CCR’s Doug Clifford Keeps on Chooglin’

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CCR during the cover photo shoot for “Cosmo’s Factory”: Doug Clifford (whose nickname was “Cosmo”), Tom Fogerty, John Fogerty, Stu Cook. Photo by Didi Zill/Courtesy of Craft Recordings

While it’s easy to assume that the Year in Rock 1969 was wholly dominated by English acts like the Beatles (Abbey Road), the Rolling Stones (Let it Bleed), the Who (Tommy), and Led Zeppelin (Led Zeppelin II), there was heady competition from an American band who were at the peak of their chart success, releasing an astonishing three full length records in that one year.

In fact, Creedence Clearwater Revival would release a total of seven albums in just four years and a few weeks, chalking up massive selling hits on both AM and FM radio like “Born on the Bayou,” “Proud Mary,” “Fortunate Son,” “Down on the Corner,” “Green River,” “Lookin’ Out My Back Door,” “Up Around the Bend,” “Suzie Q,” “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” and an expansive cover of “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” – just to name a few.

It seems that John Fogerty (vocals/lead guitar), brother Tom Fogerty (rhythm guitar), Stu Cook (bass) and Doug Clifford (drums) out of the San Francisco Bay area were busy, busy boys. As of today, they’ve sold 30 million LP records in the U.S. alone.

Now, all seven of Creedence’s LPs (Creedence Clearwater RevivalBayou CountryGreen RiverWilly and the Poor BoysCosmo’s Factory,  Pendulum, and Mardi Gras) have been collected in on massive box set The Studio Albums Collection (Craft Recordings). It also features a hardback book with extensive liner notes and a treasure trove of photos, record covers, concert posters, and more.

These 180 gram vinyl records have also never sounded better, using a precision lathe cutting process to improve the sound called “half-speed mastering,” which was completed at Abbey Road Studios from the source masters.

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Box set by Craft Recordings

Doug Clifford remembers his reaction when he first held the box set in his own hands. “It was quite a flashback, and I remember the first single we put out after years of trying, and here we are 50 years later and the fans are still there and the music is still viable. It’s a very humbling, warm and fuzzy feeling!” he says.

And the sound has impressed him – not that he could have ever predicated that vinyl would come back. “I mean, here you have world’s hardest material, a diamond with a very sharp point, running over the surface of a soft piece of plastic! Whoever thought of this!” he laughs. “And the half speed mastering really creates an amazing sound, especially in the mid and lower mid-range.”

The members of Creedence Clearwater Revival (or CCR for short), began playing together in bands in the mid ‘60s with names like the Blue Velvets and the Golliwogs before changing their name to the more familiar one in 1968. And while their club band set list included many rock and soul covers, their original material – all written by John Fogerty – had a much bluesier, gritty sound, buoyed by Fogerty’s otherworldy voice. Many listeners just assumed that the band rose up from the Deep South or the bayous of Louisiana. And their album covers did little to dispel the myth.

“It was pretty funny to us! People thought we came from the swamp!” Clifford says. “But we were doing what we always did, and we were students of music that came out of the south and the early rock and roll side. When we all first met, we had virtually the same record collections. So we started with [common] references.”

As the liner notes spell out, most of Creedence’s 45 rpm singles were in fact double-sided hits that became their best known material. In an era where FM rock was gaining a lot of power – the format being basically developed by San Francisco DJ Big Daddy Tom Donahue –  CCR still managed to also get heavy airplay on AM stations. But according to Clifford, the pace that the band was working at didn’t seem crazy in the flush of their success.

“At the time, with the rapid pace we were working, we were burning singles at twice the speed! But we didn’t plan it that way. The songs were usually pretty different from each other,” he says. “You just try and keep the wheel moving. We were deep in the process. John Fogerty had a theory that if we were ever off the charts, we would be forgotten. But none of our peers did it that way. We followed the orders of keeping the machine going and marched on.”

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John Fogerty, Stu Cook, Doug Clifford, Tom Fogerty. Photo by Joel Selvin/Courtesy of Craft Recordings.

One of the surprise pleasures of The Studio Albums Collection is hearing a lot of the band’s deeper original cuts (“Ramble Tamble,” “Commotion,” “Sailor’s Lament,” “Tombstone Shadow,” and the anti-Nixon “Effigy”) as well as covers of rock and soul oldies like Roy Orbison’s “Ooby Dooby,” Little Richard’s “Good Golly Miss Molly” and Bo Diddley’s “Before You Accuse Me.”

“Those [covers] were the songs we would play in our early shows in the clubs before we had our own hits and was what we listened to growing up,” Clifford offers. “Most people today just buy greatest hits albums and sometimes the original albums of a band aren’t in print anymore, so I’m glad that [this box set] will expose people to a lot of our other material.”

Of all the songs on the albums, Clifford says that “Born on the Bayou” was and is his favorite of all. As a drummer, he says playing this quarter-note song opens up space and makes the backbeat simpler, but more powerful than frenetic playing. When asked about his own contribution to the CCR sound when the singing, guitar, and bass can more easily stand out, he notes that he aimed for a combination of standing out and support.

“All the attention in band is usually on the singer and the guitar player and even early on in rock ‘n roll, the sax player. But to be your best, you have to keep the groove going, what the guy in the truck driving down the road hears,” he says.

“If [the drummer] is on it, they make everybody else sound better. Gene Krupa brought the drummers out of the shadows! I saw him in a special when I was 12 or 13 and they showed mostly him and not the band and he was in the white sport coat with the movie star looks. And he had real personality.”

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Stu Cook, Tom Fogerty, John Fogerty, and Doug Clifford. Photo by Ed Caraeff/Courtesy of Craft Recordings.

By the time of the band’s last record, the group had been reduced to a trio with Tom Fogerty quitting. John’s often controlling and autocratic ways in the studio and about the band’s musical direction chafed at the other members—but then again it was John Fogerty who was writing all the hits, and the ship needed a captain. Bad blood, sniping in the press, and lawsuits between bandmembers, their record label Fantasy, and label owner Saul Zaentz flew back and forth fast over the decades.

Unfortunately, relations between the four members never repaired. Tom Fogerty died in 1990, with the brothers never reconciling. At their 1993 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, John Fogerty refused to play with his bandmates, so Cook and Clifford watch from their seats as Fogerty and others played the music that brought them there in the first place.

Still, Clifford was excited to be honored. “You’re voted in by your peers, and that meant a lot to me,” he says. We had made a mark in music history as one of the biggest bands of our time, and we continued to pick up fans through the generations.”

John Fogerty told his side of the story in the 2015 autobiography Fortunate Son (which Clifford says he has not read). Fogerty continues to play CCR material in his concerts, while Cook and Clifford have done the same since 1995 with other players in Creedence Clearwater Revisited – a name which John Fogerty unsuccessfully tried to stop them legally from using. CCRevisited have dates booked through the next year, but Clifford will end 2018 with a groundbreaking show.

“We’re playing New Year’s Eve – which we don’t normally do. And two shows, which we don’t either!” he laughs. “So we’re working on ‘Auld Lang Syne.’ I hope we get it right in time!”

Portions of this article originally appeared in the Houston Press.

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Ace of Cups Runneth Over…50 Years Later!

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Ace of Cups in 2018: Mary Alfiler, Denise Kaufman, Mary Ellen Simpson, and Denise Vitalich. Photo by Rachel Wright/Courtesy of Shorefire Media

Here’s a quick challenge: Discounting the mostly-singing girl groups of the ‘60s, name an all-female rock band. Go!

Most people will cite the Bangles or Go-Go’s. Or maybe the Runaways. Music nerds might even pull out Fanny or the Shaggs. But pre-dating them all was the five-member Ace of Cups, who formed in 1967 right in the heart of San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury district along with the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Big Brother and the Holding Company.

They had chops, played everywhere around the area, and were a popular live draw. They opened for the Band on their very first show under that name and had a big fan in Jimi Hendrix, who name checked them in the English music paper Melody Maker. The reason they’re not better known, though, is because Ace of Cups never got to release an album, passed over by every record company that descended upon the Bay Area at the time.

Incredibly, more than 50 years later, most of the original lineup has reunited to record their “debut” Ace of Cups (High Moon Records). Featuring their ‘60s material (some of it rewritten) and newer songs, the sprawling double CD has 26 tunes – and there’s another 10 in the bank.

As to why they never got a record deal, it’s something that singer/guitarist Denise Kaufman puts down to simple sexism. Well, mostly.

“It’s not 100% of the reason, but I bet it was 80%!” she says today. “There were no other all-women bands who were a commercial success from the record company’s point of view. We didn’t look like those girl groups like the Shangri-Las. And we weren’t a bunch of appealing young guys that girls could scream about.”

Kaufman adds that while women like Janis Joplin (Big Brother), Grace Slick (Jefferson Airplane), and Tracy Nelson (Mother Earth) were certainly prominent in their bands, they were mostly fronting and singing – not playing.

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Ace of Cups in the late ’60s: Mary Ellen Simpson, Denise Kaufman, Diane Vitalech, Mary Gannon, and Marla Hunt. Photo by Lisa Law/Courtest of Shorefire Media.

“I have never heard from any of those record company executives who came to check us out or check out the San Francisco scene about why we weren’t signed, but I’d be very curious to know why,” Kaufman says.

The original Ace of Cups were Mary Ellen Simpson and Denise Kaufman (guitars), Mary Gannon (bass), Diane Vitalich (drums), and Marla Hunt (organ/piano), with all but Vitalich taking turns at lead vocals. After playing together for a few years, members started leaving as they began to have children – something their male counterparts did not have to worry about. A different lineup finally called it quits in 1972.

Simpson, Kaufman, Gannon (now Alfiler), and Vitalich put down the material for Ace of Cups after a year and a half of sporadic rehearsals (Hunt, who works on artistic projects with her husband, did not participate). Prior to this record, the only way to hear Ace of Cups music from the ‘60s was 2003’s If It’s Bad for You Buy It, a compilation of rehearsals, demos, TV appearances, and live material.

The record’s songs follow across what Kaufman refers to as “trans genre,” skipping across pop, rock, blues, and even country sounds. Above all are the vocal harmonies of the four women, largely untouched by the passing of decades.

“We worked really hard on the harmonies. That is pretty much our passion. I love to write counter melodies, and I just really love hearing voices together,” Kaufman offers. They also called upon some of their friends from the era like Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir, bluesman Taj Mahal, singer/songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie, and actor/musician Peter Coyote to make guest appearances. And Kaufman notes that Ace of Cups backup vocals were featured on ‘60s records by the Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Electric Flag.

When that last band was forming under the guidance of guitarist Mike Bloomfield and drummer Buddy Miles, they even used the Ace of Cups’ communal Marin County home to store their equipment and rehearse. Ace of Cups also got to know Jimi Hendrix, and were invited to open a free show the guitar genius was headlining at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park one week after his star-making performance at the Monterey Pop Festival.

“He was so soft spoken and kind. He stood with Buddy Miles in front of us while we were playing and took pictures,” Kaufman recalls. It was hardly the first – or the last – free show at the Ace of Cups would play. As Kaufman put it in a recent short PBS documentary on the band, “The music supported the community, and the community supported the music.”

“That was the core of what was going on in the Bay Area at the time. There were a lot of free shows and benefits, and our manager said we played as many of those as paying gigs!” Kaufman laughs.

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Ace of Cups in the ’60s, clockwise from left: Vitalich, Gannon, Simpson, Hunt, and Kaufman. Photo by Casey Sonnabend/Courtesy of Shorefire Media.

“There was as definite sense that we were part of a larger community. The Diggers were feeding people in the park. You had the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic for treating people. There was free legal aid. And all kinds of worthwhile causes and organizations. Sometimes it was even just helping someone raise money for art projects or someone to pay the rent. We even played at our local tiny post office for National Post Office Day!”

And while many ideals of 1967’s Summer of Love haven’t exactly translated into 2018’s reality – and the entire term itself has become something of an all-catch fantasy propagated by documentaries and songs – Kaufman still holds steadfast to her hippie beliefs. Both then and now.

At one point, she thought that economic culture in this country could become one of bartering. She recalls growing vegetables in the band’s garden, then taking them to the local health food store to trade in for cheese.

“I remember thinking “this could total work!’ The world didn’t have to be dark and threatening and we could nourish connections with each other,” she sums up. And music was a crucial part of making that happen.

“Getting together with people was a really important value at the time. It was about the experience of sharing things with people and connecting with them. You have to remember the ‘50s! We weren’t following the script, and we knew the world could be better.”

A version of this story originally appeared in The Houston Press.

 

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The South Rises Again with The Dixie Dregs Reunion

The once and current Dixie Dregs: Steve Davidowski, Steve Morse, Andy West, Rod Morgenstein, and Allen Sloan. Photo courtesy of MSO PR.

This year’s tour by the Dixie Dregs – titled “Dawn of the Dregs” –  marks the first time that the classic mid-‘70s lineup which released the band’s first two albums The Great Spectacular (1976) and Free Fall (1977) have played together in more than four decades.

And a lot has changed in that time. Like the fact that, available right now on YouTube, is a good chunk of the concert the band played just two nights before, filmed by a fan in the front. And Morse is not thrilled.

“It’s a double-edged sword. It allows people who can’t or don’t want to go to the shows to see this music recorded in a tiny microphone and then start the troll comments. And that’s on the plus side!” he says. “On the negative side, it makes us not want to play new material that hasn’t been released yet, because then it’s out there. For most bands, I think that would also mean less experimentation or taking a chance in being spontaneous during a show.”

When it’s suggested that perhaps venues could ban cell phones or at least video recording during a show, Morse says it’s a great theory, just not workable in reality.

“You can’t take away cell phones. It’s people’s lifelines,” he says. “And these phones have a better recording capability than a lot of actual video cameras back in the day. People stream entire shows without giving a thought to intellectual property rights. It’s the majority versus minority, and a majority of people think it’s OK right now. But hey, every day is another adventure on this tour. Two days ago, my classical guitar was stolen. It was purchased without being bought. It relocated itself!”

The Dixie Dregs in 1975: Steve Davidowski, Steve Morse, Andy West, Rod Morgenstein, and Allen Sloan. Photo courtesy of MSO PR.

The Dixie Dregs have long occupied a special niche in music. For while their name, their affiliation with Capricorn Records, and the era of their heyday immediately brings to mind the category of “Southern Rock,” this mostly-instrumental group actually incorporates plenty of jazz, classical, and even prog rock into their music.

Initially formed in 1970 as Dixie Grit by Morse and bassist Andy West, they changed their name to Rock Ensemble II and then Dixie Dregs in 1974. By the next year, the lineup had included Morse, West, Steve Davidowski (keyboards), Rod Morgenstein (drums), and Allen Sloan (violin). It’s this group taking the stage on the current tour.

“This was the lineup at the time we were the least jaded, most hopeful, and had the most amount of new material to bring to the scene,” Morse says, though admitting that those times still weren’t easy for the group.

“It was uphill as far as being established in the record industry. We had no real vocals. We were too rock for jazz and too jazz for rock. And not country enough to be country or classical, but we incorporate all of those elements. People were confused about what our music was supposed to be based on a word,” he says. “It makes it more interesting to us, and I believe the audience likes the variety. We even later dropped the ‘Dixie’ from our name.”

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The band had some lineup changes, putting out more records like fan favorites What If and Night of the Living Dregs, and broke up in the early ‘80s, but just a few years later would begin coming back in various variations for tours that have continued to this day – Morse and Morgenstein being the two constants. Morse would go on to have a solo career, and since 1994 has been the lead guitarist for Deep Purple.

For Dixie Dregs shows, understandably, the audience is a bit different, especially today. And Morse has no remorse about the reasons some come to see the band on the current 33-date tour.

“There’s something special about revisiting the music that was happening in your life when you’re going through a lot of changes. We played at or near a lot of colleges, and people want to relive that,” he offers. “And to that end, the tour is wildly successful. Except this time around, people aren’t spilling beer on you or the air is so thick with smoke and people aren’t whooping and hollering!”

For the tour’s setlist, Morse says it “coalesces around the classics.” But the band still wants to challenge itself and its audience, so they also pull out deeper, more complex material like “Day 444,” a particular favorite of the guitarist’s.

“I had originally tried out to be in a bluegrass band but didn’t get in. When you’re a guitar player, on stage you will be expected at some point to come out like a sharpshooter, take your gun out and hit six targets on the fly,” he says. “You’ve got to be fast and you’ve got to have something to say.”

Portions of this interview originally appeared in The Houston Press.

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Dennis Tufano: From the Buckinghams to Bobby Darin

Dennis Tufano today: From the Buckinghams to Bobby Darin. Photo courtesy of Dennis Tufano

One would think that a band whose members were barely out of high school – but had the #1 song in the entire country – would be able to celebrate without restriction. That achievement happened for the Buckinghams in February 1967 when their two-minute-and-seven-second infectious slice of pop, “Kind of a Drag,” hit the peak position.

But there were also, um, a few issues. For exactly at the time that the Jim Holvay-penned tune was blowing up, the Chicago-based Buckinghams found themselves without a manager, without a recording contract, and had lost their keyboard player.

Lead singer Dennis Tufano certainly remembers the sweet and sour of the situation. “We were going through a lot of changes, and ‘Kind of a Drag’ was only released to fulfill a contract before our company released us. And it was never promoted” he recalls. “We were in a meeting and John, our drummer, walked in and he looked kind of down. He had a copy of Billboard that said the song was #1! We didn’t know what to do! But destiny seemed to carry us in the right direction, and things fell into place.”

Going back, the Buckinghams didn’t even start out with that name. Tufano, along with Jon Poulous (drums), Nick Fortuna (bass), Carl Giammarese (guitar), and Dennis Miccols (keyboards), were the Pulsations. But after being tapped as the house band for a local WGN-TV variety show, a producer suggested a more English-sounding name to jump on the All Things Beatle Bandwagon. A station security guard suggested “The Buckinghams,” and the band could always add that it was a tribute to the city’s famous Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park.

The classic Buckinghams lineup: Marty Grebb, Dennis Tufano, Nick Fortuna, John Poulos, and Carl Giammarese. CD cover by Columbia/Legacy

“We all wanted to be English back then! That’s what was happening!” Tufano laughs. “But we were still a little nervous about changing the name because of what people would [assume] about us and where we came from.”

Tufano notes that the “fear” seemed to be well-founded when the band was invited to perform several songs on the Smothers Brothers television show. “We were talking to Tommy and he said ‘Wait a second, you don’t have accents!’ and we said ‘Yes, we do – we have Chicago accents!”

But assuming they were from Across the Pond, the stage set that had been designed for them to perform on was festooned with…British flags. And as the band was not interviewed on the air, everyone watching at home understandably assumed they were part of the British Invasion.

Surprisingly, this sort of band naming was uncommon practice. Other contemporary chartmaking American groups with British-sounding monikers included the Beau Brummels (“Laugh, Laugh”) and the Count Five (“Psychotic Reaction”) of California, the Knickerbockers (“Lies”) of New Jersey, and Texas’ own Sir Douglas Quintet (“She’s About a Mover”) – whose lineup included a majority of Hispanic members!

The band first became popular in Chicago before breaking nationally. This was at a time when major cities and regions to had their own bands with songs that may or may not have become hits in other parts of the country. And local DJs played a huge part in that. “If we only had social media in that time!” Tufano laughs. “Back then your record had to really spread to an audience. Today, if a band hiccups, everybody knows about it!”

Marty Grebb replaced Miccols on keyboards after “Kind of a Drag” became a hit. The band would go on to spin a series of AM gold classics over the next few years including “Don’t You Care,” “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” “Hey Baby (They’re Playing Our Song)” and “Susan.”

“People tell me all the time about these songs and what it means to them to hear them again, and with me singing just like on the records. I’m just glad that my chops are still in shape!” Tufano says. “Fate and destiny worked out for me, and I’m having a ball!”

Photo courtesy of Dennis Tufano

The also briefly had fellow Chicagoan James William Guercio as a manager, who encouraged the group to add horns to their records. And while the sonic mix didn’t quite work out for the Buckinghams, Guercio finessed it as a producer with two other “horn rock” acts: Blood, Sweat and Tears and – most famously – Chicago.

By 1970, the group was through and members went their separate ways. Tufano and Giammarese formed a duo and recorded three albums before Tufano went to pursue an acting career. Poulos died of a drug-related heart attack in 1980. Tufano, Fortuna, and Giammarese played together at one-off gig in Chicago, and the remaining four man classic lineup reunited only once to play a benefit for Grebb with ex-Chicago drummer Danny Seraphine sitting in.

A new version of the Buckinghams with Fortuna and Giammarese (now handling lead vocals as Tufano declined to join the reformation) debuted in 1983. They have toured ever since.

Tufano has toured with a tribute show to Bobby Darin. In a bit of a pop culture side note, he and duet partner Mindy Sterling were the original voices performing the theme on early episodes of TV’s “Family Ties.” Before producers had the song rerecorded with bigger names Johnny Mathis and Deniece Williams.

There was an opportunity in recent years for the trio to reunite and play again as the Buckinghams for a one-off PBS fundraising concert in the popular “My Generation” series. But according to Tufano, his former bandmates nixed the thought, and so Tufano did it solo. Ironically, he says that show – and it’s frequent re-airings – in turn reignited his solo career with the material.

The three men retain a fragile détente about the use of the name “Buckinghams” in their own separate promotions, trying to tamper down any “confusion” in the booking marketplace. “I’ve always maintained our friendship, and they had my blessing” Tufano offers. “They got nervous when I started singing again…but we’ve worked it all out.”

Dennis Tufano’s datebook is filled with appearances on package tours, solo dates, and more Bobby Darin shows. But he the biggest surprise for him is seeing the age of some members his audience. Age on the lower end of the scale.

“I see these young people coming to my shows and I’ll ask them ‘What are you doing here? Were you dragged?’ and they say no, they either grew up with the music from their parents or they find it on YouTube. You can Google and have access to anything! They say it’s fun and happy music, and they can understand what’s being said.”

But increasingly, Tufano says he’s hearing something else, perhaps inevitable due to the passage of time. “When they come up and tell me that this is music that their grandparents used to listen to, I have to stop it right there! But I’m 71, and it’s wonderful to be singing the songs I did when I was 19.”

Portions of this article originally appeared in The Houston Press.

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Journey’s Jonathan Cain: The Great Believer

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Jonathan Cain with Journey recently. Photo courtesy of Zondervan.You could practically hear the piercing screams of millions of HBO viewers across the land on the night of June 10, 2007 as they were all wondering the same thing: How could my cable tv cut out now??

 

 

That’s when we last saw New Jersey “sanitation engineer” Tony Soprano at Holsten’s Diner waiting for his family. He punches in Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” on the booth jukebox. Wife Carmela arrives (perhaps the 1981 number had special meaning for the then-young couple?). Onion rings are ordered. Son A.J. takes a seat. Daughter Meadow can’t park the car outside. The song builds to a crescendo. Then that shifty guy in the Members Only jacket passes by. Is he a customer or an assassin? The front door bell rings. Tony looks up. And just as singer Steve Perry utters another emphatic “don’t stop,” the song and screen cut to black silence.

Also watching that night with anticipation was Jonathan Cain, longtime Journey keyboardist and co-writer of “Don’t Stop Believin’” More than a decade later, he says it was at that moment he realized that the song had gone from just being a hit or even huge hit for the band to another level of anthemic status.

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“That hit me profoundly. Then [Sopranos creator/producer] David Chase announced to his team that song was going to end the show, everything changed. All of a sudden, it wasn’t just a pop song. It had deeper layers to it, and you felt it. All those lyrics had meaning, it just transcended everything.”

Cain did have an inkling what was coming – he said that producers had asked his permission a year before the show aired to use the song. Then “Don’t Stop Believin’” appeared in both the stage show and film Rock of Ages and as a central theme of an episode on TV’s “Glee.” Today, that tune about the hopes and dreams of a small town girl and a city boy getting on that midnight train to anywhere is a metaphor for a whole lot more.

“I wrote that song about the ‘70s, but its appeal seems to span generations. And it’s unique – it represents all of what Journey is,” Cain sums up. “When we played that song at first, kids would push to the front of the stage and want to sing. And I thought it was strange. What was it about that particular song?”

Jonathan Cain’s recent memoir is not surprisingly titled Don’t Stop Believin’ – The Man, the Band, and the Song That Inspired Generations (304 pp., $26.99, Zondervan).

The book traces Cain’s story from child accordion player for his Chicago-area Italian neighbors (his given last name is Friga), to surviving a devastating fire at his parochial school that killed nearly 100 classmates and several nuns, through his early solo career and time with the John Waite-led group the Babys.

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Journey onstage back in the day: Steve Smith, Ross Valory, Steve Perry, Neal Schon, and Jonathan Cain. Photo courtesy of Zondervan.

A little over halfway through the book, Cain joins Journey as keyboardist and songwriter, writing “Faithfully” and co-penning hit like “Stone in Love,” “Only the Young,” “Who’s Cryin’ Now,” “Chain Reaction,” and one of rock’s greatest ballads, “Open Arms.”

Cain first performed the melody and chorus at his wedding, before finishing it off with Steve Perry years later. Though – like Dennis DeYoung, Peter Cetera, Kevin Cronin, and Peter Criss before him (in Styx, Chicago, REO Speedwagon, and KISS respectively), some of his more rockin’ bandmates were hesitant to record a mushy love song.

“Steve loved to sing ballads and wanted to do more of that. I first offered it to John Waite when I was in the Babys, but he didn’t want to sing it. But Perry loved it and we quickly finished the song in an afternoon and brought it to the band, and they said ‘what??’” Cain laughs. “But Perry had a conviction to go in a different direction. He’s a romantic at heart, and so am I, and the rest is history. It was one of the biggest singles we ever had.”

Journey also came of age at the height of MTV and their videos were in heavy rotation, even if their non-live in concert ones were sometimes head-scratching. Exhibit A has the five members frolicking around a shipping dock and miming their instruments to “Separate Ways.” Cain can still cringe at the memory of that one.

“We weren’t very fond of it, and we didn’t go about it the right way. Steve Perry used to say people have their own movie of what a song is in their minds, and it’s wrong for a director to stick something on a screen and say what it means,” he says.

“We did it on a very inexpensive budget and didn’t know what we were doing. Then Beavis and Butthead spent three years ripping it apart! Do I want to be remembered for playing air keyboard? No. It’s great if you were exposed to the band because of that video, but the song is bigger than that. I hope its gets a decent shot in a movie one day!”

Cain has much more pleasant memories of filming the full length 1981 concert Journey: Live in Houston – The Escape Tour at the Summit. It found the band at the cusp of the massive success that their next album Frontiers would bring, and was commissioned by and shown constantly on the then-nascent MTV channel.

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Neal Schon, Steve Perry, and Jonathan Cain with Journey back in the day. Photo courtesy of Zondervan.

“I can tell you the promoter was Robert Duncan. He and his wife were huge fans. I can remember not even thinking about the cameras – we were just clicking on all cylinders. I don’t think I was nervous at all,” Cain says. “But I thought it was as going to be cool. The world was going to see what Journey had become. The concert still holds up for me. We were good.’”

Next to music, the other main thread that runs through Cain’s book is his relationship with God and religion. Though he actually wanted to be a priest when he was younger, Cain maintained an on-and-off again relationship with the Lord for most of his life. That was until a few years ago when he became born again under the guidance of Pastor Paula White, the Florida-based Pentecostal evangelist who became his third wife.

White has also been a spiritual advisor to President Donald Trump. And when Cain and two members of the group visited the White House last year, it caused a public dust-up with Journey guitarist Neal Schon, who at one point floated the ideas of forming a new version of the band with just him. That conflict seems to have calmed down for now, but Cain is straightforward and makes no apologies for how he lives his life.

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Jonathan Cain and wife Paula White ministering to the faithful. Photo courtesy of Zondervan

“I am putting God first. A lot of us Christians think it’s a part time situation where you can come and go with God, and it doesn’t work that way,” he says. “I believe I had to get to being a broken guy and not knowing who I was when I looked into the mirror anymore and just surrender to Him. Some Christians just dabble in faith, but I believe the Lord takes his hand off you at one point and says ‘I’m done with you.’ It’s a two way street.

“There’s a love exchange that happens between God and Man,” Cain continues. “I believe that if you give God love and goodness, He fills you back up. I was missing that part, and I was able to find it again. I’m not trying to convert everyone to Jesus Christ at all, but it’s never too late to return to Him.”

The long held desires of Journey’s hardcore fan base came to fruition finally last year when the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on the heels of their winning the fan vote. Even casual listeners waited to see of Steve Perry – who hadn’t sung with the band since his dismissal over 20 years earlier – would take the mike for their mini-set. But he ultimately did not, and current singer Arnel Pineda (whose own entry into the group was the subject of its own documentary) raced out on stage.

“I didn’t rule it out the idea that Steve would decide to sing. We did a sound check rehearsal and I kept looking for him in the wings, but he declined to do it,” Cain says. “I can’t speak for him, but I thought what he said in his speech was so profound. I think he felt the fans missed him, and just having him onstage with us was great.”

As for Journey’s future, the group – which features four of its five classic member lineup (also including bassist Ross Valory and drummer Steve Smith) – just completed a massive summer with co-headliners Def Leppard with Tesla opening. He says that their set list for this type of show will pretty much stick to the hits, but he hopes the tour results in some fan cross-pollination.

A highlight for sure will be when Cain begins playing the electric piano opening to his most famous song that will cause the audience to roar. And like he does most nights, he’ll be thinking of that song’s actual inspiration: the three words that came in a letter he received from his father at a low point early in his career when he thought of giving up pursuing a musical career: Don’t stop believing.

“My father was my vision keeper. When he saw I could sing any song on the radio and play boogie woogie piano when I was four and was a ham, he got me lessons. And he supported me every step of the way,” Cain recalls. “And he did that with all of his sons. He was an astute man, and I try to do that with my children. I’m constantly cheerleading for them.”

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Alan White is Still a “Yes” Man

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Yes today: Billy Sherwood (bass/vocals), Jon Davison (vocals), Steve Howe (guitar), Alan White (drums), and Geoff Downes (keyboard). Photo by Glenn Gottlieb

One of the most egregious exclusions from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was finally remedied last year when Yes joined the list of inductees. Formed in 1968, they are one of the titans of Progressive Rock, mixing classical and symphonic elements, intricate and complex musicianship, and themes of space and fantasy in their lengthy catalog.

Fans were extra thrilled when all of the eight surviving inductees (except keyboardist Tony Kaye) performed several of their biggest hits together. Rush bassist Geddy Lee standing in for co-founder Chris Squire, who died in 2015. With a litany of lineup changes over the years of Yes Men (as well as a bevy of splinter groups with names like law firms, and leavings, and returnings) Squire was the only constant.

For drummer Alan White, that made it a bittersweet moment standing on that podium with his trophy. “Well, it’s been anticipated by a lot of people for a long time. And when we actually got nominated that was great, and when we got inducted, it made a lot of difference for us,” drummer Alan White says. “And everyone was thrilled. It’s just sad that Chris Squire never got to see it. He is sorely missed.”

White has been behind the kit for Yes since 1972 when original drummer Bill Bruford left to join King Crimson. His percussive work has appeared on plenty of classic Yes albums including Tales from Topographic Oceans, Relayer, Drama, and 90125 – the latter of which brought the band a surprise revival in the ‘80s and made them fixtures on MTV.

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Yes onstage recently. Photo by Glenn Gottlieb.

Yes, or at least the main version of it (more on that later) was on the road last summer headlining their own “Yestival” with support acts Todd Rundgren and Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy. White has a particularly affinity for fellow skin thumper Palmer, the last surviving member of Prog’s greatest trio (sorry, Rush fans) after the recent deaths of Keith Emerson and Greg Lake.

“I’ve known Carl since the early ‘70s. ELP and Yes always had a little bit of a competition between the bands, and then between us as drummers,” White says. “But we get on really well now, and have developed a relationship over the years.”

But during his band’s set, White was not the only drummer onstage, as guitarist Steve Howe’s son, Dylan, will be behind a second kit. It isn’t the first time that Yes has done this, and they pair are still “working out” the parts.

The three acts that make up Yestival, of course, are a Prog Rock lover’s dream. And all figure prominently in Dave Weigel’s recent history of the genre, The Show That Never Ends.

White doesn’t particularly care for the label “Prog Rock” – or any other labels for the band’s music – like classic rock of symphonic rock. But does realize its usefulness as a sort of musical shorthand.

Finally, one wrinkle that has come up recently is over the name of Yes itself. Prior to the band’s induction into the fall of fame, previous members Jon Anderson (vocals), Rick Wakeman (keyboards), and Trevor Rabin (guitarist), formed a splinter group called ARW, playing mostly Yes material. It’s been reported that Anderson had a sort of gentlemen’s agreement with co-founder Chris Squire that the latter would have sole use of the name.

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Roger Dean – whose work graces the covers of many Yes albums – is the go-to Prog Rock artist. This is the gatefold cover for “Tales of Topographic Oceans.” Atlantic Records cover

Since Squire’s passing, though – and shortly after the induction ceremony – ARW changed their name to law firm sounding “Yes featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin, Rick Wakeman.” Both bands will be on the road this fall, and it has divided Yes fans and members themselves.

This won’t confuse Yes’s more ardent followers, but it’s muddier for the ticket-buying fan who only knows that they like “I’ve Seen All Good People,” “Roundabout,” “Long Distance Runaround,” and “Owner of a Lonely Heart” on the radio.

For his part, White is nonplussed and will leave the bickering to his bandmates, current and former, on both lineups. He’s just happy to play.

“I’ve been in the band for 45 years now, and as far as I’m concerned, I’m just carrying on being in Yes. We’re just carrying on doing what we did,” he sums up. “I have no opinion about that…or what [others] do.”

A version of this story originally appeared in The Houston Press.

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The Zombies’ “Time” Continues into Another Season

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The Zombies in 2017: Tom Toomey, Rod Argent, the late Jim Rodford, Colin Blunstone, and Steve Rodford. Photo by Andrew Eccles

The year 2018 is a good time to be a Zombie – of the musical singing and playing kind, not necessarily the walking dead variety. For decades, the group was beloved by a smallish-but-devoted audience, and rarely mentioned in the same breath as better known British Invasion contemporaries like the Beatles, Stones, Who, Kinks, Dave Clark Five, Yardbirds…even Herman’s Hermits.

After all, this was a band who scored a possibly career changing #3 hit on the U.S. charts in 1968…after they had already broken up (that would be FM radio staple “Time of the Season” off the album Odessey and Oracle). The Zombies had previously charted with “She’s Not There” and “Tell Her No.”

Their original incarnation only spanned a handful of years and put out fewer LPs. But their unique brand of smart, snappy pop-rock—anchored by Colin Blunstone’s breathy vocals and Rod Argent’s keyboard flourishes and backing vocals—made them cult favorites. But now the word is finally out.

In 2016, the band was included for the first time on the ballot for induction (but did not make the final cut) into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Their most recent album, 2015’s Still Got That Hunger, garnered mostly positive reviews. There’s even a coffee table book out on the band’s history. And their summer in 2018 is filled with appearances at festivals and headlining shows around the world.

“It’s been exciting to see how the audiences have grown over the past number of years. Just by word of mouth and good playing by professionals. Our profile has definitely grown,” Blunstone – in the most elegant-sounding, PBS-worthy English accent I have ever heard in my life – told me last year.

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The cover of “Still Got that Hunger.” Art by Terry Quirk, a friend of the band who also did the cover for “Odessey and Oracale,” famously misspelling the first word in an error that has never been corrected and part of the band’s lore.

Most importantly, the Zombies last year wound up a tour celebrating the 50th anniversary of Odessey and Oracle, with the album played in its entirety. Original members Chris White (bass) and Hugh Grundy (drums) joined the then-current lineup of Blunstone, Argent, Jim Rodford (bass), Steve Rodford (drums), and Tom Toomey (guitar). Original guitarist Paul Atkinson died in 2004. Jim Rodford – an actual early member of the group who left early on, but was a longtime member of the Kinks – died last year. Their new bassist is Soren Koch.

“Those shows were wonderful and emotional, and such vivid memories of the ‘60s came rushing back with Chris and Hugh onstage,” Blunstone adds. “It seems like almost yesterday we were playing together, even though it was a lifetime ago. It plays tricks on your memory.”

Still, it wasn’t an easy or predetermined road to today’s success. When Blunstone and Argent resurrected the Zombies name for concerts and records beginning in 2004, they had to grow an audience. I recall seeing them in Houston on that first tour in a room of about 40 (albeit diehard) local Houston fans. On their last stop, they played to hundreds.

In recording Still Got That Hunger, the Zombies looked back to look forward. “We decided quite purposefully to record the new album like we did with Odessey, which was to rehearse extensively before we set foot in the studio. Back then, it was to save money since we had a limited budget and were recording in Abbey Road Studios, which was expensive!” Blunstone laughs. “So we recorded very quickly, and that’s what we did, playing in separate sound booths, but live together.”

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The original Zombies: Chris White, Rod Argent, Paul Atkinson, Colin Blunstone, and Hugh Grundy

The singer adds that his vocals on the finished album were originally just put down as a guide, but upon hearing them, the band agreed to use them as is. He also gives producer Chris Potter – who has worked with the Verve and the Rolling Stones – a lot of credit for the final work. Writing is already in process for a follow up, possibly also with Potter.

As for live shows, Blunstone is proud that at age 72, he still has his full vocal range, and the band plays all their material in their original keys. He credits a late voice coach – Ian Adam, who also tutored Argent – with creating a series of vocal exercises that he uses to warm up before every show. Although the material went from being on a cassette to a CD to its current home on Blunstone’s smart phone.

Then there’s the matter of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Blunstone hopes that the band will be inducted while four of the five original members “are still around,” adding they’re all in pretty good health.

“But you have to be philosophical about these things. I like to think of us – especially the present incarnation – as jobbing musicians. Our job is to go out and play live. The Hall of Fame would be wonderful, but we enjoy what we’re doing anyway. And we’re incredibly privileged to be doing it at this time in our lives. The Hall of Fame would be the icing on the cake.”

Finally, the Zombies have taken to the high seas on more than one occasion, and will continue to do so on jaunts with titles like The Flower Power Cruise and the Moody Blues Cruise. 2018 will see them play the On the Blue Cruise alongside Moody Blues vocalist Justin Hayward, former Genesis guitar player Steve Hackett, Wishbone Ash, Al Stewart, Dave Mason, and groups with various members and former members of Chicago, ELO, the Alan Parsons Project, and Procol Harum.

While being trapped on a boat in the middle of the ocean with rabid fans might seem like (and likely is) a nightmare for some performers, Blunstone takes it in stride – provided that he’s not hungry as soon as he gets up.

“It’s interesting. These ships are huge. They are like a town or a small city that just happens to be on the sea. But you’re actually travelling with your audience,” he says. “I like to get out and speak to people, but you really have to plan your time. It may well take you 45 minutes or an hour just to get to breakfast in the morning because people want to talk to you! But they’re incredibly respectful and enthusiastic and polite.”

Portions of this interview originally appeared in The Houston Press.

 

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