Peter Noone is Hardly a Hermit These Days

Peter Noone today. Those genes! Photo by Loyd Overcash.

Peter Noone has heard it for years: “You should write a book!” After all, the lead singer of British Invasion band Herman’s Hermits certainly has a lot of stories he could tell.

About hanging out with members of the Beatles and the Stones in swinging London clubs like the Ad Lib and the Scotch of St. James. About touring all through the world. About recording any of their classic ‘60s pop hits like “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter,” “I’m Henry VIII, I Am,” “There’s a Kind of Hush,” “I’m Into Something Good,” “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat,” and “A Must to Avoid” among them.

He says he keeps telling his agent he’ll “do it in ten more years” and that there’s no drama to his career and people might not be interested. But pressed, he’s at least got an idea for a true-life intro.

“It would start on August 6, 1963, in field near my grandmother’s house. That’s where a bass playing friend and I went to see the Beatles who were performing at a country fair or something like that to 112 people. They had just come back from Germany,” he offers.

“My friend sees them, quits his band, and never touches instrument again. But me, I was inspired! I needed to find guys who would work 10 hours a day on being different than the Beatles and make it, and steal those young girls and boys in the audience. It’s me thinking ‘how can I be part of this?’ And then the book finishes three years later. It’s just a magical trip.”

Herman’s Hermits, 1965 clockwise from left: Derek Leckenby, Peter Noone, Karl Green, and Keith Hopwood. Barry Whitwam is in the center

The Manchester, England-based band’s name came, famously, because some of Noone’s friends thought he resembled the character of Sherman from the “Rocky and Bullwinkle” cartoons. “Sherman” became “Herman,” which morphed into “Herman and the Hermits” and finally “Herman’s Hermits.” In addition to Noone on vocals, the lineup would shift a bit until settling on Derek Leckenby (lead guitar), Keith Hopwood (rhythm guitar), Karl Green (bass), and Barry Whitwam (drums).

Today, the music of Herman’s Hermits is unfairly dismissed by some as fluffy  pop, with bands like them, the Dave Clark Five, and Freddie and the Dreamers on one side of an imaginary line while “serious” bands like the Beatles, Stones, Who, and Kinks on the other. And while it’s true that latter group wrote most of their own material and experimented more, Noone says his band never wanted to be like them.

“We made a conscious decision at the beginning that we weren’t going to be a band that made records to impress other musicians. We wanted to impress young people and make music that they could play right after the BBC News. And we only had one radio station!,” Noone says. “The A-sides were always something upbeat, though sometimes we’d put something different on the B-side. I mean, our song called ‘The End of the World’ was the B-side of ‘I’m Henry VIII, I Am.’ Talk about a dichotomy!”

Photo by Loyd Overcash

He notes that producer Mickie Most often brought songs to the group to record, including tracks like “Bus Stop” and “For Your Love” that, when they didn’t gel for the Hermits, became hits for the Hollies and Yardbirds respectively.

“Well, Mickie wasn’t so much a producer as he was a director. But he was my best friend, the best man at my wedding, and my daughter’s godfather,” Noone says. “We completely understood each other musically. If I talked about the reverb on the Everly Brothers’ ‘Walk Right Back’ he knew what I wanted. He knew how to pick a melody, and how I should sing the words so they would make sense and people would believe it.”

Noone left Herman’s Hermits in 1971, and members have toured in various combinations and periods of activity over the years. Green and Hopwood no longer perform actively, and Leckenby died in 1994. After some legal wrangling, Noone now fronts “Herman’s Hermits featuring Peter Noone” while Whitwam has his own version of the band, playing mostly in Europe.

In addition to a very, very active touring schedule, Noone currently hosts the Sirius/XM radio show “Something Good with Peter Noone” where he spins mostly ‘60s tunes and tells stories and anecdotes. But the energetic 71-year-old (who still looks impossibly younger) has no plans to slow down, with plenty of shows booked through the rest of the year. “A lot of people my age start to wind down, but not me. I’m really enthusiastic about the future, and naively optimistic about the future of the world,” he says.

He also recently released a cover of the Easybeats’ 1966 hit “Friday on My Mind” with the retro-sounding band the Weeklings. Noone’s version is surprisingly strong, more urgent and frantic than the original. And coming from the perspective of a man who has spent too many weeks working a shit job and really can’t wait for the weekend and time with his lady love.

A version of this article originally appeared at HoustonPress.com

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Michael McDonald and the Sound of His Voice

Michael McDonald today. Photo by Timothy White/Courtesy of Sacks and Co.

Note: This interview was conducted some months prior to the recent announcements of the Doobie Brothers being inducted into the 2020 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and their upcoming 50th anniversary tour and reunion with Michael McDonald.

On “Hail Mary” – the opening track of Wide Open – Michael McDonald plaintively asks this question of the woman who he is desperately trying to win back: “Does the sound of my voice still carry?”

And on 70+ minutes of the 2017 record of all-original material (his first in nearly 20 years), the answers is a resounding yes. Then again, Michael McDonald has had “That Voice” for his entire career. It’s one of rock and R&B’s most distinctive set of pipes. A smooth, warm, and buttery vocal cloak that somehow manages a simultaneous soft and gritty feel, akin to the beard that McDonald has sported in some version for decades.

It’s the kind of voice that a former bandmate once said “makes women melt” when they hear it. It has given life to a thousand impressions, including a “Tonight Show” skit where host Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake – joined by a good-natured McDonald himself – sang “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” as “The Three Michael McDonalds.” All were dressed (and coiffed) identically.

Michael McDonald, Justin Timberlake, and Jimmy Fallon sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” as The Three Michael McDonalds on “The Tonight Show.”

“This record kind of came out in a different way,” he says of Wide Open. “Of course, all records start with the demos as you try to flush out the arrangements. But a lot of the tracks here were the original demos just spruced up. Most of those vocals are the original demos.”

Wide Open also lives up to his name in that of the dozen tracks, the shortest is 4 ½ minutes long and most run in the 5-and-6 minute range, allowing a lot of breathing room as the songs unfurl. Many of the songs are in familiar territory of romantic difficulties, but McDonald gets social/political on “Free a Man.” About the struggles of African-Americans and equal rights in today’s society. It almost comes off as spiritual sequel to the Doobie’s “Takin’ In to the Streets.”

“That was written by a friend of mine, Richard Sheckle, who I think is one of the best American songwriters ever. I put him in a class of Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan,” McDonald says. “I think he’s unheralded as an American treasure composer wise. And what I love about the song is that is just seems like a conversation that we’re having in our society right now. We’re trying to reevaluate ourselves more than ever, even than in the ‘60s.”

Going back to that era, McDonald remembers his parents watching Martin Luther King, Jr. give speeches on TV or the coverage of the racial unrest in Selma, Alabama during the Civil Rights era. He says they had a “call of consciousness” about how the U.S. was not living up to its promises made in the Constitution for all. “Things have to evolve toward the truth or you miss an opportunity. And it’s sometimes it’s never comfortable when you raise the ugly head of bigotry,” he offers.

Last year, McDonald embarked on a summer tour with R&B legend Chaka Khan opening. That might seem odd on paper at first – many would expect he’d be paired with another classic rock band. But upon further reflection, it makes sense.

McDonald has just as much of a footprint in R&B as rock (including three very successful records of all-Motown covers) and has long been a presence on that record chart. And when he does occasional tours with Boz Scaggs and Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen as “The Dukes of September,” all three cover choice ‘50s and ‘60s R&B/soul songs that inspired them early in their careers.

McDonald’s career in the national eye began in the mid-‘70s with his vocal and keyboard contributor to Steely Dan in the studio and on the road (most noticeably on “Peg”). Then becoming lead vocalist for the Doobie Brothers and churning out massive hits like “What a Fool Believes,” “Minute by Minute,” “It Keeps You Runnin’” “Real Love,” and “Takin’ It To the Streets.”

A thriving solo career produced “I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near)” and “Sweet Freedom.” And if that weren’t enough, his slew of duets and backing vocals have paired him with Patti LaBelle (“On My Own”), Christopher Cross (“Ride Like the Wind”), James Ingram (“Yah Mo B There”) and Kenny Loggins (“This Is It”).

More recently, he and Loggins collaborated with cutting edge singer/bassist Thundercat on the single “Show You The Way,” which they also performed on CBS Saturday Morning. McDonald also shared the stage with Thundercat at Coachella.

Finally, he is also very cognizant of his place as the #1 captain in the Yacht Rock universe. “Yacht Rock” started as the title of a comedy web series (that included actors playing real-life musicians, including a “Michael McDonald”) that both celebrated and gently skewered the soft and smooth sounds of the mid-‘70s to early ‘80s. The sort of songs you’d imagine being played on a yacht during the summer where the wind is brisk and the champagne flows.

“I’m usually introduced to all this stuff like Yacht Rock and ‘The Family Guy’ skits by my kids. And they can’t wait to Tivo it and make me watch it!” McDonald laughs. “But I thought the Yacht Rock series was hysterical the first time I saw it. It was such a great laugh! And the fact that it’s become a musical genre since then is kind of amazing. But I’m glad to be part of anything at my age!”

A version of this interview originally appeared at HoustonPress.com

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Tom Johnston & His Brothers Doobie Revisit Their Classics

HOU_MUS_Doobies1

The Doobie Brothers main trio at the Beacon Theatre: Patrick Simmons, Tom Johnston, and John McFee.Photo by Mark Weiss/Courtesy of the Richlynn Group

Note: This interview was conducted some months prior to the recent announcements of the Doobies making the ballot for the 2020 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and their upcooming 50th anniversary tour and reunion with Michael McDonald.

When most people think of PBS programming, shows featuring 18th century English castles and tea rooms, home improvement, quilting, and cooking programs, or Ken Burns documentary rotoscope fiestas come to mind. But this month, good viewers of public television will see something a bit different as an enticement during Pledge Drive – a full on rock and roll concert by the Doobie Brothers.

The network will screen Live from the Beacon Theatre, which features first-to-last-track performances of the band’s two breakthrough albums, 1972’s Toulouse Street and 1973’s The Captain and Me along with selected hits. When asked if he ever thought he’d see the partnership that pairs PBS with the Doobies, founding singer/guitarist Tom Johnston is succinct.

“Ah….no!” he laughs. “We’ve played a lot of fundraiser shows, but not been part of something like this. We’re still working away!”

A 2CD/1 DVD set from Rhino came out this past summer, and the Doobies will trekked out on a  tour opening for Santana.

As to why the band chose to play their second and third albums in full – something that’s become increasingly popular for classic rock bands, but the Doobies had never attempted before – it’s because they were pivotal releases. First in establishing the band on a national scale, and then catapulting them higher. Not that Johnston and co-founding singer/guitarist Patrick Simmons were feeling any sophomore pressure at the time.

“We were just trying to make the best album we could. Nobody really thought about that ‘make or break’ situations in those days,” he says. “We’d already done one album that didn’t get anywhere [the 1971 debut The Doobie Brothers], but it took Toulouse Street and the song ‘Listen to the Music’ to do something for us.”

Like “Listen to the Music” – their signature tune – tracks from those two albums have likely figured into most shows the band has played since their original release: “Rockin’ Down the Highway,” “Jesus is Just Alright” “Long Train Runnin’,” “China Grove,” and even “South City Midnight Lady.”

But other songs like “Mamaloi,” “The Captain and Me,” “Cotton Mouth,” “Ukiah” and a few others, the band has never played on stage before. So Johnston, Simmons, and the rest of the current band including multi-instrumentalist John McFee (the other principal member, a Doobie since 1979), Bill Payne (keyboards), Marc Russo (sax), Ed Toth (drums), John Cowan (bass/vocals), and Marc Quinones (percussion) had to reconsider the material from scratch.

“Yes! We had to completely relearn them!” Johnston laughs. “Some of them are more complex songs with a lot of lyrics and a lot of picking. We spent seven days in Nashville just working to get it all together. And then doing them in order on the albums, that was the first time we’d done that. It’s not how you’d sequence songs for a normal set, so we’d go up and down in the intensity of the songs from rock and roll to laid back. That was an interesting thing to do.”

For the Beacon show, the Doobies also added a couple of extra horn players (Roger Rosenberg on sax and Michael Leonhart on trumpet) to beef up the sound, which Johnston says really added a lot to tunes like “Cotton Mouth” and “Dark Eyed Cajun Lady.” (“it really sounds sweet with those guys playing!” he enthuses). And while the Doobies had used the Memphis Horns on a couple of ‘70s tours, and recorded with a horn section for a 2004 DVD at Wolf Trap, it was still a rare move.

Live from the Beacon Theatre – like their live shows – also showcases a lot of what can be called the “Tom Johnston Air Punch,” something he does onstage when he’s especially pleased. It’s an extension of the genuine enthusiasm and affection he has for live performances, but says it’s not possible without one crucial ingredient.

“The biggest thing is the crowd. For us, it always has been that since we started, to try and get the crowd up and moving with us,” he says. “The interaction between the crowd and the band is really paramount. And also the pleasure of playing a song really well, not matter how many times you’ve played it.”

Increasingly, that crowd he sees has younger faces as older fans bring their kids and even grandkids out to shows. Johnston says it’s hard to make them out in the audience from the stage, but he sees a lot of them at meet and greets and doesn’t take them for granted.

And while rock (and general music) history has long promoted the line of thought that you’re not supposed to like your parent’s music, classic rock has disintegrated that idea (my own 15-year-old son, Vincent “The Classic Rock Kid” Ruggiero’s two favorite two bands are the Eagles the Doobie Brothers).

The Doobie Brothers are working on new music as well – Johnston says the songs are completed and in the mixing stages, and this will be their first new material since 2014’s Southbound. It’s coming out as an EP, though, and there’s a reason for that.

HOU_MUS_Doobies2

John McFee, Tom Johnston, and Patrick Simmons Photo by Andrew Macpherson/Courtesy of the Richlynn Group

“It’s not a full album because people don’t buy albums anymore. Say you do 10 or 11 songs, you’re throwing away 5 or 6 of them. People are downloading just the songs they want to hear, and they may not all even make it to streaming,” he says. “Things have changed drastically. I’m sure Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran could sell CDs and go gold, but that’s about it. Most people can’t do that because today people would rather listen to playlists.”

Finally, what many, many fans would also like to hear is the Doobie Brothers playing live…at their induction ceremony for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Though they’ve been eligible since 1996, have a double CD worth of hits and big selling records, and still tour extensively, the Doobie Brothers have shockingly never even been on the ballot for potential induction (and are #1 on this writer’s list of unconscionable snubs – don’t get me started).

Recent times have seen more classic rock-era acts like Chicago, Yes, the Moody Blues, Journey, and others enshrined. A few years ago, the Doobies switched management to the storied and super powerful Irving Azoff, who either personally or through his company also handles the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Steely Dan, and others. Azoff himself ranked #4 last year on Billboard’s “Power 100” list for the music industry.

For his part, Johnston is biding his time. Still.

“We’ve talked about [the Hall of Fame], but not a lot because it’s kind of pointless. And it’s political thing and one of the reasons….nah, I’m not gonna go there!” he says. “When it’s supposed to happen, it will happen, that’s how I look at it. There’s other people that are shocking who aren’t in there. It is who you know, and I think you’re right, having changed management to Azoff and Company might help. But I don’t want to jinx it!”

Much of this article originally appeared at HoustonPress.com

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Nils Lofgren Talks Solo Record and Time with Lou, Bruce, and Neil

Nils Lofgren’s songwriting collaboration with Lou Reed was unexpected, but fruitful. Photo by Carl Shultz/Courtesy of Conqueroo PR

Even in terms of rock and roll pairings, they seemed like a truly odd couple of musical collaborators. But more than 40 years ago, singer/guitarists Lou Reed and Nils Lofgren worked on a baker’s dozen of tunes, and nearly half of those are making their public debut on Lofgren’s latest solo release, Blue with Lou (Cattle Track Road Records).

It was 1978 and Lofgren was working with fabled producer Bob Ezrin on some solo material. Lofgren had the music, but wasn’t really confident with the lyrics. Ezrin suggested that he get together with someone he had also produced: Lou Reed. Lou Reed? The famously gruff rock Prince of Darkness, who didn’t suffer fools – or other musicians – gladly?

“I take public reputation with a grain of salt, and I was always a fan of Lou’s so I didn’t have any issues there. But he’s…Lou Reed! Wonderful artist. Doesn’t do much co-writing,” Lofgren says today. “I thought the idea was beautiful, but I was surprised and grateful that Lou was up for it, and it worked in grand fashion.”

Interestingly, Lofgren and Reed found some non-musical bonding over…sports. Both were avid NFL fans, and when they watched a 1978 match at Reed’s apartment between his favorite Dallas Cowboys and Lofgren’s beloved Washington Redskins, a friendship was sealed. There was also whiskey involved. Long story short, Lofgren sent Reed a cassette with some of the song embryos in rough form. He heard nothing for weeks. Then the phone rang.

“He woke me up at 4:30 in the morning raving about the cassette – though in his understated Lou Reed way,” Lofgren recalls. “He had completed 13 sets of lyrics and wanted to dictate them all to me over the phone right then! So not to lose it, I put on a pot of coffee and spent the next two hours taking very careful dictation.”

After some further tweaking, the songs started to appear. Three each in 1979 on Reed’s The Bells and Lofgren’s Nils records, and two more trickled out on Lofgren efforts over the ensuing years. That left five unheard, unrecorded tracks left: “Attitude City” (inspired by the strutting Brooklynites of Saturday Night Fever), “Give,” “Talk Thru Tears,” “Don’t Let Your Guard Down,” and “Cut Him Up.” Reed died in 2013.

“Once we lost Lou, I knew it was time for me to share the rest of the songs,” Lofgren says.

For the 12-track Blue with Lou, Lofgren also included his version of their “City Lights” (the Charlie Chaplin-inspired number previously released by Reed). The passing of Reed also inspired the title track, a Lofgren original. As did the deaths of Tom Petty (“Dear Heartbreaker”), and his and wife Amy’s dog, Groucho (“Remember You” – the Lofgrens are big dog advocates).

“We always saw Tom and the band when they had a Phoenix date, and they didn’t have one on that tour. So Amy and I treated ourselves on a trip to Denver to see him at Red Rocks, and I’m so glad we did,” Lofgren says. “I think the last time they were an opening band was for me in 1977! I go way back with them, and Benmont [Tench, Heartbreaker keyboardist] and I have become great friends and he arranged for us to have a quick visit with Tom. Amy and I spoke with a lot of rage and sadness after he died, and we still do. I had no intention of writing as song about him, but the music kept coming. And it’s the music [of Petty’s] that we still have to remember him with.”

Blue with Lou was recorded with just Lofgren (vocals/guitar), Kevin McCormick (bass), and Andy Newmark (drums) in Lofgren’s home studio. Joining the trio for the tour (which stops in Houston May 31 at the Heights Theater) will be Lofgren’s brother and former Grin bandmate Tom on guitar and keyboards, along with backup singer Cindy Mizelle, a familiar face at Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band shows.

“It’s a remarkable thing. I’m so used to playing alone or with my friend Greg Varlotta on acoustic songs – we did that the last time we came through Houston. But this is a beautiful, overwhelming cast of characters,” he says, adding that it’s been about 15 years since he hit the road with his own band who also played on the record.

Photo by Carl Shultz/Courtesy of Conqueroo PR

Nils Lofgren, of course, has another pretty high profile gig – as guitarist with Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. The unit has been on sabbatical since the Boss did his run of solo dates on his hugely successful Springsteen on Broadway and then put out a solo effort with Western Stars (though he also said in a recent interviews he’s already written the next E Street record). The breather has given Lofgren as well as fellow E Streeters like Little Steven Van Zandt a chance to pursue their own recording and tours, including Van Zandt’s Summer of Sorcery.

Lofgren and Van Zandt are also both active on social media. Earlier this year, they got into a Twitter back-and-forthing with a disgruntled Springsteen fan, upset that the band wasn’t touring (as if that were up to Lofgren and Van Zandt), throwing in a crack about how no one was “getting any younger.” When it’s suggested the guy was…well…an idiot, Lofgren took a surprising turn.

“I don’t see them as idiots. I’m a big fan of dozens and dozens of people – Bruce included. So I don’t begrudge anyone feeling disappointed that we aren’t playing. But if it gets over the top once in awhile, [I’ll try to] respond with a bit of humor. I just don’t get wrapped up in it,” he says.

“Music is there to entertain. There are some bands that I wish would play more. But I know how hard it is to hit the road. I’ve been doing this professionally for 50 years, and music has been my sacred weapon my entire life. I think it’s the greatest gift on the planet. And billions of people look to it as their sacred weapon as well to deal with this mad world we live in. But I get that people are that way about Bruce – ‘When is he touring? What is he doing?’”

But it was an unexpected call from another collaborator has sent Lofgren back into the studio this past spring – Neil Young. Lofgren has played on Young’s classic After the Gold Rush and Tonight’s the Night albums, as well as on the Young-affiliated Crazy Horse group on their 1971 self-titled debut for which he was a full member. He was also with Young on his 1982 Trans tour.

Last year, Young called Lofgren out of the blue from to ask if he would play a handful of already-scheduled dates with Crazy Horse in Canada last year (there’s been no definitive word about what happened with regular Horse guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro). Those shows (with no set setlist) went so well, Young called the trio in to work on a new album. The resulting effort, Colorado, recently came out.

“I’ve hooked up and played with Neil a few times over the years, and playing with [Crazy Horse] again is beautiful,” he says. “To prepare for the shows, we went to Billy’s home in South Dakota in the middle of nowhere on the prairie during the polar vortex, and the three of us just played together for four days. We’re never rusty when we see each other. I mean, it’s been almost 50 years since I walked in on them playing at the Cellar Door!”

A version of this interview originally appeared at HoustonPress.com

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Boz Scaggs’s Got the Blues…But That’s Good!

Photo by Chris Phelps/Courtesy of Michael J. Media

On the surface, actor Matthew McConaughey, writer Stephen Harrigan, photographer Mark Seliger, actress Jennifer Holliday, and musician Boz Scaggs may not have a lot in common. But as of this year, they’ve all got the same thing to display in their homes: A Texas Medal of Arts award.

Bestowed biennially upon Texans for a lifetime body of work, Scaggs – who grew up in Plano and later attended school in Dallas – was among 11 recipients who received the award this past February in a ceremony in Austin with Gov. Greg Abbott. The evening also had a performance aspect, which Scaggs happily participated in.

“It was like a full blown concert! I did a couple of songs that people know me for like ‘Lowdown.’ And I had some Texas guests with me. Jimmie Vaughan sat in and also Ray Benson from Asleep at the Wheel, along with some friends from L.A. and Chicago.”

For now, Boz Scaggs is back on the eternal road, this time in support of his record, Out of the Blues (Concord Recordings). But despite the title of his new record, it’s not the one most steeped in the blues, according to its creator.

“Well, I also think about my album Come On Home from the late ‘90s. That was the closest I’ve gotten to pure blues material,” he says. “What I wanted to express with this one was that a lot of things I’ve done came out of the blues idiom. Some of the songs could be classified as rock, and it has had a lot of play in the Americana market, believe it or not. I wanted to expand on what the blues is and what I’ve done with it. The Grammy nomination it received was for Best Contemporary Blues Album. Whatever that means!”

Growing up in Texas,  Scaggs says blues music was “all around” – though he also absorbed the New Orleans-based style of the genre. Out of the Blues includes both originals and covers, including two versions of songs originally performed by Bobby “Blue” Bland on the Houston-based Duke-Peacock label.

And while notorious record executive, producer, and Duke-Peacock owner Don Robey is the credited as the sole writer on both “I’ve Just Got to Forget You” and “The Feeling is Gone,” many music historians have arched their eyebrows (and pens) at that, uh, assignation.

“Well, let’s just talk about Bobby’s material, because that’s what I know more about [on Duke-Peacock],” Scaggs says. “We were coming up and learning to play the music that was around us – let’s call it the indigenous music of Texas – like Lightnin’ Hopkins and Freddie King and Jimmy Reed. Bobby and those productions of his were more sophisticated and the arrangements more complex and progressive. So while we were learning from a lot of artists, his music was sort of a step above.”

Photo by Chris Phelps/Courtesy of Michael J. Media

Scaggs also notes that Bland’s music borrowed more from jazzy roots and American traditional music, with more complex chord changes, voices, and harmonics than that of traditional blues. “You had to go to school a little bit to learn how to play that stuff!” he laughs. “They didn’t spare anything to support Bobby and that enormous voice.”

“Little Miss Night and Day,” is Scaggs’ sole original on the album (co-written with multi-instrumentalist Jack “Applejack” Walroth, who also contributes other songs). In liner notes for the album, Scaggs calls the scatted vocals over layered guitars “one of the happiest, most joyous things I’ve ever recorded…and the band gave me everything that I’ve ever wanted out of a Texas shuffle.”

Historically, Boz Scaggs is best known for a run of hits in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s including “It’s Over,” “Lido Shuffle,” “Lowdown, (all from his breakthrough 1976 album Silk Degrees), “Jojo,” “Breakdown Dead Ahead,” and “Look What You’ve Done to Me” – the last off the Urban Cowboy soundtrack.

A 5x Platinum seller, Silk Degrees remains the one Boz Scaggs album most likely be in his concert audience’s collection. The work was nominated for a slew of Grammys in 1977, and Scaggs took home “Best R&B Song” for “Lowdown,” which he co-wrote with Toto’s David Paich (in fact, much of the rest of Toto were also involved with the recording and touring at the time). Audiences on this current tour can expect to hear material from the album, along with other tunes spanning a long career over a variety of genres from rock and blues to jazz, ballads, and R&B.

Silk Degrees is of course…it was of the time itself. It has legs and the songs were good and the arrangements were good. It was the culmination of a lot of things I’d done to that point,” Scaggs reflects today. “And by working with the studio musicians I landed with in L.A., I gained a new freedom of expression. It was the right [album] at the right time in the right place, combining black music and popular music traditions of the time. It was a serendipitous landing, at a time where music was a very important part of people’s lives.”

A version of this story originally appeared at HoustonPress.com

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Robin Wilson of the Gin Blossoms Talks His “Miserable” Legacy

The Gin Blossoms today: Bill Leen, Scott Hessel, Robin Wilson, Jesse Valenzeula, and Scotty Johnson.Photo by Shervin Lainez/Courtesy of MSO PR

 To certain musically-inclined Gen Xers, one of the most formative and beloved albums of the early ‘90s was New Miserable Experience, the second studio effort that became the breakthrough album for the Gin Blossoms. The Tempe, Arizona-based alt-pop-rockers spawned four hit singles off it in “Hey Jealousy,” “Found Out About You,” “Until I Fall Away,” and “Alison Road.”

It was such a benchmark that the band extended the tour celebrating the record’s silver anniversary by playing the entire work all the way through, along with a career-spanning other set list.

“I see it now for what a solid record it was, and I take a great deal of pride in that it’s become part of the soundtrack for a generation,” says vocalist Robin Wilson. “It was always the soundtrack for my life, and I lived through it, and it was a difficult process to make it. So for it to succeed and for us to build a life and career on it, it means a lot. And I’m proud that people still really care about it. I mean, how many bands can do a record and have enough interest to tour on it 25 years later?”

But as Wilson alludes to – and rock history has noted – the process of making and releasing the record was sometimes difficult and ultimately tinged with tragedy, especially for one key member whose songwriting gifts got the ball rolling in the first place.

The Gin Blossoms formed in 1987, taking their name from a cutline in a photo of actor W.C. Field’s booze-ravaged nose in a Hollywood history book. At the time the nucleus was Doug Hopkins (lead guitar), Bill Leen (bass), and Jesse Valenzuela (rhythm guitar). After adding Wilson (first as guitarist, then as lead vocalist) and Philip Rhodes on drums, they released debut Dusted in 1987, and then the first edition of New Miserable Experience in 1992.

But near the end of recording, main songwriter Hopkins – who suffered from severe depression – had become a full-blown alcoholic who couldn’t function musically and was fired from the group. Initially, New Miserable Experience was not successful. But a year later it was re-released with better record label support, and the Hopkins-penned “Hey Jealousy” and “Found Out About You” – both tales of romantic desperation and anger – became the first two singles and were smashes.

But Hopkins was not listed in the credits on the re-release, and it was his replacement, Scotty Johnson, whose photo record buyers saw. Mounting personal issues sent Hopkins into a tailspin, and he committed suicide near the end of 1993 – shortly after receiving a gold record for “Hey Jealousy.”

On the current tour, Wilson and the band pay tribute to Hopkins right before playing two of the record’s lesser-known tracks. “’Hold Me Down’ is a really special song for me, because that’s the only one that Doug and I officially wrote together, so it means a lot,” Wilson says.

“And ‘Pieces of the Night.’ I was there when Doug was writing that and I wrote the lyrics for the bridge. Onstage, I don’t say a whole lot during the show, but I do get the audience to raise a glass and toast Doug before those two songs and I tell a little bit about the background. Those songs are big moments. I also like to hear Jesse sing on ‘Cheatin’ because we don’t normally play that.”

And the impact of New Miserable Experience goes further. Wilson says he’s constantly told stories from fans about it. “I never get tired of hearing it. People are sort of sheepish when they start to talk to me and maybe they expect me to roll my eyes and run away,” he says. “But when they say ‘I want to tell you a story,’ I know it’s usually going to be something meaningful about our music that has connected to their lives.”

The Gin Blossoms have broken up, reunited, and released other records since New Miserable Experience, notching up other hits including “Follow You Down,” ‘’Til I Hear It From You,” and “As Long as it Matters.” The current lineup – which includes Wilson, Leen, Valenzuela, Johnson, and drummer Scott Hessel, released last year’s Mixed Reality, which shows that the group has a power and presence today and not just existing on ‘90s nostalgia.

“It stands out. I think it’s the most consistent batch of songs we’ve ever turned in and it represents all of the writers in the band,” Wilson says. “We also worked with a producer [Don Dixon] and engineer we’ve never worked with before in a studio we’ve never recorded in. I really think it’s one of the better records we’ve ever made.”

He’s particularly proud of the album’s lead-off, track, “Break.” It includes the deep lyrics “We don’t always want what is easy/Never is enough/Not what I’d set out to be/But more than I was.”

“That one came to me pretty easily. The whole concept was laid out to me in just a few moments. And lyrically, this is my mission statement to my son,” Wilson says. “As a father, this is what I have to say to him. It’s me telling him I’m doing the best that I can as a dad and as a person and as a man.”

And while aware that nothing will get their current live audience as excited as the classic hits, Wilson says that the new material is going over really well. And he says that Mixed Reality is hands-down their best album since New Miserable Experience.

He adds that when this tour is over, he’s got a few gigs filling in as the lead singer for one of his musical heroes, the Smithereens (their vocalist Pat DiNizio died in 2017), and is plotting a summer co-headlining tour with one of their ‘90s contemporaries whose identity he can’t yet reveal.

“It’s so cool and rewarding to suddenly be in one of my all-time favorite bands. It’s a reason we wanted to work with [Smithereens producer] Don Dixon on the new record,” Wilson offers. “I would warm up my vocals singing Smithereens songs so he would know how much the music meant to me. I think of my 20, 21 year old self listening to the Smithereens and R.E.M. records and wanting to be in a band. And here I am at 53 doing that. And now our music means something to people.”

A version of this interview originally appeared at HoustonPress.com

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German Heavy Metal Barons Accept Get “Classy”

Accept guitarist Wolf Hoffmann is triumphant with his “Headbanger’s Symphony” at Wacken Open Air. Photo by Olga Poponina/Courtesy of Nuclear Blast Records

While he thinks the word “crazy” might be stretching it a bit, guitarist Wolf Hoffman does understand that what he did at Germany’s 2017 Wacken Open Air Festival (the world’s largest annual gathering of heavy metal fans) might have some questioning his sanity.

That’s where his band Accept staged an ambitious show divided into three parts: A short set with just the group, a middle section with different musicians where Hoffman debuted his instrumental work “Headbanger’s Symphony” with a full orchestra, and a final segment where his bandmates returned for lengthy set of more Accept songs, retaining the orchestra. It’s all documented on the 2CD/1DVD set Symphonic Terror: Live at Wacken 2017 (Nuclear Blast Records).

“Well, I wouldn’t go as far as to say ‘crazy,’ but I initially thought the idea was a bit ambitious! Bordering on crazy, of course!” Hoffman laughs. “it turned out to be pretty stressful, but it worked super, super well. We could not have asked for a better reception or a better audience. And the whole thing went down without a glitch. Though it was nerve-wracking at first!”

In addition to the show being the first time Accept had ever played with an orchestra – an increasingly common practice for hard rock, heavy metal, and prog bands – he was a bit worried how the beered-up, rowdy Wacken crowd would accept “Headbanger’s Symphony.”

“I always thought my solo stuff was sort of predestined to be played with an orchestra because it is classical music. Then when we got the invitation from Wacken to do it, I thought it was my chance!” Hoffman says

“And I metaled it up enough for a festival audience, which has a certain party atmosphere. You don’t want to bore them, so I stayed away from the slower stuff and long intros,” he continues. “Then we figured well, why don’t we play some Accept songs with an orchestra since it’s there. So it evolved!”

What Hoffman says he didn’t want to do with the Accept/orchestra portion, was simply tack on some strings and brass instruments to their material as an afterthought. He recalls hearing an orchestra’s take on Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” where the musicians simply played the famous guitar riff and he found it wanting. He started sifting through the Accept catalog to see what would work more organically. So mostly guitar-based songs like “Restless and Wild” and “London Leatherboys” were out of consideration, but “Fast as a Shark” and “Balls to the Wall” were in.

“I tried to pick the songs where I thought the melodies would sound good when played by an orchestra. And I was pleasantly surprised at how they sounded!” he offers, while giving full credit to collaborator Melo Mafali for his orchestral arrangements.

The Germany-bred Accept formed in 1976, but came to worldwide attention and U.S. heavy metal popularity on the strength of a triumvirate of albums from 1982-85: Restless and Wild, Balls to the Wall, and Metal Heart.

The single “Balls to the Wall” became their signature song. New records and tours, lineup changes, breakups, and reunions have happened over the years. That includes the comings and goings of the bulldog-like vocalist Udo Dirkschneider (who also fronted his own group, U.D.O.). But original members Hoffmann and bassist Peter Baltes remained constants.

Accept returned in a big way in 2009 with the addition of the powerful vocal gravel of Mark Tornillo (ex-T.T. Quick) as front man, and the next year released Blood of the Nations. Their last studio record was 2017’s Lords of Chaos, though Hoffmann says they hope to finish in new one in the studio by the end of this year.

Wolf Hoffmann in 2018. Photo by Frank C. Duennhaupt/Courtesy of Nuclear Blast Records

As for his musical relationship with Tornillo, something that was fairly new when I spoke with Hoffmann in 2010, he says it’s only been great.

“I think we’re just growing together more and more, and we’ve done hundreds of shows together,” the guitarist says. “He came right out of the gate and was a perfect fit for us from the first day on. It was a great match, and when a great match works, you don’t question it!”

Another in addition to Hoffmann, Tornillo, Uwe Lulis (guitar), and Christopher Williams (drums), the band will use a new bassist for the upcoming short “Symphonic Terror” tour with the Orchestra of Death throughout Europe and Russia this spring. After more than four decades, Baltes abruptly quit Accept of his own accord last November. And while Hoffmann says it left him “heartbroken,” he admits to feeling some pressure as the sole original or classic lineup member now left.

“Yeah, there is a little bit. But I don’t let it get to me. We are just going to continue full force,” he says. “It’s a sad event, but you have to roll with the punches and move forward. And as long as I have the fire and energy with me, I’ll continue.”

Though (along with wife/band manager Gaby) will also have to keep an eye on expenses for the “Symphonic Terror” jaunt. Which – as pointed out to him – will surely not be small while lugging a full orchestra across many borders.

“That’s very true! I think I’ll have to treat them as cargo and just drop them off at the shows!” he laughs. “No per diems!”

This article originally appeared on HoustonPress.com

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