News flash! Immigration policy targets classic rockers!

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As always, Stephan Pastis, creator of my favorite comic strip, “Pearls Before Swine” gives us a wry comment on classic rock. But does this mean that foreign governments will move to keep out Boston, Kansas, Chicago and even…America and their music out of their borders?

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Steve Lukather on Toto, Boz, Ringo, and…”Africa.”

 

TOTO group 1

The current Toto’s core four: Steve Porcaro, Steve Lukather, David Paich, and Joseph Williams. Photo courtesy of SKH Music.

This is a piece I did last summer on Toto and Steve Lukather – just in time as they are about to embark on another jaunt across the country! 

‘Tis the season of summer, which also means it’s the time of the year for the increasingly popular Classic Rock Package Tour.

It really is a win-win for both sides. Fans get to see two or three like-minded acts from the same era on the same bill, bands get to play for larger audiences, and maybe – just maybe – create some new fans. And sell more post-show Greatest Hits CDs in the process.

Still, Toto guitarist/singer Steve Lukather knows that his band’s co-bill with prog rock giants Yes might raise some eyebrows among the latter’s exacting (and, assumedly, brainy) acolytes.

“I know some people are going ‘I don’t know. Toto with ‘Rosanna’ and ‘Africa?’ Is this shit going to work? I fucking hate ‘

Africa!’” he says, in mock voice of disgust.

“But if you go deeper into our catalogue, you’ll find there’s a little bit more to it, and the [bands] are a lot closer than you think. All of us love prog rock, and bands like Gentle Giant. And some of us have worked with those guys from Yes before, so there is a connection. [Yes guitarist] Steve Howe is a huge influence on me. I used to line up to buy tickets to see those Yes tours when I was in high school.”

Luke guitar 4

Lukather in full flight. Photo courtesy of SKH Music.

And, indeed, Lukather is right. For while best known for ‘70s/’80s hits like “99,” “Hold the Line,” “I Won’t Hold You Back” and – yes “Rosanna” and “Africa,” a deeper listen to their catalogue shows more proggy material.

The current lineup includes original members Lukather, keyboardists David Paich and Steve Porcaro, and – returning after many years away – original bassist David Hungate. Along with Joseph Williams (vocals), Shannon Forrest (drums), Lenny Castro (percussion) and two backup singers.

The band of well-versed studio and stage musicians came together when several of them worked with Boz Scaggs on the Silk Degrees record (with Paich co-writing much of the record) and subsequent tour. “I was 19 when I went on that tour! If it wasn’t for Boz, there probably wouldn’t be a Toto,” Lukather says. Deciding to form a band, they released debut Toto in 1978.

Earlier this year, the band dropped Toto XIV – their first studio effort in nearly a decade. And indeed, the tracks sound more prog than pop, with a surprising number tackle social and political issues (and the occasional power ballad).

The 57-year-old Lukather says that it’s not what the band consciously set out to do, but speaks to the evolution of, well, their lives.

XIV

“Imagine us! Older men wanting to talk about something beside getting high and going to the club and getting girls. We’ve lived through all that shit already!” he offers.

“We didn’t set it up to get topical, but it happened. You wake up, get a cup of coffee, turn on the computer and, boom! The bad news begins!” he says. “We’ve lived through death, destruction, divorce, children, various addictions, and we are still here. So we write about what’s going on now, not just goofy lyrics to wrap around guitar solos. Which we have done in the past!”

One of the record’s key tracks is “Holy War,” whose subject matter is not exactly hidden. Nor is Lukather’s distaste for its presence and provocateurs.

“We live in Dick Cheney’s world where war is money and destruction of people is good. I mean, the war in Afghanistan. Has anybody ever one that? Why do we keep slamming our heads against the wall?” he says.

“I don’t think if Jesus came down from the sky and looked at he world right now he’d be very pleased at what is going on. He’d be like, ‘what the fuck are you guys doing down there?’ And that’s non denominational.”

For the song “Unknown Soldier (For Jeffrey),” Toto turns its attention toward the after effects of conflicts and the people caught up in them. And while Lukather says he is squarely on the “peace and love” side of things, he does hail from a military family with an ex-Marine father and uncle who served in Vietnam.

“I saw what war did to my uncle. He was a hopeless alcoholic because of what he saw over there,” Lukather says. “I have the deepest respect for our troops who serve us. But I wonder what the end result is sometimes.”

Finally, the sometimes sorry state of Planet Earth also gets attention in “Running Out of Time.”

Toto-1982columbia

Toto in 1982: Steve Porcaro, Steve Lukather, Bobby Kimball, David Hungate, David Paich, and Jeff Porcaro.

“I live in California, where we have a really gnarly drought and they still have money for trillions of gallons of water for fracking,” he says, voice rising into sarcasm. “Fracking on a fault line where there are nuclear plants next to the ocean…just seems like a bad idea to me. What could possibly go wrong?”

At one point in their career, Toto was almost a brother act, boasting not only Steve Porcaro, but two of his siblings: Jeff on drums, and Mike on bass.

Jeff Porcaro died in 1992 at the age of 38 after spraying insecticide at his home—though there is much discrepancy between family, band members, and the official coroner’s report as to the actual cause or causes. Mike passed in March of this year from the affects of ALS, years after retiring from the group in 2007 upon being first diagnosed with the disease.

Lukather was with Porcaro the day before he died, and the situation has been the catalyst for a lot of reflection on his part.

“Mike used to say ‘I’m melting,’ and it was hard to watch somebody go through that. He could barely suck in some air to breathe the last time I saw him. ALS is the most cruel, horrendous, and vicious disease,” he says.

“And his poor parents. And Steve and his sister. To have two brothers die from the same family? That’s not supposed to happen. I have four kids, and if I had to bury two of them, I’d never smile again. But nobody wanted him to suffer anymore. You wouldn’t do that to an animal, much less a human being.”

So Lukather takes the tack of keeping the literal band of brothers’ music going both with Toto and his inclusion playing group’s hits with Ringo Starr and His All-Star Band (as he did last October at the Woodlands Pavilion).

After the current Yes/Toto show wraps up, Lukather will join Ringo for more touring this fall, followed by an overseas trip with Toto. Asked what it’s like performing every night with the now 75-year-old Beatle, Lukather still gushes like the teenaged Fabs fan he once was.

“I really love that man. I’m so happy for all the goodness in his life, and I’m a better person for knowing him. The Beatles are why I play music and I have also played with Paul and George. So it’s come full circle,” he offers.

“But sometimes I forget! I turn around and go ‘oh, that’s RINGO playing drums. He’s everything you would want him to be and more.”

As for Texas, Lukather has “fond memories of insanely beautiful women” and notes he had “outrageous parties” in the state. Though is also quick to point out, as a “reformed” person, won’t be partying like the old days this time around.

And while this interview was conducted before the death of Chris Squire, the sole remaining original member of Yes, he feels that the band’s fans will nonetheless click during each of their respective 90-minute sets.

“Some of our fans are going ‘what the fuck?’ And some of their fans are going ‘what the fuck?’” He sums up. “But think we’re both going to win over each other’s respective crowds. Especially if they come with an open mind.”

 

This article originally appeared in The Houston Press.

 

 

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John Oates Still Has a Lot on His “List” To Do

Photo by Sean Hagwell/Courtesy of Eagle Rock.

Photo by Sean Hagwell/Courtesy of Eagle Rock.

John Oates has a lot to love about his career these days. Long after their records made regular appearances on the Top 40, Hall & Oates maintain an enthusiastic fan base and sell out shows.

Last year saw the release of Daryl Hall & John Oates: Live in Dublin, a DVD/2CD package of a July 2014 gig at the historic Olympia Theatre. The concert was also recently shown in theaters across the country.

And while both had played the Land of Erin as solo artists, this was amazingly their first visit to the island as a duo.

“There’s not a lot of firsts in the Hall & Oates career at this point, and this was such a legendary venue. And we knew the [Irish] fans would be happy to see us,” Oates says. “The show sold out in an hour, and we wanted to document it.”

Of the 15 numbers, 11 will be familiar to anyone who owns the duo’s Greatest Hits CD (i.e. “Maneater,” “She’s Gone,” “Sara Smile,” “Rich Girl,” “You Make My Dreams,” “Kiss On My List,” and “Private Eyes”).

Photo by Mick Rock/Courtesy of Eagle Rock

Photo by Mick Rock/Courtesy of Eagle Rock

But it also included a number of older, deeper cuts like “It’s Uncanny,” “Do What You Want, Be What You Are,” and “Las Vegas Turnaround” – the last a rare track in which Oates takes lead vocals. He says they try to balance their set list to please everyone.

“We have a professional responsibility to play the hits, and we’re proud of them. They’re still popular because they’ve stood the test of time,” Oates says. “But it’s one of our problems – we have too many hits and we can’t play them all. Though it’s a problem that a lot of groups would love to have.”

Oates says he would love to do a tour of nothing but deep cuts for hardcore fans – possibly in smaller venues. But he admits it might be a tough sell.

“We have over 400 songs together, and there is some amazing music that people aren’t familiar with,” he adds. “And it’s part of the long range plan. I’m pumped up about that idea.”

Watching Live in Dublin, one really gets the notion of just how important the saxophone is to the music of Hall & Oates. And since the mid-‘70s, those sounds have come from the mouth of Charlie “Mr. Casual” DeChant.

With his long gray hair and beard, he stands in striking physical contrast to the rest of the backing band, all far younger. Oates says there is both a peace and familiarity to having him onstage and in the studio.

“He’s the only surviving member of our ‘70s band. I’m very aware of [his presence] and take special notice of our moments on stage, especially since he stands near me and we interact a lot,” Oates says.

Hall & Oates in their peak commercial period. Oates' mustache went on to pop culture fame of its own.

Hall & Oates in their peak commercial period. Oates’ mustache went on to pop culture fame of its own.

“I look at him through the lens of the fact that every moment with Charlie is special, because someday he might not be there. And I think of that with Daryl too. But we have a young band that brings passion and excitement to the old material, and it’s really kicked Daryl and me in the butt!”

Hall & Oates had been eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since the late ‘90s, and were inducted in 2014 after their first appearance on the ballot. Oates says he wasn’t losing over any sleep over not being in, and that the band’s fans felt it was a bigger issue than he did.

“They were honoring us for a lifetime of achievement in pop success, and that’s great and it’s been nothing but positive being in there,” he says.

But in fact, both Hall and Oates maintain healthy solo careers outside of their two-man act, Hall most noticeably with the “Live From Daryl’s House” podcast and now television series.

In 2014, Oates released his fifth solo record (Good Road to Follow), and more recent, a guest-studded live concert TV special/DVD (Another Good Road). Both showcase Oates’ singing and guitar playing, covering lot more diverse genres of musical than casual fans have heard.

“I’m [best] known for my pop work with Daryl, which is perfectly understandable. But I had a whole musical life before I met him when I was 18. I started playing guitar at six, and I was always into traditional American music like folk, blues, and bluegrass,” he says.

Daryl Hall & John Oates playing their sold out show at the Olympia Theatre on Tuesday, 15 July 2014. Photo by Kathrin Baumbach/Courtesy of Eagle Rock

Daryl Hall & John Oates playing their sold out show at the Olympia Theatre on Tuesday, 15 July 2014. Photo by Kathrin Baumbach/Courtesy of Eagle Rock

“So I’ve gone back to my influences like that in my solo career, and it’s great to be in that world. I wanted to extend the life of the project with Another Good Road. The band was great, and I even put some newer songs in there.”

Of course, it’s the older, soundtrack-of-your-life songs that keep concertgoers buying tickets to Hall & Oates shows. Songs which often first came to their fans’ attention first via a seemingly ubiquitous presence on MTV.

The duo’s videos – in which their backing band also got appearances – often were fun to watch and must have been even moreso to film. Though John Oates has another view.

“I am going to be brutally honest, I didn’t care for any of those videos. I never wanted to be an actor, messing around in stupid costumes in front of a curtain,” he says.

But a “perfect storm” of a new video channel needing content and bands looking for non-radio exposure, made the relationship between media and musicians symbiotic.

When pressed, Oates says his least-cringeworthy video is for the song “Out of Touch” because it was “so weird and over the top.”

“I’m not a nostalgic person who lives in the past. I’m way more interested in writing new songs and doing new things,” Oates sums up. “And I have so much positive stuff going on right now, I can’t absorb it all!”

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

Posted in '70s Rock, '80s Rock, Hall & Oates | Leave a comment

Randy Bachman is STILL Takin’ Care of Business

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Randy Bachman today. Photo by Mike Hough.

In his career as a co-vocalist/guitarist/songwriter for not one but two pretty successful classic rock bands (The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive), Randy Bachman has sold tens of millions of records, sold out concerts, and hit the top of the charts.

But, according to his son, singer/songwriter Tal Bachman (who had a hit of his own in 1999 with “She’s So High”), dad didn’t really make it in the music biz until he became animated in a 2000 episode of “The Simpsons.” It’s where Homer loudly requests the band play “Takin’ Care of Business” and “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet”…and continues to bellow for the tunes after the band has obliged.

“A lot of other musicians had been on the show. Matt Groening went to college near Seattle, and that was the town where B.T.O. first broke, so he was a fan,” Bachman recalls today.

“So he wanted to animate me and [B.T.O. co-vocalist/bassist] Fred Turner. It was a lot of fun, and they treated us like royalty. Matt even sent a huge box of ‘Simpsons’ stuff, and sent Fred and I an autographed cell afterward.”

Bachman’s cartoon legacy makes for an interesting story, but it’s not one that he tells on the recent DVD, Randy Bachman Vinyl Tap Tour: Every Song Tells a Story. Part concert, part interview, and part documentary, it features Bachman weaving tales of his life and career while he and a band play excerpts from 14 of his biggest songs as he tells the stories behind their creation.

Filmed in his hometown of Winnipeg, Canada on the last date of a tour, it combines Ray Davies’ Storyteller format with aspects of Bachman’s own Canadian radio program, “Vinyl Tap.” Throughout, vintage pictures and video clips play on a screen behind him.

“I haven’t even seen it because I am always facing forward, so I don’t know what they’re showing behind me!” Bachman laughs. “And the format certainly beats standing up at 2 p.m. in the heat playing a pop festival.”

Today, music fans take it for granted they can get pretty much every song every recorded immediately at the click of a mouse. But in early ‘60s Canada, Bachman and future Guess who co-vocalist/keyboardist Burton Cummings relied on painstakingly taped compilation reels of American and English rock music sent to them each Christmas by one of Bachman’s family members.

BTO

Homer Simpson Loves ’em! – BTO: Fred Turner, Robbie Bachman, Randy Bachman, and Blair Thornton.

The pair (and other bandmembers) would learn as many of the songs as possible to play themselves at gigs, as well as buying what they could.

“New albums cost $3.98. So Burton and I would save up money from gigs or throwing newspapers and pitch in $2 each. One of us would get possession of the record for a week, and then give it to the other,” Bachman remembers.

“And we’d learn every groove, every lick, and every lyric on both sides. Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley stuff. We even knew the names of the producers!”

One of the more interesting aspects about the DVD is how many of Bachman’s songs that classic rock listeners know and love by heart came about as flukes.

The Guess Who’s “American Woman” was born from an impromptu stage jam with lyrics invented on the spot about the Canadian band’s desire not to be drafted in the U.S. Army. “No Sugar Tonight” was what Bachman heard a San Francisco biker mama tell her man-who-turned-into-a-mouse what he would be getting from her later.

B.T.O.’s “Takin’ Care of Business” had a similar musical origin, with lyrics drawn from words Bachman wrote years before about a blind engineer who commuted to the studio on the train. Originally called “White Collar Worker,” it took on the more familiar title from the tagline of a Canadian DJ. “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” was an after-hours goof off performed as a playful poke at Bachman’s stuttering brother.

“I could sit down with a rhyming dictionary and a thesaurus and try to sound like a great songwriter, but’s it’s contrived,” Bachman says. “But when you let it go, something happens. It’s a ball of energy that comes from the Angel of Song.”

Guess Who

The music of both the Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive – as well as his solo work – fall into the category of that sort of blue collar “meat and potatoes” rock of the ‘70s. Think Bob Seger, Grand Funk Railroad, Foghat, and the James Gang.

And while the genre doesn’t get critical respect (saved, it seems, for prog-rock bands with intricate instrumentation who write about space like Pink Floyd and King Crimson), Bachman is nonplussed.

“It’s all just music. I mean, Burton and I started out playing classical music. And country music today is basically classic rock. All of them are playing Les Pauls through Marshall amps!” he says. “Lots of people don’t own up to liking meat and potatoes thumping rock. But if you get them at a party, they’ll want to hear ‘Takin’ Care of Business’ and ‘Old Time Rock and Roll’ and will sing along!”

Randy Bachman’s plans for the next year will keep him busy. He’s touring (some gigs with the “Vinyl Tap” format, which hopes to bring to the U.S.). He’s also recorded a blues record with a female drummer and bassist (“They sound like the Who in their prime!”) with producer Kevin Shirley called Heavy Blues. There have also been occasional gigs with B.T.O. partner Fred Turner and Peter Frampton’s Guitar Circus.

“I’m having the time of my life recycling myself and reinventing myself over and over, doing things I thought I couldn’t do again in terms of songwriting and singing,” he says.

And who knows? Maybe Randy Bachman will someday, somewhere, somehow overhear a snippet of your conversation and turn it into a classic rock hit. Homer, are you listening?

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

 

 

 

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Aerosmith’s Joey Kramer: Pounding Skins and Coffee Shots

Bloodbrothers - Aerosmith today: Brad Whitford, Tom Hamilton, Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, and Joey Kramer.

Bloodbrothers – Aerosmith today: Brad Whitford, Tom Hamilton, Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, and Joey Kramer.

There is no more quintessential “Boston” rock band than Aerosmith. Since their formation some more than 45 years ago (!) they’ve proudly stood for everything Beantown, and even have an official city historical plaque in front of their old living/rehearsal space.

But goddamn – it’s cold up there! That’s why drummer Joey Kramer is more than happy to enjoy the much warmer climate of his current home in Texas.

“It’s wonderful to live here in Austin. I lived in New England for 40 years, and the winters were brutal. I’m glad to be out of the cold!” Kramer – whose wife is originally from Cypress in North Houston – says. “We talked about moving to Texas, and I didn’t want to go to Houston or Dallas. I just love the people and vibe about Austin.”

Houstonian or Dallasite Aerosmith fans shouldn’t take that preference personally. And members of their dedicated “Blue Army” (so named for their preference for denim) enthused about their recent full-length concert film Aerosmith Rocks Donnington.

The 19-song set list, filmed at the massive Festival last year, covers the band’s career timeline. But did Kramer, Tyler, and band mates Joe Perry, Tom Hamilton, and Brad Whitford alter their stage norm for historical posterity?

“I don’t think about we went about our show any differently, though it would have been easy to let it happen. You’re in front of 100,000 people and have cameras pointed in your face,” Kramer adds.

Raunchy boys in the '70s: Perry, Whitford, Tyler (reclining), Hamilton, and Kramer.

Raunchy boys in the ’70s: Perry, Whitford, Tyler (reclining), Hamilton, and Kramer.

“But the best thing for us to be doing onstage is to be relaxed. As long as we are and the audience is with us, you’re in for a hell of a ride. I just worried about [the cameras] when my arms started flailing!”

Aerosmith is also one of the few classic rock bands still touring with an intact classic lineup (Whitford was an early, but not original member). And while there have been some periods in their history where that hasn’t been the case, Kramer likens this quintet to…food.

“It’s just not the same without the five of us. You can’t take an apple pie, slice it out, take out a piece, and replace it with a piece of blueberry. I mean, you can, but it’s not the same,” he says. “After all this time, Tom and I are so tight, we make fucking mistakes together!”

Aerosmith also has something of a literary legacy, having already published an official oral history. And while Steven Tyler’s (Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?) and Joe Perry’s (Rocks) autobiographies got more attention, Kramer’s Hit Hard was the first to come out in 2009.

As much (if not more) of a story about his substance abuse and addiction/recovery – as well as detailing a fraught relationship with his father – Kramer says he’s surprised that people still talk to him about it today.

Joey Kramer still rocks the soul patch.

Joey Kramer still rocks the soul patch.

“It took me four years to write. Most people don’t spend that much time, but I wanted it to be a certain way. The original manuscript was 1,000 pages, and the finished book was 250,” Kramer says. Unfortunately from a marketing perspective, it was also released the day that Michael Jackson died.

“But at the same time, I felt it covered the important things, and it was a personally cathartic experience for. Not just talking about gossip and what kind of drugs we took and girls we fucked. It was about me and my story.”

And what of Perry’s book, that the guitarist said had not sent to his band mates prior to publication?

“Yeah…I read it,” Kramer says. “He was honest in what he chose to talk about. I mentioned some of the same things he did, but didn’t spend a lot of time on it. My book isn’t about anybody else in the band, it’s about me.”

Kramer has also expanded his business resume as the force and co-founder behind Rockin’ and Roastin’ Coffee. A venture he’s quick to point out he doesn’t just lend a famous name to.

“I’m very hands on. I’ve cut the coffee, came up with the artwork, and my wife came up with the name,” he offers for the brew that is also the official coffee for the House of Blues Chain.

Aerosmith had a big comeback in the '80s, thanks partially to MTV and some popular videos: Whitford, Kramer, Tyler, Hamilton, and Perry.

Aerosmith had a big comeback in the ’80s, thanks partially to MTV and some popular videos: Whitford, Kramer, Tyler, Hamilton, and Perry.

Speaking of voodoo – or bad juju – we had to ask Kramer about his participation in the 1978 film Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Aerosmith appeared as the “Future Villain Band” and battled the Bees Gees and Peter Frampton in a climactic fight. Their cover of “Come Together” the only song from the trumpeted double LP ever played today, besides Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Got to Get You Into My Life.”

“Oh my lord!” Kramer laughs. “What do I remember other than the fact that it was probably the worst movie ever made? Hey, that was in the ‘70s, and my memories of the ‘70s is extremely vague, as it that film! But I’m sure I had fun doing it!”

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

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Graham Nash Has Some Wild Tales to Tell

CSN today, with harmonies still soaring high. Photo by Chris Kissinger/Jensen Communications.

CSN today, with harmonies still soaring high. Photo by Chris Kissinger/Jensen Communications.

One of my all-time favorite interview subjects over the years has been Graham Nash. Engaging, open, wry, and blunt, it’s no wonder he’s long been the glue that holds the sometimes-fractious CSN (and sometimes Y) together. Here is my most recent talk with him about  the big CSNY box set that came out awhile back. I also highly recommend his memoir, Wild Tales.

“We knew it was something special,” Graham Nash says. “No one had done a tour like that, in that many big venues. But I felt we were up to the task. We could all play and sing, and there were four of us. With four intense egos!”

Today, massive football stadium tours by rock’s major acts are taken for granted. But many years ago it hadn’t even been attempted. While the Beatles and Stones had done the massive gigs as one-offs, it was a reunited Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young who took the plunge first.

Their fabled 1974 tour encompassed 31 shows in 24 cities in three countries from July through September, with the group presenting nearly 80 songs played in various personnel combinations – a quarter of which hadn’t even been released at that point but would find their way onto later group, solo, and duo records.

CSNY on the 1974 tour. Photo courtesy of Rhino.

CSNY on the 1974 tour. Photo courtesy of Rhino.

And the jaunt has passed into rock legend. David Crosby dubbed it the “Doom” tour for its manic mix of music with huge highs and lows, drugs, crazy financial expenditures, and the aforementioned egos.

A handful of those shows were recorded. And while shitty bootlegs have circulated for years, the massive box set simply titled CSNY 1974 (Rhino) has 40 live songs over three CDs, as well as a DVD with rare video footage shot during two of the shows, and a thick booklet with essays, photos, and liner notes.

The project – like other archival sets from the group – was helmed and produced by Graham Nash himself and Joel Bernstein, with Stanley Johnson as sound engineer. And it took four years to put together.

“It was an absolute labor of love. And we set a high bar both musically and graphically,” Nash says. “Our original intent was to present the best possible performances from this tour. And that’s why ‘Carry On’ isn’t on there. We just couldn’t find a performance that stood up to the other songs.”

Backstage at Roosevelt Stadium on the 1974 tour, with Richard Nixon on the tube. Photo by Henry Diltz

Backstage at Roosevelt Stadium on the 1974 tour, with Richard Nixon on the tube. Photo by Henry Diltz

The songs that did make it on the box run the gamut from CSN (and/or Y) warhorses (“Wooden Ships,” “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” “Déjà Vu”) and solo songs (“Love the One You’re With,” “Old Man,” “Prison Song”), and rarities (“Grave Concern,” “Myth of Sisyphus,” “Fieldworker”). Some others, audiences were hearing for the first time anyplace.

“So many of the songs are relevant even today, like ‘Immigration Man’ and ‘Military Madness.’” Nash offers. “Even ‘Goodbye Dick!’”

The last song is perhaps the most ultra rare CSNY tune – a bizarrely funny, one and half minute, seemingly improvised ditty by Neil Young in which he celebrates the then-recent resignation of Richard Nixon. Ironic, since Tricky Dick himself is back in the news with the recent release of more damning audiotapes. It was performed only once, and is captured on the box set.

While very few “live” records by any band are actually live, Nash says he wanted to keep the music of CSNY 1974 as real as possible, but does cop to a little tweaking.

CSNY in dressing room, 1970, Minnesota (photo by Henry Diltz)

CSNY in dressing room, 1970, Minnesota (photo by Henry Diltz)

“There is not one single overdub on the entire album,” he says. “Did I tune certain things? Yes. And if I could find a note or phrase that make a song better, I took it from another performance. But it’s very true to us. Anybody who is curious about who CSNY was or is, they can go to that box set.”

The quartet were aided and abetted onstage by longtime CSNY associates Tim Drummond (bass), Russ Kunkel (drums), and Joe Lala (percussion).

And while Nash says he doesn’t have a particular memory of that show, playing to huge, huge crowds was not intimidating. “We had already played Woodstock, and that was nearly a half a million people,” Nash says. “So playing to 40 or 80,000 people wasn’t that big a deal to us.”

And while all members have contributed songs to the group pot over the past nearly five decades, it’s Nash who – as Crosby told audiences during the last tour – “writes the songs that the world knows by heart and sings along with.”

Those would be chiefly “Teach Your Children,” “Our House,” and “Just a Song Before I Go” – also some of the band’s best-known and commercially successful tunes.

CSN at Criteria Recording Studios, Miami, March 1977 (Joel Bernstein)

CSN at Criteria Recording Studios, Miami, March 1977 (photo by Joel Bernstein)

“Teach Your Children” in particular, Nash feels, will “be around long after our physical selves are gone.” And two incidents – one years ago, one recent – drove that point home to him.

“A few years back, a friend called me, and he was sitting in a small coffee house on the top of a mountain in Katmandu in Nepal, and the song came on in the café. In Nepal!” Nash says.

“And I was in an Apple store in Italy, and one of the employees rushed up to tell me he’d just been listening to the version on CSNY 1974 and how much it meant to him. To think I wrote a song that touches so many heart and minds and has for so long…that’s a thrill as a writer.”

And while he readily admits having fun with various substances for many years, Nash’s indulgences never derailed the band, hurt the music, or caused bizarre behavior.

So, as the man in the middle, how many times over the years has the long-suffering Nash thought, “Am I the only sane one who just wants to make music?”

“Oh, I always think that. I have from day one actually!” Nash says. “I mean, I’m English. My country was devastated twice by war in 80 years. And there were times you didn’t know if your house was going to be still standing or your friends were going to be alive. So you just want to get the job done because you don’t know if it’s every going to end.”

For more on Graham Nash, visit his website.

Portions of this interview originally appeared in The Houston Press.

Posted in '60s Rock, '70s Rock | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Dennis DeYoung: Styx and Stones Won’t Break His Bones

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Dennis DeYoung today, still rockin’ the Paradise and fans all over.

To many classic rock fans, it would seem a bit of unnecessary clarification to bill a Dennis DeYoung show as “Dennis DeYoung and the Music of Styx.”

After all, as the band’s main vocalist, chief songwriter, and keyboardist, anyone with a ticket to the show surely knows they will hear the headliner belt out classics like “Lady,” “The Grand Illusion,” “Babe,” “The Best of Times,” “Come Sail Away” and – yes – “Mr. Roboto” in that utterly distinctive voice.

Yet, despite all that success, DeYoung himself felt that his name alone doesn’t have enough familiarity, and thus the extra wording. Which he is allowed to use after some messy legal wrangling following his unceremonious 1999 ouster from the band. After all, it’s his legacy too.

“When I was replaced, I had to find a way to work it out. I worked really hard at promoting a certain four letter word my whole life,” DeYoung says today. “And there is a genuine honesty to Styx music. It was heartfelt. We weren’t trying to be ironic or smarter than anybody. And I’m proud of that.”

From the time in 1975 when he joined the already-existing Styx, DeYoung was the group’s strongest creative force in a lineup that also included vocalist/guitarist Tommy Shaw, guitarist James “JY” Young, and a rhythm section of brothers Chuck and John Panozzo on bass and drums. And he was happy with that.

“I loved being in a band. I wanted to be in the Beatles, but those son of a bitches never called me!” DeYoung laughs. “But a band is the sum of its parts. The Beatles were all great individually, but put together…that was something else. And that’s how I felt about Styx.”

Dipping their musical toes in pools of straight ahead rock, ballads, and prog during their ‘70s and ‘80s heyday, there seemed to be a Styx song to fit any mood. And it’s that versatility that DeYoung feels boosted the band’s career.

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Classic Styx: Dennis DeYoung, Tommy Shaw, James “JY” Young, John Panozzo, and Chuck Panozzo. The boxing gloves wouldn’t be needed for several years in the future.

Along the way, many of their more popular tunes became cornerstones in the soundtrack-of-your-lives way. This writer recalls that during the late ‘70s/early ‘80s at Magic Skate in Humble, the opening electric piano notes of “Babe” instantly signaled it was time for a Couples Skate. Kind of ironic, given the song’s actual lyrics about leaving.

DeYoung notes that hardly a day goes by that he doesn’t hear a similar story about how the music of Styx is in the fabric of someone’s life, often during what he says are “high voltage emotional events.”

“And I find that is true of a lot of bands from that era, because the music during that time was so essential to young people’s lives. There were not as many other distractions as there are today,” he offers.

“Look, I lived in the greatest time in history to be a musician, something that never happened before and will never happen again. I hit the sweet spot by matter of birth. And I feel a warmth from the audience when they talk to be about this music. It goes beyond anything I thought I would ever achieve.”

It’s a feeling that has run off into his earlier parallel solo career and then post-Styx endeavors.

“The vast majority of people on this planet never have the opportunity to be appreciated as I have because of the music,” he says. “I’ll go someplace, people will pay me to go there, and then afterward thank me for coming to their town and performing. It’s a miracle.”

But things aren’t always so heavy and misty-eyed in the world of Dennis DeYoung. In fact – as he demonstrates during the interview – he possesses a quick and self-deprecating sense of humor (even if some of his jokes are a bit practiced – “I’m half Italian…from the waist down!”).

Trouble in Paradise during the "Mr. Roboto" days: DeYoung, C. Panozzo, Young, J. Panozzo, and Shaw.

Trouble in Paradise during the “Mr. Roboto” days: DeYoung, J. Panozzo, Young, C. Panozzo, and Shaw.

It’s a humor that wasn’t always on display during his time with the Styx.

“Writers always characterized us in ways we weren’t based on our music. You couldn’t be funny if you were in Styx,” he says. “And all the photos of bands from that time, everyone is so dead serious trying to be cool. But we were misunderstood. If there was ever a Clown Alley, it was the guys in our band. And John Panozzo – may he rest in peace – was the funniest guy I’ve ever known.”

Still, despite their huge commercial popularity and sold out shows, Styx – both then and now – were never critic’s darlings. Which DeYoung feels is a big reason that the band is not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Though at least they are in some good company.

“I don’t want to sound like the guy with sour grapes and who is not in the club, but this is the truth,” he says.

“Styx, Journey, Foreigner, Boston, Kansas, REO Speedwagon, Chicago, and the Doobie Brothers. The people who never liked them are the same people who decides who gets in. I have been saying that there’s no room for Deep Purple, because Leonard Cohen is in!” [Note: since this interview was conducted, it was announced that both Deep Purple and Chicago would be inducted in 2016].

DeYoung also feels that rock critics and writers who make up a chunk of the voting bloc favor lyrics over music. And while he’s tried a “half a dozen times” with his best shot to get through the music of the Velvet Underground, he still can’t see what the critical fuss is all about on any level.

“Night after night, I see people locking arms and singing my songs. And after the first 12 words, they may not know the rest, but they know the melody,” he says. “And that’s why the music is more important that the words.”

If Styx ever does make it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, fans may not want to hold their breath for an on-stage performance reunion of the four surviving classic lineup members.

“I have no personal communication with them, and it’s a shame,” DeYoung says. Young and Shaw lead the current lineup, with the health wise fragile Chuck Panozzo making an occasional appearance. Any viewing of their episode of “Behind the Music” will fill in some of the story.

But for Dennis DeYoung, he’s content to look both backwards at the music he made with Styx, and forward to performing it with his current band of five years standing (“They work for cheap!”)  for fans that now span nearly three generations. And he knows what he would tell them today.

“Rejoice in the music that has given you pleasure. And remember that it was created by five guys. And if you change one of those parts, you change the music,” he says, before urging this writer to watch a video on his website of Styx miming to their song “Rockin’ the Paradise.”

“That, my friend, is who the band was. Just watch it.”

For more on Dennis DeYoung, visit www.dennisdeyoung.com

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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