Damon Johnson Discusses "Echo"

Posted August, 2016

 

damonjohnson2016002If you’re a fan of Alice Cooper, Thin Lizzy, or Black Star Riders, then you most definitely know who guitarist, Damon Johnson, is. His finesse on the axe has taken him around the world with these acts who are household names in the music world.

Damon recently released his latest five song EP entitled, “Echo” (available on Amazon and iTunes) and recently chatted with me about it, beginning with answering my question as to how many solo albums “Echo” makes for him.

“Yeah, I guess, technically, this would be my third but it is truly my first fully electric album. I put out two acoustic albums. The first one was almost a fluke. It was just for fun. Then, I put out another one back in 2010. So, this is my first, fully realized, full band, lots of guitar kind of album. I’m really, really proud of it. I hope that it’s the first of many.

“I love this idea of the EP. I really do think it’s a great concept to have four or five brand new songs and get those out. Then, maybe within a year, get another four or five songs out.”

Johnson shared what the motivation behind the EP was.

“I would say that, truly, the greatest motivating force had to be my producer and my great friend,johnsonschonguilfordDamon (R) with Journey's Neal Schon (L) & luthier John Guilford - Photo by Randy Patterson Nick Raskulinecz. Nick and I both live in Nashville. I have been a fan of Nick’s for years. He’s produced so many great rock records. So, when we met randomly at an Iron Maiden show a few years back, I was just knocked out to get to talk to this guy! He was so approachable and really cool. Ironically, our wives became really close because Nick and I have small kids. So, while he and I were doing our various things, the girls would actually connect and get the kids together and whatever.

“So, Nick produced the second Black Star Riders album, The Killer Instinct. It was a great experience for the whole band but it also gave Nick a chance to really get to know me and what I’m all about musically and as a rock writer and as a player. Not long after we finished that album, he called me out of the blue one day and he said, ‘Hey, man, I’ve got some time. My studio is free. If you want to come on in and record some of your own stuff . . . “and he said, “I’m sure you’ve got songs,” which I did and always do.

“I think, really and truly, it was that phone call. In my head, I had always thought, ‘Wow! It would be great to record some stuff” but, man! It’s a process. There’s a lot of moving parts. You’ve got to get the guys. You’ve got to pay the guys. You’ve got to pay for the studio. There’s so many factors. With Nick’s help, it was incredible.

“Once we started taking steps in that direction, then I really got the momentum up in my brain to carry it all the way and get it done.”

Continuing by sharing who was on the EP with him, Damon said:

“There’s a guy on drums, Jarred Pope, who played with me in a band called Whiskey Falls. I did a country project back in 2007 for a couple of years. I met Jarred when he was still living in Bakersfield, California. I was blown away by his musical instincts as a drummer. I always told him, ‘One day, bro, we’re going to figure out a way to get a studio or get on stage and play some rock and roll.’ Ironically, Jarred is another transplant to Nashville. He moved to town a little before I did so as soon as I arrived, we hooked up and introduced him to some people I knew and vice versa. So, when I got ready to do this solo thing, I didn’t hesitate to reach out to Jarred.

“On the bass guitar, is a guy a named of Tony Nagy. I met Tony through my good friend, Chuck Garric. We played together in Alice Cooper. Chuck is still in Alice’s band. Chuck is also a new transplant to Nashville. I always call Chuck first because he’s my brother and we’ve done so much together. I love him and his wife. They’re amazing people. But he had so many other commitments so he said, ‘You gotta check out this guy, Tony Nagy.’ That’s how Tony came to me.

“So, it was just the three of us in the studio. I play all the guitar. All the keyboards. Taurus pedals. Some percussion. I just had a great time! I really couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.”

Johnson then shared a rundown about the stories behind the five songs.

damonalicegenland1Damon & His Former Boss, Alice Cooper - Photo Courtesy of Damon Johnson“There’s two songs: ‘Dead’ and another song called ‘The Waiting Kills Me’. I wrote them both with my friend, Kelly Gray. I don’t know if you remember, Randy, that Kelly produced the Wishpool album for Brother Cane. Kelly and I also had a band together for a little while called Slave To The System. These were two songs that we thought might make a sophomore STTS release. It just wasn’t possible to get everybody’s schedules to line up. I knew that they were both great songs so I’ve been kinda sitting on those for a while.

“Another song is “Nobody Using,” which I really love. It’s got so much tempo and energy. It just kicks ass, man. It reminds a lot of my fans of “Got No Shame” – kinda reminiscent of that in its intensity.

“Yet another song is “Just Move On” that I co-wrote with my buddy, Marty Frederickson, who I’ve worked with for two decades now. He and I wrote all those Brother Cane songs together. All the radio singles – we wrote those together.

“Then, Marty actually brought me what I feel is a gift in the form of a song called ‘Scars.’ ‘Scars’ is probably my favorite song of the five. Just an incredible lyric and an amazing vocal melody and it just gave me a bed to come up with some really – I guess – fulfilling guitar parts. I tried to keep them very lyrical. It’s a great lyric. It really spoke to me and I’ve had a lot of people reaching out and talking about how much they love that song.

“All five songs are different. Different in tempo and dynamic. Lyrical content. I kinda think that’s been my story my whole career. I’ve never really been part of one style or one specific sound. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m very pleased to get these five songs out to represent where I’m at, right now, and where I’m headed.”

When I asked Damon which song he would use as a calling card for “Echo”, he said:

“I guess that I would have to base that some feedback I’ve gotten from the fans, my friends, and my inner circle. I think a lot of people are gravitating towards ‘Dead’. ‘Dead,’ in some ways, it could’ve been a really cool Alice Cooper song. Lyrically. Guitar-wise. Kinda trashy. It’s got a real sexy tempo to it. I just think it’s exactly what you said. It just might be the statement song for the album. I have to mention ‘Nobody Using,’ as well. I’ve gotten a lot of great support in Europe. I’ve gotten some radio airplay. A lot of my Black Star Riders/Thin Lizzy supporters over there have gravitated towards that song. I have to give some credit to my great friend, Johnny Blade. He and I wrote that together. He’s another monster talent. I love to get into a room with another creative mind like that. Nine out of ten times, we not only come up with something, but we come up with something pretty fast. He and I are actually working on some new songs right now so you’ll hear more from that collaboration.”

As for tour plans in support of the EP, Johnson shared:

“There are absolutely plans to get out and tour. The way my schedule looks for the next six months, we’re going to do a handful of Thin Lizzy festival dates. In August, Black Star Riders are back in the studio with Nick Raskulinecz right here in Nashville to record the follow-up, which will be our third album. So, as soon as we get that wrapped up, that is totally my plan - is to be out, doing some dates to promote ‘Echo.’ That will probably be the latter part of September and into October and November. I’ve already done a handful of shows with my guys. The set list is just ridiculous. Plenty of Brother Cain songs. I play a couple of Black Star Rider songs. We certainly do a Thin Lizzy song. We pretty much play everything off of the new EP and we’ve actually worked up a medley of BAD. ASS Alice Cooper songs. It lasts about eleven minutes. It’s a barn burner, Randy! I hope you get to hear it!

The music world has been a-buzz with news that Damon’s former boss, Alice Cooper, was reuniting his original band members for a new album. I asked Johnson what his thoughts were about that news.

“I’ll say this: I’m a little out of the loop as to what or how those specific plans are coming together. I truly am. I know that Alice has been busy with his Hollywood Vampires thing and he has dates with his current band kind of booked throughout the remainder of the year. If there are, indeed, dates with the original band – there’s no question that that would be and is very, very cool! It’d have to be fun for Dennis and the guys to go out and do some proper dates with Coop like that. And I think it would be great of Alice to give those guys that opportunity.

“That original band was incredibly special. The further distance we get away from that, I think it becomes even more obvious how special they were. Alice has had dozens and dozens of different lineups as a solo artist through the years. But nothing can touch that original band. There was a special chemistry and it was a special sound that had a special swagger that’s not been duplicated since then. Not necessarily that he wants to but those guys played very, very unique together. You can bet – if they’re out there on some dates, I’m going to see one . . .or ten! Ha! Ha! If humanly possible, I’ll definitely be in the house to see that!”

Regarding what’s on his career radar for the foreseeable future, the renown axe man said:damonjohnsonthinlizzyPhoto Courtesy of Damon Johnson

“The plans for me, I’m hoping, are a mirror image of everything that has happened over the last twelve months. It’s really been the most fulfilling year I think I’ve ever had in my career. It’s an honor to be a part of Black Star Riders. It’s a real band. It’s truly growing its fan base at a time where it couldn’t be more difficult for guys our age just playing straight ahead rock to go out and build a following. We feel that momentum. We’re energized by it so we’re going to absolutely be balls to the wall with continuing Black Star Riders.

“Thin Lizzy, it’s Scott’s band. Scott is my brother; my bandmate in Black Star Riders. Whenever he wants to do a handful of those, I’m certainly available. Again, what an incredible experience for me and Ricky to be a part of that Thin Lizzy band with Scott, as well. The rest of the time, I’ll be doing my stuff. I really would love to put out another acoustic album. My wife laughs. She goes, ‘You’re kind of like a southern version of Neil Young. You can put out these introspective, folk singer/songwriter things and then fire up the amps with the band and be rockin’ in the free world.’ Ha! Ha! So, I told her that was an incredible compliment so I’m certainly flattered by it.”

Whether you catch Damon with Thin Lizzy, Black Star Riders, a random pick up jam band, or one of his amazing acoustic gigs, you will be in for an incredible musical treat. If you get the chance to meet him, you’ll have met one of the nicest, warmest, most genuine people God’s green earth.

Keep up with Damon at any of these links:

Website:     Damon Johnson     Thin Lizzy     Black Star Riders

 

Twitter:      Damon Johnson      Thin Lizzy     Black Star Riders         

Facebook:   Damon Johnson     Thin Lizzy     Black Star Riders

Melissa Etheridge

Posted July, 2016

 

melissa ethridge photojohntsiavis08 crop02Photo by John TsiavisMelissa Etheridge represents many things to many people.

First and foremost, she’s primarily known as prolific and masterful songwriter and performer. Her lyrics reach to the depths of the listener’s soul and causes them to think deeper than they ever have before on whatever Etheridge is singing about. All of that has resulted in close to 14 million domestic album sales, earning her several platinum and gold records.

She’s an iconic gay rights activist and has been very bold in her support of the gay community and, likewise, they’ve been unabashedly loyal to her.

Others see Melissa as a courageous and victorious cancer survivor, and rightly so.

Etheridge is also a committed environmentalist. Her celebrity has given her the platform to promote smart energy.

It is because of the first point – and her performance this month at Knoxville’s historic and beautiful Tennessee Theatre (as well as Atlanta’s Chastain Park Amphitheater and Nashville’s iconic Ryman Auditorium, if you’re inclined to make the day trips for those shows), that I was able to chat with Ms. Etheridge.

The first thing that I would like to say about our conversation is the total demonstration of class melissa ethridge photojohntsiavis07 reducedPhoto by John Tsiavisshe and her people showed. The interview was done as a favor and a few minutes were culled out of her jam-packed schedule just so she could speak with me about the tour and show. My phone number was transposed, making it impossible to get in touch with me at the appointed time. Yet, they persevered until they were able to get through to me.

This elevated Melissa and her team to a far taller pedestal than I already had them on. An artist of her status would have been well within their rights to blow off the call due to their busy schedule. The fact that Melissa didn’t speaks volumes of the kind of human being she is.

Once we connected and got through our introductions, I started the interview by asking how preparations for the tour were going. I was given a surprising glimpse into her personal life.

“It’s great. Right now, I’m in my quiet time. Get the kids finished up at school. I’m at home. That’s me prepping to go on the road, making sure that my teenagers are all set for the summer and that everybody is good.”

When I gasped that her kids are already teenagers (not realizing that THAT much time has elapsed since they entered her life), she gasped back by saying, “One of them is in college! She just finished her first year at Columbia University! Just amazing!”

For the Knoxville and other stops on this tour, I asked what we could expect from those shows.

“I’m kind of doing a couple of things this summer. I’m touring with Pat Benatar. That’s ninety minutes of the hits and we’re hitting it like that. The Knoxville stop will be my own show. What’s new about this is it’s a new configuration of musicians for me. I have played with three other pieces. I’ve played with full five piece bands. I’ve played with symphonies. But this show is going to be a trio. It’s me, and drums and bass.

melissa ethridge photojohntsiavis02 cropPhoto by John Tsiavis“Because I’ve been doing my solo shows, I’ve gotten really strong in my guitar playing. So, I said, ‘Look, I want to see what it’s like to move into this trio feel,’ which I was always relying on another guitar player or something else to fill it up. So, I go, ‘Let me see if I can go more into the Jimi Hendrix/Nirvana kind of space.

“I’m using a Nashville guy – David Santos is going to play bass and he’s just an amazing bass player. I’ve got Brian Delaney on drums so it’s going to be another new way of hearing ‘Come To My Window’ and ‘Bring Me Some Water’ and some of the hits you love. It allows me to really explore my own musicianship and re-imagining some of these songs. I’m really excited about it – a little scared, but that’s good!”

As a fan of both her solo and band performances, I was curious which environment she preferred to perform in.

“You know, it depends on the mood because, with a band, I get that dynamics. I totally get dynamics. Solo, I get to do everything myself but I don’t get dynamics because I have to do everything kind of on this one level. But I think I’ll always love playing with other musicians the best. I just like that experience.”

If you go to Melissa’s website, MelissaEtheridge.com, the first thing you see is a big splash about the cruise she’s hosting this fall. I asked her about it.

“Ah! It’s going to be so much fun! We’re going from Tampa, Florida, to Key West, Florida, then across the Gulf to Cozumel, Mexico, and, then, back. It’s all about music. There’s a lot about health; taking care of ourselves. It’s going to be a blast! It’s my very first cruise I’ve hosted so I’m really looking forward to it!”

As for what is on her radar for the near term besides the tour, Melissa shared:

“Next year! Speaking of Tennessee, I went down to Memphis at the beginning of the year. I went to Willie Mitchell’s old studio – Royal Studios – and I recorded with the High Rhythm Section. I’m re-imagining some Stax songs. I’m actually recording on Stax Records. They’ve been defunct and Concord bought the catalog. They’ve opened up and allowed me to use the Stax label. I made a Stax record. We’re actually mixing it right now. Vance Powell is actually mixing it down in Nashville. A lot of Tennessee influence on this next record!”

When I suggested that she’s got to do a blues album sometime, Etheridge replied:

“You’re gonna get some blues on this record. You’re gonna hear it! You’re finally going to hear me say, ‘That’s right!’ It all came from the blues. It’s where it all came from!”

As our chat was drawing to a close, I asked Ms. Etheridge what I ask many artists who have had a long, distinguished career: Looking many years ahead, when you’ve stepped off the tour bus at the great gig in the sky, how do you want to be remembered and what do you hope your legacy will be?

“Ah! I want people to say, ‘God, she made a difference! Because she was here, life was a little sweeter. Life had a little bit more of a soundtrack.’ That I just lived well; gave more than I took in the end.”

Kinky Friedman Speaks His Mind

Posted April, 2016

Kinky Friedman. Maybe some of you have heard of him. I’d describe him as the Will Rogers of our day. He is hands down one of the most entertaining and colorful people I’ve had the privilege of interviewing. Ever.

Friedman is one of the most gifted writers of any kind (music, literature, or punditry) I’ve ever read or met. Admittedly, a lot of what he has to say my singe the most sensitive of listeners. However, what he does say – and how he says it – is the most logically thought provoking words you’re ever likely to hear.

Kinky FriedmanPhoto by Brian Kanof

An accomplished singer, songwriter, and pundit, Kinky recently released his latest CD, The Loneliest Man I’ve Ever Met and I had the honor of chatting with Kinky by phone at his ranch about this album.

Before we started the official interview, Kinky slid into describing the kind of tour that he was about to embark on shortly after our chat.

“This is a tour on the Hank Williams level as far as driving is concerned. We’re performing 35 back-to-back shows with no nights off and that’s done deliberately to produce the affect that we’re running on pure adrenaline. It’s the idea that will make the show purer and rawer. We’ll see.”

Friedman ran as an Independent for the governor’s office in Texas, securing about 12% of the vote. Because of that, I asked him what he makes of the presidential contenders in both parties and what does he make of the news of Boehner having resigned earlier that day.

“None of it’s terrifically important. I feel that being a musician is such a higher calling than being a politician, anyway, having been both. I think Mark Twain had it right that in America, we have no criminal class except the U.S. Congress. I think he’s correct on that. I think they’re all pretty weak. I think that if musicians ran the place, we’d be in a lot better shape. I know it would, in fact. We wouldn’t get a hell of a lot done in the mornings but we’d work late . . . AND, we’d be honest!”

I was caught completely off guard by his comments so I asked him how, exactly, that would work out and what would really get accomplished if musicians ran our government.

“Say that I had won the governor’s race – a race that I won in every place but Texas in 2006 – let’s say I won and I appointed a number of musician friends to run various aspects of the state. I think you’d have decent people and, you know when you talk about occupations? Have you ever been in a room full of lawyers or real estate people or politicians – whatever – doctors, even, you don’t get that kind of decent feeling that you get when you have a group of musicians together.

“And, they’re problem solvers. They’re creative and, by and large, they’re decent people. The politicians have been corrupt before they even got into politics. They were hall monitors or something in elementary school. They were starting early.

“I’m telling ya, Randy, it’s a kind of bad person that is drawn to politics and that’s exactly what JFK did not want. He’s one of the guys like you and me that got into it to help the country. It’s a thankless waste of time in a lot of ways because the crowd always picks Barabbas. The crowd shouts, ‘Free Barabbas! Kill Jesus!’ They do it every time.

“So, that’s where we’re at and it’s been that way ever since. You give them a chance to elect an Obama or a Rick Perry, and they will . . . or a Jerry Brown or an Arnold Schwarzenegger, whoever – that guy will slip right through. But the Nelson Mandela’s and the Lincoln’s and the Churchill’s – that’s usually a fluke when they’re elected. It’s a twist of fate that gets them there.”

This begged the question as to whether or not Kinky saw a Churchill or Mandela in today’s political circles.

“Hell, no! Do you? Tell me where he is! No, I don’t. I was talking the other day about being a struggling songwriter and how really a beautiful thing that is to be – although I didn’t appreciate it at the time, maybe. But it is. It’s a wonderful thing to be. And to care enough about stuff like watch a movie twenty years ago and watching Willie Nelson signing autographs in the rain; a long line of people there along side his bus, it’s raining and he’s standing out there in the rain and they’re standing in the rain and he’s staying right with them. That was nice to see – autographs in the rain. All we’re talking about is inspiration!”

Since we were mixing entertainment and politics, I asked Friedman if he thought that the entertainment industry was in the role of the dance band on the Titanic.

“That’s an interesting thought. Well, that’s very possible. Speaking of the Titanic, one of my campaign slogans was ‘The professionals gave us the Titanic and the amateurs gave us the ark,’ which is partly true. Yeah, we might be listening to the dance band. Ha! Ha! It’s very possible. But I think we’re probably more resilient than that. I think that life is kind of like a Kurt Vonnegut novel.

“I don’t know if you the story about Nelson Mandela listening to ‘Ride ‘Em Jewboy’ in his prison cell on Robben Island. There’s nothing as farfetched as that, I would think. I mean, when I first heard that, I really could not believe it. If you had told me that he had listened to Bob Dylan there. That they smuggled in a tape, well, that’s not even a story, okay? But the idea that he did get tapes smuggled in and one of them was my first record, ‘Sold American,’ which he had not ordered specifically. It was just whatever they could give him, you know? And, on that record, the song that he played every night late, late, before he went to bed was ‘Ride ‘Em Jewboy’ and this is from the guy in the next prison cell who was his right hand man who they put right next to Mandela in the next cell. That is amazing. That almost makes it all worthwhile. It’s remarkable.

“The question was posed to me would I’d rather be a guy making millions playing in stadiums all over the country or would I rather know that a song I’d written was listened to by Nelson Mandela in his prison cell. The guy who asked me that said, ‘Well, I’ll tell you my choice, Kinky. I’d rather be you.’ Of course, I’m older than that guy. I gotta think about my goals as a young man which were to be fat, famous, financially fixed, and a faggot by fifty. Some of them I’ve achieved.”

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 39 years since his last album, “Lasso From El Paso”. I asked Kinky what so long to come out with a new studio album.

“Probably because life gets in the way. That pure place, Nashville, of the 60’s and 70’s, I was born a little too late on that one – to hang around Willie and the guys. But it was still a really cool place. Also, politics keeps intruding. It’s an addiction. Recently, Jamey Johnson, the singer, came up to me and suggested that we run on a ticket. I would run for governor of Texas and he would run for Lieutenant Governor and it would be the Kinky Johnson ticket.”

I refrained from laughing because I didn’t know if he was joking. He obviously was.

Continuing on . . .

“Life does get in the way. The animal rescue takes time. I suffer from the curse of being multi-talented. Writing books – more than thirty, now, that I’ve written. That takes time. It’s really been thirty-two years since I recorded and I didn’t see it going anywhere. This record has surprised me because I wasn’t expecting all that much. I don’t know the answer to that. If I saw that people were actually hearing stuff.

“There’s more buzz on this record than any record I’ve ever done except the very first one. This one sounds better. I attribute that – or I blame. Whatever goes wrong, I blame Brian Molnar – the producer who’s from New Jersey. So, he brings down this New Jersey kid named Joe Cirotti – who decimated my liquor cabinet. The kid – of course, a 47-year-old man could be a kid to me – but this kid did great! He really did some beautiful guitar work which is fortunate because that’s almost the only instrument on the record, it’s that sparse. What is added to it, then, is the harmonica genius of Mickey Raphael – Willie’s harp player. The Little Jewford played keyboards on ‘A Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis’ and ‘A Nightingale Sang In Berkley Square’ – two songs with long titles.

“Jewford is a Jew and he drives a Ford. But other than them – there’s a little bit of stand-up bass put on the record and that’s about it. Even the Willie cut was very sparse. All of it was kind of spontaneous – the Frank Sinatra method. If you don’t get it on one take, we’ll try two and after that, **** ‘em and feed ‘em Fruit Loops, you know? After that, to hell with it.

“We have a really good cut, actually, that we didn’t put on this, which is Mickey Newberry’s ‘San Francisco Mabel Joy’. That is a killer cut but, you know, enough’s enough. The album borders on the melancholy, perhaps. I think melancholy is very important. It’s a linkage between classical music and really great country music. I mean, anybody wants to be an artist better than others.

“Step one is to be miserable. Not unhappy or you’re not going to create anything. That’s pretty sure. You look at the guys now and go, ‘Well, how come Bob Dylan or Kristofferson or Willie is not writing at the level that they used to write at? How come we’re not getting ‘Hello Walls’ or ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ or ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’ out of those guys?’ I do think it’s an interesting question and I would say that, probably, enough success and fame will distance you from your art. That’s for sure. So you can show up. You still do shows. The shows can be inspiring and great. I don’t mean to take away from these guys because if you want to get inspired, Randy, you and I could go around and see bands all day and we wouldn’t. We’d see a lot of derivative bands with really good musicians, perhaps. So, the guy sounds like Stevie Ray Vaughan. So the guy sounds like Roger Miller. That’s not what we’re looking for, here. I mean, we’re looking for an original.

“Maybe the gene pool is just dried up of talent. I don’t know. There’s a hell of a lot of good musicians and their hearts are in the right place. They want to be Townes Van Zandt when they grow up. There’s nothing wrong with that. But, for some reason, where Willie says all the dreams go down in Nashville – the kid with a pickup truck and guitars and a suitcase full of song lyrics. That’s where he goes. But, unfortunately, when he gets there, he sees that the guys making records and making all the money and all the success is going to guys their religion is click tracks and songs written by committee of four and five people. It sounds like background music for frat parties. Other than that, it’s fine.

“I kinda took a page from ‘Red Headed Stranger’. This is real sparse. It’s stripped down to the soul. On many of the cuts - there’s no drums on anything. There’s no bass on anything. Some of it’s out of sync – out of rhythm. That is a deliberate effect.

“On ‘Bloody Mary Morning,’ we want that to sound like it’s done in a West Texas bar room and that it’s spontaneous. We want that to come off. Now, listening to it, it’s close plus we’ve got a great couple of passages by the jazz cowboy, Willie Nelson, on Trigger (Nelson’s fabled, beat up acoustic guitar). Trigger rides again on this. That song, Willie told me, that Glen Campbell gave Willie twenty-five thousand dollars - back in the old days when it was a hell of a lot of money – so he would publish all of Willie’s songs for that year. The problem was that year Willie only wrote one song and Glen was not happy about that. The song was ‘Bloody Mary Morning’ which did not knock Glen’s **** to his watch pocket but it’s always been right up there with one of my favorite Willie songs AND it’s kind of a leg opener for the record.

“I had a girlfriend years ago that used to refer to Jagermeister as a great leg opener. Now this (Bloody Mary Morning) is a leg opener. It gets you into the record. It’s pretty good standing alone, actually, ‘cause, I guess, it’s pretty raw. That idea of Willie’s about never taking a night off when you’re out there – that’s very interesting. That’s what we’re trying to do. I’ve done it for as many as sixteen shows in Europe before. It makes you really raw and pure – especially if you’re doing something solo like that. You start hearing ‘Jesus’ and ‘Johnny Appleseed’ and ‘Richard Pryor’ calling you. Hank Williams. It’s like Hank Williams opening for Mozart. It really elevates the experience and you operate on the Hank Williams level because you get out of Dodge every night that way. I’m a kind of guy that likes to – I’m prepared to be a Wal-Mart greeter if my career goes south.”

When I commented that I would really like to see him as a greeter at Wal-Mart, Kinky didn’t miss a beat in responding.

“Well, I like people! I think it’s a spiritual thing. I think Wal-Mart greeters are imitations of Jesus. They’re certainly closer to Jesus than politicians are. I mean, politicians say all the right words but all the Wal-Mart greeter says is, ‘How can I help you?’ and usually with a friendly smile.”

Then, circling back to the CD and supporting tour, Friedman concluded:

“I’m kinda jazzed about this. It’s hard to get excited when you’re seventy years old and I can’t get my head around the idea that I’m seventy. Of course, I do read at the seventy-two-year-old level. We will see how this all transpires.”

Then, out of the blue, he adds:

“I wish that I could still be a struggling songwriter. I think that’s one of the highest callings – being a legitimate, struggling songwriter. I guess they’re there but Nashville has seemed to me to be very a very corporate place now. That’s why the song, ‘Tompall Glaser’ – he epitomizes the way it used to be. You know, Tompall – as well as singing backup for Marty Robbins on ‘El Paso’ with his brothers – did not have to be an outlaw. He didn’t have to fall in with Willie and Waylon ‘cause he was already King of the Hill with the establishment. But he did. That meant opening up his studio at all hours of the night because of crazy people. All kinds of things. I think he burned a lot of bridges with that. He’s kind of an unsung hero in that regards because Willie and Waylon had nothing to lose at that point.”

We had long since left his aforementioned “leg opener” remark so I had forgotten that Kinky had already answered my unasked question regarding which of the songs would he use as a calling card to people to entice them to want to buy “The Loneliest Man I Ever Met.” I led into the question by acknowledging that he had a few covers on the disc. He interrupted me by saying,

“We prefer to call them interpretations! Well, I mean, if Tony Bennett records ‘Girl From The North Country’, that would be a cover. With me, I never really had a recording style – not recording in thirty-two years. I think ‘Girl From The North Country’ would be halfway between Bob Dylan and Kinky Friedman. That’s where it is. So, it’s not quite ‘cover’, although, yes, you are correct. Some of them are important or significant like Warren Zevon’s ‘My **** ****ed Up’ or ‘My bleeps bleeped up’. Ha! Ha! A song written by a guy dying of cancer but a bigger song than that because it aptly describes the world today. Really a good description of where we’re at. It’s kind of a visionary song. In a Zen way, the doctor is Jesus Christ.”

Then, answering my “calling card” question, he adds:

“I would personally point them to ‘Pickin’ Time’. Johnny Cash’s song that almost nobody appears to know. Are you familiar with that one, Randy? I tell you, I’ve talked to Johnny Cash fans and they’ve never heard it! It is a song – again, it’s kinda like Warren Zevon’s song – those songs are very different. It’s not about a guy looking forward to hauling his cotton into town. It’s more than about pickin’ cotton. We all have a pickin’ time, you know? We damn sure better take advantage of it when pickin’ time comes.

“Then, again, ‘Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis’ is just a beauty. It’s interesting. That song has a real linkage to country music in that the whole song is a lie. The entire song is a fabrication just like you or I would say our career was not doing well. You ask a songwriter in Nashville, ‘How are things going for you?’ and they’ll say, ‘Great! We’ve got five new songs that they’re gonna record now’ and it’s all bull****. It’s all puttin’ up a front, you know? And we all do that – not as transparently as the hooker in Minneapolis – or a elaborately – but we all do that. Only the last lines of the song are true. ‘I need to borrow money to pay this lawyer. And, Kinky, hey, I’ll be eligible for parole come Valentine’s Day.’ I think it’s Tom Waits’ best song. And ‘Bloody Mary Morning’ is one of Willie’s.

“As sure as I’m telling you right now, Randy, I go around Texas here, talking to people in their thirties and they’re not sure if they’ve ever heard ‘Bloody Mary Morning.’ They don’t know who wrote it. The people don’t ******* know this.

“So, yeah, this record is personal. It’s not written to educate anybody. It’s written for a silent witness. That’s who it’s written for – who is either a dead sweetheart or a lost cat – both of which I have in my life. Yeah, and by the way, my animal rights group takes a lot of time.

“If you’re just into one thing – like Willie is just into the music. Well, three areas: music, drugs, and golf. I find golf stuffifyingly dull and the only two good balls I’ve hit were when I stepped on the garden rake. And, pot, I only smoke it when I’m with Willie. It’s a form of Texas etiquette and I sure smoked it on Bloody Mary Morning because, I tell ya, I can’t believe that he could even hold his guitar on that. I’m tellin’ ya, the song sounded to me like it was an hour and a half long. I started tellin’ him, ‘Willie, this is going on too long.’ It’s under three minutes. It REALLY throws my timing off. But he’s just pickin’ away there. That one was two takes.”

Kinky then proceeded to tell me the back story about how he got Willie involved on “Bloody Mary Morning.”

“Well, I did kind of a dirge like version of ‘Bloody Mary Morning’, which I really liked but it’s really slow. It’s real slow. You hear some lyrics that most people haven’t heard because nobody’s listening because he sings it so damn fast. But there’s some really nice lyrics in there.

“So, anyway, Willie didn’t like that take. He thought it was too slow. I was just doing it without Willie there. I played it for Willie and he didn’t like it. His people said, ‘Willie wants to do something you’ll both be proud of.’ I talked to him and he said, ‘Let’s do something more engaging. More upbeat.’ So, that’s what we did.

“Again, it was a Frank Sinatra style – not using any particular charts or anything like that. What the record mostly is, I think, is intimate. We brought down a big microphone. It was that easy. Everybody can use a big microphone and sound great. It’s just an old fashion microphone. It was done in a little house here on the ranch. Joe on guitar and Mickey on harp. I couldn’t believe the sound! How good the sound is. On the other hand, it is stripped down to the soul so I don’t know if radio is going to play it. The problem is that it’s a Miley Cyrus world. That’s the problem and how you break through that white noise is the question.

“So, not only do we shout out, ‘Free Barabbas! Free Jesus!’ but we’re all complicit in burying Mozart in a pauper’s grave. So, I don’t really know what we can do except to strive to be a struggling songwriter. I’m doing it with this tour. This is a privilege to me to be able to be out there and play to people who almost all of them are younger than the songs. In many of these places, I’ll be the oldest guy in the place. A lot of young people could not do thirty-five consecutive shows when you’re driving five hours, six hours, seven hours to the gig and playing. Then, getting out of Dodge afterwards after you meet everybody and all of that.

“People say really interesting things. Switzerland and Austria were terrific. I’m the new David Hasselhoff there. The thinking man’s David Hasselhoff. The audiences are very young there but they know all the songs. They’ve read the books. You know, forty years after these songs have been written – some cases more than that – that’s remarkable to be able to do this. It’s a privilege to be able to go out and do this.

“A teenager came up to me after a show on the last tour and he said, ‘Kinky, it’s so nice to see somebody enjoying his life.’ The kid didn’t know that I was in a tailspin of black despair at the time but he thought I was enjoying my life. Maybe I was. A little Jewish lady at the Jewish Community Center in Denver last year – she must’ve been four foot something – she was in her eighties or nineties – she toddled up to me and said, ‘Kinky, it’s so nice to have you on the planet.’ Then there was a guy in Texas that came up to me outside of Houston. This was not so long ago and I ended the show with, ‘They Don’t Make Jews Like Jesus Anymore.’ He said, ‘Why did your people kill our lord?’ and I said, ‘Because the ************ had it comin’.’

“That’s been something I’ve been telling on stage. I never thought I would because I thought people are not going to like this. It’s a little too much but the Christians absolutely love it. They’re, like, spitting up on themselves.”

With so much discussed about Nashville and the state of music today – especially country music, I asked Kinky what he would do to fix the music business (if it was fixable) if he was made Music Czar.

“I think ***** ****** up. It’s unfixable and I think the problem is a combination of political correctness and cultural A.D.D.

“Again, I think you could put Hank Williams in with Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor – they’d all be homeless people today. They would be homeless people if they were around. Hank would be just like Johnny Cash. He would not be able to get a record deal in Nashville, which is not surprising.

“I don’t know if there’s been a good, standalone song that’s been written in decades there. If it has, it hasn’t emerged. There’s nothing against Toby Keith or Garth Brooks – I think Garth is the anti-Hank. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with those guys, especially. It’s just that when you’re writing in a corporate whore house with four other guys and you know that Garth is going to put his name on it or whoever wrote a little piece of it – all you can say is that this guy sounds like a young Billy Joe Shaver. You could say that’s a compliment. But, you don’t find anybody – except for geezers – that truly inspire and seem original. I guess that’s what I’m saying.

“I’m saying you’ve gotta see a geezer! You gotta see Merle Haggard or Kris or Willie or Bob Dylan or Billy Joe Shaver. I guess there’s a few more but we’ve lost a lot of them. Levon Helm used to have that affect on me. I would watch Levon Helm play drums and sing and you’d come away saying, ‘**** that was rock and roll!’ That was a really good form of it.

“Again, if inspiration is the source, we’re not getting it from the political landscape. I mean, if you look at the continent of Africa, do you see a bunch of Nelson Mandela’s popping up into leadership positions? Hell no! You see a bunch of corrupt, black leaders emulating what the white colonialists did. That’s all you see. Of course, in America, it’s not even worth mentioning. Look at all the candidates. Every damn one of them. We should have term limits for every elected official. I suggest two terms: one in office and one in prison. That would move the ball forward a little bit.

“As music czar, how to get something by a handful of geezers to inspire people in the field of music. How do we do it? Willie is much more optimistic about Nashville than I am. Willie says that this is where people with there dreams go and I’m telling him that it’s like Haight-Ashbury. It’s over and when it’s over, it’s over. It would be stupid for me and Willie to go out on the sidewalk of the East Village in New York and play right now. Forty or fifty years ago, it would be cool.”

When I asked if the old Nashville is the new Austin, Friedman said:

“I call Austin ‘Dallas with guitars.’ It’s become very corporate. They never met a condominium they didn’t like. Randy, I’m serious. They have these meters they go around with – decibel meters – and they check the clubs for how loud the music is. That’s the reason why the people bought the condos in the first place, is the live music scene – excitement around that. Now, they’re shutting them down. Of course, they’re only shutting down the mom and pop places.

“Anyway, I don’t know what the answer is. I mean, you do have to be miserable and frustrated to write in the first place. Maybe we’ve all changed, Randy? Maybe that’s what it is. Maybe this cultural A.D.D. has set in and we cannot listen to anything beyond not even a whole song. I really don’t know what the answer is except, shoot, the last time that I was in Nashville, they these three stories of bad music playing. It all sounded very similar. It sounded like this frat party music.

“I’m not saying that country music has to remain heartbreak/lonesome whatever but there is that linkage. I’m tellin’ ya, I do think there’s that linkage between country and classical.

As our call wrapped up, I asked Kinky Friedman how he wished to be remembered and what he hoped his legacy would be.

“Well, I don’t know about that. I’ve said that, when I die, I want to be cremated and have my ashes thrown in Rick Perry’s hair. Now, Rick’s gotten out of the race so that one doesn’t really work, anymore, really.

“I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about what I want to remembered as. Any life that you look at too closely is a failure – particularly your own. If you look at people that you think were great men like Churchill and John Lennon, for instance, both were convinced that they were failures, you know, with good reason. I mean, Churchill won the war and they just pulled the rug out from under him. John Lennon was convinced that Paul McCartney was the genius of the Beatles. Paul did write a couple of great songs but John was the genius of the band.

“I saw Ringo in Austin at a concert that he did there. I had a chance to talk to him. I knew him from the Bob Dylan tour and all of that. He played the voice of Jesus on my song, ‘Men’s Room L.A.’ – which I did not write. It was written by Buck Fowler. Anyway, I asked Ringo who his favorite Beatle was and he said John. I said, ‘Me, too, present company excluded, of course.’

“But, now, the reason why he was the spiritual heavy weight was he inspired. Without him I doubt that they would’ve been an inspirational band. I mean, he reached people! That’s kinda what we’ve lost. Now we’ve got a president that is the Forrest Gump of all presidents. You would think that at least he could inspire but he can’t. I mean, he just can’t!

“I don’t know. I guess on my tombstone, how about, ‘I aspire to inspire before I expire.’”

Paul Nelson Discusses Johnny Winter and Badass Generation

June, 2016

thepaulnelsonbandIt isn’t a stretch at all to say that Johnny Winter was one of the preeminent blues men of our time. Revered and respected, we lost him far too soon on July 14th 2014.

Before his death, I had the privilege of interviewing Johnny twice. Both interviews were orchestrated by his dear friend and manager, Paul Nelson. I recently interviewed Paul about his new album (included with this interview in its entirety on Boomerocity.com) but we started our chat about his late friend. At the outset, I said that, while I didn’t want to make this a “puff piece,” I also didn’t want this to a negative chat about his late, dear friend. Nelson jumped right on the comment.

“You know what? Everything was common knowledge. Even Johnny asked back in the day, ‘Should I be talking about this stuff?’ I go ‘yes.’ I go, “You need to say everything that you did. You went down to the dumps and came back up, and I know if you can that, do it at full swing. That’s what we gotta do. Plus, it’s going to be educational for people and you can help some people get off of drugs and this and that.’

So he was totally open about the shape he was in and what he was doing, so it’s all good.”

This was our first chat since Winter’s passing so I asked about how it had been for him in the days immediately after his dear friend’s death.

“It wasn’t easy. There is a lot of family involved, the band involved, but we put together the Johnny Winter All-Star shows, and that was great to honor Johnny. It was therapeutic for the band as well. And we still do it. We’re doing a series of these in February and March, the movie’s coming out, March 4 “Down and Dirty.” We had guests. I went to Jamaica, we did it with Govt. Mule and Warren Haynes and Sonny (Landreth) – good friends of mine. Edgar (Winter, Johnny’s brother) did one – actually, online at Buddy Guy’s at his Legends club. Ronnie Baker Brooks, Debbie Davies, Joe Lewis Walker, Earl Slick, Mike Zito.

“So we’ve been doing tons of these. It’s kind of like the Jimi Hendrix Experience thing. That started off as one show of B. B. King’s. It was birthday celebration for Hendrix. Johnny and I were on it and they developed to what you see now, this touring thing.

“We’ve lost so many important artists, each one, even B. B. King has the B. B. King All-Star Band. His drummer, T. C., put that together. It’s important for everyone. We have to keep his music going and it’s like I said, the movie’s coming out so is what we do, is they screen the movie at these concerts and then they see us play. These are the original members and we also have original members from Johnny’s past. Bobby Torello, the guy that played on previous albums and previous tours. So we’ve been doing that.

“Johnny had such a comeback toward the end, he got so much healthier except he had the emphysema, which finally was his downfall. But other than that, people saw this resurgence and that actually what the movie’s about, among other things about rock history; his history, and Blues.”

The last time Nelson and I talked about three or four years ago, I met with him and Johnny when they were appearing in Dallas. Johnny’s favorite guitar had just recently been stolen. I asked Paul if the guitar had ever been recovered.

“Yes, and the reason why we found it was because I didn’t publicize it. The key is to never publicize something like that because then it goes deeper and deeper into hiding. Luckily a fan saw it at a store being sold by someone else. He notified us, sent it over and we got the Laser back. It was stolen in Massachusetts. We got it back and that’s one of those rare things. You have an instrument like that and what can you do with it? The biggest fear is that it goes into hibernation and then comes back decades. Do not open until 2050. It worked.”

Before we switched to chatting about Paul’s new CD, I asked him for some closing thoughts about Johnny, maybe something about him that might surprise fans or something that he’d like to share that maybe they’re not hearing about the late blues master.

“He had a great sense of humor. Not only was he a great musician artist, but his love for the Blues made him, and I’ve only seen a few like this, like Billy Gibbons, Bill Wax, who works Bluesville, Dick Sherman, the producer. Blues historians, just knew everything about who played this, who was on this recording, who had the drinking problem or all the little nuances of the Blues, he knew everything and I was honored that he took me under his wing and that he turned me onto that. ‘Get this album and listen to this specific list, instead of going out and buying all the records by Chuck Berry, or all the records by different people.’ This is what I learned. This is what we all learned back in the day. That was great.

“On the tour bus, he listened to Blues. He had 15,000 songs on his IPod and he listened to it from when he awoke until showtime and then afterwards, every day. He was just constantly inputting that information and then he would, those lists would come up during that night’s performance. He was a sponge.

“He was a great guy. At the end of those past few years, he was totally clean. A lot of people don’t know I had him get laser surgery. He was no longer legally blind. That was a big deal. And then, of course, the methadone was gone, the drinking was gone, the smoking was gone. He was really enjoying his life toward the end. He was completely free of all that stuff, and the fans were noticing it. The way he was performing, that’s why it was so important to put out that record, Roots, Step Back, which got he and I the Grammies. What’s so important is that his voice was so strong, his playing was so much stronger, so that was the key. And then when we appeared on Letterman, he hadn’t been on TV because of his health. But this was a huge thing in TV, you can’t really lie. He had added a couple of pounds but other than that, he performed. He heard the whole record. And this movie, he saw the whole movie as well. He did witness everything that’s coming out now; which was important.”

I asked Nelson if he felt Winter would like how he’s being remembered and what his legacy is so far?

“Absolutely. There was a reason why he wasn’t up there with his cohorts and his old johnnywinterband colormanagement, he pushed the envelope too. He made Ozzy Osborne look like he had training wheels. But once that was cleaned up, everybody started realizing what an important piece of the puzzle Johnny was and how Rolling Stone should’ve mentioned him in the top 10 at least. I mean, it’s Hendrix, Johnny and, then (Stevie Ray) Vaughan. A lot of people don’t know that Stevie Ray Vaughan used to come over to Johnny’s in Texas and hang around with him. Johnny would teach him riffs.

“So Vaughan was Johnny’s student. It’s that important. I think that the Grammy solidified it. The TV appearances, Crossroads, these were all important things for him. I was honored that he trusted me enough and we were close friends, to help this out, to know what had to be done to get him back to that position.

"And, now, you have to buy Johnny’s stuff, you have to listen to Johnny. The whole jam band resurgence is the way Johnny played. His connections with the Allman Brothers, his connections with Hendrix, his connections with The Beatles, his connection with Janis Joplin, his connections with Vaughan, he was everywhere in musical history for decades. Every major event. The 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, the 90s were bad years. The movie described that. The movie is very enlightening about what happens. People are going to be surprised. They’ll finally see the man behind the music.”

Shifting to Nelson’s new CD, I asked him what was the story and motivation behind it and what did he set out to accomplish when he started making the album.

“I’ve been studying music for years. I studied with Steve Vai, with Michael Stern, Steve Kahn. I’ve toured with other bands and produced. Johnny was like, “Paul I know you’ve done a lot of other stuff, but I’m glad you just play blues with me. And we get along musically first.” That was first and foremost. He said, “I know no, you can play like Rick Derringer and do all that stuff.”

"We were always battling on guitar. He goes, “I like the fact that I know that you can play like that, but you don’t so that I can do my thing and we compliment each other really well.” And he was really proud of that, so that was cool.

"That musical background of all these styles that he recognized, he was actually going to be on this (CD). When Johnny passed, you have to continue on. We’re all artists, musicians, we have to do our thing so I continued playing, producing and all that. But I knew I wanted to do my own thing. I had done my own solo album - an instrumental thing – very ‘Eric Johnsony – before that, called “Look.” I had this singer that I’d produced a couple of years ago, and I had my eye on him from when I was working with his band; then the bass player, Chris Redan the drummer from Popa Chubby, Chris Alexander from Samantha Fish and then Morton Fredheim, who was actually number two on The Voice over in Europe. I said, ‘Let’s get together and start writing material.’

“So they came over and this stuff just started flowing out of me because I had such a great singer. This guy was like Paul Rogers on steroids. And then all of sudden it was like, ‘Whoa, wait a minute. I thought this was going to be this type of album?’ This stuff just spewed out of us. It was like retro, paying tribute to the 70s type of stuff, which everybody loves; but at the same time, it’s current.

“So all the different styles starting coming out, Jam, Southern Rock, Blues, and the lyrics started coming out of me; the music started coming out of me and it just happened.

“I got signed with Sony. They said, ‘We’ll put it out in February’ and then I have a separate deal with Sony Japan that comes out in April. I really wanted to write songs though. It’s inspirational when you work with a singer, though I didn’t want - there’s a real lack of front man nowadays. Now it’s just guitar players and singing. I’m going to be the one who changes it, but everybody professes that they love that kind of music, but then when you ask them to do it, they go, ‘Oh no.’ They’ve played guitars for years and then all of sudden they’re singers in a week. Now that I have a singer, the lyrics flow out. It’s so inspirational when you’re writing something and you know that you have the tools and the players to not worry whether it’s going to be good or not. It’s going to develop. While I’m writing this I go, ‘Boy, is this going to be something else when these guys get a hold of it’ and that’s what was happening. We made this real diverse package and, if you see the cover, it’s a cassette. That’s paying tribute to the past, but at the same time, ‘Bad Ass Generation’ refers to the term that everybody uses now to describe stuff, ‘Bad Ass.’ So, it’s us now appreciating from the past but still making sure that it’s current. And it’s doing really well.”

When I asked Paul how long it took to make the album, I was astonished by his answer.

"Three weeks, four weeks. I’m very particular and I had some good people working. I had an engineer, Phil Magnotti. He’s got like three Grammies, so he mixed it. I produced it. We really worked hard on it. The actual material was written in seven days."

Did it come out the way he wanted it to?

"Even better. There’s a million musicians saying that about their album as we speak, but I was really happy the way it came out because I used recording techniques of the past, but recording techniques of now. We recorded the drums a certain way, the guitars a certain way, the vocals a certain way. But we used today’s sound to beef that up. What if Boston recorded today? What if those guys recorded those same songs now and that kind of thing? We really analyzed and studied the school of the 70s before we started cooking, and then it just came out."

I asked if there was anything he did on the album that was like ‘I always wanted to do this in the studio and now’s my chance to do it?’ to which he replied:

“The whole thing was like that. I wanted to write and record stuff that reminded me of the stuff that influenced me. Luckily, everyone else was like that, as well. Aerosmith influences. Led Zeppelin influences. Tom Petty influences. All the other influences. We are at a really good time right now. Warren Haynes is a really close friend to all those guys. When you see the shows that are going on now, you’ll have someone play a blues song for the audience and then, all of a sudden, they’re playing a tribute to AC/DC. Then, they may be doing War Pigs from Sabbath and, then all of sudden, they’re doing Whipping Post. Then, all of sudden, Warren will bring out Scofield and now they’re doing Fusion. It’s the same crowd and they are looking going, ‘What?’

“I think the audiences are being groomed to be more open, which allows the artist to put more diverse stuff on one album. It’s not like you have to do this and you can’t change it, you can’t add any instrumentation, you can’t leave the blues world; you can’t leave the rock world, that kind of thing. Even Johnny got a lot of crap from being a rock/blues guy. He just wanted to be a blues purist. He hated when he was on top for rock. He thought he sold himself short, but now it’s okay to do that.

“We are at a good time. I thought that this album’s timing was perfect. It’s really getting a lot of airplay and catching people’s ears because the content, the lyric, the songs.”

As for what song Nelson would select as a “calling card” for the whole CD, he said:

“Actually, the tracks were placed strategically. The albums of the past - songs were put in to build up the listener, then bring them down, and then bring them back up at the crescendo at the end. That’s what going on.

“The first song, ‘Down Home Boogie,’ is one of those. I’m playing slide, which nobody knew that I did. Another one is ‘Roots of all Evil.’ A lot of people like that one. I like that one, too. I love the British kind of drum kind of groove to it. I love the tone of the guitars, the tightness, and then I’m a big fan of Danny Lewis from Gov’t Mule. He plays keys on ‘Keep It All Together.’ I love that song.

“Fans are, like, ‘I like tracks five and six’ and then another one ‘I like seven and eight’. I’m happy because no one is saying they don’t like anything, so all the songs are playable, airplay wise.”

One thing that stood out with me on the album was how, “Please Come Home”, has a bit of the Doors meets Ringo Starr meets Crosby, Stills and Nash. Pure musical brilliance. I asked Nelson to tell me the story behind that song.

“The mixing engineer goes, ‘Oh My God, this one’s a hit!’

“I wrote that with a singer at, like, four in the morning and we actually went to the rest of the band, we’re putting it together. We woke up and we’re like, ‘Hey, we wrote something last night and we apologize.’ They go, ‘What do you mean?’ We said, ‘Because it’s so different and we don’t know where it came from but we think we’re going to put it on the record.’

“When I brought it to the mixing engineer, he’s like, ‘This song, there’s something about it,’ to the point where it just got sent to the American Armed Forces Network, the radio for the military, ‘Please Come Home’.

“It’s got a 60s kind of thing and then all of a sudden an Allman Brothers kind of thing. It brings back memories of, like you said, those bands that you mentioned, absolutely. It came out of nowhere, that one. A lot of people are saying that one. You know a band will write all these heavy rock songs and, then, all of a sudden, that’s the one. They’re like, ‘Really? So that’s the one we have to play all the time?’ But we love it. We were so worried. This is a really different direction. Morton sang the hell out of it.

“Again, once I finished the album, I listened to it now as a fan, you have to separate yourself and go back and look from the outside of the chess game. This is the most I’ve been excited about my new record. There is something about this. This is actually something that I listened to. I put stuff out, then you go to the next album, the next album, but I keep on coming back to this. A lot of people do and they don’t stop listening to it. So, I’m really appreciative that it’s going over that well. I’m glad you mentioned that song because a lot of people are and that’s going to be the next lyric video that they put out for that one. They’re going to push that one.

Regarding touring in support of the CD, Paul said:

"Right now, I’m finishing playing on and producing a Paul Butterfield tribute album. Jimmy Vivino is on it. The keyboard player for Paul Butterfield band is on it. We’re working on getting Elvin Bishop, James Montgomery. We have Grace Kelly, the saxophone player from the Steve Colbert show. Then, we head out to do a two month run of the Johnny Winter All-Star stuff to coincide with the movie at the same time this comes out. In May, I start up with my band and my project and that’s what hits because Japan is going to release it so we’ll probably go over there."

As we wrapped up our chat, I asked Paul how he hoped to be remembered and what he hopes his legacy will be.

paulnelsonband cover1650"I just want to write good music. I want people to enjoy it. That’s pretty strange because Johnny was asked that question a lot. He wanted on his headstone ‘Bluesman. That’s all he ever wanted to be. Myself, all I want to do is write music that I enjoy and that I know the people enjoy. It’s very important for me, because if they enjoy it, what I’ve been doing has been worth it. And, so far so good. You hear from the fans and they encourage you. They really help. The fans are really important because it’s your gauge that keeps you going saying, “you know what, keep on going, keep on doing it.” So I’ll keep on churning stuff out until that time, like you said."

You can follow the latest happenings in Paul Nelson’s career by visiting PaulNelsonGuitar.com.

Leslie West Discusses Soundcheck Hendrix, and More

Posted March 2016

Photo by Justin Borucki

     

One of the most talked about performances at Woodstock (but didn’t’ get to make it on the movie) is the eleven song set by Mountain. At the time, the band was mostly noted for it’s cover of the Jack Bruce tune, Theme for an Imaginary Western, as well as blistering guitar solos by the bands founder, Leslie West.

In the years that followed, the band continued to blaze musical trails, ultimately releasing eight studio and three live albums. It’s signature hit became “Mississippi Queen” that has been heard all over the world and used in movies, TV shows and commercials. 

Leslie West also simultaneously launched a successful solo career, marked by fifteen solo albums – sixteen when you include his new monumental effort, “Soundcheck.” It was for “Soundcheck” that I recently contacted West by phone. In fact, I called him on the 45th anniversary of the passing of Jimi Hendrix. I was curious about your thoughts about him.

“Well, it was really sad. He died at almost 28 years old. I’ve since become friends with his sister, Janie. She came through New York recently – within the last year. They’re doing a documentary on the Atlanta Pop Festival – with Jimi there. They were interviewing people that played it. She’s such a sweetheart.”

Circling back to Jimi himself, West continued:

“Too bad he’s not still around. I have very fond memories. I played with him at a club in New York at, like, one in the morning. Just me and him. Him playing bass and me playing guitar. In fact, on MoutainRockBand.com – our website – there’s a picture of Hendrix playing bass and me playing guitar that night. It’s not the greatest picture but you can certainly see that it’s him and me. 

“He went WAY before his time. Yeah, that wasn’t a happy day.”

Bringing the conversation to Leslie’s new CD, I asked him how many solo records this mad for him.

“I think it’s sixteen solo albums, believe it or not. I think. Somebody wrote that the other day. I started to count them but I feel really tired so I’m not going to start to count. Ha! Ha! The good thing is this one I’m really proud of. The sound is great and I’ve got some good people playing on it.”

When he says, “some good people,” West is referring to people such as Queen’s Brian May, Peter Frampton, Bonnie Bramlett, Jack Bruce and Joe Franco (via some resurrected studio tapes). When I said that having such a stellar group of artists willing to play on his album certain said a lot about the respect he has amongst such big names, Leslie said:

“On the ‘Going Down’ track with Brian May, a friend of mine was producing at the time and he got us all together. So, when I was doing this album, nobody had ever heard it, I don’t think. The song was written by Don Nix. Don sang it originally. But when we listened to the masters of it, he didn’t use Brian’s solo. Somebody else finished producing it even though my friend started it. 

“So, when me and my engineer heard it, I was playing the solo on the first half of the song. There was a break and then Brian played the solo on the second half on out. We put it together and it was great! We’ve got Max Milton playing the intro on piano. I get really excited. That’s probably my favorite guitar song to jam on of all time.”

As we talked about the songs on the album, I mentioned how unique his treatment of the old song, “You Are My Sunshine,” was in its contrary delivery.

     

Photo by Justin Borucki

With a chuckle, Leslie shared the background to that version.

“I gotta give credit to Sons of Anarchy because I heard somebody doing it on there. Instead of the major key that the sounds so happy, it was in a minor key. I said, ‘Boy, I think I can really do a very, very ‘funerally’ – funeral dirge – some kind of sad version of it.’ 

“I called Peter Frampton because I’d done something with Peter the year before. I said, ‘Peter, I’ve got a version of ‘You Are My Sunshine’ that I’d love for you to play with me.’ I sent it to him. It really came out great. I’m really proud of it. Between the two of us – I think I started out playing the first solo and he played the second one. After the break in the middle, he plays the first solo and I play the last solo and we play the last line together.

“I’ve known Peter forty-five years – something like that. Even though we’d toured together, we’d never actually played together. He had this tour last year called ‘Frampton’s Circus’. He invited me to play a couple of shows on it. It was the first time we had ever played together. Now we’ve played together twice.”

After working with them on this record, are there any more plans to collaborate with any of these people in the future?

“Well, there’s a young guitar player – Jim Cook – a blues player. He’s going to be opening for me in New York when I play B.B. King’s. I play a track on his album. I think the kid’s gonna be something special. I’m looking forward to that.”

Having worked on all of the Mountain and solo records that he has – as well as appearing on many of his friends’ projects – I asked West how “Soundcheck” was different for him.

“It’s not so much different than the last one I did, ‘Still Climbing,” because that was only two years ago. The machines and everything else – every two weeks there are new things to try out. We’re pretty much on ProTools. The secret to making a good album is a good engineer. I can just play and Mike can edit where I need editing. Putting songs together is a lot easier now that it used to be years ago.”

As a “calling card” for the entire record, Leslie offered his choice of song:

“The first cut, ‘Left by The Roadside to Die’. It starts with a synthesizer. I actually played that part on the guitar and had my keyboard player start to play it. So, right off the bat, I guess you’d expect to hear a guitar from me. This, at least, you hear that synthesizer come on and then I start playing some slide and it gets heavy. It shows some different phases of what I can do in one song. I would hope that would get you to listen to the rest of the album!”

The best of the best guitarist are sought after by the various guitar manufacturers. It’s no surprise that Leslie West has a signature line through Dean Guitars. When asked how that line was doing, he said:

“Great. We ran about five models. From very expensive, to the middle, to very inexpensive so everybody can play it. Even the less expensive ones have great graphics on it. The newest model is the Leslie West Peace guitar. It has my logo. The logo looks like a peace sign but, if you look closely, one of the lines on the circle is left out so it looks like an LW. It’s a black guitar with a silver peace sign on it. It looks great! It’s been a lot of fun. I mean, I feel sorry for Jimi Hendrix. He’s dead and he never had a model while he was alive.”

Photo by Justin Borucki

     

Jimi Hendrix came up in the conversation about signature guitars when West started talking about what a Hendrix signature model might be.

“They were upside down Stratocasters. They weren’t left-handed. He would take a regular Strat and just re-string it. A guy like Albert King, he used to turn the guitar upside down and play it backwards. I don’t know how the hell he did that! He had the big Flying V and just turned it upside down so, where the fat E string would be, he had the little, thin E, first! I wondered how he stretched the strings that far. 

“The first gig we ever did was with Albert King. Fillmore West. Mountain’s first gig. I watched him play. I had been trying to develop my vibrato and stretch the strings. I wanted to stretch them as much as he could. When I found out that he was doing it from the opposite way, it made it a lot easier. I didn’t see that until I watched him. I wished that I had saw him before. It would’ve made my life a lot easier and simpler!”

Circling back around to Hendrix, again, Leslie said:

“Yeah, if Jimi was still around, I kinda know what his Strat would be like.”

Our conversation turned to another great, legendary guitarist – one who recently passed away and who, like West, played at Woodstock: Johnny Winter.

“I was on Johnny’s last album. ‘Long Tall Sally’. And Johnny played on my last album on the song, ‘Busted, Disgusted or Dead’. My engineer mixed Johnny’s last album and got a Grammy for it. We (Johnny) were pretty close. I actually helped Johnny get himself straightened out, drug wise. He didn’t die from drugs, man. He just died of natural causes. He wasn’t doing to well, health-wise. Neither was I, but, somehow, I’m still around!”

That last comment gave me the opportunity to ask Leslie how he was doing. As some of you may not know, West has had some serious health problems over the last several years – including the loss of a leg - so I asked how he was doing. His initial remark blindsided me.

“I was going to ask you, Randy: Did you find it (his leg)?” 

Then, on a more serious note, he added:

“My balance is terrible and I haven’t been able to use the prosthetic so I have to sit in a chair to play, unfortunately. But it hasn’t stopped me from playing. That’s a good thing. In rehab, they put me in the parallel bars with the prosthetic leg and made me put the guitar on. I put the guitar on and they wanted to see how long I could stand and play the guitar without falling. I didn’t last thirty seconds. 

     

Photo by Justin Borucki

“I said, ‘You know, this isn’t going to work on stage. I don’t want to be worrying about falling when I’m trying to play.’ Even though you have a prosthetic, it feels like an alien to you.”

Then, after sharing more about his adjustment to losing his leg, he said:

“Life is precious, Randy. Thank God for the guitar, right?”

I know you have many more years of work left in you but when you finally do go to that great gig in the sky, how do you want to be remembered and what do you hope your legacy will be?

“When the time comes, and they cover me with dirt and grass, to all my critics that didn’t like the way I played, they can kiss my big . . . “

I’ll leave it to you to figure out what else he said.