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Adrian Vandenberg Talks '2020'

Posted May 2020

 

Adrian 13 c Stefan Schipper Reduced CroppedPhoto by Stefan SchipperBoomerocity is dedicated to the entertainment interests of you, the baby boomer, or, at least those who are younger and who love our music and the artists who made it. With that, one might wonder why the heck am I interviewing someone who was part of one of the major chunks of the soundtrack of the eighties.

Of course, I’m talking about Adrian Vandenberg, the former guitarist for the group, Whitesnake.

Why Whitesnake on Boomerocity?

Well, because Whitesnake was one of the bands who managed to reflect some of the sounds of the seventies into the eighties. An integral part of that sound was Adrian Vandenberg’s signature guitar licks.

Since those chart-topping, heady days of the eighties, the band split up and went their separate ways. Vandenberg has stayed busy with various projects. Most notably, his own self-named band. And speaking of his band, Adrian is dropping a new LP this month (the 29th, to be exact) entitled, “2020” – and it’s the kind of album you would expect from Vandenberg and his band.

I called Adrian at his home in Holland, a couple of hours from Amsterdam. While making small talk before asking him questions about his new album, I asked him how many guitars he currently owns.

“Quite a lot, to be honest. I think probably about twenty, twenty-five. There were even more. I mean, for a couple of years, as you probably know, when I went to work with Warren Demartini - he used to be in Ratt - he did a tour with us in Whitesnake - and he called it ‘the acquiring syndrome’ that guitar players have, you know. You run into a great Marshall amp somewhere that you think I'm never going to find it like this again.’ You get it and you put it in storage or something. The same goes for the guitars. You run into a great guitar and you think you never gonna find one like that anymore. The stupid thing is that I keep playing pretty much the same Les Paul that I had bought brand new in 1980. It's become like a body part. I get like an almost human connection with that piece of wood.”

When Adrian learned that I live in Nashville, he said:

“Nashville has become basically what L.A. was in the eighties, as far as music goes. Everybody kind of moved to Nashville and people who are originally from Nashville, weren't too happy about it because it became less relaxed than what it used to be.”

Moving our chat to the new album, Adrian said:

“Well, yeah, I suppose it sounds like cliché because everybody says it about their new album, but I'm really, really excited and very, very happy about it because it turned out exactly as what I was hoping for. Which is, you know, you'll be able to hear, is like very organic, fresh, dynamic, straight-in-your-face rock without too much polishing like what happened in the 80s, as we all know. It was a lot of production and got very, very polished and lots of reverb as if we were all the way in the back of a big stadium. It was something I really aimed to put this album to sound like a serious kick-ass rock band, where you are right in front of the stage at one of the best rehearsals; where the guitar and the bass and the drums and the vocals are loud and when you close your eyes, you see the band playing right in front of you. That was basically my hope that it would turn out like that, and it does!

“The funny thing is that I'm still playing it a couple of times a day for my own entertainment. That's never happened before. I write the songs and I demo the songs and all the stuff. I must have heard the song a hundred or a thousand times and I'm still playing it so that’s a serious way of measuring my enthusiasm on the record.

When asked how long the record took to make, Adrian said:

I started writing as soon as I knew Ronnie was going to be in, I probably wrote for about a month and a half, two months or something, and had little bits and pieces. Then I started working on it before Ronnie joined because I was hoping he was going to join. I had a couple of riffs that I already wrote and worked them out as soon as I knew Ronnie was on board. Then I flew to Madrid where he lived, and I recorded his vocals on my demo that I made on my iPad. That sounded great already. And, then when we went to Los Angeles, it probably took about two and a half weeks. When I got back home, I finished a couple of guitar parts that I didn't have the time to finish before. All in all, I think the actual recording and the mixing probably took about two to three weeks.”

How was this record different to record than his past efforts?

Adrian 13 c Stefan Schipper ReducedPhoto by Stefan Schipper“I had maybe a more specific plan about how I wanted it to work out, as far as dynamics, the content of it. It was – I wouldn’t say relatively easy, but in a way it was. It fell together very naturally. And I was really, really happy to find the drummer and the bass player in the band because they play about 90 percent of the album. Rudy Sarzo and Brian Tichy, they play two songs and all the other stuff is played by Koen (Herfst, on drums) and Randy (van der Elsen, on bass) – the bass player and the drummer. I'm really, really happy with the drummer.

The funny thing is I heard him in ’94 in Holland. It’s small here - the music scene is not too big. But I wasn’t aware with his playing until I found a drum solo of his online and I was blown away. What I really like about his drumming on this record is it's so energetic and kick-ass and loud and in-your-face and, at the same time, so graceful. It really has to drive that this kind of rock n roll needs, whether you're playing something mid-tempo or up-tempo or whatever. The energy of the whole band really comes across, which makes it an extra big bummer that we can't play for a while until all this Corona stuff is over. I think one of the strongest points of the record is that it really sounds like there's a band playing right in front of your face.”

In the course of the conversation, I brought up my recent chat with my friend and former Badlands’ bassist, Greg Chaisson. Adrian jumped right on the subject.

“I really like Badland. I know Jake E. Lee pretty well because I spent quite some time with him when Vandenberg was supporting Ozzy Osbourne on our first American tour at the time. I always thought it was so sad that Ray Gillam passed away because they were such a fantastic band and everybody that are into that kind of stuff and were into Badlands were really kind of expecting those guys would be pretty big. Then that happened. And apparently it kicked Jake's ass so hard - the whole sadness of it, he stayed way out of the music business for twelve or thirteen years.”

Concluding his thoughts on Badlands and its members, Adrian said about Chaisson:

“He’s a great player he always had a great time on stage and his cowboy hat. Very psyched, you know?”

Shifting gears, I asked Vandenberg to tell about his lead singer, Ronnie Romero.

“About five years ago, I read somewhere that Ritchie Blackmore wanted to do a couple of Rainbow shows again. I thought it was kind of curious because I've always been a very big Rainbow fan, especially from the period where Ronnie James Dio was singing. So, I was curious so I was gonna take a look on YouTube and see what he's going to do,

“I was blown away by this small Chilean guy singing like Dio in his best years. At the same time, singing songs like Soldier of Fortune that were originally, of course, sung by Coverdale and he sang it just as well. I thought, ‘Geez, where the hell does this guy come from?!’

“So, a couple of months ago when, Well, actually, a little longer than that - about three quarters of a year ago, I started Vandenberg 2020 Photo01Reducedthinking about reviving the name Vandenberg and making like a kick-ass album and putting the band on the road. I suddenly remembered Ronnie. I thought, ‘Hmmm, I'm curious, what are you doing these days? Because I knew that Blackmore only wanted to do a few such shows every two years. So, I said, ‘Maybe he’s interested in joining this band.’

“I got in touch with him. He was really enthusiastic because he does quite a lot of session stuff but he would prefer to be like in a main band like this, basically, and not sing everybody else's music all the time, like it like he does with all these other projects. So, it came at a good time for him, too.

“I flew to Madrid and we spent two days together. We hung out and we had a great connection right away, which is, of course, as you know, very important, because when you start touring, you're on each other's list, so to speak, all day. So, yeah, we had a great connection right away. I flew back a couple of weeks later, probably about a month or two months later when we had all the demos ready, which I like to record on my iPad, always makes. It makes it easier to work on a train or an airplane or wherever. And so, I went back to Madrid and explained the vocals to them, and he sang them already like 80 percent of the quality of how it sounds on the record. He just knew the songs. He's really quick. He said that it was because most of this music that I wrote fits him like a glove. You can hear that on the record.

“So, then a couple of weeks later, we found ourselves in LA recording the album with the Great Bob Marlette. We ended up working with Bob because he had exactly the same ideas about how this should sound as I did. And it turned out exactly what I was hoping for.”

What song would Adrian point to as a calling card for the entire album?

“Well, people who may never have heard of me, I would think if they hear Burning Heart, they will probably go, ‘Oh, yeah, I know that song’. But then I think a strong calling card would be ‘Shadows of the Night’ because it has all the elements that makes this band that strong. You know, it’s got great singing, amazing drumming. It's got the shortest guitar solo being the modest guy I am, the shortest guitar solo on the album.

“Another song would definitely be Hell and High Water because it's like an epic song. I really like one or two epic songs on any rock album that don't just do like four minutes, but definitely tell a longer story. So yeah, that those two are probably my main ones right now. But at the same time, I really got into a Freight Train because it's like one of those songs you like to play in your car and turn up and open the windows and let it blast away. It was one of those. So, I like those too, which one of the reasons why I play Highway to Hell still in my car because it's one of the songs. It would be great in a convertible cruising down some sunny road somewhere or some sunny highway.”

Because Vandenberg has been in the music business for as long as he has, I was curious about what the best and worst changes he has witnessed in it.

Vandenberg 2020 Photo Adrian Reduced“One of the best changes are a few that I noticed that - and it could be connected to the worst thing in the business - is that live shows seem to be doing really, really well the last couple of years, more so than probably by 10 years ago. It could be it's connected to the fact that record sales are shit, of course. Music became like a snake almost. You can log in on Spotify and you can pretty much listen to everything for free even though it takes a lot of effort for an artist to make a record and to write it and to record. It takes all the money and all that stuff. It's pretty much free. I don't know if that results in the fact that live shows seem to have gained momentum. I don’t know if it's the same where you live, but in Holland, definitely - especially the festivals are booming right now. I mean, the last five, six years - in a tiny country like Holland, there's a zillion festivals and they're all doing great.

“I suppose, the worst thing is definitely the fact that record sales and that a lot of people seem to think that artists are pissed off about it because of the money. But that's not really it. The thing is that records used to be like a thing. It used to be, ‘Oh, man, there’s a new album coming out from Aerosmith’ or whatever, and you would go to the shop and look at the cover, and it would be like a thing that you could pick up and you really have something in your hands. Right now, it's like an abstract type thing that flows in the air somewhere. All you do is push the enter button on your computer and it's right there. So, yeah, that's not such a great thing. But in the end, I've always been convinced, one way or another, that music is always going to be such an important element of life for everybody. So many people realized that that daily stuff is usually accompanied by music, you know? They don't seem to think about it too much. But music has to be created first and recorded and that takes effort, money, and energy.”

What are Adrian’s near-term plans and how does he want to be remembered and what does he hope his legacy is?

“Well, I can make a little story about the two of them, I suppose. I'm dying to take it on the road. I'm pretty confident that by the end of the year, it's even possible to start touring again. I wouldn't be surprised either if they had to take steps to make sure that everybody has to wear a mask or something. Maybe by the time there's a combination of medication that can cure everybody. That could be possible, too. So that's definitely one thing that I'm hoping for and relying on.

As far as the second one? I would suppose that for me, it's important to, because I've always been conscious about wanting to
live like that, to be remembered as a guy who was to close himself artistically. I've never made any concessions in my music or in my art, which I consider a huge privilege that I actually, have had to be able to do that. I really have to thank all my fans so to speak - or followers or whatever you want to call it - for that because those are the people who put you up there, to give you the opportunity to do what you like to do most and that comes out of your heart.

“That's another thing that I would like to be remembered for, is that I always musically did what I believed in such a way stay close to my own heart to make music that way; to make music that is honest and not contrived and that's not written in order to try to make money with it. I've never made any decision in my life based on financial motivations. You have to make your money, of course. You have to make a certain amount of money to live a life that gives you the freedom to create. For me, my living style is not very different than it used to be 40 years ago when I was just an art student. For me, the ultimate freedom is the freedom to create, whether I live in a one-room apartment or whether I live in the south of France in whatever kind of place.

“So, yeah, it's basically, honestly staying true to yourself and do as little or no artistic concessions in order to please the more financially driven elements in your life. Like record companies or fashion and music or whatever.”

Keep up with all the latest going on with Adrian by following him on Twitter (@Adriandenberg).

Ken Mansfield Discusses The 50th Anniversary of Let It Be

Posted May 2020

Alternate roof shot copyOver the past couple of years, the world has experienced a lot of “it was fifty years ago today” events celebrating those anniversaries of various Beatles related albums and landmarks. The last of those (for a while, at least) is the 50th anniversary of the lads’ ‘Let It Be’ album and movie. After the recording of those two projects, the Fab Four went their separate ways.

For such a momentous celebration, it was only fitting to reach out to a dear friend of mine, Ken Mansfield, who is no stranger to Boomerocity. I first interviewed Ken eleven years ago about his then-new book, Between Wyomings (here). After that chat, he sat for two more interviews (here and here) as well as providing great commentary for my recent interview with his dear friend, Phil Keaggy, in addition to giving me guidance as well as for prayerful support since we first chatted.

After catching up on things and making sure that we were both untouched by the coronavirus currently scarring many in the world, I commented to Ken that I imagined his phone had been hot from interviews over the Let It Be anniversary.

“Yeah, it's starting to crank up and today's been real busy. This is the end of the 50th anniversaries on the 8th and the 13th of May. No more 50th’s no more 50th anniversaries involving all of the Beatles - all four Beatles. So, this is it. You know, there'll be no more 50th anniversaries. No real ones.”

With that, I asked Ken to share his thoughts about the whole Let It Be phenomena.

“I'll answer you with this thought based on that question of why it triggered these things. It's a pretty complicated 50th anniversary because of the timelines of when it was recorded and when it was released and the intentions of the whole Let It Be thing. How complicated it was because it started out being - oh, gosh, all the things it was going to be! It was going to be a TV special, then it was going to be something else, and then something else. And finally, George Harrison, as you know, just finally said, 'Look, let's just make a record.' He just wanted to settle down. So, we really ended up with the album, the film and the concert on the roof. Then, the fact in and of itself that it was Let It Be. But then it became Let It Be Naked, later. “Why couldn't that be another 50th anniversary? Yeah. In a way that was kind of a monumental thing to a lot of us because, especially, I was there sitting in the studio leaning against the wall when they were cutting Let it be. The concept was clearly to do something very live. They were a live band. At that time, they were really showing kind of their more - I don't know - ragged side. A more live feel and everything. So, when Phil Spector did that to the album, George Martin said, ‘Produced by George Martin, Overproduced by Phil Spector.’

“To me, it wasn't at all what I heard. I knew what was intended. So, when I heard Let It Be Naked, I actually almost got tears in my eyes. Oh, boy! It just pulled me right back to that time because that sounded like exactly what was going on without all that sound, all the overdubs and stuff that Spector did to it. So, the conversation we're having is that this is a simple 50th anniversary right now, but there was so much involved with that - with the album and going on the roof and the feelings going into it and the timeframe. I didn't realize it at the time, but it was almost like - think of what they were doing in a short time frame. They basically were doing Abbey Road and the White Album and Let It Be. I mean, all this stuff was just - how many songs and how much recording can one band do in a short period of time?

“So, it's just something about this anniversary - the physical anniversary - not when they're going to rerelease the film and all that stuff - other stuff coming up here in the. This date is the anniversary for the people who are Beatles aficionados and people who really follow the band. The other releases are going to be the commercial aspects. This is, to me - this is the real thing right now. And that's why I'm enjoying doing interviews because it was fifty years ago that it came out, you know.

In prepping for my chat with Ken, I came across several articles that mentioned that John Lennon allegedly disliked the title song and even took a swipe at it on the song that preceded it on the album. I asked Ken for his insights into that.

“Well, to me, it was a typical Paul McCartney ballad type song like Yesterday and these kinds of things. In a way, that was said of Paul. I just think the intent of Lennon - maybe especially - was if they wanted to be a different sound, he did not want to do the old stuff. And I'm very 'wingy' with you right now, because this is all personal opinion. And do correct me on anything that I'm saying that gets things off of a timeline or something. My thinking is that the group was splintering then, which is not a secret because of George wanting to do his stuff; and Paul and Ringo and Paul and John, you know, they were more guarded about their individual songs and having less involvement at times from each other. Just because all of a sudden, the old camaraderie and creative juices would jump back in. For me, I was a Beatles fan as the Beatles as a band. When they did the White Album and Let It Be - I'll be honest and I'll probably get crucified for this - but those are not my favorite albums at all. To me, when they came back and did Abbey Road, to me, that was the Beatles because there was more involvement, more their sound. There was more creativity. It's almost like there was a point they quit being quite so creative.

KenMansfield2018Reduced“So now on the other side of the coin, with those not being my favorite music, that was the music that I was most directly involved in. Especially with the White Album and Let It Be. I mean, I was there. I was really a witness. I would go to London for a Beatles session. It would be going into the studio, into Abbey Road, but normally you would be sitting outside in a waiting area or a lounge or something. You didn't go in the studio. You didn't go into a control room. And then a Beatle would come out and say hi. And then you could go home and say, ‘Yeah, I was at a Beatles session.’ You'd hear the music when the door opened from the studio. But in Let It Be, I was like sitting, as you know, sitting on the floor, just watching; sitting next to Billy (Preston) and he and I would have our little exchanges. They were very friendly to me. I was invited in and I didn't see anybody else in there that wasn't working except myself and Billy.

“On The White Album, I was very involved with that because George Harrison finished mastering it in L.A. I was with him when he heard the playback of the Capitol mastering and did not like it. I was there when he was re-mastering it. So, with both of those albums, I had a sense of involvement. I didn't have a word to say about anything, but I was there and experienced it. That makes those two particular projects special to me from that standpoint.

“But as I said, the prior work, I mean, doing something more exciting than Sgt. Pepper is almost unimaginable to me. I don't know about you. I'm sure we all remember when John F. Kennedy was shot and probably when we first heard Sgt. Pepper. That was probably two things that sticks out in all our minds, you know.

“In my case, I had an eight-track in my Cadillac and six of us jumped in the car, lit up some joints and got really stoned, and listen to that album for the first time. We could hardly contain ourselves. So mind-boggling.

“It's just that this whole thing. I'm very, very reflective at it this time, and that's why I said a minute ago, is details are almost immaterial to me anymore. The emotional things and remembering things like first time hearing Sgt. Pepper. I hadn't thought about that in a while.

“But the Beatle's for me was interesting because I kept hearing about this band called The Beatles, and I was driving on the San Diego freeway and I kept hearing about this band, the Beatles, and a record came on, ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, or whatever it was. I went, 'What? What's The big deal here?' You know? I was totally nonplused. Then when I ended up at Capitol, it was a job. We had this monster band on our label and everything was so important surrounding it. I was a promotion man for the street promotion and I was district manager, that's where I started. The Beatles album was like being in a corral and having a pocket full of candy and carrots because you bought your way through the stations. Everything was about the Beatle product and giving people some free albums. Just something about the Beatles was your ticket on the field as a promotion man. You were the man on the street because you had the Beatles. There was me and maybe the RCA guy with the Stones. It was a thing like that. I still wasn't taking the band seriously.

“Then when they came in August of '65 and I worked with them, for lack of a better phrase, I still didn't get it, I guess. But it mansfield kenwas amazing. Loved them and all that. Worked with them; did the Hollywood Bowl thing. I hung out with them by the pool and we spent a day getting to know each other on a personal level, as well as the business level. Then, in ‘66 they come back. As I look back now in ‘65, it was really fun and was very exciting. In ‘66 there was a change in their demeanor.”

And what does Mansfield attribute that to?

“Well, didn't they just come off of something like, you know, Manila or the Lennon statement or something? Then a lot of things that happened. They were sick and tired of just singing and nobody listening and they were just disillusioned because of the bad press they would get because they supposedly snubbed somebody. They were just tired. I had no idea that the next day up in San Francisco, that was their last time. I'm sure that they had decided even before San Francisco that that was it. I'm sure they were in that mode of deciding not to tour anymore.

“In ‘65 they still had that British, childlike thing about them, still. They were kind of fascinated with me also because this was the first time, I think they had a day off in California. Like everybody else in England, they'd grown up with an image of the surfers and convertibles and the woodies and California girls and all that kind of thing. They were asking a lot of questions about California. John wanted to know where Grauman's Chinese Theater was. Ringo wanted to know if he could meet Buck Owens while he was here because Buck was on Capitol. They just had a lot of these questions. So here I am with the suntan and Cadillac convertible and a house up in the Hollywood Hills with a pool and all that. There was something felt kind of equal about us. I was fascinated with how they talked and they dressed and all the things they did. It was kind of a cultural exchange. Then, in ‘66, we didn't spend as much time together, but we worked together again. I honestly thought, Randy, 'You know what? I think I'm gonna end up working for these guys.' Then, for two years I didn't hear a word from anybody other than just doing my job in L.A. with the records and with our other artists.

: Then I start getting involved in the Apple thing and Capitol had to bid for that. We didn't have a slam dunk on Apple at all. The label was up for distribution and any label could have had it in their distribution system. But we had the one thing in our favor and that was the Beatles were on our label and we can give the Beatles their own label even though they were a Capitol act and they could still be on their label. The fact is that they did have years of proven relationships with Capitol so we would have a definite leg up there.

“Then Ron Kass and Paul finally came over and I was included as one of the few people who knew that we had Apple Records because I had to prepare as head of all the promotion and artist relations, and the director of independent labels. All of a sudden there's this new independent label and everything fell in my bailiwick. And so, the minute Paul and Ron Kass hit the ground there, I was involved with them the whole time. Again, our whole relationship just built from there. I was in such a position of influence for their needs because. I knew the territory and I knew the United States. I knew how to get records played and get things done in America. So, when they got back and then they turned around and called back and said that they wanted me to come over with Capitol President Stanley Gortikov and Larry Delaney, who the head of press relations and press and publicity for Capitol. That's when we went over and met in London and put the whole thing together; the promotion teams and what they would do ahead of time and when and where they had to do them. They were smart. They had done their homework. They knew America accounted for 50 percent of record sales worldwide. You had to break America. They weren't a slam dunk. Their label was not a slam dunk in America at all. We had to break that label. We had the Beatles, obviously, but we had to establish other artists, too. And we had to make it a real viable label.

“So, I got back and that's when I got a call that they wanted me to be a U.S. manager of Apple. That's when everything really changed for me because now, I was part of the team. The thing about the Beatles is there were a lot of inner circles. It's like when you dropped a pebble in a pond. Mal and Neal would obviously be the inner-inner circle. Being considered to be part of any of those inner circles was just incredible because they treated you accordingly. It was never like, ‘Well, I'm a Beatle and you're not,’ you know? I was just part of the team, that's all. They would be very open on things. John Lennon, especially. I thought he didn't like me because he was always so rough on me and Kass told me later on, 'John actually liked you best and that's why he was so caustic with you. He was just being a straight ahead. He felt he could talk to you and say what he was thinking.'

“I have my memories. They're all so very personal. People say, 'How did this sound like?' I can't remember when they put that out. I can't remember, ‘Did we sign before I left or after I left.’ It's just the facts just disappear and what's left in its wake is like a personal thing like any other story I've read. Like about George putting me to bed in London, knowing how much responsibility I had. He could see that I was sitting there at Apple, about ready to pass out. So, he said, 'C'mon, you're out of here,' and he took me over to the hotel and made sure I was upstairs in my room okay. And said, 'Don't worry about the meetings tomorrow. I'll cover for you. Just go in when you feel like it.’ So, it's always little things like that were very real.

“I always said - and I got jibed by Ringo later on - and I wrote about that, too - is the fact that I always thought they put on kind of a special face when I was around because I never saw any of the bad stuff. I never saw the real tension between anybody. You know, nothing. I never saw any of the bad things. And I was talking to somebody today. I said, 'well, maybe, you know, they grew up middle class or working class in Liverpool and they were taught, mind your manners. And all this kind of stuff. And you don't air your dirty laundry in front of strangers and things. So, I think that maybe they did reserve some things. I told Ringo - and you know this story - I told Ringo that I felt like they put a special face on from me and that's when he said, 'Oh, yeah, Ken, when we were the Beatles then we didn't really have that much to do. So, we would sit around saying how we could to impress you." That's what it was like with those guys.

“I got to have a kind of a personal segment with each one individually because, of course, Ringo came to L.A. He was there for years. He was part a part of a group of people there. Then George came over a lot when He was doing the live overdubs to Bangladesh. He was cleaning up some guitar stuff. My wife and Pattie (Boyd) were friends. We would just do things together and go shopping for jeans one day. When word got out that George was there, we had to boogie. But he would just do normal things.”

I was curious how the “suits” at Capitol reacted to ‘Let It Be’ as well as when it became apparent that the Beatles were breaking up.

“Well, I think - for Capitol - there was a gold mine there with the Beatles stuff and that's when they would put it in a different album together and stuff. But it was a shock. Well, it wasn't a shock. It wasn't a shock to me because I sensed that that day on the roof and a lot of people in the building sensed it but nobody said, 'You know, they're going to break up next week'. People just knew that things were changing. And then when Klein came in . . . it changed everything. The heart just left. People were let go with him there.

“Kass was just such a class guy, a guy that I would say for me as a young executive, Ron Kass and Stanley Gortikov were the two people that were really my mentors. I joined Kass at MGM because of my loyalty to him. Peter Asher and, Mike Connor, and I left together to be with Kass at MGM. Klein just tried everything to get me to stay because he thought I had an 'in' with McCartney because he knew that McCartney was probably the reason for me coming to Apple. But I didn't have any position with McCartney to have any influence on what he did, or thought, or anything. But I think Klein had misconstrued that. That's why he tried so hard to keep me at Apple. I don't know if I've either written this or not, but I went to Ron - I'd resigned from Apple and accepted MGM, the vice presidency there, and then Klein flew in to see me in L.A. and made me a horrendous offer and all that. I went to a Kass and said, ‘I need to talk to you, Ron.’ And I told him what Klein had offered me. I said, 'You know, I have family and stuff to think about. And it's just such an incredible offer. I don't know what to do. Just tell me what you think, Ron.' Ron said, 'Well, let me just put it this way, Ken: You can make up your own decision. But if you lay down with pigs, you’ll get up dirty.’

“I understood what he said. Sure, it would be fun for a while to be with the Beatles and then, of course, the Stones and Donovan and have all this stuff going. But then one day I would be known as Klein's guy and that was not good.”

With word widely circulating that renowned film director, screenwriter, and film producer, Peter Jackson, was tackling the redux of the ‘Let It Be’ film, I asked Ken what he knew about it.

“Well, the film - they've announced the release date of the film but I'm not sure it's going to hold because of the Coronavirus and so many things. Films are being set back. My understanding is - and I've talked to a few people - that - Peter Jackson technically is doing a beautiful job with through restorations of work, taking advantage of new technology and stuff. He's really lightening the thing up. And my understanding, too, is that he is showing the whole thing, that we were up on the roof. I heard is that it's going to be in the film. I can't imagine how they could put that much time in the film but I don't know. My understanding is the reason Ringo and Paul are so happy is because he's really showing it to be more than a lot of the darkness and the problems; that there was a lot of fun that went on at that time and lightheartedness and that it wasn't all bad. And, of course, Peter Jackson - my gosh, you know, having him do your film. I guess this is going to be called a documentary but it sounds like a full theatrical release. When people said that it was a documentary, I almost got the impression it's going to be way beyond that to me.”

I don’t know about y’all but whenever I’ve watched and listened to the “roof top concert”, I thought that the music was sounded much like the studio versions of the songs. Since Ken and I were talking about it, I asked him if the music in the film was actually live or was it dubbed in.

“Well, I've heard raw tapes on that and the sound - It surprised me - the fact that it was that cold and the guitars are that in-tune and a lot of things. Alan Parsons, I think one of his biggest problems was the wind and that's why he was going down, getting nylon stockings and stuff like that. He was really working, really focused on that not being a problem. I was amazed at how good everything sounded on that and how in-tuned it sounded and how well mic'd they were all this kind of stuff. Lennon's hands were so cold. He was really having a problem with that. And it was cold. It wasn't that cold in degrees as it was the wind and damp up on top of the roof. It was a dirty old roof. It wasn't like being in a garden. I mean, it was stark up there.”

Mansfield wrapped up our call by saying:

“I think in my book, The Roof, what I was trying to do, the kind of things you and I were just falling into with this kind of a conversation. I wanted people to have that feeling that it was something very personal about it all. I'm straight with you. I've been staying away from the factual stories. I'm talking more about- telling about when George took me to the hotel. The book was just to let people know what it was like to walk down Saville Row, which is the Mayfair District, one of the plushest areas of London and climb up those stairs and go through that door and be in there and working in there and working with people like Chris (Odell) or Jack Oliver - some of these people. It was so neat! And Derek Taylor was just such a story unto himself. He held court in his place. He's in that big wicker chair and the expensive champagne flowing. And there was a nice aroma throughout the building a lot of the time.”

I wonder what that was.

“Everything was very loose. In my book, I have a picture George, Derek and I think Chris O’Dell huddled around a small typewriter in the corner of somebody’s office, not in a big office. These things were done just naturally. I want people to get the feeling what’s going up on the roof and feeling the cold and in the sensations and the realization of something's happening here. I wasn't thinking, 'Oh, my gosh, this is the last time the Beatles are going to be together, playing together. Oh, my gosh! They're going to break up after this. Oh, my gosh! Everything's had changed drastically!’

“Now, at Apple, there were no thoughts like that. It was just like it was another day at the office. Everybody kind of looks at me crazy when I say it. It was another day at the office. Things are always happening around there. And there was footage that made it into the film and the concept was to have a live concert by the Beatles. So, time was running out. It was, again, just, 'Oh, my gosh, now go up on the roof.’ Not everybody in the building could do that. They couldn't have gone up anyway. The roof couldn't have withstood the weight. Some people didn't even know - most people, maybe, in the building didn't know what was going on. And so that's the kind of thing I want to impart to separate myself from the other writers to really put a personal thing in it. And oddly enough, I’m just now reading Geoff Emerick's book and I don't read many of the books because ever since I read a couple that I didn't like, I just haven't bothered with them. Geoff's book touches on that, too. You really get a feeling about them personally. That's the thing that fascinates me about the Beatles in the whole era. So that's what I want to leave with people.”

Ken Mansfield has written several excellent books with his most recent being “The Roof: The Beatles’ Last Concert” that we talked about. I encourage you to order that book as well as Ken’s other books. I have them all and they’re all great reads!

Keith Howland Talks 25 Years With Chicago

Posted April 2020

 

keith howland large croppedThe coronavirus has affected every aspect of human life as we know it. It has especially impacted the entertainment industry as performances of all but the streaming kind have been canceled or postponed.

Such was the case with the group, Chicago. Originally slated to perform in Nashville and Chattanooga this month, I interviewed the band’s long-time guitar wiz, Keith Howland. Though those shows have been pushed out until December, the chat is still a good one to share with you now.

I reached Keith at his hotel room in Las Vegas where he and the band were performing during a residency at the Venetian. We started off by talking about what led to Keith getting his role in Chicago that he has held for over 25 years. Did he expect it to last this long?

“No, absolutely not. As a matter of fact, I remember when I got the gig, I remember thinking to myself, you know, the guys were into their 50s and the band had been around for 30 years or something along those lines. And I thought, well, you know if I get five years out of this thing, that would be great. It just kept going and going and going like the Energizer Bunny. We don't stop and we haven't taken a year off. We're actually probably doing more tour dates now than we were when I first joined the group.”

What does Howland attribute that to?

“I think I would attribute it to a couple of things. Some of the guys, when I joined the band, had younger kids, so maybe they didn't want to be out on the road. The kids are now grown and out of the house and, so they're more inclined to want to stay out on the road and just keep working. I just think that, also, as we keep moving forward, I think they're just as much - I don't know what the word is, but they're just feeling grateful and blessed that so many people want to come see us at this stage of the career. So, we're still putting out new music and we continue to tour and people keep coming to see us and we're having fun. So, I think that's probably the key element, is everybody's having a good time. It's real.

“But I think it's a testament to that - when you really look at the bands that are out there just continually doing good business and staying out there. The Doobie Brothers, and Earth, Wind and Fire, and us and Pat Benatar and Foreigner. We're all sort of a certain era that seems that transcends the generations. We see three generations coming to our concerts. There's the grandparents that were there from the beginning and the parents that came in the 80s, maybe. And then the kids are being dragged there by their parents and their grandparents and they enjoy it, too.”

In another interview, Keith was quoted as saying, 'Music is not just my job. Music is my hobby and who I am and what I am.’ I asked him to elaborate on that.

“Well, I mean, you know, growing up in a musical household, only in the sense that my parents weren't really musicians. My mother was in the church choir and she played piano. My father used to joke all the time that he played the radio. That was his instrument. But my older brother was playing drums when he was seven or eight and I was four years younger. So, for as long as I can remember, there was instruments and music being played in our household. At age seven, myself, I picked up the guitar and then, of course, my brother and I started jamming in my parent’s rec room. We put records on and we would just play to them and turn the lights off. We bought a couple of Christmas spotlights and put them on us and pretended like we were playing a concert or whatever. We used to do that actually to the Santana ‘Moonflower’ album a lot. I wound up learning all four sides of that record note for note. I could play right along with Carlos. Chicago was a big prevalent band in our house as well.

“I think the first time we saw them live was in '75 in Washington, D.C., so that was the original lineup. I got to see Terry Kath. It was kind of a life-changing moment for me because I was kind of a - I was kind of more of a rock guy. I was getting into Kiss and Ted Nugent. And, then, there was Van Halen. But the Chicago influence kind of pulled me in - and my brother actually pulled me in - the direction of a little bit more harmonically sophisticated music. My brother was listening to Earth, Wind and Fire, and the Crusaders and Weather Report. So, whether I liked it or not, I was hearing a lot of that music from him. We each had our own bedroom with our own stereos and one was louder than the next. I might turn Double Live Gonzo off and go next door and listen to my brother listening to Weather Report. It was expanding my harmonic palette.

“But yeah, I mean, it's all I've ever known. And the irony of it is, is that I went to college and I got a degree in communication arts and I played in three different bands when I was in college and not once did I think to myself, 'I want to be a professional musician'. Not once. I was twenty-two or twenty-three years old when my buddy, Lance, (he was my college roommate who was a bass player in all the bands I played in) and I decided, 'You know what? What are we gonna do? Let's go to L.A. and see if we can do something with this music thing, you know?' Up to that point, it was a hobby and I just thought it was going to continue to be a hobby and I was gonna get a job at a TV station or something in communications. Lo and behold, we wound up in L.A. and he wound up playing with Don Henley, I wound up playing with Chicago. It all worked out, I guess.

“I was going to say the odds of two stupid kids from Virginia loading up a Ryder truck, driving to Los Angeles and winding up both doing pretty well for themselves is pretty unlikely. But we were stupid enough and optimistic enough that we just went for it.”

Keith Howland profile 1Because Keith mentioned being in church and his mom being a pianist, I asked if he was a fan of Phil Keaggy when he was a teen.

“Yeah. Phil Keaggy, I touched on him, and, more recently, I've listened to more of his stuff. The guy is absolutely amazing. Absolutely amazing. I wish I would have gotten to him sooner; he would have been more of an influence on me.”

I asked Howland what are the biggest changes he’s seen both in the band and in the music industry since he’s been in both of them for such a long time.

“Well, I mean, the changes in the band, that's a pretty obvious one. Any band that's lasted for 53 years, there's going to be personnel changes. When I joined the band, there were eight guys - the four originals, which was Robert, Jimmy, Lee, and Walt. And then there was Bill Champlin and then Jason Scheff and Tris Imboden, and then me. At this point in the group, it's Robert, Jimmy, Lee, and then me, if you're talking seniority. Because Bill and Jason and Walt - Walt is still a member of the group, but he doesn't really tour anymore due to health reasons. But, Bill and Trist, and Jason are gone. So, I've slid up the ranks to the highest tenured non-original member.

“But you know what? The band is sort of much like Foreigner. This band doesn't hire slouch musicians. So, you know, I've gotten to play with several different lineups in my 25 years and all of them have been great. So, that's kind of where change happens. But that’s like you say, that's with any band that's been around for this long. That's going to happen, I feel. We have the two principle songwriters in the band still on stage in Jimmy and Robert. Obviously, Robert is the iconic voice of a lot of the early hits of the group. S

“The music industry, on the other hand - you know, the way that you get music to the masses is completely different these days.Chicago2019C reduced When I joined the group, you still went into a studio, made a record, and hoped that a record company would get behind it and you'd get a song on the radio. Now, it's all digital downloads and streaming and you're really making records to tour behind them. Like you said, you went and saw a different band, but you heard Phil Keaggy and you went out and you bought his records. When I was a kid, I would go see the band that I wanted to see and there would be an opening act and usually, the opening act was somebody I'd never heard of. Like Bryan Adams or the Dixie Dregs. I saw so many bands that became huge. Billy Squier. Had no idea who Billy Squier was. He opened for Rush, I think. And I went straight out and bought his record went straight out and bought Bryan Adams’ record. That doesn't really happen so much anymore. Usually, if you're on tour with another band, it's a well-known band. There's not a lot of bands sort of toting unknown talent out with them. You got to build that - which this is not so much unlike old school in that now, bands do have to build an audience in a grassroots fashion by going out, playing club dates, wherever they can be heard, which is what this band did back in the day. So, some things have changed and some are the same. You got to get out there and play to the people in order to get them to know who you are.

I asked Keith if he were made music czar, what would he do to change it, if anything, he replied:

“Well, I do think that there is a little too much expectation of consumers now that recorded music should be free. People grouse about having to pay 99 cents to download a song. You can't even get a cup of Starbucks coffee for 99 cents. But, yet, the consumer thinks that they should be able to get it for free. And they do with Spotify. Apple Music. Most everything that's released, you go right on YouTube. It's immediately up there for free. So, yeah. I mean, the idea of making music as a recording artist is somewhat limited today. And I think that that's probably the thing that needs to be addressed. That's also part of the reason why you see everybody is on the road because that's the only place to make money anymore.

What can fans expect on this tour?

keith howland large“Well, we're calling this tour 'Chicago and Their Greatest Hits'. So that pretty much says it all right there. You're going to get about two hours and 20 minutes of nothing but hit songs. There may be one or two deep cuts thrown in there, but they're probably familiar deep cuts. It's a two-set show with a 20-minute intermission. So, pack a picnic basket. It's a long night of music.

“But, yeah, I know we're rolling right along here. We’ve finished our rehearsals here in Las Vegas. In 'rehearsals', I mean, the shows that we're playing. We have been off for about, gosh, almost for months so our first gig out was kind of like, 'Do we remember this stuff?' We did.

What does the Chicago guitarist hope his legacy is and how he’ll be remembered?

“Boy, that's a tough question. I mean, I'd hope that people would remember me as somebody who sort of helped to perpetuate the legacy of a great Hall of Fame rock and roll band, just by sheer commitment and longevity. And I hope people remember me as a good guy and a good, good father. That's kind of all you can hope for."

Follow the latest with Keith and Chicago at Chicagotheband.com.

Chris P. James Talks About The Burrito Brothers, Their New LP, and The Legacy of the Band

Posted May 2020

chrispjamescroppedFor those who may not have heard of them, you might think it’s some circus act or the name of some sort of Mexican food joint. But to the older siblings of the baby boomer generation, the name brings back memories and names from the late sixties and very early seventies. Memories associated with their songs like ‘If You Gotta Go,’ or names like the late Gram Parsons or Chris Hillman from the Byrds – both of whom formed the original incarnation of the band.

Since those wild and crazy days, the band has gone through almost innumerable line-up changes but have pretty much always stayed true to their innovative, Americana/country-rock sound.

Currently called The Burrito Brothers, the band consists of Bob Hatter on guitar, Peter Young on drums, Tony Paoletta on steel guitar, and Chris P. James on keys and vocals.

While confined by a government-ordered COVID-19 driven “sheltering in place”, Mr. James and I caught up with each other to chat about the band’s new disc, ‘The Notorious Burrito Brothers’. After exchanging thoughts and stories about what we saw, heard, and knew about the virus, I asked Chris to tell me about the new disc and which song from the new disc he would point to as the calling card for it.

“Well, we're thrilled with it. And we think we accomplished what we set out to do with it. We initially had this idea of pretty much a concept album. I mean, not a full story. Not like Tommy by The Who or something, but more like those albums that feel like their pace in such a way that it all hangs together, that it opens with the invite you in song, Bring It On, come on and join the party, kind of thing, and it finishes with a very definite finale that has little references to the previous songs and the songs before it on the album. The pacing is, as well, thought out and includes a 10- or 11-minute suite, which is four songs all kind of glued together - all put together to become one piece, and we just were all on the same page doing it.

“The musicianship is so sky-high in this group right now and being Tony Paoletta on pedal steel and Bob Hatter on guitar and Peter Young on drums and background vocals. They're just top-level guys who are in demand regularly. They do lots of sessions, probably less so right now with this virus.

“But that's their deal. They're just brilliant virtuoso level musicians. We're all longtime friends and we just kind of all got really on the same page more than I ever recall. We were close on our previous album from 2018, except that it took so long to finish. We made it. We were offered by John Sturdivant Jr. He's the owner and operator of Junction Studio in Madison, Tennessee. It’s on Kitty Wells Boulevard because it's got that connection, his grandmother - Kitty Wells. John offered to record an album. This was back in late 2016, at his place. I was really wanting to do it and my brother, Fred, who had produced our previous album, had this mindset that, ‘Nah, you don't do it till you got the deal and they paid for it and all that.’ It resulted in not making an album for about six years. So, when John offered, ‘Naw, let's just make one.’ And he did it and he produced it. I thought, ‘Sure, I'll take you up on that.’

‘It turned out he was kind of nitpicker or something. I don't want to knock the guy. But it just obsessive. It seems like we could never be done. He kept insisting that we had to tweak this or that. And he mixed it over and over again. And it just seemed to take forever. It took a couple of years. And the result was very nice. It came out on our own Junction label, which was kind of a mistake in hindsight. It's called, ‘Still Going Strong’. And after we weren't as successful as we hoped in trying to market it ourselves, we tried pitching it, saying, ‘You know, it wasn't a real label, it was just our own, we all own the rights and everything.’ We had a company that we're now with, SSM records in England, they really liked it, but said, ‘I'm sorry, even though you own it now, it's really still seen as having been released. It's available on download. You've got a registered UPC code, all this stuff.’ They do not want to handle an album that's already out there and pretend that it's a new release.

“So, they said, ‘Let us know as soon as you got something new.’ I told John that - this was the start of last year; which I loved the idea of 2019 being the 50th anniversary of the Flying Burrito Brothers Gilded Palace of Sin first album. ‘So, let's get an album done. Let's kind of knocked this one out and not spend all that time on it.’

“Well, that just wasn't John's way of doing stuff. He just flipped out about it. In his mind, he thought there might be another two, three years. Just finally finished one. And so, he bailed out of the group, which, if you look at the history of the Burrito Brothers, that's nothing new. There's always new guys coming in.

“Our answer was real easy because we just asked Peter Young, who was in the group before John if he'd come back. He was happy to. He's a real agreeable guy who's got enough irons in the fire, he's not that hung up on stuff. And he was the perfect answer, and he brought us to Alchematic studio in Franklin. Owned and operated by Mark Richardson who used to be at Electric Lady Land in New York.

burritobros003“We've got the best sound we've ever gotten and it just flowed so easy. We were out from under the previous nitpicking and taking too long and everything. And we just decided, ‘You know, let's compose and conceive of an album and just go do it.’ And when we were not even, gosh, we were just a little over halfway through, we sent our representative in England, Bob Boiling who's a great friend and a real good go-getter business guy. And I love his initials Bob Boiling, B B - like Burrito Brothers. He got it to this guy, Bryan Adams - not the Canadian rock singer but the same name, Head of SSM Records - who said, ‘Yep, I'll take it’, even before we were done. So, we knew we had a deal as we finished the album that we had a sweet, sweet situation and we just had a better report, just a whole respecting and liking each other. It just worked so nicely. It just feels to me like the smoothest I've seen and I'm confident that it's the best album that I've been involved with and it's probably the best Burrito Brothers album in a long time because it's really that good.

“It's also a pretty, pretty significant moment in the history of the group because it's such a nice deal. It’s a major label with worldwide distribution and promotion. I don't think that that's the biggest record deal that the Burrito Brothers have had in decades. So, it's a real sweet, nice time. Kind of weird to be marked by this pandemic at the same time, but it's still a special entry in the history of the Burrito Brothers.”

Regarding how long the album took to record, Chris said:

“I suppose you could say a year to make if you count everything. If you count us getting together long before going into the studio and writing and organizing all our plans and then going in and recording. But it seems to me the actual recording is only just about, three or four months, which is even misleading because with everybody's schedule and not having a massive budget. We probably went in one day every couple weeks or so. I think there may have even been occasions where more than two weeks went by between the sessions. It's probably a total of about five or six sessions. It was really efficiently done.

“The result proves that you don't have to belabor over it. In fact, I think, it's a decidedly better mix than the previous album. I think perhaps some of that obsessing doesn't result in a better product. Plus, it's a lot easier to be fired up about this one because it remained pretty fresh, we were still excited. There we were having a deal before we even finished it and we were just on a high on it.

“The other one I remember really distinctly thinking by the time it was out, it already felt old to me. I mean, we'd been doing the material for that album was less concisely figured out. The album before, Still Going Strong, in twenty eighteen is sound as ever in 2011. So, there's seven years there between those two albums. And I was going crazy. My favorite thing to do is make the new album. After a couple of years, you know, like about 2013 or 2014, I'm thinking, ‘Come on guys, it's time to do it again.’

“We had a couple of personnel shifts right in there. We had that idea that we needed the deal first and all this stuff. Yet it's not like I or the other members of the band weren't still into writing songs, I mean coming up with the material, I believe we could have made an album in 2013 quite easily. We had plenty of material. A lot of the stuff that wound up on Still Going Strong had been percolating for half a dozen years.”

What song would James point to as the calling card for the album?

“Well, I would think probably the first one. It's the one that invites everybody in. It's kind of that old idea - I'm sure many people said it but I remember Todd Rundgren telling me that you put that main radio song on first; the one you think is the one that could be the hit, that could draw people in. That's what we do. So, probably ‘Bring It’ is probably my choice if you had to pick one that you hope made an impression to make people want to hear more.”

I suggested that this album dovetailed nicely, to which Chris replied:

“Absolutely! It's a thing where to be the Burrito Brothers is something with some degree of already preset parameters; an ideaBurrito Brothers 2019 2 of the kind of stuff you should be doing. The initial concept brought out by Gram Parsons and Chris Hellman when they made the first album, which is now just widely regarded as a bona fide classic – The Gilded Palace of Sin. The idea is to bring some country aesthetics - some of the idea of country music into the rock arena. They were not marketed or treated as if they were a country band. They were in the rock crowd, but they were wanting to turn that crowd on to the idea that country wasn't just a bunch of old fogies or whatever. It could be cool that there were good sounds there. It was part of a whole wave, a whole movement, all those hippie country-rock groups like a Pure Prairie League and Poco and New Riders of the Purple Sage and, for that matter, Grateful Dead, The Byrds. Those groups, if you A-B’d them to what’s on country radio today, probably sound more like an older school country than today's boogie and rock version. But, still, in their day that was filed under the genre of Rock that wasn't considered a country group. That's what I think - strongly believe we are. We're not a country group. We're a rock group. We incorporate flavors and instrumentation that is often associated with country but it's far more inventive, progressive sort of window we're looking out of; making the concept type album and liking things that are almost psychedelic and things like that. It's a group that utilizes that hybrid.”

And what’s on The Burrito Brothers’ radar for the next year or so?

“Part of the whole plan for this album, which was better realized than we'd been before, as I've already pretty much alluded to, even included a focus aimed at England and Europe and foreign countries. The idea, we feel, is that they'd be more receptive, even, dare I say, respectful of a group of seasoned professionals with a real ability to deliver this uniquely American art form and really good at it. I'd liken it to be the way some black jazz guys back in the 50s and 60s would go to Europe and find much better reception and success and respect. It's like that saying that you can't be a prophet in your own town. And speaking of hometown: in Nashville, there’s so many groups and everybody’s trying to get a little piece of attention. They’re much more into whatever they're doing. When you broaden that out to the rest of the country, I wouldn't say we aren't received well. We've done a lot of really nice gigs. But still, in a broader sense, they're not going to embrace this on the country charts. That's not their thing these days. The pop charts, pop radio or whatever is filled with those electronic sounding things that rap and synthesized tracks that have a drum sequence - not even real musicians playing; one guy in a studio, building a track that he gets somebody to talk over and sing to. We're just not in keeping with that at all. So, our goal was to aim toward the European market. The feeling is that it's such a global village now with the internet and everything and communications. Such big potential out there. I mean, all we got to do is find a few pockets that love us and we may have it made.

“But just the idea of aiming our attention in hopes of making some marks overseas is what we were saying. We've already spoken to an agent or two and we got a man over in England, Bob Boiling, and the plan was, upon release of this album and with a little bit of buzz from it, will bring about some nice little trips overseas.

“We’re not any kind of band who really wants to just be out on the road all the time. Too many family things. We just like a shorter, well-figured out, focused trip; you know, ten days, two weeks, something like that; handfuls of them during the year. Not that, ‘Boy, let's just get in the van and hit the road and be out there all year!’ No breaks.

“We sort of wondered if you had to name the genre for this band - for a while there, not quite ten years ago, we were wondering if we could make some inroads with Americana. But it seemed to not be as welcoming as we'd hoped. And we knew that the country music scene, its way to market, control, whatever, that an old group like us isn't that easily included.

“So, I thought we could call it classic rock. But I got corrected and I'm sure it was wrong because classic rock is just a radio format that plays old hits and it isn't really an ongoing genre. I mean, it's sort of, in a way, the definition of rock groups from a classic by-gone time. But the Burrito Brothers didn't have big mega-hits that everyone out there in the general public knows. They're more of a group that was regarded for having really good albums and always being a good solid group and having great musicians in it.

“But, you know, it's interesting that the fact that this group has lasted for 51 years - it's interesting that it's a whole different dynamic for most groups that have lasted like that. I suppose the Stones are one of the few exceptions of really essentially being intact. Most groups that have lasted for a long, long time have one last remaining guy from way back when; the original drummer or something. Then they a staffed group to go out and play those oldies shows or to play performances. This group has never had two albums in a row with the same person. Every single time they got around to making their next album, at least one guy is gone and the next guy is in. But interestingly, there's never been an audition. It's always the guys who remain who need to find the next guy to fill any vacancy. It’s like, ‘Oh, it's time to get our buddy here to join, which is essentially what happened with me in 2009. I've been around for a long time. Subbed on various occasions and even played on a couple of albums as a guest. And that's what happens. You finally get your turn. I should mention that each time the group reconstitutes, it's always because it's an offer. There's a label who's interested in them or there's a touring, booking guy who has dates. It's like little, you know, fine, if he doesn't want to do it anymore, he quit for whatever reason, get a new guy and let's get the band back up and running. What happens is there is a distinct tendency each time it's reconstituted to show their stuff to prove that this lineup is just as good as it was before. Check it, check us out and we're going to let you know that it's in the right hands.

“I strongly feel that we just did that with our new album, The Notorious Burrito Brothers. This is good. There's been a personnel change, but there's an upswing in the quality of the music that’s out now. There's the fact that the group was under the radar a lot of years. Perhaps you could even kind of say we still are. But hopefully, we are kind of surfacing a little more over time. That and just these days, weird, social media, judgmental, curmudgeonly mindset that many show.

“There's people who say, ‘Well, they're not the real Burrito Brothers.’ Well, unfortunately, you can't name anybody who is. I mean, maybe you could make the case that The Gilded Palace of Sin with Gram Parsons, Sneaky Pete Klein, Chris Hillman, and Chris Ethridge was the one and only real Burrito Brothers? They made one album. There was already a personnel change on the second, and Gram Parsons - the leading light - was gone by the third. And yet the group has continued the whole time. There isn't an iconic lineup unless it's that one. And how do you explain fifty-five years of carrying on and every single time, the personnel shifted. It was not a bunch of guys who had never been in the band. It was always the nucleus from before adding a new guy. There's a career and we got a timeline on our website and it shows how the whole thing transpired. There's an entry for each year since 1967 and who was in the band that year. If an album came out then it's just an entry for the whole crazy, convoluted progression. It is a definite lineage. It's not at any point where I remember some guy saying, ‘Oh, that's not the Burrito Brothers.’ I've learned not to engage in it. Does it make me look any good? But I want to say, ‘Yes, we are. We own the trademark rights and you can look it up on the timeline.’ But that's just not worth it. But this guy went so far as to say, 'Maybe I could just find three guys and we'll call ourselves The Beatles". I thought, ‘That's got to be one of the dumbest things I've ever heard. You're comparing a group that has absolutely a precedent of changing people throughout its entire history to the biggest group of all time who has four iconic names who cannot possibly ever be anyone else. There's no comparison, that's an absurd analogy.”

As we wrapped up our chat, Chris wanted to mention a particular song to be sure and listen to: ‘Acrostic’.

“Acrostic is a really cool thing. I didn't know what that word meant when I came across it a year and a half ago. I looked it up and it is a poetic lyrical tool in which the first letter of each line spells out a different message. It's like if you're looking at a lyric sheet, you read it vertically downward on the left-hand column, the first letter of each line, and I came up with one. Then I thought. ‘I don't know of a song that's an acrostic. I don't think anybody's done that before.’ So, I came up with a little message and then fitted lyrics that were really, really nice. My mother had just passed away and I came up with this idea of a mother or a parent giving their child some good words, some advice, about how to face life. It worked out really nice. The guy who did the artwork for the cover of the Notorious Burrito Brothers - his name was Warren Ells - he put together a conceptual video acrostic and it's not bad at all. I think we'll do another like that since we can't really do a video shoot right now. I thought that his conceptual treatment of that song worked out just fine.”

The Burrito Brothers are more than fine. Keep up with them at their website, TheBurritoBrothers.net.

Cosmo Clifford Shares A Glimpse Through The Magic Window

Posted April 2020

Doug Clifford by Brent Clifford croppedPhoto by Brent Clifford croppedCreedence Clearwater Revival.

The mention of the band conjures up memories of their many hits like Suzie Q, Born On The Bayou, Proud Mary, Fortunate Son, and all the memories and images we’ve individually tied to those and other songs.

For me, Proud Mary is especially meaningful to me as it was the song my mom said that I had to learn on a borrowed guitar – from beginning to end – before she and my dad would buy me my own, new guitar. I did and they did. Mom is gone but I still have the guitar that she and my dad bought me. No amount of money would ever get me to sell. For that matter, no amount of money can erase the amazing memories I have that are forever tied to those amazing CCR hits.

The foundation of those legendary songs is the steady, driving rhythms that were laid down by the co-founding drummer, Doug ‘Cosmo’ Clifford. When CCR split up, he and bandmate, Stu Cook (whom we’ve interviewed twice – here and here), formed their own group, Creedence Clearwater Revisited. They retired the band last year after settling a lengthy and expensive lawsuit with John Fogerty.

Not one to settle into “retirement”, Cosmo recently unearthed a collection of very well recorded demo tapes with several albums’ worth of quite listenable (and enjoyable) material. The first of those albums is coming out and is titled, Magic Window, which is a wonderful collection of ten well-written, played and recorded songs that Clifford put together in the mid-eighties.

When I heard that he was putting the album out – and after listening to an advance copy of it – I immediately reached out to set up an interview with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee.

Reaching him at his winter home in Arizona, I started off by thanking him for not only taking the time to chat with me but also for the many years of great music that makes up so much of the soundtrack of my youth. “The pleasure's mine, believe me. It was a dream that a13-year-old had and took it over the fence. It continued even though we just put Creedence Clearwater Revisited to bed. That was 25 years of touring; every year for 25 years. Another second career, if you will. Now, I'm going back into the creative side and putting records out. I've got a bunch of them. They're all songs that I've written or co-written. One of the things I did when I was writing a lot, I had a studio in the house and recorded them to be master quality demos. It's paying off, I guess. People Like the album I’ve got coming out.”

I shared with Cosmo that my two favorite cuts from the album are, ‘Don't Leave Me Alone Tonight’ (a great tune with a bit of a John Lennon ala his Double Fantasy album sound to it) and ‘Somebody Love Me Tonight’. When I shared that with him, he replied:

“That's a very high compliment to be mentioned with John Lennon. I have to say thank you. And, then, Somebody Love Me tonight, I didn't have anybody write that with me. That was 100% my song. I have three of them that I wrote by myself and the rest were all co-written. When I write, I limit it to one other writer. I've been in a situation where three or four guys write and then you kind of lose track. Somebody would say, 'Well, I had more lines than you did so I should get this percentage' - 'Wait a minute!'

“We cut it down the middle, make life easier, make the best song we can. So that's how I do my deal.”

Then, circling back around to the story behind Magic Window, he added:

“Yeah, it is a complete surprise. I forgot about this record and there it was. and I didn't know if it would even play. I found ten other reels. I've got about a hundred songs with other some with different vocalists. I've got some stuff with Bobby Whitlock and we have a guy that sounded like Rod Stewart singing on some stuff. This was the closest thing I've ever had to being an artist and wearing all the hats. Writing. Producing. Singing.

“The singing, for me, was the tough part because I didn't do much of it. I had a decent voice because my mother, she sang on the radio when she was a teenager but got married young. And so, I sort of took her dreams with Creedence to the Graceland, so to speak. She was very supportive. I said, 'If she can sing like that, I just have to practice.' So, practice I did! Ha! Ha!”

I told Clifford that the thing that I found remarkable about Magic Window is that, though the album had been in a vault, so to speak, for thirty-five years, and not heard until now, the songs have a classic, stand-the-test-of-time sound and feel to them. They hit me like well-worn standards. He agreed.

“Yeah, I have to agree with you. It was done in the 80s. I guess the giveaway there is Simmons toms, Ha! Ha! That was the big deal. I had just bought those toms and I was playing away on them. It was all the rage back then. I've heard some Simmons' toms on some of the newer stuff that's out now. So, maybe they've come back. I hope so.

“But it sounds - when I listened to it - it happened so long ago and I haven't done anything like that since - t's like I'm listening to somebody else. You know, I like it because I'm my own worst critic. I'm going, 'Gee! Who is this guy?' And it's me! That's me and I'm not in the shower. How about that?”

What song on Magic Window would Cosmo point to as a calling card to entice people to purchase the entire album?

“Well, I would say, probably, Don't Leave Me Alone Tonight or Just Another Girl. I picked those two out because they're balanced. The up-tempo stuff is something that everyone expects from me being a drummer. So, I think there's a lot more to a ballad, especially from the musical standpoint. So, those are, I think, my two best vocals. Those two songs.”

Concluding his answer to my question, Clifford closed by saying:

“I like every song in it. That's why they're in there. I think it's probably my best writing, as well. I've put a lot of time in putting all the parts together. And then, by the time I had all the parts, I had been working on my voice and I was ready. So. It's a labor of love. I'm very, very proud of it. As I say, when I listen to it, it's like, wow. Who are those guys?”

I asked if the songs are as intensely personal as they sound.

“Well, yeah, it's pretty fair. Some more than others. Sort of my writing style was - Rob Polomsky, I wrote four of the six songs with him - He was a local guy. I saw him all the time. I had more time with him to write than the other guys. But, you know, as I say, I've written with Steve Wright and some other guys over the years. He would have a little guitar hook. It might not even be two - a lot of them were less than two bars or four bars. Not a lot. ‘Listen to this lyric.’ I listened to it. And then I'd go, 'Hmmmm, what does that spark?'

“So that's kind of the deal. If it doesn't spark something, give me another one. That's how we would do it. And he just had a bunch of songs that are a bunch of hooks that sparked certain feelings or memories.

“For example, Just Another Girl. I said, 'You know, most loves songs are love at first sight. You know, ‘When I saw her, I fell in love head over heels.’ I said I want an opposite type deal. I want this guy not to be enamored coming out of the chute. 'The first time that I saw you, you were just another girl. I didn't know then you would change my whole world.' I mean, it's kind of like, ‘Hmm, just another girl.’ It's a different way to get into a song like that. So, I had a few little things that I liked to throw in and make, maybe something unique, if you will.”

When I asked Doug what he hoped listeners would take away from listening to Magic Window, he replied:

“I hope that they enjoy it and I hope it takes them down a Happy Road. Creedence didn't do any love songs so there's several love songs. I had to make up for the ones we didn't do. It just wasn't what we did. So, from that standpoint - that kind of is a pretty positive thing. You know, a love song and others are totally different. 'Somebody Love Me Tonight', that's one of those kinds of sad (songs) in the sense that there are a lot of people that are in that situation that they're looking for love for all the wrong reasons. Of course, that was a country hit. But I mean, that's a definition of that song.

“I'm a storyteller and, you know, it's general admission or parental guidance, 13 and older. But the songs come and you based those on merits. Hopefully, they are interesting to people and get their attention. That's really what it's all about. You want to engage people in your art.”

I hadn’t realized it until Cosmo said so that CCR never did love songs. I asked him why.

“I think John was uncomfortable in that arena. He was very shy, for one. And, you know, he had a tough childhood and I thinkDoug Clifford by Brent CliffordPhoto by Brent Clifford that that word was kind of guarded. I don't think he felt comfortable going down that road. You'd have to ask him.

“But, you know, I grew up with the guy. We were 13 when we met and when we started the band. And if you look at our concerts, I was right on the floor, no riser or anything, right on the floor, right next to him and his amp. And when he would do a solo, he would turn his back on the audience, come over and play the solo to me. That's how we did it when we were an instrumental trio. I was kind of his 'blankie', if you will. That's how we did it.

“You look at the - it'll be coming out this year, too: Live at the Royal Albert Hall. There's a video - it will be the only video we have out. But that's what he does is he comes over there and that's his area when he solos. He was uncomfortable going up and looking out at the audience because he didn't have dance moves or anything like that and was very uncomfortable in that role. So, I was the guy that was moving around and breaking things. It gave him solace when he was doing his solos.”

Speaking of concerts, I asked Cosmo if he has touring plans to support the new CD.

“No, I don't, because I had cancer and I had radiation. I haven't done any singing and I just quit touring. No, it's just too hard on your body. I've been going out with a band that's playing hits then to go out as the guy with an album that nobody knows about and try to travel or even get gigs to do that? You’ve got to get a hit first. I'd like to do videos; create something visual while the song's going on and kind of do it that way. Because, really what it is, I'm a singer, songwriter, publisher. That's what I'm doing.

“I've got albums that are waiting in the wings. I'll be releasing the next one, two, three, four or five or six or so albums. I've got a lot of a lot of really good songs, had some good writing partners. And I really enjoyed that that that procedure and the creativity that was involved in it. You know, I hope to surprise a few people. I'm talking to a lot of different people. Disc jockeys, yourself, and other people that are in the business and people that I know who will - if there's any doubt - they'll still say, ‘This thing is a piece of shit.’ Nobody's done that yet and these are people that they say, ‘You should really just stick to the drums and forget about it.’

“But I think I have something in this record. And, you know, now's a good time for music. Boy, I'll tell you, it's a medicine for sure and we need a lot of medicine in our world right now.”

wendyweisberg MagicWindowCosmoI asked Clifford what the worst and best changes that he’s seen in the music industry.

“Well, that's an interesting question. It's the same ones that stand out hugely and that the artists are getting screwed more and more every time there's some sort of technology change or boom, the result is the artist gets more screwed.

“For example, streaming is a fraction of what it used to make when you got airplay or when records were sold to people. The idea that people expect their music to be free is - I've never gotten that one. I would ask that guy - say he's a ditch digger – ‘Would you dig ditches all week and go up at the end of the week and say, 'Don't pay me. I expect to give you my ditches free.'

“It makes it pretty tough for talented people that don't have a chance at making a career or living at music, alone. It limits financially the future of the artists, for sure. And then the other side of it is the good side of it is that, for example, my album's coming out on CD Baby. I don't have a record company and I like the fact that I don't because I am the record company. I know enough about the business and I've been on the other side of it from a promotional standpoint, for years, both promoting Creedence and then promoting albums that Stu Cook and I made with a production company, so I understand it. And one of the things that I was talking to somebody about this and he said, 'I was so excited when I got my deal, they said, 'We're going to do this and we're going to do that' and they gave me a release date. They said, 'Be ready to go'. And the release date came and he went out there and they jumped up and down and did whatever they were going to do for a week. Then they said, ‘A new artist is coming out tomorrow so we hope that you've got enough from us to get on a radio station'.

“The guy's sitting there with his hopes and dreams in his hand. And, you know, the label just is disconnected. So, CD Baby, they distribute and they promote it. I've got independent promotion. Wendy is my press agent; I get to work on the Internet side of things. And then they set things up for me. I am doing it right now. I'm talking and having a conversation about the record and whatever they throw my way. And hopefully, that door is there because of my background. I've been very fortunate to have that on my resume so that I've got my own label and it's C.D. Baby. They have done a terrific job.

“And this is another thing to further add to your question. For a guy that has a record or even an EP, you can get your record out for less than one hundred bucks. That makes it really pretty cool. And if you're doing gigs, make sure that you get that information out to your audience, so they can go right to the Internet and download your record. So, there is the high and the low of what's happening out there.”

Because of his involvement in the music business span seven decades, I asked Cosmo what he would do to fix the music business if he were ever made “Music Czar”.

“Well, first and foremost, I'd make sure that the artists get fair pay for airplay - and that includes the engineers and people that are hopefully negotiated into the deal. That, of course, depends on who you are and what level you're at. You may just want to get paid an hourly wage because you don't expect anything to come of the project that you're working on. The other side of that is if you’ve got somebody that has a reasonable career going, it looks like or you've heard and you like what you hear and it looks like they have a shot at making something happen, you might want to negotiate time for a point. Work it out that way. There are a lot of ways you can do it. So, I would do that so it allows for being able to have a piece of the pie if the pie comes out really good. So, I would do that.

“Secondly, I would try to get a hold of government to have them take a look at who's got what. In other words, radio stations, they play music. The artist isn't getting a fair shake. They're selling advertising dollars on the backs of those artists. And this is kind of redundant, but I would really make sure that the artists got the percentage of that pie without paying the price of whatever it may be. Again, it's the big, big guys - the corporations - who are pulling the strings and I don't know how to change that.

When I asked Clifford, who was on his musical radar these days, he answered:

“I, for the most part, listen to classic rock. I like to hear my peers' music and make sure they're playing ours. And they are. Radio broke Creedence. We were on a little obscure jazz label in San Francisco and they didn't know anything about rock and roll except one thing: Rock bands made money. Jazz doesn't make money. Rock and roll does and that was their whole motivation for having us. They wanted to make money and money they made. It wasn't by their hand in promoting and whatnot. It was because they didn't know how to promote pop, rock, popular music.

“But they used to have song sheets back in the day and the guys pick sheets and there were certain guys that were really good at picking hit records. There was this one fella, Bill Drake, was the guy that was like the guru and he picked Susie Q as a single. And as a result, Susie Q got airplay and Susie Q was their top ten. Well, it got to eleven. I rounded off. He got us a gold record and it opened the door. Then our second - it was a cover song - our second cover song off that first album was Screaming Jay Hawkins’, ‘I Put A Spell On You’. It died at 53. So, our next record had to have an original single or where we were gonna be a one-hit wonder with Suzy Q. So, we thought, ‘Well, Born on the Bayou is very similar to groove to Susie Q’. And that really worked.

“That's my favorite Creedence song to this very day. So, I was happy about it, but it was a turntable hit. In other words, they got airplay, but it didn't get the sales and we had to have sales to go up the charts on the radio. So, Bill Drake sent out his second sheet. He says, 'You've got the right record. Just turn it over.'

“On the other side was Proud Mary. Gives me chills just talking every time. Talked about it a million times. 'Bill! Bill! Thank you!' 'You've got the right record, you just got to turn it.'”

On the subject of Proud Mary, I mentioned that James Burton had released a cover version of that song before playing it regularly with Elvis. I asked about that.

“Well, that was when Elvis did Proud Mary. That was really cool. We had Concerts West as our promoter back then and Concerts West had the cream of the crop. They had Elvis, they had the Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra and they had us. So, we were kind of the cream of the crop. Elvis was coming into the Oakland Coliseum, which is in our backyard. Tom Hewitt, who ran concerts west, said 'Elvis wants to meet you guys. And so, after the show come on backstage.'

“We're like, 'Holy shit! We're going to meet Elvis!' So, in the middle of the show, Elvis finishes a song and then he walks up to the mic, puts his hand on the mic, and he goes, 'I know they're out there. I know they're out there. This one's for the Creedence boys, and, then, 'Two, three, four!' and went into Proud Mary!

“I'm crying. I'm sobbing. I'm not kidding you. Right now, I get teary-eyed about Elvis Presley's playing Proud Mary and dedicating it to us. Then, the other side of that coin is Elvis left the building so we didn't get to meet him. He had a death threat so he had to go.”

I mentioned Cosmo that Elvis was my first concert and that I actually got to meet the Colonel. He didn’t mince any words with his response.

“He was a prick. He treated Elvis like dirt. The stories we got from Tom Hewitt. He said, 'I tried to talk to him. He treats him worse than a junkyard dog.' He says, 'And Elvis just idolizes him.' He was a creep.”

Wrapping up our fun and informative chat, I asked Cosmo how he wanted to be remembered and what he hoped his legacy will be.

“I just hope I could be looked at as a decent human being and thanks his stars every day for the gift that I've received in my career, my personal life. I'm humbled by it and very proud to have been part of it.”

You can order Cosmo’s album, Magic Window, at CD Baby and please do. You will love having it as a great addition to your listening library.