A Conversation with Graham Nash
Mike Ragogna: Hi Graham, how are you?
Graham Nash: I'm doing good. I think we've spoken before.
MR: Yes, and thank you very much again for that interview.
GN: You're very welcome.
MR: Your new book Wild Tales, to me is like the who's who and the what's what of the music business. You're like Kevin Bacon. We can play Six Degrees of Graham Nash now.
GN: Yes indeed, oh boy. I think that's one of the things that publishers really like. They like that it's my voice, that it feels like I'm sitting in your kitchen talking to you and I was as honest as I could be.
MR: Absolutely. Graham, you're in the heart of at least a half-dozen important music or otherwise "scenes" including Liverpool at the time of your group The Hollies and The Beatles, Laurel Canyon in LA when that became a happening, the anti-nuclear assembly of artists... So even if you think it's cosmic, what is your explanation? How do you rationalize all this?
GN: I think that the universe is out to support me. It's out to reward positive thinking and positive actions. I thoroughly believe in karma and I've been an incredibly lucky man all my life because that's what I expect form the universe. That may be incredibly naive, but it's very simple to me. I go out and try to do the best I can at every single thing I do. Will I make it a hundred percent? Probably not, but am I trying? Absolutely.
MR: Now this isn't the type of question that's evoking ego, but I'm really curious if you had any inkling or feeling deep down that maybe you were supposed to be a contributor, maybe something bigger than "Graham Nash" when you were little?
GN: Absolutely. Since I was ten years old and my father introduced me to the magic of photography and gave me a camera, I started to express myself visually and I knew from that moment that I was a little different from most of my friends.
MR: In the book, you reveal some interesting things that happened in your life like what happened to your father over the camera he gave you, and also in school, how you were punished unfairly. Do you think that was the beginning of your social consciousness?
GN: I think so. I think that was my recognition of a fair universe and an unfair universe and what happened to my father was unfair to me. He didn't kill anybody, he didn't wipe out fourteen people with a machine gun on the tube, he didn't do anything that was that drastic. People had to survive after World War II. It was very bleak in north England after World War II. I don't know if you know what rationing is, but you had to have a coupon to get butter or milk or bread or, more importantly, toffees and candy!
MR: I guess music is one of the great things in your life that got you through the poverty in your household and the post-war environment.
GN: Yes, music, absolutely, without question, put me in a direction that you can say saved my life, although to me, my life was already safe.
MR: Well, you'd already been given a close friendship with Allan Clarke, and the two of you were able to develop together musically.
GN: I know, isn't that an amazing story?
MR: Why don't you go into that? I could recite your book back to you, but it's best in your words.
GN: I absolutely loved my friendship with Allan Clarke. We discovered girls together, we discovered music. Girls are probably the reason we got into music in the first place. My relationship with Allan was brilliant and then he kind of took a strange turn when I heard me and David [Crosby] and Stephen [Stills] sing together and I wanted that above everything and my relationship with Allan wasn't very good for about ten years there. But in the last few years, we have become the friends we were all those years ago.
MR: Deep down, I guess you can't kill those kinds of roots no matter what you do.
GN: No, it's true.
MR: Given the way you and Allan sang together, what kind of coincidence was it that you met The Everly Brothers early on?
GN: Are they coincidences or is it just fate? Kismet? What is that? Why me? I often think that, I go back to Salford, where I come from, and half my friends are still in the same job and still hating their job and consequently hating their life, and I have to wonder, what was it about me that made me make the decision to become a musician and how fortunate I was that my mother and father really supported me in my choice, which in the late sixties, was an insane choice. Nobody thought you could make money as a musician. "Are you kidding? That's a hard, hard life and you should go down the mill or mine where your father did and where your grandfather did. If it was good enough for them, lad, it's good enough for you!" But my mother and father never let me go for that and I'll be forever grateful.
MR: And I guess no matter what they could have done to stop you, had they been those kind of parents, you had already been affected by the wonderful strains of rock 'n' roll coming over from the States.
GN: Radio Luxembourg, the American Top 40, what a magical place that was on Sunday evenings.
MR: I also wanted to also bring up The Everly brothers because of the irony of the Pie recordings, and you having met them within only a span of six years earlier.
GN: I know, amazing, from meeting them on the steps of the Midland Hotel to recording with them in the studio. You know, there's going to be an eBook of Wild Tales and I wanted desperately to try and find the cassette I had of me singing with The Everly Brothers in 1992 and yesterday I found it in my archives.
GN: So I'm going to talk to Phil a little later today and ask him permission to use it in the eBook. How could I be anything but incredibly kind to The Everly Brothers? They were so inspirational to me, and had such a wonderful musical partnership. I feel pretty sure that because I've been so kind to them in the book that that they'll give me permission to use "So Sad," which is the song I sang with them in Toledo, Ohio in 1992.
MR: There was another duo in your life, and I think this ties into your social consciousness. You were embraced by Simon & Garfunkel. Is it fair to say it's possible you had seen, maybe even unconsciously, the paradigm for being able to meld the two things you loved, becoming aware of conditions around you and your love of music?
GN: But I also learned something apart from that. I also learned how it would be to have one guitar and two voices singing great songs from the herd. I'd seen Peter, Paul & Mary earlier in the mid-sixties at The Albert Hall in London, so I knew. But I learned from Paul and Arthur the power. Paul Simon is an incredible writer and an incredible guitar player and, of course, Arthur has the voice of the angels. So it was very inspirational to me to see one guitar and two voices move an audience so greatly.
MR: Yeah, and that was something that you took into all the configurations of your groups. Some of the most touching material you do live or even on your recordings is one or two guitars and you guys singing together, harmonizing.
GN: That's right, the power of the song. No amount of adding drums and bass and orchestras and timpani and effects can make a bad song into a good song. You have to start with a good song. If I can play you a song on my guitar sitting in your kitchen that moves your heart, then it's a decent song to be played.
MR: I want to bring in a couple of things from later on, especially your life with Joni Mitchell. One interesting Joni story that I never knew to be true--I believe the urban legend version of how Crosby, Stills, & Nash got together was allegedly in Cass Elliot's kitchen--but really, it was in Joni's house.
GN: Yes, it was absolutely in Joni's. David and I see it incredibly clearly. The very first time we ever played was in Joni's living room.
MR: However, Cass did introduce you to David Crosby?
GN: Oh yes, she was incredibly important in my life. Like I say in the book, she was very much like Gertrude Stein, who in Paris in the twenties and thirties, would have gatherings at her house with different disciplines--with psychiatrists, with architects, with artists, with composers--and they would all sit around and they'd be bullsh**ting all night and doing whatever it is that they did to get high, whether it was a glass of sherry or whether it was absinthe, whatever it was. Cass was very much a Gertrude Stein character and incredibly important in my life. That's why on every single release that we've had on the last twenty or thirty years, I've dedicated it somewhere in the artwork to Cass.
MR: Beautiful. One of my favorite paragraphs in the book is how you describe how Cass wanted to be a little bit more from your friendship but you told her no, adding something to effect of, "We're not going to be just good friends, we're going to be great friends."
GN: Yes, we weren't going to be lovers, but we were going to be great friends. I think in a certain way that took a great deal of pressure off of her.
MR: Now another crowd that you're in the middle of is The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Poco with Richie Furay, etc. Like I said, you must be Kevin Bacon in your spare time.
GN: I tell you, when I looked down at the manuscript when I finished it, I looked at it and this is what I said, this is completely true. I looked down at the manuscript and I said, "Holy s**t. I wish I was him."
MR: When you're Crosby, Stills, & Nash and you're experiencing all that success as a trio, you then become Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young thanks to Ahmet Ertegun.
GN: Yeah, we had completed the first Crosby, Stills & Nash record, and on that record--which is why he is called by me and David Captain Manyhands--Stephen played the majority of the instruments apart from the drums. He played the bass, he played the B-3, he played rhythm guitar, he played the lead guitar, he did a lot of work on that first one. So when we realized after we finished it that it would probably be a popular record, we knew that we would have to go out and play live. But with Stephen having played a lot of the instruments, how do we do that live? We needed another guitar player. Well, the process was that maybe we would get an organ player to play B-3, so I think Stephen and Dallas [Taylor] went to England to talk to Stevie Winwood about joining up, but he was busy with Traffic, et cetera. We knew that we would have to have another musician to play some of the parts that Stephen had played on the first record. When Ahmet, at dinner with David and Stephen suggested that we get Neil Young, Stephen was appalled, really, because he knew that Ahmet knew what he and Neil had gone through in Buffalo Springfield and how painful it had been for him. He didn't have a particularly great relationship with Neil at that point, so he was appalled that Ahmet would recommend that Neil join and I was appalled too because we had just spent a couple of months creating what was a fabulous record, the first Crosby, Stills, & Nash record, so I didn't see the need for another voice. I saw the need for another musician but not necessarily for another voice because four-part is very different from three-part. And I told the boys, "I don't know who this f**ker is! I don't know whether I can talk to him, whether he's going to be my friend, I need to talk to this guy before we make this monumental decision." So, as I said in the book, I had breakfast in The Village with Neil and he impressed me greatly with his vision, with what he wanted, with what he thought he could bring to the band, and after that breakfast meeting, as far as I was concerned, he was in.
MR: The one thing I always was confused about was the chronology of what went on behind the scenes with Human Highway, the aborted album.
GN: We went to Hawaii all together, Neil had rented this beautiful house on the beach, a big, old, rambling house where the was room for all of us. David had his boat, The Mayan, docked not two hundred yards away in the bay, and we set about rehearsing what was going to be the Human Highway album. We had that song and we had that song title as the title of the album because we thought, "We've done 4 Way Street, we're on this traveling through the universe mindset," so Human HIghway sounded like an incredible album title, which I still think it is. We rehearsed the entire album, and then, for some reason, and I don't think anyone can remember, maybe Neil, I should ask him, what happened. Why didn't we go straight back into the studio and record this album? It was insane. We ended up not talking to each other, we ended up not making music together and the Human Highway album never got made.
MR: Yeah, and it's interesting because this is a period following what you lovingly called "The Doom Tour."
GN: Ah, yes, '74. But I'll tell you something about 1974. I am probably twelve mixes from the end of a thirty-three song box set of CSNY from 1974. I must tell you, we've spoken before, but you don't know me to the point where my friends know that I don't brag. I'm not a braggart at all, but having said that, this music on the CSNY 1974 disc will f**king knock you on your ass.
MR: I heard about it from Rick Gershon over at Warner. Sounds fabulous.
GN: It is fabulous. I went recently went all the way to Madrid, in Spain, where there was a meeting of the heads of every Warner Brothers company in the world. I took seven tracks and they just flipped out.
MR: Wow. Were there songs from that tour that you were rehearsing live before you were to go into the studio?
MR: Ah, this is going to be brilliant.
GN: Yep. Wait until you hear this album. It's incredible. And as a producer, I want to put you in the best seat in the house. I want you to be in the tenth row, right in the middle sonically, and I don't want you to move from that seat for thirty-odd songs. It's making it as a complete show, because our shows were often four hours long.
MR: Did you also film that performance?
GN: No, but one thing that did happen is that this was the very beginning of video screens in basketball arenas. In 1974, nobody had them except this one place, The Capital Center in Washington DC. They had that technology and they recorded one night and we have it. I'm right now in the middle of working with the video to bring it up to modern standards. I just finished work on "Only Love Can Break Your Heart," which is a Neil Young song that he wrote for me, and it's unbelievable on the video. Technically, it's a little crude because that technology was a little crude in 1974, as I said, it'd never been done. But I think that if we put it into the historical context then people will forgive the fact that it's a little funky and be in the moment itself.
MR: Now that you mention it, did Neil write that song for your breakup with Joni?
GN: Yes, he did.
MR: Ah. I always was fascinated by that period, how revealing you and Joni were about your relationships with virtually every song on your first album and some of Joni's Ladies Of The Canyon material.
GN: Yeah, she was a wonderful, great part of my life and I'm incredibly grateful to have been able to spend a couple of years with this woman.
MR: It seems like you have continued your beautiful relationship with her over the years.
GN: I have and I'm grateful for that. I treated Joni with great respect and great love because not only do I think she's a genius musically, but look at the way loves. Come on. [laughs]
MR: [laughs] Which now brings me to your photography. Do you think being able to see the world through the camera lens added to your particular brand of creativity?
GN: I knew that when I was ten years old. In my book Eye To Eye, the first portrait in there is one I took of my mother when I was ten and a half years old, and I realized from that moment that I see slightly differently from most people.
MR: Your photos in that book seemed more revealing than most.
GN: Everything I show you or play you or sing for you has to have a reason to exist. I don't want to waste your time, Mike, we don't have much time left. Even if you were twenty years old, and you're not, of course, but even if you were twenty, you'd never know what life is going to throw at you, so I don't want to waste your time. So every song that I write and sing has to have a reason to exist.
MR: And going back to reasons for existing, there's your socially conscious activism. Look at all the causes, et cetera, that you've been associated with, such as your anti-nuclear efforts.
GN: I'm trying to make the world a better place for me! It's completely selfish. And I want to make the world a better place for my kids and therefore a better place for you and for your kids. I want to make it better.
MR: But I also think you're being modest, because maybe the same person trying to make it better for himself wrote "Fieldworker" for Cesar Chavez and "Wind On The Water" about the hunting of whales.
GN: Wait until you hear my new song with James Raymond.
GN: It's called "Burning For The Buddha" and it's about the hundred and twenty-eight Tibetan monks who have burned themselves to death in the past year alone because of what's happened between the Tibetan people and the Chinese government. Not an easy subject to write about, but I've done it and it's gone down fantastically well.
MR: This is meant to be complimentary, Graham, but it seems you can't help yourself.
GN: I can't! I can't help myself, I have to shoot off my mouth and thank God I live in a country where I can speak my mind. Half the stuff that we have been involved with in terms of our political agendas, in another country, we would have never been able to get away with it. Didn't the Chinese execute an activist because of her outspoken issues, and they were mainly women's issues? She was a woman author and they just executed her.
MR: We do have a lot of political hot topics right now, especially Syria with the "Invade, not invade" question.
GN: Indeed, and the last political song I wrote with James was "Almost Gone" about Bradley Manning. Have you ever seen my video of that?
MR: No, I've got to go check that out.
GN: Go to YouTube and type in "Almost Gone Nash." You will come to the video and enjoy. It's brutal.
MR: Have you had theories about what we as a culture should be doing, where we should be looking, what we need to tweak?
GN: Yes. It's very obvious to me that on a basic level, we have become slaves to oil. We have painted ourselves into a corner. It's obvious that there's only so much oil in this planet. As it is a finite planet, there has to be finite air, finite water, it has to give up at some point. But we have based our entire economy and entire workings on oil, and I think that is one of the reasons why we definitely have to go into alternative energies and use the sun and the wind and the geothermal and alternative energy sources if we're smart. We are controlled completely by the oil companies, of course. They want to sell every last drop of oil that they can probably squeeze from this planet, but it will come to an end at some point.
MR: How do you deconstruct that humongous machine of power and influence?
GN: You have to take care of it yourself. I live in Hawaii, and I have lived there for thirty-five years. I have a small compound there and Susan and I are wanting to build a house for each child because the world is getting crazy and we wanted them to be secure. I had a pool house, I put solar on the roof and built the next house with that solar, put solar on that house and built the other houses with the solar. Right now, I'm talking to you from Los Angeles. I have a small house here with solar all over the place. I have a biodiesel eight year-old Volkswagen that I drive with biodiesel. I'm trying my best to do it myself and if everybody does it themselves, then the power distribution will be taken out of the hands of the power companies and into private hands.
MR: You would think they would want to see the wisdom of what you said, about finite amounts of energies in existence, and switch to trying to control alternative energy sources.
GN: It's amazing, you know? I think about people like the Koch brothers. Don't they have children? Don't they have grandchildren? Don't they know what they're doing to the environment with their maniacal quest for more billions? Don't they know what's going on? Of course, they must know. The oil companies must have hundreds of scientists researching the future.
MR: Yeah, but the sad thing, Graham, is you see the Koch brothers and people such as Rupert Murdoch intentionally spreading disinformation to maintain their status and power. I think one of the results is you get a global community crazier than we've ever seen before.
GN: That's true, because people are beginning to realize what the process of bread and circuses is, started by the Romans two thousand years ago: Give the people something to eat and give them something to look at and we can control them completely. Right now we're much more interested in the size of Kim Kardaschian's ass than we are about the Afghanistan war. We're much more interested in Justin Bieber's f**king monkey than we are about the hundred and twenty-eight Tibetan monks who burned themselves to death.
MR: Wonderfully said. It's great you recorded "Angel" with Jason Mraz, another artist with an eye on the energy and the environment.
GN: Oh, wait until you hear it. It's fabulous. This acoustic album with Jimi Hendrix music is going to be a great piece.
MR: This seems like a random question when asked at this point, but what advice do you have for new artists?
GN: I never give advice. I'm trying to deal with my life for f**k's sake. But if I had any advice, it would be to only act from your heart. I think we instinctively know what is good and I think we instinctively know what is not. I think that we should take that knowledge and only operate from our heart, which, of course, controls the mind instead of the other way around.
MR: Beautifully said. Let's end it there. Graham, as always, thank you so much.
GN: You're very welcome, Michael.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
WE'RE GOING WITH "GOLONDRINA"
According to Dom La Nena...
"'Golondrina' is perhaps the only song that I have written in which I immediately started playing the song live in concert. Usually, I like to wait for a while, in order to have more distance from a new song, before addressing the live performance arrangement. For "Golondrina", I wanted to play it in concert immediately, and luckily, Jeremiah was there to film this moment in Quebec during one of the very first times that I ever performed the song in public. Nobody could have captured the freshness of this new song as well as Jeremiah did on that night in July. His unique way of filming really immerses the viewer into the actual performance, and the poetry of his look and vision carries all the emotion and fragility of the moment."
A Conversation with Allen Toussaint
Mike Ragogna: Hello Allen, how are you?
Allen Toussaint: I'm very well, thank you!
MR: And you have a little musical accompaniment, I hear.
AT: [music playing in background] [laughs] There is a little, yes.
MR: Rumor has it that since you began your appearances at Joe's Pub, the place has never been the same. What the heck did you do to that place anyway?
AT: [laughs] Well, that's a wonderful statement, I hadn't heard that before now. It's quite flattering, but I love that place. They initiated me doing the Sunday brunches and it initiated me to be able to do solo performances, I must say, and I'm grateful to them.
MR: Apparently, you were so comfortable with this setting that you recorded Songbook, your new project, which is a snapshot of you meets New York and Joe's Pub.
AT: Oh yes, yes.
MR: Can you remember the night that went into Songbook? Did you know that was a killer night or what?
AT: No, I didn't. I was quite concerned because I've spent most of my life in the studio recording so you always want to do things as perfectly as you can, and for a live performance, you sort of have to take what you get. So I was really concerned, but Joe's Pub is quite comfortable for me, so I was able, somewhere in the midst, to relax and have a good time.
MR: How did you whittle down that massive catalog of yours to this tracklist?
AT: Well, I had no idea what was going to be the difference in that time versus any other time because, having done this quite a few times, I've changed the set sometimes, and it happened to be that bit that time. It was like other sets, just that I'd add something or subtract something and he happened to capture it at that time. I was hoping that he got something suitable and he believes he did so I'm happy with it.
MR: "He" being Paul Siegel?
AT: Yeah Paul Siegel, who really believes in me and really has been quite a fan and keeps me in touch with myself many times, because he can bring up songs that I had laid to rest many years ago and suggest that perhaps I should revisit this and revisit that. I'm very grateful that he knows so much about my repertoire.
MR: What's the story of your performing "Saint James Infirmary"?
AT: "Saint James Infirmary" was on the most recent thing that I've recorded. That album--I still call them albums--was produced by Joe Henry from the West Coast. He chose a lot of American classic songs for us to do instrumentally and "Saint James Infirmary" was one of them. I hadn't played that. I knew that song all of my life, but I hadn't played that song until Joe Henry suggested it as a part of Bright Mississippi when it was being recorded. I was glad he did because he called my attention to some beautiful melodies that I was overlooking in American classic standards.
MR: And of course, that was one of Louis Armstrong's signature pieces.
AT: Oh yes, indeed. Everything Louis Armstrong touched became his.
MR: It surprises to me to this day that Allen Toussaint was not a Top Ten artist, although you produced or wrote many hits for various other artists. You love being in the studio and you love producing and working with other people, but what about your own aspirations? Was that, at one point, one of your aspirations, to be a big artist, or was it just to make music and record music and you weren't really even thinking about having your own Allen Toussaint hits?
AT: I had never considered myself to be one of the front stage center people. I was always well-satisfied being a person behind the scenes who writes, arranges, organizes and gets with artists and pushes them forward in the direction they would like to go, some direction that I thought was good for them. That has been my forte. Whenever I've recorded on my own, it was a request by someone. I never thought about recording me on my own. I'm more inspired by others.
MR: Right, and some of that inspiration seems to come from the depth of your relationships, I imagine. Take your introduction to "Brickyard Blues." It's so personal, and as a result, it seems like you're in a mentoring position whenever you're working with artists.
AT: I like that description, I hadn't coined it in my own head, but if that's how it comes off, yes, I really feel at my best when I'm about to write for an artist and give them a direction that I think would be good for them to deliver some of their highlights. I feel that's my best.
MR: And you've inspired so many people, just look at everyone who's recorded your material. When you were overseeing "Lady Marmalade" with Labelle, during that period, there was a bit of a molding process going on, right?
AT: Oh, yes, it was delightful, working with them. For one thing, they were so professional, they had all of the theater that goes with it, plus Labelle soars, of course, and the marriage of Patti LaBelle and Sarah Dash and Nona Hendryx was just perfect. It was just delightful because I could already see that they were soaring, so I wanted to be sure that that's what they would do.
MR: Nice. And "Lady Marmalade" was such a massive hit that gets played on classic pop radio to this day. An accomplishment like that must feel good, huh.
AT: It feels wonderful, just wonderful, and those ladies carried everything so well. They represented that whole genre so very well. It was a pleasure and it was an honor to collaborate with them.
MR: What's interesting is a lot of artists introduced Allen Toussaint to the public, and I think you, as a songwriter, became an icon as well. I think a lot of people were exposed to Allen Toussaint through the various artists that recorded your material, whether it were The Pointer Sisters, Robert Palmer, and especially through Boz Scaggs' hit "What Do You Want The Girl To Do?"
AT: I love that version and yes, I've been introduced by various artists over the years and I'm really grateful to all of them. It's just a good position to be in where so many folks can carry you with them around the world.
MR: And we should also bring up "A Certain Girl." Although I think a lot of people may not remember the Ernie K-Doe version, they probably remember the Warren Zevon version.
AT: Oh yes, yes, yes. And The Yardbirds.
MR: And Robert Palmer and that first album celebrates Allen Toussaint in a lot of ways also.
AT: Oh yes, and of course Little Feat and Lowell George being mixed in there made it all the funkier.
MR: Allen, you have a song a called "What Is Success?" May I ask you that question? What is success?
AT: Oh, as far as I'm concerned, success is being blessed to do something that you love and it also can support you. You don't have to become rich with it, but to do something you love and do it all of your life, that is success to me.
MR: You brought a lot of success to so many. What's interesting is some of your collaborations and musical associations beyond artists recording your material. For instance, you worked with Paul McCartney and Wings on the Venus And Mars album.
AT: Oh, Paul McCartney...magic. Well, The Beatles, of course, were magic, but Paul McCartney and Wings and Paul McCartney period were very much a highlight, especially for me. I really loved that era and Paul McCartney's just a superb musician. He's a superb producer by himself and there are no ragged edges on it, everything is fine-tuned.
MR: Plus the two of you recording "I Want To Walk You Home" together on the Going Home tribute kind of proves that, doesn't it?
AT: Oh, thank you for mentioning that. That was very much fun.
MR: Now, Glen Campbell did a totally different version of "Southern Nights" from yours. What did you think of it after you heard his take on it?
AT: I loved it! For one thing, I never thought it would become a commercial song where people would see it, because I recorded it to share a story and I knew it wouldn't inspire a dance or anything of that nature. I was just musically telling a story, a very real story and a dear story to my heart. I heard Glen Campbell's version and I heard later that it was inspired by Jimmy Webb who heard it and told Glen and his producers, "You should put the tempo up on this tune and give it a go." When I heard it, I just loved it dearly and I always was a Glen Campbell fan anyway, so to have one of my songs in his repertoire was quite a charge.
MR: You also collaborated with Elvis Costello.
AT: Well, that was the most magical collaboration I've ever had. I first met Elvis Costello and collaborated with him in '83. He was coming to New Orleans to do one of Yoko Ono's songs called "Walking On Thin Ice," and he said that he'd like me to produce it and work with him on it and we did just that. He came to the studio and we did that recording and that was the first time I had met with Elvis. That was just great, because I didn't know his music before then, I didn't know what he was about. I knew he was a name and such, but I didn't know. He came back a few years later and he had me play piano on the Spike album, on "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror," and I heard much more extensive music of Elvis. By then, I had heard a bit more of him and I was elated by how much he carried around with him information and love and respect for music and so many gems. I like to say that he doesn't just listen to the top of the surface of things, he listens subterraneally as well. So when we got together after Katrina. I migrated out to New York for a little while because it was martial law. We had to leave New Orleans or I never would have, and Elvis was in New York at the same time and we collaborated on a concert to benefit the people of New Orleans. He said he always wanted to do an Allen Toussaint songbook, and here we are, how about it? We got together and he chose many of my old songs that I had laid to rest many years ago and we even co-wrote songs together, which I really delighted in. That's how that worked, and then we toured around the world a couple of times.
MR: You also collaborated with Robbie Robertson and The Band on Cahoots and Rock Of Ages and The Last Waltz.
AT: Oh yes, yes, that was quite a delight. The first thing I did with him was "Life Is A Carnival." I did the horn arrangement on that. That was the first time I heard The Band. I was really amazed at how sure they were with their direction. It was unlike the other music out there. Of course, later on, I went and did the horn arrangements for the Rock Of Ages album and we did four performances at a theatre. That last night, Bob Dylan came in and spent the second half of the set on stage with us. It was quite a time.
MR: And I didn't want to leave out one of my favorite covers of your material, "It's Raining," by Irma Thomas.
AT: Oh yes, I love Irma Thomas dearly. Her voice is in my head all the time.
MR: It's a shame her name doesn't always come up when there's a discussion of the best soul singers. I never understood that.
AT: That's an interesting way to put it. She's at the top of my list.
MR: Let's also talk about you being appreciated. You've won many awards, and you were inducted into the Rock 'N' Roll Hall Of Fame in 1998.
AT: Oh yes, that was a biggie for me. It was big to me...it was quite a high honor. I cherish that by my peers, I was chosen to have such an award. And it was in grand style!
MR: Did you meet all your old friends at that event?
AT: Oh yes, everyone. There were so many people there--Paul Simon, Paul Shaffer, Robbie Robertson, just loads of wonderful people.
MR: And in 2009, you won Louisiana's Hall Of Music Award.
AT: Oh, yes, yes, which I appreciate dearly as well, that I wasn't overlooked in my own state.
MR: Where are you right now? Are you between New York and New Orleans?
AT: I live in New Orleans now but I maintain an apartment in New York. I love New York, the energy there is just wonderful. You can stand on the corner and the whole world passes you by--languages, foods, everything. But I live in New Orleans where I will live forever. That's just a must. New Orleans nourishes me and feeds me well.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
AT: New artists? This is a wonderful time because of the technology. They have so many avenues to take to get where they would like to go. If I was to say something, and I rarely give advice, I would say surround yourself with good people and positive attitudes. You'll hardly ever learn anything from negativity, whether it be physical or mental. So let the bad slip by without paying much attention to it and keep a positive attitude and never give up on your dream if you have one. Wake up looking forward to what you would like to have. Each day, you will wake up for something, so wake up for that.
MR: Wow, that's pretty powerful. Thank you very much for that.
AT: Thank you.
MR: One last question, when should we be looking at Songbook Two?
AT: [laughs] I'll check with Paul Siegel on that. Paul Siegel and my dear friend Josh who has been so inspirational through that whole Joe's Pub segment, which I hope will go on as long as I'm around. I have no idea right now.
MR: All right, you're great and I really appreciate this interview. Allen, all the best with everything.
AT: Thank you.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
THE LOUDEST BAND IN TORONTO, CONEY HATCH, IS BACK!
According to the band's camp...
"Canadian rockers Coney Hatch have returned with Four, the band's first album of new studio material in nearly three decades. Released by Frontiers Records on September 24th in North America and September 27th in Europe, Four is a reunion disc from a band that many feel were among the best and biggest hard rock acts to ever emerge from Canada. Once dubbed "The Loudest Band in Toronto" Coney Hatch formed back in the early '80s in Toronto, Canada, with original members Andy Curran, Carl Dixon, Dave Ketchum and Steve Shelski, releasing three albums on Anthem Records in Canada, and PolyGram for the rest of the world.
"The story of Coney Hatch's reunion is almost as compelling as the music. In 2008, while recording in Australia, lead vocalist Carl Dixon, was nearly killed in a horrific head-on collision. While doctor's worked to save him, he lay in a semi-conscious coma, one that would last for months. His wife, who had never left his side, reached out to his former band mates for words of encouragement. While none of the members ever thought Dixon would pull out of it and certainly never imagined the band's reunion, they all offered Dixon hope that they would someday play together again. After two long years of rehabilitation, Dixon was finally ready to perform again, and when he did, he asked his former band mates to be there with him.
"'We would not have reunited without all of this,' says Dixon, who, now, is fully recovered. 'The crash and the emotions that it evoked in us all was the determining factor in us realizing a lot of what had happened and why we broke up in the first place. It had all become water under the bridge. We think everyone will agree that our new CD, Four, was worth the wait!'"
A Conversation with Colin Gilmore
Mike Ragogna: Colin. Dude. The Wild And Hollow. My first official question is who the hell do you think you are recording an album this good?
Colin Gilmore: [laughs] Oh man, that is a good question.
MR: I think this is the strongest singer-songwriter/Americana album of the year. What do you think of that, Gilmore?
CG: Oh, man, look at that. I'll agree with you, but I might be a little biased.
MR: How'd you get to this album? I've been following your career and your albums and I'm wondering what voodoo you inserted into the mix to get to this level of songwriting, production and performances.
CG: Well, it was the voodoo of Austin and Chicago. The band that I started playing with in Chicago, the drummer of that band became the co-producer of the album, and then alongside Rob Seidenberg here in Austin, I spent a huge sum of money just going back and forth between the two cities recording and drumming up inspiration and co-writing with the guys. You'll notice that the first track was written by me and the guys up in the Midwest, the twin brothers up in Evanston, Illinois, and then Billy in Ohio, and then there's one song that Rob Seidenberg and I co-wrote in Austin. There was one song I covered by an old friend of mine named John Walker, a very good friend of mine, and then one that he and I wrote together when we were in our early twenties, when we were riding trains in Europe. That was the first song that I ever wrote that I would be willing to play again and wasn't just a throwaway horrible punk song from high school days. I dug deep on this one. We really focused on getting it to have the kind of sound that gives you the feeling of when you put on a really old Buddy Holly album or a Ray Charles album or something that had that aesthetic to it. That's what we went for and we were really happy with how it came out. We're still in the midst of getting the word out about it.
MR: My favorite recordings on this album is "Warm Days Love," do you want to take us through a little tour of that recording?
CG: Oh yeah, definitely. So "Warm Days Love," that's the one that my friend John Walker wrote. He and I were in punk bands in high school together. We've always shared a love of music. He did a lot of traveling. He went to New York and then he went to Mexico for a while and he lived as a wandering minstrel and wrote a bunch of good songs during that period. So he came back to Austin and he and formed a band called Chalk Outline and we did that song. We did it in kind of a slow waltz, bang-'em-up rock 'n' roll style. I decided, "Hey, this would be nice as a more sensitive ballad," so I got Will Taylor of Strings Attached to put some orchestra on it. All that orchestra you hear on it is basically one guy putting down twenty tracks of every different thing. Then, of course, Amanda Shires put a little lead part on it and sang backup on it, which made it that much sweeter.
MR: Amanda Shires and there are other vocalists on the project.
CG: There are several of them, actually. Amanda Shires is on that one and then Sally Allen, based in Butte, Texas, she's a really talented singer-songwriter and she sang with me on "Wake Me In The Night" and on "Only Real To Me," and then a very under-looked songwriter in Chicago, Julia Klee. I met her through the band and she sang with me on "All My Worlds Are Fleeting" and "Feel Like Falling," the second song. She's just got a beautiful voice. Any time we'd sit down and record, it'd take me fifty tries to hit the note I was trying for and she'd just hit it immediately. That was really cool, recording with her, and she's got a unique voice.
MR: You straddled two cities for their inspirations.
CG: I still can't put my finger on it, but there's a lot of the same kind of style of Americana going on in Chicago and in Austin that's somewhere between Indie Rock, Country and Folk. It can sit in the same category, but they're very different, and I can never figure out why. The minute I go to Chicago and my friends there say, "Hey, check out this guy who's based here," and put the music on, I'm like, "Man, this is just different from back home." But there's a lot of really good stuff going on in both cities. What I tried to do is each time I came back to one or the other, I tried to just sort of plug in to what was going on there and try to keep that feeling going on when we recorded.
MR: When you were approaching the album, there were no rules, right? It was basically, "get the best recording on these songs as soon as possible?"
CG: Yeah, absolutely. When I sat down with twin brothers Tim and Jason Bennett in Chicago--the guitar player and drummer--Tim, the drummer and I did the most brainstorming. We just thought, "We don't have time to just mess around with every kind of sound." We'd play around with sounds and everything, but we also got to thinking, "What is it about a really good album that you put it in and it immediately sounds good?" I think with my previous albums, that's not an approach that I took. Those were more like, "Okay, I've got these songs, here are the arrangements, let's get a guitar tone that we're okay with and everything will take care of itself." On this one, we were trying to be really conscious of how tones could so immediately affect you. By no means do I think I achieved perfection on it. Afterwards, I was just so, "Oh, man I could've done this part better," but for the most part, I could feel it when we put it in that it'd really taken a step up and made it more of an immediate pleasure to listen to, even just when the opening notes of a song come in.
MR: When you played this thing back, you knew what a powerhouse you had, didn't you?
CG: Yeah. The whole time, I was like, "Man, how am I going to get this done?" I did a Kickstarter campaign to fund it and I was like, "How are we going to get this done to our projected goal?" Well the answer is we took longer than we said we would, but not too much. We took some time on the thing.
MR: Did you play the album for your dad?
CG: Yeah, definitely, and he really loved it. It's funny, I think as unbiased as he could be as a father, he genuinely seemed to think it was a good several steps up from the last recording. He said, "This is your best one yet, for sure." He was really happy about it and he really was saying, "You're doing things I wouldn't have thought to have done." That made me feel like, "Oh good, I'm not just rehashing anything or trying to keep one phenomenon alive."
MR: And fathers truly do want their sons to outshine them, but when they finally do, it I think they're sort of surprised.
CG: [laughs] Yeah, definitely. I think he finds what I'm doing interesting. In fact, the band that I've got in Chicago have become one of my dad's preferred backing bands. My band played a couple of shows in Chicago backing both me and my dad up and then we tried it down in Texas, in Marfa, and then in New Mexico, and it just kept working out better and better each time. So now, it's kind of a matter of, "All right, my dad's not touring a lot, how do we keep this going and keep all the songs fresh and either get us up to Chicago some or them down to Texas or out wherever we go?" That's always something we're looking to do.
MR: Are you performing with your dad these days?
CG: We are a little bit. For a while, people kept asking us to do shows together and we always liked doing them, but we kind of made a conscious effort not for it to just be like, "Oh, we're just going to do this all the time and get sick of it." I've had to watch out because when a lot of people first hear me the first time, they think I'm just his backing musician or something. So every time he and I play a show, I try to intersperse it with some shows that let people know that I'm doing my own thing and writing my own style and everything.
MR: Did your dad's music influence you?
CG: Oh yeah, definitely, and that happened a good while back, but it took me a long time. When I was younger, I took his music for granted. I always liked it, but I took it for granted. I didn't realize what kind of effect it had on me and for how long. That goes for my dad and a lot of the people I was listening to that my dad was a contemporary of. Butch Hancock, his music has had such a powerful influence on my life and so has Terry Allen and Jo Carol Pierce and Joe Ely. I guess when I was young, I thought, "Oh, well, this is just music. This is what music sounds like," and then later on, it came to me that, "Wait, this music is so powerful," and it still is powerful, and not all music is. I feel like some music has an appeal to you at a certain point in life and then later on, you listen back and you're like, "Aw, I don't know what I was thinking, listening to that." So many people I grew up listening to, I had the good fortune of sticking with it and rediscovering and loving them just as much later on.
MR: Nice. By the way, "Wake Me In The Night" is a great chiller, like when you request to your brother and your sister, "Would you wake me up if the house is on fire?" There's a lot of depth going on in that song.
CG: Yeah, you know it's funny because it all started out as just words in my head, but there is meaning to it because my siblings have been some of my greatest saviors at times and been good friends to me. There's definite literal symbolism there, but it's also kind of like there was something spooky going on inside me for a while and I feel like when I finally got that song done and written and recorded and everything, I was like, "Okay, good, I let that out."
MR: Could this album have been a bit cathartic about that period that you just mentioned? Do you think the album helped you turn a corner on some things?
CG: Yeah, working with these people, Rob Seidenberg and all these musicians and Tim and Jay, they were kind of valuing what I was writing and they took it seriously, but they also encouraged me not to take it too seriously or beat myself up about it. They said to just let it be a song. So that was really big. That's what helped me get the songs done and kept them from being twenty minutes long and really boring, too
MR: It's hard to self-edit sometimes because you just want to get everything you feel out there.
CG: Oh yeah, and you're like, "Wait a minute, that's not what I meant, let me rephrase it."
MR: Whose idea was it to cover Nick Lowe's "Raging Eyes?" That was genius.
CG: You know what almost kicked the whole thing off was that Rob Seidenberg approached me in Austin. We had a mutual friend and he said, "Hey, I'm putting together a compilation of alt country," or whatever you call it, "artists doing Nick Lowe songs and I'd like you to be on it." He said, "So we'll have to decide what song to do," and I said, "Hey, can I do 'Raging Eyes?'" because I love it, it's perfect, it's like punk rockabilly pop. It's a style that no one else can pull off and Nick Lowe pulls it off perfectly. So he said, "Okay, but I was thinking 'You Make Me,'" So I tried that, I did "You Make Me," and we decided that's going to go on the tribute album Lowe Country. Then we recorded "Raging Eyes" and we were like, "It'd be a shame to do nothing with it, so can we just put it on my album," and he said, "Yeah." It's funny, it's got Gary Burnette on it, who's a really good producer and guitar player in Nashville, and it's also got almost all of the members of Fastball except for Miles Zuniga. It's got Tony Scalzo singing backup on it and Joey Shuffield and Cory Glaeser. You can hear it, you're like, "Whoa, this sounds different, the production's different." But Tim mixed it, still, so he kind of helped it have some of the similar feel and not be too much of a whiplash when it comes to the last song.
MR: I love Nick's The Abominable Showman, I thought it had like four or five potential hit singles including the Paul Carrack duet, "Wish You Were Here." If only the record company understood what they had with him.
CG: Yeah, totally. It's funny because Nick Lowe has never been afraid to just throw stuff out and see if it sticks or not. Years later, it still does, somehow. I think that's one of the great things about him.
MR: I think his material holds up, in some respects, better than some of Elvis Costello's, although I know that's controversial to say.
CG: Yeah, totally. All of Nick's pub rock is my favorite, and it might just be it's his particular sense of melody and sense of humor that I dig.
MR: Me too. In fact, it's really funny to me that whenever they put together these compilations on him they always leave out things like "Tanque-Rae," which I think is hysterical, and "We Want Action" that's one of the best non-rap wordplay lyrics I can think of. I think it's great that you guys did that Nick Lowe nod, it's perfect for your personality, your voice, your sound. It totally worked.
CG: Thank you.
MR: What would you say is the most revealing song about you on this album?
CG: I'll try not to think about that too hard. The song "All My Worlds Are Fleeting" is maybe my funny, pessimistic side.
MR: Yeah, I was going to ask you about that one. I'm glad you brought that up.
CG: What I try to do if I have a negative sentiment...I'll use an example. Alan Watts is a British writer who brought a lot of Buddhist thought to western culture. There are things of his that I read that seem dismal, they seem so miserable, but then when I hear him say it on audiotape, he almost sounds like he could be a member of Monty Python and it sounds funny. It made me realize that maybe I was taking it the wrong way. To me, "All My Worlds Are Fleeting" is kind of the same way. When I read it, it looks like I'm real depressed and everything, but if you hear the song it's like, "Oh, no, that's not really what I meant. That's not the way I meant it. I didn't mean it so bad. [laughs]
MR: Another one I wanted to bring up was "Only Real To Me."
CG: Oh yeah, yeah. That one was a dream I had when I was fourteen years old, that I was walking through a department store in a mall that was closed. I had snuck in and I saw this girl in a dress just twirling. It just really knocked me out. I don't know what it was, but I woke up immediately and I was like, "I've got to go find out who this girl is!" She was just this perfect angel, and years later now, that's kind of where that came from.
MR: And what a hoot "Free Money" is. Free money certainly isn't, I share that sentiment exactly.
CG: Oh yeah? That's the one that John [Matthew Walker] and I wrote. What happened was he and I had been in a punk band and we'd written stuff where the pure intent was to irritate our parents and to irritate anybody listening. So when I got out of college, I had some free travel miles and I said, "Hey John, let's me and you go to Europe." We'd never gone over there before together and he had never been, and I said, "Hey, I've got this melody in my head." I played it for him, I think over the phone or something, and then a couple days later, he was like, "Hey, I've got most of the song done," and we finished the song together. We went to Europe and we busked on the streets playing that song and a Woody Guthrie song and "La Bamba." We tried it out in Ireland and we got tipped a stick of gum, I think. We went to Cologne, Germany, and got tipped enough money to where we could have kept on living there. So years later, I was like, "Hey John, we should record this."
MR: And so it goes full circle. This is really an important album for you on a lot of levels, a personal level, an achievement level, and on a pleasing musical level.
CG: Yeah, definitely, definitely.
MR: Colin, what advice do you have for new artists?
CG: Any advice I could give is going to sound really cliché but just remember that your job first is to make really good music and to make music that speaks to people and that really shines from the heart. What you're worth is your direct connection with your fans, how you really touch them on stage or when you record or when you write a song, because it's very easy to get caught up in thinking someone else is going to come in and make things work for you and really make things happen. It's so different now than it was five years ago and it keeps changing. People always say, "Does your dad give you advice on the music industry," and I'm just like, "My dad would be the last person to ask right now," because he's just focused on what he's playing and what he's writing and he's not keeping up with how everything's changing. Right now, everything's just chaotic from my perspective. There's nobody that you can go to and go, "Okay, what's the next thing to do? What should I do for my career?" Anyone who claims to really know, five minutes later, goes, "Hmm, maybe I was wrong about that." That's a long-winded answer, but it's almost like your job as a musician is to be a shaman or somebody that takes something purely from the spirit world and brings it into reality, and it's probably going to sound weird at certain points. But a lot of what you think is weird at first is later on going to be the best thing out there.
MR: I never thought of it that way, that's pretty great. So, Colin Gilmore, five years from now, what have you done?
CG: Five years from now, I will have written the songs that I've always dreamed I would have written. I've written a handful of them and I will have figured out the right way to get the songs that I've got into people's hands and get it into their ears and to really make waves with it, as vague as that might be. I'm still toying with all that. I guess I will have sold a ton of albums and you'll hear some of those songs of mine in movies and on TV shows or just in your CD player or whatever device you're using at that point.
MR: What songs will you bring when you mentor the kids on American Idol?
CG: I'd have to say something at least a little subversive, I would feel the need to do that on American Idol, just make people go, "Huh?" Either subversive or just off the wall and out of place.
MR: Colin, other than asking you what your favorite animal is, I think we covered a lot of territory here. On second thought, what's your favorite animal?
CG: You know, I like bats a lot. From a distance. I wouldn't want one as a pet but I think they're really cool. I think they look cool and I like that there's something with fur that flies.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne