A Conversation With Kris Kristofferson
MR: Kris, how are you?
KK: Doing well, Mike.
MR: Pretty good, man. You're performing in conjunction with the United Farm Workers' 50th Anniversary.
KK: Well, one of the concerts was cancelled in the series, I guess the economy is hurting ticket sales for everybody. But I've been working with the United Farm Workers for over 30 years, since Cesar Chavez asked me to do it. I identify with them because I grew up down in Brownsville, Texas. They even say I spoke Spanish before I spoke English because Brownsville was right across the water from Matamoros. When the United Farm Workers asked me to work with them, I was delighted. And I liked and admired them and Cesar Chavez so much that I kept doing it.
MR: Great. For these concerts, you'll be performing with groups like Los Lobos?
KK: Yeah, that's right. I've known those guys for a while and I love their music, I love Mexican music.
MR: Will you be playing your classics at these concerts?
KK: Oh, yeah. I wouldn't still be singing if it weren't for my good songs, you know? It's not my voice that's bringing people in. (laughs)
MR: (laughs) That's great. Let's talk a bit about some of those classic songs, like how about the story behind "Me and Bobby McGee"?
KK: Well, that's probably my signature song. Janis Joplin cut it before I knew she was going to. In fact, I saw that she did the song in Nashville before I even knew her. Bobby Nuewirth taught it to her.
MR: "Help Me Make It Through The Night"?
KK: That's probably one of my best-known songs besides "For The Good Times," or "Sunday Morning Coming Down." Fortunately for me, people with really good voices sang those songs. Johnny Cash made "Sunday Morning Coming Down" a hit record, and Ray Price did "For The Good Times." Sammi Smith was the one who did help me make it through the night.
MR: Right, nice. It's cool that you bring up Johnny Cash, because he was the one who helped you get your start, right?
KK: Johnny and I met when I was a janitor at Columbia Records. I gave him every song that I was writing back in those days. He never cut any of them but he always encouraged me. Eventually, he did wind up cutting, "Sunday Morning."
MR: He was also the one who introduced you as your own artist.
KK: Yes. He put me on stage at the Newport Folk Festival and I had never performed in front of an audience. I mean, I sang at his house when he would have songwriters over and we'd all sit in a circle and play. Anyway, the performance went over well and from then on, I had a recording career.
MR: Many of your early years were spent at Monument Records. Can you tell us about your time there?
KK: I just feel really blessed, because I'd still be doing this whether or not I could make money at it. I'm just glad I had the courage to do what I believed in. It took a long time for anyone to take notice of me and for me to be able to do what I do.
MR: Now, I consider "Why Me?" as one of your signature songs. Do you?
KK: Oh, yeah. That song was probably the biggest surprise hit to me, as the artist performing it. I love that song.
MR: You've also had an awesome acting career, with roles in the Blade movies and this year's Joyful Noise.
KK: Yeah, that's right. For some reason, I got the opportunity to do that right around the time that I played my first gig at The Troubadour in Los Angeles. A lot of movie people showed up and all of a sudden, I went from never having performed for money to doing movies and playing music all over.
MR: And, of course, there's what I imagine is your most popular film, A Star Is Born with Barbra Streisand.
KK: That's right. I've done a couple of movies with her, but that one was really a huge opportunity.
MR: Let's talk for a second about your work with Jimmy Webb and the success of "The Highwayman," which you're on with Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings.
KK: That's yet another situation where I have to pinch myself to realize that I actually had that opportunity. These guys who were my heroes turned out to be my really close friends. We got to work together over two or three years all over the world. It was incredible.
MR: Kris, I've wanted to tell you this for some time, but one of the most touching things I've ever seen is when Sinead O'Connor was being booed off the stage at the Dylan tribute and you ran out to the stage and had her back. Can you tell us about that event?
KK: Oh, boy. I mean, it was just heartbreaking to see it happen. You would think that an audience that came there out of respect for Mr. Bob Dylan would have respect for the other artists as well. That was a sad moment.
MR: In situations like that, I tend to follow your advice of that night: "Don't let the bastards get you down." Right? (laughs)
KK: Absolutely. (laughs) That's what I said to her.
MR: Do you still not let the "bastards got you down" until this day?
KK: That's right. Otherwise, I don't think I'd still be out there working, you know? (laughs) It's not because of the beauty of my voice that I'm still doing this. (laughs)
MR: Nah, you're just self-deprecating about your voice. Why is that? (laughs)
KK: It's probably because I have friends who are such great singers like Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson. To me, those are great singers.
MR: Very true, but like them, you have a sound.
KK: Well, thank you very much. From your lips to God's ears. (laughs)
MR: (laughs) Kris, do you have any advice that you can share with artists pursuing a career in this business?
KK: Well, I would have to say just be yourself and be as honest as you can. If what you're doing is what you love, you can't go wrong. If you're in it for the wrong reasons-money and fame-you might still get it, but odds are, there are still going to be some really tough moments. You have to believe in yourself and love what you're doing, whether or not other people do. A painter has to do the same thing. That's the way I've lived my life, and it's been worth it.
MR: It sure has, you're Kris Kristofferson. (laughs)
KK: (laughs) Well, I'll probably be doing this until they throw dirt on me.
MR: Any projects coming up soon besides the United Farm Workers shows?
KK: Yeah, I have an album that should be coming out pretty quick here. Keep an eye on my website for more details.
MR: Great, and we have to have you back for that. Kris, thanks so much for being here with us today. It's been a pleasure.
KK: Thank you for having me, Mike.
Transcribed by Evan Martin
A Conversation With Gerald Albright
MR: Gerald, you have a new album with Norman Brown called 24/7. But first, bring us up to speed on your life with Spotify. Spare no detail.
GA: You know, I recently just signed up with Spotify and I haven't gotten deeply into it yet. I thought it would be a thing kind of like Pandora, but all of a sudden, I'm getting a bunch of notifications from people saying "Hey, I want to share this music with you," and honestly, it's overwhelming for me. When you're trying to administer your Facebook page, your Twitter page, your LinkedIn page and then your regular email and now you've got Spotify... It's a great website though for finding out about music, so I'm going to dig a little deeper and see.
MR: All these other social media sites seem like they're doing really well and they've entrenched themselves in our lives in such a way that I'm addicted to Facebook, which really sucks.
GA: Well that makes two of us, Michael. I check Facebook at least 40 times a day, but in my case, I have a lot of music students who want to ask particular questions about what kind of equipment I use, how I approach my practice regimen on a daily basis, things like that, so it's kind of like a virtual lesson type of thing for me. I like talking to prospective students about gaining more knowledge about the music business, and also I learn from it as well, so it's kind of a win-win thing for me. I'm doing pretty good on Twitter, too. I just reached the 5,000 follower mark on that. I'm not in the millions yet, but I'm working on it.
MR: As far as people who want to follow you, well, you're part of their life, which is really cool.
MR: So, 24/7, your new album with Norman Brown. How did the two of you sync up for this project?
GA: We are pretty much under the Concord Music Group label. He's on Peak, I'm on Heads Up, and the president of the company pretty much came to us and said, "You know, I think it would be great for you guys to collaborate on something, what do you guys think?" Norman and I throughout the years would always say, "We need to get together and do something," so this was kind of like the bridge to allow us to do that. I've known him since the eighties, we've known each other many years, and we've seen each other at different jazz festivals. We did do one Christmas tour together with Will Downing four or five years ago, but when you think about the number of years that we've known each other in comparison to the amount of work we've done together, there's a big gap there. I'm really elated that we have this opportunity to do a collective project, 24/7. We're very proud of it and we can't wait for it to ship to radio and ship to streets where people are really abrasive, and then we're going on the road this summer as well, so it's a win-win and I'm looking forward to sharing the stage with Norman. He's the ultimate musician and I really love what he does.
MR: Yeah, his guitar licks are pretty classic when he digs into it, huh.
GA: Oh yes, definitely.
MR: And you, Mister Saxophone, you've been prominent over the years. Let's go through some of your triumphs here: You backed up Ray Parker Jr., The Temptations, Olivia Newton-John and many others, but someone who impresses me a lot is Anita Baker. To me, she's an amazingly sensuous singer. What are your thoughts on playing with her years ago?
GA: Well, you know, it was a very unique situation for me. I worked with her two or three years prior to beginning my solo record deal with Atlantic Records--this was back between 1985 and 1987--and ironically, I didn't start out as her saxophonist, I started out as her bassist. I played bass guitar with her. It wasn't until we got well into the tour that she even knew that I played saxophone. When she found out, we incorporated the saxophone into the tour and I was playing both instruments. It was really unique and it created a nice buzz for me in the music industry as I was able to get more bass work and more saxophone work from it. But you're right, she definitely had one of the more sensuous vocals and one of the more unique vocals out there. She has her own brand, there's nobody that really sounds like Anita Baker. I spent a few years with her and it was fun.
MR: Also you teamed up with Will Downing, Jonathan Butler, Hugh Masekela, Chaka Khan and Rachelle Ferrell for the Jazz Explosion tours?
GA: Yes. Those Jazz Explosion tours went on for about seven or eight years and there were different combinations of artists depending on which tour you were speaking of. But the beauty of it, I was able to become associated with those great names that you mentioned and go on the road and share the stage with them. It was a great experience. Stemming from that, Will Downing and I did our very first duet record called "Pleasures Of The Night" and it's very unique. He has his own brand and has a real debonair quality to his musicality. I've been very blessed to be coupled with some great vocalists throughout my musical upbringing and I'm very happy about that.
MR: And let's not forget you've appeared on television a few times, like in A Different World and Melrose Place.
GA: In Melrose Place, I did one episode as part of a band that was in a small club scene there, and TV is totally different from my world of going on the road and doing recording sessions and things like that, but, of course, in the music business, you want to be able to diversify and do different things. So I had the opportunity to be on Melrose Place and it was a nice experience. It was an all day shoot, but I got a chance to meet the whole cast, and I was on stage with Joe Sample. Just to hang out with the wonderful actors and the icon Joe Sample, it was a great day for me. It was more than just getting a check and paying some bills. It was really an honor to be there and to have that experience under my belt. So I look back on it and I crack a smile at the experience that I had.
MR: It's good to hear that it only took a day's shoot and it didn't take (clears throat) 24/7 to get it done.
MR: Since someone just butchered, er, mentioned it, let's get back to 24/7. You wrote that title song with a certain Selina Albright?
GA: Yes. I did all the music and I gave her the concept of "24/7" and I said, "Write a nice little hook vocal for this song," 'cause the ideas weren't coming to me. But my daughter writes lyrics prolifically. She comes up with these ideas and she's so quick with them. She came up with this wonderful lyric that fits so well with it. We've done some other songwriting as well--we released a single on iTunes called "You and I," which was her feature actually, and we got a lot of downloads from that particular song. In fact, on the project it was on, it was one of the most highly downloaded tracks.
MR: How's she doing?
GA: She's doing really good, I'm very proud of her. She's my daughter and as we speak, she's in LA working with another producer to do some songs for her own demo to get her own solo project going so she's doing some great things.
MR: Sweet. What about "Power of Your Smile?"
GA: Oh yeah, "Power of Your Smile." I'm very happy with the way that came out. I wanted to produce and write something that just had a simple melody that me and Norman could dig into. It didn't have to be a lot of improvisation and fast notes. I wanted the song to really rely on the melody to take it where it needed to go, and it's orchestral, it's got some weight to it. I'm really happy with the way it came out.
MR: What's your creative process when you're writing music?
GA: Well, you know, it's something that I've learned over years that I can't force. Sometimes, I'll sit down at the piano and try to crank out some chords or a melody, and sometimes, it doesn't work. I've learned to back off from it when the creative juices aren't flowing. You kind of know internally, especially if you've been doing it for so long, when it's time to write. You get that spark; all of a sudden, ideas start to flow and feel good and all that's to say that I don't write songs year-round. I have to be personally in the season of writing songs. But once I do start, it can last for weeks, it can last for months, and I like to think that a lot of great stuff comes out of it. But I love the process of it, watching just a fragment of an idea build into this wonderful finished product, a full production and thickness and authority. It's always been fascinating to me. I really do love the process. Putting this "24/7" project together was a lot of fun, and unique in a way because I got a chance to have some camaraderie with Norman Brown who I deeply respect, not only for his guitar playing, but for his songwriting as well. It was a great partnership.
MR: That had to be a cool experience, getting together and saying, "Okay, here's how we make it one thing together."
GA: Exactly, exactly. There are certain units that just kind of fit. You put a couple of musicians together and sometimes it doesn't fit. I've had experiences where maybe the personality wasn't right, or it was just the wrong time for that project to happen, but I've been blessed to have so many more experiences where I'm coupled with another person like a Norman Brown and everything just worked. There was the respect level, there was the creative level where we allowed one another to hear the other side's ideas and concepts. It just really worked from note one to the finished product. A little challenging, too, being from Denver, Colorado, when he lives on the West Coast in Los Angeles, so we had to deal with the geographic challenges as well. But of course, with technology, we were able to work that out very efficiently, being able to swap files between musicians to complete the project.
MR: And it does sound full, it doesn't have any digital harshness.
GA: Good, I'm happy to hear that. Thank you, Mike.
MR: It's also great that you not only got to play sax on the project, but you got to stretch out a little on bass, too.
GA: Yeah. A lot of people don't know that bass is one of my loves. I really enjoy the bass. I started playing bass in 1978 when I was in college, and I was inspired by Louis Johnson who was one of two brothers of The Brothers Johnson who, back in those days, were produced by Quincy Jones, and they had a wonderful heyday of hits and I've always loved their music. But I saw them in San Bernardino and Louis came out front and center and performed this incredible bass solo and I said to myself, "Oh my gosh, I want to do that." So I sat in my dorm room in college and became self-taught on the bass and after I graduated, I was able to get with some great bass players in Los Angeles who do a lot of live shows and great recording sessions, and they would give me tips on how to do this and that with the bass, and it really worked out well. So now bass is actually an integral part of my sound, and a lot of people don't know that on any of my fifteen projects starting in 1987, I've played bass guitar on at least 60 or 70% of that stuff. it's very cool, it's a lot of fun.
MR: Yeah, but you get why people aren't really associating you with the bass, right? It's because you're so front and center with that sax of yours.
GA: Absolutely. Sax is my first love and it's kind of a cornerstone for me. Sax is really my brand, but bass guitar is part of the Gerald Albright portfolio along with the flute and a little keyboard and some other instruments. But, of course, the alto saxophone is definitely my first love.
MR: How did you get into sax?
GA: Well, I started playing saxophone when I was nine years old. When I was eight, though, I took piano lessons from our church's choir director, God rest his soul. My parents deemed that it would be a cool thing for me to start learning piano. Parents think about that for a lot of kids, they should learn the scales of the piano. But piano, at that time, really didn't speak to me, and I never was prepared for my private lessons on a weekly basis. Probably out of frustration, my teacher told my parents, "Gerald needs to go to another instrument if you want to explore music with him. He's just not interested in piano." He had an old alto saxophone in his garage that he used to play in the army, and to my surprise, unannounced, he brought it to my next piano lesson. He brought this case in and I was like, "Whoa, what's going on," and he said, "Well, we're going to try something different today." He opened this old case and it had the smell of history--you know, kind of like mold, and you could tell it had been sitting in the garage for a while with some neglect. But he put it together and he put the reed on the mouthpiece and showed me how to make a sound out of it. I was fascinated, of course, to be able to blow through something, make a sound, press the keys. It was like a toy to me. I was far more interested in that than the piano. He quickly found out that I was inclined to play it, and here I am forty-some years later still doing it, and I owe it all to him.
MR: Since we're talking about young people--in this case, you--what advice might you have for new artists?
GA: Knowledge is power in anything, and the music industry is no exception. It's really about knowing all the facets of the music industry, both creatively and business-wise. It's really about having some great people around you that you can trust, i.e. managers and entertainment lawyers and record company folks. These are the people that literally have your career in their hands, and if they're not representing you right, then obviously, you won't attain that wish list that you really are emphatically trying to attain. I would say to the youngsters create your own brand, don't try to copy somebody that's already out there doing their thing. They've made their own brand, and they're successful at that brand, but you don't want to sound identical to them, because that's already been done. Create your own sound, your own brand, and be as unique as you possibly can. Then the third thing is just treat people right when you're out there. Music is something to take very seriously. People rely on music as a life-changing platform, sometimes. I've had a lot of military people who tell me that when they were on the front lines in the Vietnam War or the Persian Gulf War or whatever, they would listen to my music and my music would get them through that challenge. We have a responsibility with our music to make it as quality and as positive as we possibly can. That's what I would say to them, basically.
MR: Thank you again Gerald, for coming to The Huffington Post.
GA: My pleasure Mike, and let's do it again.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
A Conversation With Norman Brown
MR: Norman, how are you?
NB: I'm doing great, Mike. Thank you so much for having me.
MR: It's my pleasure. Now, when I interviewed Gerald, he mentioned that it was the label that asked you guys to get together for this project.
NB: Yeah, they did. They came to us both and said that we should do something together-they said they thought if they had a record with both of us, they thought it could potentially be something special. I had been dying for an opportunity like that, so of course I was immediately asking when we could start. (laughs)
MR: Yeah, he said he basically was dying to do it too. But this wasn't your first time playing together, was it.
NB: That's right. We played a lot locally around LA--this was before I was recording. It was so wonderful to play those local gigs because people actually came out to hear good music. They were the types of crowds that would be standing up and clapping for solos. It was beautiful.
MR: I'm sure you can tell the difference between a crowd that comes to hear good music and a crowd that's coming just because that's the scene. Does that make much of a difference to you?
NB: Absolutely, it makes a total difference. Some people come out for the event aspect of the evening, just to see a show. But some others come to be moved.
MR: Nicely said. Are you often surprised by those who come to your shows who really know and understand the significance of your work in the jazz realm?
NB: I'm not, really. You know, I grew up as a music lover as well. It's not surprising to me, but it is truly refreshing.
MR: Can you tell us a little bit of the story behind the song, "Yes We Can"?
NB: That's a funky little tune. I always like to create something with a lot of energy that can make you move and groove a little bit. The title for that song came along as I was finishing it, and I had that little shout chorus at the end. That little chant just became the theme of the song.
MR: Is that the way you normally write songs? What is your creative process?
NB: Inspiration, for me, can come at any time. Usually, I'm practicing or just listening to music and I'll get inspired. It usually comes from something like that-me sitting around with my guitar or hearing a groove in my head and running to the drum machine.
MR: Norman, can you pick another song from 24/7 and give us its history?
NB: I sure can. The song, "Perfect Love," speaks a great deal to and about me. You see, I believe that we're all made of something called God essence, and I also believe that that material is perfect - I believe that we are all made of perfect love. That song is a means for me to get that love out so that we can all know and understand how special we are. That way we can go out and contribute that energy to this beautiful and heavenly planet that we live on.
MR: I also wanted to talk with you about your debut album, which was released on Mo Jazz...it was, right?
NB: Yes, that's right. Mo Jazz was the jazz branch of the Motown label.
MR: You had some pretty incredible guests on that album including Boyz II Men and Stevie Wonder.
NB: Absolutely. That was a very special record for me. It was the first record that Mo Jazz launched, so they wanted to make it a big deal. We had Stevie Wonder, Boyz II Men, Earth, Wind & Fire-even Gerald Albright played a solo on that record.
MR: That record was released back in 1992. What do you think is the biggest evolution for you since that first record?
NB: That's a great question, and I would say that I've improved the most in my live performing and my writing. It's one thing to write a song, but it's another to play that song live and to give that song life in front on an audience. Learning how people digest live jazz music was a big evolution for me.
MR: This year marks the 20th Anniversary of your debut album, but it also marks the 10th anniversary of your receiving a Grammy for Just Chillin'.
NB: That's exactly right. In 2002, I won the Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album and it was so surreal. I couldn't believe it. Our manager called and told me that I was nominated and I felt like I had won already. I was over the top. Then, when I went to the Grammys, I was listening to all of these artists saying that they'd been nominated 10 times or more. So, of course, I was thinking to myself that I would have to come back, because I wasn't going to win it this time. Then they called my name and I couldn't believe it. (laughs)
MR: Though, some people feel you should have one for another of your records as well, right? Maybe for After The Storm?
NB: Yeah, there are some people who believe I should have won for the After The Storm record that I did with Mo Jazz. That record has been my most popular and best-selling record, so a lot of people felt like I should have won for that one. But I did get a Soul Train Award for that album for Best Record of the Year.
MR: Nice. Let's get back to you and Gerald Albright. Do you guys hang out together outside of when you're working?
NB: Well, we live in different states, so we don't get to do that too often. But we do like to get together every now and then and share things that aren't necessarily related to music. We do make time for that.
MR: The reason I ask is that I've found that the tighter the musicians are as friends, the tighter the music ends up sounding. Do you find that to be true as well?
NB: I think you're absolutely right about that. I think a lot of this record stems from the times when we were playing together locally, side by side.
MR: Do you have any advice that you would give a new artist pursuing a career in this business?
NB: First of all, I would say to all musicians that you really have to work on your craft, try to be the best musician you can be first. Second, I would say you need to assess your passion and love for this art. The business aspect of this life will challenge that, it will. You will start to second-guess your craft, and it can make you think that it's not as simple as picking up your axe and playing it. So have some patience with the business side of things, but prepare yourself as much as you possibly can.
MR: Another thing I wanted to ask you about was how your music became associated with The Weather Channel. Can you tell us how that happened?
NB: Well, one of my songs entitled "Lydian" was included on The Weather Channel Presents: Volume II. It's a beautiful thing, and I'm really glad that this music can work in that capacity. I love the thought of people enjoying this at home for a romantic evening or in a time of solitude or cleaning up around the house. I even sometimes hear it when I go into the grocery store. It's almost like Muzak.
MR: And your song "Let's Take A Ride" was a number one jazz radio hit for a while.
NB: That's right. That was a beautiful blessing right there. "Let's Take A Ride" was a song that I wrote for the Stay With Me record. I had such a great time writing that one...it felt so good. The whole song, from top to bottom, came out in only about two hours. We played it live when I first went to record it. I enjoy recording live. The song just had so much energy and the melody came out so substantially that I was so excited about the song being released. I'm just glad that everyone else got excited too. (laughs)
MR: Right. And as we mentioned before, this is the 20th anniversary of the release of your first album which, in my book, makes you a wise old man. (laughs) Do you have any advice that you might be able to offer as a wise old man?
NB: Well, I would say above all, "Know Thyself." Have a knowledge of God and the Devil. Have a firm knowledge of the times that you live in and of what has to be done. Those five pillars, in my opinion, are the things that take us far in this life.
MR: Thank you so much for sharing that. Thank you so much for sharing your time and chatting with us.
NB: Thanks for having me, Mike.
1. In The Moment
2. Keep It Moving
3. Perfect Love
4. Buenos Amigos
6. Yes I Can
8. Champagne Life
9. The Best Is Yet To Come
10. Power Of Your Smile
Transcribed by Evan Martin
SHEVY SMITH'S HUFFPOST PREMIERE: "ROCKET FUEL"
Filmed in Brooklyn by way of Southern California, "Rocket Fuel" is off Shevy Smith's Ad Astra record, which was released this May. Ad Astra was named after the motto of Shevy's home state of Kansas meaning "to the stars through difficulty," and is an album that reconciles all of Smith's musical passions.
Shevy got her start in music at a very young age as a published songwriter in Nashville, attending what she coins as "the Harvard for songwriters." After growing weary of the Nashville machine, Shevy defiantly left for LA to pursue her own music. Shortly upon arrival in Los Angeles, personal tragedy put her musical pursuits on hold.
Shevy found her way back into music through teaching, establishing Girls With Guitars, a school with a cirricullum that teaches theory intermingled with songwriting. Teaching these young women inspired Shevy to get back into writing and the result was Ad Astra. The album, was recorded by Shevy and her producer husband in their Topanga Canyon studio and drips with the rich natural essence and musical history of the area.
Shevy Smith Website: http://shevsmith.net
Follow Mike Ragogna on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ragz2008