We thank Paula Cole very much for taking a chance with us and being the very first. Listen to her newer work, like Ithaca for an appreciation for her newer work. She meets the definition of true artist. She has not stopped creating, and for that, we are thankful.
Ladies and gentlemen, I’m Paul Leslie. Today we’re going to meet an artist who’s had a career that’s spanned almost two decades. Her name is Paula Cole. No doubt you’ve heard her songs Where Have All the Cowboys Gone? and I Don’t Want to Wait. She’s a Grammy winner and seven-time Grammy nominee. She’s released six solo albums including her most recent album, Ithaca and has sold three million copies. She’s worked with artists as diverse as Peter Gabriel and Dolly Parton. We’re at the Variety Playhouse where we’re going to meet the woman behind the songs.
It’s a great pleasure to welcome Paula Cole. Thank you so much for joining us.
Thank you, Paul.
Who is Paula Cole?
There’s the intimidating question that you ask. Paula Cole is intense, is an environmentalist, is intelligent, has always been a singer and had this burdensome musical proclivity. I’m a mom to a very brilliant 10½ year-old daughter. I’m loyal, uh, and that’s about as best as I can do aside from being a woman in mid-life trying to keep things in balance.
I think most stories are best from the beginning. What was life like growing up?
I grew up in a very musical home and now that I’ve gotten my rebellion out of my system, by my twenties, and now that I’m a mother I look back on how I was raised and I’m very grateful for my family. They are very involved now in my life with my daughter so I can come and work. So, life at the Cole family household was one where I would come home from school and I would play music and my dad played a whole bunch of instruments, and we would sing and make music as a source of fun. It was to be self-made. That being said, my dad was a professor of biology and ecology, a perfectionistic ‘Type A’ intelligent man and I quested to do well. I was a straight A student. I was class president (laughs) and that’s partly because I was raised in such a place. But, a lot of pressure but no complaints. Really a great upbringing.
You studied at the Berkley College of Music. What was the most important thing you learned from that experience?
The most important thing I learned at Berkley was something I arrived at myself by being in that environment – and that environment is an oasis in the world for modern music – and that was, uh, to be myself. Because when I was at Berkley I was kind of woodshedding the masters – and that’s jazz language for just listening, drinking in, being influenced by musical greats. At the time I was going to be a jazz singer, I thought, so I was listening to Chet Baker. I wanted to be a female Chet Baker when I grew up. I was listening to Sarah Vaughn and Billie Holiday, and I worshiped at the alter of Miles Davis and I thought of my voice as an instrument, as a horn. And uh, but then I started needing to outlet my emotions because I struggle with kind of trying to figure out what I’m feeling? So songs to me are this life line and they just started coming up. And that’s when I realized I need to do this. I need to be myself. (Performance clip plays)
I read that you turned down a record deal from a jazz label. That’s so interesting. Was it from you following your heart? Was it gut instinct? What made you decide, when so many people are scrambling to get records deals?
Then (laughs), you know then – back in (laughs), back in the day a record deal was paramount. Now you can do it without it. Now you can be more self-made and that’s the road that I wish to go on now. I want to be more entrepreneurial and self-directed, but at the time? Yes, a record deal was an amazing thing. And it was an amazing thing, Paul, for my self-confidence. So, it wasn’t the right fit and I thought ‘Gee, this came really easily. It shouldn’t be that easy.’ And if it comes that easy then I want it to be right, and it wasn’t quite the right label and the right time. And I’m glad I said no. I wanted to be on a label that was broader with its genres of music.
Tell us about Peter Gabriel. What was he like to work with and be around?
Peter Gabriel is like his name. I think he’s kind of an angel among us. I had the wonderful fortune of joining his Secret World Live Tour, which was just rereleased, a newly mastered version this July, this month. And, uh, that was my first tour ever which is bizarre, to be flown to Europe and stay in five-star hotels and tour the world as your first tour but – it was all downhill from there, I guess (laughs) – but that was my beginning. And I joined these musical masters. Truly my influences were comprised of the band. And I was a true fan of Peter’s work. He was highly influential to me, musically. So there I am working with my little personal demigod (laughs), and then that filters through and you see him as a man and then you see him as a friend. And he’s a wonderful man and a wonderful friend. I feel very fortunate to have had that experience. And I would be on those large stages thinking to myself ‘What can learn from this? What can I take from this and bring it home?’
Well, on that note, what did you take away from Peter Gabriel? What did he teach you?
Hmmm, one of the greatest things he taught me was that the – to share the spotlight. That the strength of the band, um, blossoms when you share the spotlight, and you don’t hog it like some narcissistic diva. You, you celebrate the guitar solo. You give everybody time and lots of kudos. And I saw him be very paternal to his working family, the band, and I saw how magnificent that was, so that changed me. And I wanted to be that inclusive and loving to my band.
Your songs – there’s a couple that everybody knows. Everybody knows I Don’t Want to Wait. Everybody knows Where Have All the Cowboys Gone? and that’s something that some songwriters never get to experience, you know, for their message to be carried like that. But the thing about a lot of your lyrics is there’s a bit of mystery to them. Like, they could be interpreted a couple of different ways if you look at some of the lyrics. Is that intentional?
A lot of people know my songs, whether they want to or not (laughs) and I am, I’m really grateful for that. Uh, it’s funny. My career didn’t exactly turn out how I thought it would be. I thought it would be a much slower, longer build and it all happened very quickly, based on a couple of hits, uh, which is still very bizarre to me in a way. And I remember hearing like somebody singing my song with their Walkman on. I’m walking down the streets of NYC and somebody’s singing along with Cowboys. And then I’m in another city and hear someone in a convertible with the radio on and there, my song is coming out of the radio. It’s fantastic. It hits you like a lightening bolt to the chest. It’s just unbelievable. And even today, if I’m in the grocery store or wherever I am and I hear myself, I stop and I feel really great and I thank oh sweet mystery of life, I thank you universe for that. That is one of the – I guess the great success I feel, is that I have intellectual property that continues to live and that’s quite a blessing.
Where’s the most bizarre place that you heard one of your songs being played?
Well, I haven’t heard – well, there’s some karaoke versions out there (laughs) and it’s on karaoke, and that’s a little funny but um – I don’t know. I’d need a minute to think about that one.
Tell us a little bit about – I wanted to show the new album Ithaca. What was the inspiration behind the title, Ithaca?
Thanks. Ithaca is my last album. That one’s on a major label, Decca. Ithaca comes from the Odyssey, Homer’s Odyssey, because Odysseus has just made this really painful long journey into the world. Something we can all relate to, right? Like, just moving through life. Fighting demons. Working in the world. Being a parent. For me, like going through my divorce, relocating, being a single mom and making the decision to come home to my Ithaca. And that was a hard decision to make. I was letting go of all my dreams of my twenties to live in the hip environment NYC – which I love and I miss – and to come back to suburban America and live near my parents so that I would have help raising my daughter. That’s a hard thing to go through but I knew it was my truth and I knew it was what I needed to do. So I kind of felt very much akin to Odysseus’s full spiritual circle of life and coming home to Ithaca. And I went home to my Ithaca. And I thought it was the right metaphor for that body of work.
What do you find is the greatest well of inspiration for your songwriting?
There seems to be an ever-present well. I don’t understand it but I have this well of sadness and angst and intensity, and it doesn’t necessarily make for a happy life (laughs) but I feel like I’m an empath. I’m a sponge. I feel people’s feelings. I see what’s going on in the world. I want to know what’s going on in the world. I read the Financial Times every day. I want to, I want to know what’s happening. But it’s all of that. It’s feeling and seeing the world. It’s experiencing my life as deeply as I do and needing an outlet for it, or else I’d go insane.
As far as the songwriters that have influenced you the most, who would you say are the lyricists and composers that are the most in your work?
I love singer-songwriters because they are truth-seekers. And I should probably add that to the list of ‘Who is Paula Cole?’ – truth-seeker. And I think singer-songwriters who really arrive at their own voice are truth-seekers. So, John Lennon and Joni Mitchell and Dolly Parton and Bill Withers and Bob Marley and Marvin Gaye and Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush. Singer-songwriters. And it doesn’t matter what style it is. That encompasses a lot of styles but that doesn’t matter to me. They all arrived at – oh, Neil Young – really unique, they are uniquely themselves. They’re intelligent. They’re questing for their truth and they’re putting their pain out so magnificently, their joy. And, uh, so that’s really my favorite music.
There have been some great artists that have recorded songs that you wrote. What is the best rendition that you’ve heard – if you dare answer (laughs).
(Laughs) Oh, I know it, hands down. My favorite cover of my song – and I, and I, I still can’t believe it – but Annie Lennox and Herbie Hancock, they covered a song of mine called Hush, Hush, Hush which I’ll perform tonight. This was a song that I wrote because a friend of mine died of AIDS too young and I didn’t know what to do with those feelings. I was overwhelming by my feelings so I put them in a song. And Herbie Hancock plays the piano and Annie Lennox sings. And it’s on Herbie’s Possibilities album and it’s on her Greatest Hits album. And they both did such an amazing job and I’m touched and like humbled that they did it. It’s incredible.
What’s the best thing about being Paula Cole?
OK, uh, (laughs) the best thing – you know, the best thing about being me is that I have this 10½ year-old daughter that is completely captivating to me. She’s so smart – she’s smarter than me – so I’m finding it a very fascinating ride to discover who this person is and that’s definitely the best part about being me.
Well, my last question is totally open-ended.
You can say anything you like. What would you like to say to the people who are watching?
Oh, uh, um … I would like to say that I ask you not to compartmentalize me, somewhere back on that shelf from the ‘90s. I am so much more than that. I had to take a hiatus because of my daughter and her health problems but I just ask that you keep an open mind and you check out my newer work too.
Miss Paula Cole, thank you very much for this interview.
It’s been a pleasure.
(Video closing) Paula Cole is a true artist. She lives and breathes her work. We want to thank her very much for joining us on Paul Leslie Presents. Be sure and follow us on Twitter at thepaulleslie and visit us online at thepaulleslie.com. We’ll keep bringing you conversations with the great artists of our times. I’m Paul Leslie. Thank you so much for watching.
TRANSCRIBED BY GAYLE BRAZDA
Talent? Creighton has it in spades. It all started with those black and white films…
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s with great pleasure we announce our special guest, Robert Creighton, Robert Creighton is an actor, singer, dancer, composer and author, thank you so much for joining us.
Paul, it’s my pleasure.
I think most stories are best from the beginning. What was life like growing up?
Well, that is the beginning and you know what? I grew up in a little town north of Toronto in Ontario Canada and as most lads in the town I grew up in, dreamed of a career in the N.H.L being a goldl tenor on the drama ‘Make Believe,’ but that dream was rivalled by my dream to be Fred Astaire, I was… at a very young age being introduced to the old movie musicals and for some reason, I just had an infinity for them right off the bat, those were the things… when people ask me about the cartoons and the things you remember from childhood, I remember my parents letting me stay up late to watch the black and white films, you know, and then carrying me to bed half way through when I fell asleep. That’s sort of how the dream of being in New York and on Broadway, my love for music of that era, that’s how that all began and then I was in a boys choir for many years, which was really a musical foundation for me, for eight years I sang from the age of seven I sang in a boys choir and got great training in that way. Then, by fifteen I went away to a school, a boys school where they had really great arts programme and all the sports, so I could do everything at once, and then I did a degree in music, in Ontario, then I moved to New York, which was always the plan from a very young age and studied acting for three years, and sort of carried on from there.
Of the various things that you do; acting, singing, dancing, composing, writing, would you say that one is more your master than the other?
Yes, I think that my foundation is probably my sensibility is as an actor first, my training was both musical and in acting but I think acting is my first… although singing is the biggest part of my life that’s for sure but I would say there’s… I’ve been very lucky I work a lot.. I mean my… currently my sixth Broadway show and I’m loving it, and I’d say there’s much better singers, better dancers and all that sort of thing, but I have a package that sort of suits me, I love to.. you know, I love to do all of it and luckily I’ve been getting to do all of it, so I feel very fortunate.
You mentioned earlier Fred Astaire, what are some of the other artists that have influenced you in the path of becoming an artist yourself?
Well, certainly from a young age it was Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, Judy Garland and all those greats from that era, then, when I got to New York, I tried to imitate them as a kid, had a lot of fun doing that and then when I moved to New York I was in acting school and the teacher said “you remind me of Jimmy Cagney”, and I’m sort of built…I’m built just like Jimmy Cagney and looked quite a bit like him and you know, tap dance and do all those sort of things and I didn’t know much about him, I knew sort of, Yankee Doodle Dandy and maybe a couple others, but wasn’t really on my radar in a big way, I started watching his films and instantly became mesmerised with who he was as an actor first of all, just.. you… just his… he’s so dynamic on screen, you can’t take your eyes off him and at that point when I was really studying the craft of acting, really felt like he was someone who was ahead of his time in terms of his craft and all that, and then as I started reading about the man and who he was as a person how he worked and what his philosophy was on life and on his work, I just fell in love with who he was and I think he’s been.. James Cagney I would say has been the biggest influence in that way and that was currently dreamed of writing a show about his life, which, thanks to some collaborators who know a lot more about doing musicals than I do, we put a musical together, we’ve had three successful runs and we’re plugging away at that..so…
What was the experience of working on and co-authoring and conceiving this Cagney show?
First of all when I got out of acting school, his estate, Cagney’s estate run by a woman named Marg Zimmerman was… they had a play that had been written by sort of, by a friend of theirs, of Margie’s and it… they held massive auditions around New York and everywhere, and I was just coming out of acting school, I guess it was about a year and a half out of acting school, it got down to me and one other guy and, it’s actually a vivid memory and in fact I have the audition on video tape, because it was the first time I’ve ever been picked up in a car, they sent a car for me and went up to this restaurant in Stanfordville that this woman Marg Zimmerman owned and all of Cagney’s old friends were there, this is in ninety four, and all of Cagney’s friends were there, Harrison the boxer and different people and I had to do a fifteen minute, sort of, act and that’s how I got the part, but it turns out the play, as I know more about creating a show now, was, really there was nothing theatrical about it, it was just sort of a biographical telling and we work shopped it in New York and it just fizzled out, the man who wrote it wasn’t really a writer, he was a marketing guy, he passed away and it sort of fell apart. But that put a spark in me that someday I’m going to do a show about James Cagney, and then in the late nineties I really started putting pen to paper for a one man show about his life and sort of conceiving how that would, you know, the story I wanted to tell about who this person was, then in two thousand and two I was playing Tamone in Los Angeles in a production of Lion King there and a gentleman who I’d done a play of his up in Canada, who lived in Los Angeles, I invited him up to see the show, I met him when he came to see our production in Canada and we got chatting afterwards, his name’s Peter Coley, very successful playwright and I got chatting with him about my ideas about Cagney and he said “well, I love that era of Hollywood and I love James Cagney and let’s have lunch and we should talk more about it”, so we started talking. He really brought… well, I brought all this passion about Cagney and wanting to do the show and he really brought this knowledge of how to craft the piece and make something theatrical and we sort of hashed out a story together and he began writing it and I would sort of take it and be sort of the eyes and be the Cagney officinal, let’s call it that and sort of using my instincts as an actor and we sort of crafted the piece together and I started writing music and lyrics and we sort of tried to put in songs of the era but when we found they couldn’t completely tell the story, I started writing music and lyrics myself which I’d done some of before, it started to fit pretty well, so we kept going on that route and finished one draft of my music and lyrics and his book and a couple of the old time songs Cohan songs which you can’t tell a story about Cagney and leave those out. We did that, and for a year for the stage, a reading of it in New York and they agreed to produce it and they introduced us to a guy named Christopher McGovern who helped me flesh out the score and ended up really writing more than half the score and he’s a tremendous, just an amazing composer and smart about putting a musical together and the last piece with the Director named Bill Castellino who really started to help to break this all down and then build it all up in a much better way and he sort of served as dramaturgy and we… so we’ve got a piece now that we were still working on but, really, we found an audience that really respond to, we won the Carbonell award in Florida for the best new work when we produced it down there and we set two box office records in Florida, it’s been a very exciting journey, probably for me the most.. even as much as this new album that’s coming out, it’s been like a baby to me, those are the two things that have really sort of been a dream in my head and then have come to fruition and that are so, so satisfying on every level, and I’m starring in it of course, so you know, satisfying on that level too.
I wanted to talk about the album, the new album coming out ‘Aint We Got Fun,’ what do you think of your new album?
‘Aint We Got Fun’ was one of the first.. I had two titles that I was sort of playing with it in the beginning, the other was old school, Robert Creighton old school and ‘Aint We Got Fun’ because I love that song and I knew I wanted it on the album, it really was right from the beginning what I thought would be the title of the album because I wanted that to be the nature of the album, I wanted it to be really fun and really something that people could… you know, most of the songs on there, even if you don’t know you know them, you know them, you’ve heard the melodies before, they’re so engrained in the fabric of our culture here and I have two original songs on it that I wrote for Cagney, but the rest… and I’m told they blend in well, some people who don’t know that those are the ones that are literally from the twenties and thirties, so, I really wanted it to be fun and I put on there songs that I love, that get stuck in my head and that I find myself walking down the street singing and like Cagney, it was sort of a project that I conceived and really was passionate about doing it because I just love that music so much, and I thought it would be a great thing to have when I go do my Cagney show to have in the lobby so people who love this music can take it with them, and then I was interested in a part and got in touch with Georgia Stitt and did a work shop of her musical called ‘My Baby’ that she was writing and it had some of this old music in it, and her arrangements were so great and she is so talented and such a great person I started talking to her, I said “hey, this is my idea, would you maybe like to get involved?” Then she jumped in with both feet and produced and arranged most of my album and she gave it this fresh take to the songs and I would sort of.. some, she would just say “why don’t we do it like this” and other times I would say “I want to do it like this” and then she would put these two songs together and she would figure out the puzzle of how to do that, it was a great collaboration, and it grew into something that I didn’t expect, I thought it would be this little thing that people would take with them and it grew into a really legitimate album that I’m very proud of with horn sections and band all the way through and motion and a lot of fun, so that’s what I wanted, it started out I wanted it to be fun and that’s where the title came from and I feel like we’ve accomplished that, so I’m excited for people to hear it.
Do you have a favorite song from the album?
Whooooo, that is a tough one, that’s a tough question. Do I have a favorite song? Well my favorite song, which is a song that’s been… looking it up on the internet, it’s been recorded fourteen hundred times by six hundred artists, so it’s not like anyone was scrambling for the next version of ‘I’ll Be Seeing You,’ but it is truly, since I was twenty one, in my early twenties I did a review right after singing that song, it’s one of my favourite songs and in our treatment of it a guy named Joe Burgsoller played flugel horn and his playing on there, the thing on that song and when he added flugel horn, I just can’t get enough of listening to that part of it, him playing flugel horn, it’s so beautiful and romantic and passionate, so, I like that one, I really enjoyed singing it and putting together ‘Accentuate The Positive’ and ‘Look For The Silver Lining’ with my friend Tyse Bergis who sang with me on it there, that’s the real highlight of the album, it’s a big arrangement, lots of.. you know, the horn section and all that, I loved doing that one, and then of course getting to sing with Joe Grey, who recorded ‘Give My Regards To Broadway’ with me, we’re working together in ‘Anything Goes’ right now, we became good friends and he agreed to sing with me, that’s just a moment in time that was a gift to me that I’ll have forever, I mean he’s such a legend and just a great man and we got to go into the studio and do that together and that has great sentimental value to me.
How did you go about selecting which songs that you were going to record?
That was a bit of a process because, of course, there was a long list of great things from that era to choose from and one that I loved to do and who knows, maybe there’s another one coming, someday because there’s a lot that I wanted to do that we didn’t do. I knew I wanted to put my… these two of my original songs ‘Crazy About You’ and ‘Falling In Love’ on there because they are songs that I had, recorded … we have a demo for the musical of course, but I wanted to record them in a really full way, because I really enjoyed writing them, I loved singing them and I knew they were going to be on there, and then, I knew I needed to have some George M. Cohan and ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ has sort of been my signature song for years and years and that first review where I sang ‘I’ll Be Seeing You’, I did a big version of ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ and I’ve done.. you know.. that’s been my party song for years, so I knew that was going to be on there, and then when George agreed to sing with me, you know, I wanted it to be a Cohan song, which of course, he originated the role of George on Broadway and that was just a great connection that we have, cause the Cagney thing, and then the other ones, it just came down to artist’s songs that I just can’t get out of my head. ‘My Buddy’ is one of the most beautiful melodies ever I think, and I used to just walk around humming it, I thought “well, I’d better do that and get it out of my head”, the first track on the album is ‘Dad’s Medley’ and those were two songs that I remember singing when I was three and four years old, ‘Aint She Sweet’ and ‘Five Foot Two’, my Dad used to sing them, my Dad… he would tell you this, I’m not speaking out of turn, he’s not much of a singer, but he loves to sing and dance and he used to sing it all the time and I remember singing them with him in the living room when I was three and four years old, so, I wanted to have a little dedication to him and put those songs together. Yeah, they were just, basically my favourites, ‘You Are My Sunshine’ is on there, which I got to sing with one of my best friends Heidi Bookinstaff, which is just one of the most remarkable voices, it came down to a lot of my favourites really, to be honest with you, and there’s more to be mined from that, ‘I Want A Girl Just Like The Girl’ was one of my other favorite tunes of the era and it was Georgia’s idea to do that one, a male quartet, and so I had.. that turned out to be a really neat track because I got four of my buddies, great Broadway singers to do this Barber Shop quartet backing me up on that one, that was fun, it was a tough collection though. I’ll tell you one song called ‘Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams,’ did you know that song before?
I did not know that song before.
Yeah and neither did I. Turns out it’s been recorded a tonne of times, but I didn’t.. and I know the music of this era pretty well, I had for some reason not heard of that song, and neither had Georgia and she was doing a show called ???? and I was going through that old music Tin Pan Alley and I was going through a thick book, just sort of reading lyrics and I had most of the songs I wanted to do and I was just looking to see what I was missing and I read the lyrics and then I sort of pumped it out on the piano, I was like ‘oh my gosh’.. I loved this song and I just walked around for days singing it and as soon as I introduced it to Georgia and she sort of played it out one time when we were together on the piano, and we were like ‘oh yeah, got to do this one’, and that turned out to be a really fun track to do with brass and the whole deal, but it’s such an up song and sort of reflects my philosophy on life and I thought, ‘you know what? I’m going to do it,’ so, that’s probably a longer answer than you wanted but that was the process for choosing the material.
Well, the album, your album is entitled ‘Aint We Got Fun’, the new album from Robert Creighton, debut album, introduced by Georgia Stiff, she is a person that’s name comes up a lot on this show.
What was the experience of working with her like?
I can’t say enough good things about Georgia, I mean, she is.. I think her name’s coming up a lot because I think she is a really rising presence in the musical theatre world and in the composition world, she is first of all.. I mean, basically she is super talented and super smart, and then she has a really great ear for arrangements and how to flesh things out, take just a simple song and then… and make it something that’s going to be really fun to listen to, and she’s really smart about putting that all together, I feel like… I said this to her just the other day, she lives in LA now, but was visiting New York and I said ‘I really couldn’t have done this without you’ and I feel that way, I mean, she just.. she took my idea of doing this album and some of the songs and things and just came up with.. you know.. just made it all better, which was great, we had a very easy collaboration in that way, some of the songs she said ‘hey, what do you think of this, ‘My Buddy’ it was her idea to do just guitar and the ??? and I think it’s just a nice ‘breath’ in the album, you know, amongst all the other ?? songs and then, for example, all the medleys were my idea and then she just figure out, you know, the math of putting those together, for example the Barber Shop quartet, that was her idea, on the opening track there’s a kazoo, which turns out was her husband’s idea, you know, we would figure it out and she played what we had for her husband and he said ‘what about a kazoo’ and we all wentsaid ‘yep’, so.. it was a great collaboration, I feel very fortunate to have worked with her and I’m sure we’re going to do lots more together as we go along.
Everyone can visit your web site it’s robercreightonnyc.com what is the best thing about being Robert Creighton?
Well, that’s an easy question right now, I have a twelve week old son, also named Robert Creighton, Robert James Creighton III, and a phenomenal wife who is his Mother, so, I mean, yeah as to right now, it’s no contest, it’s the best thing about being me right now, I get to wake up with them every day, and that aside, there’s the ?? Foundation ?? and then, I’ve just been really lucky, I was a little kid living North of.. you know, a little town North of Toronto and the novelty has not worn off, I’m constantly aware of how lucky I am to get to do what I dreamed of doing, and this album is sort of another manifestation of a dream coming true right now, so I feel very, very lucky.
I have a final question for you. We have listeners all over the place, so what would you like to say to the people who are listening in?
I would like to say that I don’t think there’s anyone who buys this album that didn’t have fun listening to it, even if you think ‘oh this is maybe not my kind of music’ or, you know, even young people I’ve played it for, I have a lot of nieces and nephews who are between the ages of eighteen and twenty three, who, ‘Five Feet Two’ and ‘Ain’t She Sweet’ is on top of their iPod list, of course they’re bias, but they’ve all got the album now and I’ve gotten great reviews even from that demographic, so I think I’d love people to hear this music, to be an album you can play, put in the car and just when you’re…. you need a ‘pick me up’, it’s something you can put in and it will accomplish that and I hope people have a chance to hear it.
So, Mr. Creighton, I thank you very much for this interview, it’s been a pleasure speaking to you.
Thanks Paul, it’s been great talking to you, thanks very much.
TRANSCRIBED BY ROSALIND WINTON.
Impressive as that may be, this interview focuses mostly on Rusty Anderson’s incredible gifts as a songwriter and creator of his own studio albums. Rusty Anderson’s first studio album Undressing Underwater was released to critical acclaim. This interview took place shortly after the release of his second album Born on Earth.
Rusty Anderson’s songs are unique and at times unusual, but always very interesting and a pleasure to listen to. This interview covers a lot of ground and we hope you enjoy Anderson’s unique perspectives.
Our special guest is Rusty Anderson. In addition to being the lead guitarist for Paul McCartney, he’s also a singer-songwriter and recording artist. I’m going to share this quote from Rusty Anderson and then we’re going to bring him out for our exclusive interview.
“When I was a kid, I was like seven or eight, I had dreams that the Beatles would come to my door with their guitars and stuff and say ‘Hi! You wanna play?’ And I’m like ‘Yeah!’ And I’d wake up and be sad because it was only a dream. And then we’re in the studio recording and towards the end of that Paul says ‘Hey man, I had a dream about you last night.’ ”
It is with great pleasure we welcome guitarist, singer-songwriter Rusty Anderson. In addition to being the lead guitarist with Sir Paul McCartney, he’s also a recording artist. He joins us to talk about his new album, Born on Earth. So first of all, thanks so much for joining us here.
How are you, Paul?
I’m doing great. How about yourself?
I’m good, man.
I think most stories are best from the beginning so tell us a little bit about your early life.
I guess, musically, I sort of flipped out on the Beatles when I was five ‘cause my older sister was playing Beatle records. Coincidentally, right around that time, my – I’m the youngest in my family – and my oldest brother, Mike, died of a kidney thing. And I was five and he was 19, and I think it messed with the family. And I think my parents sort of numbed out and no one really talked about it, and I just went into music land and started exploring all sorts of different artists. And I got a guitar when I was eight – finally. It was, um, an electric guitar and amp – a little cheap pawn-shop thing, that I was just really into it. And I think I just sort of really hyper-focused on the guitar, you know, ever since (laughs). So I’ve been doing the same thing since I was five, basically.
Can you give us your recollections of the first public music performance you ever had?
I was maybe nine years old, uh, we did like two gigs at the school, different classrooms, playing with my little band and, uh, the drummer, my friend Ronnie and, uh, another guy, I think it was Ken, playing fake bass on the guitar. That was the first gig I can recall but that was, uh, quite a while ago (laughs).
Well, tell us about the band, Eulogy.
Eulogy was, uh, the first actual band that stayed together that I was in because I was always forming bands and it was sort of a prerequisite to being my friend if you played an instrument and we could be in a band because I was a little bit OCD, I guess, about it. So yeah, Eulogy was together maybe five or six years and, yeah, it had a lot of great experiences. We played, you know, all over Orange County. We played like 85 high schools in one year, I think, and then, you know, really got into playing, through like, uh, this – it was through a radio station in Orange County, and then we played, uh, you know, a bunch of clubs in Hollywood and started doing gigs, you know, opening up for like, you know, The Police or Van Halen and things like that. Yeah, it was a fun band. Good music.
Tell us a little bit about your influences on the guitar and also as a songwriter.
You know, I have my guitar favorites like I really always loved Mick Ronson, just for his melodic sense and his arrangement sense, and his tone was so special. And I loved Jimi Hendrix and Ritchie Blackmore and Jimmy Page. I think, musically, I really, really have always loved Debussy and Rachmaninov and Gershwin. Sort of my three favorite classical composers and they sort of got into jazz a little bit, the early forms. I mean, they definitely have influenced jazz and they’re just beyond, you know, another world. I definitely had a lot of influences, I guess as all musicians do. Songwriting wise, you know how it is, everybody’s busy these days rolling through so many different styles of music. I mean, everybody I ask they say ‘Oh, I like a bit of everything.’ Very strange world in that respect. Yeah, there’s so many genres. I mean, I’m influenced songwriting-wise from everyone from Bob Dylan to David Bowie. You know, I love a lot of new the music – MGMT and The White Stripes and Band of Horses and The Shins and Death Cab for Cutie and, you know, on and on. There’s somebody I love, Captain Beefheart, and I love Cream and I love Todd Rundgren, and so many influences. I think ultimately, when I’m writing a song, I just have some ideas. Usually, I’ll come up with a lyrical thing. Maybe I’ll jot it down. Like, for instance, there’s a song on the record called Julia Roberts which was a dream. I wrote it down when I woke up because I thought it was really odd ‘cause I, you know – she popped into my head for no reason, and then I forgot about it. And later, I returned and saw the lyrics and thought, oh that would be cool to turn into a song. So I, actually I co-wrote that with a friend of mine named Jord Lawhead and we, uh, turned that into a musical, finished song. It happens a lot of different ways.
There’s another song on the new album called Funky Birthday Cake and I was hoping you could tell all the listeners about that song.
Well that song – actually, it’s funny ‘cause you brought up Eulogy – my friend, Myles, when he was a singer in Eulogy and we were, you know, maybe 13 or something and we had just started hanging out, and having fun and making music, and we wrote that song together when we were 13 or 14 or something. When I was working with Peter Smith who co-produced some of the songs on my record, who also plays drums in my band live – I had a demo of that song and he heard it and he said ‘Yeah, we should record this.” and I said ‘OK.’ It was just sort of an impulsive thing and it ended up on the record.
I was hoping you could tell all the listeners out there a little bit about meeting David Kahne.
I was in a band called The Living Daylights and, uh, we had a single. It got over to David Kahne, he really liked the band, he was working at a major label – I think, uh, Columbia or something at the time – and we didn’t end up signing with him but he was a producer that worked on a lot of major, different acts at the label. So I started working with him in the studio playing guitar and, uh, that was the beginning of a long relationship because then, eventually, he started working with Paul for Driving Rain. They had talked and he said ‘Hey man, I’m going to be, uh, doing this record in a few months – so this was, like, maybe two months before Driving Rain happened which was, I guess, 2001 – and he said ‘Yeah, I think, uh, we’ll be needing some guitar work’ and I said ‘Well, man, cut me in. I’ll be really exited to do that.’ And then I sort of didn’t tell anyone about it – I didn’t want to do the Hollywood jinx – and then, sure enough, two months later I was in the studio with Paul and David and, uh, you know, that was, uh, the beginning of, of working with Paul.
You had an album before this one called Undressing Underwater. My two favorite songs on that album are Catbox Beach and Everybody Deserves an A in This Country.
That was my first solo record. Catbox Beach, which Stew Copeland played drums on incidentally. We were in a band together called Animal Logic a few years ago. That song started off – the concept was a classical sort of song rocked up – and then, I’m thinking to myself ‘this sounds suspiciously like a surf song.’ I kinda got that vibe. So I named it Catbox Beach and when Stew played on it, I thought it would be really a shame not to have his amazing reggae feel so we sort of put a reggae bit in there, which I thought was cool because I had never really heard a surf song-reggae song combo before. So that definitely had to stick.
[Recording concludes] From Rusty Anderson’s debut album, Undressing Underwater, that was Catbox Beach.
Everybody Deserves an A in This Country was a song that, I guess, I was hanging out with some friends and suddenly enough we had this plan to take mushrooms and record music. Not that I’m a big drug person or anything, but that day that’s what we did. I don’t know if you’ve tried to do anything (laughs) when you take mushrooms – it’s pretty, it’s pretty tough, especially singing. So we didn’t get a whole lot of music done that day but the, sort of the birth of the concept of Everybody Deserves an A was, to be frank, motivated by brain mindset.
Well, it managed to score a really cool song, as far as I’m concerned.
You’ve done a lot of things in your musical career. You’ve done session works for people like Little Richard, Neil Diamond, Carole King. You have two records, you perform on your own and, of course, you also perform with Sir Paul McCartney. When you look at your musical history, is there something that you’re most proud of?
I’m really glad to be making a living playing music. I feel very, very lucky. Especially – I just finished reading that book Grapes of Wrath, and I feel extra, extra lucky because in these crazy days you never know what you get. I mean, it’s been amazing working with Paul for the last eight-plus years. I’ve seen all sorts of things, you know, gone all over the world. And, you know, musically I just try to make music I’m proud of and I can stand behind, and trying to just contribute to making melodies or some lyrical idea or something that maybe will inspire somebody. Basically, to communicate. I think that’s what it’s about for everybody, you know? They say that, uh, the most important thing for people is to communicate with others and to feel understood and I would definitely concur with that.
When someone listens to a recording you performed on or they see you in concert, either by yourself or with someone else, what is it that you hope that the audience gets out of the experience of the music?
Oh man, you know, people get what they get. I mean, it’s exciting to get responses back from people, to hear the different things that people interpret from music, whether it’s playing with Paul – out there doing shows or doing, you know, the records with Paul – or doing my own live shows. You know, I just got the record Born on Earth out so I’m starting to get a few responses and it’s been incredibly positive. And it was the same with, uh, Undressing Underwater. And people have their interpretations, you know, their favorite songs. Everybody’s got their favorite song that they relate to. I think that the cool thing about music is that it’s untouchable and, therefore, it makes it very, uh, very individual. The impressions people get from the music is very individual. I guess with any art, you know, you’re going to get a million different opinions whether your dealing with, uh, contemporary art or classic art or whatever.
You’re listening to our interview with Rusty Anderson, who’s here joining us to talk about his new album, Born on Earth. I was hoping you could everyone out there about the title track.
It’s, basically, sort of about the infinitesimal chance that we would be alive in this crazy era of technology bum and the way the world has changed so much and, you know, we could have been alive a few million years ago or now, or – it’s a crazy time I would say, and I think you’d probably concur. And the songs are sort of a reflection of that and I think – it’s an epic sort of piece. I would just say you have to listen to it to kind of understand what I’m talking about, maybe (laughs).
What song, from the songs that you recorded that you wrote, means the most to you?
Where Would We Go? Private Moon Flower. They’re sort of, uh, personal songs. You know, the new record – I think every song has some personal aspect and it has some global aspect to them. And so I felt like the title Born on Earth sort of fit the record and the song. And, in fact, I was up in Alaska hanging out a few years ago. Some friends of mine were getting married. Actually, I was kayaking out on the edge of this, um, sort of bay of the ocean and in the grass there was this mannequin sitting there, sort of out of the blue. And I took a picture of it because I thought it was so odd and then I ended up using that for the record cover. And it sort of summed up, to me, the sort of incongruency of life these days – the randomness of it.
Having recorded your own music and gotten the chance to play music all over the world, you could honestly say that music has done some things for you that most people will never get a chance to experience. Having said that, are there any dreams that you have that you have not yet experienced, that you’re working on making happen?
That’s a very good question. I think there’s certainly a part of me that feels drawn towards getting more involved in, uh, philanthropic types of things, um, you know, charities. There’s so many good causes these days to be involved with, whether it’s, uh you know, helping people out in Africa – I feel very strongly about that. I also feel strongly about the environment and global warming, and I’m sort of trying to find a good place for my energies in that realm. Certainly, I think I’ll always be making music and creating new, uh, themes, whatever medium it’s in. whether it’s, you know, new CDs or, you know mp3s or whatever the new media is at the moment. Certainly, playing more gigs with Paul, and it’s a good ride that I’m on and I just want to keep it expanding and communicate with more and more people. That’s pretty much it.
Through the eyes of Rusty Anderson, when you’re on stage performing in front of just thousands and thousands of people, where everyone’s looking at you, and there’s definitely this energy and this positivity coming from everyone – tell us, through your eyes, what is that experience like?
You know, it’s a weird loop. You can’t think about it too much. I mean I sort of just vibe off the audience – you know, look for friendly faces and people that are into it. And I guess, in a certain way, I feel more at home on stage than I do anywhere else just ‘cause I’ve been doing it a long time. And it’s – it’s always, like, an engaging challenge to try to really connect in that zen way, you know playing guitar and singing and being up there and grooving with everybody and, uh – it’s a pretty astounding feeling. I think the biggest gig we did was, uh, in Rome for 500,000 people. In a way, the smaller the audience the harder, the more intimidating it can be, like playing for one person is almost the most intimidating thing there is, as opposed to playing for huge audiences. On the other hand, playing that gig in Rome, there was 500,000 people and it was this super-buzz – like you felt this extra kick of energy – thrill – I can’t explain it but, you know like, we were doing I think Let It Be and there’s a bunch of people holding up lighters. And it was at night and this was in front of the Coliseum, and you look down the Apian Way and it was like a river of fireflies going off the edge of the planet, and it was – you couldn’t even see the end of it. It was pretty, uh, heavy and, and sort of monumental. It’s like you can’t really remember it either. It’s sort of like eating chocolate or something – it’s an experience that you can’t have unless you are engaged in the middle of it and then you can remember what it’s like.
Working our way back to your album, could you tell us about some of the musicians who played on that album?
The latest one is primarily Peter, the drummer, and I and the other guys on my band played on some of the tunes, too, and did a lot of background vocals. I wanted to keep it a little bit more – on that level – more sort of band-centric. There was another guy, Bunk Gardner, a good friend of mine who played in The Mothers of Invention, who was a huge influence on me when I was, uh, a kid growing up. And I always loved their music. That was Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention. And I liked that sort of incarnation the best because it had this really organic, out-of-control kind of feeling, And, uh, Bunk plays woodwinds and sax and flute, and I think he played sax and, uh, bass clarinet on Funky Birthday Cake. That was a lot of fun. The last record, Paul McCartney played on a track and Stew Copeland played on a track, and it was a little more kind of, um, fun, bringing all these outside musicians in. Like I said, this one was more sort of about the band. Oh, another friend of mine, Gabby Marino, sang background vocals on a few songs, and I think that’s about it.
Tell us about the song, Timed Exposure, on the album Born on Earth.
Timed Exposure – I’m not sure exactly what the song is about to tell you the truth. It just came about organically and I think the music came first. It seemed to somehow, uh, connect the global, sort of macro perspective on the world and what we all go through – that personal experience. One verse is written from, I think from a fortune cookie –combination fortune cookie and personal ads that are in the newspaper.
Oh, interesting (laughs).
Yeah. So, you know, different things will inspire lyrics.
Can you tell the listeners out there how they can find out more about not only the new album but also more about you?
Well, there’s RustyAnderson.com. There is my MySpace. I started doing this Twitter thing so look for that. I’m doing Guitar Center in-store CD signings.
This broadcast is going out all over the world. My final question for you, Mr. Rusty Anderson: What would you like to say to all those people that are listening in?
Oh, just say ‘hello and, uh, happy to e-meet you or vibe with you’(laughs). Hope to see you at some show soon. I’m always into connecting with people.
Rusty, thank you so much for doing this interview. It means a lot.
You’re welcome, Paul. It was my pleasure.
John Goodwin is an incredible singer-songwriter who has recorded his most recent album “Goodwin.” John Goodwin has recorded six albums, the newest record features a new direction with solo acoustic performances and duets with Jessica Andrews, Michael McDonald and Jeff Bridges. John Goodwin is also a visual artist–a painter and photographer. His songs have been featured in several major motion pictures including Crazy Heart, Surf’s Up, The Amateurs, and Tideland.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is with great pleasure we welcome our third time guest, Mr. John Goodwin, thanks so much for agreeing to do another interview with us.
Happy to be here with you, Paul.
My pleasure. You’re joining us here to talk about your new album entitled ‘Goodwin,’ anyone that listened to the last time you were on, you were playing some of your acoustic songs and you had this album out called ‘Nashville,’ and it seems to me, for my ears anyways that it’s a further evolution as an artist. What prompted you to kind of make this change in your music to a more acoustic?
A lot of my CDs have involved other musicians andthe songs sounded like they were played with a band and I just really challenged myself and wanted to see if I could do anything I liked, sitting and playing, singing without a band, so I just went ahead and did it and started to like what I heard. That’s what I do when I write a song and I’m always enjoying that so I figured like, why not just go in the studio and do it.
What aspect of making music excites you the most?
The emotional rush I think, you know, I think anybody that picks up a guitar and starts singing and playing something they are inspired by or want to play gets off on the whole experience, it’s your hands, like, playing a guitar, it’s your voice and the coordination between, you know, your voice and your hands, and you know, the end result and, you know, your mind’s working and, you know, you’re expressing yourself and it’s a real, a real emotional rush, just to sing and play.
Do you find that as you are creating music, do you find that you get more, or less interested in seeking out new music made by other artists?
I’m always listening to other artists and new albums, constantly checking out what’s coming out, you know, I’m looking for that ‘thing’ that really excites me, you know, my interest in other artists has not diminished at all, probably increased a lot as I continue, you know, writing and recording.
The interesting thing about the different albums that you’ve released over the years is the different styles of music that you’ve played, ‘Part Of Me Will Never Grow Up,’ is kind of like, a Reggae song, you have a couple of songs like, ‘A Place In My Heart’ that is definitely Country, and lots of Rock n Roll, I want to ask you, what musical period or styles do you find yourself the most drawn to? I know you like everything, but is there something that resonates most with you?
I think it’s more like, what I consider to be a great song in a particular time in my history as a person, you know, I’ve been deeply, deeply into Rock ‘n Roll, deeply into R & B, deeply into Country a long time ago, when country was a little more genuine and sincere, you know, I started a couple of years like, really being into Metal when it was like Black Sabbath and you know, real, like seminal kind of Metal sounds and Reggae I got way into. So every music that’s really touched my life, all done so equally has brought out those things in me.
I wanted to talk about a couple of the songs on your latest album, ‘Goodwin’, I think my favorite song on the album is ‘Butter MintSweet.’
Something like twenty years ago, I just started writing on my guitar this little classical piece and like, that’s the end of the first section, you know, you want to play another section, there’s no lyric to it, it’s just, it was just you know, all guitar and I just developed this little song which had no lyrics and I really liked it and I forgot about it for years and then I found it again and just started writing lyrics to it, so this has been a work in progress.
You actually recorded it as a duet, as far as your discography, this was the first album that you have with duets.
Absolutely, it is and I wish I’d done more of it, because I really like singing with friends of mine and I’m going to do a lot more of it too.
Two other songs on the album that are duets, in one of them, you remarked earlier that you were especially proud of it, it was a duet with Michael McDonald ‘When The World Was A Child.’
I was in a coffee house or something like that and kind of, crowded place and I saw this Mother walked in with her little child, little infant, you know, but walking and the child was holding the Mother’s hand and it just seemed to me, like you know, once upon a time the world was an innocent child, you know and just look at it, everything, you know, like new eyes and stuff like that, so that was the inspiration to start writing the song and once I got started I don’t think I could stop until it was finished.
Is there a song on the new album ‘Goodwin’ that you are especially proud of, a favorite song?
Well, I have many favorite songs, I think most artists, when you record an entire album and spend a lot of time on it, eventually you find songs you’re not as in love with as you were when you wrote them and recorded them, but actually there are a lot of songs on this album that I really like, just because of the purity of the performance and the purity of the song. I’d like to say there’s one song that I safely think is my favourite, but there are quite a number, quite a few songs that I really, really like here.
You couldn’t pick a favorite though?
Well, I wish I could, I mean, it would make it simpler for anybody to listen to the record, but I have to say that I really am proud of a lot of them.
There’s a song on there ‘The Blessed One’, I noticed this on the last album. Both this album and the last one, it seems like there’s an exploration of spirituality almost?
What inspired you to write ‘The Blessed One’?
Kind of a deep, deep subject here, because, a lot of times I feel like people are not appreciated until they’re gone and we obviously have historical examples of that, we also have examples of that in our everyday lives, and we know of singers and songwriters who aren’t universally known, but really believe that they deserve to be as much as if not more than people who are extremely well known, so you know the whole inspiration was like, you know, ‘don’t abuse the blessing, don’t overlook the blessing,’, you know that was kind of about it.
What are the other songs on the album that are light-hearted and fun songs, well, depending on how you look at it, I really got a kick out of ‘Lime Green Speedos,’ and, again, kind of like, as far as you exploring new avenues, the last album also had a comedy song, ‘Monday I’m Starting My Diet,’ but tell us about ‘Lime Green Speedos.’
Well, ‘Lime Green Speedos,’ I forgot exactly where that song started it might have started with a rhythm on my guitar that I started playing and you know, and the subject suddenly came to me that, you know, I’m going to lose all this weight and surprise everybody, and you know, in summertime, when I show up at the swimming pool in my lime green speedos, it amused me, interested me and moved me enough, you know, to just throw as much as I could at the song as I was writing it, you know, the song you referred to on the last album, ‘Monday I’m Starting My Diet,’ that song and ‘Lime Green Speedos’ both have to do with, like, being overweight and trying to do something about it, which, a lot of people have that problem, more like I have to go on a diet and put back what they lose, stuff like that, so, you know, these were just dealing with that whole issue you know in the most light hearted, emotional way that I could, you know.
I also wanted to talk to you about a song that you wrote, that was featured in the movie ‘Crazy Heart.’ tell us about that song ‘Hold On You’.
I’d love to, I also want to say that on the new album the duet I did with Jeff Bridges, which I’m extremely proud of, you know, really, it’s just two old friends singing about life and what a beautiful day it is.I love that song. The song ‘Crazy Heart’ goes… I was lucky enough before the movie was made to be invited out to LA to spend some time with Jeff and the Director, writer of the movie Scott Cooper and T. Bone Burnett, during the course of the week that I spent with those guys, like, I started writing ‘Hold On You’ and T. Bone started writing it with me, and eventually, I left town and he brought a couple of friends in and they all finished the song together and I’m amazingly proud of that, it was just a highlight of my life.
I wanted you to tell us about the experience you had out there, you said that you’ve recently been feeling the winds of inspiration kind of to start performing again?
Yeah, haven’t quite gotten out there and done that. The last time I performed was at this huge birthday party in LA, back in, in December, my whole path as a writer is a little bit wierd cause I spent most of my time just writing and recording but continuously writing and continuously recording, you know, and I sort of didn’t do a lot of playing out even though I enjoy it, what I do is, I’m trying to motivate myself to go out there and do it, it’s usually, you know, a lot of fun for me and the people in the audience when I do, but it’s just one of those humps that I’m kind of stuck behind right now.
Is there any artistic or musical avenues that you haven’t explored that you have an interest in pursuing?
Aaaah man, there’s so many, you know, writing on other instruments, instruments that I don’t particularly play, you know, bongos or whatever, every time I pick up something new and start playing with it, most of the time some new kind of music comes out, for me, the most interesting thing that I really want to do a lot more of is just improvisational songs, in other words songs that aren’t written, so you turn on a tape recorder and you sit there and you just play and sing, and I can do that pretty well. I haven’t done that a lot but I have a fantasy of like recording like, a thousand songs that way and be sure to share the results with you when I do that.
You mentioned the last time I was talking to you that you’re already thinking about the next recording project. What do you see in the future?
Ohhhh it’s looking good, at least, you know, by my standards looking really good Paul, I’ll tell you why, because, I’m sure I don’t have time to tell you about the whole recording process that I went through with this new record I made, very briefly with this amazing engineer in Nashville, gave me just an unlimited free use of his studio, just because he likes what I did, so I went there many, many, many, manytimes and had all the time in the world to lay it all out and from everything I recorded I chose the songs that would be on the album called “Goodwin.” But this thing, I think the record’s been done for about three months now, I’ve written seven or eight songs that I think there as good as anything I’ve ever written in my life and I’m really excited, think I’ll go and probably sometime in late May or early June and just try and cut an entire record in three hours with songs that I’ve written that I like since I finished the last album.
Is there any particular reason that you say to do it in three hours like that?
Yeah, once again it’s challenge, you know, to do something in real time like, you know, when you turn on the radio and you hear a three minute song, you’re actually living in the illusion that a bunch of people went into the studio and played and sang for three minutes and there the song was, but you know how it works these days, like, you know, there’s dozens if not a hundred hours recording parts and pieces and bits of it and adding stuff and people coming into the studio over weeks and months and eventually you have what seems like a real three minute song, that’s really not, it’s like, you know, thirty seven hours condensed into a three minute experience, so it seems like, to go in there and play it straight, you know, from top to bottom, it’s a challenge. I think Bob Dylan recorded ‘Another Side Of Bob Dylan’ in one day, I believe that’s true, and of course I think the Beatles cut their second record in one day too, so, there’s no reason, if you can present something that’s a performance, it’s why it shouldn’t literally be a performance, and not this massive collage you know, which is, you know sometimes over thought and, I want to be something not an illusion, I want to be something that is like literally a performance.
That will be very interesting to hear. I hope that everyone out there has kind of gotten a little picture in their mind of what it is that you mean. On that note you just mentioned Bob Dylan, last night I was talking with friends and I wanted to know your opinion on, in your mind anyways, who are the greatest songwriters?
Well that’s a tough one, you know, because some people like Bob Dylan that have written many, many, many extremely brilliant, wonderful songs, and there are other people who have written one or two in their entire career, but they’re, they’re wonderful songs too, so, you know, I can’t say someone who would be prolific and amazing, for me has been any better than somebody, you know, loving one or two great ones and being amazing, because when you’re listening to the songs, just in the middle of, for you, it’s an amazing experience and you don’t think about the other two songs they wrote that were great or the other ninety five songs that were great, I mean, you can only listen to one song at a time, so that’s the way I’m feeling music as a listening experience. Oh I could name a hundred people, whose music I absolutely love, man, like, you know obviously Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, the great songs that Smokey Robinson wrote, the Stones, man “Beast of Burden,” you know, there are French pop artists like Jaques Brel, phenomenal songs, I have to say that, you know, if I had to list my favorite songwriters or acts, there would be at least, at least a hundred names on it, because they all touched me extremely deeply.
Not just of the songs that you wrote, but just in general, is there a song, or a couple of songs that have just tremendous meaning to you?
Oh yeah, but Paul, like, there are like, so many, so many songs that just have deep, deep meaning for me, it would be really tough for me to say you know that there’s only one or two, but the song Michael McDonald wrote and recorded called ‘Matters Of The Heart,’ which I just think is burningly brilliant or you know, “Papa was a Rolling Stone” by the Temptations, or you know, I cannot really say here’s my top five, any one of those top five, any one of the 95 behind that you all all have great meaning for me…
I wanted to ask you when somebody listens to the new album, ‘Goodwin,’ what is it that you hope they get out of the experience of listening.
Well, I hope they like what they’re hearing, from the beginning of a song to the end of the song, I was trying for a certain kind of purity from the performance, you know, but for people who don’t know me who are hearing this, I’d just like them to know that this record, like every record, is a transition period and I just happen to document by writing and recording the song.
It’s been a great pleasure to speak to you as always, always great talking to you, but before we go is there anything you’d like to say to all the people listening out there?
Well, like I said the last time you interviewed me, I think you asked me this question and I’d just like to say that I hope you’re all having a good day and doing things that you really love to do, what more can you say to people or want for people?
I do remember you telling me that, you said you hope everybody has a good day because good days are the building blocks of a good life. When I heard the album I was listening to the duet with Jeff Bridges, ‘The Good Day Song,’ and it made me think of that conversation.
Yeah, (John laughs) I know what you mean, you know, totally what that song was about, it was such a joy doing that with Jeff. He’s such a generous soul and so deeply appreciate him, he’s making a lot of my days really good and has for many years.
He definitely captured I think, your friendship together. Hearing you do the duet with him, I remember years ago when I was listening to your music, and it was right after I had been exposed to his music. Has it ever been a passing thought about performing with him, or maybe collaborating with him on an album?
Yeah, I think that’s very likely to happen, in fact the last few times we performed, we were both at parties, Jeff was there and we both played songs, I think he inspires me to go out and perform, I love collaborating with him, we’ve written many songs together which I totally love and totally look forward to anything we do together, it’s just such fun and we’ve been doing it for years so I think you can probably look forward to that.
Everyone out there can check you out online at babyrecords.com and again, thanks so much for the interview, always a pleasure to listen to your music and always a pleasure to talk to you.
Paul, I’m really glad that my music has found you and that you like it so much. It means so much to me.
It means a lot to me too and have a good one, a good day.
You too man. Good days, you know.
TRANSCRIBED BY ROSALIND WINTON
JEFF DANIELS is another one of those singer-songwriters who is also an actor. This interview was recorded on Halloween, on the stage at Smith’s Olde Bar in Atlanta, Georgia. Jeff Daniels was kind enough to perform a song for us.
Daniels does a great job of talking about the creative life. He is a great songwriter. His serious songs represent his best work.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a great pleasure to welcome our special guest, fellow Michigander, Jeff Daniels. Thanks so much for making the time to do this.
Who is the real Jeff Daniels?
I have no idea. That would take, um, probably a team of psychiatrists to figure out. I mean, if you look at the acting career it’s certifiably schizophrenic. It really is (laughs) because you can go from Dumb and Dumber to, uh, to Gettysburg or Squid and the Whale – there’s a lot of people in between those two, those two or three people. So, uh, probably the music, uh, is probably the closest but even in the music I go wildly comic to very serious so I’m probably still in search of whoever that is.
Can you remember and tell us some of your earliest musical influences?
I remember getting Tumbleweed Connection, the Elton John album and I didn’t even know who Elton was. And the album jacket, the cover, intrigued me at a young age and I bought it and I just loved it. And I didn’t know why I loved it. I’d never heard anything like it. And I think a lot of it was Bernie – Elton’s playing but Bernie Taupin, the writing. As I look back, I started to look at the writers. I started to look at the story-tellers and then that led to guys like Arlo Guthrie who could tell a story and then weave a song into that story. Stevie Goodman – I saw Stevie Goodman at The Bottom Line in New York – amazed at what that guy did with just himself and a guitar. Christine Lavin. You know, lately, guys like Todd Snider. Todd’s got such a point of view. Only Todd can write those songs and they’re almost like you can’t cover them. So, and that’s what you look for in writing – guys that have a singular point of view.
Yeah. When I was listening to the album that I got of yours, I thought ‘this guy sounds like Steve Goodman and Arlo Guthrie.’ That is what I thought (laughs).
Yeah. My heroes. My early heroes. They really, they openedthe door for you can just have a guitar, and you can write funny and you can write serious back-to-back and that – and Christine Lavin was another one. I chased all those three people. They were, they kind of led the way for me.
Could you pick a favorite artist that influenced you?
No, probably not because I’m still probably trying to, uh, define what it is I do and it’s influenced by a lot of people. Then you get guys like Stefan Grossman who I’ve been privileged to have lesson from and have also studied him since the ‘80s – his tab books on finger picking and the whole deal. Then you get into the blues. You get guys like, you know, Lonnie Johnson, Skip James, Robert Johnson – all those guys and what were they singing about? What were they doing? Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee. I remember listening to them in the ‘80s. A friend turned me on to them. They’re all probably in there somewhere. There’s a – Lyle Lovett is a guy that, again, as a writer only Lyle could write that song that way. If I had to pick somebody present-day it would probably be Lyle.
Can you remember the first song that you wrote?
Yeah. It’s in my notebook. My big, huge notebook of everything I’ve ever written. Yeah. I think it was about my dog, my first dog and it’s god-awful. It’ll never see the light of day.
You do this tour. You have four albums to your credit thus far. So you’ve recorded, you’ve written songs, you’ve performed. Could you pick a favorite part of music?
I think the moment – and it happens in some of the older songs now that I’ve played a few hundred times – but it’s, uh, certainly that moment when you find you get on top of that new song. And it takes a bunch of performances in front of people to kind of give birth to it. But you get on top if it, you get the phrasing right, you get the guitar right and then it connects. And you see and hear from an audience that this thing that really was just an idea in your head weeks or months ago is now something that you will be playing on a regular basis because it connects with people you don’t even know. It’s that moment where that first connection happens, that new thing. That’s pretty cool.
In the liner notes to one of your albums you talk about how these songs are like a snapshot and you’ve been keeping, like in this notebook, like a journal. Take it a step further and you record these songs and perform for people. What would you say makes you want to do that?
I’m living a very creative life but it’s creative on my terms. And this country, you know, uh, it – I wouldn’t say it’s exemplary in the way it treats its artists or supports its artists. I could argue that Europe does a better job of that or takes it more seriously. I think America has always been like that. There is certainly room, there is room for artists and art but you kind of have to make your own space, you know, if it’s what you’re supposed to do, which is what I was told at the age of 21. I had a director from New York see me in a college production and he took me aside and he literally asked me ‘You know what you should do with your life, don’t you?’ and he said ‘Come to New York and join my theater company and chase an acting career. No promised but you’re good enough to give it a shot.’ And that acting chase led to a lot of sitting around, waiting for the phone to ring, for someone else to tell me it was time to be creative. The guitar, which I picked up in 1976, became that go-to creative outlet so I could keep that side of my life and that part of my brain, and that – just that part of me, which is probably the essential part, going 24/7. And I didn’t have to wait for the phone to ring. I didn’t have to wait for somebody in Hollywood to tell me that I’m hot and I can now be in a movie. I just was able to do it on my own. The music has probably, you know, fulfilled me the most of all.
Ladies and gentlemen, you’re listening to an interview with singer-songwriter and actor, Jeff Daniels. Grandfather’s Hat – tell us about that tune.
That’s a song that – I wear a fedora. I really like those fedoras. They’re kind of timeless and, um, I was – my kids played hockey and, uh, high school hockey in Michigan, and I was wearing it to one of the games and a friend of mine came up to me. And he knew my family and he knew my grandfather, and he came up to me and he goes ‘Is that your grandfather’s hat?’ and I said ‘No, no. It’s just one that was very similar to …’ Before I got to the end of the sentence, I knew it was a song. Not just a song about my particular grandfather but your mother’s necklace or your aunt’s ring or your father’s knife. You know, Guy Clark has a great, great song, uh, about his dad’s, um, jackknife. And so it’s that, that kind of ‘missing someone who is no longer here’.
Well, would you like to play it for all the listeners out there
Sure. [Performs Grandfather’s Hat]
Ladies and gentlemen, Jeff Daniels. Thanks so much. One of the things about music is you get to meet a lot of people. One of the tracks that you do, you did a cover of the George Harrison song, Here Comes the Sun. tell us about some of the exciting people you’ve met through your music.
I mean, first of all, George Harrison – say no more (laughs).
Yeah, that was pretty cool. Uh, the short version of that story is I was doing a movie called Checking Out in 1988 and it was produced by George Harrison’s independent film company called Handmade Films. And we were hoping he would show up on the set in L.A. and, sure enough, one day he did. And I had a guitar in the dressing room and I said ‘Would you mind signing my guitar?’ and he said ‘I’d be happy to.’ Took him into a back room so it wouldn’t be, like, 100,000 signatures. And he signed the guitar and then, before he gave it back to me, he flipped it over and, on that guitar, played Here Comes the Sun. I mean, just me – and two other guys – just the three of us sitting there. It was like our own little private concert. It was such a gift that he gave and he couldn’t have been nicer. He couldn’t have been more interested in anyone other than himself. It was just a great lesson on how to handle that level of fame or any kind of fame.
You have a theater up in Michigan and everyone can check out JeffDaniels.com. The proceeds from the sale of the CDs goes towards this theater, the Purple Rose of Cairo. We just reviewed that film. It was from 1985 but we did like a flashback kind of thing. So tell us bout the theater a bit.
The Purple Rose Theater Company is 20 years old this season. Uh, it’s mission is mainly to do new American plays, particularly plays about that part of the country. That’s how I was brought up in New York, at the Circle Repertoire Company. Every play was a new play. Every play, the months before, the playwright was walking around rewriting the second act, getting ready for rehearsal. There was a thrill to that versus doing what New York had done last year and being popular, or doing, you know, Shakespeare or the old classics and all, which are fine. And many, many theaters do those. I want new stuff. I want living, breathing playwrights writing about the people sitting in our seats. Write about them. Connect with them and then I’m interested. After 20 years, that’s what we’re able to do now, more often than not. I’m real proud of that place and the fact that that part of the country supports it. It means the world to me.
What made you call the theater The Purple Rose of Cairo? That movie is great. I got to interview Woody.
I was a young actor. I was 30 at the time. I’d been in New York about nine years. Terms of Endearment had come out and I got that movie ten days after Terms of Endearment had been released. So Terms was now the #1 movie in the country which, at the time, for a character-driven film like Terms – it bypassed Raiders of the Lost Ark and all those kind of at the time special-effect movies. You hadn’t seen a character driven comedy-drama in a long time like that yet there we were, #1 – due, in no part, to Jack, Shirley and Debra. Jim Brooks had a hit and, uh, I was, I happened to be in it. Ten days later, they were looking to, uh, recast Purple Rose of Cairo and they called me in and, you know, a screen test later and, you know, a meeting with the studio, I got it. So now I’m working with Woody Allen. And I get handed the script and it’s not a supporting role or it’s not one starring role. It’s two starring roles in a Woody Allen movie. And I’m going ‘OK. Everything I have ever learned, please God, let me remember now.’ (Paul laughs) and that’s how I went into work everyday. And about halfway through the movie, Woody said I was good. For a young actor who had been battling, you know, rejection and, uh, are you going to make it? What’s it – you know, is this really worth it? It’s nine years. Terms of Endearment, yeah, but is it two or three movies and done? You know, you just don’t – the business is so, uh, here-today-gone-tomorrow. And Woody said I was good. And so, I remember going home and saying to my wife, um, ‘I think I’m going to be able to make a living in this business.’ And it wasn’t ‘I’m going to be a star.’ It wasn’t ‘I’m a genius.’ It was ‘If Woody Allen thinks I’m good, I think I’m going to be able to make a living in this business because if I’m good enough for Woody, I’m good enough for anybody.’ And that was a turning point. So years later, when it was time to name the theater, we named it the Purple Rose Theater Company.
My two final questions. What is the best part about being Jeff Daniels?
So many people go through life having to do things they don’t want to do, or they have a job that they wish they’d never taken but there’s security in it. And I think the satisfaction that I’ve had – I’m going way back to that director, Marshall W. Mason from Circle Rep, when he said ‘You know what you should do with your life, don’t you?’ What he didn’t say? It’s going to be hard. You’re only one who believes in you and you’re going to have to find people along the way. The fact that, decades later, I pulled that off and that now I’m still living a creative life and doing what I want to do, and that people in the business, whether it’s Broadway or film, TV or music want whatever it is I do – that’s the best part. It’s that I’m still relevant.
My last question. What would like to say in closing to all the people who are listening?
What I told my kids. I tell my kids, ‘Fall in love with tomorrow.’ Don’t worry about today. Don’t worry about the past. Fall in love with tomorrow. What are you doing tomorrow? That’s the creative process. That’s the creative life right there, is working on that next thing. Yeah. Fall in love with tomorrow.
Well, Mr. Daniels, it’s a pleasure. Thank you.
TRANSCRIBED BY GAYLE BRAZDA
CURTIS ARMSTRONG is known for his many roles in motion pictures. In additon to being an actor, Armstrong has a strong affinity for the musical stylings of the late great Harry Nilsson. In this interview, Curtis Armstrong talks in great detail about why he likes Harry Nilsson’s music so much as well as his fondness for books. The listener will gain a great appreciation for Armstrong’s candor and passion.
It’s our great pleasure to welcome our special guest. His name is Curtis Armstrong and he’s an actor who has appeared in many movies. He’s also the foremost expert on the late, great Harry Nilsson. It’s with great pleasure that we introduce Curtis Armstrong. Thanks so much for joining us.
Oh, well thank you. My pleasure.
My first question. Who is Curtis Armstrong?
Oh, boy. Um, well, that’s um, that’s, uh, not very hard. Um, he’s, uh, an actor of some 36 years standing and, um, a father and a husband and, um, boy – that’s about it.
Well tell us a little bit about where you were born. What was life like growing up?
I was born in Detroit, Michigan in the, uh, in 1953 and, um, at the time it was, um – I mean, you know, you look back on these things with, you know, I do anyway I suppose, with a bit of, uh, of affection and nostalgia. It was, I had a very good, very good childhood growing up and was, uh – my family was based in Detroit but then my father, who worked for Chrysler Corporation, was transferred to Europe in ’63, uh, and, and so we all went. And I wound up living, until 1967, I lived in Geneva Switzerland. And, uh, then came back in ’67 to Detroit and was there until, really until, uh, I left the academy where I studied acting in the early ‘70s. And, uh, and I had co-founded a theater company there, in Ann Arbor actually, um, towards the end of that time and then moved in ’76 to New York.
And one of your earliest loves was, uh, your, you had a very strong interest in books – Washington Irving and, uh …
Uh, the Sherlock Holmes books.
Tell us a little bit about how you, uh, discovered the books and how you took it to the level of wanting to collect them.
Well, it was a – there were always books in the house, um, in my parents’ house and in, uh, my father’s parents’, my paternal grandparents’ house. There were always books and I think when you’re drawn to them, um – you are drawn to them when you’re surrounded by them all the time. And when we went to Switzerland – I mean, I always loved books and, um, my parents always bought me books. In fact, uh, I was reminded about the fact that when I was about five, uh, still living in suburban Detroit, I, uh – something happened and I decided I was running away from home. And, um, I packed a suitcase and there was nothing in the suitcase but books. No clothes. Nothing. Just books. And uh, because it was – you know, running away from home was fine but I couldn’t imagine myself without my books. And, you know, hauled this enormous suitcase filled with books, you know, all the way down the street, trying to run away from home. So that was sort of rooted in me at a very early age, a love of books. I didn’t, ultimately, run away from home obviously, but (laughs) – somebody driving by recognized me and picked me up and brought me home again. Um, but then being in Switzerland in the ‘60s, in the early ‘60s, there was very little, uh, as far as culture to do – pop culture certainly. Um, there was a lot of music and I got a very early dose of, uh, loving – particularly English – uh,rock and roll from that period because it was everywhere. Um, but again, you know, you couldn’t go to see movies. We were too young to see most movies except for Disney movies and things. They were very strict about that there. And so books became, along with music, became a refuge. And, um, as far as the collecting of them, I guess that was something that just is, was a part of my DNA. I, I don’t know where it came from exactly. Um, maybe it, maybe it had to do with moving around a lot, uh, which seems like counterintuitive because if you’re moving around you don’t acquire things. But I guess it was maybe a, uh, a desire – I see it in my own daughter, actually. She has a similar thing of when you become involved and interested in something, you tend to dive into it deeply. The, uh, collecting then, you know, once I became able to actually buy books and collect them, that became, uh, an interest.
You said a second ago about you had a DNA kind of to dive into something and you’re known as a, uh, somewhat of an expert on Harry Nilsson.
And I wanted to ask you, how did you first come to listen to, uh, Harry
Oh, gosh, uh, I knew, I knew his music from the early – I mean late ‘60s, actually – but, like a lot of people, had no idea he was the same person doing all of these different types of music. Uh, he was very much a chameleon. Uh, with Nilsson, you know, he was coming out with songs then, hit records then and I, I liked all of them but they all – it didn’t sound like it was the same person. It was amazing to me. And then, you know, gradually I figured out by about 1972 or so, um, who he was and it just started – you know, it’s just one of those connections that you have that are, that are really kind of impossible to explain logically. It’s just a connection. You feel like – not that you know the person but that you have sort of an intuitive grasp of who that is. And, uh, I became really interested in him and listened to all of his music. And he played on a lot of other albums. And a lot of other people like the Beatles, for example, who adored him, um, were fans of his and, you know, that was interesting to me. And you know, I just, uh, I became interested in him. And so, by the ‘70s I was sort of casually collecting a lot of material about his life and – you know, articles when I could find them, and that kind of thing – and, uh, and then by the time he died in the, uh, early ‘90s, uh, he was, uh, you know, I had this massive archive of information on Harry Nilsson. And then when – I was trying to get a documentary together and I was in touch with RCA in New York – and when they found out who I was, they asked me to co-produce the re-releases of Harry’s albums, which I did eventually, um, doing liner notes and picking out bonus tracks and that kind of thing. I never met him. Uh, apart from a letter that I – I wrote him a fan letter in ‘76 which he, which he, uh, answered – very generously. Uh, aside from that, there was no actual personal connection between me and Harry Nilsson. It was just a, it was just, uh, a real affinity for his music.
So tell us, how did Harry Nilsson begin in music?
Well, he started, uh, he started as a songwriter, you know, sort of a hack songwriter, in Hollywood. He was, he was doing demos for people. He worked with Phil Spector for a while. Um, he worked, you know, basically doing any sort of job but he was writing – he was actually working in a bank at the time – and, uh, he was writing songs which were getting put out there, and doing some recording, um, and, but totally under the radar. No one was really aware of him at the time. And then, um, he went to, uh, he was ultimately brought into RCA and given a recording deal. This is the very short version of it. Um, his album, Pandemonium Shadow Show, which was released in 1967, uh, post-Pepper, and, uh, and it – the Beatles were, um, instantly attracted to it and talked about it a lot in interviews. And then by 1968 the Beatles did their big, uh, press conference in New York about the formation of Apple, and they were asked about who their favorite American artist was and they said Nilsson. And then, what their favorite American group was and they said Nilsson because he was sort of famous for doing multiple – he had a fantastic multi-octave voice – and doing a lot of, um, of, uh, overdubbing so he sounded like a group. To a lot of people, he sounded like the Beatles. And, um, that was the beginning of it and he had, he had an active recording career up until 1978. And after that, he did some movie and TV work. And, and then, um, you know, was in retirement – a kind of retirement, until his death.
Do you have a favorite record of Harry’s or an album that you think is more important than the others?
I don’t think I have one that’s more important than the others. I’ve got, I’ve got several that I like a lot that are favorites of mine. Uh, Aerial Ballet for the early albums is marvelous. Um, I have a real affinity for Son of Schmilsson which was his second sort of rock and roll album. Uh, and uh, I also like Sandman which is one of the later ones. And I like, uh, Knnillssonn – it’s actually pronounced ‘Nilsson’ – but, uh, it was the last American album that he did in 1977. I love all of those.
And do you have a favorite song, or could you pick a favorite one out of all of the ones he’s recorded?
Oh, I, I can’t do a favorite song. I mean, there, there are so many that I really like. I, I couldn’t even – I can’t even pick a favorite album, you know. I had to pick four albums.
(Laughs) I tell you, the cover that he did of Over the Rainbow – that, I think that …
… and that song’s been covered so many times but I believe that his was the finest.
Well, it’s a great one. It really is. And that whole session was a kind of amazing one-off, which he did periodically. You know, he did an album only of Randy Newman songs, which is also brilliant. And, of course, The Point! which a lot of people know, uh, was a one-off. And then Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night, which is the one you’re thinking of, uh, which he did with, um, with, uh, Gordon Jenkins, the great arranger-conductor. And yeah, I love, I love those recordings. I really do. But I mean I’m, I’m, I’m an unabashed, um, un-apologetic, uh, fan of his music and, and always have been.
According to a past interview you did, you said that you’ve approached your love of Harry Nilsson from a faux scholarly perspective. What did you mean by that?
I think it’s because I, I – my interests are primarily literary so I tend to look at things from that kind of perspective and Harry’s lyrics sort of – not lyrics so much, exclusively, but Harry’s body of work plus his life really lends themselves to that kind of a study. Um, it’s almost as if – well, when I wrote in that letter in ’76 it was because I wanted to propose writing a biography of him. Um, the idea at that point of a documentary had never crossed my mind but I was interested in writing a biography because that’s how I tended to see things that interested me. You know, I might love the Sherlock Holmes stories or the Woodhouse books or, uh, Irving but, in addition to loving those books, I’m interested in what – how people analyze those people and their work. And that was sort of the way that I wanted to approach Harry because that was the way I felt and it’s the way I have always approached subjects that interest me. Um, so that was, that was why I was probably saying that. I don’t remember saying that but that’s probably what I meant – was, uh, a subject that interests me I wind up delving into very deeply. And that’s why I said earlier that I see the same thing in my daughter now because – and of course she has the internet which I did not have (laughs). Um, so now, there’s a ton of stuff about Nilsson on the internet which was, you know, wasn’t there ten years ago. Um, and so my daughter, when she gets interested in a band, you know she’s got hours worth of, you know, stuff that she can find and that’s what she ends up doing. She’s exactly the same as me in that regard. You know, she goes from one band to another because of connections. And I guess that’s the thing with Nilsson for me is I always found interesting connections between Nilsson, other types of music, other musicians, session players – that whole thing – and that interested me.
Yeah, that’s, that’s very similar to the way I approach subjects and it is very fascinating to see all the connections in music.
Oh, yeah. It goes on and on.
Absolutely. So, so tell me, how many concerts of Harry Nilsson did you attend?
None, because there were none.
He never performed live.
Really? I did not know that.
That was, you know, another thing about him that was sort of interesting for some people was the idea that he was somebody who produced all theses albums. But that’s why I say post- Pepper, when it comes to the first album, the idea that the Beatles had which was, you know, we don’t have to necessarily perform live anymore. We’ll use the studio as a instrument and explore the studio indefinitely, that kind of thing which is – it’s ideal and not really practical at all in the long run. That was sort of the way Harry was. His was more out of a, of a, I think, a pretty deep, unexpressed stage fright, um, that kept him from performing live, except for one time. The only time that I’m aware of that he performed live in front of an audience was in Las Vegas. In 1992 he made a guest appearance with Ringo Starr and the All-Starr Band at Caesar’s Palace. They were on tour – the All-Starrs were – and he came on unannounced and, uh, sang, uh, Without You, the big Badfinger hit that he had, his biggest selling, I guess, hit. They had worked it up as a surprise. And, to my knowledge, except for, you know, just, you know, parties and things like that. Those – that is the only time he performed live in front of an audience. He did a lot of TV performances but only in situations where he could control what was going on, which meant that it had to be taped ahead of time.
Very interesting. So tell us, is there anything on the horizons with, uh, with you, Curtis?
Well, yeah, I mean I’m, I’m working on various things all the time, yeah. I just finished a movie in, uh, Louisiana, uh, called Fly Paper, uh, with Patrick Dempsey and Tim Blake Nelson, Ashley Judd and Jeffrey Tambor. That’s, um, only just finished. Um, there are a couple of movies, uh, that are coming out. One is, uh, called High School which comes out next month, I think, and, um, that’s, uh, Michael Chiklis and Adrien Brody are in that. And, um, I’m, of course, I’m doing a regular gig on American Dad as a voice, as well as two other animated series which are not on yet. They won’t be on until next year but we’ve been recording them all summer. Uh, so you know, there are odds and ends, different things. Um, just, uh, the usual stuff.
This may be hard question to answer but of all the movies and all of the television shows that you’ve appeared in, is there one that is more meaningful to you?
No (pause), I can say, honestly, no. I mean, I – there is, I, uh, you know, ‘meaningful’? It’s a job, you know? I mean, I, there are jobs, there are movies that I like more than others. There are terrible movies that I don’t even want to think about (laughs). Um, you know, but it’s – as someone who has been doing it for decades it’s impossible to say there is one thing stands out more than any other. Uh, I did a movie that came out this year, actually. It went straight to DVD. Everyone missed it, um, but it was a movie that I really loved, called Route 30.
Yeah. And it’s written and directed by John Putch, and it’s got Dana Delany in it and Robert Romanus and, uh, David DeLuise and, uh, Kevin Rahm. It’s a wonderful, wonderful movie. I absolutely love the movie. And, um, uh, it’s a very small sort of rural, uh, comedy in three parts. And we’re actually starting in December, um – I mean the movie itself is done in three parts but, in addition to that, John Putch is doing three movies over a period, over the period of, of the next few years. So, this was actually made two years ago, came out in January, I think, of this year. Now, in December we go back to Pennsylvania – that’s where it takes place, in south-central Pennsylvania – we’ll go back in December and shoot the second movie. And then after that movie comes out, then we’ll do the third. And they’re probably all going to wind up just going to, to uh, straight to DVD. But, um, but Route 30 for me was the most pure enjoyment I’ve had in a long time. And it’s, it isn’t even that I’m that crazy about my performance in it but I love the movie deeply.
Wow. Well, I look forward to seeing that.
So, you know a second ago you were, when you were talking about Harry Nilsson, you were mentioning that you had written that letter to him about a biography. Would you ever still consider that?
No, no. I, I mean, I had a –I don’t even know what I was thinking, really. I mean, I had no business even suggesting such a thing. I, I mean I write but I’m not a, I’m not a, a biographer. And, you know, a biographer is – I mean, for, for someone to do it properly, um, it’s, you know, it’s something that really needs to be approached by people who know what they’re doing. I had this, this, um, this definite desire – really a passion – over the years, to expose as much of Harry’s music as possible, uh, to people. And, at the time, I guess it seemed like that would be a way of doing it. And even by that time, in ’76, he was beginning to – his star, such as it was, was beginning to fade. And so I thought that, you know, this would be a way of, you know, giving back and at the same time, uh, you know, exposing his music and, and who he is to people. So that was the way I approached it but, in retrospect, I think about it and I, you know, I’ve got this, I still have this massive – and I did all of these interviews with session people that he worked with for, you know, for years. You know, I’ve got all of these taped interviews that I did with Klaus Voormann and Van Dyke Parks and, uh, Gary Wright and Chris Spedding and Jane Goetz and all these people that – producers that did his albums and all this stuff. I’ve got this massive archive here and I don’t really have anything to do with it, you know, so I’m – I, I don’t know. Eventually I’m going to unload onto somebody but I don’t know who.
Well, that, that actually sounds amazing. Uh, yeah, that sounds, that sounds incredible. I don’t know what to say about that but I – yeah, that’s probably quite a gold mine there with Klaus – wow.
Well, you know it’s there for somebody who wants to use it but at this – and in fact I heard, somebody told me the other day that there’s somebody in, in England who’s been blogging about the fact that he’s writing a book about Harry Nilsson but I don’t know any of the details about that and I’ve never, I’ve never – no one that I know around here has ever heard from him. So I don’t know what his thing is, uh, there, but (sighs), you know, eventually I’ll have to get rid of this stuff.
Well, it’s been a great pleasure speaking with you but I have one final question before we go. Mr. Armstrong, what would you like to say to all the people listening in?
Well, uh, thank you for listening. Um, uh, I hope it wasn’t boring as hell (laughs). Uh, um, I, uh, you know it’s been a pleasure, as always, talking about things that interest me that, that, you know, don’t have that much to do with ‘me’. I, I love talking about books. I love talking about music and, uh, and so it was nice to be able to talk about something that interests me.
TRANSCRIBED BY GAYLE BRAZDA
MARSHALL CHAPMAN is one of the absolute greatest songwriters. I had pursued an interview with her for years, and finally an interview took place in Decatur, Georgia. Her album Big Lonesome was one of the greatest albums released in 2011. The album was a memorial to the great songwriter Tim Krekel
Ladies and gentlemen, it is our pleasure to welcome singer, song-writer, recording artist, spoken-word artist and author, Marshall Chapman.
And now ‘actor’.
And now ‘actress’ – right (laughs). And she’s just released her newest album, Big Lonesome, as well as her second book entitled They Came to Nashville.
It’s a great pleasure.
Thank you. Thanks for having me, Paul.
Who is Marshall Chapman?
What a question. Marshall Chapman is a six-foot tall, skinny white girl from South Carolina who went to Nashville, who loves music, who at age 62 is still out there having, like, the year of her life. Um, I’m having a lot of fun right now. If I had known you could have this much fun at my age I would have relaxed a lot more when I was in my 20s and 30s. But who is Marshall Chapman? You know, I’m probably the last person to ask that. Tim Krekel said it best. Uh, the song we wrote, Sick of Myself, it started as an email from me to Krekel. I just was thinking I really was sick of myself that day. I was thinking if I could be somebody else for a day, maybe two, who would it be? Tim Krekel. I’d like to know what it’s like to be laid back and cool / To play that guitar the way that you do / Like your soul is connected to every string / And the whole room starts swaying when you’re playing that thing. And then two hours later, he emails me back. Well I’m sick of myself. I’d like to be you. Would you trade places with me for a day, maybe two? And you asked the question ‘who is Marshall Chapman?’ and I think Tim Krekel answered it in that song. He said I’d like to know how it feels to be regal and tall / To charm a whole room with that Carolina drawl / To rock with a purpose like ole Jerry Lee / While wearing your soul on your rock and roll sleeves. And if there’s ever a tombstone to mark my passing, those are the words I want to have on it.
Sometimes music says things so well. So from the Marshall Chapman album, Big Lonesome, Sick of Myself, here on the Paul Leslie Hour – the beautiful thing about this album is that the songs, to me, they seem to be very cohesive.
I can relate to all of them. I didn’t know Tim Krekel as well as you do but as someone who knew him, they all seem to go together. So what do you think about the album, Big Lonesome?
Well, I just think it’s, by far, the best album I’ve ever made. And I tell people, you know – first of all, I wasn’t going to make another album. I was really burnt out. I was writing a book. Um, I’m a contributing editor to Garden & Gun magazine – weird name, I know. Um, I have a column with National Arts magazine. So I’ve been writing a lot of prose and that seemed to be a very quiet, contemplative kind of life and I was enjoying it. I was even joking, telling friends of mine that I’ve tried not to write songs because if I write them and they’re good, I’m going to record them. If I record it and it’s good, then my ass is back out on the road. I know how to nip that off in the bud. That was my thinking. And then Tim Krekel was diagnosed with cancer – died within three months of his diagnosis. He was my best friend in music – probably best friend period – and we were very close. And it rocked my world, Paul. And the only thing that seemed to comfort me, going through that experience of Tim’s death, was picking up my guitar. And every time I did, a song poured out. And when I wrote Tim Revisited I just thought I’m doing to do an album and I’m going to make the best album I can possibly make to honor my friend, and that’s what I did.
So let’s play it – Tim Revisited, from Big Lonesome. [song plays] We’re talking to Marshall Chapman. The album starts off with the title song and in the liner notes it says that it was recorded in a Pullman car parked in Union Station?
(Laughs) Correct. I mean, I had a friend named Tommy Spurlock. He’s now down in Austin, Texas but he actually was living in one Pullman car, then right behind it was another Pullman car and they were parked right on a track behind Union Station in Nashville. And he had converted one into living space and the other one into a recording studio. But even though he had the walls padded, when the trains would move in the train yard, you’d have to stop recording because you – it, the noise would bleed through the walls. So it was a real challenge to record there but I think Dave Olney recorded in there with him and also the guy that wrote, um, Wild Thing and Angel in the Morning – Chip, Chip Taylor – I think recorded an album there with Spurlock. He had it briefly and then he kind of just took off for Austin and disappeared. And so, when I decided to do this record, I didn’t have a copy of the, you know, multi-track of that song and I knew I wanted to include it. I had gotten in contact with him and he couldn’t find it. He looked, he couldn’t find it. So I – finally I sent him a check just for his troubles and sometimes money talks (laughs) but, uh, within a week he had sent the ADAT tape of that. We converted it to Pro-tools and the amazing thing was when we were listening to it in the studio, I was – I co-produced this album with Michael Utley, who I love working with. And the reason I chose Michael was because Michael and I co-produced Love Slave, which is probably my favorite studio album until Big Lonesome and now Big Lonesome is my favorite. But anyway, we went in the studio and when we were listening to, uh, converting it to Pro-tools, I didn’t realize Tim’s voice – you know, we were just in the train just goofing off. We had written a song, we were demo-ing a lot of songs, but I liked the way Big Lonesome sounded. And it’s one of my three favorite songs. We’ve written a ton of songs together but there are three that are my favorite that I’ve written with Tim. One is Big Lonesome, one is I Love Everybody, I Love Everything and the other one is Sick of Myself which actually I finished after he died. I mean, he – it was just an email, sort of a love email from me to him and him back to me, and I kind of thought it should be in the shuffle. And then when I decided to make the record, you know, I sat down and put it to music.
Just a moment ago you mentioned Michael Utley who co-produced the album. What’s it like working with him?
Oh, he’s just – well for me it’s just heaven. We work really well together. Mike’s a very positive person and um, and he digs what I do, you know? I mean, I’ve always said happiness is hanging around people who dig you. I don’t purport to be everyone’s cup of tea so, uh, happiness is hanging around people that like you and I like Mike. We were neighbors at the time. He’s since moved to California much, much to my chagrin but he lived right around the block. So I said, you know, I want to do this album to honor Tim. And, of course, we had all been in Buffett’s band together. That’s really when I got to know Tim Krekel. I may be answering one of your subsequent questions but, um, we were in Buffett’s band in 1987 and that’s when I really got close to Tim. He was my favorite person to hang out with, ‘cause with Jimmy, by then, there was a lot of days off.
So you’re hubbing out of some city like Chicago or New Orleans, you know. Jimmy had it down by then. You’d be in, you’d be in some great hotel in New Orleans and you’d hub out and go play Biloxi and you’d go play Houston and you’d play New Orleans and you’d come back to the hotel, with lots of days off in between gigs. So you got time to go to museums and go see movies so we starting hanging. He was just an easy-going guy.
My favorite song on the album is Falling through the Trees.
Ahh, you have good taste.
Yeah, I do (laughs). I pride myself on that.
You do. No, you have depth, man. Thank you. Falling through the Trees – actually, I wrote that when my last album came out, Mellowicious!, which was sort of an experiment and, um, I was working with a guy that was sort of the synthesizer king of Nashville and I learned a lot doing that record. And after doing that record, I was just convinced that this record would be completely organic. Falling through the Trees, when I realized that last record wasn’t going to make it, um, I was just heart-broken because I had invested so much into it. and, uh, I just woke up one night in the middle of the night and wrote that song. And it’s, you know, it’s about the death of a dream. And the same thing, really, is the Cindy Walker song – Going Away Party – so I just thought they were great bookends. They just seemed to flow so well, one into the other. But Falling through the Trees, if there’s one line – you know, I’m sitting there talking about the heartbreak of when dreams die but the line that saves it is I wouldn’t have it any other way. That keeps it from sliding into victimhood …
… and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But it’s cool that you mentioned that because William Gay, the novelist, who’s my favorite writer in America, he listened to the album early on and that was his favorite – Falling through the Trees – and he’s the deepest cat I know.
Well, I think nobody said it better than Todd Snider when he said, uh, ‘The album is sad but not hopeless.’
Yeah, ‘like blood on the tracks.’
Oh, I thought that was a perfect description of this album.
Yeah. Todd is like my brother. I love him.
One of the other songs on the album is a cover of Hank Williams’ I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.
Right. Well, you know I was down in Mexico. Um, Tim and I were supposed to go to Mexico and play a bunch – we had a bunch of gigs booked for that summer and he died June, you know, it was June 24th or June 26th of 2009 – and we were supposed to go to Mexico and play some gigs. I have a benefactor in Mexico that flies me and my husband down there and puts us up in a house with, like, a cook, maid service, pool – all that. And it’s on a mountain overlooking of San Miguel, which – San Miguel is on a high mountain plain at 10,000 feet. And people think ‘You’re going to Mexico in July?’ You wear a sweater at night. It is so fabulous. It’s so magical and it’s always been a magnet, that town, for poets and dreamers. It’s where – Jack Kerouac used to hang out down there. In fact, Neal Cassady, that’s where he died, in San Miguel. He got hit by a train down there. It still is a real magnet but – help me keep on track, OK?
(Laughs) Oh, yeah.
But anyway, so I got down there. Tim, the promoter, my benefactor/promoter – when Tim died, we had a plane ticket for him and Debbie to fly down there with us – he said ‘I can understand if you wouldn’t want to come down tonight.’ I said ‘I need to come to Mexico. I’m coming.’ So I wrote that song, Down to Mexico, on the plane flying down there. And when I got down there I played a benefit and then I played a private party at this guy’s house and a benefit called ‘Feed the Hungry’ or ‘Feed the Children’ – yeah – and Tim was supposed to play it with me and I played it by myself. But, um, after the second gig, this expatriate from Mississippi – and there’s a song in there called Mississippi Man in Mexico that was also written, I wrote that on the plane flying home – but we went out to this rancho outside of San Miguel, Rancho Jaguar. And we get there and it’s in this field but this guy grows, he cultivates cacti, cactuses, that he, you know, ships all over the world. And he, uh, he’s from Mississippi. He’s also a great cook and he had dug all these pits that he had mesquite logs burning in them, and when we got there they were hot coals. And he had all these doves he had shot that he had wrapped with bacon and he was roasting them over those mesquite logs, and he just prepared this feast for us. And it was just one of those nights – you know, there’s no night pollution down there. We’re out in the country. You can see all the stars and the moon was full. And I leaned back after that meal and this one little single cloud in the sky moved across the moon and it turned purple. And I thought about Hank Williams. And in that moment I wanted a guitar to materialize in my hands because I wanted to sing that verse in I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, ‘the moon just went behind the cloud to hide its face and cry’. And I was thinking about that song because I used to sing it. I used to sing all these songs. I used to know about 350 songs by heart before I started writing my own songs. You know, I would play in lounges and sing these songs and I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry was one of them. But ever since I started writing songs, I quit singing them. And so, that night I’m at my benefactor’s house with his teenage son, Mark, and I started – there was a guitar there and I just started singing all these songs I used to sing, just to see if I could still remember them, before I started writing songs. Songs like Stay All Night, Stay a Little Longer, Bob Wills. Songs like Bye Bye Love, the Everly Brothers. Songs like, uh, Don’t Be Cruel, Elvis Presley. Songs like Every Day by Buddy Holly. From Four Until Late by Robert Johnson. To Be Alone with You by Bob Dylan. Uh, all these songs that I just love. And I couldn’t remember the words to I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry so his son downloaded them off the internet. And for the next few nights – we were staying in this house that had this big courtyard and it had great echo in it, you know, like natural echo? Like Sun Records – and I’d get up, because I had my guitar with me, and I’d sing I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry in there and it just sounded so great and it was exactly how I felt because my friend had just died. So I just knew, you know, when I wrote Mississippi Man in Mexico, I knew that song was going to come right after it and it just seemed so – they just, they sounded so good together.
You nailed it.
Yeah. You know, I’ve had a lot of people tell me, you know, and I put that augmented chord in there and I don’t think anybody – I know Hank didn’t have it in there but there’s been probably 300 people record that song but I don’t think – and I think BJ Thomas’s version was pretty good but I’ve had a lot of people tell me that this version is their favorite. Somebody said it’s their favorite along with BJ Thomas’s. But, uh, I think, uh, when we recorded this, man, it felt so good. I felt that Hank was probably smiling.
Yeah. I felt like we did it justice. And I do feel like that song has the most beautiful quatrain ever written in a song which is The silence of a fallen star / Lights up a purple sky / And as I wonder where you are / I’m so lonesome I could cry. I mean, it doesn’t get any better than that. I probably answered three or four of your questions.
No – great answer. Great story.
Alright. What’cha got?
There is a book that you have and it’s called They Came to Nashville.
It’s a collection of interviews. One of the chapters I thought was very entertaining. It’s the Willie Nelson chapter (Marshall laughs) and you’ve got a track on the album called –
Don’t give it away! Well, it’s interesting you bring that up. The new CD and the new book were released on the same day but, unlike my first book when we released a companion CD, this new CD was about Tim Krekel. But there is one connection to the book and it’s what you mentioned. It’s riding with Willie. I spent three days on Willie Nelson’s bus trying to interview him for the book and we won’t give away what happens but, you know, I write an intro for each chapter. Each chapter is a songwriter I’ve known. Each chapter I write an intro. Some of the intros are a paragraph long, a half page long. Well, the Willie Nelson chapter, my intro is 46 pages long. And you know, some of the critics have described it as up there with Hunter Thompson as far as rock and roll journalism because, man, I was out there. I did not sleep one minute while I was on the bus. I was literally hallucinating when we pulled up to the Beaumont Holiday Inn. And when we did, as often happens when I’m in a state like that, these words starting coming and they were pretty cosmic, more cosmic than I usually write. You know, When everything is swirling around out of control / And everybody’s down to their very soul / Dancing to the rhythm of the universal whole – I don’t think I would normally write a lyric like that unless I’d been on Willie Nelson’s bus for three days, because let me tell you something. You don’t have to partake, you just breathe, OK? It’s there. So I was probably out there in my mind a little bit when I wrote that. But I just wrote it as two verses and kind of a chorus. I thought it was a poem. I wasn’t even sure it was a song. And then exactly a year later almost to the date, when I decided I was going to make a record to honor Tim Krekel, I was sitting at my desk and ‘I thought I need to look at those lyrics.’ And I finished the song, writing two more verses about what happened on Willie’s bus after the Beaumont show, which is – I don’t know about you but if I was 75 years old and been touring for three weeks playing one-nighters, and just played a 2½ hour show, and signed autographs and done everything, I would go crash in the back of my bus. I would not do what Willie did which was he went back, took a shower, changed into a size XXX Snoop Dog black T-shirt and came out in black socks with his guitar and walked to the front of the bus and sat down with him and his sister Bobbie, who plays piano in his band. And he said ‘Somebody get a Casio.’ And they got a little Casio and put it across my lap and hers. And by then, we were going along a bumpy stretch of Interstate 10 near Houston and I’m trying to hold it still. And she and Willie proceeded to play for about 2 ½ hours, like from 2:00 to 4:30 in the morning.
They were playing instrumental songs that they used to play, trying to see if they still knew them. Um, a lot of Django Reinhardt, he played Nuage, uh – it was just magical. And so, when I came to finish riding with Willie, sitting at my desk a year later, that scene of him – of him and Bobbie playing those songs – played a big part in that last verse.
The album closes out with I Love Everybody. This is a live cut and it was recorded at a music club and bowling alley.
Yeah. Music club/bowling alley. The Vernon, the great Vernon in Louisville, KY. Yeah, Tim had first told me about that place. He said ‘God, you gotta come here and play. It’s this great new club. It’s in the basement of a bowling alley.’ Of course, when I was playing it that night, that recording was – they hadn’t quite finished renovating the club so the ball returns for the bowling alley which was upstairs were going right over your head. And you could not only see the bowling balls you could hear them, so it was pretty rock and roll. You know, when it finished the record, the last song I had was – I thought it was a studio album, all new stuff recorded in the studio. And then I remembered Waylon Jennings had that album, Dream of My Dreams, which was a great studio album – which I think probably was his finest record – and he put that live cut, Bob Wills Is Still the King, that he had written on the bus and played in Austin that night. And I thought ‘You know, that’s kind of cool, having a live cut at the end of a record.’ And for some reason, you know, it’s kind of cosmic, too, with Tim – the fact that this was to honor him and that he had died – to end it with a live cut. It’s almost like the whole album is sort of cathartic and just goes through the whole process of coming to terms with his death and then ending it with something live. That just seems so appropriate. I don’t think I was even thinking about it as logically as I’m expressing it to you now. So that’s what I decided to do. But when we first finished it – we had played the Belgian Rhythm and Blues Festival. Tim came and it was like – I had a band called the Love Slaves. It had two lead guitar players. One of them couldn’t go so I took Tim Belgium and we played the Belgian Rhythm and Blues Festival. And there’s a great track that the Belgian radio has recorded but it wasn’t 24-track. They were kind of mixing it in their mobile unit as we went along. And so I had that on the album. And then I called Debbie because I wanted her to hear the album. And Tim was playing harmonic on that track. And she and her sister were driving from Florida back to Louisville and they were just 10 miles out of Nashville when I called her and I said ‘Hey, let’s meet for lunch.’ And we did she said ‘You know, there’s a live track of the last time you and Tim really did play together. You know, when the band came up and joined you, like write about in Tim Revisited. I said ‘You are kidding.’ And she said ‘No. they got a 24-track.’ So that night they overnighted and I called Utley and we went back in the studio. That was an expensive piece of information, I might add ‘cause I opened up the whole – I thought I was through with the album. We went back in and there was one little train-wreck place that we cleaned up and, uh, because it was 24-track, but that’s pretty much – I thought it was so cool to have the actual last time I played with Tim Krekel close out this album.
Amazing. Real quick last question.
I’m going to ask you the same thing I asked Tim before we ended our interview. This interview will be heard by people from all over the place …
… and now read. What do you want to say to all the people?
Well, if you don’t know about Tim Krekel, he’s a great singer-songwriter, band leader, that worked out of Louisville, KY. A little bit more R&B than country but he could play it all. And if you don’t know his music, I recommend you start with the two last CDs. It’s almost like part of him knew he wasn’t going to be with us much longer because, you know, at an age when most people are phoning it in, Tim was upping the ante. I couldn’t believe the albums he was making, like Angel Share. I mean, come on. So go out right now. Go to Amazon and order World Keep Turning and Soul Season. It’s a very ‘stacks- kind of 60s-they buried Wilson Picket in my backyard’. You’ll be glad you did. That’s what I got to say.
Thank you so much Marshall Chapman.
Oh, thank you, Paul.
TRANSCRIBED BY GAYLE BRAZDA