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January 22, 2019 @ 2:49 am

Episode 18 Joachim Cooder Part 2

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Episode 18

JOACHIM COODER

Part 2

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January 21, 2019 @ 4:24 pm

Episode 17 Joachim Cooder Part 1


Episode 17

JOACHIM COODER

Part 1

 

 

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Parenthood, as Joachim Cooder explains, means a lot to him, and has informed all his music. It's the same for his father - the legendary Ry Cooder - who not only raised his son in a remarkable house of music, where living legends came constantly to make music, but specifically set up his most recent tour to provide Joachim with sufficient income to raise his two little kids. 

 

Joachim has not only played drums live and with his dad on many projects, including Ry's recent and remarkable The Prodigal Son, he also helped co-produce that album. He brings his decidedly new school sensibilities to his father's old school music. Whereas daddy Ry plays all his elegiac slide-guitar lines in real time, just like records have been made for decades, Joachim employs exotic sonic loops, which they fold into the tracks. 

 

So when not gainfully employed working with his famous father, Joachim's been busy building his own tower of song with new materials. Last year he released the glorious EP Fuschia Machu Pichu (named after a local plant), with beautifully hypnotic songs such as the title track, as well as "Everybody Sleeps in the Light" and the tender, haunting "Gaviota Drive." 

 

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Image result for joachim cooderFather & Son in Cuba, making The Buena Vista Social Club

 

Lest you think he is being noticed only because of his lineage - an easy assumption to make - listen to the dimensional beauty of these tracks, and the poignant lyrics (almost all inspired by Joachim's own parenthood) and beautifully heartfelt vocals. It's music far different and more modern than that his father makes. Yet it shares an essential element: it is real. Genuine. From the heart. Not contrived. 

 

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Joachim's music possesses the single attribute Ry finds missing in most modern music: artistry. As he said, too many players he hears these days have developed no artistry, no style or grace, only urgency. “Can’t they hear that they’re flat?” he asked with disbelief. “If you don’t feel it,” he said, “Fine. Do something else. Go get a sandwich.”

 

 

Timeless music, as Ry has shown by example over these decades, is all about a  purity of intention, of stripping it down to essentials. It's not about how many notes you play but by how deeply one note can make you feel. It's a lesson Joachim, born in the summer of 1978, learned well. 

 

Of course, Ry was not the only legendary teacher around. Drummer-extraordinaire Jim Keltner kept a set of drums at the Cooder home, and showed Joachim just enough to get him started. Perhaps sensing that his father owned much of the map of modern guitar playing already, Joachim knew he needed to walk his own musical path. It started with drumming - as well as co-producing with his father and other artists (including their great Buena Vista Social Club celebration of Cuban music) - and branched off into creating his own sonic collages, which led to his own songs and style. 

 

 

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 Photo by Amanda Charchian

 

 

Nowadays father and son blend their approaches effortlessly and without question. When I asked Ry if he ever looped his guitar, he laughed and said, "No! Never. That is my son's thing. I just play."

 

Not only did Joachim bring  deeply soulful, creative drumming to this album,  he also created many of the sonic landscapes – “tone centers,” as Ry put it – on which these tracks were built. 

 

After the album was complete, father and son assembled a new touring band. None of which would have happened if not for Ry's love for his son and their work together.

“I wouldn’t do it if [Joachim] wouldn’t do it," said Ry. "He’s got a new baby. Four days old. And my little granddaughter’s 2 ½.  And we have to leave them behind. Gonna go out and make some money. Put some beans in the pot.”

 

  

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The collaboration evolved gradually, as Ry tried to figure out the best way to make a record about both of them. But how to connect that new school with the old one?

 

The revelation came when Ry realized that he could solve two problems at once. Wanting to make an album about now, this moment in our history some 18 years into the 21st century, with so much madness, hatred and sorrow streaming through America, he was drawn to the redemptive, hopeful glory found in the timeless gospel songs he loved. He felt an album of his favorite spirituals, mixed in with some fresh originals, could be right for now. Yet he knew a traditional approach to classic gospel songs would not conjure the magic he wanted.

 

And that’s when he tried singing the old Pilgrim Travelers’ beautiful “Straight Street” over one of Joachim’s tracks. The result was unexpected, and beautiful. And the journey of Prodigal Son had begun.

 

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Ry Cooder, 2018.

 

It's an album of great sonic beauty, a rich, fertile fusion of Joachim’s grooves and sound collages with Ry’s exquisitely poignant guitar work on these new and old spirituals is stunning.

That spirit is very much alive in Joachim's haunting and inspired song cycles, and the beauty of his soul that shines through in each on Fuschia Machu Pichu. Wisely, he employs his dad to play guitar on his music as well.

We were happy to talk to him about all of this and more, his own music, being raised by Ry and how much his kids have inspired his songwriting.  We spoke this past summer over the phone just days before he embarked on a national tour with his dad.

Fuschia Machu Pichu, he said, is "probably the thing I've been most excited about. I feel like this is the most real thing I've ever done, the most representative of who I am. I feel like it's not part of any other thing. It's very just me with my influences I've had since I was really young, growing up around people like Ali Farka Toure or seeing John Lee Hooker live at a really young age. There's certain things about this record that makes me think about all those things and how I've come up through these things."

This is Part One of our two-part talk, conducted by Paul Zollo, with Joachim Cooder. 

 

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January 7, 2019 @ 3:47 pm

Episode 16. Josh McClorey of The Strypes


EPISODE 16 

Josh McClorey
of The Strypes

 

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Josh McClorey

 (photo by Jude Palmer)

 

The Strypes started when they were still pre-teens. They grew up in love with American rock & roll and blues in Cavan, Ireland, where they started playing music at the age of 12. Their first performance was at a school Christmas party when they were only 15. But they had tremendous energy, reverence for the real blues, knowledge, passion and drive. Soon they were performing all over town, wowing audiences with their raw intensity and deep-pocket blues. 

 

They were always a  four-piece band revolving around Josh McClorey on guitar. After a few changes, they found a line-up that worked, with Pete O'Hanlon on bass, Evan Walsh on drums and Ross Farrelly on lead vocals and harmonica. 

 

  

The Strypes
 Josh McClorey (2nd from left) with The Strypes.

 

Like many great British bands, they were drawn to the authentic spirit of American blues and early rock & roll. They recorded a self-produced EP called Young, Gifted & Blue of four blues songs. Their record of "You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover" (written by Willie Dixon and recorded by Bo Diddley) became a hit on Irish radio.
They also performed a Leiber & Stoller song, "I'm A Hog For You Baby," which was the flipside to "Poison Ivy" by The Coasters.  (Mike Stoller is our featured guest on Episodes 14 and 15. Our archival interview with Willie Dixon will be featured later this year). 

That EP lead to much attention, and gigs in and around London, where Elton John discovered them. And was seriously impressed by their musical authority. 

 

"They have a knowledge of R&B and blues at 16 years of age," he said, "that I have only amassed in my 65 years. They're just like a breath of fresh air."

 

Soon several labels heard their EP and wanted to sign them. They ultimately went to Elton's own company for management - Rocket Music - and signed a record deal in 2012 with Mercury. All the British music mags, such as MOJO and NME, did stories celebrating the band, and The Strypes were on their way.

 

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Their first single, released in 2013, was "Blue Collar Jane," which the band wrote together, and became a popular iTunes download on the Blues and Alternative charts. Their debut album was Snapshot, which came out later that year, produced by Chris Thomas - famous for his work with The Beatles and Sex Pistols. The title was a reference to the band's intention of presenting a "snapshot" of their live set. 

 

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Josh & Louise at Pennard House, Somerset, England. 
 
 
Their second album, Little Victories, was released in 2015 and went to the very top of the Irish charts, and close to the top of the British ones. 
 

Image result for the strypes little victories

 
 
 

The Strypes have released two subsequent EPs: The Demos EP features acoustic versions of tracks. Almost True came in late 2017 with three new originals and one live cover, "Summertime Blues."

 

This past November of 2018, the band announced their breakup on their Instagram page. Josh, who is influenced very much by Prince, whom he discusses in the interview, has just embarked on new solo projects.

 

Having been a busy member of a popular and busy band at such a young age, Josh had no time to establish any kind of normal life. His challenge now, reflected in this interview, is to strike a balance between a real home life and a life in music.

 

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This interview was conducted in June, 2018 by Louise Goffin at Pennard House, where they both participated in their friend/mentor Chris Difford's song camp in Somerset, UK in a "beautiful room with high ceilings."  You can hear Louise's interview with Chris Difford in Episode 9. 

 

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December 31, 2018 @ 5:51 pm

Episode 15 Mike Stoller, Part 2.

Episode 15
Mike Stoller

Part 2.

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Mike Stoller at Home, August 2018.

All Photos by Paul Zollo

The Great Song Adventure had the glorious privilege of interviewing Mike Stoller, one of the world's most legendary living songwriters, at his beautiful home high in the hills above Los Angeles, summer of `18. 

With his partner, Jerry Leiber, who mostly wrote lyrics as Mike mostly wrote the music (though this overlapped at times), he's the writer of countless classic songs, songs which are all modern standards now, including "Stand By Me" (written with and performed by Ben E. King), "Spanish Harlem (written with Phil Spector), "Is That All There Is?", "Love Potion # 9," "Jailhouse Rock," "Kansas City," "Hound Dog" and more. Much more. 

So as to ensure their songs would be well-produced, they became producers - even before that term was used. ("We preferred 'director' to 'producer'," Mike said. "But we were over-ruled."  )

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This is Part 2 of our two-part interview, recorded in August, 2018. 

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Mike with Louise Goffin

All Photos by PAUL ZOLLO
Paul Zollo Photography 

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December 24, 2018 @ 4:28 pm

Episode 14. Mike Stoller Part I


Episode 14

Mike Stoller
Part I

 

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August 7, 2018. 
Interview by LOUISE GOFFIN & PAUL ZOLLO
All Photos by PAUL ZOLLO

 

"Stand By Me," "Is That All There Is," "Kansas City," "Poison Ivy," "Jailhouse Rock," "Spanish Harlem," "Love Potion #9," "Hound Dog." All songs by Mike & Jerry. Better known as Leiber & Stoller. 

 

 

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Mike & Jerry in their office on Sunset Boulevard, 2006.

 

"Well, you know," Mike Stoller said back in 2006,  "sometimes when you're being interviewed you give a very quick answer." He said this about one of the many prevalent and inaccurate Leiber & Stoller myths. Which is why we're especially grateful to Mike for taklng the time to talk unrushed about his remarkable life and work, and to not only correct the record, but add so much more to it.

 

 

We conducted this interview with his at his home on a beautiful August day in the beautiful home high in the Hollywood Hills he shares with his wife, the legendary harpist-singer Corky Hale. With two grand pianos, Corky's harp, beautiful giant paintings, photographs, sunlight streaming and a stunning view of Los Angeles glimmering in the distance all around us, it was a joyful and luminous setting for a talk with Mike Stoller. 

 

  

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Especially poignant was to hear him talk in great depth about the brilliance, whimsy, and prodigious talent of his late great partner, Jerry Leiber, who died in 2011. Jerry wrote the words, and Mike the music, and they came together just as Ira and George Gershwin did a couple of decades before them, to write songs for America and the world to revel in. But unlike the Gershwins, the most famous songs that Mike and Jerry created were part of a new era. They were the architects of a new sound, a new craze, a new era of wild rhythm and bluesy tunes. It was rock and roll. It was a bridge from the blues – in which both Leiber & Stoller were well-versed – to popular music, a bridge they built themselves. 

 

 

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It is true, though, that, as reported, Mike didn’t like the idea of writing songs with Jerry when they met in 1950. It’s not true, though, as has often been quoted, that he said he didn’t like songs. What he said he didn’t like were popular songs. He preferred jazz and blues. The hip stuff. But when he realized that the young Jerome Leiber had written not pop songs but blues, a bridge was built between them that stood for six decades of work, and is solid forever.

Then, of course, they went onto write and produce a remarkable bounty of hit records - and many of the most famous hit records of all time. But it all started, as related here, with the blues. They weren't aiming for the pop stars. They wanted the kings and queens of the blues to sing their songs. They wanted Big Mama Thornton. And their dream came true. 

 

 

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They were the first independent record producers to be officially designated as producers – ‘producer’ being a title they invented themselves (they wanted ‘director’) – but they started producing records only in self-defense, as they explain it, to ensure that their songs wouldn’t be wrecked.

 

He also expounded and extended some of the famous stories he told with Jerry, adding dimensions previously unspoken. One amazing example is a story about a movie he and Jerry had set up to star Elvis for which they'd write all the songs, and it would be directed by Elia Kazan. The Colonel's response, as Mike relates, was less than positive, and says so much about the wrong choices he made, and their impact. 

 

 

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Louise has known Mike for years - and he knew her parents well, another legendary songwriting team - Goffin & King. He speaks about both in our talk with much love. That warmth extended through our whole conversation - towards Jerry,  to his wife Corky, and their life. He also spoke about something rarely discussed - how many of their songs were informed and inspired by their politics, and their ongoing effort since the start on behalf of social justice. 

 

 

We're proud to present part one of our two-part series with Mike Stoller. Part II will post on New Year's Eve. Till then, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, with dreams forever for Peace on Earth. 

 

 

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All Photos by Paul Zollo. 
Leiber & Stoller together taken on September 11, 2006 in their offices.
Mike Stoller alone taken on August 7, 2018 in his home. 
Image result for copyright symbol 2018 PAUL ZOLLO PHOTOGRAPHY

 

 

 

 

 

 

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October 8, 2018 @ 3:58 pm

Episode 13. Chrissie Hynde Part II

Episode 13:
Chrissie Hynde
Part II. 

From the archives, recorded in 2009.

 

Image result for chrissie hynde

 

Now the reason we're here
As man and woman
Is to love each other
Take care of each other


When love walks in the room
Everybody stand up
Oh it's good, good, good
Like Brigitte Bardot

From  “Message of Love”  

 

“I just didn’t want to be a waitress,” she said in answer to why she chose this path. It’s a path she followed from the concrete climes of Akron to England, where she started The Pretenders. Asked if her music would have been vastly different had she never left America, she said, “Yeah, because I would have killed myself.”

 

Some songwriters are  happy to talk about the greatness of their great songs, and how they wrote them. Others openly ackowledge the greatness, but ascribe its birth to a source beyond them. Many don’t doubt the spiritual aspects of songwriting, and for that reason are careful not to examine it too closely, so as not to scare it away.

But with very rare exceptions, none have denied they are songwriters. Chrissie’s that rare exception. Many times during our talk, which took place in 2009, she suggested she’s not even a real songwriter.  

And I understood why. This is Chrissie Hynde, after all, who has always defied easy definitions.

 

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Not only is she no diva, she’s an anti-diva. Because, like Mose Allison (whose name comes up in regard to her assertion that much of British rock was stolen from him), she’s simply one of the coolest people around. Like him, she’s written many masterpieces over the years. Yet will be the last to sing their own praises. Let people make up their own mind.

 

Image result for chrissie hynde  

In fact, she’s so extremely reticent to affect any pretension, any sort of “and then I wrote” songwriterly pride, that she repeatedly dismissed praise through our conversation to exclaim, “This sounds so lame…”

And when our conversation was interrupted the second time by someone at her door, she came back and said, “You’re gonna think I have a life. I don’t.”

 

And when pressed to divulge the secrets of her process, she said this: “It depends on how much pot I’ve been smoking, how many bottles of wine I’ve drunk. It’s usually just in a puddle on the floor in the morning, and is a waste of time. But once in a while, it works.”

 

Image result for chrissie hynde

 

Jesus Christ came down here as a living man
If he can live a life of virtue then I hope I can
Do unto others as you would have a turn
Come back here and repeat until you learn, learn, learn…”

From “Boots of Chinese Plastic”
She is, of course, the writer of not one but several songs that have become rock standards, beloved and undisputed rock hits. Yet this steadfast refusal to  take herself too seriously as a songwriter spoke to a fear that any light shone too directly into that realm from which songs emerge might destroy it. She did, however, have nothing but pure praise for her fellow Pretenders, past and present, especially James Honeyman-Scott, who died for a heroin overdose in 1982.

 

The only real test of a song is that of time. Her songs have passed that test. Though she emerged in an era of booming drum machines and synth pads, she steered the Pretenders always with a purist’s respect for the traditions of rock & roll. She wasn’t here to rewrite the rules. She was here to write great songs, songs a great singer can sink her teeth into, songs that have lasted far beyond the era in which they were written. Whether she wants to admit it, she’s not only a great songwriter, she’s a hit songwriter. But every now and then, due to polite persistence, she gave in, and talked about how she’s done it. She even indulged my desire to name many of her songs for her immediate response, demurring at first before saying, “Okay, whatever. Go ahead and do your thing.”

 

So I did. And she gave a wonderfully expansive answer to “Brass in Pocket” that was beyond expectations, proving so poignantly how deep these songs do go, in her psyche and her history. Though I know she’d never admit it, it became evident these songs felt like her children, and so taking credit for them songs was like a parent taking credit for the success of a child. It’s the kid who is great, not the mom.

 

 

 

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She was born in Akron, Ohio in September of 1951. Her dad worked for the Yellow Pages. She wrote her first song at the age of 14 after learning two guitar chords, recognizing even then that limitations create possibility. “You only need one chord to write a song,” she explains. “Look at all those James Brown songs.”

 

She hated high school and all it entailed, partly because her eyes were already set firmly on a musical future: “I never went to a dance, I never went out on a date, I never went steady,” she remembered. “It became pretty awful for me. Except, of course, I could go see bands, and that was the kick. I used to go to Cleveland just to see any band. So I was in love a lot of the time, but mostly with guys in bands that I had never met. For me, knowing that Brian Jones was out there, and later Iggy Pop, made it kind of hard for me to get too interested in the guys that were around me. I had… bigger things in mind.”

       

She went to Kent State to study art, and was there during the tragic shooting of students by the Ohio National Guard. Jeffrey Miller, who was shot and killed that day, was one of her friends. She wanted out of Ohio, out of America. Discovering the Brit music mag NME, she saved enough money to move to London. She landed a writing gig with NME but it didn’t last long – her next job was in Malcolm MacLaren’s SEX shop. It’s there she met Syd Vicious, and tried – according to legend – to persuade him into marriage, so she could become a British citizen. He passed.

 

She joined a series of bands – first as singer in The Frenchies, then guitarist in Masters of the Backside, and the Johnny Moped band. Mick Jones invited her to join a nascent pre-Joe Strummer incarnation of what would be the Clash, and they went on a British tour together, but Chrissie wasn’t happy. She wanted her own band. But it would take time.

 

Her visa ran out and she had to go back to Ohio, but returned as soon as possible. In 1978 she succeeded at last in realizing her dream, and formed The Pretenders in Hereford with three Brits: James Honeyman-Scott on lead guitar and keyboards, Pete Farndon on bass and Martin Chambers on drums. Everyone in the band sang. Their first single was the Nick Lowe-produced “Stop Your Sobbing,” a Kinks song. In 1980 came the eponymous debut album, a critical and commercial success both in the US and the UK – which led to a great succession of amazing songs penned by Chrissie: “Brass In Pocket,” “Kid,” “Back On The Chain Gang,” “Middle of the Road,” “Message of Love” and so many more.

 

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But tragedy hit the band fast and early – first Honeyman-Scott’s death, then Farndon’s subsequent bathtub drowning, after having being fired from the band for being too messed up on drugs. Here was one of the greatest new bands on the scene, launching the ’80s with the promise of great rock to come, and suddenly half of the group was gone.

     

But she never was derailed for long. She also never had any desire to establish a solo career – and chose instead to reinvent the Pretenders many times over the years – even replacing Chambers, but later bringing him back as on the recent tour. “I know that the Pretenders have looked like a tribute band for the last 20 years,” she said at their Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction, “and we're paying tribute to James Honeyman Scott and Pete Farndon, without whom we wouldn't be here. And on the other hand, without us, they might have been here, but that's the way it works in rock & roll.”

Image result for chrissie hynde       

A circumstance beyond our control
The phone, the TV and the news of the world
Got in the house like a pigeon from hell
Threw sand in our eyes and descended like flies

Put us back on the train
Back on the chain gang

From “Back On The Chain Gang”
By Chrissie Hynde

 

The ostensible purpose of this interview was to discuss The Pretenders Live In London, a DVD of a passionately joyful live show with the current line-up: Martin Chambers on drums, James Walbourne on guitar,  Nick Wilkinson on bass and Eric Heywood on pedal steel. Her punk ethic still comes across when talking about it – as opposed to her peers that involve themselves in all angles of marketing and commercial calculations, she had no inclination to even view the DVD, and tried to beg out of it. But when she finally did view it, she was surprised by how great it was. And she was happy.

 

“You have to keep digging deeper over the years,” she said in regard to parenthood’s tendency to soften the edges of a rocker. Yet she remains  one of rock’s most fiercely gifted songwriters, and, as evidenced by the great songs she wrote for Break Up The Concrete, she’s still very much at the top of her game. Of course she won’t cop to it. And adds that she still feels like a sham – a pretender, if you will – who someday might be found out. “Compared to Dylan and Neil Young,” she says, “I’m still in the minor leagues.”

 

Yet few songwriters have talked about the sad suburbanization of  America with more poignancy than this ex-patriate, who often returned to Ohio – even opening a Vegan restaurant there – and yet found her homecomings laced always with increasing sorrow at the sight of her hometown’s decimation. It’s a subject that has recurred many times in her work, most notably in “My City Was Gone” but also in more recent songs like “Break Up The Concrete,” a great example of outrage being projected, not unlike Neil Young’s “Ohio” about the Kent State massacre, with the assist of a great rock groove.

 

And when you hear “Boots of Chinese Plastic” from Concrete, with its distinctive blend of Buddhism, bravado and a taut Buddy Holly beat, you hear a songwriter engaged, as inspired as when The Pretenders first emerged.  

 

Illusion fills my head like an empty can
I spent a million lifetimes lovin the same man
Every drug that runs though the vein
Always makes its way back to the heart again
And by the way you look fantastic
In your boots of Chinese plastic

From “Boots of Chinese Plastic”
By Chrissie Hynde

 

 

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October 1, 2018 @ 1:40 pm

Episode 12. Chrissie Hynde

Episode 12:
Chrissie Hynde

 

Image result for chrissie hynde

 

From the archives, recorded in 2009.

 

Now the reason we're here
As man and woman
Is to love each other
Take care of each other


When love walks in the room
Everybody stand up
Oh it's good, good, good
Like Brigitte Bardot

From  “Message of Love”  

 

“I just didn’t want to be a waitress,” she said in answer to why she chose this path. It’s a path she followed from the concrete climes of Akron to England, where she started The Pretenders. Asked if her music would have been vastly different had she never left America, she said, “Yeah, because I would have killed myself.”

 

Some songwriters are  happy to talk about the greatness of their great songs, and how they wrote them. Others openly ackowledge the greatness, but ascribe its birth to a source beyond them. Many don’t doubt the spiritual aspects of songwriting, and for that reason are careful not to examine it too closely, so as not to scare it away.

But with very rare exceptions, none have denied they are songwriters. Chrissie’s that rare exception. Many times during our talk, which took place in 2009, she suggested she’s not even a real songwriter.  

 

And I understood why. This is Chrissie Hynde, after all, who has always defied easy definitions.

Image result for chrissie hynde 

Not only is she no diva, she’s an anti-diva. Because, like Mose Allison (whose name comes up in regard to her assertion that much of British rock was stolen from him), she’s simply one of the coolest people around. Like him, she’s written many masterpieces over the years. Yet will be the last to sing their own praises. Let people make up their own mind.

 

Image result for chrissie hynde  

In fact, she’s so extremely reticent to affect any pretension, any sort of “and then I wrote” songwriterly pride, that she repeatedly dismissed praise through our conversation to exclaim, “This sounds so lame…”

 

And when our conversation was interrupted the second time by someone at her door, she came back and said, “You’re gonna think I have a life. I don’t.”

 

And when pressed to divulge the secrets of her process, she said this: “It depends on how much pot I’ve been smoking, how many bottles of wine I’ve drunk. It’s usually just in a puddle on the floor in the morning, and is a waste of time. But once in a while, it works.”

 

Image result for chrissie hynde

 

Jesus Christ came down here as a living man
If he can live a life of virtue then I hope I can
Do unto others as you would have a turn
Come back here and repeat until you learn, learn, learn…”

From “Boots of Chinese Plastic”

She is, of course, the writer of not one but several songs that have become rock standards, beloved and undisputed rock hits. Yet this steadfast refusal to  take herself too seriously as a songwriter spoke to a fear that any light shone too directly into that realm from which songs emerge might destroy it. She did, however, have nothing but pure praise for her fellow Pretenders, past and present, especially James Honeyman-Scott, who died for a heroin overdose in 1982.

 

The only real test of a song is that of time. Her songs have passed that test. Though she emerged in an era of booming drum machines and synth pads, she steered the Pretenders always with a purist’s respect for the traditions of rock & roll. She wasn’t here to rewrite the rules. She was here to write great songs, songs a great singer can sink her teeth into, songs that have lasted far beyond the era in which they were written. Whether she wants to admit it, she’s not only a great songwriter, she’s a hit songwriter. But every now and then, due to polite persistence, she gave in, and talked about how she’s done it. She even indulged my desire to name many of her songs for her immediate response, demurring at first before saying, “Okay, whatever. Go ahead and do your thing.”

 

So I did. And she gave a wonderfully expansive answer to “Brass in Pocket” that was beyond expectations, proving so poignantly how deep these songs do go, in her psyche and her history. Though I know she’d never admit it, it became evident these songs felt like her children, and so taking credit for them songs was like a parent taking credit for the success of a child. It’s the kid who is great, not the mom.

 

She was born in Akron, Ohio in September of 1951. Her dad worked for the Yellow Pages. She wrote her first song at the age of 14 after learning two guitar chords, recognizing even then that limitations create possibility. “You only need one chord to write a song,” she explains. “Look at all those James Brown songs.”

 

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She hated high school and all it entailed, partly because her eyes were already set firmly on a musical future: “I never went to a dance, I never went out on a date, I never went steady,” she remembered. “It became pretty awful for me. Except, of course, I could go see bands, and that was the kick. I used to go to Cleveland just to see any band. So I was in love a lot of the time, but mostly with guys in bands that I had never met. For me, knowing that Brian Jones was out there, and later Iggy Pop, made it kind of hard for me to get too interested in the guys that were around me. I had… bigger things in mind.”

       

She went to Kent State to study art, and was there during the tragic shooting of students by the Ohio National Guard. Jeffrey Miller, who was shot and killed that day, was one of her friends. She wanted out of Ohio, out of America. Discovering the Brit music mag NME, she saved enough money to move to London. She landed a writing gig with NME but it didn’t last long – her next job was in Malcolm MacLaren’s SEX shop. It’s there she met Syd Vicious, and tried – according to legend – to persuade him into marriage, so she could become a British citizen. He passed.

 

She joined a series of bands – first as singer in The Frenchies, then guitarist in Masters of the Backside, and the Johnny Moped band. Mick Jones invited her to join a nascent pre-Joe Strummer incarnation of what would be the Clash, and they went on a British tour together, but Chrissie wasn’t happy. She wanted her own band. But it would take time.

 

Her visa ran out and she had to go back to Ohio, but returned as soon as possible. In 1978 she succeeded at last in realizing her dream, and formed The Pretenders in Hereford with three Brits: James Honeyman-Scott on lead guitar and keyboards, Pete Farndon on bass and Martin Chambers on drums. Everyone in the band sang. Their first single was the Nick Lowe-produced “Stop Your Sobbing,” a Kinks song. In 1980 came the eponymous debut album, a critical and commercial success both in the US and the UK – which led to a great succession of amazing songs penned by Chrissie: “Brass In Pocket,” “Kid,” “Back On The Chain Gang,” “Middle of the Road,” “Message of Love” and so many more.

 

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But tragedy hit the band fast and early – first Honeyman-Scott’s death, then Farndon’s subsequent bathtub drowning, after having being fired from the band for being too messed up on drugs. Here was one of the greatest new bands on the scene, launching the ’80s with the promise of great rock to come, and suddenly half of the group was gone.

     

But she never was derailed for long. She also never had any desire to establish a solo career – and chose instead to reinvent the Pretenders many times over the years – even replacing Chambers, but later bringing him back as on the recent tour. “I know that the Pretenders have looked like a tribute band for the last 20 years,” she said at their Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction, “and we're paying tribute to James Honeyman Scott and Pete Farndon, without whom we wouldn't be here. And on the other hand, without us, they might have been here, but that's the way it works in rock & roll.”

       

A circumstance beyond our control
The phone, the TV and the news of the world
Got in the house like a pigeon from hell
Threw sand in our eyes and descended like flies

Put us back on the train
Back on the chain gang

From “Back On The Chain Gang”
By Chrissie Hynde

 

The ostensible purpose of this interview was to discuss The Pretenders Live In London, a DVD of a passionately joyful live show with the current line-up: Martin Chambers on drums, James Walbourne on guitar,  Nick Wilkinson on bass and Eric Heywood on pedal steel. Her punk ethic still comes across when talking about it – as opposed to her peers that involve themselves in all angles of marketing and commercial calculations, she had no inclination to even view the DVD, and tried to beg out of it. But when she finally did view it, she was surprised by how great it was. And she was happy.

 

“You have to keep digging deeper over the years,” she said in regard to parenthood’s tendency to soften the edges of a rocker. Yet she remains  one of rock’s most fiercely gifted songwriters, and, as evidenced by the great songs she wrote for Break Up The Concrete, she’s still very much at the top of her game. Of course she won’t cop to it. And adds that she still feels like a sham – a pretender, if you will – who someday might be found out. “Compared to Dylan and Neil Young,” she says, “I’m still in the minor leagues.”

 

Yet few songwriters have talked about the sad suburbanization of  America with more poignancy than this ex-patriate, who often returned to Ohio – even opening a Vegan restaurant there – and yet found her homecomings laced always with increasing sorrow at the sight of her hometown’s decimation. It’s a subject that has recurred many times in her work, most notably in “My City Was Gone” but also in more recent songs like “Break Up The Concrete,” a great example of outrage being projected, not unlike Neil Young’s “Ohio” about the Kent State massacre, with the assist of a great rock groove.

 

And when you hear “Boots of Chinese Plastic” from Concrete, with its distinctive blend of Buddhism, bravado and a taut Buddy Holly beat, you hear a songwriter engaged, as inspired as when The Pretenders first emerged.  

 

Illusion fills my head like an empty can
I spent a million lifetimes lovin the same man
Every drug that runs though the vein
Always makes its way back to the heart again
And by the way you look fantastic
In your boots of Chinese plastic

From “Boots of Chinese Plastic”
By Chrissie Hynde

 

 

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September 24, 2018 @ 3:55 pm

Episode 11 - John Parish Part 2

Episode 11

 

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JOHN PARISH

Part Two

This is the second part of our two-part interview with producer-songwriter John Parish, conducted by Louise this past June in England.

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An accomplished composer, solo artist, producer, collaborator, and multi-instrumentalist, John is best known for his work with PJ Harvey, as well as with Eels, Giant Sand, his own bands, and more. In the past twenty years he’s contributed to more than fifty albums, and written scores for movies, TV and theater.

He plays a multitude of instruments, but mostly guitar, and as a guitarist he started  his career in the new wave band Thieves Like Us. In 1982, he formed the band Automatic Diamini, which is when he met  PJ Harvey, who joined the band for a short time.

 

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He went on to produce many albums with her, including the award-winning Let England Shake (2011), followed five years later by The Hope Six Demolition Project, which was the first album she did that went to number one album in the UK. He co-wrote all of the songs with her and produced Dance Hall at Louse Point  (1996) and A Woman A Man Walked By (2009), and with Eels he co-wrote and produced Souljacker (2001).

 

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He’s released four albums as a solo artist: How Animals Move (2002), Once Upon A Little Time (2005) a compilation of his film music, Screenplay, (2013), and most recently, Bird Dog Dante (2018), his first full-length album of songs since 2005. It features cameos by Marta Collica, Aldous Hardin and PJ Harvey.

  

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He started writing for film, theater and contemporary dance in the late ‘90s when his first score for Rosie won the Jury Special Appreciation Award at the 1999 Bonn International Film & TV Music Biennale. His score for Little Black Spiders (2012) was nominated for an Ensor.

 

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John at home in Bristol, June 10, 2018. Photo by LOUISE GOFFIN. 

 

He also wrote the music for Ursula Meier’s L’Enfant D’En Haut.which won the special Silver Bear at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival.  His other productions include Sparklehorse, Tracy Chapman, 16 Horsepower, This Is The Kit.

  

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Lovely summer day, the backyard, June 10, 2018. Photo by LOUISE GOFFIN.

Louise conducted this interview with John on June 10, 2018 in at his home in Bristol. She was on her way to Chris Difford’s Songwriting Retreat, and took a slight detour to see old friend and collaborator, who picked her up at the Bristol train station. They did the interview in his garden,  after lunch with his family. This is the second part of this two-part conversation. 

 

Bath_Station_.jpegBath station on the way to Bristol, June 10, 2018. Photo by LOUISE GOFFIN.

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September 3, 2018 @ 2:23 pm

Episode 10: John Parish, Part 1

Episode 10

JOHN PARISH

Part One

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An accomplished composer, solo artist, producer, collaborator, and multi-instrumentalist, John Parish is best known for his work with PJ Harvey, as well as with Eels, Giant Sand, his own bands, and more. In the past twenty years he’s contributed to more than fifty albums, and written scores for movies, TV and theater.

He plays a multitude of instruments, but mostly guitar, and as a guitarist he started  his career in the new wave band Thieves Like Us. In 1982, he formed the band Automatic Diamini, which is when he met  PJ Harvey, who joined the band for a short time.

 

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John at home in Bristol, June 10, 2018. Photo by LOUISE GOFFIN. 

 

 

He went on to produce many albums with her, including the award-winning Let England Shake (2011), followed five years later by The Hope Six Demolition Project, which was the first album she did that went to number one album in the UK. He co-wrote all of the songs with her and produced Dance Hall at Louse Point  (1996) and A Woman A Man Walked By (2009), and with Eels he co-wrote and produced Souljacker (2001).

 

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John Parish & PJ Harvey

 

 

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He’s released four albums as a solo artist: How Animals Move (2002), Once Upon A Little Time (2005) a compilation of his film music, Screenplay, (2013), and most recently, Bird Dog Dante (2018), his first full-length album of songs since 2005. It features cameos by Marta Collica, Aldous Hardin and PJ Harvey.

 

13johnparish_1.jpg

He started writing for film, theater and contemporary dance in the late ‘90s when his first score for Rosie won the Jury Special Appreciation Award at the 1999 Bonn International Film & TV Music Biennale. His score for Little Black Spiders (2012) was nominated for an Ensor.

He also wrote the music for Ursula Meier’s L’Enfant D’En Haut.which won the special Silver Bear at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival.

His other productions include Sparklehorse, Tracy Chapman, 16 Horsepower, This Is The Kit.

 

 

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Lovely summer day, the backyard, June 10, 2018. Photo by LOUISE GOFFIN.

 

Louise conducted this interview with John on June 10, 2018 in at his home in Bristol. She was on her way to Chris Difford’s Songwriting Retreat, and took a slight detour to see old friend and collaborator, who picked her up at the Bristol train station. They did the interview in his garden,  after lunch with his family. This is the first part of that conversation. 

 

 

Bath_Station_.jpegBath station on the way to Bristol, June 10, 2018. Photo by LOUISE GOFFIN.

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August 28, 2018 @ 3:46 am

Episode 9: Chris Difford


EPISODE 9

Chris Difford

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He’s most famous for being half of the great Difford-Tilbrook songwriting duo of Squeeze, a collaboration born more than four decades ago in Blackheath, England, and which has generated a thick songbook of infectiously sophisticated pop rock storytelling, from "Pulling Mussels from a Shell," through "Black Coffee In Bed," "Cool for Cats," "Annie Get Your Gun" and so  many more. 

 

 

It’s a collaboration that was initially sparked by Difford and his delight in telling stories. With five stole pence from his mother, he posted a card  in the tobacconist’s window seeking a guitarist. A band about to get a record deal and go on tour, it said, had a guitarist slot needing to be filled. Although this was entirely a fabrication, it worked. Only one musician  answered, but that was enough. It was Glenn Tilbrook.

 

”It was a complete bluff,” Difford said in a 1999 interview,  “I was just lonely, looking for a friend.”

Tilbrook said it was Difford’s stated influences which caught his attention. “Chris put down Kinks Glenn Miller and Lou Reed,” said Tilbrook. “I thought that was interesting.” Also interesting was Difford’s spy-novel instructions for their first meeting: “Meet me at the Three Tuns in Blackheath village at six o'clock. I'll be carrying a copy of the Evening Standard under my arm.” When Tilbrook arrived he met a long-haired young man in a  lurex coat of many colors, with the Evening Standard under his arm. “Why he didn’t just tell me about the coat,” Tilbrook said, “I’ll never know.”

 

 

 

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But that mystery was quickly supplanted with delight when he first encountered the vivid, mythic tales Difford told in song, and with a distinctive linguistic flair and grace.  Though Glenn had been writing both words and music to his own songs up to then, soon as he realized the expanse of Difford’s abilities, he left the lyrics to him.

“I felt tremendous admiration for his lyrics,” said Tilbrook, “which outstripped anything that I was capable of. The first things he showed me were like Jacques Brel songs - tales of sailors and whores, the like of which I'd never heard before. He had, and has, a turn of phrase that leaps out of the page. Within two or three times of meeting up, we felt we would like to try and write together.”

 

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Difford & Tilbrook.

Their very first song was called “'Hotel Woman.”  It wasn't particularly great,” said Tilbrook, “but it defined our roles straight away. I took over the musical side and Chris took over the lyrical side exclusively.”

 

They also started performing their music. Unlike Bernie Taupin with Elton, who wrote words but never performed them, Chris was a part of the band. Since his voice is naturally low, he and Tilbrook never sang harmony, they sang in unison an octave apart.

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They wrote a lot of songs before they started Squeeze, for about three years, during all incarnations of the band, and also after Squeeze, for their Difford-Tilbrook project and for other artists such as Elvis Costello, Helen Shapiro and Billy Bremner.  He also wrote songs for his own solo albums, started in 2003 with I Didn't Get Where I Am.

 

In 2017, he published his autobiography, Some Fantastic Place: My Life In and Out of Squeeze.

 

Twice the recipient of the UK’s most prestigious songwriting award, the Ivor Novello Award, Difford also has famously shared his wisdom and love of songwriting in an annual songwriting retreat at Pennard House in Somerset. Songwriters from all around the world attend, including our own Louise Goffin, who recorded this interview there at the retreat, and shares the following about her friend Chris.

 

 

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Chris & Louise

 

LOUISE GOFFIN: When I was 24 years old I was invited to come to London for ten days by Dave Robinson of Stiff Records to meet with producers about making an album for Stiff. It was mid-December and it was a rare winter in that it snowed on the streets of London that year.

There was something magical about the anonymity of spending the holidays in West London where I didn’t know a soul. I felt like it was the beginning of my adulthood, finding my own sandbox in the world. I kept extending my stay. Eventually ten days became ten years a Londoner! My first email address was “anexile.”

It was definitely a great song adventure. I’d take the tube to Chiswick to Dave Robinson’s office. He was running Island Records that year for Chris Blackwell and Stiff Records was also run from the same office.

After a few months of restlessness, bursting at the seams to collaborate, I heard from Dave Robinson’s wonderful assistant, Annie Holloway, who said, “You and Chris Difford ought to write some songs together.”

I thought, “You mean that could happen?" I must be doing the right thing staying in the UK because things were looking up. "I can write with Chris Difford?” 

 

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I think it was February that I took a bus down south to Blackheath where Chris invited me, and there was rain whipping at the bus windows the whole journey. Conversing with locals on the bus they would ask, “Where are you from?” And when I said California, with shock they’d ask, “What on earth are you doing here in this dreadful weather?”

Chris gave me lyrics about a Blue Guitar, one about the Algonquin Hotel, and another was words he’d written to music I had, for which I only had the title “Can’t Trust A Memory.” I’d have to dig deep into boxes of cassettes and pages to find them. That'd be a worthy scavenger hunt. 

 

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Shooting the video for "Paris, France" in England.

As it happened, a mere twenty-four years went by before Chris and I reconnected (over the internet) and another eight years for me to get to one of his songwriting retreats. Both figuratively and actually, we met again in person for much sunnier days. I was making an album, one I consider my best so far, and he had been hosting and facilitating Chris Difford’s Songwriting Retreats for twenty-five years in a row.

 

I remember saying to him, “Chris you seem so much sunnier than when we first met.” He said his journey of recovery may have had something to do with it. I feel honored to have been part of the abundance Chris has created with his songwriting retreats and the community that surrounds it. And simply joyous and grateful that I had the opportunity to sing a duet with him.

 

This last June, I went back for my second songwriting retreat and wrote so many good songs I went straight to adding them to my live set, skipping the recording part. But it is more than songs that I take home from his retreats. The newfound friends and shared experiences are enriching for years beyond the mere four days all the songwriters are gathered together.  I felt lucky that Chris managed to set aside a little time in the hustle and bustle of the retreat to talk to me about his songwriting process, how he’s managed to sustain a four-decade-plus professional relationship with Glen Tilbrook, and his love of cross-pollinating creative skillsets.

 

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