It's not often that a musician serenades an interviewer over the phone, but these were unusual circumstances.
Singer-songwriter (and now producer) Louise Goffin, about a week away from releasing Songs From the Mine, was at home in Los Angeles cheerily singing an 81-year-old classic that's nowhere to be found on her first album in six years.
Without your love
It's a honky tonk parade
Without your love
It's a melody played in a penny arcade
That bonding experience was further reinforced when Louise later visited her dad, who had divorced her mother, Carole King, in 1968.
"I remember going to his house once and saying, 'I love that song' ... and he'd just break out in song with me. And we'd sing the whole thing together," Louise tenderly recalled in July, 18 days after her father died on June 19 at age 75.
"He just so loved ... he loved good writing. And it was so fun to see him singing, and singing that song with him smiling, and he knew every single syllable of the lyric."
Knowing most of the words herself, Goffin (left) was happy to share that memory of her father, whose captivating lyrics combined with King's beautiful melodies to create so many magical pop and rock tunes in the '60s that landed them in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Their songs turned into gold records, and they also made two golden girls together.
While younger sister Sherry focused more on the business side, and eventually became King's manager, Louise shared her parents' joy of making music. As a 6-year-old, she got easy to follow instructions from a John Thompson piano guide that she still owns. Even before that, Louise was shown where to place her little fingers on the keys by her mother's mother.
The urge to play other instruments and write music soon followed, and by the time King moved to L.A. with her daughters, Goffin said, "I started making up songs."
Born in the Sheepshead Bay area of Brooklyn, this child of the '60s sounds like she still enjoys the creative process, with life experiences bringing confidence and wisdom to the songwriting craft that were lacking when she released her first record, Kid Blue, in 1979.
"I struggled for years with lyric writing," she said. "When you're really young, you don't have much to write about because you haven't had anything happen to you. My first record was about high school. (laughs) 'Jimmy and the Tough Kids.' ...
"I worked really hard at it. And now I just ... it just flows. I see things, I write them and I have way more ease with lyrics than I ever had."
After setting aside her career to have two children of her own, Goffin is back with a record of bittersweet treats and shimmering, simmering summertime sunshine.
Songs From the Mine, out July 15 on her own Majority of One Records, includes feel-good tracks like "Follow My Heart" and "We Belong Together," a number of songwriting collaborations with people Goffin met on visits to Nashville and the Steel Bridge Songfest in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, and guest appearances by Alice Cooper and Johnny Depp.
So how does luring two pop-culture phenoms into your studio happen?
All the personable Goffin needed was a proper introduction at The Village recording studios in L.A. by Bob Ezrin, a producer she first met in her Elektra/Asylum days, to get in a room with Cooper and Depp and persuade them to lend backup vocals and handclaps to "Watching the Sky Turn Blue."
Working in what was once "literally a closet" upstairs in the same building where Cooper and his band, including Depp on drums, were recording, the persistent Goffin managed to run into Ezrin two days after getting shut down by a heavy security presence there to maintain Depp's privacy.
When Ezrin said, "Whatever you need, come downstairs, we got it," she took him up on his offer. After borrowing a Les Paul from Cooper guitarist Tommy Henricksen, Goffin said she was ready for the rock stars.
"And (Ezrin) just put it all on me," she said. "He's like, 'Well, you got to go talk to them yourself.' So I did. I was just fearless. I mean, I was terrified. If you don't ask, you don't get."
No newcomer to celebrity encounters after growing up in a house with showbiz parents, Goffin admits she still gets star struck.
"I turn into a teenager sometimes. I was that way with Johnny Depp. I act cool. I called my 11-year-old and said, 'Oh my God, you won't believe who's at the studio!' He's like, 'Keep him there. Don't let him leave.' Johnny was very sweet. He let him take a picture."
Growing up, most of Goffin's idols existed on vinyl, including David Bowie, Joni Mitchell and Simon and Garfunkel.
"That's why it was so impactful that I was in a room with Alice Cooper because I had those records as a teenager," she said. "I think I sent away and paid a dollar for some record club to own Muscle of Love."
As a youngster, she was overwhelmed by meeting Neil Young when King and her girls lived in Malibu near Broad Beach Road. Interacting with the rich, powerful and famous remains a thrilling -- and sometimes stressful -- experience, even as recently as at her father's memorial.
"I was completely like gobsmacked, as they say in England," Goffin said of introducing herself to Paul Simon, whose "Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War" is one of her favorite songs. "I walked up to him and I said, 'I feel a bit intimidated. ... I feel like I'm standing here with icons.'
"He's like, 'Don't be ridiculous. There is no such thing as an icon. It's the most completely made up thing ever, and there's nothing that messes your sense of reality up more than when people think you're great. It's a meaningless word,' he said. And I felt really embarrassed."
While her parents might be partly responsible for Goffin's claim to fame, she got an early introduction to independence when she was 17, living by herself in Laurel Canyon while finishing her senior year of high school.
"I was totally on my own," she said. "At the time, I didn't really think much about it. But as a parent today, I'm going, 'Are you serious?' "
Goffin said she refused to move with her mother and sister "to the middle of nowhere with no running water and no electricity to live in a cabin" in Idaho.
"'Well, you can take care of yourself. I trust you. And your dad's in town,' " Goffin recalled King telling her. "And my dad was not parental at the time. I was parenting him practically. So it was crazy. I had all this responsibility and adulthood on my shoulders when I was a kid."
Asked if she received career advice from her parents, Goffin said, "Honestly, they couldn't really help too much."
Getting the name and number of King's lawyer from her mother did encourage Goffin to pursue a record deal, but a determined teenager still wanted to make it on her own.
"And the record company almost became a parental replacement for me, which was not so great," she said. "When people are making money from you and you're looking at them for guidance, it's not a good combination."
Regarding Gerry Goffin's role in her musical upbringing, Goffin said, "My dad never discouraged me. I basically grew up with my mother. I saw my dad on a regular basis. And I had a good relationship with my dad.
"Definitely complex because he was a person with mood swings. It wouldn't so much manifest as anything other than being a kid seeing my father put himself through a hard time. It wasn't like he wasn't there for me, it was just that it really upset me when he would be depressed. I'd always want to make him feel better."
Goffin said by the age of 12, she was "dead-set on being her (mother's) job description. You know, singer-songwriter."
If that was the last thing King wanted for her child, Goffin understands why today.
"She seemed to want to dissuade me from doing it and I think it was more from if you make it like she did or like Bob Dylan did or like anyone does, you're lucky," Goffin said. "And you don't want your kids to go through doing that job and not making it."
By the mid-'80s, Goffin moved to London, setting up a little studio in her one-bedroom flat, and learned how "records work" and to play a number of instruments during her 10-year stay. The new album, where she plays piano, organ, guitars, ukulele, a snare drum and more, is an example of her successful self-education.
It was at the Salute to the American Songwriter concert in 1988 that King brought her daughter onstage during a medley of the songwriting dream team's hits that included "Don't Bring Me Down," "Pleasant Valley Sunday," "One Fine Day" and
"(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman":
"I was inspired to play guitar by another Gerry Goffin and Carole King collaboration: Louise Goffin."
Goffin didn't recall the introduction, but offered, "That sounds like something she'd say. ... I think I turned her on to a lot of music when I was a teenager."
Playing Joe Walsh's "Rocky Mountain Way" on the stereo at home, Goffin was convinced that King's "Jazzman" off 1974's Wrap Around Joy might have been indirectly influenced by that record released in 1973.
"Teenagers are great for turning you on to new stuff 'cause they're so into music," added Goffin, who at the age of 11 or 12 was so attracted to her dad's 12-string guitar that she hurt her fingers trying to play it. "And she's not really ... her guitar playing is really rough. She's very much a piano player and I remember James Taylor once lending her a guitar that she ruined because she played it so hard."
Music became secondary after the arrival of Goffin's two sons ("that's a lot of heavy lifting"). But as they got older (now 14 and 11), she slowly began to get involved in other projects.
After producing and cowriting songs for King's 2011 A Holiday Carole that earned a Grammy nomination, Goffin decided to take on that dual role at Village on a more permanent basis.
Musicians performing with Louise Goffin include (from left)
trombonist-keyboardist Mike Thompson, drummer Butch Norton and
bassist Bob Glaub.
Some of the new album's songs were written and demoed in 2012 ("Follow My Heart" includes the original vocals), and Goffin tested the material on some Hotel Cafe audiences with a backing band that included keyboardist Lee Curreri, bassist Bob Glaub and special guest Billy Harvey, an Austin guitarist recommended by her songwriting friend David Baerwald.
"To actually be out there and have to sing and play for a whole set was really jumping into the fire in a major way for me," Goffin said. "Especially being out of the swing of it with kids. ...
"None of those musicians work for what I could pay them at the Hotel Cafe. I mean I had to go in my own pocket to even make sure they could cover their gas and parking. Because I felt so guilty. You can't give Bob Glaub 20 bucks. So I'd give him 40 and I'd still feel guilty."
The live band became a short-lived duo with Goffin and Harvey called A Fine Surprise.
"It was hard to get people to come from different parts of the U.S. for a duo, for a band name that no one has heard before," Goffin said. "We were just making it up as we went along. But we just had this killer songwriting and singing chemistry together."
The connection remains, though, and Harvey is featured prominently on the album, along with Glaub, drummer Butch Norton and keyboardist Patrick Warren.
"I realize when you use people at the top of their game for a team, life is so easy," Goffin said. "You don't have to reinvent the wheel every single time you do something. I was better than I thought at taking responsibility for a record from beginning to end."
The album might not have been made if it wasn't for the 2014 MusiCares Person of the Year gala in January that honored King, who asked her daughter to perform alongside the offspring of another musical, ahem, icon. This one goes by the name of Bob.
"You know that might be a nepotism opportunity perceived by others like, 'Well, if your mother wasn't Carole King, would she have asked you to do that gig?' " Goffin said. "But really, there wasn't that much of it. Because when I went to England in the '80s and got a record deal, everyone knew who she was, but she wasn't making lots of records then and she didn't have a record deal at that point."
The idea to record Songs From the Mine was finalized in late 2013, when an acquaintance told Goffin, "It behooves you to have some product out" to coincide with the MusiCares event held during Grammy week in front of prominent names in the industry.
So Goffin appeared with Jakob Dylan to sing the Byrds' "Goin' Back," written by King and Gerry Goffin, and the two grown children who are expected by total strangers to live up to the family legacy sat down to compare notes.
Dylan asked Goffin about Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, the Tony nominee currently on Broadway.
"Oh, I haven't seen it yet," Goffin said he told him. "But I think the story is my dad went to the producers and told them every single thing he ever did. And my dad, he's incapable of not being honest. Like he tells all. And they put it all in the play."
Dylan laughed, Goffin recalled, and said, "That's funny. My dad will say anything as long as it's not true."
Not one to take stock in false hopes or urban legends (her parents never worked in the Big Apple's historic Brill Building, she points out), Goffin acknowledged, "I'm not gonna be one of those superstar performers who's gonna get on the Oprah show performing the hit song who's got the big record company behind them like Celine Dion or one of the American Idol winners."
Yet she takes pride in her musical contributions that include five previous solo albums.
She cites "5th of July" and "Bridge of Sighs" as '80s songs that "really hold up lyrically," along with "The Heart is the Last Frontier," one she wrote in the early '90s and continues to perform live but never recorded.
"And I know my father loved all those songs, but he didn't tell me because he was afraid it would go to my head if he told me that he liked them," Goffin said. "So I had to dig it out of his wife at the time. ... I was still chasing approval of daddy at that point."
That was years after an 8-year-old Louise sat at the piano playing Beatles songs and made-up tunes for her father, who recorded them for posterity's sake while filling the role of producer/drill instructor. But she would dutifully obey his order.
"He was tough," Goffin said, laughing at the memory. To illustrate that, her voice transformed into an endearing imitation of his thick Brooklyn accent.
"The tape's rolling. Do it again."
If only the Goffins were together again to share one more verse from "It's Only a Paper Moon":
It's a Barnum and Bailey world
Just as phony as it can be
But it wouldn't be make believe
If you believed in me
Publicity photos by Ruel Lee Photography.
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