Thursday, October 23, 2014

An EXCLUSIVE interview with SUZI QUATRO!

The Wild One From Detroit City:

An EXCLUSIVE interview with 


By Stephen SPAZ Schnee

Fifty years ago, The Beatles conquered America and the entire country was mesmerized by the four mop-tops from Liverpool, England. Shortly thereafter, the U.S. opened its loving arms and embraced the British Invasion. In Detroit, Michigan, a teenaged girl by the name of Patti Quatro was inspired to form The Pleasure Seekers, an all-girl band featuring her sisters Arlene and Suzi, who was then just fourteen years old. Two years later, in 1966, the band cut their debut single followed two years later by their second. By 1969, Arlene had been replaced by another Quatro sister, Nancy, and they changed their name to Cradle. Though each member of the Quatro family was extremely talented, Suzi’s no-bullshit Rock ‘n’ Roll stance caught the attention of British producer Mickie Most, who had been persuaded to see Cradle by the girls’ brother, Michael. Mickie was in search of a bona-fide female rocker for his label and Suzi fit the bill. In 1971, Suzi moved from Detroit to England and began working with Most on her first solo recordings. The first single released by Suzi, “Rolling Stone,” didn’t make an impression on the charts, although the second, “Can The Can,” hit the #1 spot in 1973. For the next few years, there was no stopping Suzi, who went on to conquer Europe, Japan, Australia and many other countries. In the U.S., Suzi achieved a fair amount of success and notoriety, although nothing like she was experiencing in her adopted homeland of England.

     Dressed in leather, Suzi was double dynamite both as a killer vocalist and a great bass player. However, her Rock ‘n’ Roll attitude and short, ‘50s-influenced hits (some penned by Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn) had critics and fans lumping her in with the then-fashionable Glam Rock scene. Though she may have shared some of the same musical influences, Suzi’s musical output was a precursor to the Punk movement that would infiltrate the charts in the latter part of the ‘70s. Even after the Glam movement began fading away, Suzi was still releasing hits and became one of the first and most well-known female rockers in the world. Switching gears, Suzi moved into acting when she appeared as Leather Tuscadero on Happy Days, one of the most popular TV shows of the decade. Her appearances on the show between 1977 and 1979 were some of the highest rated and best remembered episodes of the series. Her singles and albums began selling in bigger numbers and she achieved her biggest U.S. hit in ’78 with the infectious “Stumblin’ In,” a duet with Chris Norman, vocalist with Pop/Rock band Smokie.

     Though her profile in the U.S. hasn’t remained as high as it was during the late ‘70s, she has continued to be a successful recording artist and huge concert draw in other parts of the world. Not only has she become a Rock icon, she is responsible for kicking the doors open for a new breed of female rockers and has been extremely influential to artists like The Runaways – especially Joan Jett. Now celebrating her 50th year as a performer, Suzi is busier than ever. She has her own one-woman show that has received rave reviews across the board and has just released an extensive four CD box set entitled The Girl From Detroit City that spans her entire career from The Pleasure Seekers to her brand new single, “The Girl From Detroit City,” penned and produced by her longtime friend and musical co-hort Mike Chapman. In celebration of this release, Stephen SPAZ Schnee chatted with Suzi about the box set, her celebrated ‘Ego Room’ of memorabilia and her five decades in the music business…

STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: The Girl From Detroit City box set is just about to be released. How are you feeling about the release and the journey you’ve taken to get here?
SUZI QUATRO: Quite amazed (laughs). I mean, fifty years is a real milestone. You know, I say 50 years of greasy food, long white lines, changing in kitchens… you can go on and on… but wonderful, wonderful gigs.

SPAZ: I think the new single, “Girl From Detroit City” is probably one of your best. It’s got an amazing atmosphere to it, and obviously a great story behind it. Was that a song that was written specifically for the box?
SUZI: It was. I’m glad you said that. I feel the same way too! And I was actually in tears when I recorded it because he (Mike Chapman) nailed my life story, didn’t he? He knew it was for the box set and he said, “I just wanted to write your life” and he did. And it was so good that I insisted that they call the box set the same thing. Now, Mike would want me to say this – I put in the “dooo dooo dooo wah.” When I put that little Motown backing vocal in, Mike said, “Okay, you know your stuff.” (laughs) I kept saying, “Mike, Mike, I got this idea…” He said, “Go on.” It really lifted that track.
SPAZ: It has such a great vibe to it. It’s melodic, has a great groove, but it’s almost got a spiritual feel to it.
SUZI: It does. It’s got something. I was in the studio, we were doing a couple other tracks, and he said, “Okay, I’ve nearly got this song done for you” and he just sat there at the console and he sang me the chorus. He said, “It’s got a killer chorus” and he sang it. I went, “Oh my God, I’m hooked,” and he said, “Now I just gotta go home and write the verse.” (laughs) And it is a killer chorus.

SPAZ: Well, it shows that both of you remain in tune with who you were and where you’re going because there’s still a road ahead.
SUZI: Oh God, yes. And we’re on the same page, Mike and I. We always have been. We work well together.

SPAZ: The set begins with like tracks from The Pleasure Seekers. I think “Light Of Love” should have been an AM radio hit.
SUZI: It’s cute stuff and I love “Light Of Love.” I think it’s a better vocal for me. I love “What A Way To Die” because I think, when I hear it, I go “Oh my God, there’s no question where I was going, even at fourteen.” Can’t you just hear the attitude in that? I mean, I was a rocker from day one.

SPAZ: When you look over this track list, do you have specific memories of everything that you’ve recorded? Or does that only happen with like certain tracks?
SUZI: You know, when I went to write my autobiography, Noddy Holder, lead singer of Slade, who’s a good friend of mine, said, “Don’t ever write it… because you remember everything.” I’m not a sex, drugs, and Rock and Roll girl so I have a good memory. And I can pretty much remember every single track. I can remember recording. I can remember what it felt like. I can remember when I wrote it. And if you go by the liner notes – I’m very much hands on with everything.

SPAZ: So you picked everything on the box?
SUZI: Yes I did. I worked together with the company, of course. They suggested certain things and if I didn’t like it, I said no. I had the absolute say-so on everything so we spent a lot of time up in my “Ego Room,” here at the house. It didn’t just fall into place. Some of the hits – that’s the obvious stuff, you know? And then when it got to Disc 4, I wanted to have all that stuff that people haven’t heard from me - some surprising things in there. I have a huge body of work. I’m a real prolific songwriter and I wanted to show that on here. Then of course you’ve got the wonderful “Desperado” with Jeff Beck. I called him up and I said, “I want you to play on this.” He’s a big fan of my radio show. I said, “I want you to play on this track, Jeff. All it is is piano and my vocal.” He said, “Are you kidding?” I said, “No. What?” He said, “You mean I can play on a track and nothing gets in my way?”  I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Give it to me.” So he did it. He’s a nice man, and he’s a great player, of course.

SPAZ: I think that there are a lot of your records that have really been overlooked, especially here in the U.S. I think there are songs that could have been huge singles like “Heart Of Stone,” “Main Attraction,” and “I’ll Walk Through The Fire With You.”
SUZI: We did sell a lot of albums in America. We did a lot of successful tours, but Mickie Most chopped and changed record companies with every single. And we didn’t get that building up from one label, you know? But I had a huge hit with “Stumblin’ In.” Of course, Happy Days made me a household name there.

SPAZ: FM radio over here used to play your live version of Tom Petty’s “Breakdown.”
SUZI: Well, it’s not on this box set. I didn’t think that was a necessary one to put on, but I love that. Tom actually came to see me… it might’ve been at The Bottom Line in New York. He came to see me and the next day 12 red roses arrived, and he just said “Thank you for the plug every night. You’re fantastic, love Tom.” I thought it was really sweet.

SPAZ: That’s actually the first time that I had heard that song so when I hear the Tom Petty version, I go, “Oh, that Suzi Quatro song!”
SUZI: You know which one I like? “Breaking Dishes.” I like my version better than Rhianna’s. She’s excellent. I mean I’m not saying she’s not great, but I like what I did with it.
SPAZ: Just like your version of Abba’s “Does Your Mother Know?” with Sweet’s Andy Scott… you make it a Suzi Quatro song.
SUZI: It’s unbelievable. I mean, when they asked me to do this, I said sure, and then I had my doubts. I love Abba. How am I going to sing an Abba track? And then Andy showed me the feel in the studio and we started playing. I put the bass down. All of a sudden I went to sing it and it was my song. It’s just attitude, I guess.

SPAZ: Elvis was obviously the most significant musical inspiration when you were five, but have you found inspiration in other artists through your fifty year career?
SUZI: Absolutely. The next guy that really, really took over for quite a long time, was Otis Redding. In the early days, I called myself Suzi Soul and I used to do his songs in the set. They became my big show numbers. In fact, in my one woman show, which I’d like to take to America, I just did it at the BBC and it was such a huge success, I can’t tell you! I do “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” and it’s my favorite moment in the show because people don’t know I can sing like that.

SPAZ: You know, I think people are going to learn a lot through this box set. The Annie Get Your Gun stuff is fantastic. I didn’t doubt that Suzi Quatro was going to sound good, but I didn’t know how well you were going to fit into that, and it just seemed flawless.
SUZI: Well, I have to tell you – Andrew Lloyd Weber was the one that got me that gig. He’s a good, good friend of mine, and he came opening night, and he came backstage and he said, “You made me cry.” And I said, “Why? Was I that bad?” He said, “No, when something is that good, I cry.” And I went, “Oh.” And he came to my one woman show just last week and he was in the second row and he was up and rocking and dancing in the aisles, I have to say, Mr. Lloyd Weber was. I was so proud. So proud that a writer of that caliber came along and enjoyed my show so much. And that’s worth my fifty years. You know, I’ll hang on that. That’s nice, isn’t it?

SPAZ: You had your first taste of success during the Glam era and you were lumped into that whole scene. However, don’t you feel that you had something more in common with the Punk bands that came a little later?
SUZI: Oh, my God. That could be me talking. You read my mind. Yes. I never thought I was anywhere even close to Glam. That’s not who I am. Not the way I look, not the way I sound, not the way I play, not my attitude. I see myself more as a forerunner of Punk.

SPAZ: What drew you to the bass guitar?
SUZI: Well, I’m a trained classical pianist and I’m a trained percussionist. I can read and write both instruments. And then in ’64 when we started the band, everybody was screaming which instrument they wanted and my sister Patti said you’re going to play bass. So I said, “Okay.” I didn’t care. And then my dad – I’m looking at it now as we’re speaking – gave me the 1957 Fender Precision as my first bass. Now, I think that says a lot. I think that shows you that it’s written in the stars that you’re going to be a serious contender. I got the Rolls Royce of bass guitars given to me… everybody had these shitty little instruments….
SPAZ: Like the Sears Silvertone, right?
SUZI: Yeah, exactly. And I had the Fender Precision with the Fender Bassman amp. I mean, I was the queen. It’s amazing. It’s amazing. And it was a hard bass to master and I’ve got little hands, you know? And it taught me. It was like climbing a mountain learning that guitar.

SPAZ: Have you ever thought of putting the Ego Room up on You Tube?
SUZI: I should do that! It’s gotten so much attention now. In fact, I’m going to the funeral tomorrow of a good friend of mine named Lynsey de Paul. She’s a singer/songwriter from here (England). And we were talking and she had seen my other Ego Room, right? It was in a different place in the house. And I said, “Oh it’s not there. I had to move it to a bigger place.” She said, “Oh, so now it’s the Inflated Ego Room?” I said, “Yes!” Great line. It’s up on the third floor of the house all crooked up there, the ceiling comes down. You can bang your head. It’s very precarious. You get to the door – a big heavy wooden door – and on it I had a little brass plate built, and it says “Ego Room, Mind Your Head.” (laughs) And you go in there and there’s everything. I mean everything. I have lost people up there.

SPAZ: You’ve been referred to as one of the true pioneers of female rockers - and that is very significant compliment - but do you prefer to be just considered a rocker, gender be damned?
SUZI: That is a double-edged sword. I have to be honest and say that even right at the very beginning when I was 14, I didn’t really care about it being a girl band. I just wanted it to be a good band. And my sister Patti and I often talk about this. She had a thing about it being girls and I didn’t care. And so, I am proud when I look back on it. I have very specific ideas about this. I was always determined to go down the path without anybody telling which road to take. That’s me. Don’t tell me what to do… you can suggest and then I’ll decide. But I had my path marked out. I was ballsy. I put one leg here, one leg there. I played my bass. I rocked and rolled. I was always the same. And when it got to the point where somebody was going to kick the door down, there were a few of us around, you know, but nobody quite like me, it has to be said. And somebody was going to do it sooner or later, let’s put it that way. There would be a female breaking through… that’s in the cards – it’s going to happen. And I think it fell on my shoulders because I don’t do gender. I think it took somebody like me who didn’t give a shit about being a girl. Just, “Hey – I’m doing this.” This was the attitude that enabled the door to be kicked down.  
I have had this discussion with a lot of famous guy musicians, and we have debated this. And I’ve said, “Is this all you see? Did I look like a girl trying to prove that I could be like the guys?” And they said, “No, you did not. You just were out there being natural.”  I said, “And did I look like I was trying to be sexy?” And they said, “No, you did not.” Not trying to be sexy. There’s a difference, you know? And I didn’t even know… how stupid I am… I had no idea that the jumpsuit was going to be sexy. I said to Mickie Most – I’m wearing leather. That’s it. And he said, “Okay.” He gave in. He didn’t want me to wear leather, but he gave in. Then he suggested the jumpsuit, and I remember saying to him, “Oh what a good idea, Mickie,” and I had no idea. I just felt that I could jump around and everything would stay in one place, you know? And then when I got the pictures back I went “Oh…”
SPAZ: No wonder he said yes.
SUZI: Yeah, no wonder he said yes. Oh my God. I was so embarrassed in a way. You know, I’m not that way.

SPAZ: Your biggest hit here in America is “Stumblin’ In…”
SUZI: Yeah, that was a million seller. It was in the charts for a long time. That’s absolutely correct. The American audiences do know the other stuff, but that was the biggest hit.
SPAZ: Was that pretty much a musical turning point for you in terms of kicking the doors down in America? This was actually post Happy Days, right?
SUZI: Yes. It was post Happy Days. Once I did Happy Days, my name was there anyway. I received the second most fan letters after the Fonz, which I nearly died when I found that out. Yeah, that was a big thing for me to be in that. I still get recognized all over America from that show. “Stumblin’ In” just happened to come out at that time. But, if you look at the chart positions in Billboard, the (earlier) songs did chart. They just didn’t go real high.

SPAZ: Which of your albums are your personal favorites?
SUZI: The first album (Suzi Quatro) I loved. It was mainly my own songs. I loved Suzi…and Other Four Letter Words. I thought that was a really good album. I liked If You Knew Suzi very much, and I think my favorite album is Back to the Drive because it’s personal. It’s autobiographical and the critics just went nuts over it. I never had such rave reviews… until In the Spotlight.

SPAZ: Do you think that people are going to be really surprised when they hear this because there’s just so much more than just the singles?
SUZI: Yes, well, that’s the whole point, isn’t it? I mean, I wanted to show everything in this. I am a prolific writer. There are some damn good songs on there. I particularly like “If There Ever Was a Reason.” I think it’s the best song I ever wrote. I always wanted to do that as a duet with somebody.
SPAZ: Even though I have the Suzi Quatro albums, I was still amazed at the variety. When you bring it all together like this, you just think – “Man, there’s a reason why she’s around fifty years later.”
SUZI: Let’s put it this way: Rock and Roll is my home… and my bass and my leather – that’s where I sit. That’s where I zip up my suit and I’m away, but within that there is an artist and I am a real artist. And I do spread my wings here, and I do spread my wings there, and I do write all kinds of songs, and I do act in movies, and I do act in stage musicals, and I have a poetry book coming out in January, and I’m what I like to call … I think I’m an all around entertainer, but based in Rock and Roll. I’m an artist in the truest sense of the word. In fact, I’m working on a song as we speak. I always need to be creating.

SPAZ: Now, what’s next for Suzi Quatro?
SUZI: Well, we have a super group that I can’t talk about yet, but it’ll be soon that we can talk about it. Maybe in about three months. We’ve got five tracks down, three of us. It’s pretty exciting. I don’t want to say what the name of it is or who the people are yet, but it’s an exciting project – something we’ve all wanted to do for a long time and now it felt like that right time.

Thanks to Suzi Quatro

Special thanks to Matthew Ingham, Dana House and Nick Kominitsky



Wednesday, October 22, 2014


The Long Way Around:

An EXCLUSIVE interview 



By Stephen SPAZ Schnee

     Jackson Browne is not one to rest on his laurels. He’s been a successful musician and songwriter since he moved to Greenwich Village, New York, and hooked up with The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in 1966. His songwriting skills earned him the attention of many popular artists of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s including Nico, The NGDB, Joan Baez, The Byrds, Tom Rush and many others. Though these artists achieved different levels of success with Jackson’s songs, his first year of massive success came in ’72 when he scored his own hit with “Doctor My Eyes” and The Eagles had their first major single with “Take It Easy,” which Jackson had co-written with Eagles member Glenn Frey. From that point forward, Jackson has achieved both commercial and critical success that has taken him from clubs to arenas and everything in between. His name is synonymous with quality songcraft and integrity. He has continued to go from strength to strength over the years, including even bigger success with the Running On Empty album and single in 1977. All of his career highlights and accolades are too numerous to mention here, but his well-deserved 2004 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame says a lot more about his importance than written words ever will.

     Aside from his own recordings, Jackson has been an avid supporter of many of his lesser known contemporaries throughout the years ranging from up-and-coming songwriters/performers like the late Warren Zevon to immensely talented, but underrated bands such as Venice. As successful as he has been over the last 40+ years, he has avoided the trappings of fame. However, he has used his ‘celebrity’ status sparingly and wisely, bringing much needed attention to political and humanitarian causes close to his heart. Through it all, Jackson has remained a respected and beloved name in the music industry, his name often spoken in the same breath as iconic performers like Linda Ronstadt, The Eagles, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Fleetwood Mac and Neil Young. In other words, Jackson Browne himself is a Rock icon.

     Even with the success he has enjoyed for over four decades, Jackson has a restless musical spirit that is still on a never-ending journey to connect with listeners through words and music. His 2014 album Standing In The Breach is one of his finest, most cohesive, albums to date. The album’s warm production and relaxed vibe allows the songs to breathe and grow, sinking deeper into the listener’s soul with each spin. Eschewing the standard three minute pop song formula, most of the tracks on the album are 5+ minutes in length yet most of them don’t seem long enough. These songs are not here to be listened to – they are meant to be absorbed. Immediate standouts include “Yeah Yeah,” “If I Could Be Anywhere,” and “Here” but those are just the tip of the iceberg. Standing In The Breach is an entirely different beast to albums like Running On Empty, Late For The Sky and The Pretender, yet it also contains some of Jackson Browne’s finest songs. “The Birds Of St. Marks” was written nearly 50 years ago but still sounds as fresh as anything else on the album. It is an inviting and rewarding collection of songs that will stand the test of time – just like those Jackson Browne classics you know and love.

     Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to chat with Jackson Browne about the album, his career and much more…

STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: Standing In The Breach has just been released. How are you feeling about the album and the reaction to it so far?
JACKSON BROWNE:  The reaction has been really good. And I like it. It’s different than a lot of records I’ve made that I’ve been unable to hear at the end – I just heard them as a project that still has stuff that I’d like to change. In this case, at the end I’m like, “Oh, this sounds pretty good!” (Laughs). I worked with the engineer that I have been working with for a long time, Paul Dieter, and we decided to mix it ourselves. We spent a lot of time tweaking sounds and the arrangement based on what instruments really sound like. We kind of took the rocket science out of the mixing of the record. Whereas, in the past, we’d hand it to some master mixer who would do his mojo. You don’t know what he did, but it sounded great and different than you ever thought it would sound. That’s not always a good thing. I want it to sound like it’s been sounding the whole time we’ve been working on it. When I used to work with Greg Ladanyi, that’s the way I worked.

SPAZ:  I think the album works brilliantly as a whole piece. When you record, do you find yourself thinking about certain tracks in terms of radio play?
JACKSON:  Well, I don’t really. There hasn’t been a lot of that kind of radio play with recent releases. I always tried to make something that’s short enough for radio – something that can be edited or something that’s short enough. But I really don’t think like that so much (now). I knew that a song like “The Birds Of St. Marks,” if it sounded like The Byrds, I would want to hear it on the radio. It was a straight-up homage to the Byrds and the kind of music that I loved at the time I wrote the song. That song was written a long time ago. I wrote that song when I was 18. It’s just the idea of even doing that song along with my newer songs was more a product of having the kind of shows I’ve had in recent years where people want to hear deep cuts – they want to hear something that goes way back. And I thought, “Well, let’s give them this one.” This really never got recorded the way I imagined it should be recorded when I wrote it, because I didn’t know how to do that then. I wouldn’t have known how to call the players. 
The closest I could come would have been to give it to The Byrds, but by the time I knew them and was actually playing them songs, which was right after my first album, I’d forgotten about this song (laughs). I swear to God! I played them J.D. Souther songs, I played them Jack Tempchin songs. But I had forgotten about this song! I also thought that it wasn’t finished. You know, within a couple of years of writing the song, I thought, “Eh, this song is a little young. It needs to be re-worked,” which is exactly what I felt about some of the other songs like “These Days.” I wound up re-editing it really and taking one verse out and changing words at the ending. I suspected that’s what I needed to do to this song and in the end, when I finally started, when I rediscovered this song, I realized that I liked it because it was young - because it was an artifact of my growing up. This would make it even more reason to make it sound like the songs that I was listening to at the time.

SPAZ:  Well, I feel that the whole album itself has this wonderful atmosphere and mood to it. It’s very warm and deep.
JACKSON:  You know, I think that’s Val McCallum’s influence that you’re hearing – his guitar playing is so responsive to what I’m singing. I’ve done shows where it’s just he and I. The same thing happens. His solos on this record are so elegant. They’re almost all live solos from the take. Like “Leaving Winslow” – he just played that. That was take eight – that was it. “Standing In The Breach” was an early take, but he played that whole guitar solo all in one take and I said, “I’ve got to have that.” And whatever else needed to be done to make that track work, I was willing to do it because it had to be that track. The thing that I was preserving was the feeling in his playing. So, that’s where it (the warmth) comes from – it comes from the players.

SPAZ:  Was most of the album cut live in the studio?
JACKSON:  Yeah, almost all of it, but not “The Long Way Around.” “The Long Way Around” was made like a loop. I had this idea of putting sort of a hip hop beat underneath this Chinese finger-picking. How I got that idea was my son used to tell me that people used to sample Nico’s “These Days” and make beats out of it. What I did was I made a loop and then I began playing stuff over it. I was also partly inspired by that great song by Coolio – “I’ll See You When I Get There.” How a song comes together for me is partly the writing of the song, but in this case it was also the way I knew I wanted to hear it played. The next thing I did with the loop was to see if I could sing four verses that I liked to that loop and later I added different drums, and then I went back to having the original drum loop…a lot of revising based on the technology that allows you to do that.

SPAZ: There are so many different things going on in this record, but it’s still very cohesive. My favorites so far have been “Yeah Yeah,” “Here,” “If I Could Be Anywhere” and the title track.
JACKSON:  I’m really proud of the fact that three of those that you mentioned were different drummers. Like on “If I Could Be Anywhere,” Jim Keltner played on that one. Every time I mentioned to anybody that has worked with him that Keltner did something really strange – everyone smiles and says, “Oh, Jim Keltner did something strange?” That’s exactly why you call him, you know? It’s like, he is so surprising in his choices and you can’t get him to do the same thing over and over again. He doesn’t really work that way. He doesn’t respond that way. He’s constantly exploring. I wound up having to change the entire drum mix because of the way he was playing the kit and we were literally months behind him. We changed everything – like the way we were monitoring things so that we could hear what he was really doing and then the rest of the song sort of fell in around the drums.

SPAZ:  Is there anything that you’re particularly close to on the album so far?
JACKSON:  Well, I like them all. I’m really, really happy to hear you say “Here” because that’s my original band playing on that. And the basic track was done before anything else on this record, but then I got Greg Leisz to play on it so that it would really be part of the instrumentation of this record. It’s got a couple players that aren’t anywhere else on the record – Mark Goldenberg and Kevin McCormick. I did think in terms of making the album cohesive, but only because I’d already committed to having it be really varied. I have to say I lucked into having both Val McCallum and Greg Leisz play on these songs. It was my good fortune that they were both available.

SPAZ:  You got drummer Pete Thomas (The Attractions) on there too, right? 
JACKSON:  Right, that’s Pete Thomas. He’s also in a band with Val McCallum. A band called Jackshit. They have Davey Faragher playing bass.

SPAZ:  It’s been six years since the last record. Do you normally stockpile songs over time or do you get this sudden rush of creativity and then say, “Okay, it’s time to record now?”
JACKSON:  No, they accumulate very gradually. Nothing happens very suddenly (laughs). On my last record, I wrote a bunch of songs all at once because I could only get my band for the recording time that I needed for about two weeks on one stretch and then about another week on another stretch. I thought, “I’m going to have to track this whole record in this really short window and the songs aren’t exactly finished.” I had to kind of like do things together so we did a lot of tracking of songs that weren’t finished on the album before. And this time I wanted to make sure that I took the time to work on each song as it came up so that I could really just work on one for a period of time and then go work on another. I really wanted to explore the way they played.

SPAZ:  I noticed on this record, the song lengths exceed the average 3 to 5 minute standard pop song format. I also noticed that they’re also very powerful in the sense that they pull you in and by the end of the song, you’re going, “Okay, I gotta hit start again on that one.” 
JACKSON:  That’s quite a compliment. I really like hearing that. That’s really what you want. You want the song to draw you in at the end. Three of them are not short, only by virtue of the fact that they have like a kind of long ride-out – it was just that the song wanted to be played that way. We let it happen instead of cutting it down and fading out – I really don’t like fades very much – to see how long everybody wanted to play it and then find a way to make that work. In a way, it’s like being in a band – almost like the band I’ve been trying to be in all this time. I’m always doing that. I’m always trying to make it like a band as much as possible. Some of my records are like that and some of them aren’t. Like Late For The Sky is all played by five people, unlike The Pretender, which was played by a bunch of different people.

SPAZ:  Is there a track from the album that you’re going to take to radio?
JACKSON:  They’ve been taking “The Birds Of St. Marks” to radio. That was the one that was ready first and was the right length. But, I actually think both “Yeah Yeah” and “The Long Way Around” would be good on radio, too.

SPAZ:  This record has some amazing tracks. You’ve written a huge catalog of memorable and amazing songs. Do you ever find yourself perhaps subconsciously trying to compete with your 27-year-old self?  Or do you not even worry about it?
JACKSON:  I learned a long time ago that I won’t be writing another “In The Shape of A Heart.”  I don’t need to because I already got that one, but it’s kind of a mistake to hold yourself to any level of artistic success at any particular point in time because when you did that thing that is now considered your standard, you weren’t looking in the rear-view mirror at all – you were looking straight forward, you were doing something that you’d never done before.

SPAZ:  Contemporaries like The Eagles and Linda Ronstadt have had their ‘70s output repackaged into these original album series box sets. Do you think that they’re going to do that with your back catalog? 
JACKSON:  I don’t think that that’s necessarily an important thing to do at this point. But I actually never thought it was. I fought with my record company to not put out my greatest hits because I always wanted to put out the next album of new songs. I never wanted to succumb to that kind of marketing – that was in the past.

SPAZ:  There’s one burning question that has stuck with me for years: is there a studio version of the song “Running on Empty?” The version on the album is a tremendous live version, but I’ve always wondered…
JACKSON:  (Pause) No. Come to think of it, there isn’t. What happened was the guys that played on that song were the guys that I was using in the studio. I finally got them out on tour based on the idea that we’d make this recording and they got to play as their band as well as play as my band. That’s why it sounds like a (studio) record because those guys make records every day. Danny Kortchmar and I spent the night before that particular concert going through the song and rearranging it in the sound check before the show. And then David Lindley came vaulting over the top with that solo. He’d play something great every night but he’d never played it that way before.

Thanks to Jackson Browne

Special thanks to Joe Bucklew, Meghan Helsel, Jimmy Brunetti, Dana House, Bob Bell, Craig Swedin, and Nick Kominitsky





Wednesday, October 1, 2014

SPAZ reviews THOMPSON TWINS' Remixes & Rarities on Cherry Pop!


A Collection of Classic 12" Mixes & B-sides


Even though Thompson Twins were one of the most successful British acts of the '80s, there are those that overlook them when rattling off a list of their favorite bands of the era.  Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, The Cure and many other bands get name-checked all over the internet but for some reason, Thompson Twins seem to get the short end of the stick.  And why?  Who the hell knows!  Their hits were far more memorable than most of their contemporaries and they did manage to shift quite a few albums during their heyday, so its certainly not because they are unworthy.  I'll even admit that I, a hardcore '80s fanatic, might occasionally forget to put a Thompson Twins track on an '80s mix I want to play in the car.  And each time I forget, I'm hit hit with a case of the guilts - how could I forget to include "Lies"?  "Hold Me Now"?  "In The Name Of Love"? "Lay Your Hands On Me"?  Each of them a stone cold '80s classic... each of them worthy of their hit status... so how could I forget?

Thompson Twins were a great singles AND album band.  Their songs were filled with melodic wonder, clever arrangements and great production.  OK, so the production does sound dated, but they layered the instrumentation so well that you can sometimes catch little things today that you missed the first time around some 30 years ago. Leader Tom Bailey seemed to be on a never-ending journey to make the perfect pop record yet he still managed to keep the quirkiness of the band intact throughout their career.  Some may have viewed them as pretentious at times, but compared to Sting, they were the fucking Three Stooges of pop - always a lot more clever and entertaining than they are given credit for.  

Though the band initially featured more members, by the time they released the album Quick Step And Side Kick in 1983 they were a trio consisting of Bailey, Alannah Currie and Joe Leeway.  This is the version of the band that dominated the charts for close to three years before Leeway split.  It was during this period that the band released songs that are not only part of pop music history, they are songs that are etched into memories like best friends from your high school days. These hits are so familiar to so many that they do get buried on occasion when other less worthy songs float to the top. Yes, we all loved Frankie Goes To Hollywood's "Relax" and "Two Tribes" but can most people remember much beyond that (apart from us '80s geeks, of course)? Probably not. But play a Thompson Twins tune and you'll be singing along before the chorus takes your to heaven and back.

When listening to this fantastic two CD compilation, Remixes and Rarities, the magic of Thompson Twins' music leaps out and embraces the senses.  While the songs here are mostly the extended mixes, within the first 15-20 seconds, your memories start racing back to the days of hearing the track for the very first time on your radio or record/cassette player.  That keyboard hook to "In The Name Of Love" (which they cheekily inserted into "Love On Your Side") will speed up your heart rate.  The nine-plus minute version of "Hold Me Now" is flawless... and not quite long enough if you are nursing a broken heart.  "King For A Day", "You Take Me Up" and "Long Goodbye" manage to retain the same emotional atmosphere three decades on. "Doctor! Doctor", "Nothing In Common" and "Lay Your Hands On Me" are brilliant pop nuggets. Their quirkier moments like "Don't Mess With Doctor Dream" and "We Are Detective" are still as charming and fun as ever.  Oh, hell, I could go on and on but you just need to go out and buy this.  You'll hear new bits and bobs in the extended mixes that were buried or missed when you played the singles and albums to death. When you hear these songs again, you'll marvel at the passion behind what you once thought was a 'pretty cool' tune. You'll fall in love with them all over again.

For those of you who bought Edsel's TT remasters a few years back will be happy to know that there are six tracks here that have never been available on CD before so this is more than worth your time and money.  Besides, it's great to hear these tracks altogether in one double disc set (I think those remasters might be out of print now... or will soon be!)

Long live Thompson Twins. May you never forget them while you make your list of '80s favorites.

I'M JUST LIKE YOU: Sly Stone's legendary label Stone Flower gets compiled on CD and double LP!


In 1970, The Family Stone were at the peak of their popularity, but the maestro Sly Stone had already moved his head to a completely different space. The first evidence of Sly’s musical about-turn was revealed by the small catalog of his new label, Stone Flower: a pioneering, peculiar, minimal electro-funk sound that unfolded over just four seven-inch singles. Stone Flower’s releases were credited to their individual artists, but each had Sly’s design and musicianship stamped into the grooves–and the words “Written by Sylvester Stewart/Produced and arranged by Sly Stone” on the sticker. Set up by Stone’s manager David Kapralik with distribution by Atlantic Records, Stone Flower was, predictably, a family affair: the first release was by Little Sister, fronted by Stone’s little sister Vaetta Stewart. It was short lived too–the imprint folded in 1971–but its influence was longer lasting. The sound Stone formulated while working on Stone Flower’s output would shape the next phase in his own career as a recording artist: it was here he began experimenting with the brand new Maestro Rhythm King drum machine. In conjunction with languid, effected organ and guitar sounds and a distinctly lo-fi soundscape, Sly’s productions for Stone Flower would inform the basis of his masterwork There’s A Riot Goin’ On. The first 45 came in February 1970: Little Sister’s dancefloor-ready “You’re The One” hit Number 22 in the charts–the label’s highest showing. The follow-up, “Stanga,” also by Little Sister, made the wah pedal the star. The third release came from 6IX, a six-piece multi-racial rock group whose sole release, a super-slow version of The Family Stone’s “Dynamite,” featured only the lead singer and harmonica player from the group. Joe Hicks was the final Stone Flower stablemate; his pulsing, electronic “Life And Death In G&A" is one of the bleakest moments Sly Stone ever created on disc (Hicks’ prior single for Scepter, “Home Sweet Home,” the first released Stone Flower production, is also included). This long overdue compilation of Sly’s Stone Flower era gathers each side of the five 45s plus ten previously unissued cuts from the label archives, all newly remastered from the original tapes. In these grooves you’ll find the missing link between the rocky, soulful Sly Stone of Stand! and the dark, drum machine-punctuated, overdubbed sound of There’s A Riot Going On. I’m Just Like You: Sly’s Stone Flower 1969-70 opens up the mysteries of an obscure but monumental phase in Stone’s career.

Compilation and notes by Alec Palao
An exclusive new interview with Sly Stone himself
In-depth liner notes with first-hand reminiscences of the era from many of the participants
All tracks newly remastered from the original tapes




Now available!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

An EXCLUSIVE interview with JOHNNY MARR!


An EXCLUSIVE interview 

By Stephen SPAZ Schnee

     The British Indie scene of the ‘80s gave birth to a lot of great music — from Post-Punk to Synthpop to Dance Music and then back again. The music revolution may have started in the late ‘70s when Punk reared its snarling head, but in the ‘80s it really began to morph into something much bigger and more exciting. In 1983, a guitar-based quartet by the name of The Smiths released their debut single and over the next four years, vocalist Morrissey, guitarist Johnny Marr, bassist Andy Rourke and drummer Mike Joyce quite literally changed the course of British music. Without breaking a sweat, The Smiths re-wrote the rules of Pop music while wearing their influences on their sleeves. From jangly ‘60s influenced Rock to Rockabilly, Pop to Psychedelia, The Smiths threw everything into the blender and created a unique sound that has often been copied but never duplicated. Controversial vocalist Morrissey may have stolen the headlines, but everybody knew that Johnny Marr was the true creator of The Smiths’ sound. Marr was never a show-off – you’d be hard pressed to find any unnecessary guitar solos or licks in the band’s catalog – yet his singular style inspired a new generation of kids to pick up a guitar and form a band. After four years in the spotlight, The Smiths split up and Morrissey pursued a long, shambolic solo career filled with moments of brilliance mixed with uneven releases, canceled tours and, unsurprisingly, controversial statements that often times would overshadow his music.
     As for Johnny Marr, he began working with many other artists including Bryan Ferry, Neil Finn, The Pretenders, The The, Electronic, The Cribs, Modest Mouse and many others. His musical resume is one of the most impressive of any modern musician and it continues to grow with each passing year. It wasn’t until 2003 that he decided to put his name out in front when he released the album Boomslang under the name Johnny Marr & The Healers. While not technically a solo album, it was the first time Marr released an album with his name on the cover. For the next decade he slipped back into the shadows and joined The Cribs as well as U.S. Alt-Rock heroes Modest Mouse while achieving God-like status amongst his ever-growing legion of fans. In 2013, 26 years after The Smiths split, Johnny Marr released The Messenger, his first bona-fide solo album. Produced by Doviak (AKA James Doviak), the album featured Marr up front and center handling guitar and lead vocals as well as leading a very tight and energetic band through a batch of groovy tunes that did not disappoint his fanbase. With great press and a higher profile than ever before, Marr went right back into the studio to work on his next solo album with Doviak again twiddling the knobs. The results can be heard on the most excellent Playland album, a full length with more energy and charm than anything you’re likely to hear this year. Yes, Marr can sing and yes, he can still whip out some of the greatest chord changes in Rock music. While he may not play the role of ‘Guitar God’ like Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix or Eddie Van Halen, Johnny Marr’s no-frills style and essence remain inspiring to young guitarists everywhere. His love of music shines through on Playland – this is not an artist who rests on his laurels. On the album, Johnny Marr sounds just as excited to be playing music as he did three decades ago. Songs like “Easy Money,” “The Trap,” and “Dynamo” sound great blaring out of $500 speakers, yet one can only imagine how awesome these tracks would also sound if they were being heard through a tiny little AM radio speaker at 3:00 am in the morning, when you could finally get a signal from your local radio station. Such is the magic of great music.
     Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to catch up with Johnny Marr, who graciously gave some of his time to discuss the album and music in general…

STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE:  I just wanted to start out by saying that I love the new record.
JOHNNY MARR:  Oh thanks. Thanks for saying that. I’m happy to hear it.

SPAZ:  “Easy Money” has got to be one of the best singles of the year.
JOHNNY:  Oh, that’s very, very nice. Yeah, it really seems to be getting some feedback that is very positive. It’s great. It’s really exciting. It’s only been out a week over here and it seems very popular.

SPAZ:  Have you had much reaction to the album so far?  How are you feeling about it and what have people said so far?
JOHNNY:  Well, all the press has been very, very positive and well, I’m still kind of reeling from The Messenger really. It took me quite by surprise because I didn’t quite expect it to get so much attention. Of course, it was very, very gratifying. So, it’s just kind of carried on and people seem to get what I’m doing and they’re kind of over the initial questioning me about why I’m doing it now and I’m singing and stuff…. It’s just now all about the songs and what the songs are about and what the album means and those kinds of things. So, I’m glad that it’s just been accepted for what it is, which is essentially by a new band. That’s the way I feel about it. It seems like new music to me and it seems to be taken that way. There’s a lot of enthusiasm for it so I’m delighted.

SPAZ:  I had read an interview that you had done… that you said you had written thirty songs for The Messenger. Is this a continuation of some of those songs or is this just a whole new batch?
JOHNNY:  One of them I was writing before I finished The Messenger and that was “The Trap.”  But the rest of them are all brand new. I think the second one I wrote was “Dynamo” and that was on the first week of The Messenger tour, so I started writing immediately as we started touring. I just felt like the band that I have, what I’m doing, I don’t need to take a break right now. One of the exciting things for me putting my own band together was the idea that we would be inspired by the bands that I liked when I was growing up as a kid and when I left school. That would’ve been the New Wave and Punk bands, and there wasn’t an awful lot, you know, taking time off to go and find yourself in the Amazon! (laughs)

SPAZ:  There’s such power and youthful energy on this record – every song sounds like an anthem. How do you manage to keep that energy, that electricity going even after 30 years in the business?
JOHNNY:  Well, I just try and write songs that I think I’d like to go and hear and see at a show myself. I kind of think like a fan. That’s very important and I’m still a fan of what records can do, and I think bands are a great thing and not to be taken for granted. I’ve still got a lot of enthusiasm and exuberance for what a kind of good lyric and vocal over a glamorous guitar can do. It’s a very exciting art form for me and I do think it’s an art form. I also think its entertainment and something to be performed on the stage and none of those words are dirty words for me. I’m fine with all of that. I think its high street art and I’ve never really lost my love for it. Live shows are very important to me and I want people who come and see me and my band to remember that it was a good night, and I kind of write songs with that in mind. So, it’s not a lot of messing around on laptops, which has its place, but not for the kind of performer I am and the kind of night that me and my band put on when you come and see a show. You have to have some energy and some riffs and some kind of chanting vocals.

SPAZ:  When you’re writing these songs, is it the guitar parts that come first, or do you have a lyrical idea first, or is it a mixture of both?
JOHNNY:  Yeah, it’s a mixture of both. It really is kind of half and half. I had the idea for writing a song about commercialism (“Easy Money”) and it’s not a complaint about greed or anything like that. It’s kind of lampooning all of the running around that we all do in the pursuit of making some dough to buy new phones and pay our mortgages and get a second car and all that stuff, myself included. Once I had the idea, I knew that it had to be a commercial track because otherwise it just would have been too downbeat. As I said, it’s important that it felt satirical and something I could lampoon. There’s really two ways you can write about money – in a dreary way or almost in a kind of upbeat, almost celebratory way. I had the concept and half of the lyrics; I remember the riff came out at sound check and I just got stuck on that riff, and I could see that everybody in the building was reacting to it. I then wrote the music for the words. It’s important that the music and the words are coming from the same place.

SPAZ:  In my opinion, three of the highlights are “Easy Money,” which we already talked about, and “The Trap,” which is just amazing. “Dynamo” I love…and also, “This Tension.”  But I know that after I’ve listened to the album a few more times, I’ll probably have different favorites…
JOHNNY:  That’s amazing. That’s great, Steve. Thank you very much. That’s the kind of record I love myself. I like records that are immediate, but there has to be other stuff going on once you get used to it. That’s kind of how I know how a record is done — when I’ve loved every track… when every track has been my favorite for a while and I feel like the whole thing is strong. You live with it and then once it goes out, it belongs to everybody and you’ve got to cross your fingers and hope people feel the same way.

SPAZ:  The thing that I find fascinating about your work is that there’s the immediacy of the songs, but then a little bit later, I’m hearing this little guitar part that I didn’t notice the first time because I was concentrating on the harmonies. And then pretty soon it all comes together by the third listen or so. Do you enjoy layering all of these elements over the course of the recording?
JOHNNY:  I’ve been asked over the years so many times about the guitar players that have inspired me and I’ve always tried to mention at the same time that 45 records themselves have always been as big an inspiration as guitar players. When I started playing the guitar, it was an obsession, but it went alongside the obsession of buying 7” 45s, which I was really lucky to come out of the mid-‘70s. There were all those great Marc Bolan records and David Bowie records and bands like The Sweet and then Blondie and producers like Mike Chapman. After that, my heroes — Patty Smith and The (New York) Dolls and people like that opened my eyes to the ‘60s girl groups. So then you read about Phil Spector and Tamla/Motown and that was really important to my progression and education as a guitar player. So I had the two things going all the time. I love records and I love the guitar and I think that’s why I just haven’t been that interested in five minute solos. I’ve always viewed the guitar as a machine to make records with.

SPAZ:  When you were growing up, were you the type who knew all the band members’ names; you knew who produced it; you knew who engineered it; you knew what the label looked like; you knew what the inner sleeve….
JOHNNY:  Yeah! I was recently in a studio called RAK – the label that was owned by Mickie Most who produced The Animals and Donovan and Herman’s Hermits and all of that stuff. When I was a little kid, they had records that I think were called Bubblegum in the United States – Suzi Quatro and Hot Chocolate. I was in the studio, the new studio manager was talking to me about the history of the studio and I pretty much told him everything about the studio that he didn’t know. (laughs)  I was a real nerd about that stuff and that culture. It’s something I still kind of aspire to even though all the music now drops from the sky into our mobile phones. That’s absolutely okay, but in my mind I’m always trying to make a whole bunch of those kinds of 45s because frankly they’re just very, very exciting guitar records.

SPAZ:  You’ve collaborated with many great musicians over the years. Do you consider Playland a solo record or do you consider this more of a collaboration with the musicians that you worked with? 
JOHNNY:  These records are solo records. I write them and I’m ably abetted by my co-producer Doviak and my band that I’ve been working with a long time now. I suppose it’s a little bit like The Patti Smith Group or something like that. I guess that’s probably the best analogy. We don’t get together in a room and jam in there, and I make songs that way. I bring songs to the band and so it’s quite accurate to call them solo records, but I really love my band and I’m very, very proud of them. I actually think I’ve got the best rock band around. There are a few really good rock bands around. I think Queens Of The Stone Age is a very good example of a real band, but for what I do, I’m really proud of my band and I want to be with these guys as long as I can. We’ve got a real proper band spirit.

SPAZ:  I wish you luck on this record and from all of your fans — we thank you for all the years you’ve given us. Not many artists these days can be considered a ‘hero’ to so many, but you’re right up there.
JOHNNY:  Well, thank you for saying that man. I don’t take it for granted and it’s a privilege. I really just hope I can keep living up to it.

Thanks to Johnny Marr

Special thanks to Roseann Gallo, Joe Bucklew, Dana House and Nick Kominitsky