A Rocket To The Moon's "Whole Lotta You" Video Exclusive!
Photo by Eric Ryan Anderson / Courtesy of Fueled By Ramen
So? Have you ever felt Wild & Free (a nod to the group's album that will be coming out later this year on Fueled By Ramen)? Well, A Rocket To The Moon is playing an intimate club tour in support of their current EP, That Old Feeling, produced by Mark Bright, and guess who's got the acoustic exclusive of their recording "Whole Lotta You"? That's right, I do.
Now, I'm going to try something different here. If you share your "wild and free" story with me here, you just might win tix to A Rocket To The Moon's Whole Lotta You Tour. The top three entries will win a pair of tickets to his or her show of choice, one pair per city. So check the dates below, submit your story, and don't forget to mention the concert city of your choice in the subject line, cool?
10.17 - Nashville, TN @ Rocketown
10.18 - Columbus, OH @ The A&R Music Bar
10.19 - Akron, OH @ Musica
10.20 - Lansing, MI @ The Loft
10.21 - Madison, WI @ The Loft
10.23 - Chicago, IL @ Beat Kitchen
10.24 - Pittsburgh, PA @ Altar Bar
10.26 - Boston, MA @ Brighton Music Hall
10.27 - West Chester, PA @ The Note
10.28 - Vienna, VA @ Jammin Java Music Club & Cafe
10.30 - New York, NY @ The Studio at Webster Hall
10.31 - Pawtucket, RI @ The Met
Right. Time for that video. Okay, here's "Whole Lotta You" by those rascals, A Rocket To The Moon. Try to stay seated.
A Conversation with Larry Graham of Graham Central Station
Mike Ragogna: Hello, Mr. Larry Graham, how are you?
Larry Graham: I'm doing wonderful. How about yourself?
MR: Well, that deeeep voice just made my day.
LG: [laughs] Oh, thank you, and thank you for having me on your show. I appreciate it.
MR: You're very, very welcome, thank you for your time. Let's go over your new Graham Central Station album, Raise Up. How long did it take to record and what kind of funkfulness went into the making of this album?
LG: Well, it is a collection of songs that have been put together over a period of time, but I really appreciate the fact that I was able to do three cuts at Paisley Park, with Prince on the cuts, and then I was able to go to Los Angeles and do a cut at Raphael Saadiq's studio as well. It's a nice collection that I think tells a complete story about what I'm about right now.
MR: Larry, you may not agree due to modesty, but I think folks like Prince learned their chops from, among others, you, sir!
LG: [laughs] Yeah. He actually was influenced by my music with the Graham Central Station to a good degree and then he went back and got into Sly & The Family Stone. I think more Graham Central Station because he was older then and more into producing and writing his own material.
MR: Yeah, but I imagine he's heard an older Sly & The Family Stone track or two.
LG: Oh, yeah.
MR: Sir, I'm going throw this out there, right now, in front of God and everyone. You are the guy who invented slapping the bass. There, I said it and can't take it back.
LG: Uh-huh, yeah.
MR: When you hear people using that technique, especially the Seinfeld theme, how do you react to this day knowing that you're the father of that?
LG: Well, it makes me feel really good. I'm really appreciative that I was able to contribute something to the world of music. It was a gift that was given to me. It came about, actually, when my mother and I were working together. When I was fifteen, we started working together.
MR: Your mother is Dell Graham, right?
LG: Yes, exactly. She was on piano and vocals and I'm on guitar and vocals. That was my love at that time -- my guitar. That's what I thought I was going to be, a guitar player, but then we started working at this club and they had an organ that had bass pedals that go halfway across, I learned how to play the pedals with my foot at the same time as playing the guitar and vocals. So we now had bottom. I got used to that, the organ broke down, and it's like now we were missing bass. So I rented a bass temporarily, I thought, so that I could fill up that void and as it turned out, the organ could not be repaired and I got stuck on bass. That's how I became a bass player. Then my mother decided we're not going to use drums anymore, it's just going to be me and her, bass and piano. So I would thump the strings to make up for the bass drum, and I would pluck the strings to make up for now having the backbeat on the snare drum. That's how I came up with the style. I didn't think I was doing nothing new or inventive or anything, but it turns out it was.
MR: It turned out it was, indeed, sir. So you're part of Graham Central Station, which is a pun on, um... the Port Authority is it?
LG: Uh, yeah! [laughs] They were before me!
MR: Who influenced you musically?
LG: Before I played bass, I played guitar, and my biggest influence on guitar was Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown.
LG: He had a hit record called "Okie Dokie Stomp." I used to come home from school and listen to that and I learned it note for note. And then when Ike and Tina Turner came to town and I was invited to come and play one song with them, it was "Okie Dokie Stomp." They knew it because I played it in his shows and they saw this little thirteen year-old up there playing. That was my first big experience on stage. He was my biggest influence, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown.
MR: Larry, you've had a series of albums now with your Graham Central Station moniker, but you've also overseen projects by artists like Bette Davis in the seventies, Miles Davis' ex. Can you go into a couple of these projects?
LG: Well, with the Bette Davis album, Greg Errico, who was the very influential drummer in Sly & The Family Stone, called me in because he got the job as the producer of that album, so I got a chance to play on that. I've also played with Stanley Clarke; we did tours together and we did some recording together. I played with Marcus Miller last year. We did some shows in Japan together. I did a duet with Aretha Franklin. Wow. The list goes on. I've been around playing with a number of people over the years.
MR: Yeah, your musical resume is scary long. And you played with this little-known group, what's the name of it again? Sly something... Sly Stallone?
LG: Sly & The Family Stone. [laughs]
MR: Oh, right. How did that come together?
LG: He heard about me, I was working with my mother at the time and I had developed my style of thumping and plucking and he heard from this lady who was a fan of my mother and I that there was this bass player that he needed to hear because he was starting up a new band. He was a popular DJ at the time in San Francisco. Because of her insistence, which I found out about later -- I didn't know the lady personally -- she encouraged him to come down and here me doing this different style of playing the bass because he was starting a new band. He heard me and asked me to join the band, which I did. It didn't have a name at the time, but he later named it Sly & The Family Stone. Through that music, that's where my style of playing the bass became popular.
MR: Yeah, to a couple of million people on the planet who then took up the bass because of your style, sir. So Larry, your new album Raise Up features some originals mixed in with a few covers such as Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground." You start the album with "GCS Drumline" -- you on snare drum joining a couple of your close musician pals.
LG: Oh yeah, they're all out of Oakland as well, and they were, as well, raised up on my music.
MR: And it looks like you recorded a piece of the album in France?
LG: Yeah, yeah. We found this great studio that was totally isolated out in the countryside in France, and we were just totally enveloped in the music. It was so away from town, and so there were no distractions. We were just totally into the music. They had great playing rooms so we could all put our amps in there, turn it up and look at each other's faces and just play as loud as we wanted to -- not "live" like in concert, but "live" in the studio, and that's what I really wanted to capture. That live feel, and we were able to do that.
MR: Sir, I have to tell you that seems to be the trend now. More and more, it seems artists are recording live with a rhythm section in the room, everyone playing together, so they can grab the vibe off of what each other's expressing on their instruments and employ more spontaneity. Was that your approach?
LG: That was very important to me. I wanted to be able to look in the guitar player's face and the drummer's face and so on and so forth and we'd just feed off each other's energy. But you can only do that if you're in the room together. So this studio that we found in Tarare, France, it was very important that they had a good playing room as well where we could have our equipment in there, plus a good control room so that the end process was good. I wanted a combination that was not only just the bass direct sound, but the bass amp sound, and put that together in the overall mix. The end result was we got that "live" feel.
MR: When you work together as Graham Central Station, are you still surprised, after all these years, at how someone will come up with some atypical part, and you have to go, "Whoa, where did that come from?"
LG: That happens every night. That's the whole point. It keeps everything fresh. Every night, we're supposed to kick each other up to another notch. I'm not surprised. I expect that. I expect that my other fellow musicians are going to kick me up and I'm going to try to kick them up to another level.
MR: By the way, nice shoutout to your instrument on "No Way." I love the line, "Let me play my bass!"
LG: [laughs] Thank you.
MR: Larry, what advice do you have for new artists?
LG: Well, there is available to a lot of musicians now avenues that we didn't have when I was growing up learning music and starting to record. You have the internet and so many avenues to present your music to people. So take advantage of that. Learn what those are. We didn't have that. Not all of it is good. Some of it will rip you off, but some of it is good. Do your homework and learn how to be able to present your music to people now. The other thing is to really practice your craft. We went into a little area where people weren't really playing the drums, weren't really playing the bass, playing the guitar, playing the keyboards and so forth, but now, people are really interested in hearing real music by real musicians. If you learn how to play your instruments, then you will be the creators of the new music to come in the future, so take advantage of that.
MR: Wow. There's this awesome bass playin' kid, Jonnie Cohen, who's also a great guitar player, that being his major at the University of Iowa. One of the things I've suggested to him was to get that reading down, to learn how to read music as best as he possibly can. That's still valid, isn't it?
LG: Reading is valuable when it comes to especially playing other people's music. Things that you create might be in your own head and you've got that down. But if you know how to read and can play other people's music, which happens a lot, maybe you might develop a solo career, but you may be required to play along with other musicians and that's going to be the guideline. If you can do that, that's a good thing to have on the agenda.
MR: Play along with other musicians like, oh, I don't know, Sly Stone?
LG: Uh, yeah, you might be required to play along with him.
MR: Do you get required to play along? I don't know if this is a touchy question or not, but do you guys ever get together musically or at least say, "Hi," every once in a while?
LG: Let's go back fourteen years. I had Rose Stone in GCS, I had Jerry Martini and Cynthia Robinson on horns, and sometimes, Greg would join us. I had as many as five of us on stage together, of the original Sly & The Family Stone. We've worked together a lot over the years and been very close. We still are very close. What's going to happen in the future as far as how Sly is concerned, that's pretty much on him.
MR: I love that the door is open, that's very cool. I have to ask you one last question, sir, where can people find your tour schedule?
LG: If anybody wants to know where we're going to be playing, it's http://www.larrygraham.com. You can find out where we're going to be and when. We hope to see you there.
MR: Larry, this has been sweet, and I have to have you back. We have to do this again!
LG: It would be my pleasure.
1. GCS Drumline
2. Throw - N - Down The Funk
3. It's Alright
4. Raise Up - with Prince
5. Shoulda Coulda Woulda - with Prince
6. Welcome 2 Our World
7. It Ain't No Fun To Me
8. Higher Ground
9. No Way
10. Hold You Close
11. Movin' - with Prince
12. Now Do U Wanta Dance
13. One Day - with Raphael Saadiq
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
Follow Mike Ragogna on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ragz2008