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Conversations With Renaissance's Annie Haslam, The Outlaws' Henry Paul, and Jon Tiven, Plus The Burning Of Rome's Exclusive Video

Posted: 09/19/2012 12:00 am

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A Conversation With The Outlaws' Henry Paul

Mike Ragogna: Hello, Henry!

Henry Paul: Hey Mike, how are you?

MR: I'm pretty good. How have you been?

HP: I've been great, man. We've just been busier and busier than I can really elaborate on.

MR: It's been quite a while since you guys have put out a new album, huh?

HP: It has, and it's been a strange sort of way to get here. But we're excited about it, and we're very proud of our effort.

MR: This album, It's About Pride, is like a new start for the band.

HP: It is like a new start. People know about the band, obviously, from years and years of being a part of the landscape of popular music. But it's been a long time since we've had music out. So that in and of itself is a challenge, to try and gain acceptance and introduce everybody to new music and have them embrace it.

MR: Let's get into the topics of some of the songs, like "Tomorrow's Another Night." It seems to be, "Hey, you know this is happening and that's happening, but tomorrow's another night!"

HP: Well, yeah, it's a play on "tomorrow's another day," but it is an optimistic view in the chorus, laid against the backdrop of the history of the group, because the first verse, "The Space-Coast Cowboys," we started out in a club over in Cocoa Beach and we gained a popularity in the second verse. And in the third verse, we lose some friends and we have some, not regrets really, but sort of a short wish list of wishing to have had the opportunity to say goodbye to our friends before they were taken so early.

MR: Right, right. And we're talking about Hughie and... ?

HP: Well, Hughie, yes, especially Hughie, and, of course, Billy and Frank. We lost three out of the five original members of the group at a very young age.

MR: Henry, you've been sort of the flag bearer. The group has had a few permutations through the years, but this album seems to be about "pride," as you say, and you even have a song, the title track, which seems to be the theme song to the album.

HP: Yes, and I'm speaking for the individuals in the group and this is a band, this is not a solo act. It is clearly a six-piece group, and aside from Monte, who started the band with Hughie and I and Frank and Billy back in '72; Billy Crain, Chris Anderson, Randy Threet and Dave Robbins as well. This is sort of a new beginning and a reason for wanting to do this. At one point later in your career, it stops being about numbers and success from a perception standpoint and more about character, and more about your legacy.

MR: From all these years of touring and all that, you're aware of the relationship between you and your audience, right?

HP: Oh, yes. They have very distinct opinions about what The Outlaws are, what their music should sound like, what the shows should represent. It's been built over decades of consistency of quality, so to go out there today with a band called "The Outlaws," it damned well better be great, and if you're going to write a record, you'd better write a good one.

MR: So let's talk about It's About Pride. It sure was about pride, wasn't it.

HP: Yes, it was. And there again, like we were speaking earlier, it's about being a part of something that was bigger than you were, and it's about surviving that and looking to the future, because we feel like the band is relevant. And we feel like, aside from the people that love the group, there's a generation of people that will discover the group and embrace us, and that's sort of our dream.

MR: Now I remember your first few albums were out and hits like, "There Goes Another Love Song," "Green Grass And High Tides Forever," and, of course, "Ghost Riders In The Sky." I was in Tampa for a bit there, your old town, and it seemed that there was a lot of pride about two things there -- The Buccaneers and The Outlaws.

HP: Well, we were the local band that seemed to make good. Tampa has a very rich history of success. Blues Image was from Tampa, but they got their start in Los Angeles. Tom Petty was from Gainesville, but got his start in Los Angeles. Stephen Stills was from Tampa and he, again, got his start in Lost Angeles. So The Outlaws were from Tampa and they got their start there at home and I think people just sort of adopted the band from the standpoint of affection and, in a sense, a pride, that the group could come from Tampa and actually make a national impression.

MR: That's right, you didn't rely on another city to bring it home, so to speak.

HP: Right. And I think that sort of inspires a lot of affection for the group from the local audience, especially people from our generation that watched the band grow up from the clubs and supported it in the North Tampa area. We have a lot of great memories of that.

MR: Also, speaking of coming back home, we have "Nothing Main About Main Street," another song on the new album. It's story is so true, isn't it.

HP: Well, it seems as though it is. The advent of the computer and the smart phone and a lot of the things sort of separate us as a communal group of people, as social connection, and puts us into our own little Cyberworld and we're sort of operating in our own little orbit. When I was a kid, we all got together on a Friday night in the town green and we schemed up some fun and we found out that there was a party here or there and we went and bought a bottle of Thunderbird and shared it and cruised around in circles in our car. But one way or another, we were always communing with one another socially out in the open. Now it seems as though that's gone and the town itself has sort of closed up and the vitality of the social scene from teenagers back in the mid-sixties has been replaced by something, I don't know what, but something different.

MR: Also you could apply that to the older generation as well, because sometimes it's hard to keep local stores alive because you're competing with greater prices on the internet.

HP: Exactly, and greater mega-discount stores. I remember the character of a small business in the town where you grew up supporting it, and people knew you by name, and a lot of that personalization of friendships, of business relationships, and of life relationships seems to have been depersonalized. This is an odd example, but going to war now sometimes is so impersonal because of drones and people sitting at computer desks in Langley, Virginia, with something happening a half a world away. For me, "Nothing Main About Main Street" was just the embodiment of that social gathering of people and ideas and the fun that we used to have as a group.

MR: You've gone back and forth to Tampa over the years. What is it like going there these days versus having grown up there?

HP: Well, you know, it's a hard question to answer... only that things have changed so much. Things continue to change. They changed before we got here; they're going to change after we're gone. For me, I go by places I used to hang out, I look at them and I have fond memories, but again, the sort of soulful and social importance that they used to represent has evaporated. You drive by the drive in that you used to drive around in circles in your car and try to scheme on chicks and have a little fun on a Friday night, and that's been bulldozed down. It's just an ever-changing world, not to sound silly, but things continue to change. I think that in our hearts, some things always remain the same and I think that's what inspired us to write that song.

MR: While we're going back in time, will you refresh our readers on how when Arista Records was formed, you were one of the first acts that Clive Davis went out of his way to sign.

HP: Right. It's funny because Phil Walden had Capricorn Records and he had The Allman Brothers, he had Wet Willie, he had The Marshall Tucker Band, he had Elvin Bishop and a couple I'm overlooking. But his label sort of embodied the Southern Rock movement early on, and then MCA signed Lynyrd Skynyrd and then The Outlaws came along just a year or two behind them and Clive wound up signing us to Arista. So like every major label wanted to be in that business so that they would claim their own band to represent them in that musical phenomenon.

MR: And don't you guys have an anniversary coming up?

HP: 2012 marks forty years from the year we started out as a group. So we're in the middle of a forty-year time marker. In 2005, we did a reunion tour for the 30th anniversary of the release of our first record. Hopefully, we'll get to the point where we can do a fifty-year reunion. That's kind of our goal.

MR: Henry, how did you approach creating this album?

HP: Six of us got in a room and Monte was set up in the middle and we were all set up in a circle around him. If you notice, the album has no fades on it. Every song has an ending, and we rehearsed these songs and played a lot of them out live in front of our audience for a prolonged period of time, and we got in a room and we recorded it sort of like a live record. Once we got these great tracks done on the record, we would come back and Billy and Chris, for instance, would come to my studio in my basement, and the co-producer, Michael Frank, and I would sit in the room. The guys would come in, we'd set them up in different rooms and isolate their amps and they'd go in and they'd play their solos along to the arrangement that they knew so well, and it all sort of went down spontaneously together and live. One of the characteristics about the record is it has a very energetic and familiar, almost old-fashioned feel to it from the standpoint of its musical personality that way.

MR: You can tell the difference, especially in the vibe, when a project has been made with the players recording together group in a room versus overdubbing forever through emails.

HP: Yes, and I think that it's important to mention that The Outlaws certainly had a very identifiable musical personality and we've tried very hard to remain true to what that was. It didn't mean a lot of overdubs, it didn't mean a lot of smoke and mirrors, and it did not mean anything other than what you were going to go see when you were going to buy tickets to the band. What you're going to hear on that record is what you're going to go see live.

MR: You have a song on It's About Pride called "Trouble Rides A Fast Horse," perfect imagery for a band called The Outlaws.

HP: Here again, that title goes back to writing a record that we thought was true to The Outlaws' musical personality. If you're in a band called The Outlaws and you write a song called "Trouble Rides A Fast Horse," it has a certain similarity. Same can be said for "Last Ghost Town." So being in The Outlaws, it gives you a lot of symmetry as a songwriter to work with. These titles, "It's About Pride," "Tomorrow's Another Night," all these titles -- "Born To Be Bad" and "Trail Of Tears" -- they all sort of allude to an Outlaws personality. So "Trouble Rides A Fast Horse" was a title that we constructed. We wrote really about the old west. It was lyrically very connected to almost like a western movie.

MR: The image of the band and your writing brings up thoughts of a western town although you guys are very southern. It's an interesting integration.

HP: Yep, yes it is. But I think that you always put The Outlaws first, the Southern Rock phenomena sort of came second. It was almost like a marriage between The Eagles and The Allman Brothers. The Outlaws sort of sat directly in the center of those two bands stylistically, so that sort of defines the musical personality that we stumbled upon.

MR: Henry, what advice do you have for new artists?

HP: Well, you know, I think that some things never change, and I think commitment to your career is probably the most important. There are a lot of road blocks, and there's a lot of nay-saying and a lot of negativity on the way. But if you, in your heart, believe that you have something worthwhile, I think that you have to stick with it and push through some of the barriers. Aside from that, have honesty in your lyrics and integrity in your effort. I think that it's important that you put your artistic agenda first and as far as fame and fortune and any of that, I think you can pretty much write that off as a dream, because with the exception of a handful of people that we know by name, this is more of a job and more of a life's work rather than just a get-rich-quick scheme.

MR: Nicely said, it's a life's work and it becomes a lifestyle.

HP: It does. While some people have taken a different path in their lives and are enjoying a steady paycheck and they're enjoying healthcare benefits and more of a predictable sort of lifestyle, as an artist, a lot of times, you go without, and a lot of times, you're on the outside looking in on people living that life. But at the end of your artistic endeavor, hopefully, you wind up with a body of work that you can be proud of and a musical sort of contribution that can be taken seriously and embraced.

MR: It's About Pride.

HP: And it is. And I do want to say this for all of the people in this band -- Billy Crain and the hard work he put into this record as a songwriter and Chris Anderson as well and Dave Robbins and Randy Threet and Monte Yoho -- these people put a lot of hard work into this and for me to represent the group to a certain extent is an honor. And I speak for those other five guys when I say that we're very proud of what we were able to accomplish here and we hope people really embrace it.

MR: This album took about four years to make, right?

HP: It did, and that was a luxury of time that we enjoyed, not unlike the first Outlaws record and not unlike the first Henry Paul Band record or not unlike the first BlackHawk record. But again, having the luxury of a little time on your hands to conceive of these songs and to work them all out was a gift to us, and I think we took full advantage of it.

MR: Want to talk about one more song?

HP: One of the songs I absolutely love on the record is "Last Ghost Town." I just absolutely love that song. That's the song that Billy wrote by himself and it was one of the first songs he brought in for consideration on the new Outlaws record. I heard it and absolutely loved it and put a vocal on it and we just flipped. So we knew we wanted to record that when it came time to make the record. I think the record we cut on that song turned out exceptional
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MR: Henry, I wish you all the luck with It's About Pride, and I thank you for your time. Thanks so much.

HP: All right, and thanks for saving our planet by operating your radio station on a renewable energy source. Thanks for your love and affection for the band.

MR: Oh man, thank you so much for saying that! Henry, thanks man.

HP: You be good, boy.

MR: (laughs) All right, you too.

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne


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A Conversation With Renaissance's Annie Haslam

Mike Ragogna: Annie, you're one of my hero-esses!

Annie Haslam: Oh gosh, not a hero-ess!

MR: (laughs) During an interview the other day, I joked with a couple, "You are the Mayor and Mayor-ess of town," and I thought I'd try that bad joke on another hapless victim.

AH: Is that what you call a female mayor?

MR: Nah, a female mayor is a mayor, and a female hero is a heroine.

AH: Heroine, oh God!

MR: Was just trying on "hero-ess."

AH: I'm going to copyright the word "hero-ess." I'll say it's my design. (laughs) You said that you were solar-powered, and I think that's incredible. I love that.

MR: Thank you, very much. We're the only solar-powered station in the Midwest of the United States and that's very strange to me.

AH: Yeah. It's not right, really, is it. We should all be solar-powered.

MR: Again, thank you for the kind words, Annie, very nice. Okay, let's dive into your new project. Can you go into what the motivation was to cover your two albums, Turn Of The Cards and Scheherazade And Other Stories?

AH: Yes, well we reunited the band in 2008 and toured for our fortieth anniversary in 2009. We performed classic songs like "Mother Russia," "Running Hard," and others that we thought people would like after not seeing the band for thirty years or whatever, and then when it came to last year, our agent, Wayne Forte, actually brought it up. He said, "How do you feel about performing two of your albums all the way through?" We thought, "Well, that's a different idea," not realizing that people were out there already doing this. That's how that came about, and we chose those albums because they're two of the strongest. I guess we could have started off with Ashes Are Burning and Prologue, but for some reason, that's where our minds went to; Turn Of The Cards because "Mother Russia" "Running Hard" are on there, and Scheherazade... . We have new members in the band now that are American, and when Michael Dunford and I, the two leaders of the band, basically, when we were talking about doing Scheherazade... , we thought, "Oh, this is a really big one to give them" because the song "Scheherazade" is twenty five minutes long, but they did a fantastic job of it. Really brilliant. They're great musicians and we all get on very well. So we made a good choice. The Keswick show that we recorded is just fantastic. I love it. We did a great job that night, it's toward the end of the tour, so we were pretty well into the music and playing live, and we decided to put out a DVD as well because we haven't done that for a while. In fact, I don't think we ever did anything like that on purpose. We never did it in the seventies, which, when we look back, we think, "Gosh, what a lot of missed moments." There are a couple of things out there, but not very many.

MR: Right. It's almost like it's celebrating the albums' importance as part of the music history and the history of the band. There's much love there.

AH: Oh yeah. There's a lot of respect and love in the band at this time and it shows. We all love the music. In fact, I was asked this morning if I was fed up with doing the songs, but these musicians have kind of changed everything and put new life into everything. And, of course, technology is far advanced from when we played in the seventies, so we do sound like we've got an orchestra with us now, and we've got four very strong lead vocals.

MR: How did this configuration come together?

AH: Well, the thing is, when Michael called me up in 2008 to get this back together, I knew what he was going to say. He said, "Annie, will you... " and I said, "No!" I stopped him at "Will you." Anyway, we did go ahead, and we did connect with the original members to see whether they wanted to be part of it and it was going to go ahead, and then they changed their minds. We weren't sure if we were going to go on with just Michael and I. In the end, we did. Rave Tesar and David Keyes were in my solo band, and they'd already been playing Renaissance songs for years, so they were the perfect choice. We brought in Tom Brislin at that time and Frank Pagano, and it just seemed to gel really well. But it is new blood. It's giving new life to the songs and the main thing is that they all love the music as well.

MR: Was it a surprise to you that songs like "Running Hard" and "Mother Russia" would become so popular and so identified with the band even after all these years?

AH: It doesn't surprise me because the band is so unique. Michael and I have always felt that the music is timeless, because, basically, classical music is timeless.

MR: Right, exactly, and you are a blend. What do you think about Turn Of The Cards and its place in pop music?

AH: It doesn't really fit into pop music.

MR: Let's say pop culture.

AH: It's really more of a progressive music, and progressive classical music. Again, it's unique, and I guess it stands out on its own. Even with the other prog bands, none of them were quite like us. We really just stand out on our own, and I think that's one of the reasons that the music just keeps going on and on.

MR: Okay, but with an album like Turn Of The Cards, there was not only nothing like your sound on the market, but there was also nothing like that combination of works on one LP at the time.

AH: Yeah. We also had Betty Thatcher, who wrote the words, and she wasn't just an ordinary lyricist, she was very special. She was a poet as well, and I think that made a huge difference. The words were very intelligent and clever with a beautiful story and very positive. I think that was one of the key elements in the band, and everybody that was in the band at that time that made it so special.

MR: And it was sort of the turn of the cards for the band. My personal feeling is that there was a bit of a creative leap between the albums Ashes Are Burning and Turn Of The Cards.

AH: You know what, I guess you're right. I've never heard it put like that before. It was a natural one. It wasn't intended. I think we kind of progressed naturally rather than thinking, "Let's do some longer tracks" or "let's do shorter" or "why don't we do a commercial track." We didn't. It just came out as a natural progression. So I guess whatever that leap was, I'll ask Michael Dunford. He's the one that writes most of the music.

MR: It's the whole vibe. It was the way you guys were approaching it and the way it came off. And I think another leap happened with Scheherazade... .

AH: Yes, I think it did.

MR: That was very complicated in comparison to the older projects, thematically.

AH: Yeah, I wasn't part of the writing process then, I helped with the arrangements but I wasn't there at the inception of the songs. Afterwards, when the band broke up, Michael pursued making The Son Of Scheherazade into a musical. So maybe that was in his mind originally, that it was going to be a longer piece. I'm not sure how else to explain that, really.

MR: Well it's also the stories, and the themes have a feminist perspective, although that might not have been the intention.

AH: You mean on the album, or just that piece?

MR: Not the album, per se, but the story, the concept of Scheherazade... .

AH: She wanted the end of the stories, though, didn't she?

MR: Yes ma'am. Now I also want to throw out there that you and Michael have been together as the longest configuration of Renaissance for the recent tours. Are you looking at another studio album at all?

AH: Well, we're in the middle of it right now, in fact. I have one more song to write lyrics to and then three more lead vocals I'm going in to do.

MR: Are you using the same band that was on this tour?

AH: Yes.

MR: So this residency has grown into a permanency.

AH: Yes, it has.

MR: Will you be touring in 2012 to support your 2011 tour release? Odd question, I know.

AH: Yes, we are. What we're doing for the Fall tour is that in places we have played Turn Of The Cards and Scheherazade... before, we'll be doing Novella and other classics. But new territories will hear Turn Of The Cards and Scheherazade.... One night we'll be doing one set, and the next night we've got to turn our heads round and do a completely different show.

MR: So people will have to attend both shows!

AH: Yes, that would be nice. While I'm sure it's going to work, I must admit, it was a bit daunting. When this was decided, it made sense, but did it make physical and mental sense to us? Will I remember the words? But that's what we're doing, plus we're going to be doing two or three songs from the new album, and then we'll be supporting the new album in Spring 2013.

MR: Annie, how do you keep your voice sounding so great after all these years?

AH: Somebody asked me that yesterday. I don't smoke, although I have smoked in the past, but very little, years ago. I like wine, I love French champagne, I don't drink very much of it, really. I'm very careful with my voice when we're touring. I just try and stay away from crowds of people. When I started painting in 2002 and decided I wasn't going to sing again, maybe bits and pieces here and there, I didn't really know what my purpose was. But now I feel -- just from all the comments and the letters of people saying how I've helped them get through cancer, because I've had cancer and I've shared that experience with people, and being on the phone with people because I love to share my experiences and help them -- I feel that I'm helping people in all kinds of ways, from my voice and also from my painting, which is an extension of my voice. It's like looking at me singing when you see a painting. So I feel that there's a purpose now, and it's really got nothing to do with me. I mean, it's got to do with what I can give, but it's got nothing to do with me personally. It's what I need to do for everybody else.

MR: Beautifully said, Annie. Can we talk about your painting for a second? When did you start?

AH: I only started in 2002. It was when I slowed down my solo career because I just couldn't get any further. I thought, "What am I going to do?" and a voice in my head in my head said, "It's time to start oil painting now," out of the blue. So I went and got a book on oil painting. I don't read, I don't know why I bought a book. I bought an easel and paints and then I didn't do anything for two months. I did one painting and it was just a flower and I thought, "What's this about? I'm sure it's more," and something said, "No, keep going, it's coming," and then I started painting and I couldn't stop. And I've never stopped since. I've painted electric guitars, I've painted violins for Mark Wood, who was in Trans-Siberian Orchestra and has got his own violin company, so I painted these fantastic electric Viper violins, which a young girl called Lindsey Stirling who's kind of a fantastic breakthrough YouTube artist, a hip-hop violin player, just put a new video up playing one of the violins I painted. The violin is called Victory. I haven't actually seen it properly yet, so I can't wait to see it. I'm very excited about that. I love painting with a passion. I love it. I take them on tour; people can buy them on tour. I do these little tiny paintings, little landscapes of all these different places. I channel with my art. It just comes. I don't know where it comes from. Everything is a surprise.

MR: What advice do you have for new artists?

AH: What I do is I just sit down and I don't ask anymore. Originally, I did say, "I need some help," because I absolutely, totally believed that we're surrounded by spirit angels and all we have to do is ask for help and it comes. It might not come in the way you think, and I asked for help when I started painting and just to relax and let it pour through you, rather than to think, "I've got to paint this, I've got to paint that, and I've got to paint in this style and that style," but just ask for it to come and flow through and if you really believe it, it'll come through. That's what happens with me. It pours through. It's not preconceived unless it's a commission, and then all I do is tune into that person or that pet that I'll be painting. Otherwise, I just sit and choose colors and just pour it out and I don't see what it is until it's finished.

MR: Nice. And the same thing applies for music, right?

AH: Yes, for singing. I don't really practice. I'm awful, really. It's not that I don't want to, it's just that I'm painting up until when I'm going to be doing a tour. It's difficult for me to concentrate on painting for a week and then do something with singing at the same time. I've noticed that is difficult. That is another part of my brain or my psyche. I start rehearsing maybe a week before we go to rehearsals and my voice seems to just build up and it's strong enough to tour and it stays there the whole tour. With recording, it's really kind of odd. It's a state of mind and just kind of plugging into something, I don't know what it is.

MR: Now, if you had advice for new musical artists, would it be the same kind of line of thinking? "Just allow it to flow out?"

AH: I absolutely believe just to be calm and to ask for help when you're writing words or anything like that, same thing. Just to let it come, rather than think, "I've got to write this about this or that," or whatever. Somebody suggests, "I would like it to be about this," well you can think about that, but put it in the back of your mind and try and absorb it. I don't meditate, per se, but I think I meditate when I'm painting and I think I meditate when I'm singing. It's just tuning in. I'm a firm believer that we're surrounded by incredible energy and incredible things and all we have to do is ask and look around and be a good person. I think if you give out good stuff, good thoughts, smile at everybody as you pass them in the street, good things are going to come to you. My father was like that and it's true. You just have to spread as much good stuff as you can, all the time, every day.

MR: And that's what you've been doing -- and I want to be delicate here -- after your own challenge with cancer?

AH: I'm fine. That was '93, so I think I'm a survivor. I'm fine. I still have the scars from when you have radiation, and I'm still sore around my ribcage, and that is something that will never go away, but it doesn't hurt me unless I bang into something. I'm fine. When I first found out about it, I was upset, and then I turned it around and thought, "Well let's get rid of this and we'll be fine. What am I going to be doing in six months' time?" I'd go and get my chemo done, and it was horrible. It was this red liquid that went into me at the time. I think there's so many new things that they can do now, but when it was going into me, I would visualize it kind of healing me rather than it poisoning me. I was thinking, "Oh, this is going in and it's making me better." Because chemo is pretty strong and it does kill off a lot of things in your body, I tried to turn it around. "Oh, look at this, it's red and it's going into my body." This is before I started painting, as well, which is interesting.

MR: And I was going to infer maybe, did you become more spiritual after that or did you always have that?

AH: I've always had that, but I wasn't quite sure what it was. My mom and dad were working-class people. Very kind people, very good. It was a really good family that I came from, with no arguments, no divorce, nothing like that. I was very fortunate, really. It was a very nice upbringing. We didn't have very much but I never knew that. I look at it now and I see that we didn't, but it didn't matter because it was such a loving family. Of course, that does help to that degree.

MR: Thank you very much, Annie. And I wouldn't be unhappy if you did go back and do Prologue and Ashes Are Burning as well. (laughs)

AH: We will be performing Prologue when we do the Novella show. If people go to the website, renaissancetouring.com and they go to the tour page it tells you which show we're doing in which city, with two little asterisks to show you which show where. We did a hybrid of Prologue which is fantastic. We did it a couple years ago, it's brilliant.

MR: And if somebody wants to see your paintings, can they go online for a tour of your virtual museum?

AH: They can go to http://www.AnnieHaslam.com and also my Facebook, which is http://www.facebook.com/annihaslamart and the Renaissance facebook is http://www.facebook.com/renaissancetouring.

MR: Annie. Let's do this again whenever you want. This has been a wonderful experience.

AH: Thank you. let's do it when the new album comes out.

MR: You got it. Thank you again.

AH: Thank you Mike.

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne


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A Conversation With Jon Tiven, Plus Sally Tiven and Kent Agee

Mike Ragogna: Jon, what have you got to say today?

Jon Tiven: Hey, how's it going everybody?

MR: Jon, you've been working steadily with many great artists but let's talk about your latest project.

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Photo courtesy of Peter Thompson


JT: The album is called Shortcuts To Infinity/Symptomology, and it's a collaboration with transcendental poet Stephen Kalinich. This whole thing germinated from a trip I took did India in 2006, right after I produced a record for a guy named P.F. Sloan who wrote "Secret Agent Man," "Eve of Destruction," and 26 other top-tenners in the mid-Sixties. We became fast friends in the early nineties, and he said, "I've got to introduce you to my friend Stevie Kalinich, who wrote lyrics for Brian Wilson, Dennis and Carl. He's a great lyricist." We all went to India together, and Stevie is hysterical, like one of The Marx Brothers. I mean, he's 70 years old and he was just running around like...now. I mean, he's not a young pup but he's got all this energy and he just writes lyrics all the time. He cornered me in a dull moment in the ashram in India and said, "Ah, I've got this idea for a song."

MR: Which is where most ideas come from, apparently; ashrams in India. (laughs)

JT: It felt like Ishtar at the time. I asked if he wanted P.F. Sloan to get involved and he said, "No, no, he won't be bothered with this. This will be just you and me." So we wrote the song called "Everything's Exploding" and I did a demo of it when I got back to the United States in my studio in Nashville and I sent it to him. Me and my wife, Sally Tiven, played all the instruments -- Chester Thompson on drums, Sally on bass, me on everything else. I didn't think much would come of it until a couple years later when he called me. He said, "My label that I do my spoken word records for wants me to do a music record. I'm going to use all my friends like Carnie, Wendy Wilson, David Marks from The Beach Boys, and all these Beach Boy connected people. I want to use that song we wrote together." I said, "Terrific. Who's going to sing it? I figured he'd get Al Jardine or someone with a really great voice. He said, "No, you're going to sing it, and we're going to use your recording." So I sent him the track and he had the engineer who produced this record, who produces a lot of the Brian Wilson stuff. His name is Mark Linett, an extraordinarily gifted guy who has since become a friend of mine. Mark mixed it and made me sound human. I hadn't sung in 30 years on a record. Mark has been Brian Wilson's producer/engineer for some time, and the work they've done together is extraordinary, so I have enormous respect for his talent, and he's a great person. But I really didn't feel like singing on a record again.

MR: Why not?

JT: Because my first experience as a singer in a recording project was so negative. I had the world's worst producer. Instead of nurturing me, he was trying to manipulate me and I wasn't really the right guy to try that on. I never got paid, and it was just unpleasant for me, so I just decided that was the end of that tune.

MR: This was the group The Yankees?

JT: I was the singer and the songwriter and it was pretty much my solo effort. everyone else who was involved in that record seemed to escape unscathed. I felt like being in front of a band made me lose perspective and control, and I decided that I wasn't going to sing anymore, just play guitar. I'd had enough of lawyers and dealing with record companies as a "front man."

MR: You were in the Jim Carroll Band, too. Let's keep going with your history.

JT: I loved his first record and I joined as a guitarist and keyboardist shortly before the making of the second album. I wrote the title song "Dry Dreams" with Jim, and we did some songs after the group that went on his greatest hits. Around the same time, I was working and playing with John Belushi. I met him the day I auditioned for The Jim Carroll Band and Jim was his favorite artist. John passed before we got to record any music together, but I was teaching him how to play guitar and we did a gig at the Lone Star Café in January before he passed. Then I was in a group with Al Franken & Tom Davis, we did a film and a video together. From that, I went into writing and performing with Don Covay and then producing with B.B. King. A very strange and interesting career trajectory took me where I am today.

MR: What was your experience with Don during those years?

JT: Don was fantastic. I've known Don since I was 16, visiting Mercury Records, trying to figure out what the music business was about. He wrote some of my favorite songs -- "Mercy Mercy" for the Rolling Stones, "3 Time Loser" for Wilson Pickett... tons of 'em. He was doing A&R there and was signed to them as an artist as well. We were friendly, but we didn't really know each other particularly well then, but in 1985, I got invited to Steve Jordan's Christmas party and Don walks in we renewed our friendship. He had just gotten over his wife's passing and was working with the Rolling Stones on their Dirty Work record, and I said, "Do you want to get together and write some songs?" and we got together and we wrote and wrote. He was just a tremendous mentor to me. We did some gigs including one at Ron Wood's club in Miami with Woody, Bobby Keys and Harvey Mandel joining us.

Then in 1990, Don made a record for Island Records that I played on and Sally played on, and that he produced himself. The record company made him jump through all these hoops. Chris Blackwell loved it, but Denny Cordell said, "Well, it's not quite ready," and basically, it pushed his blood pressure to the point where it affected his health. He had a stroke in 1992 and has been in a wheel chair since. After his stroke, we made a new Don Covay record called Adlib. He was fully engaged in the process, but he couldn't do justice to his old songs so we had other singers that helped him like Paul Rodgers, Dan Penn, Ann Peebles, Huey Lewis... I can't say enough good things about Don Covay. He's my idol and my rabbi in the music business, just a beautiful human being and as far as I'm concerned, and one of the top five songwriters of rock 'n' roll.

But let's not get too sidetracked with my history, I should finish my Stevie Kalinich story. He made this record with all these other people on it, California Feeling, and the track that I sung on, "Everything's Exploding" seemed to get a lot of attention. He and the record company approached me six months after the record came out. They said, "Let's do an entire record of Tiven- Kalinich songs." I said that I was game and asked him who was going to sing this time. He said that it would have to be me. I said, "I'll try to rise to the occasion as long as Mark's behind the board, I know that he could at least make me sound like a human being." He went beyond that. He made me sound superhuman and alien on this record.

MR: And these days, I imagine there are challenges there.

JT: The Beach Boys are a little more adept at their vocal instruments than I am, and the way we were writing is unique. Stevie is in California and I am in Nashville. When I am not working on a specific project, I'm writing music for whatever. So I've got literally hundreds of tracks that I've written in between my productions that I don't have here for a particular purpose except for, "Hey when I get a nice opportunity, this will be a nice piece of music to throw an interesting lyric on." He starts sending me a lyric every morning and giving me a perfect opportunity to put some of these tracks to higher use because he's a transcendental poet. He doesn't write love songs, he writes about everything else. No boundaries.

MR: Apparently he believes in elephants?

JT: He believes in elephants. And he's not one of these stuffy nose-in-the-book poets who only worships the intellect. There is a song called "Cul de Sac," whose lyrics go, "I scratch my balls..."

MR: ...which, of course, bring us to this other track, "Don't F**k With Me."

JT: After we delivered the first 5 tracks to the label, they insisted on a 2-CD set, so we made the second CD from a point of view of two 24-year-olds. They're animated, and their names are Jack Hashtag -- that's me -- and Reverend Stevie Nobody, and we call our group Yo MaMa. We have a video that's out there called, "When I Leave my Body." These guys have no dignity, no shame, they don't care if they get an audience or not. They just want to have some fun. So Stevie sent me these lyrics and by the time we finished the record, we had over 200 completed songs to choose from for the final 30.

MR: It's good to know that there'll be many, many follow-ups to this album.

JT: We now have over 500 songs. We could release a box set every year. I used to produce Ellis Hooks. We made 6 albums together and ended our recording relationship amicably in 2007 because he wanted to try without me. Recently, he called me and said, "I really like that Yo MaMa record you sent me, I want to make a record with you." I said, "That's fine, but I have a new lyrical partner who is a part of that and wants to be a part of this. He said, "That's fine." So Stevie, Ellis and I are making a record in September, it's going to be an Ellis Hooks/Yo Ma Ma record and we have chosen 15 songs from the other 470 new songs that we didn't use from the record and Ellis is rewriting the melodies. It's quite a remarkable record.

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Photo courtesy of Jon Tiven


MR: Oh, and look, we have Sally Tiven here. Hello, Sally, how are you?

JT: Sally's the bass player on bass-ically all my projects.

Sally Tiven: Yes, but I do have an alias for this record.

MR: What is it?

ST: Honk.

MR: Excuse me?

JT: It's a name that Dan Penn gave her. He said that Sally "really honks on that bass," and it stuck.

MR: Jon, let's not be shy about your productions. You've worked with Steve Cropper, Pickett, Alex Chilton, Little Milton, Frank Black...

JT: I was counting on osmosis to make me whole.

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Photo by Glenn Hall


MR: Would you look at that, someone else just joined us. Why, it's Kent Agee. Kent!

Kent Agee: Hey Mike, how've ya been?

MR: I've been fine. Just the other day, I was listening to "Higher Ground" by Barbara Streisand -- I really wasn't, but let's pretend I was -- it seems that one of its songwriting credits reads "Kent Agee."

KA: Yes, I barely deserve that.

MR: You're being modest.

KA: Steve Dorff wrote the music, George Greene, who was a great lyricist and was my closest friend for years, had written the lyric in a rare, bland moment. George couldn't finish the lyric. I happened to be around and he asked me to finish it. It was a lucky place to be at the right time.

MR: Kent, you're just in time for us to talk some more with Jon Tiven. (laughs) We should inform readers that we're pals too. Okay, Jon, what are some of your favorite projects that you've worked on?

JT: The Steve Cropper record that I produced last year was a tribute to The Five Royales, and it had a lot of guest singers on it. Steve Winwood did a fantastic job with "30 Second Lover," and we also recruited Sharon Jones, Dylan LeBlanc, Betty LaVette; that was a fantastic project to work. Steve is one of my best friends and one of my favorite people to work with, and he is also on the Yo MaMa record on one track because we had to have him. Also, on the Yo MaMa record, and also on the Steve Cropper Dedicated record, is Brian May, who is one of my oldest friends in the music business. We met in the early seventies before Queen's first album came out, and I was sent to the UK to cover Foghat for Zoo World magazine. Brian and I had about a 7 1/2 minute piece of music we wrote in New York on a whim, and I was always trying to find something to do with it. This YO MA MA record gave me enough room and Steve gave me a fantastic lyric called "Out of The Darkness," and it's basically a Brian May tour de force

MR: Who else you got? Come on, cough it up.

JT: Wilson Pickett has got to be a high watermark in my career 'cause he is just an unbelievable singer. He could sing anything you could think of. He could go beyond it. He was just a great guy, he was just a funny guy. He was really tough on a lot of people, but he was just lovely to me and my wife. He just treated us great and it was just a fantastic experience being around someone with that spark. I will treasure that memory forever. Frank Black is someone that I've worked with on four different records, three albums, and an EP. The most recent one was an album from Frank & Reid Paley, a duet record, that we did at my house in two days. I also produced the Honeybomb record, which was an incredible treat with all the musicians on that -- Reggie Young, Buddy Miller and David Hood. That was when I really got to know David a lot better than I had previously, even though I had worked with him before. We did the follow-up, Fastman Radarman, where I got to work with Carol Kaye, Jim Keltner, Ian McLagan, etc.. Frank Black has got extra honey, so he attracts sweetness from all these accomplished musicians that want to work with him. I'm just happy to be a part of that because his music is just so fantastic. Again, he's a great person to be around, a very generous, creative spirit.

MR: Don't forget Alex Chilton.

JT: I produced Alex Chilton's first solo album after Big Star split up, originally an EP called Singer Not the Song, which expanded into Bach's Bottom. Not exactly a fun time for me, but you don't make an omelette without breaking heads. I mean eggs. Nobody was seriously injured, but I had to duck more than once.

MR: (laughs) You've worked on a few tribute albums.

JT: Yeah. 6 or 7, something like that.

MR: So when you're working with these various artists, it's from personal relationships, but it's also from reaching out to these guys on your end too, right?

JT: Yeah. It's hard separating my social life from my work.

MR: What has been the most surprising result of having relationships with some of these great artists? Have you found that interacting with them creatively has enhanced your creativity as well?

JT: Absolutely. The most fun for me is to get someone who's got this great idea for a song -- and they've got most of it -- but in their mind, there's something missing from this song. They will then play me some of it and it becomes so obvious where the song should go, and I show them. All of a sudden, I'm co-writing with Paul Rodgers or Steve Cropper or Mick Taylor, and I'm pinching myself. At the same time, I'm thinking, "Wow, I'm writing a song with Steve Cropper!" It's really good for the self-esteem and it's really good to see those sparks fly. I got spoiled really early. When I got to write with Don Covay, for me, that was the beginning of my musical nirvana. Together, we could do no wrong. We had other people recording our songs -- Huey Lewis, Robert Cray, and Otis Clay all covered one of them, "He Don't Know."

MR: Nice run there.

JT: We had some success, ya know? It was really great for Don because it had been a while since anybody had done a really good version of one of his post-Atlantic songs. It was very exciting for him. On the other hand, you meet someone new who is completely green about the process like Dylan LeBlanc who I think is just incredible. I actually found him and brought him to Rough Trade Records. When we get together and write, it's amazing because he's just 23 years old and the stuff to me that I would take for granted is like a brilliant revelation to him.

MR: Kent -- who just happened to wonder over here, no, not really -- how do you get inspired to write a song and how do you jump into action after that happens?

KA: There's the mystery, right? When I had my rock band together, I was working purely from inspiration. I would wait for something to find me. It was usually a line. I would be driving in my car and a line would float into my consciousness uninvited most of the time and it was always not the title line of a song. It was then a line that I would just chase down and find out where it wanted to go. That's still how I work when I'm working from inspiration. But when I started writing as a professional songwriter, I knew that if I did leave it at that, I wouldn't produce enough and I may not get any better at the craft itself. I began to co-write, specifically to take care of that angle of it. That's a different process. I mean, co-writing, for me -- for 15 years, I was co-writing twice a day, sometimes three times.

MR: Who were some of the people that you would co-write with?

KA: Everyone in town, one time or another. I have favorite co-writers now. Earl Bud Lee... what happened to him?

JT: He had a very big hit recently, "Who Are You When I'm Not Looking" by Blake Shelton. It went to number one, so that was really good for Bud. He's a wonderful talent and beautiful person who went through some very difficult times and it's great to see him coming back into his own.

MR: Hey, what is your advice for new artists?

KA: My advice to new artists is keep writing and writing, keep getting those creative thoughts out there, write all the songs that are in you because you've got to write the bad songs as well as the good ones. Number one. If you don't get the creative energy out of your system, it manifests anxiety. It's better that you write the song than you have the anxiety stuck in your system. You've got creative energy running around your system and you can't figure out what it is. If you're feeling anxious and you're feeling this confusion, you've got to write a song. You've got to get that out of your system. Put that to productive use.

MR: Jon, what is your creative process?

JT: My creative process for music, I usually sit down in front of the TV set and play until I come up with something that turns me on.

MR: Is it CNN?

JT: Never. It's usually one of the movie channels. Occasionally, MSNBC with the sound off.

MR: What fun is that? My future wife, Rachel Maddow, with the sound off?

JT: I'm talking about during the day, not at night, no offense, Ms. M. I need a little moving wallpaper while I come up with my music.

KA: I'm the same way with music. When I'm writing music, it's my spinal column driving it, not my brain. I'm just allowing my left hand to move and then I hear what I've done and I go, "wow, that was cool." I need something else to so I can go Zen-like. I just let my left hand do what it does.

MR: Sally, what about you?

ST: Same thing. You're basically channeling the music or whatever your art form is out there and your trying to invite it in, whatever your physical method is. In terms of lyrics, I like to listen to the other person. I really like writing with somebody else. They start their idea and I try to finish the line.

MR: Sally, what is your advice to new artists?

ST: My advice to new artists is have parents that can pay your rent for a few years. Give it a shot for a few years if you can afford to. It's a great lifestyle if you can do it.

JT: Yes, but making money at it is very difficult in particular these days. It's really difficult to be able to monetize anything that involves intellectual content because it's so easily purloined by people on the web with nimble fingers. We have to do art for art's sake as much as possible and hope that there will be some sort of sponsorship for us to do it. You can't necessarily think there will be a record label that's going to be able to do it. I mean, I've had a lot of help from the Jack Daniels people. They've hired me to be their musical director and MC for their birthday party at the distillery, so I've been subsidized by them. I've been able to employ people like Steve Cropper, David Hood, Spooner Oldham and Reggie Young to be in my band. We ended up backing Patti Smith, Warpaint, Plan B, Carl Barat, Juliette Lewis and a lot of artists who, otherwise, I wouldn't be interacting with. It started out as a lark and now it's been a very integral part of my music career. It's not something that I sought out; it just fell into my lap thanks to Frank Black who performed the first year I did it. They film these things every year and show them on British television. I've done 5 different years, and they basically put the singers together and leave it to me to back them up.

MR: Kent, what is your advice for new artists?

KA: You know, it's all changed so much since I was a new artist. Partly, now, there's a beauty to it... there's so much more that you can do by yourself, with the internet and home recording studios. A co-writer of mine and I, just a couple of months ago, finished writing a song in the morning, recorded in his house that afternoon, and I shot a video of him playing the song. We uploaded it to the computer that night. The new model to me for the young artist that I know is that it's not about record labels anymore. The guys that I know who are doing it and touring who have the ability to tour like that are out in a van or a bus, they're creating a fan base of ten-thousand people who they can talk into buying 20 dollars worth of merchandise a year -- that's $200,000 straight to them without a label. The beauty with that is that you can do so much yourself, but I think we've lost something, that cultural experience of music coming at you like it did when we were younger. It's not like there is this niche like, "Oh, you've got to hear this new band Department of Eagles, they're incredible," and they are by the way. But you know, it used to come at you. It was a huge cultural experience that only a large record label could do. It's sad that's gone.

JT: You don't have the repetitive play anymore because there's so much and there's so little of it that is really directed. Okay, like if the next Beatles came along, would we know?

KA: They may be there right now.

MR: Yeah, I think they were called U2.

JT: I would really encourage young artists to seek out people who are really better than you to write with.

KA: Absolutely.

JT: That was the thing that helped me the most. Working with Don Covay, Keith Reid, and Jim Carroll really made me get my act together. When you're writing with someone that serious about what they do -- and that gifted -- and know so much more, you get a lot by osmosis and you do get a lot of knowledge even when they're not teaching you because you're around someone who's learned how to do it. There are a lot of lessons that you will never learn anywhere except from people who are at that level.

MR: Jon, here's the most important question that I have to ask you in this interview. The Yankees reunion album. When is that coming?

JT: The Yo MaMa record, for all intents and purposes, is the closest we'll get to a Yankees reunion album. The Yankees were essentially me and Sally and whoever else we could finagle into the studio at the time. Our main drummer, Mickey Curry, went on to play with Bryan Adams and Hall & Oates. He's available to me now, but he's in Connecticut, I'm in Nashville, and still a pal.

KA: On the other hand, you have Chester Thomson available to you, too. Use him as much as possible.

JT: You know I do. I had someone named Paul Ossola on bass then, and strangely enough, he recently moved to Nashville, so it's possible that Paul and I would do something together again. But for all intents and purposes, I have left The Yankees behind.

MR: Yes, leaving us to move on to The Artful Dodgers.

JT: As long as I don't have to be in a rock band called The Mets.

MR: Let's have some words of wisdom from everyone. Jon Tiven?

JT: My words of wisdom is that it's all out there. All you have to do is seek what you are looking for and you will find it.

MR: Sally Tiven?

ST: My advice is go to yoga class.

MR: Kent Agee? Your words of wisdom please, sir?

KA: Stay joyful. That's my big advice. You can find joy in everything.

MR: My words of wisdom are to listen to Kent Agee, Jon Tiven, and Sally Tiven's works to find the secret of life.

JT: Thank you very much.

ST: Thanks.

KA: Thanks, Mike!

Transcribed by Joe Stahl


ROME BURNS AGAIN

The Burning Of Rome's Adam Traub has some words about this video exclusive...

"The song Cowboys & Cut Cigars depicts a group of renegades drunk on power that scour the Earth wreaking carnage and havoc in conquest for glory. Our music video parodies these individuals with street performers in Tijuana, Mexico, performing the song along the Tijuana boardwalk and spreading havoc of their own. "

And here's the video for The Burning Of Rome's "Cowboys And Cut Cigars"...

 

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