Posted September, 2010
Back in the mid to late 80’s, in the aftermath of the breakup of the Bell System, I worked as an itinerant worker, installing new digital switching equipment in the central offices of phone companies all over the country. Many of my assignments were in the Dallas/Ft. Worth areas. One memory I have of those days is listing to one of the best radio stations in the area, Q102. On Friday’s, their Music Director, known as Redbeard, hosted his Bring In The Weekend Party.
Hosted at area restaurants and watering holes, Redbeard would introduce the MetroPlex to great new music as well as interviews with some of the biggest names in rock and roll. It was those interviews that I always looked forward to hearing whenever I was in town. I was envious of his position to be able to meet and interview those artists. In many cases, these guys considered Redbeard a personal friend. How cool is that?
Since those days, Redbeard moved on to other music related pursuits including helping in the pioneering of XM Satellite Radio. Currently, he enjoys a successful radio program called In The Studio which is syndicated at radio stations all over North America. Fans can also check out all the latest happenings at In The Studio by checking out (and subscribing to) his website, InTheStudio.net.
When I first launched Boomerocity.com, I was telling my eye doctor about my site as he was asking me to read the smallest lines on some chart a mile away. He stopped what he was doing and told me that I really should see if I could chat with Redbeard. I filed the suggestion into my cranium where it languished, as many good ideas do, until recently.
While doing some research for a piece I was working on, Dr. Wilhelmus’ suggestion suddenly came to mind. As is often the case in my ADD fueled research methods, I tracked down the whereabouts of the radio legend. I wanted to chat with him to learn how I could better perform my interviewing craft. I knew that, if I could talk to Redbeard, I would be learning at the feet of the master.
After a few e-mails back and forth, we recently met for what I thought would be a brief chat and then a swift kick in my butt as he showed me the door. I couldn’t have been more wrong. We talked for the fastest two hours that I ever experienced. Redbeard was entertaining, informative, educational and, most notably, generous and gracious with his time with me. For this newbie to the business, I left our meeting walking on air.
After we settled in our chairs and commented on the rain that was eminent for our area, I asked Redbeard who was his first interview.
“I think that, possibly, the reason why I’ve been so blessed and fortunate in interviewing was because of the first one that I did. The first person I ever interviewed – the first musician I ever interviewed – was Muddy Waters.”
My response was likely what yours was when you read that name: Oh my gosh!
“That’s what I said. At the time, I had no idea what his stature was. I knew that he was a blues man who influenced the Rolling Stones and so many people. So many of the albums I had in my house had his name – McKinley Morganfield was his real name – had his name in the credits. So I knew that a lot of Allman Brothers songs and stuff like that - that were my favorites - that they didn’t write but, actually, this guy, Muddy Waters, had written.
“But, if I told you that I actually understood who I was interviewing and what his stature was, I’d be lying to you because I was nineteen years old; a white kid from a white Midwestern town. The only blues I knew was The Thrill Is Gone by B.B. King because it had been on Top 40 radio. So, I really didn’t know much about the blues. I just knew enough that I knew that this guy was important to American music and that’s really all I knew.
“He was playing at a small college in the town that I started radio in Ohio. He let me interview him. He was staying in a motel that was about $12 a night. They were doubling up on rooms – a couple of guys. Willie ‘Big Eye’ Smith, his drummer back then, and Pine Top Perkins was his piano player. He (Waters) was so polite and was so indulgent to put up with my stupid questions and my uninformed questions and perceptions. I actually had to go buy some Muddy Waters albums in another town – because they didn’t have any the record stores in this little town – so I had to go to another bigger university town that had a better selection of music just to buy some Muddy Waters albums to tape the interview and put it with his music and make it into kind of a special at my first radio station.
“I would pay $10,000 to get that interview back. I would write the check today. Not for the inane part of me but just to have that tape back. I’m sure that we recorded McDonald’s commercials or summer drive-in specials for $1 a car load – I’m sure we recorded over it. I mean, it’s gone forever. It’s been gone for a very long time.”
Does he backup his interviews now?
“Oh, I do now, even though a few still do get away. I could give you my list of those that got away. Oh, man, painful. But that was the first one. I must think that somewhere in Rock and Roll Heaven – in Music Heaven – that the god’s were smiling on me and that, somehow, got me started to where we are today. I mean, it’s hard for me to think that I actually interviewed Muddy Waters at ANY time in my career. But, for the first one? Oh my gosh! I mean, wow, I’m amazed! And it happened to me and I sit back and I go, ‘Did that really happen? Yeah, it did.’
“He was eating – I don’t think they have them on the menu anymore – but they had these fried – FRIED – deep fried fruit pies at McDonalds back then for about twenty-five cents. That’s what they could afford. He was eating deep fried fruit pies from McDonalds and sleeping in a $12 a night motel.”
While chatting “inside baseball” when, as an aside, said something that I strongly identified with in my journalistic work.
“I’m just a fan. I’m just a fan. If anyone ever asks me what I think my biggest attribute is to interviewing musicians, why have I done well with it, it’s because I love this stuff! I’d do it for free.”
Later in the discussion, he adds, “Honestly, I’m a fan. I don’t interview people I don’t like. I just happen to have an extremely broad, deep taste for music. It’s got to be really, really bad before I can’t find some redeeming qualities about music. I have turned down a couple of interviews over the decades. I won’t tell you who, but I’ve turned down a few because I really felt that they weren’t good, that they weren’t positive or, in one case, one band I thought was literally dangerous to their fans because people were getting hurt at their concerts and they were causing the riots at their concerts. They were the biggest band, at that time, in America and I turned them down because I thought they were bad for rock and roll. I thought they were bad for their fans. I thought they were going to get somebody killed.”
In a follow-up conversation, Redbeard decides that he will divulge the identity of the person he refused to interview.
“I WILL tell you who : Axel Rose of Guns'n'Roses is the interview I turned down and the World Premiere broadcast of "Lose Your Illusion, 1 & 2", at the absolute height of their popularity and notoriety in 1991 . It probably damaged my career and it certainly cost me money , but I have never regretted the decision.
Still talking “inside baseball”, I queried Redbeard as to the wisdom of me interviewing new talent for Boomerocity. I’m glad I asked the question because, in sharing his own history, he gave me inspiration to continue as I have been.
“That’s one thing that I didn’t mention. One of the reasons – the big reason why I got to know the big bands is that I interviewed them when they were little bands and they remember. They dance with the ones that brung them. So I would play their first album and I would catch them when they were playing in clubs. The Police is a perfect example. The first time I interviewed The Police, I was the first person in the south to play Roxanne when it was a single. The album wasn’t even out. That was the fall of ’78. The first time I interviewed them, they were touring in a station wagon.
“So, when The Police played the Reunion, people asked, ‘How did you get Sting?’ I introduced Sting and The Police to 200 people at their first show. The next time around, they did two shows in a bar – turned the house and did another show. I brought them onstage for that. We sat at the bar when they were flipping the chairs up on the tables at closing time, me, Sting and Stewart were sitting at the bar with the lights on after the audience had left. That’s how you get the big fish. You don’t get ‘em when they’re big. You get ‘em when they’re small. When their ship comes in, you get to ride on it.”
While giving me some incredible insight into his methods and techniques, Redbeard shares an incredible story involving Sir Paul McCartney.
“One of the few times that I ever got writer’s block – it might have happened once or twice – but the one time that I remember vividly, it was the first time that I ever got to interview Paul McCartney out at Texas Stadium when he was playing there about 20 years ago. Here I was, on the radio, during the traffic jam, live, with Paul McCartney, from Texas Stadium. A few hours before that, I was starring at a blank sheet of paper because, what had happened was, McCartney, he decided to produce a movie one time. Somebody convinced him that it would be a cool thing to do. Give My Regards To Broad Street.
“He made the movie and they get set to release it, the movie publicist said, ‘Well, you know that you’re going to have to go on the talk shows.’ He said, ‘No, you don’t understand. I don’t do that.’ They said, ‘No, no, no. YOU don’t understand. This is the MOVIE business and somebody has paid you millions of dollars to make and distribute this movie and, in America, if you want to people to come out and see your movie, THIS is how it’s done and you need to do this.’
“So, for the first time ever, McCartney went on the Tonight Show, when Johnny Carson was still the host. I was watching. So, McCartney comes out – he’s never been seen on TV since Ed Sullivan Show with the Beatles – he walks out as a guest and sits down. Of all the people that Johnny Carson had interviewed, you wouldn’t think that he would had the same thing that I was being faced with and that is being nervous. He says, ‘I can’t believe you’re sitting here.’ He (Carson) says, ‘The Beatles, and you, have been SO written about and SO scrutinized on so many aspects of your lives for so many years, is there ANY question that you haven’t been asked?’ And McCartney goes, ‘No, including that one.’
“Where do you go? Where do you go from there? The guy’s on national television. Where do you go from there? I’m getting goose bumps here just telling you this. I was watching that show when it was on live so this was on my mind. He had told Johnny Carson that he had been asked every question that ever existed, including that one. I’m thinking, ‘What am I going to say?’ It was an ‘Oh crap’ moment. It was! It was, ‘OH CRAP! I’ve got this opportunity and the guy’s been asked everything. What can I say?’ How could you engage the guy? How could you start? He said that he’s been asked everything.
“So, I’ll be honest with you. I don’t mind admitting this. I got down on my knees in my office and I said, ‘Lord, I’ve got to call one in here. I need help on this! I need your help. I really do! I’ve got this opportunity and I don’t want to blow this.’
“Apparently, he answered because I said – now this was ‘LIVE-live’. At least Carson was delayed by about four hours back in those days. This was ‘LIVE-live’. The guy that was Best Man at my wedding was also my program direction and he was standing over there with his back to us, running the controls of the remote broadcast. We’re up in a sky box in Texas Stadium. Paul walks in and says, ‘Red Beard!’ Pumps my hand. Absolutely charms me. So we sit down, kind of like 60 Minutes, across from one another. So, I said, ‘You know, there was only one live Beatles album and the people screamed so loud, you couldn’t hear the band. Most of us, the vast majority of us, never got to see the Beatles live. I got to ask you: Were the Beatles ever any good ‘live’?”
“My boss later told me that he said to himself, ‘Okay, let’s just start packing up the equipment. That’s it. That’s it. Shut ‘er down.’ Paul goes, ‘That’s a great question! I never get the chance to talk about this.’ And FIFTY minutes later, he came up for air. You can’t tell me that the good Lord didn’t answer my prayer. You could say that he had been asked that before. Yeah. But, for some reason, he took it EXACTLY in the spirit it had been given. I really, sincerely meant it. Like I said, we talked for almost an hour and could’ve gone for two but he had to go play to 55,000 people at Texas Stadium.”
As if to tie a tidy bow on this incredible package of a story, Redbeard concludes, “The greatest compliment that you’ll ever get in this business is somebody lets you do it again. So, the next tour, he invited me out and we did it again. I never expected to talk to one of the Beatles once in my life. I got to talk to him twice and the same thing with George Harrison. George Harrison did a one-on-one with me for about three hours and a couple of years later he invited me back again.”
Not to come across as only a Beatles fan, Redbeard shares this story about interviewing Mick Jagger.
“I remember talking to Mick Jagger in his bedroom outside of London for about two and half hours, one-on-one. After the interview was over, that’s when it hit me - same thing with McCartney. Same thing with George. And I started to levitate a couple of inches up off the ground. I just wanted to call my mother and tell somebody, ‘Mom, I just talked to Mick Jagger!’
“The voice I heard in 1965 on a seven transistor portable radio singing I Can’t Get No Satisfaction, it sounded like it was coming from another planet. Not another country – another PLANET! And all of those years later, I actually got to have meaningful – MEANINGFUL – conversation. At the end he said, ‘I want to thank you very much. I really enjoyed the experience.’ I’m sorry, I don’t need to get paid for this! You don’t need to pay me a pay check, I just got more than I ever wanted!”
When you check out Redbeard’s website, www.inthestudio.net, you’ll swear that he has interviewed EVERYONE who could possibly be considered a rock star. Still, I had to ask him: Are there any artists you haven’t interviewed yet that you wish you could? He immediately pointed his finger in the air and said, “VERY good question! I have a very short list. Bruce Springsteen, who is one of my all time favorites. Bob Dylan, who I stopped even trying to approach some years ago and now I’ve taken him off my list because I don’t want to interview him. He only does it for money and I don’t pay. Elvis Costello. I’ve been such a huge fan since day one. I would love to interview him. And, then, someone that nobody talks to, Van Morrison. Van doesn’t even talk to himself and I know that’s not going to happen either. So, of the four, two of them just ain’t gonna happen. I would still love to interview Bruce Springsteen.
Since Redbeard has probably seen and done it all in the area of covering rock music, I asked him if he catches many concerts these days.
“I don’t, I don’t. I’ve seen just about everybody. I’m older now so there’s a lot of stuff that I won’t put up with like I used to. However, some place like House of Blues in Dallas, I think they’ve specifically set that up for those like ourselves who, also, the idea of slogging through the mud for three days was a cool idea in 1971, it’s just out of the question now. It’s just out of the question. We’re worried about where we’ll park and whether we’ll be able to find our keys when we get back to our car. Parking is, like, $30 before you even consider the price of a ticket.
“The trend that I’m all for – that I love – is the event coming to me. The Cowboy’s - live sports in my home theater. I’m sorry. You can have the new Cowboy Stadium – it is an amazing edifice – but they’ve made, now, the viewing experience – I’m talking about broadcast high definition. I’m not talking about cable or satellite. You can get HD TV off the air for free, in 5.1 surround sound. You can hear the whistle. You can hear the hits. You can hear the cuss words on the sideline.
“It’s the same thing with concerts. Rather than put my money into live concerts and jump through all of those hoops, I’m puttin’ my money into the live concert DVD’s that I can watch with guests in my home and I’ve got the best seat in the house. I don’t have to worry if my wife can get into the rest room or not. Or a beer getting spilled on me and we don’t pay $30 for parking at my place, either.
“If I was younger, I know that I wouldn’t be saying any of the things but I’m not. I’ve experienced all of that. We’ve had it all. I’m in a different place, now. My point is, though, thank goodness that the musicians and their management companies realize that it’s not that the Boomer’s don’t love music and aren’t as passionate about it. We just want to control how we consume it - in a different way. We still want to hear songs by Elvis Costello and Bruce Springsteen but we may not want to be in a crowd of 20,000 to do that. We like to have a little more control over that AND we’re willing to pay for it.
“If you look at the cost of these fabulous concert DVD’s, they’re around $15 at a place like Amazon.com. They’ll send it to your mailbox, you’ll have it the next day. Whereas, if one person, with parking and a ticket, you might spend $100 per person and sit in the boonies and see what a musician friend of mine called ‘a puppet show’. Well, why spend all of that money for a puppet show when I can get the best thing in 5.1 surround sound in my home for fifteen bucks.
“Personally? Maybe the pricing thing is out of whack. Maybe that should cost $100 because you get to keep it. Keep it and experience it over and over and over. Fifteen bucks? That’s past a bargain. That’s a steal! It is. So, I’d rather pay a little more and less for the concert ticket and the parking. But I doubt anybody is going to change anything because I said it.”
Every observer of the music business knows that it is currently in a state of disarray with everyone trying to figure out where it’s heading. I asked Redbeard his opinion of where it’s going to wind up.
“Oh, geez, it’s all up for grabs. It’s exciting. For people that need to make money on it, it’s unsettling. But, for the consumer - the fan - it’s exciting. The one thing that I’m starting to hear a lot is that the renegade nature of the internet for the 10, 12, 13 years, a lot of people are telling that it was fun for awhile but they’re starting to notice that they’re starting to miss the – what’s the right word – they miss how the DJ used to be the qualifier – used to be the filter; that 90% of the stuff that came out was crap and that the cream of the crop got on the radio.
“With the internet, it’s like everything’s the same. If you’ve got a son or daughter and you think they’re pretty good, you can make an album, you can put it on internet and the thing is, there’s no qualifier now. The hack bar band is on the internet, trying to sell their stuff, right next to Bruce Springsteen and there IS a difference.
“But the thing is, this wide open, renegade utopian nature of the internet that made it an open and equal playing field, people are starting to tell me now that there’s no way that they can listen to all 100,000 songs that are out there new this week or all 10,000 videos that are new this week on YouTube.
“Used too be, people like editors and writers and DJ’s and program directors, because of the nature of media in this country, they had to filter the wheat from the chaff or people wouldn’t listen to their station or read their paper. If people didn’t listen to their station or read their paper, they would go out of business. So, there was an incentive, ‘I better do this well. I better surround myself with people who have the discernment to know the difference between some guy who thinks his daughter is the next Lady Gaga, and she’s not, and somebody that you should truly know about, who’s truly gifted and has great new music.
“Those gatekeepers that we were told ten years ago – we’ve finally gotten rid of the gatekeepers and, now, you can find the music that you want with nobody filtering it. Well, on paper, in a utopian world, that sounded good. But, in practicality, who’s going to listen to all of that and who’s going to filter all of that? And who’s going to help point you, in the little discretionary time and money that you have for entertainment, how are you going to be sure that you don’t waste your time or waste your money with a pig in a poke?
“That’s the thing I’m starting to hear about the entertainment aspect of the internet is that people are starting to ask me, ‘Maybe we need people to do on the internet what you did for decades on the radio and that is point us towards stuff that we don’t want to miss and help us avoid the stuff that’s derivative or stuff that’s not unique. And, so, that’s where people like you come in is that people are looking for discernment. They don’t have the time or the initiative and someone needs to filter through this stuff on their behalf and help do what the New York Times does with books and movies and television shows and what radio used to do when it played new music and presented the best of it this week.”
With those comments, I shared with Redbeard what Gary Wright said to me during my interview with him. He said that sites like Boomerocity serve as tastemakers to their readers much like wine stewards are to their customers.
Redbeard pounces on that analogy.
“What’s good? What’s the best value? What’s the sleeping giant that’s undervalued? The world of wine is a perfect example and Gary’s absolutely right. And, what I’m saying is that it was presented that people that did like I did and editors were actually barriers. Maybe, if a person doesn’t take their responsibility well, maybe they could actually become a barrier to the entre to new movies, new music, new books, new television.
“But the pendulum swung all the way on the internet and it’s like, “Oh, look! No barriers! No competition, no measurement, no yardstick at all. And, now, people are like, ‘You know what? I wish I had somebody that would point me towards the cool stuff and somebody whose taste I’ve learned to respect.’ So, I think that you’re going to see that – I know that you’re going to see that more and more on the internet.
“My internet site was, basically, just a billboard in cyberspace saying what next week’s show was. But, I’ve been convinced to do like you are – to go on and do with the internet site what I did for years and years on the radio. I’ve been encouraged to do that so I’m doing it. People seem to be responding to that. They want that relationship.”
It’s that relationship that you will get if you go to InTheStudio.net and noodle around Redbeard’s website. You’ll see incredible archives of his interviews with the biggest stars in rock and roll. I would also encourage you to sign up for his e-newsletter to get a heads-up on his upcoming shows.
While you’re at it, why not ask your local rock station if they carry In The Studio and, if not, why not? Their audience will be very glad to see the show added.