The Rides' "Only Teardrops Fall"
For those wondering what the heck Stephen Stills has been doing lately, he's got an extensive box set and a new project co-starring Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Chicago blues-o-phile Barry Goldberg. Here is an exclusive from their album Can't Get Enough.
A Conversation with Marshall Chapman
Mike Ragogna: Marshall, how are you doing lately beyond the new album?
Marshall Chapman: Life is good. It's hard to talk about anything BUT the new album right now, but my husband and I take every moment we can to eat really well. He's a wonderful cook. We take walks around da hood, and so on. Sunday before Memorial Day, I drove the Natchez Trace alone to Mississippi to clear my head and listen to music. My only days off and I drive nearly 700 miles. Coming back, I drove over two long snakes within a hundred yards of each other. I'm taking that as a good omen.
MR: Your new album Blaze of Glory is like the second part of your last project, Big Lonesome, and you basically have the same crew with you. What were your creative intentions as you got into this project?
MC: Intentions? Hmmm ... that sounds like I had a plan. (laughs) Seriously, I have never felt as focused as I did going into this project. Oftentimes, whenever you go in the studio, you're hoping to find something. With this one, I knew I had it going in. It was just a matter of the guys stepping up, and, believe me, they did ... and then some. Everybody just brought it.
MR: Why the title Blaze of Glory?
MC: For a while in the beginning, the working title was Sexagenarian. I mean, I'm 64, so that's what I am. (laughs) I had just learned that word, and the fact that it had the word "sex" in it cracked me up. I'm thinking, How appropriate! At my age, sex feels like "last call" at a bar. Anyway, the first songs you hear on the album are kind of romantic and sexy; then the later ones deepen into the whole mortality thing. "Blaze of Glory" was the last song I wrote for this project, and the minute I finished it, I knew it would be the last song on the album and the title track.
MR: Do you have a Blaze of Glory studio story you can share?
MC: Being in the studio is so intense, so there's a lot of goofiness involved, just to stay loose. Let's see... I remember, at one point, Mike Utley and I making up this little dance while listening to a playback. It was something between a rhumba and The Dirty Dog. Then another time, I overhear someone say, "Making records is like making sausage. You don't want to know what's in there, you just want to like it in the end." Serious conversations about spaceship insurance. You know...the usual.
MR: Let's get into the songs. Can you take us on a tour?
MC: Well, the songs you hear on this album are presented in the order they were written. And they were recorded that way too, so there was no sequencing. I've been making records for nearly four decades, and that's the first time that's ever happened.
MR: What was it like hanging with Todd Snider, Mike Utley and the gang again. Is it like summer camp?
MC: Those guys are like family. Brothers really. Mike especially. For a while, Mike & Fran lived around the corner from Chris and me, then they moved to Venice, California. So I was really happy Mike was able to fly in for these sessions. And I've grown close to Will Kimbrough since the recording of Big Lonesome, which is when I really first met him. Jim Mayer, I don't see as much, but we had some great moments sitting on the sofa in the control room while listening to playbacks. I would snuggle up to him...there's a photo of me doing that while we were listening to the first playback of "Blaze of Glory." That baión bass lick ... Jim came up with that and it made the track. Baión is that latin rhythm Tom Dowd and those guys used on a lot of Drifters records. You can hear it in "Under the Boardwalk." Anyway, in the photo, we look like we're on ecstasy.
MR: What other guests appear on this album?
MC: The only guests outside the core band - Mike, Will, Jim and Casey Wood - was Todd Snider, who sang with me on the first track. And then Ashley Cleveland sang harmony on the chorus of "Waiting for the Music."
MR: Mexico played a huge role in influencing your life lately and the last two albums. Can you go into that and maybe reveal a couple of your adventures?
MC: For a while, I'd convinced myself I could only write in Mexico. But it was more than that, of course. I'd met a man down there and sort of flipped out. I couldn't believe something like that could happen at my age. I finally came to my senses. Well, not really. It was more God doing for me what I couldn't do for myself. But a group of us traveled all over these remote, exquisitely beautiful parts of Mexico that few ever get to see. I wrote "Beyond Words" sitting in the hallway outside my hotel room in Taninul. I mean, we were in the middle of nowhere! Like that hotel in The Shining, only in a tropical setting.
MR: Who were some of your influences?
MC: Besides Elvis ... oh, all the black girl groups like The Shirelles, The Marvelettes and The Angels. Just off the top of my head, bearing in mind some of these influenced me as a songwriter, while others as an artist, Jackie Wilson, Hank Williams, James Brown, Kris Kristofferson, Cindy Walker, Lou Reed, Johnny Cash, The Rolling Stones, Bob Seger, Willie, Waylon, John Stewart, Big Joe Turner, Billy Joe Shaver, Millie Jackson, Doc Pomus, Maurice Williams, The Drifters, Bobby Bare, Wanda Jackson...
MR: Awesome roll call. Got any personal, historical anecdotes like an Elvis story?
MC: It's hard to beat the one about my hearing him that first time as a seven year old, sitting in the colored balcony at the Carolina Theater. This was in my hometown of Spartanburg, South Carolina. My parents were out of town and I'd gone to a matinee performance with Cora Jeter, who cooked and baby sat for my family. This was 1956, back when segregation was in full swing. I just remember when Elvis walked out on stage, it was like lightning had struck the building. The place went berserk.
MR: Other artists have had hits with some of your original songs. That doesn't seem very fair, not one bit.
MC: I'm always grateful when someone else records a song of mine. It's what's paid my bills up to this point, so I got no complaints.
MR: Peter Guralnick referred to you as a "force of nature." You really are, aren't you. And what does your husband have to say about all this love from relative strangers?
MC: My husband says we're in the love business...so bring it on! As for being a force of nature, I try to pick my spots. The rest of the time, I'm pretty pitiful. Just ask my sisters. (laughs)
MR: Did that mill town south of Macon ever really have a hold on you? By the way, your Me I'm Feeling Free album is one of my favorite Amerciana albums ever.
MC: I wrote "Somewhere South of Macon" with a songwriter from Lubbock named Jim Rushing. We were basically trying to write something for someone in country music to hopefully record. "...Macon" was basically a coming of age song about a young girl leaving home. I grew up in a cotton mill town in South Carolina. For years, I felt like a stranger in a strange land here in Nashville, Tennessee. But now, I wouldn't live anywhere else. Nashville has become my home.
MR: I think you were the first to record "Ready For The Time To Get Better," the eventual Crystal Gayle hit.
MC: I believe that's true. Allen Reynolds wrote that song. We were friends at the time I recorded it. And we're still friends. I always heard "Ready For The Times..." as sort of a blues lament.
But great songs are like that. They lend themselves to different interpretations.
MR: You have a musical, Good Ol' Girls, based on works by Lee Smith and Jill McCorkle. How did that come together?
MC: It all started with Matraca Berg. Matraca called me out of the blue. Said she wanted to do a musical called Good Ol' Girls and she wanted to do it with me and she wanted to do it with Lee Smith. She didn't know Lee, but I did, so I called Lee the minute we hung up. Lee didn't seem that excited. I imagine whe was in the midst of writing a novel. But she knew Matraca's music and was crazy about her. Anyway, three days later, I get a call from Lee saying (1) we had a director--Paul Ferguson--and (2) she was bringing in Jill McCorkle. None of us knew each other that well, but now we are all the best of friends. The show has toured the southeast and had a few runs. On Valentines Day night in 2011, it opened off-Broadway. Paul Ferguson adapted the whole thing from Lee and Jill's books. Matraca and I contributed fourteen songs. Some were ones we already had. Others we wrote for the musical. Matraca and I ended up writing one called "Your Husband's Cheating On Us" which is the title of one of Jill's short stories. So of course, Matraca and I cut her in. Now Jill McCorkle is a BMI songwriter!
MR: You've also worn a couple of hats other than being a musician, like you were an actor in Country Strong.
MC: I played the Gwyneth Paltrow character's road manager. I've known quite a few road managers in my day, so I didn't have far to go. Basically I played myself. It was a great experience. My first time in a movie. It was like being at that summer camp you mentioned earlier. A summer camp for lovable eccentrics.
MR: You also penned They Came To Nashville.
MC: Actually, I've written two books, both non-fiction. I may write a novel one day. Who knows. An old boyfrind of mine - the art critic iconoclast, Dave Hickey - I once heard him say, "Save the truth for fiction."
MR: My traditional question, what advice do you have for new artists?
MC: I often get asked that. And the truth is, I really don't know what to say, other than ... Keep breathing. Don't sweat things you can't control. Roll with it. Things like that.
MR: Marshall, just how tall are you really. Reports vary between 6 and 7 feet.
MC: (laughs) I tell everyone I'm six feet. I'm probably just under, but nobody ever argues with me when I say I'm six feet, so I'll stick with that.
MR: What's your tour going to be like?
MC: We're playing dates, but I'm not as concerned with touring as I was with Big Lonesome. We did over a hundred shows that year. My goals are different with this one. With ...Lonesome, I just wanted to break even. With Blaze..., it's more about the work. This may sound dorky, but I just want Blaze of Glory to get the recognition it deserves. And if taking an "invisibility" pill and changing my name to "Infinity" would help achieve that, I'd do it in a heartbeat! It really is about the work.
MR: Can you be any cooler, is that even possible?
MC: Sure...if I were dead! Then I couldn't worry about anything. Holds some appeal, doesn't it?
MR: (laughs) No, and we want you around for at least another five decades, oh by the way. Marshall, all the best, I think you're awesome.
MC: Thank you, Michael. It's been a pleasure.
1. Love in the Wind
2. I Don't Want Nobody
3. Nearness of You
4. Beyond Words
5. Let's Make Waves
6. Dreams and Memories
7. Blues Stay Away from Me
8. Waiting for the Music
9. Call the Lamas
10. Not Afraid to Die
11. Blaze of Glory
DOOBIE BROTHERS IN WOLF TRAP
This re-issue of the Doobie Brothers' 2004 performance at the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in Virginia is being released on Blu-ray for the first time. Live At Wolf Trap features not only a unique set, as the band mixed classic hits with rarely performed tracks from across their career, but bonus material, such as the extra live tracks "Dangerous," "Takin' It To The Streets," "Without You," and several featurettes. Sadly, this is the last recorded footage of the late long-time drummer Keith Knudsen performing with the Doobie Brothers. Drummer/percussionist Mike Hossack, who also passed away in 2012, is also featured on this release.
A Conversation with Petula Clark
Mike Ragogna: Hello Petula. How are you?
Petula Clark: I'm very good. I'm up in the cold, wet French Alps and it's not very pretty at all at the moment. It would appear that Spring is here.
MR: (laughs) You were a kid when you started in entertainment.
PC: Yeah, I did start very young, that's true. I think I made my first record...I think I must have been about fourteen or something like that. It was very different then too.
MR: Right, the traditional, almost romanticized studio adventures one would have seem to be gone. Now, basically, everyone makes records on their computer in the living room.
PC: It's possible to do that. The new album, Lost In You, we made it in a tiny, tiny studio (outside London) at the bottom of the producer's garden, like a garden shed. Of course, inside it was a state of the art studio. You really don't need a lot of space, but you do need some good equipment, some good ears and somebody who knows what they're doing with that equipment.
MR: This is the first release you've had in a while, right?
PC: That's right. This one has mostly new songs, but we do have one of two covers, including a surprising cover of "Downtown."
MR: Yes, it's a very emotional cover.
PC: It's totally different. My producer was John Williams--not your John Williams, this is the English John Williams. We started talking about covers and he said, "Well, why don't we do 'Downtown'?" I said, "No," and then I sort of went away. I went to Paris to do a couple of things, and then I came back two days later to the studio--back to the shed--and he said, "Well, sit down and have a listen to this." He pressed a button and there was a beautiful backing track with no melody on it. I said, "That's nice. What is it?" He said, "That's 'Downtown.'" So I sang it, and it was really like singing a new song. Heaven knows I've sung it a few times over the years, but this is kind of nice. We've done other covers too, John Lennon's "Imagine" and a few other things.
MR: How do you do it, stay lively and wanting to keep creating? A lot of people might be tempted to move onto something else at this point, but I imagine music just keeps pulling you back.
PC: Well, I'm not ready to grow radishes yet, although looking at the weather outside it might be a good day to start growing radishes. Why do I do it? How do I do it? Because I love it, that's why. I always have, and I started very young. There is a song on the album called "Reflections," which actually mentions that whole thing that started for me when I was about six years old in Wales--because I'm half Welsh--and it's just gone on. It's my love of music, my love of performing and my love of the audience. That's what it's all about. That's the bottom line for me. Perhaps it's not for all of the people around me because there's money in this, but I have never ever done this for money.
MR: You've become an international icon while not "targeting" any particular market, you're just making music. Last year, you had a hit single in Belgium with your French project. Of course, Britain claims you as theirs, though America begs to differ.
PC: Over the years, I've recorded many times in French--when I record in French it's obviously targeted at a French audience, but you're right. When you go into the studio, you go in to record something that you like. You do your best and have some fun with it, obviously, but after that, it's really not in your hands anymore. It's out there, and it's up to people to say whether they like it or not.
MR: Let me read a line from "Reflections." "I traveled a long and winding road to all of life's directions, and now in the mirror, I can see it all in these reflections." What are some things that come to you when you're looking at the great highlights of your career?
PC: First of all, I have to say that I'm not particularly nostalgic. I wrote the lyrics to that song, and once again, it was John's idea to take a piece of classical music--in this case it was a bloke by the name of Johann Sebastian Bach, who was pretty good. He said, "Write a personal lyric. Write something about you." I didn't really know how to do that. I don't look back and say, "Oh, those were the days," but I decided to go back to Wales, to where it all started for me as a very small child, and it was an interesting experience for me. They're trying to talk me into writing a book at the moment, a sort of autobiographical thing, and I'm not crazy about the idea of it. But I suppose there comes a time in your life when you've sort of got to write it down before somebody else does it and messes it up and gets it all wrong. At least I'll be getting it wrong, so it will be from the horse's mouth.
MR: Can we talk about your longtime association with songwriter Tony Hatch?
PC: Yes, Tony and I had worked a little bit together before I had recorded "Downtown," which he wrote. But then he just went on writing these fantastic songs for me. After "Downtown," there was "I Know A Place," "Color My World," "Don't Sleep In The Subway" and one of my favorites, which was "I Couldn't Live Without Your Love." It's a long, long list, and he's about to be inducted into the Hall of Fame for songwriters. I'm going to be there, and guess what, I'll probably be singing "Downtown." (laughs) We've known each other a long time, and he did great things for my career.
MR: What was his reaction to the new version of "Downtown"?
PC: You know, I don't know. The fact that he hasn't said anything to me about it probably means that he doesn't like it very much.
MR: (laughs) Or he hasn't heard it yet, in which case maybe you could spring it on him at the Songwriter's Hall of Fame appearance.
PC: That would be maybe pushing the envelope a bit too far.
MR: (laughs) Petula, when you're writing, what is your process?
PC: Well, I don't look on myself as a proper songwriter. I write songs sometimes, and it just has to come to me. I'm not the kind of person who gets a phone call saying, "Write me a song." I wouldn't know how to do that. But if it comes to me, then it comes very easily. I sit down at the piano because I do music and lyrics usually, and it just comes. Where does it come from? That's the mystery that I don't think anyone can solve. It has to come from somewhere inside me. That's really the only answer I can give you on that.
MR: What people might not remember and is quite a big deal is that you wrote the lyrics for "On The Path Of Glory."
PC: Yes, I did. That very much came from me. The fact that I'm singing John Lennon's "Imagine" is that I'm very much a pacifist, and that's where I am. That's how I feel, and that's what comes through when I write about anything near that subject.
MR: I think it is something to be applauded, to want peace on the planet.
PC: Well, yes, but you look around the world and you think, "Maybe I'm a bit naïve" because not many other people seem to feel this way. It's actually amazing how many people do actually feel that way, but I wish we would all get up and do something about it.
MR: Honestly, I think most people, given the choice, really don't want war. I think the essence of "On The Path Of Glory" is still true today.
PC: It is, and it probably always will be.
MR: So I heard firsthand that Richard Carpenter is a big fan of yours.
PC: I went into the studio and recorded with Richard. Karen was totally unique--she also happened to be a friend--you listen to that voice and it's very, very special. Yes, I went into the studio and recorded with Richard. He's a hard task master, let me put it that way, and that's good. That's probably why he made such perfect records with Karen.
MR: When you look at your recording history, are there some favorite songs you've done over the years? I know it's like asking you to pick a favorite child, but are there any that stand out?
PC: Oh dear, it's hard, honestly, because like you say, they are my children. I wouldn't have recorded them if I hadn't loved them. I love them. I'm going off on tour in the UK at the end of this year, and I'm going to have to choose what twenty-three or twenty-four songs to do out of all the hundreds of songs I've recorded, and I'm going to have to leave some of my children by the wayside. It's very hard to choose. Maybe you could choose for me?
MR: (laughs) Well, from this record, one of my favorites is "Lost In You." I really love that.
PC: Yeah, I do love that song. The first track we did for this new album is called "Cut Copy Me," and I like that too. It was "Cut Copy Me" that inspired us to go on and make an album. There was no master plan behind this album, and we also didn't go in saying, "Let's do something contemporary." I mean, I wouldn't even know how to do that--I just go in and sing. The songs, if you like, are more contemporary. We didn't try to go back to the '60s, and we didn't try to make me sound like somebody today. We just went in and had a good time in the studio. I agree that "Lost In You" is a wonderful song.
MR: And the environment must have been inspiring for the creative process.
PC: As I said, this was done in a small studio, which included a window that was in front of my microphone. I could look out and see birds and flowers and things. That doesn't happen very often in a recording studio.
MR: Overall, was it an enlightening experience?
PC: I think it was. I was working with people that I didn't know. They were young, and some of them were not that experienced. Some of them were a bit awed maybe, working with me, but some of them couldn't have cared less. All that aside, it was just a great family feeling--very organic.
MR: Among the covers you chose for this album, there's the Gershwins' "He Loves And She Loves." Were you brought up on Gershwin?
PC: Yes, I was, and in my stage act, I do a couple of Gershwin songs. I don't do this one, incidentally, which is why I wanted to record it. And that's me, by the way, fumbling away at the piano on this track. I don't know, there is something so sweet and simple about this song. Of course, Fred Astaire sang it with Audrey Hepburn in a movie, and I have such a love for Fred. I don't know--this song just means something to me.
MR: Then of course there is the song that won't go away, and for very good reason, "Love Me Tender."
PC: I have been doing that one on stage for a while. I sit down at the piano and tell a story about Elvis, which is sort of amusing and true, might I say. We thought, "Why not just put it down?" It's a very simple arrangement. We put some guitars on later, and it just is what it is. I didn't know that it's a very old song. In fact, it's from the American Civil War, and there is something very poignant about that.
MR: Please would you share that Elvis story with us?
PC: (laughs) Well, we just mentioned Karen Carpenter. She was in town, I was in Vegas working, of course, and I must have had the night off. We decided to go out on the town for a girly night off. We went to see Elvis because neither of us had seen him and neither of us had met him. So, off we go, and he introduced us to the audience because he knew that we were there, then we were invited back to his dressing room, which was huge, of course, with a big sitting room. Elvis comes out of his dressing area looking so stunning. This was his first time in Vegas. He was looking delicious, and he looked at us and was obviously very impressed with us. (laughs) So we just started chatting and had a glass of wine, and I could feel the atmosphere getting sort of over-friendly and the people in the sitting room had disappeared. So it was just Elvis, Karen and me, and I thought, "Maybe I should get Karen out of this situation." She was a little bit naïve and I'd sort of been around a lot more than...you know, all that rubbish. I turned into Mary Poppins and said to Karen, "Well, it's getting late Karen. We should go." She said, "What?" I said, "You know, you've got that thing in the morning. We really have to Elvis. Thank you so much. It really was a lovely show. Good night." And Elvis just stood there totally flabbergasted, and amused may I say.
MR: Poor Elvis. (laughs)
PC: I saw him a few times after that and he never forgot our first meeting.
MR: That story could have gone any number of ways.
PC: All kinds of ways. Who knows?
MR: (laughs) Thanks for sharing that. You've had such a fabulous amazing career and amazing history--what advice do you have for new artists?
PC: Oh dear. I have to tell you, this isn't the first time I've been asked this. I wouldn't know how to advise anybody. Half the time, I don't know what I'm doing anyway. It's such a personal thing. I think the only thing I could say is, find out about yourself, don't copy other people. I know it's difficult, particularly these days where you have to be "on" and "right" immediately--that's a really scary thing. When I started out, you could learn how to do it over time, and you weren't being judged in a one-off situation. So it's important to find your own voice--don't copy anybody else, let someone copy you.
MR: That's really wonderful advice, thanks. Petula, there was, at one time, a controversy over a mere hand touch between you and Harry Belafonte. And now we've had a black President for several years.
PC: I think that's wonderful and amazing how times have changed. When the Harry Belafonte episode happened, to me, it was like a storm in a teacup. People forget that I was English coming into America, and I was coming right into the middle of the Civil Rights movement. So I stepped right into it. But you know, I'm glad it happened.
MR: Here we are in '13, and it seems to me, apart from what I would call some radical thinking people, it doesn't seem like that is a concern at all anymore. It seems like we've come a long way.
PC: We have come a long way. The world has changed enormously. I think one of the reasons why I love being in this business--going back to one of the questions you asked me at the beginning--is because it is multi-racial and there don't seem to be any barriers. It's a wonderful thing. Maybe we're a little spoiled in that way, but I'm glad that I'm in this business.
MR: Petula, I want to thank you very much for all your time, and I love the contribution your music made to our culture and my life. Thank you.
PC: Well, that's a lovely thing to say. Thank you.
1. Cut Copy Me
2. Lost In You
4. Never Enough
5. Downtown (New Version)
6. Next To You
8. He Loves And She Loves
9. Every Word You Say
11. Love Me Tender
12. I Won't Care
Official Website: www.petulaclark.net
Transcribed by Ryan Gaffney
Well, kind of, but Spencer Day is at it again, this time with "The Mystery Of You," the title track to his latest album. Check out the video to discover all of its mysterious mysteries...
Follow Mike Ragogna on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ragz2008