Derek Trucks

Posted January, 2017

tedeschi trucks band 001 photo creditduo general 3For the uninformed, the Tedeschi Trucks band is one of the best blues rock jam bands touring the planet today. You can take that to the bank so just go right ahead and buy their three studio albums (Revelator, Made Up Mind, and Let Me Get By) and their live album (Everybody’s Talkin’).

For a little background, the band is led by husband and wife team, Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks, and are backed by ten (originally eight but things have a way of growing in a band like this) of the best musicians jamming today. Derek was considered a child prodigy on the guitar not long after buying his first six string when he was seven years old.

In the years that followed, Trucks made a name for himself with his own band as well as playing with the likes of Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy (when Derek was thirteen), Stephen Stills, Bob Dylan, and many others. His reputation also led to repeated guest spots in the Allman Brothers band, who his uncle, Butch, co-founded. The guest spot ultimately led to a permanent position from 1999 until the band split in late 2014.

Susan Tedeschi is an amazing blues guitarist in her own right and is the primary lead vocalist in the Tedeschi Trucks Band.  If you haven’t heard her sing and play ‘Midnight In Harlem’, you’re missing out on a real treat.

But I digress.

Susan is a Berkley grad and her talents led her to opening gigs with icons like The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, the Allman Brothers, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, John Mellencamp, and many others. As the Tedeschi Trucks Band, Derek, Susan, and the band have delighted audiences all over the world and even at the White House.  Along the way, they’re building an ever-growing fan base that is sure to serve them well in the years to come.

I recently chatted by phone with Derek just before the band performed their last of three shows at Boston’s Orpheum Theater. I wanted to talk about their latest CD, Let Me Get By, and their current tour. The status of the latter is what I first asked him about.

“It’s been good, you know? Tonight’s our last show of the year. We’ve been hittin’ it hard this year. It’s been a great year but it’s been pretty intense. We’re pretty excited – maybe go out with a bang tonight.”

When I followed up with asking how this tour was different from past tours, Derek said, “The one we’re on right now is three shows in Boston at the Orpheum. I feel like the last six months – really, in some ways, since we put out this last record – the band’s just in a better place musically, personally. I think we’re in a really healthy spot at the moment. Every tour seems to get a little better. There’s been one or two runs this year that we played our best stuff to date. I feel like we’re on the right track.”

tedeschi trucks band 002Shows from bands like the Tedeschi Trucks Band tend to be very fluid, spontaneous, and (obviously) improvisational. Still, I asked Trucks what fans could expect from this run of shows, including the upcoming visit to Knoxville on January 26.

“You know, we really try to keep the material kind of flowing through the band. We really don’t know until we get out. Before we head out on the next run we’ll have a little rehearsal. Try to add some new tunes; try to write some tunes on this little break that’s coming up. But, you know, it’s a pretty healthy mix of all of the records we’ve made and just a pile of tunes that we’ve played, whether they’re covers or whatever from over the years; stuff from our old bands. It’s a pretty constantly changing set list.  that we have.

“We just did the Beacon Theatre not too long ago and I think over the course of six shows we did close to seventy tunes – something like that. We try to keep ‘em movin’.”

Any chance of those shows being recorded for future release?

“We record all of our shows – at least the last six months or so. Yeah, we’re working on a DVD from our Oakland shows at the Fox Theater. We’re gettin’ close to that. (We’ll) Do a live record, too. I’m thinking about doing a Beacon Theatre live record somewhere down the road.”

The band’s new CD, Let Me Get By, is a phenomenal body of work – probably their best yet. I wondered how much of the new album would be performed during this tour.

“We play most of those tunes – at least two or three of those tunes a night but . Like I was saying, it does shift quite a bit from show to show. Those tunes have kind of taken on a life of their own. They’ve been a lot of fun to play.”

Obviously proud of – and excited about – Let Me Get By, Derek continued about the disc.

“You know, I do think that record was a turning point for the band. It was all done in-house. We wrote all the tunes as a group. It was a great moment for the band and I feel like we got better, musically, coming out of making that record. So, it was a pretty big turning point for us. I kinda feel like we’re ready to get back in and hit another one. WI do think that we’ll look back on that record as being kind of when the band became realized.

“There’s a lot of stuff on the record that I still enjoy listening to. I don’t put on our records and listen often, but I do go back – we’re mixing a live record now and I go back and listen to the album just to check in on it to see how the mixes hold up. Something feels really natural, to be honest about it.”

As for which song he would point people to as the calling card for the entire CD, Trucks said:

“Let’s see. There’s a few that I can say that we enjoy playing a lot right now. ‘I Want More’ and ‘Let Me Get By’. I loved recording the tune, ‘Hear Me’. We really haven’t played that one live yet. For some reason, those three seem to stick out.”

Artists are always nervous about what their fans’ reception to a new project is going to be. I asked Trucks what fan reaction has been like for the new material.

“I think that record and, really, this year there’s been a big wave. We can feel it. You look out in the crowd when you play some of those tunes you can tell that people know the music. They know the record. We’ve had that a little bit in the past, but I feel that everything kind of ratcheted up a little bit. I think Iit’s the most well received of anything we’ve done as a band.”

“I think the fact that we have our own studio and this was the first record we did tedeschi trucks band 003 photo credit tedeschi trucks band band general use 1everything on our own. We were between record labels. It’s just all in-house. From top to bottom we just did it the way we wanted to do it. That’s a rare thing. You don’t get that chance very often. We’re somehow avoiding being micro-managed.” 

The sign of a great album or performance is when a band or artist leaves his fans craving for more. That’s how I feel after devouring Let Me Get By so I asked if there were already other albums in the works. 

“Yeah, we have a live record that’s close. We’re probably a few days away from finishing that. That’ll be next and, then we’re heading back into the studio sometime on this next break to start writing and digging in on a new record. But that will probably be a little further down the road.” But there’s definitely a live record that’s pretty much finished.”

As for what’s on the band’s radar for the next year to five years, Derek says:

“Next year, we’ll probably play a few less shows than we did this year, but we’re still going to be hitting it hard. We’ll have a live record and then the DVD coming out. With a band this big, you have to tour. Five years out, who knows? I feel like this band is in a really healthy place. I can see it steadily growing – musically growing and charging down the road. If it’s still inspired and music keeps rollin’, I see no reason to change course.

Wrapping up our chat, I asked Derek Trucks how he hopes to be remembered and what he hopes his legacy is. Like most musicians, it’s about the music.

“You know, I think everything that I’ve done up to this point and with this band, I think that I just want people to appreciate the integrity. WI feel that we’ve never pandered. I hope that it never gets cynical – that we never get out there and are just playing and going through the motions. AI think that as long as you keep it honest and you try to tell your story and dig deep and do your thing, I’m not too concerned with how it’s perceived. But I do hope that, at least, that sentiment will ring true.”

Keep up with the Tedeschi Trucks Band at and complete your personal library of their work by clicking on any of the widgets, below.


Rich Robinson In Flux

Posted December, 2016

richrobinson credit alysse gafkjen001 cropPhoto by Alysse GafkjenIn the fall of 1990, I was driving from Raleigh, North Carolina, through the mountain of East Tennessee/Western North Carolina, listening to a static riddled FM rock station. The night was dark and Interstate 40 was steep and I was pushing to get to my grandmother’s place after a week of training.

After enjoying song after enjoyable, familiar song, something came blasting out of the car’s speakers that I hadn’t heard before. I turned the volume up and tuned my ears in to this fabulous tune I was hearing. The band was a new group called The Black Crowes and the song was a brilliant cover of the Otis Redding hit, Hard to Handle. Like millions of people that year, I became an immediate fan of the Georgia based band.

Formed by brothers Rich (on guitars) and Chris Robinson (vocals), the Black Crowes enjoyed twenty-five years of success (including over 30 million albums sold) before the brothers decided to go their separate ways. One of the results of that parting is Rich’s new CD, Flux. Raw and gritty, the album is what rock is all about.

It was about that album that I had the opportunity to chat by phone with Rich while he enjoyed a day or two at home during a tour break. Responding to my question about fan reaction to the album and supporting tour, he said, “So far, it’s been a really good response. Everyone’s been really cool. Crowds have been really enthusiastic about the new songs so it’s been great! I think that people feel that it all works together. I try to look at everything thing as a large piece, you know what I mean? How does this fit into the overall spectrum of what I’ve done? To me, I think it fits right in line with everything and, again, I’m really happy with it.”

Regarding how the work on Flux was different than all of the other albums he worked on, Rich responded, “I’ve always written the way I write. I go in and the music kind of dictates what it’s going to be – the song that comes dictates what it’s going to sound like; what’s going to happen, and that’s a cool thing to me. The way I create always comes down to what’s this going to bring out, ultimately. Just kind of get in there and see how it goes and not try to over think it.”

Technology has had a tremendous impact with some artists as to how they work and record in the studio. I asked Robinson if it had affected his approach to recording.

richrobinson credit alysse gafkjen002Photo by Alysse Gafkjen“No, it doesn’t because I just do it how I’ve always done it. There’s really no difference as far as how I write. This record, in particular, I did go in with less solid songs. I had a ton of parts that I just amassed but I didn’t want to finish them. There’s a sense of urgency in the studio that you have to deal with when you have a finite amount of time. So, you have to make decisions. Sometimes, if you have all the time in the world, you don’t have to make a decision. But if you’re in there and you’re like, ‘Look, I’ve got to do this in one day. What’s this going to look like? How is this going to be?’ Then I think that can really push along the creative process. It forces the focus.”

I know that picking a favorite song you’ve written is liking being asked to pick your favorite child so I’ll ask a slightly different question: Which song from Flux would you point to as a calling card to people to entice them to purchase the CD?

“I have no idea! Songs are songs and the interesting thing about all of my records, really, is that it’s all very different. Certain people will say, ‘Ah! That’s my favorite song!’ – people that I talk to. It’s what the person chooses, you know what I mean?”

You’re touring now, correct?
“It’s going good. We’re getting ready to wind it up – the first leg. That’s kinda coming down to the end but we have another leg starting. So it’ll be cool.”

Are you touring with the same group of guys you recorded the album with?
“Yeah! In the studio it was me and my drummer, Joe Magistro, and keyboard player, Matt Slocum. On tour, I also have Svien Pipien from the Black Crowes playing bass. And, then, I have a friend of mine from Argentina named Miko Bere - a really good guitar player and a really good guy. So, yeah! That’s who we’re touring with!”

How are the crowds responding to you this tour?
“Really enthusiastically!”

For the gear heads out there, a couple of guitar questions:

Do you mind if I ask how many guitars that you own?
“I think about fifty or sixty. I don’t know. I haven’t really counted in a while. I think there’s about fifty or sixty.”

What do you consider to be the holy grail of guitars and do you own it?
“Um, I don’t think there really is a holy grail of guitars. I think that guitars have their own personality and I think that people can connect with different guitars, you know what I mean? So, richrobinson credit alysse gafkjen001I don’t necessarily think that one is better than the other. Again, it’s like asking what my favorite song (that I wrote) – I really like all of them and I use them for different things. One guitar might be great for a cleaner sound. One guitar might be great for a dirtier sound.”

Music czar question
“I would fire everyone who heads every major label and I would fire all of the financial people and I would get rid of the whole fucking lot of them and start over and try to put artists and people who care in charge and who don’t only give a shit about money. That’s what’s really ruined the industry. If you think about it, they’ve ruined every damn thing in the world.”

Final question: When you step off the tour bus for the final time and go to that great gig in the sky, how do you want to be remembered and what do you hope your legacy will be?
“Oh, I don’t know. I never think about that. I don’t necessarily do this for a posthumous reason, ha ha! I just do it for while I’m living and whatever happens after that I don’t really care. I guess you want people to like your music and if it lives on, great. It’s not something that I think about, ever.”

Undoubtedly, all forms of his work will live on.

You can keep up with Rich, his music, and his art work, at his website,

Lawrence Gowan Of Styx

Posted October, 2016


styx reducedFew bands have impacted the seventies and eighties like Styx. With monster hits like Lady, Renegade, Come Sail Away, Too Much Time On My Hands, and many others, it’s no surprise that the band’s music still permeates airwaves and stereos all over the world as well as being prominently placed in movies and TV shows.

The current configuration of this iconic band consists of founding member and bassist, Chuck Panozzo; co-founder/guitarist, James “J.Y.” Young; Tommy Shaw (who joined the band in 1976 as a guitarist); drummer, Todd Sucherman (with the band since 1995; Ricky Philips (rhythm guitar and bass, joining the band in 2003); and Lawrence Gowan, keyboardist/vocalist who joined the band back in 1999.

Of the replacements, Gowan undoubtedly had the toughest role in stepping into the big shoes left vacant with the departure of Dennis DeYoung.

Fill ‘em, he did, and quite well, thank you. Already a huge, chart-topping artist in his own right in his native Canada, Lawrence was quite up to the task.

I recently spoke with the band’s keyboardist and vocalist, Lawrence Gowan, to discuss the band’s new DVD, “Styx Live at Orleans Arena Las Vegas” as well as the latest happenings with the band.

I started off by asking Lawrence if, in his wildest dreams, he ever imagined joining a band like Styx.

“In Styx, I think that’s one of the best cards that life has dealt me. I thoroughly enjoyed my solo years. I had a fourteen solo career prior to joining Styx. I had several platinum records and gold records in Canada and a greatest hits album had come out just prior to them calling me and I just figured, ‘You know? I think Act 2 being a member of this legendary band - as far as my career goes - it would be a great little adventure.

“It’s been everything that I could have anticipated and far more, because we’ve played around the world so many times. This line-up of the band has played more shows than any previous era of the group and I’ve seen over the past ten years younger and younger people coming to the shows I’d say over the past ten years, younger and younger people come to the show. Now, on any given night, Randy, half the audience is under thirty years of age and weren’t even born when some of the biggest Styx records were at the top of the charts. It’s a fantastic thing to be a part of and to witness and to enjoy and see the smiles on so many people’s faces every night.”

“So as I look back on it, on the one hand I am surprised, on the other hand I just think ‘this just seems really natural to me’. Who would ever want to give up the experience of some of the greatest moments of my life are just standing in the audience listening to Pink Floyd or being at a Paul McCartney show. It’s an amazing thing to experience so why would you stop that?”

To Gowan’s comment that the demographic of more and more people are under the age of thirty, I asked if he thought that it was shows like South Park incorporating Styx music into some of their shows was instrumental in introducing the band to younger crowds.

“I think I remember J.Y. (James Young) saying this when I first joined the band because the movie ‘Big Daddy’ featured a scene at the end where Adam Sandler is sitting there and looking at his young son in the witness stand and he went on a radio announcer – I can quote it exactly – and the lady says, ‘Did your Daddy teach you anything? He says, ‘Yes.’ ‘What did he teach you?’ And the little kid says, “I think ‘Styx’ is the greatest band in the world and that the critics are just a bunch of cynical assholes.’ It’s funny, that was the first kind of major cultural reference to the band from a new generation, Adam Sandler.

“Shortly after that I joined the group and then from there, as you say, ‘South Park, ‘Scrubs,’ ‘Sex in The City,’ all these various shows made all kinds of reference to Styx and how they connected to the band.

“I believe because young people seem to do their own programming because they are so internet savvy - they’re aware of bands from the classic rock era and they could do a quick little bit of research on it and find out that, ‘Wow, it wasn’t just Cartman saying, ‘Come Sail Away.’ It’s actually this band that’s been around since the 70s and there’s the original version of that song and there are all these live versions of it that have come out since then, and the band is coming to town. I might just go and check them out.’

“Once you’ve seen the group live, that’s when they become really galvanized to the whole experience and they seem to embrace it to the same degree as people that grew up with the band and that is a phenomenal thing to witness - the impact and how it’s crossed generations.

“I see it as we, on stage, we represent a culmination of the efforts of everyone that’s ever been in the band and, there’s only ever been eleven people in Styx, and for a band to be around and in its sixth decade of existence that’s a very, very low number. At least, to my mind, that’s really what we’re carrying forward into the future is all of that legacy and history that amassed to us at this point.”

As to what has been the most surprising aspect of being part of a band such as Styx, Lawrence said:

“Well, I think we just touched on it. I did not expect when I joined, I mean we figured ‘Oh, there’s probably at least four or five years of life left in the group.’ Now I think the most phenomenal thing is to have witnessed the fact that, no, it went well beyond those expectations. I think the most phenomenal thing is - an incremental thing - that I’ve noticed over the years is somehow I’ve been fortunate enough to be in a band with guys that are continually and endlessly looking for ways to up the ante and kind of improve and somehow extend what the experience can be to come and see the band live and to keep it a vital and breathing entity. That’s been the most impressive thing that has not wavered one little bit ever since I first stepped on stage with the group.”

And the least surprising thing?

“Ha! Ha! The least surprising thing to me is that - it’s kind of funny, when I first joined the band I had a hit with a song in Canada called ‘Criminal Mind’. That was kind of a signature song for me. When I opened for Styx in 1997, that’s the song I ended the show with, and of course, the audience in Montreal helped me sing every word of that song.

“After the show, Tommy Shaw came out to me and was very congratulatory on how the night went. When I first came to Tommy, I was just basically testing our voices with J.Y. and he and myself. Before we even played a Styx song, we played ‘Criminal Minds’. He wanted to do “Criminal Mind” at the end, so we did that. ‘We gotta make that a Styx song now.’

“So the least surprising thing to me is that the very first time we played that song in Canada - in Toronto, in fact - the audience’s response was overwhelming. It was a shock to me on the one hand, but on the other hand I thought ‘this is going to slay them’ because the audience there knows the song so well and to hear a classic band like Styx play it, I wasn’t surprised at how well it went over. And I don’t mean to say that in an immodest way. It just was like a tremendous moment.

“What else has been the least surprising? I think the least surprising is that the band has this legacy and that it has continued. I’m not all that surprised by it because rock music is the greatest form of entertainment that I’ve ever came up against in my life - probably yours too, Randy. And although we talk about it being over one day, I really can’t imagine that because it’s so much fun.

“So, on the one hand, it’s lovely to see, but, again, not to sound immodest, it really is a great time to be alive making this type of music. I’m not overwhelmed and I’m not completely taken aback at the fact that it’s continued to be such an embraced form of entertainment.

“So as I look back on it, on the one hand I am surprised, on the other hand I just think, ‘This just seems really natural to me.’ Who would ever want to give up the experience of some of the greatest moments of my life are just standing in the audience listening to Pink Floyd or being at a Paul McCartney show. It’s an amazing thing to experience so why would you stop that?”

Turning our chat to the band’s new DVD, Gowan had this to say:

“We’ve done a couple of live DVDs over the years. This one ‘Styx Live at The Orleans Arena Las Vegas,’ was recorded about a year, getting close to two years ago, that we actually recorded that show. But we wanted to kind of show a lot of the behind the scenes machinations or the way the whole thing comes together. So we included a lot of our crew and a lot of the experience of touring is included in this DVD, did you get to see some of that?”

“So I think that people are getting more of a behind the scenes view of what it is to be a band that is effectively touring as Styx are to this day. That’s really what the DVD focuses on - as much on that as on the show and the overwhelming response of the audience and just how the whole lifestyle and this life commitment and devotion that all of us have that’s driving this forward is captured on this ‘Styx Live at The Orleans.”

As for similarities and differences fans will see between that show on the DVD and then seeing the band during this tour at the fair, Lawrence said:

“Well, I don’t think it will be difficult for them to kind of connect the dots between the two. But, ultimately, I think that because we live in a world now where so much of is connected to small screens. We all go around with our iPads and laptops and can virtually delve into all kinds of aspects of the world and it really is very informative and it has a gigantic upside.

“Having said that, there’s nothing like the live experience of having something happen in real time with a few thousand people around you and experiencing this great, instantaneous communication of music in a fantastic arena. I’ve touched on that before. I think it’s the ultimate form of entertainment and it’s too large to be contained on a small screen. You go get a taste of it and then maybe it will whet your interest. But there’s nothing like that experience of seeing a band live and getting swept up in it like we do along with the audience.”

As for what’s on the band’s radar for the next year, Gowan says:

“We always little projects behind the scenes going on that we don’t want to overly focus on so styx reducedthere’s nothing imminent that I would like to make any pronouncements or announcements about other than the fact that I’m looking at my itinerary now and noticed we’ll finish up in December. We will have played 112 shows through 2016 and I’m already seeing about forty or fifty on the itinerary for next year. We try to keep our focus as close to that and over the next few months as possible. But, as I say, there are great things going on behind the scenes and projects that we’re working on that will, hopefully, see the light of day sooner than later.”

I couldn’t let Lawrence Gowan go without asking him if he had any plans for any solo work.

“Yeah, I still do a good number of solo dates. I was able to do nine this year so far in Canada. I actually did my first little solo adventure last year in December - did one in Baltimore, which was the first time I had done anything like that. So many Styx fans, they know all aspects of the band, they know Todd Sucherman, our drummer – who was voted Number One Progressive Rock Drummer in Modern Magazine now for several years. His drum clinics around the world are highly attended. Most of them are sold out. Our bass player, Ricky Phillips, used to play in the Babys and in Bad English, so there’s a lot of history there. Tommy with Damn Yankees, so there’s a lot of peripheral things that the band that somehow keep themselves a little bit involved in that can help to amass the overall effect of the band when we come together on stage.”

Keep up with all things Styx at their website,

Billy Gibbons

Posted November, 2016

Photo by Levi PervinPhoto by Levi PervinRock and blues fans get their music from all over the world. One favored and revered band started almost fifty years ago in Houston, Texas. That band is ZZ Top who became known as the “little ol’ band from Texas.” They have been making huge, monster hits ever since their landmark album, “Tres Hombres,” and never looked back.

I’ve never had the privilege of seeing the band perform. The only time I’ve ever seen them in person, in fact, was at Stevie Ray Vaughan’s funeral in 1990. Because the band is performing at Knoxville’s beautiful Tennessee Theatre, the opportunity presented itself to ask the band’s iconic Billy Gibbons a few questions.

To say that I was thrilled would be an obvious understatement.

Our brief exchange took place while Gibbons was in France. Flattered that he took the time to answer my questions, I made sure that they were short and sweet, starting with asking how many tours their current tour made for the band.

“In total? The word “incalculable” springs to mind because the truth is it's a definite uncertainty when one tour ends and the next one begins. The best guess places it somewhere in four digits yet, again, that’s just a guess.”

And how has touring changed for ZZ Top since the first tours?

“We’ve graduated from a rented station-wagon, stuffed full of gear and band members to streamlined touring coaches which makes for a rolling home when we’re not at home. The streamlining is now way better keeping in touch with the outside world. During the outings in ZZ's early years, we were last to know our albums were playing on radio and were starting to hit hard. Now, it's all about onboard Wi-Fi, re-runs of black-and-white Perry Mason, and full-service kitchen preparations on wheels. Way back then, complaints were few as we were getting to groove with the folks getting into what we were puttin’ down. That groove continues to rock on and fortunately the pathways these days are straight ahead.”

When asked what can fans expect from shows on this tour – especially during the Knoxville stop?

“We’re coming to Knoxville fresh from a run of European tour dates so being back home always puts the band in a good frame of mind. We’re the last to know what we’re gonna do until we do it making each night something of a mystery what goes on up on deck, however it’s with a great deal of certainty that it’s gonna be loud and it’s gonna rock.”

Shifting gears, I asked Billy what his take was on the music industry today.

“It’s a fluid field everywhere. One could obsess about the vast changes that we’ve all witnessed, yet it's still the focus, first and foremost, to play it. Did I mention ‘loud’?”

Since Gibbons has been in the rock and roll business for almost fifty years, I asked him what would he do to fix the music business if he were made Music Czar.

zz top by ross halfinPhoto by Ross Halfin

“It starts with good writing behind a good song. Delivering that certain something that satisfies. And, as a band of renegade misfits, we conspire to place importance to press on with the notion that motivates getting to do just that…creating that certain something that takes it a step 


With an over-abundance of music flooding the market in many different ways, I was curious who is commanding Mr. Gibbons’ attention, musically, these days.

“We’ve remained close to Josh Homme and Queens of the Stone Age, of course, and are digging some up and coming bands including a punk outfit out of LA called Surprise Vacation and Lecherous Gaze from Oakland. Isaac Rother & The Phantoms are cool as is Leon Bridges, the hip young soul guy from Ft. Worth. We’re partial to Buddy Guy’s young protégé Quinn Sullivan.”

Boomerocity has a lot of readers who are musicians so, for the gear heads out there, I asked Billy what is the “holy grail” of guitars is and did he own it.

“You bet I do. It’s the infamous ’59 Les Paul Standard named Pearly Gates that’s been the cornerstone since ZZ Top’s existence. Nothing plays or sounds like 'er. She’s so singular that the Gibson company borrowed her back and did a proper reissue tribute. Talk about ‘fine . . .'”

zz top billygibbons by levi pervin 16Photo by Levi PervinAs for what’s on the band’s radar in the foreseeable future, Billy responded:

“Actually, ZZ Top's first full length live release set for release at the end of August is up and coming. It’s got all your favorites and, as a bonus, a version of Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “16 Tons” with our good buddy, Jeff Beck, joining in. Fifteen tracks, recorded in a variety of outposts around the globe as far reaching as Las Vegas to Paris, Chicago to São Paolo, LA to London, back to Berlin, down to Dallas, over to Houston, Memphis and Mississippi and, probably, some places I’ve left out.”

We all hope that Billy and the band have many, many more years of playing and recording left in them. However, I ask this of many of the people I’ve had the privilege of interviewing: When you step off the tour bus of life and go to that great gig in the sky (to cop a line from Pink Floyd), how do you want to be remembered and what do you hope your legacy will be? I ran that question by Gibbons.

“No plan to ‘step off’ for a long while however, it would be nice to think of ZZ Top as the band that rocked it with “tone, taste and tenacity.” Any and all association with the ongoing interpretation of the blues would be a bonus.”

Michael Walden Narada

Posted September, 2016


michaelwaldennarada001r01How would you feel if you produced records for people like Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, George Michael, Mariah Carey, Stacy Lattisaw, Steve Winwood, Ray Charles, Sister Sledge, Patti Austin, Gladys Knight, Rev Al Green, Barbra Streisand, Lionel Ritchie, Elton John, Sting, Carlos Santana, Shanice Wilson, Tevin Campbell, Lisa Fischer, Stevie Wonder, Tom Jones, Wynonna Judd and The Temptations?

On top of that, what if you were awarded Grammys for Producer of the Year, Album of the Year for a movie soundtrack for a major motion picture? Or named by Billboard Magazine as one of the “Top Ten Producers with the Most Number One Hits”?

Well, if you could claim all of those accomplishments, then you would have to be none other than Narada Michael Walden (he goes by Narada). And as amazing as all of that is, Narada has also earned equal acclaim as a solo recording and performing artist.

His solo work includes groundbreaking soundtrack work on such blockbuster films as The Bodyguard, Free Willy, Beverly Hills Cops II, 9 ½ Weeks and Stuart Little including Gladys Knight’s License to Kill for the James Bond Film, Jefferson Starship’s Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now for Mannequin to the EMMY-winning One Moment in Time, the theme to the 1988 Olympic Games.

Let me stop and catch my breath.

Okay, I can go on now.

In early February 2012, Narada Michael Walden returned from a well-received 10-day stint of shows at the Blue Note in Tokyo and Nagoya, Japan to perform at the White House in an all-star band for President Obama’s “Red, White and Blues” concert with legends B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Mick Jagger, Trombone Shorty, Booker T Jones and more.

A while back, I had the opportunity to chat with Narada by phone while he was taking a break at his Tarpan Records studio. We chatted about a wide range of things, including his then just released album, “Evolution”.

In the press release for “Evolution”, Narada was quoted as saying that the album reflected his spirituality and his renewed feeling for life so our chat started off with me asking him to expound on that statement.

“From my side I had never had children before, I didn’t think I was going to have children. I waited very late in life to be blessed by the gift from God. I was sixty-one when I had my first child, but this completely stopped my world and it shocked me. Taking care of my oldest, who is now two years old yesterday – little Kelly. She’s just a bundle of energy, like a rocket ship. And, now, I have another one who is nine months old named Kayla who is kind of calm. Both these girls have completely won me over. It’s showed me there is so much to life. We are grateful. There’s just so much to life that’s right here in front of us if we’ll just open our eyes and see it.

“So when I started making music for this new album the experience I am having with my children kind of unfolded in this album and the sweetness I feel being with them and the happiness I feel being with them, so it’s a celebration doing that I get being with them. To see them dance around and jump around makes me very happy. So, that’s what about.

“You know my life is limited on the earth. They’ll outlive me so I want to make sure that they go michaelwaldennarada002r001forward, that they are given the gifts that God wants them to have. So everything is evolving. Nothing stays the same. You’re either slipping backwards or going forward. And I’d like my life to go forward, help my children go forward, help my wife and all my friends, everything move forward. That’s what my evolving purpose is. I really believe that God is good and great and mighty and blesses us on a daily basis. And it’s up to us to recognize that and be grateful for it. The more that we are grateful, the more the universe can bless us. It’s all wrapped up in my feeling of ‘Evolution’ and am I going forward with my life at this time.”

When I asked what he hoped people would get from his album, I expected to hear some canned, PR type answer. What Narada said in response was much more intense than I expected.

“I graduated from high school in 1970, so that would put there the last four years, ’67, ’68 ’69, ’70. A lot of what I think about my life stems from my high school meets now. So, the 60s feeling meets now is always kind of with me. I’m always kind of paralleling what I felt, what I saw from the bands in the 60s in a way, and the heart of the 60s and seeing people come together in the 60s, right? So, just break out and come together in that and/or you saw a lot of eruptions of violence, a lot of people coming together who didn’t like each other. In the south, you can’t go to school if you’re a certain color, you can’t drink from certain fountains, yet all of that started being exposed to where this was so ridiculous.

“So, I like that aspect of the 60s of how things were exposed and then we started working on making it better. I see the same thing happening now again. We’re being forced to come together as humanity to be a stronger people and I like that aspect of it. Like, now, when I was going on stage in New York City, as soon as I walked on the stage all that Paris outbreak happened with ISIS over in Paris. It brings us together to say, ‘what can we do to make our world safer and better for each other?’ Never mind the black, green, white, whatever color of our skins; let’s be tight and stand up for each other and look out for each other as a people. I like all that, it’s the 60s all over again. So, that element is always with me as I am living my life.”

I expected that an album of the amazing caliber as “Evolution”, that it had to have taken Narada a year or two to make. Not so.

“Not long. The Lord’s good to me so I can sit down and write songs quite quickly. I heard something a long time ago that says, ‘inspiration is with us 24 hours a day, we just reach our hands up to the sky and grab a breath of inspiration and bring it down into our lives.

“I learned that trick, so I can write a song a day. I wrote 40 songs for this new album, over a period of about 40 days and then producing it, you know however long that takes, but that’s always – I wear different hats basically to make everything sound beautiful.

“So I can’t really tell you how long it took but over a period of six months. I also took the song, “Long and Winding Road” by The Beatles a couple of years back and re-sang it and reworked. A few songs I had in my vault, like, “Tear the House Down”, that I wrote one with Lionel Richie twenty years ago. I took the inspiration of it and re-cut it.

“I felt like, again, going back, going forward, going back again, going forward. It’s some of the best things of the 60s back in my life and going forward.

“I think, ‘How do I make a hit out of the title like, ‘Billionaire On Soul Street?”, which my assistant mentioned one day - that title. I think, ‘How would Curtis Mayfield make a hit out of ‘Billionaire On Soul Street?” So, then I just channel Curtis Mayfield, or I’ll channel Rick James when I really want to get really funky and fun, that beat’s got it really going on, I channel Rick. Rick was a real good friend of mine. I played on his albums in the early days. He would say, ‘I wish I could play the drums like you, Narada. Then, I could have so much fun with the music.’

michaelwaldennarada003“So I channel Rick. I channel Smokey Robinson or I channel Hendrix. I channel all kinds of people whom I love and adore, musician wise, to open up different doors and keep alive that kind of feeling like we got back in the old days. When music actually meant something, it made you feel a certain way, the words are so high-tech that we couldn’t feel it. Yet, it’s important because my generation, my people who want my music, they want to feel something. They’re on their computers or they’re running around with their children or whatever, they want to hear something. That’s what I realized when I was on the road with Jeff Beck, a tour around the world about two years straight, a few years back, and it was packed everywhere. People want to feel something. They don’t mind coming and paying to see a show and feel something. People don’t buy as many CDs as they used to, but everyone wants to feel it. I’m aware of that. That’s what I am saying, when I put my music down I’m always aware of what would translate live; where I can go out there and play live and people are going to feel it. So I’m on that page too.”

What was different in putting together “Evolution” as compared to his other solo projects and other albums he’s worked on?

“As we evolve as people, I’m just a different person, now, than I was a year ago, even yesterday. I am always recognizing my growth and try to be honest to what I feel at this time. I’m an artist, and we open our hearts to where we are today and what does our heart want to say. It’s like a little journey we go on. That’s what makes me different today than yesterday, or the day before that. I’ve always wanted to be aware ---- also on this album--- to make an album that is more dance oriented. Because back in ‘78, when disco was very popular, I was at the helm of disco, again, making dance music. So I feel like here we are making music around the world people really want to dance. Their life is so intense that they want to dance it off and feel better about things. I just continued my act to go and I wound up playing live dance music, 60s live dance music meets now. So that’s predominately in my thought. Stevie Wonder is one of my teachers and he always says to me, ‘Narada, always keep it current’. So by keeping it current, I go, ‘What are we doing on the earth right now? Oh, we all want to dance again.’ Fine, but I want to dance with my own spin on it; and my own spin is really 60s meets now.”

I shared with Narada about the driving force in the creation of Boomerocity. My story prompted him to say:

“I think with the Boomer generation we changed things for the better and we’re still enjoying the fruit of that and we still want to maintain the good fruit of that and they’re learning from us; being brave to stand up and try it and come together as a strong people.

“Also on the album, I covered a jam by the great Richie Havens, who did a song called ‘Freedom, right? “Freedom” was his sixth encore at Woodstock. Can you imagine in front of all those people being asked to come back out six times? Because, for one reason, the band that was going to follow him was late so you had to kind of make up for a time. And, then, on the sixth encore he starts jamming and just looks around and starts singing ‘Freedom.’ I just love that. So, again, we need that message of ‘Freedom’ again. So I just asked the Lord could I do my version of Richie Haven’s song in honor to Richie Havens. Again, I just love all that unbridled spirit we had at that time meets now again.”

As for which song from “Evolution” Narada would point to as a calling card for the entire album, he shared:

“I want you to tell me that, I want you to say ‘this is what I enjoy’ because each person is different. I don’t want to ever limit someone of what they love by my own interpretation or whatever.
“From my side, my daughter speaks on the album at the very beginning ‘Evolution’ that’s very charming to me. That’s very charming, the message of that song speaks as I am speaking to you now. I should have taken better care of my mother earth. Am I taking care of my babies so they can do a wonderful job in our futures? So, that message is very dear to my heart. But, then, having said that, I like everything I put together on this record. The Paul McCartney and John Lennon tune, “The Long and Winding Road.’ My life has been a long and winding road. So, I’d have to say I offer it as a Thanksgiving meal and whatever you like, that’s what you’re going to enjoy.

Narada’s treatment of Richie Havens’ “Freedom” is especially powerful. I was interested in learning what drove him to cover that classic tune.

I’m a rock and roll man. In my heart of hearts, I’m a rock and roll man. I love the spirit of Hendrix, of Richie Havens, of the people that can do it, man! Really do it! I mean really just shake it up. That’s what I most admire. When I was a little kid, I admired Ray Charles’ live records. I admired Little Richard. Little Richard made me feel it! Wow! What the hell! They had so much control of their voice even when they were screaming, they would scream in tune. I just love all that control of the electricity! So, I’m turned on by that. I play drums. So, all that I can tell you is that we’re the heartbeat of music and we want to go full throttle. it just always spills into this burning ecstasy feeling. It just can’t help but overspill into that record.”

As I shared at the beginning of this piece, Narada has worked with an astonishing group of icons. That said, I wondered if there as anyone on his bucket list who he hasn’t yet worked with.

“I think there’s some new people coming out and people that are already popular and huge that I’ve met and that I’d like to work with. Beyoncé, I met her when she was younger but I would love to make a smash with her now. Adele is very hot in the world. I would like to make a smash with her. I met her at one of her concerts here in the Bay area and she was out in the street with no shoes on with all her fans around her, just loving her fans. I was very taken by her. My favorite song of hers is ‘Chasing Pavements.’ The chorus on that record is so Burt Bacarach-ish! So gorgeous! I want to work with her.

“To be honest, I’m open to anyone the good Lord wants to bring to me because I always say this, ‘Sometimes my mind is like, I don’t want to work with somebody.” But, then, that’s very limiting. I meet somebody who I felt that I wouldn’t have been so good with, then all of a sudden, ‘No, no! We get along like peas and carrots!’ So, I realize that I should never try to say this or that. Just be open to the flow of the universe and whatever God brings your way. Don’t block a blessing!”

I hit Narada with a two-part question: Do you feel like the music business needs to be fixed? And what would you do to fix it?

“If I was a music czar, I would be like Berry Gordy all over again. Barry Gordy brought an honesty and a sound of youth back to America - which we needed - with a bunch of funk and spirit and sound of great music. Be it The Four Tops, be it the Miracles, be it the Supremes, discovering Little Stevie Wonder. I think in our industry, now, we need a new influx of young and youthful stars as well as the rest just keeping their sound alive. But genuinely, the songs are really beautiful songs. I don’t want to see as an industry, and as a people, lose our innocence.

“Look at the song by the Beatles, “I Wanna Hold Your Hand." That song was a smash. We don’t think that way anymore. We don’t even think innocent-like “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”. How beautiful and what a charge you get from just touching someone’s hand that you’re crazy about. We were so innocent then. I don’t know if even we as a people could ever return to that kind of innocence, I would wish it if I was the czar – that we would make the music that touched the heartstrings of our innocence. To touch the heartstrings of human, pure emotion. That’s what I would wish for as a Czar.

“I’d find the greatest singers I could find. I’d find the greatest talent I could find - and the nicest people. I would want people who are talented and are nice who can get along, they aren’t going to try to mess it up and tear it up. And, once they get some power, misuse that power. I want people who could be God-ordained with their power. That’s what I want. I want to help angels do their work on the planet. That’s what I to help do if I’m the Czar. Great singers and great musicians who have a purpose of doing good for this world. That’s what I’m talking about, with wonderful songs. Yep, that’s what I’m talking about! It’s happening. We’re actually doing it and we’ll do lots more of it. “

What performances do you have planned in support of “Evolution”?michaelwaldennarada004

We just did a big show at the Iridium in New York City, a small club.
It’s a mighty powerful place because a lot of press gets in there and the people that are really in the know in New York City come to your show. I really felt a powerful experience there just last week. And then we postponed the rest of our tour for next year when we’ll have more a chance to let Michael Jensen get up to speed, get our album out, where people will get to hear more of it. It’s just so new and so fresh. So that’s what we’re going to do with it. We’ll be doing a little more touring next year. And I’m also raising a family so I have be smart about leaving town and how long I leave town for because my babies are so young still. So, it’s a balancing act.

As for what’s on Narada’s radar for the next few years, he shared:

“We’re building our label records called Tarpan Records and we are building and finding new artists. We’re building how to get music out in the world where people can all share and appreciate it and the artist can benefit in a bigger way and can maintain a bigger piece of the pie. So I want to be smart about that, and I want to just do everything I was meant to do. I feel like when Quincy Jones helped Michael Jackson, he was ripe to really help Michael. And I want to feel like, in my heart, I’m ripe to help the next big superstar of the world, and superstars of the world. I want to be a good producer, helper and coach for them, as well as I want to be able to get out and keep my sound flowing, and make a bigger name for myself.

“I’d like to go on with my band. So you will know, ‘oh, it’s this guy; this guy sings some good stuff.’ So, I want to have that open to me. That’s what I’m saying. I want to keep it flowing, production and artistry both.”

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