully, I'll make you a lot of money at the process. He said, 'OK.' I think that's kind of funny. They kinda let us be who we are, which I really appreciate. And, in return, I think that we've, in good faith, I think we've been really easy to work with. I mean, in other words, we don't go and open up for Guns and Roses and start preaching about Jesus on stage. That would be an inappropriate place to do so. I let my music do the talking. I let my lifestyle do the talking and we treat people well. And it's been a great relationship.

I posited that fans compare Skillet to bands who show up late and mistreat their fan base and the grateful fans reward Skillet with continued support.

“Yeah, you know, I think these days, I think it's a different world than they used to be in. Part of what I mean, is this: Axl Rose could treat every single fan that ever came to a Guns N’ Roses concert, he could treat every one of them terrible and still sell 80,000 tickets per show because it's Guns N’ Roses. They're icons, you know? And, these days, I think it's a different story because there is a lot of competition. And for an artist to come out and have that sort of impact, if they want to have longevity, they need to treat their fans well and they need to do things. If they don't take your job seriously, they could still last while they're on top. But as soon as they're out from the top, everybody will be glad to see them go because there's just too much competition out there.

Earlier in our chat, John and I were talking about some of the patriarchs and matriarchs, if you will, Christian rock. I wondered who John’s influencers were from the genre.

“Well, there's probably a lot I had to say about that. My family was very against rock music. And when I discovered Christian rock in fifth grade, which was a band called Petra, I came home and I was, like, 'Guess what? There's Christian rock music!' because my parents wouldn't let me listen to anything with drums. My mom gave me the holiest butt whoopin' of all time for listening to a Christian rock band! I'd never heard of it! I thought they didn't know it existed. So, I thought, 'Oh! They're going to like this!' Christian rock was even worse than normal rock to my parents. It was wolves in sheep’s clothing. They took me to a Bill Gothard seminar. People were CRAZY about it.

“Honestly, my parents would rather me have ended up in prison than be in a Christian rock band. I mean, they would rather have been a drug dealer because this is the number one thing that the devil was doing in the earth, you know? I grew up in that kind of a way. I convinced my parents to let me listen to some select acts, which they really didn't like. I think they finally realized, you know, you don't want your kids doing ABC at the end. Then you realize kids are going to do some of this anyway. I may as well give in on something so I can still make the rules, you know?

“So, they allowed me. Petra, DeGarmo and Key, Amy Grant. They weren't happy about it, but they did (let me listen to them). But they didn't like it. It was a really big fight in my house. At the same time, as I was listening to Christian music and I was expanding my Christian music taste into the Christian Metal World, Rez Band, Resurrection Band, as you said, White Cross, Stryper - my parents HATED all of that. But at the same time, I'm finding it at my friend’s houses, and it was the 80s.

“So, you know, metal was pop, basically, so you couldn't go to the mall without hearing Bon Jovi or Metallica or Motley Crue, or Iron Maiden. All of that music also became very influential to me, even though I didn't own it. I knew all the words. I knew all the songs. At home, I only listened to Christian music. I loved Christian music. That's also why I've always been so faithful to the genre. I never forgot where I came from and I'm proud of Christian music because it was always there for me. I learned a lot about my faith from Christian music. Petra - I mean, yeah, if you didn't have a Bible and you listened to all the Petra records, you’d know a lot about the Bible."

I’d responded to John by saying that it’s amazing when you consider that in the older hymns and gospel songs, one might argue that the listener didn’t get much biblical education from the music. Cooper responded:

"Interesting. Yeah. You know, the whole music thing never made sense to me. I honestly always just kind of viewed it from a perspective . . . I don't know . . . I just think that great Bible theology - this is going to sound like an oversimplification, but I believe it - great Bible theology can answer all of your questions in life. And every everything that you're fighting about, look at what the Bible says about it.

“I feel that, if people just done that was rock and roll, it would have become really clear that what our parents didn't want us doing was partying and having sex outside of marriage and doing drugs. It wasn't really that they didn't want us hearing a drumbeat. And it's not really that it makes any sense for Satan to create music. Satan doesn't create music. He distorts music. It was just such a dumb thing for our parents to be so crazy about. I honestly think it was a lack of Bible reading. I think it was, ‘We want our kids to look right and look respectable and act respectable. We don't like that long hair.’ It was all about just dumb stuff, if you ask me. But whatever."

Regarding the feedback from “the church” - or at least members, the kids, anybody that maybe even be outside of the faith and looking in at what Skillet is doing, I asked what kind of feedback they are were getting in all that.

“I think, in general, Skillet just has great fans; that people just understand Skillet. I know that there have been people that haven't and, I'm sure there's been people who thought, 'That's just too loud to be Christian music', and this and the other. But, for the most part, even today, a lot of what I call ‘the gatekeepers’, which is going to be, you know, Christian radio, Christian promoters, stuff like that - most of these people are - they grew up with Christian music. So, they're not like they're not like old people. They're not, like, 'I don't like all that young music', you know? They grew up with Zeppelin and they grew up with Hendrix and Van Halen and then discovered Christian music; a lot of that. So, people kind of tend to get it.

“Then, on the mainstream side, I guess Skillet's not really a preachy band. We're a band that we're very vocal about our faith, but we don't preach at people. And people kind of just seem to accept that, like, 'This band is cool.' They know that we're authentic and we will always treat people good and always play with bands. We've played with Slayer two nights ago. We play with bands who think very differently than us about the world and we're cool with that. So, we've had a pretty good little run. I think some of it is probably in what defines Christian music. I think there is some people that go that the meaning of what it means to be a Christian band might be different than it was 20 years ago, for me personally. And I think that that's OK. I think there's room for all of those philosophies in my book.”

As mentioned at the beginning of this piece, Skillet is performing at Exit One Eleven in October. So, I asked what can fans expect from that show and any of the other shows during this tour.

"Oh, yeah! I can't wait! You know, that album's coming out, which means when we go on tour, we'll be playing brand new music, which I love. It's always fun to play new songs. And what people can expect from Skillet is as an incredibly energetic show. Every time somebody reviews a concert, they go, 'Man! This band's got a lot of energy!' It's just a passion for the music. Passion to put on a show. To me, it's all about connecting with the fans. One of the funniest things I read in a review of a Skillet concert reviewed is it said, 'I don't know how to describe how I felt about the Skillet show. But at the end, I felt like I wanted to do community service.' That was absolutely hysterical. He's like, 'I don't know why this show made me feel better and maybe want to be a better person'. I was just dying because we kind of get a lot of that. I don't really know why that is. But there's something about the vibe of the Skillet fans at the concerts that people always describe is like very uplifting. And I think that's kind of cool. That's what we're known for.

What’s on Skillet’s radar for the next couple of years?

"Well, probably, with this album coming out, it's going to be really busy touring, but also releasing a graphic novel, which sounds kind of silly. But I love comic books. I grew up with comics and graphic novels, and I've always dreamt of doing one. We're releasing it three weeks after our album releases, and we're going to be promoting that at some of the Comic-Con events. We recorded an exclusive song for the book, too. The book is called Eden and it's just a cool kind of science fiction - supernatural kind of a book and about a post-apocalyptic world. And we're all in a race to find the gate that takes us to paradise. That's kind of the idea. And it's pretty exciting. So, we're gonna be promoting the comic book, promoting the new album and touring - touring the world. We have tour dates from now to December 15th – which is our last one for the year.

Wrapping up our chat, I asked John the question I often ask artists and that is: When you step off the great tour bus of life up at that great gig in the sky (to borrow from Pink Floyd), what do you hope your legacy will be and how do you want to be remembered?

“Well, let's see. I mean, I think the only thing I really care about, honestly, is knowing that I lived my faith. That's really all that matters to me: knowing that I lived my faith, that I told people about it and wasn't a hypocrite. That's something that I just could not live with: saying that I believe one thing and acting like another thing. We all make mistakes, of course. Then we repent and we try to become better people. I'm not talking about not having regrets. I'm talking about going, 'I went for it, did the best I could and held strong to that.' I never, never want to be embarrassed of who I am; my faith, my God, the way I live my life. And that's really all that I want. I'd like to give people hope - the same hope that I have, if I can - through my music; through my relationships, the words I say. That's what I want.”

Undoubtedly, we’ll be hearing about Skillet for many years to come. You can keep up with John and the band by signing up for their newsletter at Skillet.com. While you’re there, you can purchase tickets for their Exit 111 gig or other shows on their tour.

Honey County Talks Kevin Costner, Yellowstone, and Their Latest Music

Posted October 2019

HoneyCounty001If you heard that a band had a new single featured in HBO’s Yellowstone series; was premiered by Taste of Country; had their music video debut by Billboard; were featured in such major publications as Billboard, Huffington Post, LA Times, Rolling Stone, and more; their tunes were in rotation on Radio Disney Country and KFRG as well as playlisted on Amazon Music, Apple Music, and Spotify; it would be easily understood if you assumed we were talking about an established, major country music act.

However, I am talking about the hottest new country trio to grace the charts and airwaves: Honey County. And, boy (or, girl, as the case may be), are they commanding lots of attention! Comprised of Dani Rose, Devon Jane, and Katie Stump, Taste of Country listed them as one of five artists to watch. Rolling Stone said that they are one of the Top 10 Acts You Need To Know. They have shared stages with a host of major country artists and playing festivals all across the fruited plain. All of that has happened in just over a two-year time frame.

When word broke that their music was being featured in Kevin Costner’s “Yellowstone”, the opportunity arose to chat with all three of them. This came on the heels of meeting them at a performance in Nashville. We chatted via a conference call since they were scattered around Southern California between homes and a recording studio and I in downtown Nashville.

When I asked for one of them to give readers an “elevator speech” as to who Honey County is and what they sound like, Katie responded:

“We are a female trio that loves to rock out on stage and write songs that touch people. And we love harmonies and we love guitar solos and everything in between. I mean, we get Dixie Chicks a lot because we are three girls. But I honestly don't think we sound anything like it. We love Little Big Town and Keith Urban and Dan Shea and all these awesome groups coming out. But I mean, I think Little Big Town, overall, is our overall favorite. The songs that they choose, and their arrangements and their lives show everything that they do. It's just so tasteful. And we'd love to be like them.”

With their career almost immediately becoming a whirlwind, I asked what some of the biggest surprises to them has been, so far. Dani replied:

“I think I feel like every time we get booked for a show or festival or a tour or we get a song in a TV show or, every single time we do something new and it's received well, it's always a surprise because we have no idea how it's going to be received or what we're going to be working with. I would say the biggest - maybe not surprise - but the biggest honor that we received is that we didn't know we were going to be going into this year was working with Stagecoach on the song, Country Strong. And that was something that was a bit risky for us to do. Because when we were obviously honored to do it, we had no idea how it was going to be received.

I was struck by how quickly Honey County has garnished so much positive media exposure. I asked what they attributed that to. Katie shared:

HoneyCounty002“Dani is the hardest working person I have ever met in my life. And we also have a manager who is the second hardest - well, they are both equally the hardest working people I've ever met in my life. They really hustle and work hard to push everything that we do. And I’m just blown away by how much they do for us. And we do all of this without a label. It's just, you know, in-house. I think that they don't give themselves enough credit, but they really work as hard as they can.

As for how the Costner/Yellowstone opportunity manifested itself, Dani said:

“About, I would say five plus years ago, I was at a party in Los Angeles - at one of our girlfriend’s birthday parties - and I met a really funny woman. We shared this love of dogs. We were just talking about animals and dogs in particular, and she was telling me about her dog that she loved. And we just kind of bonded over that. And it turned out that she was a music supervisor. She asked me about what kind of music I was doing. I was like, ‘Ah, you know, I'm starting this band’, et cetera, et cetera. And one thing led to another.

“We became friends. She was looking out for our music and she became a fan. Her name is Andrea von Forester. She reached out and she said, ‘Hey, I have a place for your music. I really love Honey County. Send me all your music. And I'm working on this new show called Yellowstone with Kevin Costner.’ This was two years ago. So right before or just as Katy was joining the band and I was like, ‘Oh, this is pretty rad’.
“I didn't hear anything for two years. And, then, about six, seven months ago, she reached out and she said, ‘Hey, I finally found a place. It's in the second season of Yellowstone. And it's perfect because we're just starting to get a lot of attention on this TV show. And I think it'll be a really great spotlight for you guys.’ And we're, like, ‘Yes!’

“And the great thing was, she didn't find a place for just one song. She found a place for two songs also. It was really special. I mean, bands don't get to have two songs in an episode. You know, they're lucky if they get to have one. So, we were very, very lucky.

“One of them is called, Love Someone, which is amazing. It's a beautiful song that Kati had written. And it was also featuredon the final season of Nashville. It just goes to show you how credible that song is. And, then, the other one was a brand new one called, Under Your Influence, which we just released. We decided we hadn't released that song yet. We really loved it. We were kind of sitting on it and we needed a reason to release it. And this was as good as ever of a way to release that. We put it out with our buddy Spencer Crandall, who's featured on the track.

“it was really pretty surreal. I mean, we've had songs on TV shows, like I said, Nashville, and we've had songs, the NFL and on HBO's True Blood. But we'd never had a song with somebody like Kevin Costner on a series. And, so that was pretty cool. I think that also goes back into the ‘any surprises’ (question). That was a big surprise, I guess.

As for feedback on their music – especially their latest single, Katie said:

“With the latest single we've had some awesome feedback. I mean, we just released it. So, it's been a couple days, but so far, it's been really exciting. We've gotten over 5000 streams on Spotify, even more than that on Apple music. We were added to the hot tracks on Apple, which is a huge honor. You know, we're really grateful for the team over there. We're going to be talking with Rolling Stone later today about the song and the placement in Yellowstone.

“So, it's been really cool and the scene that we've had it in in the series, Yellowstone, was really pretty epic because you have this racial issue going on. This woman, this Native American woman, is in a very snooty store in the strip somewhere in Montana. This store owner, the snooty store owner, sees her and judges her based off of the color of her skin and her race. She says that she's been shoplifting when she knew that she wasn't shoplifting.

“So, it's in this very heartbreaking scene. You have the police coming in and they're like, ’Well, were their cameras/’ and the shop owner says, ‘No, there's no cameras, but we're going to have to strip search her anyway.’ You've got our song playing in the background and is singing, Under Your Influence. There's so many messages going on at the same time. It was is pretty surreal to hear that. The response has been really exciting. We're so excited for more people to hear it as the days continue.”

Katie shared this about Honey County’s future studio work:

“We are back we are back in the studio. I've we've been working really hard on some new songs. All three of us. I'm actually at a mixing session right now to get one of our new songs mixed. We’re hard at work, getting new material together that we're really, really excited about. It's been so much fun to put it all together. That's what's my that's on my radar. We've got some really cool shows coming up.”

Devon added, “Yes! And we’re going to Australia in November - a new country festival called Hometown Fest, which are stoked about.”

And it is quite safe to say that when you listen to Honey County, you will be stoked about them, too. Check them out in more detail at their website, HoneyCounty.com, where you can also order their incredible music.

Michael W. Smith Chats About His Career, Tour, & the State of CCM

Posted September 2019

MichaelWSmith003bIt’s hard to believe, but Michael W. Smith has been providing the world his incredible music – both Christian and mainstream – spanning five decades. His mark on the soundtrack of humanity is as deep as his commitment to his faith and to his family. From his first hit, “Friends”, to his sell-out concerts and Christmas extravaganzas, Smith is still a favorite among Christian and mainstream fans, alike.

Michael will be performing in East Tennessee (Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Sevierville) this month. He chatted with me about his career, his take on the music industry, and what fans can expect from his area shows.

“I think music, in general, ebbs and flows. And while it’s always adapting and changing – there seems to be some “patterns” and sometimes different styles come back into vogue. When I started writing songs – we were really “storytelling”. In more recent years – with Worship music being dominant – the lyrics have become more vertical. I think there’s room for both.”

When pressed for his thoughts as to the best and less-than-best changes within CCM, he added, “Well – the quality has to be there to be competitive. In the early MichaelWSmith001days I think quality of the recordings, of the mixes, etc., might have taken a backseat to content. But for a record to be truly great – I think the quality of the recording has to match the quality of the content.”

Approaching the subject from a slightly different angle, I asked Michael what he would do to “fix” the Christian music business if he was made its “czar”.

“At the risk of taking a little heat – I’d say – I’d push for radio to have more of an open mind. Quit relying on “testing” and go back to the days when a PD would take a chance on a song, he or she believed in. So much of radio has become formula and, I believe, it’s lost its uniqueness and, in some senses, it’s soul.

As I talk to fans around the world about various artists, it is striking how different people view different artists in different ways. In the case of Michael W. Smith, most people see him as an artist who writes, records, and performs Christian music. Still others see him as one who writes musical scores for movies. I asked him how he would describe his work.
“I’m not “resting”. I’m not looking back. Even this far into my career – I think the best days, the best music can still be ahead of me. I want to make better music than I ever have before. That’s what drives me.

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, Smith is making several appearances in East & Middle Tennessee (the Boomerocity stomping grounds). Naturally, fans for those shows - as well as the rest of the stops on that tour - would want to know what they can expect from the different shows. So, I asked him.

“The Nashville show is with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra and it’s a Christmas Concert. Marc Martel will be with me. He’s amazing, as is the Nashville Symphony, so I know that’s going to be a great show! The show in Sevierville is actually a Women’s Conference. That’s actually a really fun audience to play for.”

As a successful singer, songwriter, recording artist, and movie score writer, I was curious if there was anything Smith hasn’t yet done, musically, that he still wants to do.

I had the good fortune to score some movies and I really loved the opportunity to score for a major release. My son is a brilliant composer. So, to score a film with him MichaelWSmith002would be great. I’ve also been writing an original Symphony piece that I hope to, someday, debut with the Nashville Symphony and then take it on the road!

When asked what is on his musical radar in the next couple of years, his answer was transparent:

I’ve never been very strategic about writing. Someday – usually when I’m not expecting it – I’ll get on a creative streak and start writing music. It’s almost like I can’t control it – it just comes. And it might be Pop, it might be Worship, it might be a symphony piece. Sometimes it’s all of the above! But eventually – some line or some melody grabs my attention more than the others - - and that’s the direction I go. It’s always been that way for me.

I asked Michael how he hoped to be remembered and what he hoped his legacy will be, he replied: I’ve been asked this a few times and my answers always the same: I want to be remembered as a guy that loved God, loved his wife and family and write some songs.

You can see if Michael W. Smith is going to be in concert on his website, MichaelWSmith.net, as well as purchase tickets there.