GORDON LIGHTFOOT has written some of the greatest songs of all time, including “Sundown” and “If You Could Read My Mind,” among many others. The singer-songwriter gives an in-depth interview here.
Kathie Lee Gifford is best known as a morning television personality, especially her fifteen year run on the famed talk show Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee, which she co-hosted with Regis Philbin. She’s received 11 Daytime Emmy nominations and won her first Daytime Emmy in 2010 as a part of the Today show team.
For many Americans, Kathie Lee Gifford is synonymous with morning entertainment. However, she has a strong musical side…she has recorded several albums of everything from Standards to Christian music and in the early 90s she began working in musical theatre. She is also a lyricist. Kathie Lee Gifford has written songs recorded and performed by other artists as well as herself.
Lori Lieberman is best known for her song “Killing Me Softly” written during her Troubadour days in Los Angeles when she saw the legendary Don McLean in concert. Lori Lieberman was born in California, but raised in Switzerland. She was influenced by Francoise Hardy, Tom Rush, Cat Stevens and other American singer-songwriters. Lori Lieberman went on to attend University in Boston and signed her very first record deal with Capitol Records. Lori Lieberman toured the United States with artists like Randy Newman, Billy Joel, Leonard Cohen, John B. Sebastian and Rick Nelson. Her most recent and fourteenth album is entitled “Bend Like Steel.” The CD features songs Lieberman wrote along with songs others wrote like Paul Simon’s “Cecilia.” Lori Lieberman is a part of the great American songwriting tradition. It is a pleasure to welcome her on The Paul Leslie Hour and to take a look at her music.
We are proud to welcome a guitarist, singer-songwriter and session musician from Southern California. Brian Ray may be most known for his work as the lead and rhythm guitarist and sometime bassist for Paul McCartney, but he has also released two solo albums. “Mondo Magneto” was released in 2006 and most recently in 2010, he has released his sophomore album “This Way Up.”
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
What do you think Shari Belafonte’s greatest talent is?
Ladies and gentlemen, our next guest has been described as a renaissance woman. It’s with great pleasure we welcome Shari Belafonte.
How are you doing?
I’m doing just great. It’s an honor to have you on the line. My first question. Who is Shari Belafonte?
(Laughs) I’ve been trying to ask myself that question for the last 56 years (laughs). Right now, she is the keeper of all dogs. I have six pups. They’re my life. My husband and my six dogs pretty much are what I do. I don’t call myself the second ‘dog whisperer’. I’m a dog wrangler (laughs). But, um, I also, uh work with the Lili Claire foundation which is for children with neurogenetic birth conditions like autism and Williams syndrome and Down syndrome. We just had a huge event in Las Vegas. Let’s see – I have the photo show. I also want to be a director. I’ve written a script. I dance. I read. I watch television. I cry at The Proposal and I’ve seen it 15 times (laughs). So I’m, I think I’m your average, ordinary insane person.
Well, I don’t know about ‘average’. That’s a lot of accomplishments. I think most stories are best from the beginning. What was life like growing up?
Let me see if I can remember that far back. I grew up in New York City, or I should say I was born in New York City – Manhattan. I went to private day school and then when I was 12, I went to boarding school, which was actually my choice. I skipped a couple of grades and went to, went to Mountain School, which no longer exists, but then transferred to the Buxton School in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Then went to Hampshire College. Then I went to Carnegie-Mellon University and got a BFA in Production, in Drama. And really not in front of the camera – I was never supposed to be in front of the camera. I was always supposed to be behind the camera. Uh, when I was four years old my grandmother gave me my first box Brownie camera (laughs) so I’m going way back. You know the ones – it has the little flash bulbs that would blow up and look like a big wad of snot (laughs). Then I got my first Instamatic camera when I was I think 11 and I always wanted to be behind the camera. I spent my entire sophomore, junior and senior year in the darkroom pretty much. Then, as I said, went in to production at Carnegie and when I graduated from Carnegie, about four days later, I married my college sweetheart. We moved to Washington, DC. Then I worked for a bank part-time and then I worked for Public Television, again behind the camera. I was an Assistant Director and Production Assistant and go-fer. Then after two years of being in DC, my husband and I moved out to California to pursue our production dreams and I got discovered. A friend of mine was doing a movie called, uh, I think it was called Hollywood Nights. It was Tony Danza’s first movie. And while I was on the set visiting her, the makeup artist on the set said to me that she thought I was pretty enough that I should be doing commercials and modeling. And I sort of went ‘Phwww’ you know? ‘What are you kidding? I’m a go-fer. I’m a production techie hound.’ And she said ‘You can make a lot of money.’ (Laughs) That was the key word for me. That’s pretty much it. And then I did send out pictures to about 10 different agents. Nina Blanchard was the one that called me right away. I sent them out as my married name – at that time was ‘Harper’ – so she didn’t know that I was Harry Belafonte’s daughter and she signed me up, saying ‘Good Lord, you’re short. You’re old. You’re not black. You’re not white.’ I was 24 at the time so that was pretty old in modeling terms. Uh, she said ‘But I’d like to see if we can get something going.’ The rest is kind of history. I did some go-see’s and got a couple of commercials and Richard Avedon met with me and I, we uh, did a couple of Vogue covers – actually, I think I did four or five Vogue covers with Richard – but he also put me on camera. Way back when, Brooke Shields had the Calvin Klein ads and after she had done them for a couple of years they needed a few of us to take her place, so it was me and Martha Plimpton and Andie MacDowell and a couple of other actresses who – uh, a couple of other models – who did the next wave of Calvin Klein commercials. And from there I was discovered for television. Uh, the producers of Hotel, Aaron Spelling’s producers, saw me in the commercial and had me come in and read for Hotel and then, I guess the rest is history.
I’m going to go out on a limb here. Do you consider yourself an extrovert?
(Laughs) Because I had a non-stop answer to that first question (laughs)?
No, no, that’s not what I meant. I just meant so many things that you’ve done throughout your life have been in the public eye. And sometimes when you people that you would think would be really, really extroverted, they end up not being so much.
I don’t consider myself an extrovert. I would think I’m more introverted but – more of anintrovert – but you know, there’s moments. I think it depends on where the moon is in the sky at that time and how the planets are lining up ‘cause there are moments when I’m off the wall insane and quite vocal about it, and there’s other days where I just want to sort of hide in the cave with the puppies and my husband and not come out for a few days (laughs). I’d have to say I’m right in the middle.
Now, you studied Drama. Do you think that that experience –
I studied Production.
Yeah. Because I don’t want to say I studied Drama because that indicates that I was always focused on being an actress, which I never was. I studied behind the scenes – design and lighting design and set design and construction and writing and producing. That was what I was studying. I took acting classes only because I felt, as a producer, it made sense to understand how all the elements fit together to get the perfect play or the perfect movie. I took a couple of acting classes primarily to understand what actors do, not to become another actor.
When you were becoming a bit more of a public person, out of curiosity, how did your father – and for everyone out there that’s listening, your father the famous singer – how did he feel about you pursuing print work, commercials all those different things?
I think Harry and Marguerite, my mom Marguerite, were both a bit concerned. Harry knew all the pitfalls and the downside of not being chosen, and how rough and how harsh it can be, so I think there was more of an angst on both of their behalves of my probably not making it. Mom was a little more supportive of it and Dad really tried to steer me away from it but, ultimately, I let them know that I understood the entertainment industry, especially having grown up and around it. You know, my parents divorced when I was two. Uh, Harry actually separated from my mom when she was pregnant with me but they divorced when I was two. But every summer, you know, I was on vacation with him and usually he was on tour so I was backstage and, you know, I certainly was – almost the same thing as you saw with little John-John under the desk of John Kennedy in that famous picture – I was sort of lurking in the background, listening, and overhearing all the harsh realities of what the entertainment business certainly had to offer, especially for minorities back then, and I think I was a little bit better prepared for it than they may have wanted to give me credit for. But Mom accepted it right away. As soon as she saw that first magazine cover she was (laughs) you know, taking it all around Washington, DC showing everybody that I was on it. I later came to find out from some friends of my dad that he did the same thing. He didn’t let me know that right away but other people said ‘Are you kidding? Your father carried that Self magazine cover around for weeks (laughs) showing it to everybody.’ And, you know, in a kind of quiet, subtle way he was very proud as well but was, youknow, a little more reluctant to show it because he didn’t want to give me the impression that everything was going to be OK for the rest of my life.
You had a music career as well. There is a 1987 release. You can still get it on vinyl. I got my copy from Germany.
(Laughs) That’s the only place you can get it from, I think.
It’s interesting because I did some digging around on the internet and, apparently, you have a fan base of that album in Germany (Shari laughs). But just tell us a little bit about you taking that leap into music.
It’s funny, I always liked music and I never thought of myself as a singer. I mean, Whitney Houston, now that’s a singer. You know, Natalie Cole – all those people. Those are singers. I’m kind of a stylist. I know that I’m, I am into pitch. I’m all about being pitch-perfect and I’ve always loved music. But I actually was offered this music career because of my popularity on Hotel. Hotel was a very popular show over in Germany. The producers from Metronome, which was the label that my two records are on, contacted me through my agent saying that, you know, if I could carry a note (laughs), carry a tune, they would very much like to do a couple of albums. And it’s funny. I, I was out the same time that David Hasselhoff was releasing his (laughs), launching his big music career. So, um, I loved the idea of doing an album, especially over in Germany because then, if it really was atrocious nobody would hear about it here (laughs). Plus, you had the opportunity of singing and having that little life without me being compared to Harry. Or even if I was compared at least I didn’t understand because I don’t speak German (laughs). So whether or not, uh, they were comparing me and saying ‘Oh my god. She’s certainly nothing like Harry.’ Or if they were like – I’m sure there’s probably a few people out there that liked it. It was fun. It was a lot of fun to go over and have that sort of separate career and not think in terms of having a recording career here in the United States. I actually never thought of that because I knew how difficult it was to have a recording career here. You know, you had to go on – back then, it’s obviously even more difficult nowadays – but back then you had, uh, to go on tour for months to promote an album so that you could increase record sales. I never had anticipated that I would do that kind of thing here, whereas over in Europe at the time, you didn’t have to go on tour. You could do a half-dozen of these shows, sing, you know, on the shows and then, uh, that would do well for record sales there. That’s the way they sold records then. I loved Germany. I went over quite a few times, to either promote the album or to record, and I’ve been in love with the country ever since. It’s a lot of fun. They weren’t my choices of songs – that was the only thing. It’s funny. I had the producers of the second album come along and they had written a song, they had just brought it out of the studio and – you know, just with the rough vocals on it of somebody else’s studio there– and they handed it me and they said ‘What do you think of this song? Do you think you would like to sing this?’ And I listened to the song and I went ‘Oh my god, yes! Absolutely. That’s our first single. I definitely want that on the album. It has to be on the album. That’ll be a great song. That’ll be really, really good.’ And when we submitted it to the producers in Germany they said ‘No, no, no. We don’t see that that’ll ever do any business so we’re not going to let you do that song.’ And I went ‘Wait a second! No, no, I – it’s going to be a big hit. I know it is.’ And they said ‘No. Nope. Sorry.’ So they took it off the album, uh, and it was (sings) Sometimes the sun comes down in June (laughs). So, needless to say, a couple of years later Vanessa Williams got it and made it a huge hit so I was (laughs), I was always a little bummed about that. Another song that I had picked that, uh, had just come out of a – Bernie Taupin had written it – and, uh, I heard it first and wanted it for my album and, of course, I didn’t get that one either. And that was We Built this City on Rock and Roll. I know I can pick songs. I just don’t get to always have them (laughs).
Do you enjoy the process of making a record, of going into the studio – all that stuff?
I really do. I really do enjoy it quite a lot. It’s funny because I, I guess I didn’t do it enough. I still have these moments of thinking ‘Yeah, I’d like to get back in the studio.’ I’m putting together a huge project which will take forever to get done. My sister and family and friends have been saying to me for years, you know ‘You gotta, you gotta finish this. This is like such a cool thing.’ It’s a science fiction story that I started writing and part of it is my voice. I did go into the studio with a, with a friend of mine from years ago and laid down all the tracks but it’s, it’s all voice-over and it’s all story-telling and it was weird, weird music. Nobody really had heard it. A couple of people have heard it and they’ve all gone ‘That’s all your voices?’ (Laughs) It actually scared my husband to hear that I had those many voices coming out of my head, ‘cause you know, I’ve done cartoons so every once in a while you have to come up with these wacky voices. I do love that process. I do remember one moment in the studio in Germany because, as I said before, I’m all about being pitch-perfect, and it was this one day that, uh, I was in the studio and I couldn’t hit a note to save me. I couldn’t understand. I was very frustrated, too, because here I was in Germany and it was, I think it was the third song I was working on and I just couldn’t hit a note to save me and I was starting to cry. And the producer got on my headset and he said (imitates German accent) ‘Shari’ and I went ‘Yes?’ and he said (imitates German accent) ‘I think maybe we should call it a day.’ And I went ‘Oh, no, no, no, no, no! No, no. I can get this. I promise, I can get this.’ And I was just getting very frustrated. And he said (imitates German accent) ‘I have to ask you a very personal question.’ And I said ‘OK.’ And he said (imitates German accent) ‘Are we having our period?’(Laughs) I was blown – I was, oh my god! That’s like – it was such an embarrassing question to have my producer ask me! And I went ‘Well, yes but when …’ and then I started getting a little – you know, you get that PMS thing. You get a little mad, like a little angry, like ‘How dare you think that may be the reason!’ And he went (imitates German accent) ‘Well, thendefinitely we call it a day.’ And I went ‘Now, wait a second. I know I can do this.’ And he said (imitates German accent) ‘No, no, no, no. It is just that there’s a hormonal thing that happens and every once in a while – just the first or second day.’ He said (imitates German accent) ‘I work with many, many, many musical stars.’ And he started listing a list of people, all very quite well-known singers. And he said (imitates German accent) ‘It’s just these two days that sometimes it happens to the best of you.’ He said ‘Trust me. On Wednesday’ – because this was a Monday – he said (imitates German accent) ‘On Wednesday you’ll be fine.’ And sure enough, two days later I was back in the studio and I was fine (laughs). And from that moment on, I’ve always, like, told other people, especially young singers that are starting out. We had a talent contest at this event that I was doing in Las Vegas and there were a couple of girls that just were really off key and at one point I had asked the mothers, you know, ‘Could ‘this’ be happening?’ And they went ‘Well, yes. How did you know?’ (Laughs) I said ‘Well, let me just tell you an important thing to remember.’ So, every once in a while when I’m watching, like, American Idol or you watch some of these things, and the girls are just slightly off key, I’m thinking to myself ‘OK, well I know what time of the month is it for them.’ (laughs)
You know, you have these various photography undertakings that you do. You did the Postcards from Cuba. You also have the one, Italia. Did you get kind of like the idea to do destination places based on the TV show you did, the Travels in Mexico and the Caribbean? How did that happen?
You know, it’s funny because I actually did the Italia show – those are all pictures that I shot on my honeymoon with Sam 20 years ago. Because I had been on camera for a while, I hadn’t picked up my camera in a couple of years. And when Sam and I got married, Sam gave me a brand new camera and he said – ‘cause he knew – he said ‘You know, I’ve seen these pictures all around the place that you’ve shot over the years. How come you don’t shoot anymore?’ And I said ‘You know, who’s had the time?’ So we were getting ready to go on our honeymoon and he said ‘Well here’s a, you know, a little, another little wedding present.’ I had actually – I was talking to Richard Avedon and said, you know ‘I’m getting ready to go off’ and, you know, ‘I haven’t shot in a long time and I’m not a big fan of color. I really like doing black-and-white.’ And Richard was the one that said to me ‘Well, because you’re shooting 35mm’ he said ‘you know there’s a film that Kodak puts out. It’s called recording film.’ He said ‘What’s cool about this film is that you can set the AFA to anything that you want, as opposed to, you know, if you get T-max and it’s 400 or 1600.’ You know, all the films usually have their own ISO or AFA rating on them. He said ‘This one is really kind of cool because, you know, you can set it whatever you want. Just remember to write on the canister when you take it out, you know, what you shot it at so you’ll know what to process it at.’ So I bought quite a few rolls of this film and, oddly enough, it wasn’t a particularly popular film and I’m sure it’s because it was quite pricey. It was about $12.00 a roll back then and you know, when film was $3.00 a roll or $4.00 a roll and this was three times the price. So I used to say either idiots or professionals use this film (laughs) and I think I just was a lucky idiot because I shot a lot of this and, of course, you don’t know what it will look like until you process it. You know, unlike today, everything’s digital so you can look at the back of the camera and see right way if you’ve got a picture or not. And you know, I shot quite a few rolls of these and then I had them all printed into contact sheets. And there were just a few that I had printed up because, again, I got busy with my life. And so now, 20 years later, while I was looking in my attic for some other things, I actually found these negatives. And I was surprised to see that they were still in decent shape because, you know, they weren’t refrigerated, they were up in the, in a plastic drawer in their plastic sleeves. I took them to the one last guy here in L.A. – it’s a photo shop that I use – that really does prints, you know, as opposed to just constantly digitizing everything. I asked him if he could just print up a few of these so I could see what they looked like. And I was really quite surprised and quite excited at how cool they looked ‘cause they looked like old Italian pictures. When I was talking to John and David, who own the Chair and the Maiden Gallery which is where I’ve had a couple of shows now, uh, and they were discussing what my next show was going to be because I had done one of the Mythostories, which is that science fiction thing that I was talking about before. And then, I had gone to Cuba with Dad. Dad actually asked me to come videotape him, to do some home-movie stuff for him that’s going into his movie – he’s doing a documentary about himself right now. So he wanted, because of the fact that it’s, you know, there was a time constraint and budget constraint, he called me on a Thursday and said, you know ‘Bring your video camera and shoot me in Cuba.’ So the pictures that I shot in Cuba were really just – I shot those in a day, the stills, because I was so busy with the video camera shooting Dad that I didn’t really have a lot of time to go around Cuba and shoot. Those two things were part and parcel not really because of the travel series. It was because of other extenuating circumstances. And while I was on the travel series, I did carry my 50-pound camera bag everywhere I went. You’ll see me half the time climbing up … with this backpack on the , schlepping up all of this camera gear because I just always loved taking pictures. But, uh, we used a lot of photos I did for the travel show for the packaging. But I’ve shot head shots for people. I’ve shot bugs and, like, microscopic things. And I’ve shot pictures of the moon and, uh, I’ve got pictures of sun spots. I just love taking pictures. I think I was – as a child, I just remember plopping myself in front of the television and being fascinated by that whole theory of a picture being worth a thousand words. ‘Til this day, I’ve always – I’ve been in love with that moment that’s frozen in time. So even though there’s a lot of stuff that’s around travelling, you know, because everybody shoots nowadays, you know what I mean? It’s kind of easy to shoot great pictures with the digital cameras that we have. You know, it used to be a real art form because you had to shoot a roll and you had to just hope for the best at the end of the processing that you had one or two pictures. But now, you know these digi-cards can take 500, you can get a thousand pictures on a card (laughs) so chances are you’re going to get at least one or two good ones out of the thousand pictures that you’ve taken. Even if they’re not any good you can always erase them and start again. But, you know, back then it was, it was truly anart form. I like to think that I managed to capture some good moments. John and David, like I said who own the gallery, have been real nice and real supportive of my work and, obviously, they’ve given me a couple of shows. I also had a show at the Carnegie Hall Museum. And, uh, my marketing manager is looking to put up a couple of shows here in California, which I have not done yet. I just feel very blessed and very lucky that my grandmother was the one that put that camera in my hands and said ‘OK, now’ you know ‘stop bouncing off the walls and drawing pictures all over the walls and go shoot some pictures.’ (Laughs)
Any chance that you’ll bring the exhibit to Atlanta, Georgia at some point?
I would like to, actually, maybe find out about that. That would be kind of a cool thing. If you want to talk to Raji – you know, who I think you spoke to earlier – tell her where we can take it. I would love to have a photo show there, too. Like I said, there’s so many good photographers out there now, you know. It’s tough to compete in this business. If you think there’s interest there, I would certainly love to find out how, when, where, what, and why – and why not (laughs)?
Let me work on it. Is there anything else on the horizons?
Um, there’s, you know it’s funny, there’s always stuff. My husband has been editing and doing special effects for this movie that we shot. It’s a short that he shot, that he directed. I was actually the camera – the second “B” camera. The first camera operator was Danny Motor, who is also our – he was the DP and camera operator and, uh, I was his B camera. And, uh, it’s a movie that Sam’s been working on for a little time, a little bit of time now so, hopefully, we’ll get that together and be able to take that out to the festivals. I wrote a script about Mary Fields, who was the first black stagecoach driver, that now is just being presented to a couple of people. So, hopefully, you know, somebody will jump on that and say ‘Oooh, yeah, that sounds like a good idea. Let’s, let’s shoot that. Let’s, let’s get that one up and running.’ And I’m about to start writing another screenplay, so – and screenplays can take anywhere from a couple of months to a couple of years (laughs). So that’s pretty much what’s on my plate for now but I’ll always be taking pictures and, hopefully, I’ll always have a door at the Chair and the Maiden Gallery on 19 Christopher Street in New York to display them that. Like I said, John and David have been really kind and I think the show is doing well. People are – seem to be taking to it. They love the images. Even if I never sell another piece, it’s the idea of being able to show them and have people like them. I think that’s, that’s the game plan for me. That and raising my puppies (laughs).
My last question. This broadcast goes out all over the world. What would you like to say to the people listening in?
I think they should all go to Jon Stewart’s Back to Sanity (laughs) march in Washington, DC on October 30th. Unfortunately, I can’t be there but we’re living in some interesting times right now. I think, politically, it’s such a mishegoss and that you want to, you know, reach out and slap some people around (laughs) and say ‘Come on. Get serious. Get it together.’ But I think everybody needs to have faith and just know that things are going to get a lot better. Things, I think, are already starting to get better although it’s hard to believe, sometimes, the way some people talk. My faith is in this president and I’m, I’m hoping that everybody else really sits back – stands back – and takes a good hard look at what we’ve accomplished in this country, and all the wonderful things that we can continue to accomplish. And be honest. Be truthful as opposed to telling some of the bare, bald-faced lies that are out there. I think it’s more important to be honest with ourselves than it is to just try to get ahead for power or for, you know – so I would like that wish for everyone, I think, more than anything else. I think that’s it. Oh – that and to be nice to animals! That’s a big thing for me, too (laughs).
Well spoken. I appreciate the optimism. Thank you so much for doing this interview.
Thank you. Now, your voice sounds a little bit better than it did the last time, right? (Laughs) Uh, Raji told me that you caught my cold, right?
Yeah! You know, I thought about that. You, uh, you had a cold and then I had a cold but I’m glad we had the chance to do this.
Yeah, you called and I sounded more like Harry than I did me (laughs).
You did. You really did.
And then I was – yeah, and then I was waiting for your call and then , uh, Raji called and she said ‘Oh my god! He sounded almost as bad as you did.’ (Laughs). I figured you can just blame everybody – you can blame me your cold, for catching that cold.
It’s been a great pleasure talking to you. I hope you make it to Atlanta at some point. That’d be great.
That would be great for me, too.
Alright. Well, have a wonderful day.
Thanks. And everybody out there, have a wonderful life.
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