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Todd Rundgren Discusses White Knight, Music, & Ringo

Posted May 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And about the album itself?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep up with all things Todd at or here on Facebook.

Brian Wilson and Pet Sounds

Posted May 2017


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

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

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

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is to say:s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Paul McCartney!”

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

“Maybe recording.”

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

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

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

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

Anybody in particular who stands out?


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

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

What would that album sound like?

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

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


And when will we be able to hear it?

“Next year.”

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

What does Brian Wilson love most about life these days?

“Music. I love music mostly.”

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

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

What about the industry’s business model?

“I can’t answer that question.”

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

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

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

Keep up with Brian Wilson and his upcoming tours and projects at

Beth Hart Talks About Fire On The Floor

Posted April 2017

beth hart mona nordoy 0093a croppedIn my first interview with Beth Hart back in 2013, I said that she wasn’t yet a household name but she would be eventually.

I still hold to that statement.

In my second interview with her in 2015, I said that to say that she “is one of the most amazing new female singer/songwriters of the new millennia would be an understatement.” 

I still hold to that statement, as well.

I recently spoke with Beth Hart for a third time. She is one of those people who, when you first chat with her, you feel as if you’ve known her all your life. Warm. Embracing. Open. I’ve since learned that she is all of that and much more.

This recent chat was to discuss her new CD, Fire On The Floor. But, of course, as was the case in our previous two chats, we talked about a bunch of other stuff, too.

When she answered the phone and I asked how she had been, she was efferve

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scent in answering.

“I’m doing so awesome! I’m just loving life these days! I’m really having fun. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as good as I do right now.”

And what does she attribute that too?

“I couldn’t agree with you more! I wouldn’t even be surprised if, through gratitude, it actually re-

wires your brain and it makes you see more and more goodness. When you speak about light and you speak about joy, it’s almost like it does something to where you’re able to receive even more of it, you know what I mean? Kinda like that old saying, ‘Them that got shall get and them that not shall lose.’ Kinda like that!”When I commented about the truly positive impact gratitude has on our lives, Beth chimed back in.“I think, you know, being older and surviving some of the funk. God. My marriage. Music. I feel really, really blessed and really lucky, you know? I think it’s just gratitude. I’ve got a lot to be grateful for.”

In our last chat – which was about her last album, Better Than Home - we talked about it being very introspective and even “ministering”.  I asked her how she would describe “Fire On The Floor”?

“I couldn’t tell you this the last time I talked to you because Michael Stevens – who was one of the producers – didn’t want me to go on and make another record because I wanted to make another record right away. So, this album, Fire On The Floor, has been done way before my last talk with you. So, when I did New York for that week for Better Than Home, as soon as I got home – before Better Than Home was even mixed – I called Ed at the label and I said, ‘You gotta let me make another record right now or I’m probably never going to go back into the studio.’

“And he’s like, ‘Why? What’s wrong? Is Better Than Home shit?’ and I said, “I don’t know. I think I did a good job with the writing and I know that the producers put everything they could into it. It seemed to go pretty nicely in New York. Who knows? You never know until a record’s mixed. But that’s not why I’m calling you. The reason that I’m calling you is that it was such a painful experience watching Michael be so sick for all that time.’ You know, he ended up dying? And he was only forty-seven when he died. All that time seeing him go through that – that poor man! You know me, I’m overly sensitive anyway. My brain is wired a little funny and I just couldn’t take it. I ended up going to the hospital a couple of times during making that record just to get my shit balanced and it was just rough.

“So, Ed let me immediately call Oliver (Leiber, the CD’s producer). I called Oliver and Oliver is, like, ‘Come on over to my house.’ I came over to his house and I said, ‘I have a shit load of songs. I don’t want it over produced. I want it to be a live band. That’s all I have to say. I’m going to send you the songs.’ He’s like, ‘****, yeah! I love you! Let’s make this record!’

“I sent him a ton of songs just like I did Rob and Michael for Better Than Home and he immediately got back to me and said, ‘Boom! I’ve got the players. Come to my house!’ Whenever it was – two more weeks or something.

“So, we go the whole thing done in, like, three weeks! I went over there and made Fire On The Floorbeth hart mona nordoy 133 in three days and we didn’t have to do any mixing because we hadn’t even finished mixing Better Than Home! So we had all this time to let it sit there and relax and let me focus on what I had to do for Better Than Home. I’m so happy that I got to get this record out of me because I was tripping – tripping out! This was so healing for me. It really helped me get through that.”

I commented that I could tell that she had reached deep within to write and record Better Than Home to cover negative things for a positive outcome.

“Thank you for saying that! I agree with you, by the way. You can really hear that difference. Better Than Home was such a vulnerable, confessional album. I gotta give props to Michael Stevens and Ron Mathis because, you know I everything in so that passed over a lot of songs that they didn’t feel was going in that direction. So, Better Than Home wasn’t like I wrote that record. I did write the record but I also wrote a shit load of other songs that I turned in but they passed on. It’s funny. It ended up in the right producer’s hands because that’s the kind of record they wanted to make and this was the kind of record that I wanted to make. It ends up working out perfect!”

Were the songs on Fire On The Floor some of the songs passed on or did she write these songs specifically for the album?

“Yeah! Just like on Better Than Home a couple of songs on there were passed over by Kevin Shirley when I did Bang Bang Boom Boom with him. For instance, Kevin passed on St. Teresa. He passed on Mama This One’s For You. There was a collection of songs there because I’m always working on stuff. I always turn them into whatever to whatever ‘priest’ I’m with and I don’t care which songs they choose and which ones they don’t. Because if I didn’t love the songs, I’d never turn them in. I really have this belief that when a producer likes a song or doesn’t like a song, it always boils down to basically the same thing. They either think they can get it or they think they can’t. So I know not to ever take it personal if they don’t like the song – even though they may say, ‘I don’t like the song,’ it’s not really what it is. It’s that they think they can get this one phenomenal and maybe that one they can’t.”

As for which song she would point to as a drawing card to entice people to purchase the album, Beth said, “Yeah, that’s a great question! It’s hard for me because it is so broad-based, genre-wise. I love Jazzman very much but I also love Fat Man. Then, I adore No Place Like Home and A Good Day To Cry. But then I turn around and love Woman You’ve Been Dreaming Of. So it would be really hard for me to have one song. But, if someone put a gun to my head and said, ‘Okay, you have to pick one song,’ I would pick Fire On The Floor. That would be the one that I would pick.”

When asked which song seems to resonate with fans the most, Ms. Hart shared:

beth hart mona nordoy 4128finalreduced“Good Day To Cry and Fire On The Floor, so far. But, also, all the promoters and the radio people really love Jazzman. But it seems that with the audience, they’re really responding to Jazzman but the most to Fire On The Floor. Definitely number one – and Good Day To Cry.”

The last time we talked Beth had indicated that she wanted to be on the road a lot less and focus on living healthier. When I asked how that worked out for her, she laughed and said, “It’s so funny. As soon as I put my foot down and said, ‘Okay. Seven months on the road, max, so that I can have more time at home, be a wife to my husband’ – like I told you about the last time we talked – so I can write more and all that. As soon as I laid that boundary, now I want to be on the road more. I can’t keep up with my own ****ing head. I can’t! As soon as I make a decision that I want to do something, my head says, ‘Oh! I want to do something else! I just can’t even keep up with myself! So, it’s so funny. It’s so weird. I’m so weird.”

With all the people in the music world who died last year, I asked Beth to share her thoughts about those who passed. Her response wasn’t at all what I expected.

“You know, of course, I’m sad for anyone that’s sad who lost them. But they have moved on to another form. I don’t look at death as a bad thing at all. I look at death as a graduation to another life form. Who knows? Maybe they’re on some other planet living a whole other life? Maybe they’ve come back here in the form of an awesome butterfly or a bee? Who the **** knows? But I do believe that death is just like graduating. You get to graduate to another plain. So, for them, they’re probably having a ball but it’s the people that loses them – those are who are sad.

“So, of course, I mourn for those that are here who had to lose people that they loved. But, for them, they’re off somewhere else. I think it just continues to get better. I really do. I think that time we get to live, our consciousness grows deeper. Our hearts grow bigger. It has to! We go on to a new plane. That’s what I believe. So, I think of the people who passed away, they’re just happy as shit right now because they’re doing something else.”

And what is on Beth Hart’s radar for the rest of the year?

“You know, what I’m really into right now is speaking. I’m having so much fun and so passionate about it. I’m having a lot of ideas with that. I’m putting a lot of effort into that. I’ve really, really been studying a lot with my vocal coach, Bob. I’m with him off and on since I was sixteen. So, I really feel like this past year I’ve grown a lot as a singer. I’m looking forward to doing that live and use some of the techniques that he’s taught me. Things just to be stronger and healthier and trying new ways of approaching songs. I’m also really looking forward to us doing more work here in the States, which is really exciting for me. And, then, we’re also going to India for the first time. We’re going to do a couple of shows there so I’m looking forward to that.

“Then, you know what’s so funny, I’m here at the house. We had a major flood. We have a three story house. On the bottom floor is my studio and that all got flooded out. I’m such an anal person. The most anal person you’ve ever met in your life. It flooded out and I’m like, ‘Oh my god! I can’t take it!’ But, now – because of homeowners insurance – we’re going to get to re-paint it and do new carpet and stuff. That’s just a fun project for me. I’m a woman who really nests in her home.

“Also, a wall on the side of our house in the backyard – the other person’s studio who’s next door is going to slide into our property so they’re rebuilding the whole wall. We get to plant roses and a tangerine tree! What it represents to me and why I’m bringing it up with you is it just represents to me that every time life – you think; you’re perceiving is, ‘It’s killing me again! A horrible thing has just happened!’ Something amazing is going to come from it. Something better is going to happen because of that horror or that catastrophe or whatever you want to view it as. It’s just another reminder.

“I know that it seems like a stupid thing to compare a wall in the yard or a flood in the basement but it’s just like another one of those signs. It’s like no matter what goes in your mind quote/unquote wrong, it’s not wrong. It’s a new beginning that’s about to happen. I love that about life! It’s so neat!”

After wrapping up my conversation with Beth, I was once again reminded of how we all should embrace life; remind ourselves to tell our loved ones that we love them; to stop and smell the roses and to not let the trials of life hold us back from living and love life to the fullest.

Thank you, Beth.

Bobby Rush Talks About Life, The Blues and His Grammy

Posted April 2017


BobbyRush001Almost anyone who is into music has at least a little appreciation for the blues. Personally, I love it. Some appreciate it. Still others don’t care for it at all. It’s history is long and, well, bluesy. The founding artists of the genre typically died poor, destitute, and (sometimes) under – shall we say – under circumstances that is the stuff of folk lore.

Ever since Robert Johnson allegedly sold his soul to the devil at the infamous crossroads so that he could play the blues, the genre has lured many musicians and fans alike into its soul-gripping web.

Boomerocity has interviewed some great blues men and women like John Mayall, Johnny Winter, Walter Trout, Joe Bonamassa, Beth Hart, Derek Trucks, Kim Simmonds, and others.

Recently, long-time blues vocalist, Bobby Rush, was finally honored with his first Grammy. At eighty-three years old, it’s a long overdue honor for the blues legend.

I called up Mr. Rush while he was resting up before a performance at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We chatted about the Grammy and the album that he won it for; his upbringing as well as his experiences in all of his years in the business. While you may be tempted to just read this, I encourage you to listen to the audio embedded to the right of this article. To hear him tell his story is a cherished treat in itself.

When I started off by congratulating Bobby Rush for his Grammy, he expressed genuine gratitude and humility.

“It was long overdue but it’s better to come late than never, you know? That’s my attitude about it. I’m happy ‘bout it and

just so grateful. Why it hadn’t come before now we won’t even think about that. It’s just come now. Let’s grab the pieces now and run with it.

“Let me say this to you: My mind was made that even if I didn’t bring it home, I was a winner because I was in the race! That’s my attitude about it because to be in the race – I accept this because of a lot of guys I beat out was more qualified than me. That don’t mean I would’ve been happy if I didn’t bring it home but, nevertheless, there’s millions of guys who hadn’t gotten it and do as much as I do – it could be more. But I just appreciate it and I appreciate the guys I’d been running with – who I was in the race with - although I won and they loss. That’s the way it goes. Some win. Some lose. We all are friends in spite of that business stuff.”

Because he has been in the blues business for sixty years, I asked what has been the biggest changes that he has seen in the music business from the beginning until now. 

“The biggest thing I saw, I guess, is opportunity that I didn’t have when I first started. As a biblical study, the more things change, the more they remain the same. But there are a lot of opportunity I have now that I didn’t have then.

“Let me tell you one thing that I’m so proud of. I’m so proud that I have crossed over now to a white audience. But I crossed over and never crossed out the black audience. They still relate to me as the King of the Chitlin circuit. That means I’m a blues singer – and proud of it – but I’m proud of it because I’m not only a blues singer, I’m a black blues singer and I never let anybody live that down. It’s been a hard road to me.

“I remember 1951 when I was working in clubs behind a curtain where people wanted to hear my music but they didn’t want to see my face. But, then, I had fun doin’ that. I didn’t have fun with the reason why, but I had fun doing it because it was all about getting to the place where I am now. I was payin’ dues and I don’t have no chips on my shoulder with nothin’ and nobody about anything. I just know when it’s my time, it’s my time.

BobbyRush002“God has blessed me to be in the business sixty-six years. I’ve been recording since 1951. There’s 274 records. At my age – over eighty years old and gettin’ an award – I believe that I may be the oldest man that ever received an award at this age that never seen one before. Somebody told me but I didn’t think about it or know about it. But of many people who have been in my position, never win awards, we’re talkin’ ‘bout a lot of guys. ZZ Hill, Tyrone Davie, Johnny Taylor and many other guys I can call never been up for a nomination.

“So I accept this for these guys that never had the chance to receive this and they did just as good or better as I. But I’m just thankful. Just thankful. And I do thank the people for accepting me for who I am, what I am, and what I do. People like you calling me, god! You know how to make me feel to give me a call to do an interview with me! You don’t have to do this. You got a million other guys you can call to do an interview so I’m thanking you in advance for what you’re doing.”

And what hasn’t changed in the business?

“Well, what has not changed is the music and the people themselves because you got people still love good music and good entertainment. But you do have people recording things that’s not as good and radio stations playing it politically.

“It’s just like writin’ a book. You can only write about what you know about. But people still come for good music and good entertainment value. You gotta lot of garbage stuff that’s bein’ recorded now. I’ll not get into name callin’ of who’s doin’ it. But I call some of it garbage because some of it’s not really music. But I’m about the real music, man. The real, live musicians. Real music. That don’t mean the guys that do the samplin’ aren’t important, either. But what I’m sayin’ is I’m a creator and I create good music. Good songs; good stories; good lyrics and try to have a good point with where I’m goin’ with it and not just somethin’ I’m throwin’ up against the wall. I think that’s what’s changed with the music. People wanna do samples, now, and cut corners and do the set drum and set this and set that. There’s nothin’ wrong with none of that. That’s all modification. But we got to get back to the real music and the real music has changed.”

My research on Bobby Rush revealed that he grew up as a preacher’s kid. I asked him about that.

“My daddy was a pastor at two churches. One was for fifty years and one was for fifty-five years. Freewill Baptist Church. A Baptist preacher. My daddy was my best friend. He influenced me because being a preacher, I so much respect for my father as a preacher and as my friend, my mentor. He never told me to sing the blues but he never told me not to sing the blues and that was a green light. Because in the era I come up in, if he had told me not to sing the blues, I doubt that I would be singin’ the blues today. That’s how much respect I had for my father and for what he stood for.

“My real name is Emmett Ellis, Jr., after my father. I changed my name only because of my father – because of the respect I had for him and that he had for me. I was looking for names with one syllable. I tried to name myself President Eisenhower, Truman, and all of that, but as a young country boy, all I know was big names like the president. So, I came up with Bobby Rush because nobody called me Bobby and nobody called me Rush. Everybody called me Bobby Rush. There’s plenty of Bobby’s and plenty of Rush’s but ain’t but one Bobby Rush.”

Many artists in various genres got their musical start in church. When I asked Bobby Rush if that was the case with him, his response startled me.

“NO! I didn’t do performing in church. All I did in church was teach Sunday School, Superintendent of Sunday School, and did a lot of things in the church. I am a biblical study. I’m not a religion nut but I’m a biblical study because I take the Bible as a road map to life. It teaches what I should and should not do. That’s my guideline. I don’t beat people across the head about the resurrection or the devil, whatever. I just know that you must do all you can while you can. There will come a time that I cannot do then you won’t regret what you did not do. That’s what it teaches me.”

We then shifted the gears of our conversation to the subject of his Grammy-winning album, Porcupine Meat, and how putting this record together was different for him than all of the other records he recorded.

“Well, it wasn’t that much different than two or three others. But I’ll tell you, it’s different than a lot of them. First of all, in BobbyRush0031966, I had a record. It was ‘Chicken Head” and I didn’t know how to tell a guy the title of the song – Calvin Carter, who had Vee Jay Records. Later on, in ’81, I had a song called ‘Sue’. In ’83 or 4, I had “Ain’t Studdin’ Ya”. I had many records but every time I had titles like this, I always looked for titles like this that was a gimmick thing for titles. Everything I did that was titled like that seemed to be successful. So, when I had this song, “Porcupine Meat”, and I wanted to propose it to the producer, which was Scott Billington, who we’ve become very good friends, I was comfortable enough to tell him, I said, ‘Well, listen, I gotta song that I think is gonna be a hit record.’ He said, ‘What’s the name of it?’ I said, ‘Porcupine Meat”. He just fell out laughing. I guess he thought it was some kind of joke.

“So, I was afraid to tell him about the record because I thought he was gonna laugh at me just like he did but he was laughing in a good fashion. He wasn’t laughing because he was making fun of me. He was laughing because he thought it was so clever. Once I found out he thought it was clever, then I really put it on ‘cause what I’m talking ‘bout in ‘Porcupine Meat’, I wasn’t talking ‘bout the animal itself, I was referring to him like a parable.

“I’m in love with this woman, and I know she don’t mean me no good. I want to leave but I can’t because I’m afraid if I leave, I’ll find someone else just as bad or worse. So, I’m damned if I do and I’m damned if I don’t. That’s what they call ‘Porcupine Meat’; too fat to eat and too lean to throw away. That’s what I was talkin’ ‘bout. That kinda thing. I was talkin’ ‘bout my mama told me when I was young, ‘If you play with fire, son, you’re bound to get burned.’ I didn’t believe my mama way back then but look at me, the shape I’m in. I’m in love with a woman and I know she don’t mean me no good.’ She may not be good for me but, partner, damn, she good to me!’ Ha! Ha! Ha! You know what I’m talkin’ ‘bout! Man to man talk, here, you know? That’s ‘Porcupine Meat’. Too fat to eat, too lean to throw away. I’m afraid if I just go leave her, she’d go find B.B. King or somebody. They’d be braggin’ ‘bout it, you know?

“Anyway, it’s funny but true. We go through life that way.”

What has been crowd and fan response to the record?

“Oh, god! It’s been overwhelmingly good! And since I won, more people want to hear it than ever and they get the sense of what I’m talkin’ ‘bout now other than a piece of meat you get from an animal. They kinda laugh and joke ‘bout it. Some of ‘em say, ‘Hey! I missed it but now I have it!’ The ones who has it loves it more. I think this record is the kind of record that’s going to be around for a long time because the meaning of it is something that everybody can relate to once they find out what I’m talkin’ ‘bout. They can relate to it.

“I’m gettin’ good response and I think it’s gonna raise my bar up where I can make a decent livin’ for my family. It’s what it’s all about – puttin’ your time in to get something out. Put that music in and get somethin’ out. With time, at eighty-three years old, it’s time for me! I’m not trying to be cocky or a big shot about it. I’m just tryin’ to make a livin’ for my grandchildren, children, and my family. I put my dues and I paid my dues and I’ve been here.

“I started to workin’ in 1951. I was workin’ for a guy named E.F. Borger. I was making twelve dollars a month. Not twelve dollars a night. Twelve dollars a month! I was playin’ three days a week for a dollar a night, somethin’ to eat and a place to stay. Twelve dollars a month I was makin’! The last of that year, the first of ’52, I started working with Muddy Waters. I was makin’ seven dollars and fifty cents a night as band leader and payin’ Muddy Waters $5.50. That’s what we was makin’ and the band members was makin’ three dollars and fifty cents. That’s what we was makin’. Some of the other guys were makin’ a little bit more but the black guys, that’s all we was makin’.

BobbyRush004“Once I got to the place where I was making twenty-one dollars a night, I thought I was in heaven, man! In ’53 and ’54, I was makin’ twenty-one dollars a night as a band leader. Man, I was in Heaven! Payin’ my band members eleven dollars. I was makin’ twenty-one as a band leader. After you pay your taxes and everything, usually, then, I was bringin’ home twenty-one dollars a week. Twenty-one dollars and forty-five cents. That was my take home.”

For those who haven’t heard it yet and are considering buying it, I asked the blues legend what song would he point them to as a calling card to entice them to purchase Porcupine Meat.

“Well, let me tell you what: this is the first time that I recorded a CD where I was confused about which one – eleven songs and you can point to nine of them songs equally. It’s hard for me to tell you because when I sent this to five DJ’s, five DJ’s took to five different things.

“Now, you may not know where I’m goin’ to but when you got a record, you send it to five DJ’s and they say five different things, that’s good! It’s good but it’s not good. It’s good because you got stuff that’s good they want but it’s not good because programming – that means you got five guys playin’ five different things. If I didn’t have but one record with five guys playin’, that’s one thing: concentrated play. When you get concentrated play, you get a hit record. But if we got ten people playin’ one thing on each channel and each one playin’ a different thing, that don’t give you no concentrated play. If the CD is so good but anything you play – when they pick it up, ‘Oh, I like this!’ That’s the first thing they’ll play. But I try to encourage people to play the first two cuts on there which is, ‘I Don’t Want Nobody Hangin’ Around” and ‘Porcupine Meat’. The third thing would be ‘Funk O’ De Funk’. But they play all over it. They play everything on it!

“One guy called me last week and said, ‘Bobby Rush, I been playin’ a different song every week!’ I didn’t cut him down ‘cause I appreciated that. But that don’t help me like they’re playin’ one song seven times a week or a song a day, you follow me? But, anyway, I’m grateful for that. I can’t call him up and say, ‘Let’s don’t play this but play this tomorrow.’ If he plays what he wants to play, at least he’s playin’ somethin’ off of that CD and it gives me name recognition. At least, now, I’ve lived long enough to have a legend name so let’s see where it takes me from here. Hopefully, I can keep enthused and keep doin’ what I’m doin’ and learnin’ what I’m learnin’ and stay in the business long enough to make a dent with some more records and come out with a Grammy.”

We’ve been losing some great blues men over the past couple of years and those still alive are beginning to face health issues. I asked Mr. Rush if he saw anybody whom he felt is picking up the blues mantel and carrying on the genre or does he feel that the genre is dying.

“Yeah, I feel both ways. You gotta guy like Dexter Allen and Joe Bonamassa. Quite naturally, he’s tough to beat. Then you have Stevie J and you got Jessie Robinson – you gotta few guys who that I know love the blues but I just don’t know how dedicated they are to themselves to do this in the form that I did it when you makin’ no money and still do what you do and keep tryin’. I don’t know if they got that kinda guts to do it. But there’s a few guys I hear that can play the blues, they love the blues, but I just don’t know what they have.

“I hope that with a sheer win out of Bobby Rush like this encourages them to stay in the business because of how long it takes. I’m not sayin’ that I hope it takes up to this long but I hope they don’t give up! I’m hopin’ I be the one at eighty-somethin’ years of age – ‘If Bobby Rush didn’t give up and he made it, so can I!’ I’m hopin’ I’ll be the guy who they look up to and say, ‘Hey! He finally made it so I can do it, too!’ I’m just hopin’!

“See, what happened – you don’t know this – twenty-five or thirty years ago, black guys entered the blues more they do now. Now, you got black guys who don’t want to play blues and to me, as a black man, they don’t want to be black. They don’t want nobody to know they’re black or play the blues. I’m the kind of guy, I love what I do and embrace what I do and I hope that you like what I’m doin’. I’ve heard guys say, ‘Well, I’m gonna play this because I think it’s what white people like. I wanna play like this because black people like it.” But I play good music and hope everyone likes it! It’s not a black or white issue with me. It’s about the music and the love of it! That’s what I feel about it.

“You know, I know there’s some discouragement with some guys, especially the black entertainers because they can’t get airplay. I just encourage them to take it from me at eighty-three years old with three hundred and seventy-four records, that I just got a Grammy. I think I got fifteen or eighteen blues awards. But let me tell you how encouraging it can be: Two years ago, B.B. King come to me and asked me, ‘Bobby Rush, I want you to do Indianola, Mississippi, ‘cause I’m not goin’ to play in it anymore.’

“Oh, he said that a couple of years before that and I’d say, ‘Aw, B.B., come on. I’m already booked, anyway.’ He said, ‘Where are you booked?’ and I said, ‘I’m booked up at Memphis, Tennessee.”

“The guy had me headlining at 11 o’clock at night and I’m a hundred and fifty miles from Indianola.  So I went to the promoter and I said, “Listen, I need to do B.B. King a favor ‘cause he asked me to do somethin’ and I’ll tell ya what he asked me.”

“He said, ‘I tell you what. If you’re gonna do it for B.B. King, you can go on at 4 o’clock. I know nobody will be here but come on at 4 o’clock and you can go on and be with B.B.’

“I said, ‘Here’s my deposit you gave me.’ He said, ‘No! Keep the deposit! In fact, here’s the rest of your money! I’m gonna pay you now!’  Two weeks before he paid me to do the show and I got up and did the show with B.B. King.

“So, when I got there a couple of hours later, I said, ‘B.B. King, tell me, why did you want me to come?’ And he said, ‘Because I knew if you come, Bobby Rush, I’d get black people to see me ‘cause this gonna be the last time I play this here set.’ And I noticed every time B.B. played Mississippi, he never drawed but just a few black people. They didn’t come to see B.B. He wanted me there to draw blacks. In this particular time,  it was about 50/50. It coulda been 75/25 were black. That is to see B.B., you follow me? And two or three weeks later, I got the B.B. King Award not knowing that I was gonna get it. And a month or two after that he passed. He passed the torch to me.

“Man! That was the saddest thing to me when I look back on it. Then, when I look back on what somebody wrote – that Bobby Rush is the oldest blues man living – I didn’t think about that but I think I am, ya follow me?

“I’m on my way up to Cleveland, Ohio, now, to do a guest spot on a movie that’s out called  Take Me To The River. We did this three or four years ago. They got me up tomorrow. I’m goin’ to speak in front of the students about this movie that we did. It’s hard for me to talk about this because at the time we did it, myself, Snoop Dog, and some young rappers played. A bunch of musicians out of Stax was part of that. But now, since that time we did it, Otis Clay passed, the guitar player that was playing with us passed. Hardges had passed. And Ben – a horn player with the Stax horn section had passed. Since we did this, six guys had passed out of ten of us. Six of those guys had passed in two and a half years. And, now, they got me goin’ up and talkin’ about this. I never thought about it and I was willing to do it but when I rolled in last night, thinking about it, it’s almost like B.B. King, when he passed. The torch, he passed it to me. Then the family said, ‘Well, Bobby Rush, are you going to the funeral?’ I said, ‘Yes, I’m goin’.’ ‘Since you’re goin’, we’d like for you to say a word or two.’ I said, ‘Okay, put me on the program.’ ‘We’d like to let you have the last word.’

“Oh, god, man! What can I say? Oh, man. It brings tears to my eyes to talk about it. I just don’t know. I thank God every day that I lived long enough to see some of the glory and how people have had a change of heart and a change of mind about people themselves – especially about the black and white issue in the music. ‘Cause music sows up everything. There’s no black and white issues in music with the people who do it and respect it. And I’m so happy that you people embrace me for who I am and what I am. It’s such a good feelin’. If they didn’t vote for me, they didn’t show it and if they did, I thank ‘em for what they done. Even if they didn’t vote for me – if they voted for somebody else in the same category – I’m okay ‘bout that ‘cause that don’t make it that they don’t love me. They had someone in there that was a family member or someone they have a relationship with. It’s okay because if you and I was votin’ today and our wife was up, we’d give her our vote because it’s our wife regardless of music. So I understand all o’ that. I understand the relationship makes the difference. But they thought enough of me to vote for me and I’m kind enough to say thank you! I’m grateful about it. I was so outgunned when I won, I didn’t have anything written. I hadn’t thought about what I was gonna say because that was far from my mind – winnin’. I was a winner when I was in the race! That was my attitude! I said, ‘I’m already a winner! I’m in the race! I’m eighty-three years old in the race!’

“I don’t know but someone told me that they thought I was the oldest man that had ever won it in this category at eighty-three years old. I think I’m the oldest man that ever won one. I know that I’m probably the oldest man who ever won one who never won one before.

BobbyRush005“Anyway, it ain’t ‘bout what I did. It’s about what’s done now. I won it and I’m thankin’ God for it. I thank the people who voted for me. I thank the Academy so much for what they’ve done because they’re good people inside the Academy. They’re fair-minded people about the music and who do it.”

There is a small group of aspiring blues artists who are attempting to claw their way into the business. I asked Bobby Rush what he would tell an aspiring blues artist today.

“I would tell aspiring blues artists: get yo’ crap together! Do watcha need to do. Learn all that you can about what you’re doin’ and don’t give the dream up because one thing’s for sure, if you stay with it long enough, it’ll come to pass. But you gotta know and look in the mirror and face the fact, ‘Am I good? Am I hot or am I warm?’ Because 99 ½ won’t do. You GOT to be 100% in it and you gotta be good at what you do.

“One thing’s for sure – and I’m not braggin’ but I’m thankin’ God for it – I’m an entertainer and I’m one of the best. That’s not a brag. I inspire myself to be one of the best. I’m one of the best. That’s what I sign myself as. I think I write good. I perform well. I have a good show and I just do what I do and I do the best I can do. I don’t care who’s in the house. It could be Stevie Wonder in the house. It could be B.B. King in the house. Whoever in the house. I may not sing very strong but I compete in a level event. That’s what I tell musicians and young people. Be good at what you do and compete. Be good at what you do and compete. You must be present. Do what you do. Be on time. Be precise and be good at what you do. If you not gonna be good at what you do and don’t love what you do, you won’t be good at what you do because you gotta love it.”

With the Grammy still clutched in his arms, I was certain that there was a lot more stuff on his career radar than before he was handed the coveted trophy.

“Well, I got somethin’ in mind. I probably got four hundred songs back in the can. My approach may be different but my story’s gonna be pretty much the same. I’m gonna talk about the kind of things I been talkin’ about. I wanna talk about – the next CD – I wanna talk about how you miss out on opportunity if you don’t take a hold of yourself today. You miss out on tomorrow if you don’t do it today. I want to talk about that. How you capitalize on tomorrow by doin’ it today. You know, you gotta do it now. Like I said, my motto was I must do all I can, while I can. I know there will come a time I cannot do, then I won’t regret what I did not do.

“I been writtin’ since 1954 and 55. I got songs I been writing and I just been puttin’ them down on paper. When there come a time I cannot write or think of them, they already been thought up. I’ll go back in and analyze them. That’s what I plan to do on the next album or two. If God give me the strength, I’m gonna dig into my soul and my head to when I was twenty-five years old and correct some of the things I should’ve been sayin’ and wasn’t sayin’ and now I’m old enough to know what I was sayin’ where I can analyze it and straighten it out, whether right or wrong. I think I’m to that point now where I can kinda teach myself what I shoulda known then and I’m gonna go through my own head and go through my own paper and say, ‘Hey! Here’s where I talked about then but here’s where it shoulda been.’ It could be almost right and I’m just getting there and diggin’ it out.

“You go to your teacher and say, ‘Watcha think about this?’ and your teacher says, ‘Well, that ain’t quite right. You should cross a t here, dot an I here.’ That’s all you needs is somebody to straighten it out. So I’m goin’ back and straightenin’ my own stuff out against what I have learnt from people and from writin’ and from people like you and from people who been in the business awhile. I learnt from Quincy Jones. I learned from all the masters. I listened to what they wrote. All the hits songs from Elton John down to whoever. I listen to all musicians. All walks of life. Jazz, blues, country, whatever it is. I listen to the stories. I listen to the music. Now, I’m gonna put some of those sayin’s – Bobby Rush sayin’s – and I’m gonna try to come up with somethin’ that makes sense to the whole world. I can’t say it’s gonna be a hit record but I tell you what: it’s gonna be good!”

We all hope to see and hear more of Bobby Rush in the years to come. That said, I still asked the blues legend what I alwaysBobbyRush006 ask someone who has been in the business a long time: When you’ve stepped off life’s tour bus up at that great gig in the sky, how do you want to be remembered and what do you hope your legacy will be?

“I want people to know that out of all the ups and downs and the struggles and hardship, though not seems conceivable but a dream, although it seems like a dream come true, but if you do what you want to do in life and feel good about it and do it well, it’s not a dream. It’s reality but it take time to do it. I want people to know that whatever you set your mind to do – if it’s impossible and God’s will of it – it’ll come to pass. But I do want people to know that it was written that a cow jumped over the moon but you gotta be smart enough to know if, in the book, he really didn’t jump over the moon. The cow didn’t really jump over the moon. It’s gotta be a realistic to yourself. I want people to know from me that I did what I did and I did it my way. I’ve gotten a Grammy and I’ve got this far doin’ it my way.”

In closing, Bobby Rush added:

“Let me say one thing: When you write, talkin’ ‘bout me, what you say about me or what people perceive me to be because whether it’s good or bad because they trusted you and what you say about me. So thank you in advance for sayin’ the good things – whatever you say about me – the true things about me, I’m hopin’ that they’ll be something that is readable and what they want to read about. Thank you for being that kind of a person.”

Bobby Rush is a class act all the way. Humble yet confident. Serious yet hysterically funny. Bobby Rush, we thank YOU for being that kind of person.

You can keep up with all things Bobby Rush at

Shep Gordon Talks Alice Cooper, Chefs, and the Dali Lama

Posted March 2017

jesse dittmar shep gordon croppedPhoto by Jesse DittmarOdds are pretty good that unless you’re a real music business geek (or a celebrity chef business geek), you have never heard of Shep Gordon.

I became aware of Shep many moons ago because I’ve been an Alice Cooper fan for over forty-five years and Shep just happens to be Alice’s one and only manager.

In 2015, Mike Meyers (Yeah, Mike “We’re Not Worthy” Meyers) produced a documentary about Shep entitled, Supermensch. The phenomenal response to the film is one of the reasons that prompted Shep to write his autobiography, They Call Me Supermensch.

The book and movie certainly delivered what I had hoped and expected with regards to stories about Alice Cooper. However, it was a real eye-opener because of the mountain of other accomplishments Gordon has achieved in his momentous career.

Chief of those accomplishments (at least, from my view) is the role of adoptive parent and grandparent. I don’t want to spoil the story in the book but let’s just say that Shep stepped up to the role and challenge in a huge way. The book is worth the purchase just for that story alone.

Suffice it to say, because of the movie and book, I requested an interview with the legendary 

manager to the chefs and stars (now mostly retired), and Gordon was gracious enough to accept.

I called Shep at his beachfront home in Maui. If you watch the movie, you will see that it was a home that he bought for privacy, serenity, and entertaining. The views are spectacular and definitely seem to be key to Gordon’s Zen-like approach to life these days.

At the outset of our chat, Gordon shared the motivations behind writing his book.

“It was a combination of things. It was really sparked by being at an event and Anthony Bourdain coming up to me and introducing himself, telling me he had become a book publisher and not just for his own books with Harper Collins and he wanted to do a book with me. I loved his work. I didn’t know him but I’m a bit of a groupie. It sounded like an interesting path.

“That - combined with the movie - brought a lot of attention to me and it brought a lot of people sort of looking for answers. ‘How come you’re happy?’ How to be successful. How to be happy. Big questions that I certainly didn’t feel qualified to give an answer to but thought that maybe if I spent some time doing my own kind of exploration of my life, I would find common themes that I could pass on to someone that might help them.

“So that had sort of been in the back of my mind. Then Anthony Bourdain showed up and I said, ‘Okay, let’s take a crack.’ Sort of like seventy years of psychotherapy put into two years.”

And how long did it take to get it done?

“Yeah, it took about two years to vomit it up!” he said, laughing.

jesse dittmar shep gordon 06When I interviewed Joey Kramer about his book, Hit Hard, he said that it was quite cathartic for him. I asked if that was the same for Gordon.

“Yeah, very much so. That’s what I meant by ‘psychotherapy.’ It really made me be introspective and find a lot of stuff about myself. Hopefully, some people can use it to help them.”

And the feedback from readers about the book has been enormous.

“Yeah, quite a bit. Sort of like you. They read it and ‘it really touched me and I’d like to talk about it.’ It’s had an impact.”

Many authors, when setting out to write about themselves, are surprised by the raw emotions and memories that are unearthed during the process. Shep Gordon was no exception.

“I got a much deeper appreciation of my father and how much of my life was sort of following in his footsteps. Things that I didn’t really realize beforehand but by writing the book I came to realize that he really sacrificed a lot to raise me and I sacrifice a lot to do what I do and never knowing why I was doing it.

“My dad died while I was fairly young and my mom passed away about twenty-five years ago. I think my dad was about thirty years ago, thirty five years ago. TheyEverythingKnoxvilleLogoEdited each got to about seventy. I’m seventy-one. I think I was thirty-five when he passed away. Something like that.”

One of the many surprises in They Call Me Supermensch is learning that none other than Jimi Hendrix is the reason why Shep got into the artist management business.

“Yeah, in sort of a left-handed way but he introduced me to Alice Cooper. I was sitting around with him and the Chamber Brothers. They asked me what I was doing for a living and nothing I was doing was legal. Anthony Bourdain said that I was a ‘pharmaceutical salesman’. They were great customers but they wanted to know what did I do that was legitimate. I didn’t really do anything and Jimi said, ‘Are you Jewish?’ And I am and I answered him honestly and he said, ‘You should be a manager.’

“The Chamber Brothers were sitting there – a couple of them – Willie and Lester – and they said that they had a band from Phoenix living in their basement that needed a manager – Alice Cooper. And that’s how it started some forty-odd years ago.”

When I asked if he hung out with Hendrix anymore after that, Gordon replied:

“Not a lot. He was on the road a lot. Doing a lot of recording. Going over to London. So not a whole lot. Chamber Brothers were there a lot so we hung a lot more. And Janis Joplin was there. She ended up dying there. So, she was around.

“But everybody came in and out. I had Pink Floyd, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Bob Dylan. Everybody. It was sort of the rock and roll hangout.”

The place Shep is referring to is the legendary Landmark Motor Hotel. Notorious for being Mecca for artists in the early days of classic rock, it is also where Janis Joplin passed away.

Typical of any major writing project, there are things that are planned to be included in the work that, for whatever reason, just doesn’t make the final cut due to having second thoughts about their importance or reader interest. Supermensch was no exception for Shep.

“Yeah, I think a lot of the things that didn’t make the cut were – and another part of the effect of writing the book had on me – was maybe some of the things I was holding as anger I had let go. When I saw them in front of me, I realized it was a petty anger and let it go.

“And, then, there were a few things that Legal cut out of the book that I can’t actually talk about; people who are still living I felt needed to be exposed but I just couldn’t do it legally. It’s part of the reality of living in our world.”

I’m a huge Alice Cooper fan and have been since I was around eleven or twelve years old. I say that I was a fan then. I think that it was actually a scared and morbid fascination with all the Cooper did in those early days to push the envelope rock performance. All that said, I asked Gordon what the least known or understood thing was about Alice.

“What a good lyricist he is. I would say that he gets the least amount of credit for that. He’s really a great lyricist. It comes to him really fast. It’s amazing. I’ve never seen anybody write as fast as him.”

Readers will be fascinated in reading about all the huge names Shep knew on a personal level and/or managed.  It reads like a Hollywood “Who’s Who” - people like Groucho Marx, Salvador Dali, and the Dali Lama. As a kid growing up in New York, knowing and working with the rich and/or famous was never in his plans.

“It was never on my radar screen at all which I think helped me in the beginning stages of my career because it was never on my radar screen at all. As I became immersed in my business, I found myself becoming more and more of a groupie. I’m really attracted to power and wealth. I think part of it is the fool’s gold aspect of it. But part of it is most of the people who get above the crowd got there for some reason. So, they become real interesting personalities and a lot of them I always felt that I could learn a lot from.

“But I definitely, in my younger years, could not care less about celebrity. I’m definitely a victim of the times because now I see myself always attracted to fame and power.”

When I shared that my experience in interviewing celebrities has pretty much been a positive one, Shep added:

“We’re all just people. In the end, we’re all just people. It doesn’t matter who you are. The same thing happens in a super market. Seventy percent of the people checking you out are nice and thirty percent are, ‘What did I ever do to bother you?’ It’s a human condition more than an entertainer’s condition.

“I think entertainers have a different set of things where they’re different. The way they touch and feel the world is different than a lot of people because, usually, if they’re successful, they have people who touch the world for them. So that part, maybe, becomes a little different. A little different sense of reality.

“But, as far as the basic core of humans, they all wipe their ass . . . if they’re still fortunate enough to be able to do it,” Gordon said with his trademark laugh.

I often ask people in interviews how they would fix the music business if they were made Music Czar – assuming that it needs fixing. Gordon’s response surprised me.

“Nah, I don’t think it needs fixing. It is what it is. The Grammy show will probably be the most watched show in the history of the Grammy’s, like it is every year.

“Part of music is if the old people like it, the young people don’t and if the young people like it, the old people won’t. What needs fixing in an art form is a very qualitative question. It’s in the eyes of the beholder . . . in my opinion. I know there’s a wide held belief that music is not as good, it’s not as successful. I don’t feel qualified to say that.

“I went to see the play, Hamilton. It was just as valid as a Broadway play. It had songs that I wouldn’t call a song. But to my kids, those are songs. One of the main raps that I hear from fellow people in the business my age is that there’s no more songs. It depends on how you define a song. There’s no more songs as we know them. That’s sort of my feeling. It’s sort of a young people’s game to vent and an old people’s game to enjoy.”

Shep Gordon is primarily known for being an artist manager representing not only Alice Cooper but also Anne Murray, Blondie, Teddy Pendergrass, Luther Vandross, and others. However, many readers will be surprised to learn that he is also credited for making the celebrity chef world what it is today. When I asked what the differences or similarities are between the music and culinary worlds, Gordon said:

“I think they’re almost exactly the same. In the end, they all do the same. The culinary art form is so developed. It’s great artists the same way that I think Alice is a great artist. I think Emeril Lagasse is a great artist on many levels.

“For Alice it’s lyric writing. For Emeril, it’s recipe writing. For Alice, it’s on the stage. For Emeril, it’s in front of the camera. They both have to play their hits all the time. If Alice does a concert and doesn’t do “School’s Out,” his audience would be really disappointed. If Emeril didn’t do some Cajun dishes, his audience would be really disappointed.

“They also have to invent new stuff. If Alice didn’t write new material, he’d become a thing of the past. Same thing with Emeril. Gotta write new recipes. They both spend the afternoon in their street clothes. Show time comes, Alice puts on his uniform and Emeril puts on his whites. Alice gets the band together and says, ‘You know, last night, I’d like to hear the guitar part here a little longer; maybe you could hold the bass down there and I’m going to do one lyric.’ Emeril gets the chefs together and goes, ‘You know, guys, last night there was little salt in that fish and I really want that potato cooked another thirty seconds.’ And, then, the show begins. Alice hits the stage. Emeril hits the kitchen and they, hopefully, make their customers happy and go home. You know, it’s really the same kind of thing.

“What the chefs didn’t have when I got started was any way to touch their fans outside their kitchens. So, think about if there weren’t record players, radio stations, or arenas, Michael Jackson would be a wandering minstrel. Just like Emeril had one restaurant. It was the invention of the record player and radio and TV and all these outlets that allowed them to touch their audiences. T-shirts with their names on it. That’s what I did for the chefs. All they had was one restaurant.

“I got the TV Food Network on the air and I got them selling pots and pans and doing videos of their cooking and selling cookbooks – ways that an Emeril Lagasse fan didn’t have to be in a hundred seat restaurant to be a fan and to live part of the experience. He sells spices. He can make his recipes.

“And now they’re starting to get remuneration at the level of rock stars. Emeril gets three or four hundred thousand dollars some nights to do big parties just like U2 gets paid fortunes to do their thing. Emeril is making a fortune on QVC just like the artists are making their money.

“So, to me, it was very obvious. They were great artists just like musical artists. They just happen to be culinary artists. They did exactly the same thing. They just didn’t have a way to touch their audience.”

And what does Shep hope people take away from the movie and book?

“My first reaction to the question is that I don’t really care. The movie wasn’t my thing. It was Mike Meyers. I never really did it for a reaction. The book, I think more personally, I hope that people take away the fact: live your life. You’re gonna die. Everybody’s gonna die. Live your life and be proud of what you do. You can do it the right way and be successful and be happy. I hope that comes through.”

As for what is on Gordon’s work radar for the next year or so, he says:

“I don’t really know. I’ve never really been a planner. I know I’m going to continue with Alice. It’s like a body part. He’s at a point in his life where he really is enjoying being on stage. He loves his band. I think he’s doing a hundred and ten dates this year.

“Next year I think that we’re doing some things with the Hollywood Vampires, which has been a lot of fun to put together and work on. I just see a lot of charity stuff and projects. I’m starting to do some talks. I’ll be speaking in Orlando and speaking up in Carmel. It’s nice. It gives me a chance to interact with the audience and let them ask questions about the book. I feel very comfortable in giving answers.”

As we wrapped up our chat, I asked Shep Gordon what I often ask people who have been in the business for a long time like he has. How does he want to be remembered and what does he hope his legacy is?

“No idea. That he was a good cook and a great grandpa. I loved people. I sorta do what I do for me so I don’t really think about things in those terms. I just hope that it’s not a big funeral that people have to travel to.”

If you haven’t done so already, you will definitely want to order Shep’s book, They Call Me Supermensch. Heck, while you’re at it, order Mike Meyers’ Supermensch. Both are well worth the investment and are fascinating to devour.

After you’ve read the book, try to start living life with “coupons” (you’ll know what that means when you read the book).