Abe Laboriel, Jr.: Percussionist

Abe Laboriel, Jr. is the drummer for Paul McCartney. Abe Laboriel, Jr. is the son of the legendary bassist Abraham Laboriel, Sr. Abe Laboriel, Jr. toured with guitarist Steve Vai then he went on to tour with k. d. lang when recording artist Sting saw him perform and asked Laboriel to join his touring band. Abe Laboriel, Jr. has worked with the likes of Sheryl Crowe, Fiona Apple, Eric Clapton, Jewel, Vanessa Carlton, Steve Lukather, Chris Isaak, Johnny Hallyday, Natalie Cole, and many others. Over the past decade, Abe Laboriel, Jr. has been touring and recording with Paul McCartney starting with the 2001 McCartney album “Driving Rain,” followed by “Back in the US,” “Back in the World,” “Chaos and Creation in the Backyard,” “Memory Almost Full” and the most recent live Paul McCartney album “Good Evening New York City.”

Paul “Wix” Wickens: Keyboardist, Musical Director for Paul McCartney

Paul “Wix” Wickens has been Paul McCartney’s keyboard player and musical director for many years. He joined Paul McCartney’s band in 1989. He’s appeared on most studio albums since then and all of the live Paul McCartney albums. Most recently, Paul “Wix” Wickens appeared on the live album “Good Evening New York City” from the Hear Music label. He also appeared on the studio album “Memory Almost Full.” Paul “Wix” Wickens is more than just a keyboard player. He is also a composer and producer. Paul “Wix” Wickens also plays accordion, some guitar, some bass guitar, harmonica and lends his vocal talents. He has performed and recorded with many artists in addition to Paul McCartney: Elton John, Joni Mitchell, Bon Jovi, Bob Dylan, Nik Kershaw, Edie Brickell, Tim Finn, John Kilzer, David Gilmour, and Bill Payne…too many artists to list.


Jim Carolla: Psychologist, Jazz Musician, Comedian

JIM CAROLLA at the time of this interview, was hosting a podcast called Life Lessons with Jim Carolla.  He actually read the letter we wrote him on one of the episodes and agreed to do an interview with us.  We feel like had a lot of worthwhile things to say, and hope you can enjoy them.

Jim Carolla is the father of Adam Carolla.

Our special guest, Jim Carolla, is a certified psychologist, jazz musician, and also the father of a past guest of ours, Adam Carolla.  He’s also the host of the podcast ‘Life Lessons with Jim Carolla.’  Mr. Carolla, I’m much obliged. 

Okay, yeah

My first question:  who is the real Jim Carolla?

Ah…that’s a big one.  I don’t know (laughs).  I know there’s different parts of me and sometimes come to something that fairly feelsmore real…not a consistent anchor of something called…somebody called “the real Jim Carolla.” 

Well take us back.  What was life like growing up?

I’m from a Sicilian background and my father came here from Sicily in about 1900 and his brothers and sisters invented their life in south Philadelphia.  It was kind of a Sicilian family ghetto, Pisans, and everybody else who came from Sicily ended up in south Philadelphia.  So I grew up like that in kind of an immigrant first generation family quite, I wouldn’t say poor but, you know, just the regular like immigrants having somehow survived.  So that’s kind of how it all begun. 

What were your parents like?

Well, let’s see…my father…they both spoke English so that…growing up…so I had the chance to get a mixture of Italian and English but…so communication was…a lot of my relatives didn’t speak English.  People first coming over, it took them a long time but my father picked it up quite quickly.  My father was a musician.  He was a trombone player and what I remember mostly about him in life was he was constantly working on the trombone, studying it, encouraging me.  That’s how I got introduced to the trumpet.  My mother worked very hard because my father didn’t really earn enough of a living to support the family.  My mother worked in the sweat shops, the tailor shops, very hard…very hard life.  She kept the family going because she was making a living.  I have three brothers.  I’m the youngest.  I’m the only one left in the family.  All my family’s deceased.  That was kind of…I would say that hard times were a fact of life, particularly in the early Depression in the 1930’s and through there.  Uh, I was always having a hard time but somehow…I’m very thankful to my mother who was always able to keep it going.  That might be a start there.

So, tell us about this music that you heard.  You said he played trombone.  What did you grow up listening to?

We didn’t have a record in the house or a record playing machine so anything I had to hear had to be really in the school.  I went to Bach Vocational School where you could learn a trade, but they did have somewhat of a little music department… very primitive.  Children there were there to learn tailor, to work in a tailor shop, automotive car mechanics…learn a trade kind of thing.  Now music that I’ve heard…really the first exposure to me was to jazz.  I mean, I would hear some of that concert band music but not… didn’t really get into it… didn’t even have my own recording machine.  But I got interested in jazz early.  I really liked the sound of it.  Chet Baker was my first, my first idol.  I eventually got an album of his and I’d listen to it all the time and truly tried to copy his style but as I got out in the world full of musicians, I started to play some jazz myself and then use to listen to Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie.  I once had the great honor of playing on the same stage with Dizzy Gillespie, his band.  I was working.  I was in a band that was his back-up band.  He being one of the greatest trumpet players, it was a real honor for me.  So…I’m in my twenties, trying to learn to play jazz.  In those days they didn’t have the college…today you can get a degree in jazz at USC, West Chester State and they actually have a Master’s degree and a Doctorate’s degree in jazz.  In those days, it wasn’t that organized.  You had to really listen to other players.  Mostly, I listened to black players.  They were the first really playing jazz to ask them about how they do it, what they think of when they’re playing, trying…you learn from others at the beginning.  So I would say jazz…there wasn’t much of a classical background.  That came later.  My favorite composer that I loved the most was Stravinski and the Russian style.

Do you have a favorite record of all time?

Of all time?  That’s a lot of time. Who would I say would be a favorite record?  Well maybe the one I started with since I learned so much from it and that was Chet Baker and I don’t even know the title of it now but I do have to give him a lot of credit because until I learned the beginning part of it.  Then there’s a guy, Stan Getz, as saxophone player was a real idol of mine.  Oh, and many, many musicians…but mostly jazz and particularly, the bee bop era is the place I grew up in. 

What about the interest in psychology?  When did that come into play?

That came late.  I was a musician on the road for a long time and realized I couldn’t raise a family.  Being a musician, it was a difficult business to try and make any kind of living.  So, I kind of picked the way of going to school and would go for a while and then go back and play again but finally I got a degree in education.  I began to teach school in public schools but I was also doing my…I went into therapy myself…psychotherapy…and I felt like I could do it.  I knew one of the directors in a residential treatment center for emotionally disturbed children and I worked with psychiatrists and so on and then they said, “You have a talent for this.  You ought to go to school and get a license for it.” That was like…by that time I was like close to, I was in my forties somewhere when I went to grad school…to graduate school…I got my license and I’ve been practicing for about twenty-five years now, private practice.  I’m in Sherman Oaks, California. 

When I interviewed your son, Adam Carolla, one of things that I found out through research:  I knew of a few things that he had done but I had no idea the breadth, how many different projects he’s worked on.  Did you teach him his strong work ethic?

No, I didn’t, cause I don’t think I had one myself particularly in early times.  Well you know, his grandfather…I guess I taught him to work, maybe by example. He saw that I went to school and maybe saw that I was working on myself, trying to get degrees and playing obviously, he saw.  That might have been an example.  His grandfather was a hard worker and his grandfather, I think, taught him cause he’s very skillful with his hands and carpentry and I think a lot of that has to do with his grandfather.  So that might be a way to explain that. 

The name of your podcast is ‘Life Lessons with Jim Carolla.’  How did you get the idea to do this show?

Well, Adam has pretty much worked with different kinds of people.  You know…entertainment people and certainly comedy and I thought maybe we could have a serious, kind of go for more serious depth about the meaning of life or its purpose of life.  So I just asked him.  I said, “How about if I develop something to do with people really soul searching and asking themselves, “Who am I?” and, you know, what’s the purpose of my life, the meaning of my life?”  So, he said, “Okay.”  He said, “Try it.”  So I began that way.  I did a lot of experimenting.  So, I think I’ve had about fifty or sixty shows now.  So, it came about that way, me asking him for one of his networks to be a probing, in depth show with the idea of ask the question, you know, “What’s the purpose of my life?”

Well, on that note, I have a couple of somewhat soul-searching kind of questions for you.  How do you define a great life?

Great life…well, I think for one to be…to work on themself…to work on themself to a higher consciousness…I think, I don’t know if I’d call it a great life.  I would say that would be a purposeful life of working towards expanding, going towards a higher consciousness, developing, trying to see the areas of life that are, that have been…taking the wrong road and begin to repair the life where the repairs are needed and working towards what would kind of be a spiritual life, higher consciousness, a spiritual life…and that’s where would be the real purpose of life and that would be the greatest thing a human should obtain on this earth, is to find his real spiritual birth.

What do you find or what do you believe most people are missing in their life?

Well, just that…trying to find other ways of life, expand the egotistic part of life, our personality .  That, to me, there’s something really missing.  So no matter how successful you are, on that level the part’s that’s missing is that the spiritual life is the part that really needs to be obtained, this higher consciousness.  So, when that’s missing, then all the ways we try to make up for it doesn’t make up for it unless you can find a spiritual path either through traditions, religions and Christianity and so on so you can develop kind of a soul soul develop.

How important do you think positive thought is?

Well positive thought, I’m learning later in years, that if you have a negative thought, it’s a powerful…it has a powerful effect on the body.  A negative thought has an effect in the brain very much.  I have something I call ANT, automatic negative thinking.  In fact, we’re working on thatnow on here.  With automatic negative thinking, when we’re in a negative state, it has a tremendous effect on the body, mind, produces moods, the difference between angry moods and so our whole body is affected by that…the blood pressure…everything.  So the importance of negative thinking is something we’re working on right now on the show.  It’s like a lot of people weren’t aware of what an impact negative thoughts have.

Yeah…I listened to the first of those broadcasts on ANT and I found it really, really interesting.  I listened to that today actually. 

Okay, I’m still doing that series.  Do you know which one you listened to?

I listened to the very first one.  It sounded like it was the first of two parts, where you went over like the various internal languages that people use like, or external when they say things like, “You never call me,” or “I always am late.” 

Oh yeah

That kind of thing.  That was very interesting.  I think it’s something most people are guilty of. 

Right…yeah….we all are.  We’re just not aware of the affect of particularly negative thinking…and then there’s the opposite…positive, you know, it enlightens the body.  Light relaxes the body.  Negative tends to tense up the body. 

The world is something that’s always changing.  It always will change as long as we’re here.  When you look at the young people today, there’s so much emphasis on the cell phones and the computers and email.  What advice would you give to young people?

Yeah, that’s a tough one.  Young people are really in to all the technologies.  In my opinion, I think that’s part of also groping for something.  The intimacy of all that material of the texting, allthat, making a contact…just a lot of electronic things has lost some of the capacity of the ones who want intimacy.  The electronic wall seems to be…it’s passive entertainment.  Looking at it, it has a real passivity to it.  I would say, really begin to really ask that question in your life.  What’s the purpose of my life?  And to not to rely on…not to say you shouldn’t use this technological material…but to more pursue the meaning of my life…how they connect with the community or other people that are really asking that question.  That’s what I think the real goal of your life is.  I would say that. 

What is the best thing about being Jim Carolla?

One thing is my love for music has been, for me, a real wonderful, creative thing.  The other thing is, the very creative part of me…being a therapist is a very creative, a very creative within the session in that office when I say that people come to do the work, that office is like the first time or place where you may come to things…you may have insights and ideas for the first time in your life through the work you would do, for example.  I think the best part is I work with them very creatively and I learn a lot about myself.  So between music and the creativity of psychotherapy would be the best thing I do. 

My last question:  for anyone who’s listening to our interview, whether they’re listening to it on the radio or they’re listening to it online wherever, what would you like to say to all the people who are listening in? 

That your life is very important, the little time we have on this earth, and to make the best use of it by asking that question, “What’s the real purpose of my life?”  And then to pursue it however you can get at it and if you need to have psychotherapy if you need to do that…whatever it would be that would help you with that question.  So you need to pursue that and when you see things that are not going in that direction and to begin to, so really examine life…whatever that would be for each person.  And psychotherapy, it’s not just used for pathology, it can be used for a real search…psychic search…so that you have the freedom of not being caught in a false self, emotional bodies…different things that other people call that and you have the freedom then to pursue the path of your purposefulness.

Well spoken. 

Thank you.

Well thank you very much for doing this interview Mr. Carolla. 

Okay.  Well thank you for asking me.

Alright, well you have a good one.

You too.


Dave Koz: Saxophonist, Recording Artist

The great saxophonist Dave Koz joined us for an interview about his musical career and collaborators.  Dave Koz is one of the most respected saxophone players in popular recorded music. This interview took place prior to his Atlanta Christmas tour.

Among other topics, we discuss his radio show, his love of music, his friendship with Barry Manilow and more.

Don McLean: Legendary Singer-Songwriter

This interview with Don McLean took place to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the classic song “American Pie” and the “American Pie” LP.  Don McLean talks in great detail about the album and his perspectives on songwriting.



Ladies and Gentlemen, it is our great pleasure to welcome our special guest, Don McLean. Thank you so much for joining us.

Thank you, good to be here.


I wanted to kind of go back a little bit, when you started listening to folk music, what was it that you liked about ‘The Weavers’ Album at Carnegie Hall?

Well, I love harmony; there was a lot to be learned by listening to ‘The Weavers’ and anybody who likes harmony can learn a great deal from listening to that particular group, because they did many different things and they did many different harmony things within one song. One of the things that I learned from listening to them was how to build a song that basically had a verse and a chorus, from verse to verse, the song got more powerful or reached a sort of a climax if you will, and it’s difficult with a song like that because they kind of drone on one verse after another one and chorus after another, so there were many things also about their instrumentation, the playing, the guitar playing of Fred Hellermanand the twelve string guitar and five string banjo playing of Pete Seeger were extremely accomplished, and it was a great deal to learn, especially if you were just, you know, starting out in music as I was.


You just mentioned Pete Seeger a second ago, I was hoping you could tell the listeners how you met Mr. Seeger, and what did he teach you?

I was around Pete Seeger from about 1966 until about 1975 and there were good and bad points to being around Pete Seeger, a lot of people are attracted to him and a lot of people also after they find out what’s going on, they kind of get turned off and walk away. I was very interested in him musically but I found him to be politically and personally somewhat of a disappointment. I learned a great deal from him musically, programming songs, how to read the mood of an audience,  how to use what’s going on in the world and what’s going on locally as part of what it is you do, as part of your performance to make it a personal experience, not only for the audience, but for you as the artists, also just how to pick good songs, songs that have importance to them, whether they’re, you know, they may be an important song, they might be just a frivolous song, but they have to be really good and musical and also, just what not to say, you know, when to keep quiet, the biggest thing I learned was that he makes huge mistakes on stage, and it doesn’t matter, so that was very liberating


Well, we’re here in 2011, it’s the fortieth anniversary of the album ‘American Pie,’ when you began to record that album, did you feel you had a very special record on your hands?

I knew I had a very talented Producer in Ed Freeman, who was very meticulous and very sensitive toward everything that we were doing, I had just put out an album called ‘Tapestry,’ which had done very well, two songs ‘Castles In The Air’ and ‘I Love You So’, came from that record, but there were many other songs that were on it, so I was off to a pretty good start, but from the time we made the album, the record company was sold and we felt we were out of business, so, I thought I was going to be just a guy that made one album, instead I made, like, forty, but none like the ‘American Pie’ album of course, so, I don’t know what we thought, but, you know, we basically hit a home run.


Could you pick a favorite song from that album?

That would be of course ‘American Pie,’ I mean; it stands head and shoulders above everything.


With all the interpretations that people have written, have you read many of them, and if so what do you think of them?

Well, the song is fun, you know, (Don laughs), it’s funny because the nineteen sixties, people got so serious, the one thing I loved about the Beatles is that they were so artistic but they were also having a good time, most of the folk people, and I am not a folk singer but I love folk music, but I’m not really, I wouldn’t qualify as a folk singer, but I love folk music, but they got so self important and so pompous and here come the Beatles who were infinitely more talented than most of these artists who were ‘Newport Folk Festival’ and they were having a lot of fun, part of the song was that it was just fun, and it was fun to hear people (Don laughs) you know route around and try to find different meanings, because it was all meant to be fun, so, I don’t read the meanings, but what I do love are the parodies that people do, there was one when the NASDAQ stock market went down called ‘The Day The NASDAQ Died’, which is, (Paul laughs) a classic, I mean, it’s unbelievable and then of course, Weird Al’s parody ‘The Saga Begins,’ that was marvellous and there have been probably twenty other ones.


I had the opportunity to interview Lori Lieberman and she talked about the incredible emotional response she had from your song ‘Empty Chairs.’ So, I wanted to talk about that song, what is it like to receive such an emotional response from people from something that you wrote?

You know, I was never really cut out to be in show business, what I wanted to try to do was just the best thing that I could do and I don’t know if you’ve noticed but most of my songs are all very different from one another, really different.


And that was one of the things that I was shooting for was to try to create a new concept every time I wrote a song, to be quite frank I was oblivious to everything, except what I was doing, and the most important thing was to make records, because, and you know, I didn’t know whether I would go over well on records or not, I didn’t know whether my voice would record well or not, I didn’t know what would happen, so when something like the ‘Killing Me Softly’ thing happens, it’s just a sort of a total…. from left field type of a thing, which is very complimentary and it’s a wonderful thing to know that she was thinking of me and they were thinking of me when they wrote the song and when the song was recorded, but again it’s just totally from left field.


I read a quote from you where you were talking about your song ‘Vincent’ and you said “the essence of the artist’s life is his art,” what was it about the print of Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ that struck you?

Well, first of all I had decided that I wanted to write a song about him. It was a really, kind of basic kind of a thing, I figured, you know, I would just write using the most famous painting, as I was looking at the painting I realised that, something occurred to me which was this ‘is’ him, it’s not his painting, it is ‘him’, just like my songs are ‘me’ and not just something I do. See, most people do something, you know, they go and get the car fixed or they walk the dog, or they, you know, read the paper, but an artist puts what he ‘is’ into his art, and even without the artist he lives on because it is ‘him’, so, when that very obvious realisation hit me, then I started to just tell the story and write the song looking at the imagery and it just wrote itself, it sometimes happens.


In your opinion, what makes a good song a good song?

Well, that’s just myopinion, and I think Cary Grant says in ‘A Monkey Business’, Marilyn Monroe says “that’s a silly song,“ and he says “well, in my opinion your opinion, if that’s a silly song it’s a silly opinion,” so, you know, my opinions are just my opinions and they’re probably silly, but you have to have a sense of what a beautiful melody is, and what a real lyric is, which at least for openers means that there should be some kind of rhyme, you know, either internal or somewhere, the song should be something that you want to hear again, I mean that I think is really what sums up a good movie or a good song, you know, you may watch many movies or documentaries, but you don’t want to see them again, you don’t want to see the movie again, but some movies you want to see a thousand times, and it’s the same thing with songs I think, some songs you just can’t get enough of, you finish it and you want to start again, and I think that’s also an indication of whether a song is a good song.


Well, just a second ago you said “documentary” and I’ve heard that there’s a Don McLean documentary forthcoming.

Yes, it’s going to be a PBS fund raiser and a full on documentary which will be in theatres called ‘American Troubadour’, and it’s being filmed by Jim Brown, who’s a famous and very successful documentary and filmmaker.

And when will that be out?

March of next year.


Okay. With all the songs of yours that have been covered, could you pick a favorite cover that another artist has recorded at one of your songs?

Yes, I like the Fred Astaire version of ‘Wonderful Baby.’


I wanted to also ask you about the song ‘Crossroads.’ Was that song autobiographical?

No, I don’t think so, I was in a very peculiar place in my life in the nineteen seventies and a lot adjusting was going on and there was a lot of pain, I guess, to making these kind of adjustments, so a lot of that came through in my songs, probably made them a whole lot better than they would have been otherwise, so there’s probably some of that in there, but I was thinking more about America really, the American Pie album. The idea of my albums, was, and again, I say ‘was’ because I’m not making albums anymore and I’m not really writing songs any more, for albums because the music business has basically disappeared as I knew it and I don’t really want to participate in what there is there now. But I’ve made many albums so if someone decides they like what I do, they can spend a long time finding different records that I’ve made. The idea of the album is that one sort of, overall concept but then there area lot of songs that you might not figure how they might fit in with that, but if… but they fit in sort of, on a tangent, rather than directly, you know, if somebody has a concept album, ‘Moonlight Sinatra,’ there’ll be every song that’ll say, ‘Moonllight,’ ‘Moonlight Serenade,’ ‘The Moon Was Yellow’ you know and on and on, well, that’s not my concept albums, and they all are concept records, from the point of view I just described.


Well, on that note the one song, ‘The Grave,’ what inspired that song?

That was a dream I had, I suppose when the Army was breathing down my neck to try and draft me, I guess that was written on later, I forget….after I’d been rejected by the draft. That was a dream, I dreamt it and woke up and wrote the song.


I wanted to ask you about ‘Sister Fatima,’ listening to the lyric of that song, it made me wonder, are you a man of faith?

I was brought up a Catholic, but I’m not a Catholic, my Father was Protestant and my Mother was Catholic, I think my Father probably had as much of an influence on me, in a negative way towards religion as my Mother tried to have on me in a positive way toward religion, so, in the end I feel I probably… I’m not religious, in that I do not believe in religion, but I do believe in God, I believe in… I guess I’m a pampthiest of some sort, I love… I believe it’s all around you in nature and everywhere and harmony, and.. you know, you’re either improving or you’re not, you know, you’re either getting better or you’re getting worse, you really don’t stay static and as we move a long in life, many tests reveal to us and to others where we are and how we might be better. ‘Sister Fatima’ was written because I found a circular on top of this set of steps going down to take the sub way in New York, and I put it in my pocket and wrote the song, just pretty much what was said on the circular, all the things she would do for you.


What is the best thing about being Don McLean?

Having a great wife, and two terrific children, I don’t think my life would amount to much if I didn’t have my family, and my wife, really is the person that keeps that together and has provided that, I’ve done my part, but you know, a woman’s very vital to the raising of children and staying together in a marriage, which is very hard to do, but hasn’t been hard for me and I hope it hasn’t been hard for her, it’s really important, so we have two kids in college now and they’re doing quite well, so that’s my greatest achievement really , because that’s the one that alludes a lot of people, you know, who may find success in business or in the arts, it’s the tough one, it’s the big one really.


I have one final question for you, for anyone who’s listening to this broadcast, wherever they are, we have listeners from all over the world, what would you like to say, in closing to all those people?

I would like to say that I think that we should be very sceptical of technology, and especially the kind of technology that we have today, and that, I would advise people of all ages to not stare at screens if possible, it’s very difficult not to, but to look around at the natural world and try to avoid the virtual world that seems to be closing in on us very quickly, because of this very rampant and all consuming technology that seems to be here now.


Well, Mr. McLean, thank you so much for this interview.  It’s been a great pleasure to speak to you.


Thank you.



Lori Lieberman: Singer-Songwriter

Lori Lieberman is best known for her song “Killing Me Softly” written during her Troubadour days in Los Angeles when she saw the legendary Don McLean in concert. Lori Lieberman was born in California, but raised in Switzerland. She was influenced by Francoise Hardy, Tom Rush, Cat Stevens and other American singer-songwriters. Lori Lieberman went on to attend University in Boston and signed her very first record deal with Capitol Records. Lori Lieberman toured the United States with artists like Randy Newman, Billy Joel, Leonard Cohen, John B. Sebastian and Rick Nelson. Her most recent and fourteenth album is entitled “Bend Like Steel.” The CD features songs Lieberman wrote along with songs others wrote like Paul Simon’s “Cecilia.” Lori Lieberman is a part of the great American songwriting tradition. It is a pleasure to welcome her on The Paul Leslie Hour and to take a look at her music.

Michael Shnayerson: Author

Michael Shnayerson is a journalist and a longtime contributor to Vanity Fair magazine. Shnayerson has written several books, including the recent book with Harry Belafonte: MY SONG, A Memoir. MY SONG tells the story of Harry Belafonte, called one of the greatest entertainers of our time. MY SONG takes the reader from Belafonte’s early days as a child growing up in Harlem and Jamaica, to his careers in acting and music. However, MY SONG is about more than Harry Belafonte the singer. Harry Belafonte was the first recording artist in history to sell one million copies of an album. MY SONG is also about Harry Belafonte the activist and Humanitarian. Harry Belafonte is an important figure in the American Civil Rights Movement, but Belafonte’s passion has extended beyond the borders of the United States. Belafonte has been involved in political, social and Humanitarian causes around the world.

Brian Ray: Guitarist, Singer-Songwriter, Recording Artist

We are proud to welcome a guitarist, singer-songwriter and session musician from Southern California. Brian Ray may be most known for his work as the lead and rhythm guitarist and sometime bassist for Paul McCartney, but he has also released two solo albums. “Mondo Magneto” was released in 2006 and most recently in 2010, he has released his sophomore album “This Way Up.”

Gina Belafonte: Producer

 GINA BELAFONTE is the producer of the documentary SING YOUR SONG, which was directed by Susanne Rostock.  The film tells the untold story of singer, actor and activist Harry Belafonte (Gina’s father).  In this short chat, Gina Belafonte tells us about the making of the film and what inspired it.

Gina Belafonte was born and raised in New York City. Her background is in entertainment and activism, something she shares with her father Harry Belafonte. Harry Belafonte is known around the world for popularizing songs like Day-O, Jamaica Farewell, Jump in the Line, Matilda and many others as well as his acting and activism.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s our pleasure to welcome our special guest, Gina Belafonte. Thank you so much for joining us.

My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

The film is Sing Your Song and you’re the producer of it. Tell us about how the idea for this film originated.

I had, uh, certain questions of my own in terms of my father’s participation in the civil rights movement as I witnessed him having events and the absence from my earlier years. My daughter was turning seven and my brother was about to have his first child, and I also thought that they would never have an opportunity to know the depth of his participation. So that culminated in me asking him if he would embark upon a journey to document his life. After I saw a documentary on the life of Gregory Peck that was done by his daughter, who was a friend of mine that I was inspired by, I asked him. And I think, for him, he was beginning to lose certain friends of his to old age and felt that their stories would potentially die with them if there wasn’t someone who was mentioning them and documenting them a bit. He wanted to do that in our film and so we embarked on the journey together about seven years ago.

Is there a part in the film Sing Your Song that is a favorite part of the film?

That’s an interesting question. There’s many parts of the film that I love. I love the whole film (laughs) so much, of course but I love the early footage of his shows that he produced. I find them to be very forward-thinking and interesting, culturally, for the American television repertoire which we don’t really have nowadays on television. Such interesting shows like the ones that he produced that I think were inspiring for shows like Laugh In and other comedy shows or other variety shows. I think a moment that was most chilling or surprising to me was when he interviewed Martin Luther King on The Tonight Show and asked him if he feared for his life. That was a very strong moment for me. But all of it, I love all of it. You know, I’m a big fan of my dad’s so watching him perform is a great honor for me, especially because he doesn’t do it anymore. So to be able to see some of that old footage is quite wonderful.

Was there anything in the film through the process of creating it that was a surprise to you, that you didn’t know?

I knew that my father gave money to the movement all the time and often. I didn’t know the proximity to him going down to Mississippi to give that money so soon after Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney had been murdered. I also, strangely enough, didn’t realize even though it’s obviously documented – I had no recollection that Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination was so soon after Martin Luther King’s so that was kind of an interesting observation. We had close to 800 hours and there’s probably a good 700-and-some of the hours that I’m not in the film so there were surprises all along the journey in making it, and so no one thing stands out so much to me at this moment because every time I watch I find something new. Even though I made it and I watched edit after edit after edit after edit, I get new revelations every time I see it.

What has been the reaction from people who have seen this film, Sing Your Song?

The reaction has been overwhelmingly consistent internationally, which has been a real wonderful gift for us and what we had hoped that people would walk away from the film with, which is – the question, in fact, that my father asks at the end of it which is ‘What do you do now?’ And also, I think that it inspires an inner activism within us all, and a desire to contribute more and give back more to our communities in different ways that we can. I think also, everyone has requested us to make sure that we find a way in which we can get the film out to as many people as possible and especially to the youth of today, to young people so they get an opportunity to see it. And for it travel to schools and to create teaching curriculums around it. So that is something that we’re looking into and putting a concerted effort into trying to create. But it’s been a very positive, positive, positive reaction and that’s great. And many people have been requesting that we find ways in which to show it to the people who are occupying Wall Street. I was just in Canada with the film, in Vancouver where they’re beginning to occupy Vancouver and they were also requesting ways in which that we could bring the film to people who are just sort of sitting out in protest, in the open air.

Tell us about The Gathering for Justice.

The Gathering for Justice was inspired by my father after witnessing horrific footage of a five-year old young child in Florida, but a child of color, who was being arrested by five white police officers from her school under the condition of her being unruly, I think, was her charge. And my father was very disturbed by this footage. And so he created a gathering of elders of the civil rights movement and of high-profile in government to ask the question how have we come to this – that the first line of defense for a school is the police and not a social worker or a nurse, or the patience to wait for the parent to actually be able and have the opportunity to arrive? And after he had the meeting of the elders and saw that many of them were really quite tired, he thought a gathering of youth would be most appropriate. With some help from the Burns Institute and some folks from the Institute of Policy Studies, we gathered youth organizers in Epps, Alabama and we had representation from, in general, the black community, the Latino community, Asian community, white community and indigenous community. And at this gathering we formed a group called The Gathering for Justice. It was often questioned to my father, it was asked “What’s the agenda?’ and he put that back to us and said that the agenda for us was, really, to find the agenda. We don’t all know each other and we have to talk amongst each other to see what each other’s needs are and how we can support each other in moving forward around the specific issue of youth incarceration and gang intervention. We formed the organization and that was seven years ago. We had quite a lot of mobilization and a presence in different places but we traveled from community to community and the thing that bonded most of us, aside from the issue of incarceration and gang intervention, was poverty. And so most of the communities that we’ve gone into have been poor communities, and all different racial communities and cultural communities. But we’ve sat in council with one another and we’ve created bridges between the elders and theyouth around the issue of incarceration, and youth incarceration in particular. And we’ve traveled to prisons and we’ve traveled to neighborhoods. And we do non-violent direct action trainings as well as help organizations on the ground in whatever mobilizations they’re trying to create. We give them support and organizing strategies to model.

My final question. For anybody who listens to this interview, wherever they are and whenever they hear it, what would you like to say to all of the listeners?

I would like to say that I hope they have an opportunity to see Sing Your Song, the film. I hope they have an opportunity to read the book, My Song, that my father just finished writing. I hope they listen to a lot of really good music to keep smiles on their faces and in their hearts. And I hope they take a good hard look at themselves in the mirror, when they feel that they can, and make some strong decisions about how they feel they can give back to their communities and what their personal capacity is. And to do it – because unless we help each other, the world’s going to be fraught with violence. We need to support one another in creating healthy communities.

Miss Belafonte, thank you very much for this interview.

Thank you so much for having me.

It’s a pleasure.