Talking with Johnny Winter
Mike Ragogna: Johnny, how the heck are you? Let's talk about your four-CD box set, True To The Blues: The Johnny Winter Story. This is a celebration of your triumphs and highlights. As the artist, what are some of your proudest moments?
Johnny Winter: Playing with Muddy Waters was the most fun I ever had. I loved that.
MR: I'll bet you're one of the artists who recorded exactly the way you wanted to, right?
JW: Yes, definitely.
MR: What's a studio session like for Johnny Winter?
JW: Well, we just try to make it sound as good as we possibly can.
MR: What's the process?
JW: We usually have a mic in the middle of the room to pick up all the room sound and make it sound a little bit more like mono. We just about always do that. We have everything mic'd individually, but we always have a room mic.
MR: Obviously, a lot of this was just jamming, but there was a certain amount that had to be arranged, right?
JW: Oh yeah, we always rehearse before we go in and figure out what we're going to do and how we're going to do it.
MR: How does the recording evolve between what you begin rehearsing and the final mix?
JW: It was pretty much the same as when we rehearsed it. We didn't change too much. Once we figure out what we're going to do, we stick to it.
MR: Johnny, your family has a lot of energy though you and Edgar took kind of different paths.
JW: Edgar wanted more of a jazz sound and I don't like jazz at all. He can play blues, he just doesn't really care about doing it.
MR: Yet you've played together often, right?
JW: Oh, we played together for years.
MR: When you guys were growing up, did you listen to the same types of music?
JW: No. Not at all.
MR: And you always gravitated towards...
JW: ...blues and rock 'n' roll.
MR: Johnny, who were some of your favorite artists?
JW: Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Little Walter, Lightnin' Hopkins, Jimmy Reed, B.B. King. There were a lot of people I loved.
MR: A lot of artists start out, basically, playing from their influences. Was there a point where you really felt, "Now I'm playing Johnny Winter music?"
JW: Well, I try not to copy anybody.
MR: Right, but did you never mimic any of your favorite artists, maybe in the very beginning, you know, for the sake of learning?
JW: No, I learned their stuff and how to play it the way they played it, but I tried to sound like myself.
MR: Do you see how some younger blues artists have been influenced by you?
JW: Yes, definitely. It's real nice, too. I really like that.
MR: When you look at your body of work, especially through True To The Blues, what are your thoughts?
JW: I don't know how to describe it. It's so hard to put music into words.
MR: Have you've been playing music and making more music beyond what's on this package?
JW: Yeah, definitely.
MR: Considering the material on the box set, has your approach to music changed significantly over all those years?
JW: I haven't changed that much, really. I've played pretty much the same way I always have.
MR: What speaks to you creatively or musically these days?
JW: Blues. [laughs] Definitely blues. It's still my favorite music.
MR: Are there artists that you listen to that make you go, "Oh my God, that's cool."
JW: Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes, I like both of them.
MR: And of course, you've played with them.
JW: Yes, I have.
MR: What do you think about the future of blues?
JW: I think it'll always be around. It's not as big as it was in the fifties and sixties, there's no Muddy Waters or anyone around.
MR: Do you think their lifestyles made the difference?
JW: They had things harder back in the old days. That probably made them feel more like playing blues. It's not as rough as it used to be.
MR: Is that a legitimate question? If someone is playing the blues these days and they haven't had a lot of the historical hardships that a lot of other blues musicians have had, where do they draw from?
JW: Just from the older people that came before them, mostly.
MR: From understanding their music?
JW: Yeah, exactly.
MR: Where do you see blues in another five years, given all the electronics and stuff a majority of artists out there are incorporating?
JW: That doesn't work for blues. That doesn't work for blues at all.
MR: These days, does blues still need a bar room?
JW: That's a good place to play blues.
MR: And what about major concerts?
JW: Sure, yeah.
MR: Do you have a favorite concert that's like, "I can't believe that ever happened!"
JW: I don't think so.
MR: How about a recording where you listened back at the end and said, "Wow, did I play that?"
JW: Oh yeah, "Be Careful With A Fool" is great. I really like the way I played on that. A lot of the stuff I did I was really happy with.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
JW: Listen to all of the people who came before, play as much as you can, practice as much as you can and try to do it your own way.
MR: That's what you're doing to this day, I'll bet, right?
MR: Where do you see Johnny Winter in five years?
JW: I'm going to be doing the same thing I'm doing right now. I don't have any plans of changing things around much. I'm happy with the way they're going right now.
MR: Might there be a Johnny Winter, Tedeschi & Trucks album?
JW: Yeah, that could happen.
Transcribed By Galen Hawthorne
Talking with David Weinreb, CEO of the Howard Hughes Corporation
Mike Ragogna: David, it's an honor to talk to you, thank you for the time.
David Weinreb: Well it's an honor to talk to you. You have an illustrious background that's quite impressive.
MR: Thank you for saying that. Hey, let's get into your background, but first I want to ask, why did you feel it was important to bring music to the South Street Seaport area?
DW: Music has been a part of my life since I was around seven or eight years old. I'm not sure how familiar you are with my history but I spent my childhood in the entertainment business. I was a singer, I did a lot of television commercials and the like and I used to open up for a lot of the great comedians across the country. And, of course, I'm a New Yorker, went to the school system there, and then ultimately lived in the city before I moved to Texas. Being a New Yorker, you realize that to build something that will withstand the test of time, you need to build something that's going to include the arts, great food offerings, and interesting experiences. One of the ways we built this into our vision for the Seaport has been taking the pier's iconic waterfront location and its ability to provide a great community anchor with this rapidly growing section of lower Manhattan. My goal is obviously to create an unparalleled experience that's compelling for the local residents, the daily people who come downtown to work and then obviously tourists. I think music is a vital part of that. All of the arts. We've got jewels of development, like the one-of-a-kind rooftop experience that's been offered, not just to expand the public space but also this venue for concerts, films, special events, a setting that's second to none because to the north, there's the Brooklyn Bridge to the south is the Statue of Liberty, to the west is the Empire State Building and the World Trade Center, et cetera.
MR: The music that's going to be part of the series is a really mixed bag. Who did the programming?
DW: We haven't made a public announcement yet on who will be handling the day-to-day except just to say that it will be a best-in-class company that will work very closely with us. We not only have this music venue, but we also control Merriweather in Columba, Maryland, which is thought of as one of the most successful amphitheatres in the country. We built--although it's now owned by the township--the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavillion, which used to be one of the most visited amphitheatres in the world. Then we've got places from the River Walk to the public space in Honolulu to even a ballpark that we hope to build in the next few years in Summerlin, all of which will be able to be programmed for great musical events.
MR: I'm imagining that everything you put in place helps the local economies as well. How will you be affecting the local economies?
DW: Our goal, always, wherever we have assets, is to assimilate into the local community and make sure that we make a difference. I think our SEE CHANGE program is a great example of how we impact locally. To give you an example of things that will be coming up in our next generation of SEE CHANGE, right now, we have an ice skating rink, our multistory fleet of shipping containers that houses up-and-coming retailers, in the summer we intend to bring back front row cinema. Last summer, we hosted two movies a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays in a film series. That series went from Memorial Day, when it kicked off, and ran for eight or nine weeks. We're going to do a Seaport musical festival. Last year it was every Friday in June, so we featured great new talent. We did the Seaport musical festival and then the Fort Knox musical festival, both of which happened last year, and now we've got our FRONT/ROW Cube, that's this winter in tandem with our unseasonably cool ice rink, which is really neat. We've kind of embraced the cold weather months with exciting new SEE CHANGE ideas. I really encourage you to go see the rink if you haven't been inside it. It holds up to two hundred and fifty guests and we've got all kinds of neat programming going on in there. The bottom line is, as I said, to assimilate with the community and bring programming that's relevant, current, interesting, fun and that brings the community together.
MR: David, how did you first get associated with all of this?
DW: The Howard Hughes Corporation is synonymous with the relentless pursuit of achievement, but the company itself was actually assets that were formally part of the General Growth portfolio. When General Growth went into bankruptcy, Bill Ackman, our chairman, recognized that there was a subset of assets that would be better off being in their own entity as a public company. Those assets, at one point we were in eighteen states and thirty-four assets were the beginning of the Howard Hughes corporation and we went public in November of 2010. Now, some of those assets were in fact Howard Hughes' assets that go back nine decades, as far back as during his lifetime.
MR: What were some of the first things you did when you came on board?
DW: I had to explain the larger company to show you how the Seaport is a great example. Our predecessor had a very interesting but what we believe is a difficult to execute vision, so we essentially re-imagined what the Seaport should be with the "big idea," if you will, coming from this acre and a half that will be that roof that will exist on our new Pier 17 that will hold a deluxe-scale restaurant, two bars outside and this amphitheatre that will hold up to four thousand people. But in addition to that, that certain space will be available for all kinds of great programming from art exhibitions to fashion shows and even sporting events, et cetera. We'll be able to hold twenty five hundred people on our estate with tennis matches, basketball games, et cetera. It's really a multi-use entertainment venue that I believe is going to be at the center of the greatness of this redeveloped property.
MR: How do you see the Seaport's growth in the next five years?
DW: My great hope is to see it become one of, if not the most important districts in the city. Thriving on a twenty-four seven basis that can offer all of the great things that other districts in the city offer. I think the waterfront is a treasure and it's a great opportunity to integrate the public spaces, art and culture, great food offerings, et cetera. The original city planners did a masterful job hundreds of years ago developing the grid system for New York, but unfortunately it took out the waterfronts because of the west side drive and the FDR. So there are very few places where both locals and people visiting the city can really experience the water like you're able to do in so many great cosmopolitan cities all around the world.
MR: What are some highlights from your professional musical career?
DW: I'm a great movie and music enthusiast, I love all types of music, but it's really broader than that. It's about just having a great respect for the arts in general and recognizing that we had a location on the Seaport that's completely unmatched anywhere, certainly in this city. I believe that when we create this rooftop experience there'll be nothing like this that exists anywhere. The opportunity to bring together not just great space, but phenomenal programming in this destination is very exciting. We're trying to make sure that we do something that, as I said, can stand the test of time. I think the New Yorker is a very discerning consumer, they know great food, they know great art, they know great music, and they expect to have these unique experiences that can't be found in other places.
MR: I would imagine this is a great venue for new artists to get more exposure than they've ever had before.
DW: Absolutely. As I said, being public, we can't speak on a one-off basis about things that haven't been reported publicly, but I think we're going to see all kinds of programming coming from these venues. I think you'll see headliners, you'll see a music series of up-and-coming artists that will be very inspiring. My hope is that this becomes a venue where a number of great future headliners are "found," if you will.
MR: Nice. Hey David, you fell into my evil trap! What advice do you have for new artists?
DW: There's no tougher business than show business, but I'm a big believer in being passionate and staying the course and doing something that you love and there's certainly a lot of talent in the world, but fewer people that stay true and authentic to their long-term vision and commitment to a certain craft. So I think if someone has a love for something, I think the world needs more people who are inspired by something they do on a daily basis.
DW: One of the things that I think might be interesting for you to know is that we've got six guiding principles at the company that we talk about and focus on, from imaginative thinking to collaboration, having a passion for excellence, staying the course, timing--which I think is critical. Everyone thinks it's what a great comedian needs, but I think it's one of the most important skills for a great leader--and authenticity. I think that those guiding principals, when executed help create a great internal compass and direction.
MR: I'm imagining that's true for both a human and a corporation.
MR: That's great, I'm glad we fit that in.
DW: I'm a big believer that nothing in life happens by accident. I guess the opportunity that connected us to have this phone call was the Jay-Z moment a week and a half ago, which was completely unplanned and unexpected. Of course, Jay-Z is a quintessential New Yorker and someone that we hope will be one of the many great talents that will perform at the Seaport when it gets completed.
MR: Do you plan to help teen and young artists as well?
DW: Again, as far as just wanting to make a difference in the world both personally and at the corporate level, we work hard to try to create opportunity for people to have venues to express their greatness. That would certainly include younger people as well, and great talent.
MR: It seems to be a trend in the city that there are more places for these kids to be playing than I can ever remember having existed before.
DW: I don't think anything will be off limits to us. We want to be able to showcase great talent for the Seaport, we're going to have interesting programming, and in order to stay relevant we have to stay up with the times. As you point out there's a lot of great young talent out there today who are making a huge difference in the music business.
MR: If someone wanted to play at the Seaport, who would they contact?
DW: They can visit the "Contact Us" section on http://www.SEECHANGENY.com
MR: Beautiful. I appreciate your time.
DW: Thank you. It's been a pleasure to speak to you and I look forward to meeting you in person sometime.
MR: That would be great, same here.
Transcribed By Galen Hawthorne
EARLY WINTERS' "VANISHING ACT"
According to Early Winters...
"We came together to a room. We spilled our fragments of ideas collected on our journeys. The sparks flew and we followed. We coaxed and we tamed--some to wild fires and some to dead ends. We dug deeper or we let go. In twenty-four hours the survivors took shape and we breathed our lives into them. We captured them still fresh and ate them straight out of the oven. We sealed them with a kiss and called it 'Vanishing Act.'"
And Early Winters is performing tonight at @ Hotel Café. For info:
A Holly Golightly Interview
Mike Ragogna: Holly, how are you and the Brokeoffs--Lawyer Dave--lately?
Holly Golightly: Hi Mike, we're doing well down here, thanks.
MR: New album...All Her Fault. Who's fault is it exactly?
HG: Dave would probably say it's my fault, but it's actually his fault.
MR: What was it like creating the music and recording the album?
HG: It was business as usual, in terms of getting the songs together and working out how they would be arranged. That's usually something that goes pretty smoothly here. It did take quite a bit longer when it came recording this time though. The delays were mostly due to intermittent weather-related (power) issues which affected studio use, so it was a fragmented adventure at times. I think it may have worked out to be a really good thing for us, in the end, since the breaks from recording gave us plenty of time for scrutiny and assessment of how we thought it was (and/or ought to be) going. We got to make necessary amendments along the way, rather than waiting until the last minute to race through it all, one song after another. Too much time between sessions can sometimes be a bad thing too, but the enforced gaps in working gave our ears regular rest, which was a luxury. The end result is nicely in keeping with what we have done before, at least we think so, and we're really, really happy with it.
MR: What's the story behind "Pistol Pete"?
HG: It's an equine escape story. I suppose it's what we wish could happen, for all abused horses. We take them in--rehabilitate and re-home horses that is--and have had many arrive that had drawn the short straw in life, prior to landing here with us. So, it's an homage to them and to all the others like them.
MR: "Bless Your Heart" calls out phoniness. Is this story a personal one?
HG: We each had our own thoughts as to who the lyrics might most likely apply to when we were putting it together, but as we formed it into a song we honed it to make it all the funnier--to us. It is really just a patchwork of snippets of both of our individual experiences of a certain type of person, rather than one person in particular, and it's not intended to be too specific, on purpose.
MR: Which songs on the album that best describe your attitude these days?
HG: Oh that would be KIng Lee, without a doubt. He's got the right idea.
MR: What's the touring going to be like?
HG: Well, here's hoping it's plain sailing. We haven't been out on a full US tour for a couple of years now, and we're really looking forward to doing it again. It will be a treat to visit some new places and play for people who may not have been able to get to a show of ours before, and we will be getting to see the familiar faces too, in the places we have stopped and played before. We tour fairly modestly, traveling in a small vehicle and driving ourselves... We've virtually gone pro this time 'round and got a roof cargo box. We're feeling ready to roll and it's going to be a lot of fun!
MR: Are you satisfied with the way you've controlled your career to this point and is there anything you would change if you could?
HG: I'm really happy with the way things are. I have done just as I please, pretty much, so I cannot complain about anything at all. It still feels like a huge privilege to me, to be able to do this. I don't think there's anything much I'd change... Though I sometimes think that I ought to have got a tuner a little bit sooner.
MR: What's your advice to new artists?
HG: I would recommend, no matter what else they may or may not get out of making music, that it had better be really good fun to do. Oh, and don't sell your publishing. That's my advice.
A Brendan Benson Interview
Mike Ragogna: Brendan, why did you start Readymade Records? What's its history and who is on the roster?
Brendan Benson: We started Readymade because it just made sense. I'd put out 4 albums on as many labels not including The Raconteurs, which was also on a separate label, and it's great to have some consistently and control over my career for the first time in over a decade. I've been lucky enough to produce some incredibly artists whom we've put out on the label including Cory Chisel & The Wandering Sons, The Howlin' Brothers, Young Hines, Eric Burdon & The Greenhornes and The Lost Brothers.
MR: You released your album You Were Right in December through that imprint. How do you feel this benefits you and what might some challenges by?
BB: The benefits are that we make every decision and no one is telling me what to do creatively or artistically. The downside to some is that it is of course a ton of work; but we're up for it.
MR: Which songs on You Were Right reflect your view of the things in general best and why?
BB: "Rejuvenate Me" and "Long Term Goal" sum up those sentiments well, as does the actual album title and title track.
MR: What's your creative process for writing your own material?
BB: I'm constantly writing; there isn't really a process around it. It haunts me sometimes! But it's a great job to have and I've been doing more and more co-writes with other artists, which has been great.
MR: Looking at your own recording and live performance careers, what a couple of your favorite high points?
BB: A lot of it is kind of a blur but the recent Brendan Benson & Friends show we put on at The Ryman was definitely a highlight. It was a blast to get onstage with some of my favorite musicians and friends--Jack, Butch Walker, Jakob Dylan, Ricky Skaggs, etc. As well as sell the place out!
MR: How do you feel your show at Nashville's Ryman on December 18 with artists such as Jack White, Jon Auer and Eric Burdon turned out? What were some of the highlights?
BB: Ha! Just answered that. The whole thing was a highlight. We're working on releasing it in some form or another so hopefully, you can all experience the magic of that evening as well.
MR: You are also a respected producer and musician having worked with Eric Burdon, Cory Chisel, etc. Were there any of these artists whose works affected you more deeply than expected?
BB: Burdon for sure. He is such a resonating influence on a lot of us. It was really surreal to not only be in the same room as the guy behind The Animals, but also making music with him and producing. Cory is one of my closest friends and it turns out is an extremely talented artist all around. My relationship there is so natural, the music is a seamless byproduct.
MR: What's your advice for new artists?
BB: Get a good team that you trust, be in the loop; but otherwise focus on the music as that's the most important thing at the end of the day.
MR: What does the future look like for Brendan Benson?
BB: Good question! More producing I suppose and definitely spending as much time with my family as I can. We have two little ones and they are both a blast and a handful.