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Eric Johnson Talks Touring and Ah Via Musicom

Posted October 2018

Eric Johnson 001b Credit Max GracePhoto by Max Grace

Guitar aficionados are all too aware of guitar maestro, Eric Johnson. His 1990 release Ah Via Musicom, which was certified platinum plus and launched Eric's signature hit "Cliffs Of Dover," won the Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance and made him a much envied and mimicked guitarist.

Johnson and his band will be performing at the historic Bijou Theatre on October 10th and promises to be an incredible evening of amazing guitar mastery. 

 I called Eric at his Texas home and asked about what his current tour and show will be like for Knoxville. Since it had been four years since we last spoke I asked him what been going on in his life since then.

“Just makin’ records and just having fun playing. Just enjoyin’ life!”

This tour is a bit different for Johnson because he’s pretty much performing all the songs from his landmark album, Ah Via Musicom, from beginning to end. I asked why he’s approaching his music from the album from this angle on the road and why now.

“This is a retrospective thing with the original members of the Ah Via Musicom record – Tommy Taylor (drums) and Kyle Brock. We did almost a three-month tour about six months ago and it went really well so we decided to do a second leg to try to go to all the places that we didn’t get a chance to go to on the first run.”

When asked when he last played the Knoxville area, Johnson said, “You know, it’s been years. We’ve played Nashville, Memphis. We haven’t been to Knoxville in quite a while. Probably been ten years.”

I asked if Eric was going completely acoustic or going full-blown electric for this leg of the tour.EverythingKnoxvilleLogoEdited

“I might do a few acoustic things but it’s with the bass player and drummer, originally, that I played with on the Ah Via Musicom record. Basically, I’ll do like a short set of just whatever to start the evening and then take a quick break and come back and play the whole Ah Via Musicom record from start to finish for the second set.”

With many other artists choosing to tour with a full start to finish performance of their legacy albums, I asked Johnson why he thinks that “revisiting” is so popular today.

“I know, in our case, it was one of our most popular – probably THE most popular record that I ever made. We just polled the fans about a year ago and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to do some more touring. What are some of the different options you would like to see?’ And they said, ‘We’d love to see you come by and play one of your more favorite records start to finish.’ That was an opportunity for Tommy, Kyle, and I – original members – to say, ‘Hey! Why don’t we play together, again, after all these years?’ So, it was responding to what some of the people on the website said they would like to see. I was aware that other bands were doing it and I’d never done that before. It’s just a different theme for a tour. I thought it would be a cool thing to do and people were chiming in that they would like to see that. It kind of got us on that start. It went really well. I think it’s just people identify with certain with whatever you most famous records were.”

As for what it was like for Eric, Tommy, and Kyle to get back together and play again; whether it was different; did it breed a new feeling and interpretation for the album, Eric said:

“There’s a lot of improvisation with most stuff I do – especially the electric stuff. So, there’s a lot of room for improvisation that will be a little bit different than it originally was. But the main frame of the theme once we got together was, like, immediately, there was a chemistry that we had originally. I think certain people have certain chemistry and they’re able to do certain things. It just kinda fell into place – as if there had been no time in between.”

 Were there any surprises getting ready for the tour?

 “Just how easily it flowed. There was really a continual chemistry there. It just made it fun to do.”

Describing audience receptivity to the shows on the tour, Eric said:

“I think they really love it. We have great crowds and it was a really successful tour. I think you get known for a certain eric johnson 002b Credit Max GracePhoto by Max Gracelandmark or milestone that you do and that’s what people sometimes relate to. I think that the idea of completely shunning away from that like it doesn’t exist is not really very realistic. To live in it twenty-four hours a day and never progress is not very healthy, either. I think there’s a happy medium there where you can acknowledge something that people really enjoy while you’re putting energy into going ahead with whatever it is you’re doing in the present.”

Every tour seems to have a crowd favorite with a particular artist. I asked Johnson if there is a particular tune that draws the biggest reaction.

“I think everybody likes to hear ‘Cliffs of Dover’. There’s a couple of other ones like ‘Trademark’ and ‘Righteous” and stuff that did well when they came out back in the nineties. I think they enjoy just hearing the vibe of that record. I guess it’s nostalgic, obviously. They’re pretty open to whatever we want to play."

The tour runs into early November of this year, so I asked Eric what’s on his plate after that and what’s going on for him next year.

“Well, I’m really well into an acoustic and piano record, right now. I’m about over halfway finished with that. I’ve just been working on that for the last month and a half. Gonna try to get that done and out. Next year I’ll probably do some new touring on the new stuff. I just want to keep recording and got a bunch of new tunes and ideas for a new electric record, as well. Doing a two-volume acoustic record."

Eric Johnson Credit Max Grace3Photo by Max GrWhile Johnson will likely be entertaining us for many, many years to come, I asked him how he would like to be remembered and what he hopes his legacy will be.

“Well, I think what we do – regardless what we do – you don’t want to think that it doesn’t mean anything at all. But, similarly, I don’t think you want to put too much extra importance on it because, really, you talk about when you look back on your life, you’re going to be living in a fictitious bubble if you think no matter what the greatest art you do is going to mean any more than somebody that wrote a thank you card to somebody from their heart. It’s really what comes from the heart and what you do; what you say and think. I just think that there’s a middle road there. It’s not that it’s not important, it’s not too important. The more you realize that, the more you start going with that energy behind the curtain and go, ‘Wow! You know, it’s really about me developing myself as a being. That will reflect in whatever you do. I’m trying more and more to reflect that in my music and what I do, which is really just an offering I get for somebody like writing a thank you card or something. 

“So, I think for being remembered for just trying to make people feel good while we’re here, you know? Standing on that side of the balance system that is making ahviamusicomcoverpeople feel a little more good or more positive or more wholesome. God knows, the world needs it! The more people that stand on that balance, the more energy – you truncate that energy. Hey! We’re here so what are we gonna do while we’re here. Are we gonna use our fantastic talent or art or gift or whatever we gift we have; how do we use it? Do we use it to disperse more pandemonium or negativity or do we want to use it to put smiles on somebody’s face? Nothing more. Nothing less is what I’d like to be remembered for.”

Then, putting a bit of levity into his final comment to me, Eric adds:

“Other than that, I want a 200-foot sculpture right in the middle Austin, Texas. JUST KIDDING!”

Keep up with the latest in Eric Johnson’s career by visiting

Irlene Mandrell Talks Miracles

Posted September 2018


IrleneMandrell001If you’re a baby boomer, no doubt you remember the hit TV show, Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters. No doubt, you also remember the syndicated hit show, Hee Haw. 

The common thread between those two iconic shows is none other than the lovely and talented Irlene Mandrell, the youngest of the three famous sisters.

Irlene has remained quite active since those days on hit TV shows. Not only does she still perform, she also still records (with help by her producer-husband, Pat Holt) and is also a writer – not of songs but, as of recently, books.

I recently spoke by phone with Irlene about her latest CD, Thanks To You, and her new book, God Rains Miracles. I asked her to bring us all up to speed with what’s been going on in her life.

“Well, of course, you know about the CD (“Thanks To You”) – I sent that to you, too – a lot of that has us doing even more benefits. Before, I did a lot for military - the reason we chose to do the CD. But, I’ve also done events connected to police and first responders where they were getting awards and stuff like that. 

“We’re booking a Christmas show with my kids – a family thing since Christmas is family and our family. These days, instead of performing as sisters, it’s our kids with family. Of course, Pat and I’s blended family is fun. My son’s a drummer. The girls sing. He actually sings but likes to stay behind the drums. Ha! Ha!”

Irlene shared what the theme is of her latest CD, Thanks To You.

“You can download the songs. They mean a lot to me. We’ve spent some time listening to words and putting together the songs that touched our hearts. When I say ‘our,’ it’s Pat (Holt, Irlene’s husband) and I with Pat producing it.

“Of course, at our age, most of our dads were in World War II. That was the time everybody fought and joined together. Our dads were both World War II veterans and Pat is a Vietnam era veteran – and different people in our family. It meant a lot to us to put this CD together and to listen to the words.

“The first one we put out as a single. We did a couple of singles, first, off the album. The first one was, We Will Stand. I won’t say ‘Pat’, but it made me cry – okay, it made Pat cry, too. When I perform it live, you can look around and there’s military vets – you can see it touches them so strong. 

“Eric Horner – he’s a writer from Nashville – Pat was talking to him, ‘I wrote it in fifteen minutes when the towers fell because I just had that strong feeling. It just came out.’ I’m sure that’s what we hear in the words – what you feel.

“Then, we put out a couple of other songs off the album that we liked. Then, we decided that the title of the album should be what we wanted to say to our heroes, which was, ‘Thanks to you!’ Thanks to you for different things but when people say, ‘Thanks to you for our freedom,’ I say, we wouldn’t even be here to have our freedom if it wasn’t for everybody fighting for us to keep them off of our land. That’s what my daddy always said. 

“I said to him, ‘What do you think?’ and he said, ‘We fight to keep it off the homeland.’ If it hadn’t been for them, we wouldn’t be here at all. We wouldn’t have our country. So, it’s just saying, ‘Thank you!’

And the response to the CD, so far?

“People who hear the songs and, like I said, when I’m performing, you see reactions. The CD, Thanks To You – the single – that came out and did well on the charts. It stayed on the charts forever, which I loved. I’m not talking Billboard but Independent charts. I’m, like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I thought, for sure, it wouldn’t be in there but, the thing is, and I hate to say ‘country music’ because the group, KISS, how they defend our military – they’re very patriotic. There’s a lot of flag wavers and whether they served or not, usually people have had a friend or a loved one that served. I think they appreciate when somebody cares. This is truly from my heart. 

“We went two years from the time we started putting songs out and trying to make the album because we were enjoying listening to songs. Pat has so many connections to incredible writers who come into his studio to do demos. He’d say that we were looking for patriotic songs. So, he would bring me songs after he would listen to it and what he liked for me to hear. We just loved it! We had more that we would’ve put on there from great writers with great songs. 

“We had friends who set us up with Reviver Records. They told Reviver and they set it up where they could come to the studio and listen. They said, ‘Finish it up then we’ll put it out.’ We finished it in time for Veteran’s Day, so I could say, ‘Thanks To You’ at that time. 

“Anyway, it was a great project and, at about the same time this year, something else I’ve been working on for quite a few years – just writing some things now and then, trying to remember miracles that have happened in my family that I’d heard about before I was born that I share with my kids those that have happened since I’ve been here. 

“As you start talking to your friends about miracles and I started thinking about putting this into a book, then a couple of friends say, ‘Well, let me tell you . . .’ – even before I evenEverythingKnoxvilleLogoEdited mention the book and share a miracle, I always get one back and I would remember it. I called a lot of people when it got time to do the book and asked them if I could share their miracle. 

“I put them down on tape, so I got to hear it again. That was such a blessing as with the CD. Everything is about God, country, and family. So, getting to do the CD for our country; the people who are heroes; the reason we have our country; doing a book about miracles – some people can read the book if they want and just say, ‘Well, these are great stories and great things that happened to people.’ To me, they’re beyond coincidence – almost all of them. Some of them are stronger than others that you just go, ‘Wow!’ That was such a blessing putting that together. I had people coming to me who didn’t know I was writing the book – before I could finish that one, I was thinking, ‘I need to finish this up’ and someone would be talking and all of a sudden, there would be this miracle and I wouldn’t even mention one to them!

“I met this one lady through a friend – see, the other thing is family. I have a granddaughter that will be turning two in December – our second grandchild. Then, she did, too, and she said, ‘My grandchild, let me tell you, she’s just a miracle!’ She told me the story. Oh my gosh! She gave me her daughter’s number to call. I got that story. 

“The one thing I ask everybody, ‘It’s a miracle, regardless. But, let me ask you: were there any prayers?’ She goes, ‘Oh, my gosh, you gotta call my dad because he organized prayers with the church, where he worked, and this and that. It was in queue with the baby and they started praying for everybody’s baby. Everyone was praying for each other. That was all the stories. When I would find out, there would be these prayer groups. 

“Anyway, that was such a blessing for me. This year has been so inspirational for me – and such a blessing, that I’ve been floating on the clouds.” 

Ms. Mandrell has a stellar reputation for her generous work with various charities. I asked her to share a little bit about that work.

“I’ve done so many different ones. The one that I did a whole show for recently because Many-Bears (Grinder) is the Commissioner of the V.A. for Tennessee and she introduced us to these people who ran the Joshua Chamberlain Society for Nashville. I wasn’t familiar with that one and they take on what they can – just a few people that are so – the V.A. may be operating on them but they’re so injured that there’s no way that they can fend for themselves ever again. So, they take on different ones each year that they know they can keep on doing because they take them on for life. That one’s incredible and I love them. So, we did a show for them in Franklin. 

“And, then, before that, Nashville also has the Stand Down program. They take veterans off of the streets. There are so many good ones. They teach them. They train them. They help them get jobs and back on their feet where they can survive on their own. They take in clothes and stuff like Goodwill does. 

“There’s Wounded Warrior. We’ve gone out and have done shows. We did one in Jackson recently where I just did some songs to tracks. I didn’t actually put the band together. 

“One time, I did a shotgun shoot for Boy Scouts and Wish Upon A Star. Pat and I talked about it. There’s so many good ones right now. I don’t know. I’d like just doing benefits for different ones.”

Circling back to chat about her book, I asked Irlene how long it took her to pull all of the stories together.

IrleneMandrell002“I think about five or six months. I already had most of the stories together. I had written six or seven, actually, and I had read them to the people that they were from. It wasn’t like I came up with a story line or about things that had happened in my past like in a biography or something. I just knew all of these stories. 

“Nowadays, it’s just so easy to record somebody. Even if I knew the story – other than the ones I had already written and read to them and knew that the people were happy with it – I wanted to make sure that I didn’t remember it a little wrong. So, I would record everybody telling it to me again. I would put it in my words coming from me but, still, it’s their story. I didn’t leave anything out. 

“Like the girl I told you about that called about that baby, she said, ‘You’ve got to call my father.’ So, I called him and recorded his story about his side of it and the people who started to pray and stuff. Of course, you have to interweave the story. But I would do all of that as I was laying in bed at night and put in the ear things and listen to their story and start writing. 

“Louise’s story - I knew so much – her story about Nicole. It’s so long and involved. I was in California and then came back and things had been going on without me there. We sat for a long time and she recorded everything that’d happened. Things that I had not been aware of. 

“And Dennis Holt and the bicycle, where he had died? I was writing the book and I hadn’t really thought about him. I knew he had had a wreck. I had forgotten that it was so serious. The picture that I put in there – he was doing a song for me one day. He’s a drummer. He’s not related to Pat. They’ve been friends forever. He was in there and he goes, ‘Take a picture with me and show everybody that I’m back in the studio.’ He looked great!

“I was, like, ‘Right! You had a wreck or something!’ He told me about it and he goes, ‘Let me tell you . . .’ and I go, ‘Oh, my goodness! I need to put this in my book!’

“These things that came to me were not stories that I had already planned to put in there. They came like God said, ‘Okay, here’s this. It’s thrown in your face. You know what to do.’ 

“I was at a Republican party and there was this lady. She’s a Republican and she’s from Memphis and she’s African-American. That’s hard in Memphis. She said that she was running for the Senate. She said that things had been kinda hard and she said, ‘I decided not to do that. I was actually starting another company. I was kind of sick one day and somebody needed a certain kind of walker.’ They didn’t have one and she had one. She was just going to drive over there and leave it on their back porch. 

“On the way, a semi came and hit her head-on. She’s Charlotte in the book. She was dead. She was telling me goodbye. She did not know I was writing a book. I had only met her one other time. She’s saying goodbye and she goes, ‘You know, I wasn’t even going to stay in politics. I was getting’ outta there! It was getting really hard. But let me tell you what happened!’ I told her, ‘Let me tell you what I’m doing.’ So, we go sit down. Anyway, she was awesome to share the story with me for the book. We became really close friends. It’s like God said, ‘Here. You’re supposed to put this in there.’ That’s how easy it was.

“And the title? I was alone, and I said, ‘I’m going to have to have a title. What should I name it?’ And it was, God Rains Miracles. It was that quick that it came to me. I knew it wasn’t me because I hadn’t really thought about it.’ I go, ‘Oh! That is so clever! Playing with the word ‘rains/reigns’. The point of the book is that miracles are just raining all around us. That was just how it was supposed to be – how easy it was because God just handed it to me. 

“Later, right after the book just finished and I had signed a bunch to the people – everyone that was in the book I signed a book and gave it to them. I went to this Christmas partyIrleneMandrell003 that had to do with Pat and some people that are in business with him in music. I got it (the book) done just before Christmas and here’s the Christmas party and I walk in and it’s like the Wizard of Oz in my mind. I didn’t say this out loud but I’m, like, ‘You’re in the book and you’re here. You’re in the book and you’re here!’ It was like, there it is! There is the point of the title. That’s what it’s about.”

Since Irlene alluded to hearing from God, I asked her to expound on it.

“I’ve only heard His voice once. I figured it was His voice or He allowed me to hear in a man’s loud, strong, deep voice from a sound sleep. I was working in a charity and I was thinking, ‘Why is this person that is supposed to be helping me do this now that I brought in and I’m not there to make these decisions. Why is he making these terrible decisions? It just doesn’t seem right, and I know he’s smarter than that.’ That’s all I could think of. “Wow. He’s just overloaded, maybe.’

“Then, I’m sleeping and all of a sudden this voice just said – because I had some problems with him before – it (the voice) just woke me up. It (the voice) told me, ‘He’s working with so and so.’ My gosh!

“I told somebody else who I knew helping me who then checked out some things and it turned out . . . yeah, they were taking money.

“So, I was warned in a man’s voice that I always said was God. I’ve also read where God lets you hear a certain voice – stronger and that’s different than yours. It may not be God’s ‘voice’ but it’s still from God. 

“This one lady that I did an interview with who I had met because I was doing something for the CD for the police. She’s Major Michelle. She’s in Jackson, Tennessee, and her husband’s the sheriff there. She was from Texas. When I met her, I found out they use her film - where she was left for dead in Texas as a policewoman – for a training film saying how quickly something that seems okay can change. 

“As I was talking to her after that, she goes, ‘You know? Can I just share a story with you that you might want to hear?’ 

“I remembered that we had these floods in Tennessee. We have these terrible floods where a lot of people were killed. Because her husband being the sheriff, there was a call from a different sheriff in another county nearby. What had happened, they were doing a rescue with this guy – it turned out to be his family. The family was saved but here’s the deal that gave me goosebumps when she told me because I don’t hear God’s voice all the time, I hear – I call it the Holy Spirit within me. 

“The teenage boy was face down in this river when it was flooding. He was trying to swim. He couldn’t tell which way was up. The water’s rushing. He later turned over because he said a guy yelled at him from the bank, ‘Turn over to your back! Turn over to your back!’ He did. He was right on the surface and he could breathe. Not only that, when he went by these guys, they put this limb in front of him for him to grab and they pulled him to the bank. 

“When everything happened, he said, ‘I’ve got to meet these guys who saved me. It’s so great that they told me to turn over to my back because I was panicked.’ 

“They’re, like, ‘What? Nobody yelled anything. We were right there. No one yelled anything.’

“That’s when I got goosebumps because that was God telling him to turn over.”

There are some great stories, so I asked Irlene which story she would use as a calling card to entice people to order a copy of the book

IrleneMandrell004“The story that made me want to write the book and to keep track of the stories was one that I always share with my kids at Christmas. I would remind them that Christmas is about Jesus and Jesus’s miracles; and that things happen differently, sometimes. You have no idea what it would affect. This particular miracle, had it happened differently in this family. 

“My mom and dad had gotten married. Mom was just sixteen and she was the youngest of ten kids. I think it wasn’t a big deal that she took off with my dad. He was from Arkansas. He had come in with his brother. Both my dad and my mom had brothers who were preachers. That’s how they wound up meeting. Of course, that was cool because they instantly had the same beliefs and all that. 

“So, they got married and started travelling around to different places where they had family. They decided that they wanted to settle in Houston, Texas. In the meantime, Mom wound up getting pregnant. They did not really know anybody in Houston other than when they started working there. 

“When they went into this hospital on Christmas Eve, Mom went into labor, so they went there. She really didn’t have family there with her. Everything was fine, though, until things changed fast. All of a sudden, something happened, and the doctor came out and told my dad that there was nothing he could do. He was going to lose my mom and his baby. Something went wrong. There was nothing. There was NO chance.

“Dad was out front. He was praying to himself. He had been a pharmacist’s mate in the Navy during World War II. Even though my dad’s name was Irby, in the Navy, they kind of give nicknames. Because he was from Arkansas, they called him Arby. 

“So, it was kind of weird for him to all of a sudden hear, ‘Arby?’ That was from out of left field. It turned out to be a doctor that he had served under in the Navy. He was the head of the hospital. 

“He told Dad, ‘I don’t really know what I can do. This case belongs to somebody else but let me check on it and I’ll be back.’ He told Dad, ‘I’ll take over, but I want you to assist like you did in the Navy.’ If you think about during World War II, there’s some heavy duty assisting going on. So, they had spent their hours together. 

“That was Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day, not only was my mom saved, but my sister, Barbara, was born. The miracle is that that doctor out of nowhere showed up! God will put people in your life out of nowhere that are there to help you and you forget that that’s a miracle. Where do they come from?!”

As for feedback on the book, Irlene said:

GodRainsMiraclesCover“Quite a bit because what I do, I’m only selling it – unless I’m appearing somewhere – on my website, What I do is I get these orders from PayPal. The CDs are different. They come from someone else. On the books, I don’t care. If anyone’s weird on e-mail, that’s fine. I’ll just delete it. I went ahead and put my e-mail address to the people I get an order from, I say, ‘Thank you for your order. If you would like it personalized, please let me know and I’ll e-mail them, and I’ll sign it that it’s me. If I don’t hear back from them right away, I’ll give them at least three days and then I’ll just sign it and send it out if I don’t hear back from them. 

“It’s amazing to me how many times I have gotten an e-mail back after somebody has read it, saying, ‘It blessed me. ThanksToYouCoverThank you! It’s a wonderful book.’ Quite a few times. It blesses me when they do that!”

While we know that God can still perform miracles, we may catch ourselves saying, “I know He can, but does He, still?” This book answers that question. It’s encouraging, inspiring, and uplifting. It gives hope and, if you’ll let it, you just might feel a nudge from our Maker as you read it and let yourself be open to it.

You can order the book and CD in plenty of time for Christmas by visiting .


Ken Mansfield Talks Philco

Published July 2018


KenMansfield2018ReducedUnless you’re an ardent Beatles fan or rock history buff, the name, Ken Mansfield, may not ring a bell with you. However, he is no stranger to Boomerocity.

We first chatted with Ken almost nine years ago. You can learn more detail about him by checking out that interview (here) and searching him out on the internet (here) and on YouTube (here).

All of that was the reason for our first chat with Ken. However, there was a whole new reason to catch up with our friend. Mansfield has just released his first-ever work of fiction entitled, Philco.

Philco is what one would get if they wrote about longing to go back to Mayberry in a Twilight Zone sort of way. I have to admit that I didn’t think that I wouldn’t enjoy the book when I received my advance copy to review.

Boy, was I wrong.

I couldn’t put the book down. Ken masterfully articulated (through fiction) what it is we have lost in America and tugged on Baby Boomer’s heart strings in uncovering the longing in our hearts to go back to those innocent days.

So, it was about Philco that Ken and I reconnected. After catching up a bit, I asked him what prompted the book and to go this route and what he hoped to accomplish with it.

“Well, first of all, it’s my first fiction book. I’ve been writing this book for eighteen years. I started it after my first book, ‘The Beatles, The Bible, and Bodega Bay’ and for some reason another book would always take its place. ‘I gotta write this book next.’ It kept getting shoved back.

“I felt like God had told me, ‘There’s a time for this book and I’ll let you know when.’ So, as I would write this EverythingKnoxvilleLogoEditedbook, I would have fellow writers who I would pass ideas on to. It’s gone through about twelve titles – just remolding the concept. Then, just last year – I mean, God didn’t say, ‘Hey, I need to talk to you about your book. I think we should go with it, now.’ I just felt that it was time and some things fell together with my agent and this publisher. So, here it is, eighteen years later.”

Mansfield then goes into what the book is about.

“What this book is about, it’s about, in a way, my yearning for what life was like when I grew up in the forties and fifties. It was really an idyllic time. Now, I know some of the ‘PCers’ will go, ‘Well, what about all these issues – the racial issues and all that?’ I know there were problems. We weren’t a perfect society back then, either. But, there was a time when we would respect each other. Our parents – we all had parents, mostly, then. We were brought up with certain moral values. An honest day’s work for an honest dollar. If you saw somebody alongside of the road, you stopped and said, ‘Can I help with that tire, ma’am?’

“Today, I wouldn’t no more pull over to help somebody because I’m afraid that I’ll be beat up and robbed or something because of all these scams and things. It was a time of innocence; a time of helping your neighbor out and a time when things weren’t so complicated.

“I was just thinking the other day about when I was in grade school, how we minded and how we raised our hand and how we did all these things that we supposed to do. Life was just so simple. There were no drugs in school. There was no – just all these things that are so horrible for society.

“So, I started writing stories about real things that happened in my life. What I did was I made – that’s the true fact. Then, what I would do was embellish it with fiction. I would expand on the characters. I would take, maybe, one character and mold him out of three characters. Kind of make one person out of three people, if that’s what the story required.

philco“The first real story in the book is about an Indian lad that went to our grade school. At recess, he always run away and then come back at the end of recess – running around the fields and stuff. He would never talk to anybody. You could not get him to talk. He was bussed in from the reservation on the school bus. So, I kind of made it a project to corner this guy and find out why he would never talk.

“Finally, one day, I caught him at the drinking fountain. He got tired of me pressing him. So, he told me the reason was, in the tribe, his chiefs told them that we only have so many words when we’re born and when we use up our words, that’s when we die. Except, when we wanted to talk to God, we could go out and find God in the wind and find the words of the people who died before they used all their words and get their words.

“So, I created a whole story around that. It’s that kind of thing where I’d take an initial fact and then just embellish on it. Each story in here, Randy, is a story that has social content. God’s in every story. I don’t hit you over the head that you’ve got to be saved by the blood of the Lamb. It’s people that lived godly lives and made a godly example of their lives. It just shows stories of just how beautiful people can be.

“There was a black man in there. There was a homeless person in another story. There was successful musician in another story. All these different aspects and phases of our life – if you’ll look at each one, you’ll find Christ in each person through each story.”

I told Mansfield that two things that hit me about the book was, maybe restating it a bit, longing for Mayberry, again. Then, how Ken told the story, one feels that they’re reading old Twilight Zone scripts. Baby Boomers will love reading this book.

“In fact, what I did, was I pulled some things out because as I was writing these stories, I had such visuals of them. I was actually doing camera angles. I would describe how the camera would come in on something because it was so visual to me. But I did pull that out. But I’m glad that you got it, anyway, without having those in there.”

Is there anything in the book that is the gem that Ken hopes readers will take away from Philco that may not be readily obvious?

“This may not be what you’re looking for, but, one of the main points is I was trying to talk about when we were okay with each other. Like, in college, I started out in the music business in a pretty successful group called the Town Criers in California. We had an Italian guy in there. We had a Jewish guy in our group. A guy from Denmark. These were all guys who came into the college and met together. And a guy that had graduated years ago – older than us – the old guy.

“We spent all our time on the road. All our time enjoying each other by making comments about the Jewish guy, then the Italian guy – just ragging on each other. We loved our differences and teasing each other about our differences; enjoying our differences.

“Now, if I said, ‘The Wop in our group,’ these days, my gosh! It would be horrible! But that just set him up to comment on me. We enjoyed each other.

“The black guy in there (the book): I wanted to show how beautiful this man was before - there was no prejudice there. There was just no prejudice in that thing. I never thought about. We made fun of him and he made fun of us. He made fun of us because we were white, and we made fun of him because he was black.

“That’s kind of my favorite story in the whole book. There was an innocence. There was a time we could enjoy each other. There was a time when we – just yesterday, the Supreme Court passing a thing for the baker (not baking for gay weddings). Why don’t we accept that ruling? It’s been taken all the way to the Supreme Court. The Liberals will not accept anything. But back then, when a law was passed or something that went to court, we accepted our country’s decisions on things – our authorities.

“I think the main thing is just that we were able to enjoy the differences in each other and because we were ontheroofThe Famous Beatles Roof Top Concert - Ken Mansfield Is In The White Trench Coat On The Bench With Yoko Onobound together by a morality that we shared as a nation. Can you imagine, back then, not standing up for the flag or burning a flag or any of these things? We were Americans. We were bound together by a country founded on the principles of Christ and Christianity and God. We just abided by our laws. That kept us together.”

When I asked Mansfield if he felt that there was a single, seminal event that took us away from Mayberry, he replied:

“My mind is rattling through several events. I think there was more than one event. There was a series of events as we chipped away at things that we would have never done before. We keep crossing the lines. This thing is no longer sacred, any more. Now, this thing is no longer sacred, any more.

“Women cussing, for instance. Or, cussing on T.V. All of the things that we would have never done before, one by one are chipped away. All of a sudden, one day I felt as if there was nothing left.

“I don’t know if we can say it was the sixties; the whole free-love and drug scene may have been the thing that kind of weakened society to a certain degree. It’s kind of hard for me to say because I was having such a good time with all of that. Ha! Ha!”

I mentioned that some may pin things on Elvis or other cultural icons were the lynch-pin to losing Mayberry, Ken said:

“What you’re saying, though, made me realize that when we were growing up, maybe our family religion did not believe in us going to movies, so I couldn’t go to movies. I wasn’t allowed. I grew up under these different disciplines. When I was eighteen or whatever, when it was time to leave home, then I was able to make my own mind up with what I wanted to do. But I had this teaching – I had this discipline – I had this respect – all these things built in me. So, then, I decided if I would go to movies or not. I had something to base my decision upon.

“It wasn’t, like, for our whole life you weren’t allowed to go to movies. The growing years have been taken away from today’s youth – mainly because a lot of them don’t have fathers. We don’t have those years where we lived under a discipline or a morality.”

When I stated that Mel Brooks and others wouldn’t be able to make their movies today, Ken added:

“You look at some of those (Rowan and Martin) Laugh-In things, they wouldn’t even come close today. Some of the racial things they did. They were making fun of each other. It was funny.”

Out of the blue, I asked Ken if we can go back to Mayberry.

“No. I’ve written a song. Phil Keaggy and I were talking. They have theme songs for movies, why can’t we have a theme song for a book? We wrote a theme song for Philco. I’m going to post it on Facebook (Note: It’s now on Ken’s Facebook page). The point of it is I can’t go back there any more from here. Not from where we are. We could just never get back there like it was.”

In Philco, there’s a great scene involving a couple, Lou and C.J. and a homeless man. I wondered if the story was an “angels unawares” type of analogy.

“Yeah, you’re right. You could actually say that. When Rick Warren was writing A Purpose Driven Life, I was working on this book then. He used it in his Easter service one year for thirty-something thousand people. He sent me a cassette. People gasped. He said, ‘There was a gasp when I got to the punchline of the story.’ But, yeah, you’re right. It could be that kind of a thing.”

We can’t go back to Mayberry. We can’t put the bite of the apple back on it. What do we do?

“I think we try to recapture much of that as we can. Literature and the movies and everything is so dark these days. My wife and I like to go to movies but there’s never anything to watch. Everything’s so dark. Sometimes, we get up and leave just because of the foul language. I’m no prima donna, man. My gosh, I came out of the music business and was with Waylon (Jennings) for five years and rock and roll and stuff. But, after a while, it’s just offensive. And dirty. We’ll be watching a beautiful movie and you’ve got all this foul language and stuff in it.

“I think we can go back – some of us can go back, in a way. But we’ll not all go back. Society will never get back there, again.”

When I asked if the taste-makers and influencers would even allow us to go back without being driven into the ground with ridicule and shouldn’t we just have to make a conscious effort to turn from that junk, Ken replied:

“What’s interesting to me is: I’m a Conservative. Liberals are accusing the Conservatives of the things they’re doing even though the Conservatives aren’t necessarily doing it. They just turned the whole thing around. But, Randy, what I also think is starting to happen is you’re seeing God step in on some of these things. They’re not getting away with all this stuff, as much.

“Trump is an example of that. Hillary did all this stuff and she lost in the end even though she’d done enough to win. God just turned things around, I think on that. I don’t know what your politics are, but I just saw God not honoring her corruption.”

I queried if Mansfield felt that “the church” has been complicit in this change in societal mores.

“You can’t say every church or Christian band. But some do sell out and I watch them just adjust so that they can appeal to more people. But, what they do is they give up Christian principles to do it. Connie (Ken’s wife) was the associate director of the Dove Awards and worked at all the Dove Awards as a stage manager or whatever. She said that backstage at the Dove Awards, sometimes, that bands were worse than the rock band or country bands she worked with on TV shows. They have the same ol’ jealousies or selfishness or those kinds of things.

“I actually had a gay engineer in Nashville. I won’t name any names but had him working with a Gospel group I was working with. He started bringing his Bible to the sessions. He would lay it on the board before we would start. It just laid next to him on the board. They started getting into some crap up there.

“One day, he just took his Bible and threw it away. By their witness – here they are, the people speaking were what drew him to be a Christian and by their lives and their actions, they pushed him away. He didn’t want to be like that.

“I just see churches appealing to the masses and giving in. They don’t want to do anything offensive. They don’t want to say the word ‘Jesus’. In fact, when I was in Hollywood, a bunch of us used to get stoned and go to the Vineyard Church because they had all these great musicians in Hollywood there. Guys from the Eagles and guys like that and we’d go for the music when we’d get stoned and we really felt good when we left there, afterwards. And the reason we liked that particular church was because they didn’t use the word, ‘Jesus’. They said the word, ‘God’. They knew if they talked about Jesus, they would drive people away. They kept it generalized as “God’. And I think that the church, in essence, do a little bit of that today. They don’t try to say anything that would offend anybody.

“By the way, I did have a point in this book – I wanted people to be able to read something that made just them feel good – didn’t deal in all this horror that we’re dealing with these days. So, it’s a light-hearted book that has a Christian message underlying it – just a nice book to read in that respect. I wanted them to feel good. Each story has its own little moral.”

I wondered if there were any of the vignettes that Ken wrote that he felt he didn’t make the point clear enough. He straight-faced said:

“Yeah, the whole book is like that! I tried to do something like in ‘The Great Gatsby’ – the light across the water. I wanted to leave room for people to make their own conclusions – their own picture of some things. So, I tried to make it a little bit abstract. I wanted it to be the kind of book if you were in your class in school – your literary class and you would discuss, ‘Well, what did that mean? What did you think that meant?’ I really wanted it to be that kind of book – think about and discuss and kind of understand some of the symbolism.”

What has been the buzz been on the book, so far?

“The feedback that I’ve gotten, so far, has been exactly what I’ve been looking for. People really loved the beauty that was in there. One guy said that he cried. He said, ‘In three stories, I actually cried!’ I wanted it to touch people like that – to give them the feeling of lightness – seeing what life can be like. That there is this age-old thing – there is this goodness in each and every one of us. I just want people to know that – there’s goodness in people.”

Is a sequel to Philco that we can look for.

“I have, and I haven’t thought about that. Do you know who Andy Andrews is? He has this character called ‘Jones’ in his bestselling books. Jones is this ethereal character that comes in and out of people’s lives. I told him that Philco and Jones should become friends and we should write a book where they meet. Ha! Ha! Because his Jones is always giving wisdom to people and working in a godly way in their lives. He kinda drifts in and drifts out of these people’s lives.

“But, I don’t know. I’ve thought about it. Yeah. I have another book that I was going to write called, ‘Under The Hood.” It’s an analogy of how you don’t know how a car runs until you raise up the hood and look inside. People are the same thing. You don’t really know what they’re like until you get inside and take a look at them.

RoofTopBookCover“So, I was thinking about having Philco stumbling onto a gas station and going from there. I don’t know. I’ll think about it. I’m so worn out. I’ve got two books coming out this year. The next one comes out in November and it’s called, ‘The Roof: The Beatles Final Concert”. I’m the only person that was really there that is really writing about it from experience. Everybody else is doing research and stuff like that. So far, I’m the only author that’s still alive (that was there).

“My thing is that I like to see the best in people, so I really write about the good things about people and the nice things about them; the guys, themselves, and the feeling in the building that day and when we’re up on the roof and this (the rooftop concert) happened; what happened afterwards; what the building was like; what the neighborhood was like. The real personal story.”

While we anxiously await that book, by all means order Philco. It’s a wonderful read and one that you’ll want to read several times in order to catch little things that you missed in previous reads.

You can also keep up with the latest happenings with Ken Mansfield via his website,

Thomas Gabriel (Johnny Cash's Grandson)

Posted August, 2018

ThomasGabriel0001bNext month, it will have been fifteen years since the world lost the great Johnny Cash. Cash was brash, creative, and even bleeding edge in his approach to music and performing. If you have ever wondered: What if he were young and alive today; what if he were writing and performing music today; what if . . . a lot of things about the Man in Black.

The answers to those questions just may be in the person of his eldest grand kid, Thomas Gabriel. If you don’t believe me, give his debut CD, Long Way Home, a close listen and tell me it ain’t so. 

Yeah, really.

It was because of Long Way Home – and coordinating with his label, CashTown Records, and his crack publicist team at Blue Moon Experience Group, that I had the privilege of speaking with Gabriel by phone at his Middle Tennessee home.

I genuinely like his work and the story he has to tell. While his grandpa is obviously a draw for him, I really think his story is compelling without the sizzle of the Cash name. I'd have wanted to interview him just for that, alone. He's going to have a tremendous, positive impact on people. 

Because his name isn’t yet a household name, I asked Thomas to give us the Reader’s Digest version of his story.

“Obviously, I’m the oldest grandchild of Johnny Cash. I’m originally from California – Ventura, California, and moved here (the Nashville area) when I was young. My mother was extremely young when she had me, so I spent a lot of time with my grandparents; spent a lot of time on the road, motels, hotels, and buses and planes and that sort of thing. 

“I called it ‘The Fish Bowl’ growing up. We were in the bowl looking out to see all these faces every time we pulled into a newEverythingKnoxvilleLogoEdited city, you know? That’s kinda where I started. 

“I got into music early on. In the early nineties, I was working on some projects and felt pretty good about it, actually. I had a pretty good EP together. I played it for my grandpa and he said he liked what he heard but because of that, he wanted me to have a backup plan; go finish school or get a job or whatever. In case it falls through, ‘I don’t want you to put everything into music quite yet. You’re too young.’ 

“I just turned twenty-one and he said he wanted me to go to the police academy. So, I went to the police academy. I was a police officer right under eight years. During that time – I’ve always had addiction problems like my grandfather did. Same chemicals. Same type of addictions. Pills got involved and that caused some series of events that led to me having to resign. Soon after, I started building an arrest record that got to be pretty lengthy pretty quick. The next thing you know, I also did about seven and a half years in prison.

About the same amount of time that I was a police officer, I was in prison! 

“So, while I was in prison, I worked on music, again. It was the first time in a while that I had a clear enough head to start to sit down and really start putting my time and efforts back into that. It’s a God thing that that happened. 

“When I got out, I immediately started working on the projects that I had started in prison. That was in 2013 when I got out. So, it’s been about five years, now. When I got out, I still had some chemical issues, but I went to a rehab facility. After I was clean a year, Brian Oxley – the Executive Producer of the album – called me up and said, ‘Hey, you’ve been clean a year. You’ve had time to get your stuff together. Are you ready to hit this full-force?’ I said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it!’ So, we’ve been doing it ever since.”

I asked Thomas if Long Way Home was the same music as the EP that he played for Grandpa Johnny. 

“This album here is eleven songs. It’s an LP. The songs on it – no. None of them were from way back then. Basically, this album here is all of the events leading up to all the pain, all the chemicals, the failures, the mistakes. The dark part of leading up to this album. That’s what this album is about. The next one might be a lot happier. Ha! Ha! Who knows what the next one will be? But this one, I wanted to get all that out. I wanted to get it all out in the open and get it off.

“It’s got some songs that I wrote in prison. It’s got some songs that were presented to me from other people, also, that I related to. And, then, I co-wrote with others. It basically is the feel of everything that’s led up to this point.”

When I posited that – like his famous grandfather before him - his music may be the silver lining to his drug and ThomasGabriel0002incarceration, he agreed.

“Yeah! I totally agree. I agree with that a hundred percent! Like I said earlier, I think the prison thing – even though it was terrible, and it was devasting not only to me but to my family and everything else – but if I wouldn’t have, I think probably would’ve been dead by now.  And, not only would I not be here, my kids wouldn’t have a father but, also, the music wouldn’t have happened, I don’t think. Even if I wouldn’t have died, I would’ve been so preoccupied with all these meaningless things that I was doing.”

I had to ask the obvious question: Why didn’t his grandpa’s experiences be a lesson to Gabriel to dissuade him from substance abuse?

“You know? I’ve wondered that myself and I’ve been asked that, too. Not quite like that but I’ve been asked similar questions. Personally, looking back, if I remembered back then, if I could put myself back in that time frame – say to the time that I was old enough to remember – from age 2, on – it was just part of it. 

“It was never really a matter of, ‘Oh, that stuff’s bad.’ It was a matter of, ‘Oh. This is just part of what you do.’ It was the norm. Everybody that I was around and everybody I was related to and everybody I was associated with in the music scene – which was the only thing that I was exposed to – it was just part of it. I remember the availability, as a child, even. Then, of course, in the seventies – nowadays, if you gave a kid a sip of wine or let ‘em light your cigarette or whatever, you’d be all over Facebook or social media or whatever. You’d be on the front page of the newspaper. But back then, it was not such a big deal. 

“So, the availability to me – even as a child – by the time I was eleven, I was a daily user. I was a daily drinker. By the time I was thirteen, I was introduced to AA. So, we’re talking about in sixth grade, it was the norm for me to have booze or whatever – pretty much anything I wanted. 

ThomasGabriel0003“It’s kind of like the Drew Barrymore story. I was reading hers not too long ago. We were at the same age thing going on with these chemicals. It was just the availability. It was just part of it. It was another ingredient to the whole mix. It was the norm. 

“So, I don’t think I really saw it as – until I started having serious, serious consequences from it, I don’t think I ever saw it as something that I was doing anything different from anyone else around me. I might be doing a lot more than everybody else around me. For some reason, I’ve got this natural resistance to – I mean, I’m one of these guys who can drink a half gallon of vodka and walk a straight line. Lots and lots of practice.”

On a brighter note, Thomas describes his music.

“I’ve tried to put a genre on what I do and what the music is. I’ve got a lot of influences. I’ve got country influence, obviously. I’ve got folk influence, obviously. Granddad didn’t even call himself a country artist. He called himself a folk artist. My album is a mix of rock with some Indie mixed in with some country mixed in with some – I don’t know. It’s just whatever I’m feelin’, man. 

“I played some tracks for a friend of mine the other day. I played him all eleven songs. He’s, like, ‘Man! You covered all bases! One minute, you’ve got a steel guitar in the background with a full-fledged country song and the next you know, Pink Floyd comes on.’ Even if you get somebody who’s looking for one certain genre on it, all they gotta do is change to the next song and see if that one suits them better.

“So, I don’t know, man. It’s all about how I feel. I’ve written some really, really dark songs. Some of them I had to spread out across the album. Some of them I had to omit just because they were too dark. The other ones are just as I said. They’re about getting everything out; all this emotion; all my experiences – good and bad. Putting it down to where it’s an expression of me. It’s not me going and saying, ‘Hey, this is commercial. This will sell. Let’s try to get something that everybody will like.’ It wasn’t about that. It was about letting me get out what I’ve been wanting to get out for a long time.”

If someone wanted to catch Thomas Gabriel live, how would they go about doing that? The man, himself, says:

“All that is in the works, right now. Before I really committed to any sort of tour dates or anything, I wanted the album to be released. I didn’t want to go out there without a product. So, now that the release is July 14th, starting at the end of August, there will be a tour that will start in Nashville and going west – I know as far as Las Vegas. We’ve got some dates in Georgia and North Carolina, I believe. We’re also going to do the east coast, too. Starting in August, there are going to be a lot of tour dates. I don’t have them in stone, yet.

“When I’m in Tennessee, I don’t like playing Nashville. The Nashville Scene – I’ve done it and I could go without it. It’s not ThomasGabriel0004what it used to be. Which, by the way, there’s a song on my CD that talks about that, as well. It’s called, Twang Town. It describes exactly how I feel about Nashville. So, when I play Tennessee and Middle Tennessee – the Nashville area, I play Bon Aqua, which is Storyteller’s Hideaway Farm. I’ve got full access to it. It’s my grandpa’s old place. My grandpa’s old farm and the stage that he owned for a while. That’s home. I play there when I play – quote/unquote – the Nashville area.”

As for what’s on Gabriel’s radar for the next year?

“Trying to get this album out and, hopefully, see the world. Get around and meet as many as I can. My big thing is, like I said, I want to get it all out. But, also, because of my history and because of the things I’ve been through, the prison thing and the drug experiences and all that, I kinda see it as there’s so many times that I should’ve been dead, that, now, it really is about what I can do for everybody else. If my album, my presence, my show, whatever, helps a couple of people that are going through the same thing that I was stuck into for so long, that, right there, I think that God gave me that extra chance. If I didn’t do that, then I wouldn’t accomplish anything.”

Keep an eye on Thomas Gabriel. Do so not because of the obvious innate talent that’s embedded in his DNA, but for the impact this man is going to have on lives in a way that matters . . . in a way that resonates throughout eternity in the lives of many long after the music of life stops. 


Keep up with Thomas Gabriel at  To book Thomas, please visit Also, please check out Thomas' record label,

James Pankow of Chicago

Posted May 2018


James Pankow Cropped

I don’t know about y’all, but when I was in high school in the seventies, we had a lot of dances throughout the year. I couldn’t dance worth a darn (still can’t so I don’t even bother) so guys like me lived for the slow dance.

Pretty hard to screw those up, huh, guys?

Anywho, one of the favorite songs to slow dance to was Chicago’s “Colour My World”. The opening notes of that song had clod-hopping guys like me fist-pumping and anxiously looking for whomever we had a crush on to ask them for that dance.

Since then, I’ve loved following what this tremendously talented band  over the years as they continued to crank out hit after hit after hit. It was also a personal thrill to have caught them in concert while on tour with Earth, Wind and Fire . . . but more about that, shortly.

After the launch of Boomerocity, I was privileged to interview one of the band’s co-founder, Robert Lamm (here) and, because of an upcoming show in my neck of the woods, I was recently afforded the opportunity to chat with another co-founder of the group: their iconic trombonist, James Pankow.

I called Jimmy at his home in the during a brisk winter day. At the beginning of our chat, Jimmy and I were engaging in small talk and he indicated that he lives in the Nashville area. He filled me in on the events leading up to that move and the quality of life he and his family are enjoying there.

“I relocated the family here almost eight years ago for a better life and, indeed, we found it. We escaped the L.A. area. It was not doable any longer. My children were approaching high school age and I did not like the idea of them growing up in a third world country. It was overcrowded and dangerous. I explored options and, actually, Nashville made a lot of sense – not only for a better quality of life; a simpler life; a more affordable life. 

“I have a sister here with six kids and two brothers in the Atlanta area with seven kids. Our kids have extended family here. EverythingKnoxvilleLogoEditedThey didn’t have any of that on the west coast. So, it’s all good! I mean, there’s things we miss, you know? The perfect weather. The beach and all that stuff. But, hey, you know, there’s more to life than the environment and its perks. We can visit L.A. when we need to go back there. This is really a better life here, Randy, and I’m glad we chose to move out of that hell-hole. 

“Los Angeles is getting more dangerous by the day. And, frankly, the whole Hollywood thing; the lack of morality; the materialism. I didn’t want my kids growing up with that ethic.

“So, here we are. Nashville has turned out to be a great place. We might not necessarily be here the rest of our lives, but the kids have spread their wings. They’re safe here. We don’t lock our doors. The schools are amazing and it’s all good, man!

“I’m getting my irons in the fire locally, here. I’m starting to meet people and hook up with local talent here in Nashville in terms of song writing and stuff like that. 

“Chicago is so darn busy that as soon as I get something started, I have to put it on the back burner because I’m leaving, again. We were on the road nine months last year. The work ethic is insane! I mean, it’s good, you know? It’s amazing that, after fifty years, the demand is greater than ever. I guess the (Rock and Roll) Hall of Fame, the documentary movie that premiered on CNN. That stuff probably pumped the career even more. 

“The band is just better than ever. The band is slamming. People are loving the shows. We’re doing sell-out business. We’re far from throwing in the towel!”

I chimed in that he made a wise choice in moving to Nashville and that he’s joined by a lot of other rockers there. I also mentioned – since he was commenting on Chicago’s perpetual sell-out business – seeing them with Earth, Wind and Fire in Atlanta a couple of years ago and how that concert blew me away. 

“I came here before the secret was out and, now, it’s not just musicians coming in. I mean, there’s a hundred people a day coming to Nashville. It’s turned into one of the top destination cities. Frankly, now being a local, we’re getting a little concerned about the influx being more than the infrastructure can handle. 

Everybody in Nashville is worried about the rural charm going away in favor of high-rise condos and fancy restaurants and all that stuff. But it’s still a great place and I don’t blame people for wanting to be here because they probably wanted the same things I wanted. 

“Tennessee has a comfort to it. I guess that’s the best word: comfortable. I can do music here. I can raise my kids here. It’s centrally located, pretty much. It’s an hour and twenty minutes to Chicago. It’s a couple of hours to New York. When I was in L.A., man, it was flying across the country every time we went on the road. I’ve got family everywhere. I have a lot of brothers and sisters, so I wind up seeing everybody as I travel on the road. I get that done.

“But, yeah, the career is just leaping and bounding. That Earth, Wind and Fire show, man, I have to agree with you. We package with a lot of people. We’re going to be out – as a matter of fact – with REO Speedwagon together this summer. We went with them once before. I was a little apprehensive about that combination but, then, we went into rehearsals and, man, those guys are veteran rockers. They do it the old fashion way just like we do. Kevin Cronin is still playing his butt off and they put on a great show and it worked! So, we’re doing it again. 

“We were out with the Doobie’s last year. We’ve been out with Earth/Wind a half a dozen times. I have to agree: That is the most exciting performance I’ve ever experienced in all these years! When we’re up there together, two horn sections – I mean, it’s amazing! It’s a good fit, actually, when we’re together because they’re like the – well, they have their own thing, just like Chicago. They have their own identity. It’s kind of hip, R&B/Funk. But it’s their own, their own brand. You know it’s Earth, Wind and Fire when you hear it on the radio. Like Chicago. 

“The musician line up in both bands is very similar. When we’re together on stage, it’s just low ‘Wow!’. It’s amazing! I’m up there watching the people with their jaws hanging open because it’s so powerful. They’re watching me with my jaw hanging open. Ha! Ha!”

When I commented how exhausting it was watching EWF’s Verdine White on stage with his incredible energy, Pankow added:

“He doesn’t stop for a second. I’m not exactly a static individual, either. I like to run around the stage. Of course, when we perform together, I’m, typically, right next to Verdine. So, my trombone winds up going into the shop every week because I try to stay out of the way of his bass neck! Ha! Ha! 

“But, yeah, that guy – he’s my hero! He is Mr. Energy. There were nights where I was tired when I didn’t get a good night’s sleep and I show up at the gig and he just pump me up, man! Just being next to him energized me. 

“We actually just finished a residency in Las Vegas at the Venetian and I noted that Earth/Wind is going to be coming up and doing a residency at the Venetian, as well, I think in May. They’re kinda following the same path as we are this year. Hopefully, we’ll run into each other on the road.”

When I asked Mr. Pankow what has changed the most and the least over the years of his career and business-wise, he shared:

“Well, you know, the one thing that has, thankfully, remained constant is a demand for this music. I said this at the Hall of Fame and I say it many nights on stage. What we do is really rewarding. As a songwriter and a performer, you create songs. It represents a personal moment, writing your thoughts down. It’s a catharsis. It’s therapy, really. It’s probably prevented me from jumping off the deep end. You vent when you write songs. It’s a great release and when you share those ideas – those songs – with an audience, that’s when the song takes on a life of its own; when a song lives and breathes because it’s the audience who embraces that music that makes it come alive. It validates it. 

“I tell people all the time, ‘This wouldn’t matter – none of this would matter – Chicago; Earth, Wind and Fire – if people didn’t appreciate and enjoy and have a need to experience this. So, we’re very fortunate that we’ve had such a long career because of that. You could be the greatest artist since sliced bread but if nobody gave a damn, it wouldn’t matter. You couldn’t get arrested. If nobody cared, it would be meaningless. 

“The fact is, people not only love this music, they keep wanting more. They want to come back and they want to re-live the moments in their lives that these songs represent. We get on stage and we look at an audience and we can see these people re-living whatever song is the song that is meaningful to them. We can see them making that connection – that emotional connection. These songs have become the fabric of their lives and they come to have that communion with the band. That’s what makes it magical. It’s that give and take with an audience. That has not changed. And, thank God it hasn’t because I’m still putting food on the table doing something I love, which is a real blessing, as I’m sure you understand.

“As we matured; as we become more experienced and more knowledgeable, we’ve become more in touch with the business. It is a business. There are P&L sheets. There are expenses out there. It’s a big business. You have lots of big trucks, buses. You have support crew of dozens of people who without you could not do a show and you have to take care of their travel and their expenses. The stage. The production. There’s a lot that goes into putting a show together and you have to keep a thumb on those expenses. 

“We didn’t really care when we were kids. We had people doing the business for us, but things fell through the cracks and we didn’t know about it. So, we decided that it was important to have an idea of what was going on because it’s good business. It’s the right thing to do. It’s smart. So, as we’ve gotten older, we treated it more as a much as a business as entertainment. 

“When we’re on that stage doing that show, there’s nothing else on our mind. I mean, a bomb could go off and we wouldn’t know it because when we’re on stage, the business, the day-to-day situations are not on our minds. We’re absorbed absolutely 100% in the moment; performing these songs and having a great time doing it, man! It’s like the first night every night because it’s a different audience. There’s certain songs that everybody wants to hear. There’s the requisite songs: ‘You’re The Inspiration’, ‘Saturday In The Park’, ’25 or 6 to 4’, ‘Color My World’; the usual suspects. 

“But this year, we’re doing something that we’ve never done before. This year, we have kind of an experimental change, if you will. The second album, Chicago II, is being considered for the Lifetime Achievement Grammy and we video-taped the performance of the entire album on a soundstage in Chicago. It’ll be airing on public television networks around the country later this month. This album is arguably the template for all of the music that followed. I would venture to say that this album represents everything musical for Chicago. This is kind of the album that set the groove for all of the music to come. 

“It’s a challenging piece of work. And, this year, we’re going to be doing a two-part show. The first set will be the performance of Chicago II from top to bottom . It’s a challenging record, musically. I dare say – I’m performing this stuff now forty-plus years later – I’m going, ‘Holy cow, man! We were twenty-year-old kids and we did this?’ I’m getting this moment of clarity. 

“Maybe there is a reason that we’ve lasted so long. This is amazing stuff, man! We didn’t know what it was when we were doing it. We didn’t see the forest for the trees. We were just a bunch of kids writing down and recording what we heard. We didn’t know the rules and we didn’t give a s***. But now that we’re performing this stuff back-to-back, it’s a daunting experience. 

“I didn’t write any rests, man. The horns are non-stop. There’s a lot of very intricate instrumental work that most hit songs don’t necessarily include. It’s not hit after hit. Of course, ‘The Ballet” is part of this; ‘Make Me Smile’ and ‘Colour My World’, ’25 or 6 to 4’ is part of this, which is a rock and roll anthem. 

“So, there are hit songs on that record. It’s a double album. Wow! You get to the end of this record and you know you did some work. We’re getting great responses. We did it in Vegas and we’ve done it on some of the tour dates that we’ve done up ‘til now. The spring is typically warm-up dates. We’re getting our chops ready and the production ready for the summer tour with REO. 

“But, the folks in Knoxville as well as the rest of the tour will be hearing this album performed in its entirety. People – even the young fans – are amazed at the musicality. There are time changes. There are key signature changes. There are multiple vocalists. There are incredibly interesting moments, instrumentally, that don’t really happen for music that was written in the eighties and beyond because as the business evolved – you know, back in the day when this album was recorded – as well as the first album – I would venture to say the first three albums for sure – the fourth a live, four album box set at Carnegie Hall. It was a live performance. 

“The seventies, particularly, were a renaissance. It was amazing for an artist to be around and to be fruitful and writing to the chop in those days because you could manifest songs that were not ‘hit singles’. You wrote what you heard in your head. It didn’t have a time limit. It didn’t have a hook, necessarily. It didn’t have the formula pop necessities that songs in the eighties and beyond had to have. Record companies wanted that brand song. They wanted that niche on the radio. So, you went in the studio and you made three or four-minute singles/songs. But, back then, man, you did whatever you wanted to do, and it was really fantastic for an artist because you had free reign to be creatively uncensored. 

“So, to be able to perform this again, live, is really a trip because people are hearing the essence of what Chicago is, musically, without hit, hit, hit – three-minute little commercials; hit singles. 

“However, the second set is an hour and fifteen-minute encore because it’s all of those hits. So, the first set is a listening set – it’s a journey for the audience and, then, the second set is all hit-bound. It’s all the songs that they hear on the radio and it’s the songs that they’ve embraced as part of their lives. The songs that they hum in the shower. It’s really a great time. It’s the first approach like this that we’ve ever done. And, so far, the reaction has been incredibly positive. So, we’re hoping that the folks in Knoxville are just as enthusiastic about this approach. 

“So, they’re getting a little of everything. They’re getting the formative music that put this band on the map and they’re getting all the greatest hits. It’s a heck of an evening.

“We’re looking forward to taking this show on the road this year. Actually, we’re gonna be climbing all around the mid-south. We’re going to be doing Memphis and Chattanooga. We’re doing Nashville later in the summer with REO. It’s really great, now that I live here, it’s even more meaningful. We’re excited to be out, again. It’s the 51st year on the road. The band, like I said, is slamming. We have a couple of personnel changes. I was apprehensive, a bit, about the signature – the musical signature. But, man, I was delightfully surprised because things happen for a reason, apparently. 

“Tris had some issues. He had to do his own thing. His personal life needed more attention. So, he parted company. And Walfredo Reyes – who is an amazing percussionist and who we discovered is an amazing drummer, as well – he moved over to the drum chair. 

 “And Jeff Coffey, who had replaced Jason Scheff, also had some personal commitments, hence, he had to depart. We replaced him with one of the most amazing voices in the business. Neil Donell is probably one of the top session singers, commercial legit studio vocalists in Toronto, Canada. He’s a celebrity in his own right up there. We ran into him for the last year/year and a half. Turned out he was a big fan. We invited him on stage to sing a song when we were in Toronto. When Jeff left, we reached out to him and he was thrilled with the invitation and he is now covering the tenor vocals.  Chicago Publicity Final Reduced

“We have a bass player who is amazing as well as a very accomplished vocalist: Brett Simons, who was with Zak Brown for years as well as a studio bass player in L.A. and in Nashville. Young, good looking guy. Plays his butt off. Also plays upright bass the old fashion way. 

“The band, now, is just – I mean, I just cross my heart, ‘Thank you, Jesus’ when I heard the band at rehearsal before we went to Vegas. We had the new line-up at rehearsal in L.A. I was so delighted to hear – not only was it great, it was better than ever. 

“So, we have a great line-up with a whole new show. We’re looking forward to an amazing year!”

And the U.S. is looking forward to being a part of Chicago’s amazing year. 

Keep up with all things Chicago by visiting Be sure to check out if and when this legendary, exciting band will be performing near you.