A Conversation with Dan Wilson
Mike Ragogna: Let's start by talking about your new album Live At The Pantages.
Dan Wilson: Cool.
MR: When was it recorded?
DW: It was recorded last Winter, and it was a show in Minneapolis. I had been touring after my solo album Free Life came out. I had been touring for about two years and I did about half of my shows solo, busker style--just with an acoustic guitar--and I did about half my shows with a full band, which was a crew of my friends from Minneapolis. Occasionally, I'd also get a chance to play with Brad Gordon, who is a multi-instrumentalist from Los Angeles. So, when we scheduled this big gig in Minneapolis to sort of rap up all the touring and put an exclamation mark on that period of time which had been so important to me, I wanted to make a show for Minneapolis that was almost like a sampler of the last couple of years. So, I ended up doing a set of solo songs, then a couple of songs with Brad Gordon on piano, and then a full set of me with my Minneapolis based band--John Munson on bass, Eric Fawcett played drums, Steve Roehm played vibes, and Brad Gordon played piano, pocket trumpet, clarinet, and various other things. My engineers and I recorded the album and kind of assumed we would grab the best of the whole batch and make a single CD. But I liked it so much and was so happy about how it sounded that I ended up deciding to do a double CD--one with the solo set, and one with the band set.
MR: And both discs cover all periods of your career.
DW: As the show approached, I got so many requests from fans about what to play, and I think I must have hyped it a little bit and told them what I was planning to do. Everybody started clamoring about what songs to play, and I ended up being able to put together, in the first half of the show, a series of songs that, at least maybe secretly to me, told this story of my musical life, and the songs all kind of linked together in a nice way. It was a retrospective almost.
MR: Yeah, and there was obviously much thought involving your sequence, with "Across The Great Divide" going into the Semisonic song "California" which has the line "Across the great divide" right there in the lyric.
DW: I tried to do that several times in the set, sort of to entertain myself because I wouldn't talk about it too much to people. But there are a bunch of moments like that. I've put out several live records over the years, and they all have a really different function in my life and a really different feeling. This one just felt kind of like a celebration and a tour for me of ideas I'd had and things that I had tried. It was really, very important to me.
MR: Can you tell us the Dan Wilson story, including Trip Shakespeare and Semisonic?
DW: Okay. Well, I grew up in Minneapolis, and my brother Matt and I grew up making music together. We learned how to play guitar together--he took up the drums, and we had a few bands with him playing the drums. At one point in our early twenties, he was in Minneapolis starting this band, Trip Shakespeare, and I was out in San Francisco. When Trip Shakespeare the trio, as it was, started to sound really good, he began lobbying me to move back to Minneapolis and be in his band, so that's what I eventually did. So, I was in Trip Shakespeare for maybe six years and we put out a bunch of albums. At the end of that period of time, I started a new band with the bassist from Trip Shakespeare. Trip had decided to take a break of some kind which continues to this day. That was probably '93, which is a long time. So, John Munson from Trip Shakespeare, our friend Jacob Slichter, and I started the band Semisonic, and that was pretty much actively touring for the next ten years. We put out a lot of albums, EPs, and got a chance to basically travel the world several times, partly because our second Semisonic album, Feeling Strangely Fine, had several hits on it, and that really paved the way for a lot of interesting things to happen. Then, in about '02, I started working on what I thought was going to be a kind of quick solo album--kind of a break from Semisonic--and somehow, that project turned into my solo album Free Life, which attracted the attention of Rick Rubin. I got signed as a solo artist to American Recordings--that's probably the twelfth or thirteenth record label that I was on at that point. So, I worked on Free Life for a couple of years, and then it was stuck in what you would call "record label purgatory" for about three years, and then it finally came out in late '07 or something like that.
MR: Thank you for the catch up, that was great.
DW: How was that? Was it long? Short? Was it quick or a slow burn?
MR: (laughs) It was perfect. What was it like working with Rick Rubin?
DW: It was really kind of exactly what I was looking for at the time, interestingly. I guess I met Rick in '03, and at that time, I had been telling everybody I knew that I was looking for a musical partner or mentor. I was looking either for somebody old--I was kind of imagining it might be like a jazz piano player or something--or somebody who knew more than I did about some things. I wasn't sure what that kind of person was going to be, but I definitely wanted a partner, and I definitely wanted to learn something. Just by chance, my early recording from Free Life, from early '03, ended up in Rick Rubin's hands through a series of friends. He sent me an email when I was in Minneapolis and said, "Hey, do you want to come over and talk?" But I think he didn't realize that I was, you know, thousands of miles away. I actually happened to be traveling to Los Angeles the next week, so we met and he became--I guess what you'd say is that in some areas, like recording--a mentor to me. And in the music area, he definitely became a partner. He's a huge appreciator of great songs and he seems to think that I write them.
MR: (laughs) So, with Live At The Pantages, you cover a lot of ground and a lot of notes, your vocal on "Across The Great Divide" jumping all over the place with ease and in pitch without pitch correction.
DW: It's live, so you're definitely not going to be able to do a lot about flat notes.
MR: You basically start your album with "Hand On My Heart." What is the story behind it, and why was "Tangled Up In Blue" tangled up in "Hand On My Heart"?
DW: You know, "Hand On My Heart" sometimes almost feels like the story of my life in a few short snapshots--each verse is a picture of something that happened. Basically, the week before the Live At The Pantages recording was made, I kind of realized that I had lifted some essence of the guitar chords at the beginning--not lifted, but it was similar to "Tangled Up In Blue." So, I decided to just make it even closer and use that "Tangled Up In Blue" guitar riff for "Hang On My Heart" because Dylan has been an enormous influence on me and sort of a hero of mine in a twisted way because of his mysterious nature. He's been sort of a hero of mine for my whole musical life, basically, and before I even wanted to be a performer, I was very, very taken by his early records. So, while I was practicing my little mash up of "Tangled Up In Blue" and "Hand On My Heart," I just couldn't resist throwing in my favorite verse from "Tangled Up In Blue" into my song.
MR: I'd like to talk to you about some of your songwriting achievements, and some of your biggest involved The Dixie Chicks. You worked with them on their record Taking The Long Way which won the Grammy for Album of the Year, and you co-wrote many of its songs, even "Not Ready To Make Nice" which was Song of the Year. What was it like working with The Dixie Chicks?
DW: We had fun, that's my main memory of it. I had not met them before we got together to write songs. It was kind of a musical blind date put together between the Chicks and me by their producer Rick Rubin who I had worked with. Rick played them a bunch of songs from my solo period and they really dug them, and I think we knew that we were going to have an interesting time. They are very collaborative in the sense that they contributed a lot. It wasn't, you know, "pro songwriter," filling in all the blanks for the artist while they get their nails done or shop online. It was definitely a real, full on collaboration. They had strong ideas, as you can imagine given their reputation, and lots of musical ideas. We just basically talked and laughed about experiences that we had shared and also experiences that they had had. It was almost like those conversations led to the titles or the lines of the songs. It was very, very natural.
MR: When you got down to co-writing with them, was the experience more like pals getting together or was it more of a formal sit down?
DW: The first time we got together was in a studio in Los Angeles, and we all showed up at eleven in the morning and met for the first time. I asked them to sing me a bunch of the songs they were working on at the moment, just to get me in the mood and get me up to speed because I wanted to be where they were at to some degree. So, they sang me a bunch of new songs they were working on, and of course, secretly, that was a thrill for me just to be sitting in the room while Natalie, Martie, and Emily sang and played these songs. My memory is that the first day was mostly spent laughing and telling stories, and I was very curious to hear about their political misadventures. Natalie had criticized President Bush during the run up to the Iraq war, then the band got black listed from country radio, and they really took it on the chin and became the whipping boy for the pro-war movement, I would say. I thought it was really interesting from the outside. For them it sucked, but I just wanted to hear about it, so I mainly just made them tell me stories about the terrible things people had said about them, the death threats, and the sense of their utter rejection and annihilation of their radio career. It's a bummer, but it was really interesting, and they're the kind of people who can laugh about misfortunate things, so we just had a really interesting day talking. We had a couple more days after that, and after that first day, we had material for a bunch of songs.
MR: I've interviewed Martie and Emily on their group Court Yard Hounds project for HuffPost. We talked about that adventure, and, like you said, they had humor about it. But I think they opened the door for discussion because, if it weren't for them, people wouldn't have had the glimpse into the censorship and bully pulpit tactics of the era.
DW: Yes, I think that politics is a hard ball game where people don't mess around, and when an artist is drawn into politics, I think it can be painful and it can really hurt your career. But for them, and in a smaller way for me, it's also an opportunity to be part of the larger conversation. Before their political upheavals of that time, they were probably thought of as a cute, fun country trio that kind of crossed over into pop and sang great and played great, obviously. And their taste in songs--people don't really realize that part of the reason they had all those hits is that they had impeccable taste in songs. But I don't think they would have been known for their opinions, their integrity, or their moral point of view unless they had gone through that terrible experience of being slammed so badly. So, I think it became a larger opportunity for them.
MR: There was also this depth that was added to their image. Like you were saying before about them being perceived as cute and fun, the controversy added this depth to them. Do you remember that Rolling Stone cover with the tattoos on censorship all over their bodies?
DW: Oh, yeah.
MR: That event became sort of a rallying cry, and thank God for folks like them who understood just how dangerously this country had flirted with fascism.
DW: That phrase "Not ready to make nice" I guess was one of my contributions to that song, and that was basically my way of describing where Natalie stood on that issue at that time. But it's sort of a Midwesternism--it's kind of a part of my Midwestern upbringing that I heard people saying things like that. When my brother Matt--who is deeply into the left wing, liberal blogosphere, which I am not--reads all the latest rants online, and during the period of time when Taking The Long Way was out and very much in people's sights, my brother kept seeing that phrase, "Not ready to make nice" cropping up as the headline or title of posts by his lefty, liberal blogosphere idols. I think I actually ended up on Matt's radar more because of that than the music. He was very impressed that that song became kind of a flag that people could wave at the time, and that's a pretty huge honor. I think it takes both sides to create a democracy, so I don't want to shut anybody up, and I think one of the themes of that song is, "No, I'm not going to shut up. I'm going to speak my mind and I'm not ready to chill out and stop arguing." I think it's important to keep saying your piece.
MR: Let's look at some other projects that you've worked on. You're just finishing up a Josh Groban project?
DW: Correct. Josh and I wrote, I think, nine songs for this current album that's just about to come out for him. Not all nine are going to make the record and I don't actually have the list, but someone mentioned to me, "Oh, I heard you wrote most of the songs on the new Josh Groban album." That's definitely not true, but another person said, "Oh, I hear you wrote half the songs on the new Josh Groban album," and that's at least conceivable, that I wrote several. The new single of Josh's is called "Hidden Away," and Josh and I wrote that together.
MR: Nice. In the past, you've worked with Jason Mraz, and you might currently have a song on his new project, right?
DW: Yeah, Jason Mraz and I wrote two songs together on his Mr. A-Z record, two albums ago, and we worked together on one song for his last album too.
MR: And Keith Urban.
DW: I wrote what I think is a great song with Keith, but I haven't heard from him whether it's going to make the album. I know he recorded it though. It's funny because I think a lot of what I do is sort of get in sessions with people and help them finish songs or I start things from scratch with them, and we make a great demo of it, and then I'm not really in the habit of asking whether they are going to use it. So, it's usually kind of a nice surprise for me, like with the new Josh Groban album, I didn't know they were going to use "Hidden Away" as their first single, so that was a nice surprise. I have a song on the brand new Weezer album called "Ruling me" of which I thought the demo Rivers Cuomo and I made was really fun, but then I didn't really hear much more about it. Then, when I saw the track listing of the Weezer album, it's the second song on the record. They must like it too.
A similar thing happened with a song I wrote with Sam Endicott from The Bravery. Sam and I wrote this song called "Ours," and we didn't really know what was going to happen with it. But we knew we liked it a lot, and I guess it got swept up by the latest Twilight movie, Eclipse. They used it in that movie and on the soundtrack album, and it's third in the sequence, so, once again, someone must have liked it.
MR: (laughs) So many great songwriters are constantly writing songs, collaborations, song doctoring and participate on many levels of creativity. That's great.
DW: It's a fun time for me because I've got Weezer, Josh Groban, The Bravery, maybe a Keith Urban song--I don't know what's going to happen with that, but even just working with Keith was fun.
MR: And what about KT Tunstall?
DW: KT Tunstall and I wrote a song that's called "Boy," and I think it's in a movie that is either out or coming out called Kid. I don't know what the timing is going to be on that, but yeah, KT and I wrote something. I've got a couple of things that I'm working on with Rachel Yamagata. Gabe Dixon and I wrote a couple of songs for his new jam--there are a lot of really varied things going on with really different styles and different kinds of worlds. I'm having a lot of fun kind of floating from zone to zone.
MR: With all the writing you're doing, I imagine by the time you're ready to do your next solo album, that's going to be a killer.
DW: You know, it's funny because I'm three quarters of the way through my next solo album, and I think what happens...when I collaborate with people, it's usually just with a piano, guitar, and voices. We don't really create an arrangement or a sound for the song until later. So, if I have a three-day session and I write two or three songs with somebody, usually what we end up with is as great a recording as I can make with just piano and voice or just guitar and voice. Actually, an example of that is when I did some songs with Adele, the British soul singer, and one of the songs in particular we just got a really beautiful version of her singing and me playing the piano.
DW: That's kind of my ideal, and in a way, it kind of frees me from the whole world of style. I don't have to think too much about style. Style is really important in pop culture and in pop music--it's really, really important--but I somehow like to sort of have the song in the form that a fan would play it at a coffee shop. If you write a great love song and somebody is going to play it at their wedding, they're not going to have like a big band, they're going to have their friend sing it at the piano, and that's kind of where you know whether you stand or fall--if the song really works with just one instrument.
MR: Yeah, everything pops out right there.
DW: I think for my new solo record, I took an idea from Live At The Pantages, actually, because I'm considering having one disk of busker versions with just one instrument and me, and then a second disk of full on band recording.
MR: Well, as I said earlier, man, your voice is so strong and wonderful. You haven't destroyed it with tours and the like.
DW: No, luckily I haven't destroyed it, but I've never been a screamer, and I don't really know how to scream convincingly, so I never really got into that world. So, I probably have the advantage of never really shredding. I was going to mention something about a word you used earlier, "song doctor."
DW: I don't know why, and I'm not offended by it at all, but I've never liked that term. I've always felt like it reduced songwriting to some sort of formula or it makes it sound like it's a science to write a song. Almost every good song that I've written has been through the process of getting together with somebody, talking for a while, and sharing a little bit of, "How about this?" The "How about this" phase is like three words or maybe it's a snippet of melody that's five or six notes long or a guitar chord, and then we write the song totally from scratch. I rarely have gone into a situation where somebody had most of a song done and they needed doctoring, and I don't think that's where the best inspirations come from. I've done it a couple of times, and it's worked out well, but it's not the main. That's like a minor sideline of mine. I'm much more into jamming with people and getting great inspiration happening right then and there.
MR: Cool. We've spoken about so much today, and I really appreciate the time that you've put into this, but I can't let you go without you giving some advice to new artists that are coming up right now.
DW: Wow, okay. Well, I can only speak from my own experience, I guess. But I would say, in my opinion, the main thing to do is to find your audience. That means getting out in front of people. Don't save your ideas, and don't protect your songs from being stolen. Get them out in front of people and don't worry about hoarding them until you have your great opportunity. Instead, just find an audience. Find people who will listen to you, and then some of those people will love what you do and you can proceed to build the audience. That's the way to do it. The second thing I would say is find a community. Find a crew that you want to be a part of or find other people whose work you respect and just work with them. Don't slave away on your own, alone in front of a computer making incredible tracks. Get out and jam with people, help other people on their records, accompany other people and just be part of a community. Because eventually those peers are going to be influential, and they're going to be the people that turn to you when they need something important done.
MR: That's really good advice. Thank you very much on behalf all of new artists to you (laughs).
DW: (laughs) You're very welcome!
MR: Before you go--and I know I've already said it numerous times--but I think your voice is amazing. Some of the notes and intervals you were able to pull off here...
DW: Cool, man. I think I might be in a nice place in life where I know what sounds right coming out of my mouth, and I know what doesn't. At the same time, I can try things because I haven't necessarily lost a lot of range, but more than that, I think I just know myself and I know my instrument, so I can just sort of play around with it and have a good time. I read this interview recently with Rivers Cuomo, who is a very fun guy to listen to talk, and he said that he had recently beaten his voice into submission, and now it does anything he tells it to do (laughs).
MR: Yeah. It's a shame Rivers doesn't stick his nose out into the marketplace more often, and that's surprising considering how talented he is and the devoted following Weezer has.
DW: I think this is a period of really interesting growth and exploration for him, and I don't know what his next steps are going to be. But I've just been really fascinated by his recent moves and his willingness to try anything and do anything. It's been really fun.
MR: So, Dan Wilson, formerly of Semisonic, what's on the reunion front?
DW: We do a couple of shows every year, and I definitely have a dream to make another Semisonic album. It'll be really sweet to get back with the guys.
Cheers and Hello
Hand on My Heart
Across the Great Divide
talking: those songs tell a story
One True Love
talking: teeter totter
Singing in My Sleep
talking: the search committee that chose itself
All Will Be Well
talking: meaning of songs
Willie the King
talking: birthday boy
talking: do you all have something to add?
I'll Be Your Baby Tonight
talking: introducing the band
talking: a good feeling
(transcribed by Ryan Gaffney)
A Conversation with Franke Previte
Mike Ragogna: Franke, we're so glad to have you here at solar powered KRUU-FM, which is based in Fairfield, Iowa. I hear you have a little Fairfield story,?
Franke Previte: I definitely have a Fairfield story. I was back in high school, where I sang and sang. But I wasn't really a book guy, so college was a far-fetched thought for me. Then, a person from Fairfield's Parsons College came to my house to tell me about the college and what they do. I'm looking out the window and they say, "Son, we're talking to you. What do you want to do with your life?" So, I said, "Well, I want to be a singer," and they said, "Well, you had better talk to your parents because they're about to waste a lot of money." My parents said to me, "You go to college, and you can be whatever you want to be." So, I found myself in Fairlfield, Iowa, for two years, before I transferred to Delaware. It was a very interesting time because I was, at that time, in a doo-wop band. It was '66 or so, and I was more of a greaser. I'm in Iowa, and there are a lot of different cultures out there than how I looked. So, it took a meshing period before I realized, "You know what? I've got to cut my hair a little differently, and I've got to wear my clothes a little differently." But it was a good experience because I got a chance to put a band together out there, and I was a member of the Sigma Pi organization. College is a learning experience about coming of age or a young man trying to find his legs, you know?
MR: Nice. Let's jump a little forward to the time before your group Franke & The Knockouts.
FP: Well, I was in a band called Bull Angus in the '70s on Mercury Records. We toured with Rod Stewart, Deep Purple and Fleetwood Mac. We would do the Madison Square Garden of every town with Rod. Then, we did this Pocono Mountain Festival in Pennsylvania, where there were four hundred thousand people. That was about two years after Woodstock in like '71. So, getting those kind of gigs and being able to do your own music--now, you have realize that my hair was like the worlds largest afro; it was from one shoulder to the other shoulder. I remember because Tico Torres, the drummer from Bon Jovi who ended up being in the Knockouts, said to me, "The first time I saw you was back in '71 at Madison Square Garden. I remember it because I'm a drummer, so I kept on trying to see the drummer, but your head was so big with your hair, I couldn't see the drummer." Back in the days of heavy metal, everybody came out of that with shrapnel wounds, you know?
MR: (laughs) So, then the Millennium Records deal happens.
FP: Well, Millennium came about because after Bull Angus. I was on Buddha Records for about a year or two. That's where Tony Camillo, who did Gladys Knight's "Midnight Train To Georgia," produced me. They were trying to make me into an r&b singer because I could croon.
MR: Were you called Franke Previte at the time?
FP: Yes, I was. So, there I am living in New Brunswick, New Jersey, in an apartment that my parents gave me because they had an apartment house, and I was selling cars out of my driveway for about three years to get enough money to pay for my voice lessons. I met this guy named Burt Padell through a close friend named Kenny Friedson, and Burt Padell did something in three weeks that I couldn't do in three years--he hooked me up with Jimmy Ienner, the president of Millennium Records. When he heard my voice, there was like a connection between he and I because Jimmy used to sing in this group called The Earls, who had that song, "Remember Then." I don't know if you remember that song, but it was a very popular song with The Earls.
MR: Can't remember at this moment, how does it go again?
FP: (singing) Re-me-me-re-me-me-member...
MR & FP: (singing) Re-me-me-re-me-me-member (laughs).
FP: Jimmy was the bass, the "remember" guy, you know?
FP: Then, Jimmy also did "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," he did the bass in that. He had this a capella, '60s thing about him, and he obviously connected with my voice because he heard some of that doo-wop still in my voice. Our first song came out, a song named "Sweetheart," and Jimmy actually warned me not to release that song because he said I was a much heavier rock band than that song, and he thought it would pigeon hole me as a much lighter band. I said, "Well, that's your call." He actually signed us for a song called "She's A Runner." He loved that song, and that was his pick for the single. I believe it was Betancourt over at RCA who said, "No, no, we're going to release 'Sweetheart.'" It went to number nine, "You're My Girl" went to number fifteen or so, and then from the second album, "Without You" was another Top Fifteen hit. So, we became that kind of sound, Franke & The Knockouts.
MR: There were a lot of bands that came after like Tommy Tutone, and you can see where they might have been influenced by you.
FP: Well, I'd like to think so, but there were a lot of really good singers--Silver Condor which Joseph Cerisano sang with, and he actually became a close friend. I was in a cover band called The Oxford Watch Band and we were on Capitol Records, but we did some cover stuff, and the other singer in the band was Bennie Grammatico. He would say to me, "My brother loves your voice, he comes to hear you sing all the time, and he was wondering if you would come to one of his gigs." I said, "Bennie, we're busy all the time. How am I going to go to one of his gigs?" Well, the first time I heard him, he was the lead singer in Foreigner, and his name was Gramm--Lou Gramm, better known as Lou Grammatico. So, there were a lot of great singers out there, and probably all of us were emulating Paul Rodgers. He was the guy, you know?
MR: So, we had Franke & The Knockouts with its run of chart hits that included "Sweetheart" and some FM classics. I remember WNEW played Franke & The Knockouts often.
FP: They were. Back in the day, you could put out a single and then have an AOR--album oriented rock--track. So, we had "Comeback, "Never Had It Better," and all these other AOR, heavier FM kind of tracks. You were able to have this split personality as a band and have two formats. We were lucky enough back then when WNEW and all those stations embraced us. We were coming down to The Bottom Line doing live shows down there, and they would record us. The bad new is that it was like nine in the morning, and you shouldn't be singing at nine in the morning. But the good news is that any publicity and any time you could get on the radio with the power of New York radio, you did it.
MR: What a magnificent machine that was.
FP: Yes, yes.
MR: Everybody has their stations, but New York really had nothing but monster stations everywhere on that dial.
FP: They did, and it's a tribute to where music was at during a time when you could have several huge stations in the same format playing rock and roll. I don't think it was as inhibited back then. To me, what happened is that the download thing got so heavy and the record companies started freaking out that they weren't making as much money that they didn't have the money to experiment with new groups. I think maybe some of that rubbed off on radio where they thought they only ought to play a certain kind of song. It restricted the growth of the artists.
MR: Also, radio became so heavily formatted to a specific sound. Music became functional as opposed to something you would truly listen to.
MR: In your timeline, you are associating with Jimmy Ienner, and Jimmy Ienner is associating with a certain Eric Carmen.
MR: So, Jimmy did the solo records, but didn't he also do The Raspberries?
FP: He did a Raspberries album as well. They had a strong connection, and Jimmy produced The Raspberries as well as Eric Carmen. Jimmy was so well versed in so many different genres. He was a guy that could connect the dots and make it all work, he's a master at that. He has a great ear, so there were other groups like Chilliwack on his label. He could hear the hit. He also produced Three Dog Night, and I think he also did a Blood, Sweat & Tears record.
MR: His name was all over the place.
FP: He did a John Lennon record as well, so the guy is an icon.
MR: Now, it was through the relationships that you had built with Jimmy Ienner and that whole stable of musicians that you gained a lot of recognition as an artist and songwriter. But there was also a certain movie that came out in the '80s--I believe it was called Dirty Dancing...
FP: I think you're right. That's an interesting story in itself because back in '85 Jimmy decided to shut his label down. So, I'm like, "You shut your label down, we just finished our third record, what's the deal?" He said, "Well, you know what? I wanted to get a new deal going with RCA, and they just don't want to give me what I want to promote my artists, so I'm shutting down." So, for the next two years, here I am back at the wheel trying to write songs and trying to get a record deal. I have all these songs on my demo reel, and I'm sending them out to labels only to hear, "No, you've got nothing." It just so happened that one of those songs that I "got nothing" on happened to be "Hungry Eyes." So, when Jimmy Called me and said, "I've got this little movie called Dirty Dancing and I want you to write a song. There have been one-hundred and forty-six songs submitted, you've got two weeks, we need a song."
My answer to Jimmy was, "Jimmy, I don't have time. I'm trying to get a record deal." And his answer to me was, "Make time. This is going to change your life." I started laughing and said, "You already did that one time, man. It wasn't cool." So, he goes, "No, no, trust me. I've got a good feeling about this movie." So, John DeNicola was the guy I was working, and I said, "Alright, I'll try to come up with something." Then he says, "Here's the bad news--it's got to be seven minutes long for the last scene." Now, they film out of sequence, so they filmed the last scene first. I don't know if a lot of people know that. So, I said, "John, let's do this--let's start the song with the chorus up front in half time, and let's down beat the verse in double time. This way, at least we get the chorus in right away and we have a shot that people will hear the chorus right way." John sent me a track, I played it over the phone to Jimmy, Jimmy liked the track and said, "Make a song." So, I'm in the car on the Garden State Parkway in the state of New Jersey, Exit 140, and I have this cassette in the dashboard playing the music. I have to jam when I write lyrics, so usually, phonetic sounds come out of me. I'm sitting there going, "...time of my life..." and I'm scribbling "time of my life" on an envelope. I didn't really know anything about this movie--Jimmy gave me like five minutes of what it was about--the man upstairs really wrote this song because the lyrics fit that movie to a "t." It blows my mind when I think about it.
MR: Wonder what song you're talking about...
FP: When I saw Patrick Swayze at the Academy Awards he said to me, "I need to talk to you about this song. Who sang it?" I said, "Well, I sang it with Rachele Cappelli, she's an artist on Atlantic Records. Why?" He went, "We didn't have the song. We were getting ready to record to a Lionel Richie track, and it was a good song, but it wasn't our song. When the tape came in, there were four songs on it, and yours was the last song. So we filmed that day to your demo, and at the end of the day, we looked at each other and went, 'oh my God, what did we just do? This movie could be really cool now.'" He said, "We took a camaraderie for each other as actors in the film that we never had before that song." So, I know how much it meant to Dirty Dancing, but even more so, how much it meant to Patrick.
MR: Oh my God, what a great story. Did you guys have a relationship after that point?
FP: Yeah we did. He had called me up, and we got together when he was doing a charity for heart disease for women. He called me up and said, "Would you come down and help me, and hang out?" So, I did, and we spent the day together. The guy that you see, and these fans embraced, is really the guy. It's no BS, he was really just Patrick. He was down to Earth, he was open, there was no fake facade going on, and when you get to know somebody on the other side of the industry and you find that they are genuine, which is not always the case, you embrace that person, and you remember them. You say, "You know what? That was a good guy." I'm glad I had the chance to meet him and be in his life for a minute.
MR: Nice. What about Eric Carmen? So, Eric Carmen has a huge hit with your song too.
FP: Well, he did "Hungry Eyes."
MR: Of course. So, he has a huge hit with the record.
FP: Well, Jimmy had mentioned when I sent it in, "Do you have any other songs?" I sent in "Hungry Eyes," and he said, "Why don't you sing 'Hungry Eyes'?" So, I went to the Power Station, Larry Alexander was going to engineer, and I got all these players. Then, I got this call from Emile Ardolino, who was the director of the film, and he said, "Hey, could you come down? There's another scene we might want to put some music to." So, I went in, and I'm sitting there watching the film, and he goes, "Oh, by the way, what's the bpm for 'Hungry Eyes' because they're having a hard time locking it to the demo." Now, bpm, in case you don't know what that means, is beats per minute. When a song has a beat per minute, they can then lock it in and sync it into their film, but they need to know the bpm. So, they filmed to the demo, but now they had to know the bpm to re-record this so it would lock in to them dancing. I said, "Geez, I didn't record it yet. I'm recording it on Monday," and Emile said, "Oh, you didn't know? Eric Carmen is in Cleveland, and he's recording the song." I said, "Oh, it would have been nice if somebody had told me that."
In the end of it, Eric was having a little bit of a problem, not with singing the song, but what had happened was people in the film were getting "demo-itis." They were so used to hearing my voice, and they were calling him up saying, "Can you sound more like Franke did on this?" and "Can you do what Franke did over here?" Rightfully so, I would have gotten ticked off, and he was getting ticked off and said, "I don't want to do this anymore." So, Jimmy called me back and said, "Listen, I'm going out to Cleveland. If I can't get him to sing it, would you again consider singing it?" I said, "Absolutely." And we know the end of that story because Eric had a big hit.
MR: Wow. Congratulations and condolences are both in order.
FP: At the end of the day, he did a great job.
MR: And "(I've Had) The Time Of My Life," another wow.
FP: Just having Bill Medley sing one of your songs, to me, was like forget about it, you know? He's a Righteous Brother, and I think Bill and Jennifer did an awesome, awesome job singing the song. Again though, my tenor voice and his baritone voice were so different that I think the film people were in a little shock wondering where that tenor voice went. But they got used to it, and I'm sure the world, not knowing my version, got used to it really fast because there are forty-eight million people that bought that record. That's a heavy number.
MR: Any more behind the scenes stories?
FP: Here's a story that you should know--Vestron Pictures and RCA Records were the two conglomerates that were putting this movie out. First of all, Vestron didn't really think too much about the movie. They were going put it out, wait a week, and have it go right to video, but RCA liked the songs and decided they were going to put out "...Time Of My Life," and they were going to put it out AC (Adult Contemporary). So, the song comes out--it's number thirty-four with a bullet, and RCA is like, "Okay, where's the movie?" "Oh, we forgot to tell you," Vestron said, "We moved it back a couple of months," to which RCA said, "Well, take your little movie and shove it." What happened was the movie came out, "...Time Of My Life" now is thirty-four with an anchor, it fell of the AC charts, and the people that went to see the movie, within the first week of the movie's release, three-hundred thousand records were back ordered. Before RCA could get the single back out, a million records were back ordered, and the phenomenon of Dirty Dancing is really about the fans. The fans made this happen, not the machine. I think if you take one of the pieces out of the puzzle--you take Patrick out, you take Jennifer or the movie out or you take the song away, you don't have the phenomenon. I think the chemistry of those things hit a chord and it created a fan base. There is a club of women who have seen the movie a thousand times, it's called The Thousand Club.
MR: Oh my God.
FP: Can you believe it? The fan base is over the top. Lions Gate has a website for it. We're on it with this new demo that we're putting out, and there's 4.5 million fans that still go to that website and find out what's going on.
MR: Now, what about that demo?
FP: The demo, being so important to the movie, when they did the keepsake edition about two months ago, they came back to me--Kenny Ortega, Eleanor Bergstein, and everybody--and said, "Geez, everybody is talking about this demo and how important this demo was to this movie." I said, "Yeah, Patrick told me the same thing." I said, "I've got to find a way to connect this demo and the DVD." So, I started researching and found out that Lisa Swayze had a foundation at Stanford University where Patrick was treated for pancreatic cancer. So, I called and talked to Erik Rausch, who runs their Pancreatic Cancer Fund, and I told him there had to be something I could do to help raise money. And it clicked--the lightbulb went off and I went, "Demos." So, I took "...Time Of My Life," "Hungry Eyes," and a song called "Someone Like You" that is in the stage play. If you've gone to the stage play, you've heard it. But if you haven't, it'll be a fresh piece of music to you, and it's a really great song. Then, Michael Lloyd, the original producer of "...Time Of My Life" said, "You know what? I want to help. Let me remix the demo for you." So, that's the four-song package. We've set up a fund with the Pancreatic Cancer Fund, we're raising money in Patrick's name, and I think with a fan base of forty-eight million, even if we get one percent to come and purchase this, we've put a dent in this disease. What a heroic guy Patrick was to live through this and still work. This guy was incredible, and I reach out to the fans, I'm pleading with you, let's get rid of this disease because somebody this young and this talented shouldn't have died on us.
MR: And he put such a brave face on while fighting the disease.
FP: He did.
MR: It's great that you're able to do something like this for your old friend.
FP: Thank you. It's still good music. I just got off the air with Cousin Brucie. He played such a cool role in the movie, and he's such an iconic voice. I started telling him a similar story, and he went, "Well, wait a minute, I've got to play this thing." He ripped the CD open, played "...Time Of My Life," and he came back on and said, "Oh my God, this doesn't sound like a demo, it sounds like a record." Well, after the amount of records I've made, you can make a pretty good demo. So, it sounds pretty good for being made twenty-three years ago.
MR: Franke, you're involved with something very special that's going to be auctioned off on eBay, aren't you?
FP: Yeah, I was talking to my publicist, and he said, "You know, there's a place in Virginia where they filmed the movie, but there's actually two sites. There's another one just outside of Asheville, North Carolina--that's where they filmed a lot of the bungalow scenes with the big stone building in the background. That's Mountain Lake." So, we got a hold of Buzz who is the manager of the resort, and he said to me, "I have a charity for pancreatic cancer as well that we're doing for Patrick." I said, "Well, we could maybe do something together. Let me handwrite the lyrics, but you've got to give me some really good letterhead with a picture of the resort on it and Patrick and Jennifer." So, he came up with a piece of art, it just looks awesome. I wrote the lyrics on it, framed it, and I put it in a picture of myself with the Academy Award. It goes on eBay, and we are auctioning it off for pancreatic cancer. Half of it goes to my charity and the other half goes to Buzz's charity for pancreatic cancer. I did this one other time for a children's cultural center,which was a much smaller event than what we're doing now, and it brought in some really nice money--close to ten-thousand dollars. So, if we get near that figure, one-hundred percent is going to pancreatic cancer funds. I think, when somebody sees it and they're a true fan that has the bucks, it would be a wonderful thing to put on your wall.
MR: Beautiful. I'm putting in a bid today.
FP: Actually, I'm heading down to Asheville because there's a big Dirty Dancing festival. I'm one of the speakers, and we're selling our CD, t-shirts, and we're trying to raise money. We want to knock out this disease, and we want to let people know that Patrick lives.
MR: Beautifully said. What a mensch. You were always one of my favorite people during my label run, you know that?
FP: Well, thank you. Thank you so much. It's been a lot of years.
MR: And here I am in your old college town which I think is pretty funny.
FP: Oh, that's wild. When they said, "Fairfield, Iowa," I almost fell of the chair.
MR: One last question. What advice do you have for new artists that are coming into the field right now?
FP: A new artist is obviously in a new era of the record industry, and it's probably harder now than ever before to get a record deal. So, I would say it's all about the song. Write a great song, get it on YouTube or Facebook, get the song heard, and generate a fan base. As soon as you can get some kind of a fan base where a record label can see selling twenty-thousand copies, they might give you some seed money to go in and do some work. It's so hard now with all the download stuff and pirating that record labels are so shy of giving out spec money for new artists. So, you almost have to create your own little label and create your own buzz so they don't have to do so much work. Then, if the song is strong enough, it will get heard. The truth of that is "...Time Of My Life" because it had nothing but the fans.
For more information: www.facebook.com/dirtydancingdemos
(transcribed by Ryan Gaffney)
TERENCE BLANCHARD / BRANFORD MARSALIS
OCTOBER 1-2 IN ROSE THEATER
Branford Marsalis & Terence Blanchard
Jazz at Lincoln Center brings two of New Orleans' finest native sons, trumpeter Terence Blanchard and saxophonist Branford Marsalis to Rose Theater on October 1-2. Both musicians left the Crescent City to join Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, then showed the world that New Orleans is not only the cradle of jazz itself but the nexus of a vibrant modern music scene. Leading their own groups, these two very different yet complementary composer-instrumentalists offer their own take on contemporary jazz.
October 1-2, 2010, 8pm, Rose Theater.
Rose Theater at Frederick P. Rose Hall, home of Jazz at Lincoln Center,
Broadway at 60th Street, New York, New York.
Ticket prices for Rose Theater are $10, $30, $50, $75, $95 or $120 dependent upon seating section.
Note: Hot Seats, $10 orchestral level seats for each Rose Theater performance (excluding Jazz For Young People concerts), are available for purchase to the general public on the Wednesday of each performance week. Subject to availability. Hot Seats are available only by walk up at the Box Office, maximum of four per person.
All tickets can be purchased through jalc.org or CenterCharge at 212-721-6500, open daily from 9am to 9pm. Tickets can also be purchased at the Jazz at Lincoln Center Box Office, located on Broadway at 60th Street, ground floor. Box Office hours: Monday-Saturday from 10am to 6pm (or 30 minutes past curtain) and Sunday from noon to 6pm (or 30 minutes past curtain).
(transcribed by Ryan Gaffney)
Follow Mike Ragogna on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ragz2008