04/06/2012 12:00 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Universal Soldiers: Conversations With Donovan and Tommy Roe


A Conversation With Donovan

Mike Ragogna: Hello there, Donovan, father of Ione Skye and Donovan Leitch. How are you sir?

Donovan: How are you? Hello America! I'm fine, thank you. I'm sitting over here in California and that can't be bad.

MR: We're sitting in Iowa and we're having some nice, warm weather here.

DL: There was a bit of a storm, but well, the sun came out today.

MR: Nice to hear... solar-power! Okay, you have a new project, it's a double disc titled The Essential Donovan.

DL: Yeah, it's a representation of many of my popular songs, but with a new twist. Bob Irwin is a great compiler and he did my purple box set in 2005. It was an extraordinary collection and he found the heart with three discs to actually represent me, and he said it was even harder with this new presentation to bring in a few bonuses and a few rarities. But I'm quite happy with it, I think.

MR: Yeah, it's got a lot of songs on it, and it's a nice cross-section. It starts with the song "Catch The Wind," which I believe, in our culture, it's become a lullaby or at least a song many parents teach their kids.

DL: Well, it became the soundtrack to many people's lives. It was my first release and also very touching for me. It is about my very early days where I used to catch the wind by holding my guitar up to the wind when I was living on the beaches of Cromwell in my vagabond years.

MR: You know, it's funny, there's so much footage of you in Britain, but there's also so much footage of you in the States. One might get confused about which country you're a citizen.

DL: Well, yeah (laughs). What do you think of that?

MR: I think that you're a US citizen in disguise... aren't you!

DL: No, I'm a citizen of the planet, a citizen of the world, as Charles Chaplin used to say. But now I'm starting to think I'm actually a citizen of the universe.

MR: That's right, that's because you are involved with meditation for the longest time and you do have a different perspective as far as the creative source. Let's actually get into that. When you write, when you create, where is your creativity coming from?

DL: It is a question that artists have been asked for millennia, Michael. There is a state of mind that an artist can place himself in. In a world of composition and music, this is a very personal thing. One can place oneself in this space for these songs to appear. I don't write the songs like a cobbler sits down with his leather and his nails and his form that he cuts the boots to. We don't make songs like that, but we do practice forms. The singer/songwriter who's had as many songs come out of him as I, and others like me will back me up, you actually practice the forms and you can actually feel the songs appearing. The trick, Michael, is to catch them. It's fishing.

MR: Then it's catching much more than the wind, sir.

DL: (laughs) You have to create the circumstances for them to appear. It's interesting, difficult to explain, but deep inside everybody -- you mentioned meditation? There is a fourth level of consciousness. People live on three levels, mainly, that's what I learned when I started the yoga books. What you learn is that we all live in three states of consciousness -- waking, dreaming, and dreamless sleep. But there's a fourth level the ancient books spoke of, which intrigued me, The Beatles, and countless others. This fourth state of consciousness is called transcendental super-conscious vision. It sounds like a science-fiction tale, and in a way it is, but you can only enter this space with a mantra meditation. Artists like me who compose songs, we can enter it through our music, that's where all the songs come from, Michael.

MR: That's beautiful. It must have a holistic effect as well, affecting your life in other ways, I imagine?

DL: It reduces the stress in your nervous system, it has a physical benefit. That's why meditation is considered good for one. When you release the stress in the nervous system, the whole body relaxes. One becomes much more creative, not only if you are an artist, but about your whole life in general. It is very good for you, as many millions of students are finding since the David Lynch Foundation has been presenting the meditation to students.

MR: You are involved in the proliferation of this information aren't you?

DL: Yeah. I mean, The Beatles and I went to India for ourselves at first because fame had become extraordinarily overwhelming. We turned to ourselves in a way by going to the ashram, learning about ourselves, de-stressing our incredible nervous systems that had been shocked by enormous fame. But also, we learned something that might be good for our fans, so when we came back, we presented it, and I did too, to our fans. But over the years, it's been applied in schools and I'm quite involved in it. I mean, I don't do it every week. I'm a musician, an artist, but I devote a lot of time with David Lynch. I'm the musical wing of the David Lynch Foundation.

MR: Sweet. Let's circle back to The Essential Donovan. I would love to get a little insight on it. Can you tell us the story behind "Colors?"

DL: In studying what singer/songwriters from the Bohemian underground used to call the guitar tunings -- that you can tune the guitar into a drone -- well, I was messing around with the drone one day, and I was picking... Joni Mitchell wrote a lot of songs in (various) tunings as well. Out of this tuning, one day, came "Colors," and I was always looking for a song people could sing along to. You have to understand, I feel it's my job, I'm a poet in service to the tribes, so when you find a song that people can sing along to, it's rather lovely. When I recorded it, everybody felt the same, so it's a picking song, a drone song. It comes, you might say, from Celtic cowboy music.

MR: You also recorded song which was covered by a lot of other people. It reflects its era, but on the other hand, it's relevant today -- "Universal Soldier."

DL: Well, I covered that song myself. It was a Buffy Sainte-Marie song, one of the rare occasions I have recorded another writer's work. I'm in touch with Buffy again and I kind of made it super famous, much more than Buffy's version. It touched me. At the time, it was an anthem, not anti-soldier, but very pro-soldier as pawns in a terrible game called "war." Recently, my version of "Universal Soldier" has over 300 amateur videos on YouTube. That is a very timely song, "Universal Soldier."

MR: Okay, you go down the pike a little bit, and you have songs like "Sunshine Superman." You were initially associated with folk but then became associated with psychedelic music.

DL: (laughs) It's hard to put a finger on me over the years. But, yes, essentially, I come from a tradition. I'm Irish, been a Scot. I very early showed the tradition of a poet with a stringed instrument. In the old days, it was the harp. With me, it's the acoustic guitar in this time. I guess you could call it a folk beginning, but very, very quickly, I absorbed so many songs in the old Bohemian paths that I hung out with. They showed me and they gave me their vinyl collections to study. Out of it came world music that entered my songwriting and that was classical, baroque, jazz, blues -- folk, of course -- ancient Italian music, Eskimo, Pagan, all this music, Indian sitars... I was just absorbing this wonderful music of the world. On the Sunshine Superman album, I introduced all these sounds. But inside, it's me with the acoustic guitar and the poem.

MR: Let's move on to a rocker, "Season Of The Witch," which has one of the most memorable grooves in pop rock.

DL: Well, a songwriter picker said that when I discovered the riff in London, I played it through seven hours straight. We did those things, you know? When you get something so fascinating, I just sat in the kitchen with the other guys and we played it again and again and again. It was so extraordinary. The most wonderful thing about it is it's been adopted by so many thousands of bands and some bands are so happy to play it for the same amount of hours that I played it when I first wrote it.

MR: And some people have been joyfully listening to it for the same amount of hours, I bet.

DL: Yes, "Season Of The Witch," Led Zeppelin used to warm the sound checks up with it. Tons of bands have written to me saying it's such a groove. It's great to have written a seminal song to so many musicians, and them to enjoy playing it is a gas.

MR: Then there's "Mellow Yellow." Is the topic truly about what everybody assumes it is?

DL: Well, there are many questions about "Mellow Yellow." It could be considered the most known song of Donovan by those who don't really study the albums. It was something that I knocked off at a party in Scandinavia after a gig in '65-'66. Gypsy, my pal, and I, we just used to get people singing at concerts, but then when we went back to the hotel, I just thought of a song that people would like to sing along. Then when I played it to my producer, the great Mickey Most, he said, "Oh that one is your next single." I said, "That one I just made up for people to sing along to?" He said, "Yeah, and the whole world is going to sing along too, Donovan." He was right.

MR: Speaking of sing-alongs, did you know that first there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there's one?

DL: Well, that genre that I absorbed was very easy because in London, especially on Portobello Road, there were Caribbean families, and Caribbean evenings of music. There was blue beat and then reggae later on, but Caribbean calypso. All of the communities of the Caribbean came to England, especially London, over the last 75 years, and they preserved their music. I was listening to calypso and that obviously influenced that song, "There Is A Mountain."

MR: Of course, we had one of your songs in a very big commercial, it was "Wear Your Love Like Heaven."

DL: Yeah, that was the first one and it escaped. I didn't even know it became a commercial. It was just one of those early-day songs would move wand or a bell. But then I got the hang of it, I realized that the commercials actually put an enormous amount of exposure for a song. But the first one, "Wear Your Love Like Heaven," to tell you the truth, was for a beauty product, but it was in containers that looked phallic. So "Wear Your Love Like Heaven," the song and this product, to me, didn't really work. It was a bit too overt and a bit to the point, but it became the first commercial, so wear your love, and love was the perfume.

MR: Then, what do you have here... why look, it's "Jennifer Juniper."

DL: Well, Jennifer. It's a very beautiful song from the tradition of English classical music, very much like a madrigal coming out of that tradition, a children's song, really.

MR: Again, you're creating a tradition of songs that are not only sing-a-longs, but you're also speaking directly to children, to youth.

DL: Well, there's a child inside and maybe we never grow up. We're told we have to behave ourselves as we grow up, but there's a magical place inside us all, and it's extraordinary what's happening today. Myths and legends and fairytales were considered not really something to sing about when I started, but I said no, these myths and legends and fairytales are part of the human condition in every race, every nation, and every tribe. Everywhere, stories are told about magical events, and all you have to do now is look at all the billboards in all the big cities in America, and you'll see that fairy tales, myths and legends are very much a part of modern life.

MR: And in our culture, especially, we put them in the forms of superheroes.

DL: Yeah, Superman, Supergirl, and all the superheroes at Marvel. The Marvel comics are all modeled on the heroes and heroines, the gods and the goddesses or mythology since the beginning of time. Joseph Campbell, the great American mythographer who wrote The Hero With A Thousand Faces, that great book, he would talk about. Myths and legends and fairytales, they're the way to tell the human story from the very beginning when we're born, all the way through our childhood into our teens, into our marriages, into our parenthood, and then into our old age, and hopefully, wisdom comes with age. It's a shame that the world doesn't seem to have much wisdom right now, does it?

MR: Well, you know what's interesting is that it seems like there is so much distraction in the culture that we forget where wisdom has come from, or that it even exists anymore.

DL: But we still keep going back to it. The latest is Snow White, that's the latest one. These myths and legends appeal to us on different levels, reminding us that we can be heroic about our lives. It's just that we have to be heroic in the right way. Our true heroism is understanding this planet right now, but we're still waiting for a government to do that.

MR: I wanted to slide into Atlantis, so to speak, now that we're talking about myths and legends, that being one of the great legends.

DL: Well, it is. Every country has a flood legend. At one point, people came across the sea and brought the civilization and told people how to live and how to grow crops, how to make rituals and worship the stars. Of course, Atlantis is a famous story where there was an ancient land 10,000 years ago according to Plato, but there are even flood legends way in the Pacific Ocean. So it may point to a time when there was a great melting of an ice age, and water flooded the world, it may have been that.

MR: That song flooded the airwaves.

DL: The song, for me, became more than just a lost land, a physical island called Atlantis. It became, for me, a lost wisdom that had to be rediscovered, the wisdom of Atlantis had to be rediscovered. "Way down below the ocean, where I want to be, she may be." Writers write on different levels and when I saw that I was writing on a deep bed of the ocean, it could be the ocean of consciousness, that transcendental world where, if we enter it, all the solutions can appear if a nervous system is relaxed and human beings get in touch with themselves. So Atlantis is an idea of trying to remember that we surely have more wisdom than we've got right now. Look what we're doing to this beautiful planet.

MR: It's really a shame. Donovan, is "Hurdy Gurdy Man" about Maharishi Mahesh Yogi?

DL: It is Maharishi, but it's also me and The Beatles, the Hurdy Gurdy men. A hurdy gurdy man was a man from the 1800s who would wander about town to town in Europe with an instrument called a hurdy gurdy. It was a thing that turned with a handle and made a drone sound and it had a little keyboard. These hurdy gurdy men would go from town to town telling the news and enlightening the people of what was happening across the country. So the hurdy gurdy man, for me, became someone who is going to come and bring news to the world, and that news was, of course, meditation as being reborn everywhere. Peace and love can only be found when it begins inside, you can't tell an army to insist a country becomes peaceful, you have to have to have the country rediscover that peace for itself. So "...the hurdy gurdy man comes singing songs of love" was the voice of the generation, the voice of the huge generation in the 1960s, speaking out and calling out for some sense and some wisdom in the face of nuclear disaster hovering over all of us.

MR: Intense.

DL: Well, it sounds like a screenplay but actually, it's reality. This planet still has that danger of destruction all about it, but one is hoping against all hope and I couldn't help write these songs. When I was young, you're talking about these early songs. These are the feelings and the sounds of my generation calling out, speaking through me. The artist and the poet, especially, can release this feeling. We release it in our music and then millions of people buy it. So that's how it works.

MR: Donovan, what advice do you have for new artists.

DL: It's the same again. If you want to make shoes you have to go learn from a cobbler. If you want to write songs, you have to learn from songwriters. If you're singing and wanting to write, you have to study the masters. You can't find any better place than me.

MR: (laughs) Of course!

DL: I say that without any hint of humility. The body of work is there. It's taught so many, it seems that I even taught Geezer of Black Sabbath to play guitar and I didn't even know he was listening to me.

MR: (laughs) Well, speaking of guitar and Jeff Beck, you did "Barabajagal" with him. Did you influence Jeff Beck, and was there camaraderie from that?

DL: Maybe. Why do great guitar players, Chris Spedding, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Alan Parker, John McLaughin, even, enjoy playing on my sessions? The way I "quirk" a song, I don't do it the normal way, and it's always interesting. When it comes of the blues, but more jazz, my riffs are very interesting to play, so Jeff actually came along that day. There was his band, introduced to me by Mickey Most, our producer, because Mickey was producing Beck-Ola, the album with Jeff, at the time. I came up with this really fun, quirky, full-on, jazz-rock riff and groove. Mickey said, "We won't tell Jeff or the boys what the song is, you just bring him into the studio and you'll just play it to him and we'll turn on the tape and we'll record it, and we'll only do it three times." And actually, that's what happened.

MR: Nice. You mentioned before about people learning from you. Would you consider The Essential Donovan a nice place for people to start learning about Donovan?

DL: The hits have always been an introduction to an artist. The artist also does albums and other kinds of songs, but the hits are an introduction. I would say The Essential Donovan is a way, but today, it's quite interesting because all you have to do is Google search and type "Donovan Music," and something happens. You get actually turned on to 27 Donovan albums. But I would say this essential is a great introduction to students who don't know me.

MR: Also might another good introduction might be your appearance on Futurama?

DL: Oh my. Art comes into an animation and all the children's areas are open to my songs as well. That was interesting, doing that.

MR: And you appeared at Radio City Music Hall with Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and the gang not so very long ago.

DL: The Radio City Music Hall event was a cool event -- Change Begins Within. It's slowly being put together by David Lynch directing and it's gathering its last parts now. That will be something extraordinary. I don't know when it's coming out, actually. But I will listen now these next two days to my mixes of my songs and Jim James on guitar. Who else? Paul Horn is playing with me -- he was in India with The Beatles and me too on flute. So it's going to be quite an interesting concert, I think.

MR: Is there one last thing you'd like to tell everybody?

DL: I want to thank everyone for supporting the music for decades and also the younger student artists who have learned from me. I want to let them know that it's a great encouragement that they're learning from me because it gives me a proof that my work is very influential still. Also, I want to say thank you to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for inducting me into this extraordinary ceremony in April where the whole world will get to see me receiving a laurel like a poet in ancient Greece. I'm very, very, very proud of it and I want the whole world to know that the searchlight that it turns on my work, I really appreciate. Look out for me in concert soon!

MR: Beautiful, thank you so much, I do appreciate your time.

DL: Thank you, Michael.


Disc One
1. Catch The Wind - single version
2. Colours
3. Summer Day Reflection Song
4. Universal Soldier
5. You re Gonna Need Somebody On Your Bond
6. Turquoise
7. Sunshine Superman - extended version
8. The Trip - single version
9. Legend Of A Girl Child Linda
10. Season Of The Witch
11. Ferris Wheel
12. Mellow Yellow
13. Young Girl Blues
14. Museum
15. Hampstead Incident
16. Sunny South Kensington
17. Epistle To Dippy
18. The Land Of Doesn t Have To Be - early version

Disc Two
1. There Is A Mountain
2. Wear Your Love Like Heaven
3. Sun
4. Isle Of Islay
5. Sunny Goodge Street
6. Sand And Foam
7. Jennifer Juniper
8. Hurdy Gurdy Man
9. Get Thy Bearings
10. Lalena
11. To Susan On The West Coast Waiting
12. Atlantis
13. Barabajagal (Love Is Hot) - with The Jeff Beck Group
14. Happiness Runs
15. Riki Tiki Tavi
16. Celia Of The Seals
17. I Like You
18. Hey Gyp (Dig The Slowness)

Transcribed by Narayana Windenberger

A Conversation With Tommy Roe

Mike Ragogna: Hey, Tommy, what the story behind your song "It's For You And Me" from your new album, tentatively titled Devil's Soul Pile?

Tommy Roe: I'll tell you the story... I wrote this song for my wife. We've been married 30 years, and, of course, after you've been married 30 years, you have these spats along the way. So we had this little spat, and I bought flowers, and I took her to dinner, and I did all the things that you're supposed to do, but it didn't really seem to help. So I thought the only thing left is to write her a song. So I wrote this song for her, and, of course, we are now on a beautiful relationship again, and this song worked miracles.

MR: Nice, it just takes a song, gotta remember that.

TR: Yeah, it just takes a song. So that's one of the advantages of being a songwriter, but it's interesting what I'm doing with this particular song. Yesterday, I did a session over the internet, in Nashville -- musicians were in Nashville while I'm in Los Angeles. I actually produced a session, with a producer back there, and it's an incredible way to record. We used Skype, talking to one another in the studio, and I could actually hear the musicians playing and change things around, telling them to try this or that. So I did a completely new track on this song. That's actually the demo, which you played, and I love it, but the track is even better because we have a four-piece band in there, and it's incredible.

MR: What's nice about playing demos sometimes is that you get the essence of the song.

TR: I agree completely. In fact, there is a funny story about "Sweet Pea." It was actually a demo. I kept "Sweet Pea" as a demo to submit to Burt Berns in New York for some of his artists, so I did that, sent it to him. I was in the Army at the time, and I was just trying to write songs for other people. Burt Berns produced The McCoys, and I sent this song for them. I never heard a word from him, so I told my producer, "I like this song, I think we should record it and make a good record out of it." He said, "You know what, I love the demo, let's put the demo out." The demo was the hit, so you just never know.

MR: And you had hits with "Sheila," "Dizzy," and songs like "Everybody."

TR: "Everybody" is one of my favorites to do in our show, especially.

MR: Let's talk about that for a second. You're constantly playing, aren't you?

TR: Well, I just started back last year. I backed off in 2005 -- call it retirement of whatever you want. Well, an entertainer "retired" is kind of joke.

MR: Yeah, Cher is on her, what, 12th farewell tour?

TR: (laughs) Yeah, that's right. I like to joke that since I was 14 years old, I wrote my first hit "Sheila," and I've been retired ever since, so it's kind of a joke. Anyway, my good friend Rick Levy -- I know you know Rick -- he lives down in Florida. He was my bandleader for many years, and he said, "You know, I keep getting these calls, people wanting to book you and I don't know what to tell them." I said, "Tell them I'm retired." But he kept bugging me, calling every so often saying, "I just got this call from Canada, someone wants to book you up there, so why don't you try." He finally talked me into it and last year, we did three dates in Canada, and I had a blast, I really enjoyed it. So, now we have nine dates booked already this year, and we'll do it. I don't want to go out barnstorming like in the old days, but if I can pick up a few days here and there, a few choice dates, and I'm having a lot of fun with it, I guess, "Why not," you know?

MR: And of course, you're playing songs from Devil Soul Pile, including the song.

TR: Yes, "Devil Soul Pile" is another one of my songs that I've just written, it's a new song. It's a departure from my expected style and I got the idea for this song through living in Los Angeles. You hear a lot about street crime and a lot of violence with the gangs and everything, and every day on the news, I hear this and think, "You know, I'm going to write a song about this." This song is really about dysfunctional families and the effect is has on the communities and the cities around the country, and the hope is, of course, having faith. Whether it's in religion, God, or whatever it is, you must have faith in something, yourself even. It all stems from the family environment, so the family has to really support the children that it brings in the world with that faith, that conviction that there is something bigger than they are and there's something to work for. That's kind of what the song is, although it's a fast tempo, a rock 'n' roll song.

MR: On Devil's Soul Pile, you include new songs like "LA I Belong To You." What's that song's story?

TR: Well, I moved away from LA at one time, and I thought I didn't want to live in LA anymore -- you know, the smog, the traffic, and all the negatives that we have out here. I stayed away for about three years, and decided that I'd come back, so it's a song about missing my adopted home of Los Angeles.

MR: And you re-recorded your song "Kick Me Charlie."

TR: That was a song that was on the Sweet Pea album in 1966. I get a lot of requests to do that in my show for strange reasons. It's very interesting how the fans have been around for so long, they really know the body of my work and I get requests to do really obscure songs, b-sides, and songs that sometimes were never even released, but the fans seem to know about them. I got so many requests to do "Kick Me Charlie" that I thought I would just re-record it, and that will be on the new CD.

MR: About the album, Larry Klein, your executive producer who works for Dick Clark Productions, says, "Get ready to party. Tommy Roe sounds better than ever!"
TR: Well, he's an old friend. Of course, I worked with Dick for many years...Where the Action Is. I came up to California to do that show, and just ended up staying here, made it my home. But, of course, I did American Bandstand in Philadelphia before I moved to Los Angeles, so Dick has been very inspirational for a lot of the artists, and he certainly helped my career along the way.

MR: What first got you into music?

TR: Well, that started very early. My dad played guitar and my mom played the piano in the church. I used to sing in the choir in church when I was a kid. I started at 10, 11 years old. I wrote these poems... I would write very immature poems. My dad taught me three chords on the guitar when I was about 14 years old, and I had this poem that I'd written about a girl I was going to school with. Her name was Frieda, so I wrote this poem, "Sweet Little Frieda / you know if you see her / blue eyes and a ponytail. / Never knew a girl like little Frieda / man this little girl is fine." So when my dad taught me the three chords, I thought if I could put some music to my poem, maybe I could become a songwriter. That's how it all started for me. I took that poem, put three chords to it, and it turned out to be "Sheila." After I wrote this song as "Frieda," I did sing it as "Frieda." I had an opportunity to audition for a record producer, he liked the song, but he didn't like the name "Frieda" for the title. He sent me home to work on it and I came up with "Sheila," so that's how it all started for me. A very simple, very innocent way, but one thing led to another.

MR: Looking back at that kid and looking at yourself now, what do you say is some of the biggest growth that happened to you, either as an artist or as a person?

TR: Well, I think I grew very fast once I got into show business. I had a scholarship out of high school to go to the Atlanta Art Institute. I was a pretty good artist -- still dabble in it a little bit -- but I never really pursued it after I got in the record business. But once "Sheila" became a hit, I had just turned 21 years old. I forgot about school and I really started pursuing this. It's a funny story about this. I was working in General Electric when I got out of high school, and I had a job making $60 to $70 a week. Back in those days, that was normal for a young person, an average salary for that time. So, I was still working in General Electric after I recorded "Sheila" and I didn't realize that it was a hit. It was getting played. It was played in Atlanta, where I was living, but I didn't realize it was being played all over the country. I got a call at work one day from my producer, my music publisher in Atlanta, Bill Lowery. He told me he wanted me to come by the office after work, that he had a proposition for me. I went by the office, and he said, "You know, it looks like your song is going to be a big hit. It's 30-something in Billboard with a bullet." I said, "What's that?" I didn't even know what Billboard magazine was, or a bullet, or anything. He said, "It means that your song is climbing the charts. As long as it has a bullet, it's climbing the charts. I think you should consider quitting your job at General Electric." I thought, "No way I was going to quit my job at GE." I was married, had a little child, and thought this was something I can hang on to. General Electric is a big company and I can have a pension and the whole thing. I was thinking that way as a young adult with a child. He laughed, and he said, "Look, I'll tell you what. I'll give you an advance against your royalties. I'll write you a check." He wrote me a check for $10,000, and I didn't make $10,000 in a year working. I was shocked and said, "My goodness, that's incredible." I went home, talked it over with my parents, and they said, "Go for it, kid!" So I took the check and as we like to say when there is nothing left to say, "The rest is history!" That was it.

MR: Nice story. What advice do you have for new artists?

TR: Oh boy. Just persistence. I think it's much harder today. There are so many great musicians and entertainers, there is a lot of talent out there, and the competition is just incredible. But I think if you're persistent and you work on your songwriting, I think songwriting is the key to anything in the music business. You have to create your music somehow, so if you depend on other people to get your music and songs, I don't think it will happen for you. Concentrate on songwriting, and hang in there. Struggle with it, fight with it. It may take time... I think it takes more time today. I don't think it's as easy to get record deals. Record companies are very reluctant to sign artists today, the business is in a lot of trouble. The main thing I think you have to do is depend on your live performances, doing concerts, doing stage shows, and make it that way. You just have to hang in there and go for it.

MR: By the way, speaking of stage shows, you also do Q&As with your live shows, don't you?

TR: I do, and it's fabulous. After being in the business so long -- this will be 51 years I'm going on in performing and traveling all the word -- you have a base of fans that have grown up with you, and the ones that are still with us, they come to the shows. When I go into the audience and say, "OK guys, what's on your mind," some of the questions they ask me are just great. They take me back, like you just did with the "Sheila" thing. They ask me about certain songs, and it triggers memories about other instances in my life along the way, and it's a lot of fun and the people love it. It's very ad lib -- we never know what's going to happen. They can ask some really crazy questions sometimes, but it's a lot of fun.

MR: Speaking of your live act, do you still play "Hooray For Hazel" and, one of my favorite titles for a song ever, "Jam Up and Jelly Tight?"

TR: Oh yeah, I do all the hits. I couldn't leave the stage without doing "...Hazel." People love "...Hazel," "Jam Up...," "Dizzy," of course, "Sweet Pea." Sometimes, I'll do "It's Now Winter's Day," which was not a big record, but I get a lot of requests for it in the cold parts of the country since it's a Winter/Christmas song.

MR: And you have your trusty guitarist, your old pal, Rick Levy, who we talked about earlier, by your side.

TR: Oh yeah. Rick's with me and he's now sponsored by Epiphone, so he's really excited about that. He's playing Epiphone guitars on our tour and he's really happy about it.

MR: Nice plug for Epiphone, young man.

TR: (laughs) Yeah, well Rick deserves it!

MR: Now, you're going to be playing at the Riverside Casino in Iowa on April 7th and 8th, so we want to throw that out too.

TR: That's right, and then we go to Seneca Casino in Buffalo, New York, Niagara Falls.

MR: Then you're in Canada for a little bit, then you're in Tennessee. You're all over the place.

TR: I'm getting back on the road, it's just fun. I even got a call from an old friend of mine. We were in the business together, he used to manage Dennis Yost and the Classics IV, and he lives in LaGrange, Georgia. He's doing a fundraiser in LaGrange and asked me if we could come up after we do our show in at The Villages on the 19th and do a show with him up there, so I'm going to go up and visit my old friend. It's a lot of fun.

MR: Well, I can't let you get away without telling me about saying a little something about the Classics IV.

TR: You mean Dennis Yost and the Classics IV?

MR: Yep.

TR: Dennis was a terrific singer, he passed away a couple of years ago. He formed this group, and the amazing thing about it is, somebody registered the group's name, and Dennis was never able to go out on the road as Dennis Yost and the Classics IV. He had to go out as Dennis Yost which really hurt the whole marketing of his performances, because the Classics IV was such an integral part of all those hits, you know, "Stormy" and "Traces" and a lot of big records. He had a hard time with that, and that passed into several groups and several artists in the years, which is very unfortunate. That's another thing young entertainers should always remember, to always register your trademark or your name. If you're a band, especially, just make sure that you control that name. It'll be very important later on in your career.

MR: Wow. I'm asking this gently, and I want to be sensitive to the fact that this might still be a painful thing. Roy Orbison. Do you think of him now and then?

TR: Roy and I met in England... well, I met him before in Nashville, but we worked in England a lot. He was touring there while I was touring with The Beatles and all the British acts. We hung out together in England when we would travel to do our tours over there. He was just tremendous. I spoke of Paul, my old friend who lives in LaGrange. Well, Paul used to book me and Roy on dates down in Clearwater, Florida. Paul used to book the Clearwater auditorium there and we would go down and perform together on shows there. Great artist. We're losing a lot of great artists, but they live on in their music, and boy, Roy had some beautiful and incredible records.

MR: I want to throw out there, your version of "Stagger Lee."

TR: Well, thank you. Yeah, we do that in the show as well, that's a big number.

MR: I want to tell everybody who's listening here that you're going to be in Dubuque, Iowa on August 31st, and then September 1st, you're in Sloan.

TR: That's correct. I'm being inducted into the Iowa Music Association Hall of Fame, which is a real honor for me. My old friend Kevin lives in the area and he wanted to invite me to come back and be a part of that show and that induction, so I'm looking forward to that.

MR: Tommy Roe, really great talking with you, and when you're in Iowa -- you're going to be here a couple of times -- let's do this again really soon. You're one of us now.

TR: Well, I appreciate it Mike. Thanks for your interest and thanks for having me on this show.

MR: Absolutely, all the best.

TR: Thanks, bud.

Transcribed by Narayana Windenberger