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June 18, 2018 @ 11:30 am

Episode Five: Tom Petty, A 1999 Archival Interview.


The Great Song Adventure is proud to present Episode Five, a conversation with Tom Petty. This is the first episode using an existing interview from our archives. Conducted by Paul Zollo in 1999, it's a talk with Tom that focuses primarily on the creation of his tenth studio album, Echo, which he made with his band The Heartbreakers, and was produced by Rick Rubin. 

Though Paul interviewed Tom many times before and after this one, including over a year of interviews for the book Conversations with Tom Petty [Omnibus], we decided to start with this one. Because although it centers mostly on one album, it really gives one a genuine experience of Tom. As you can hear, he's very calm and grounded, and justifiably joyful and proud about writing the songs, and making the album, that is Echo. 


Joy is at the very center. Yes, Echo was a sad album in many ways, as it came in the wake of his divorce from Jane, his first wife and mom of his kids, as well as the sad, gradual demise of his beloved bassist, Howie Klein, who was so far gone he didn't show for the album cover photo. They did it without him.

Yet at its heart is genuine joy. Because, as Tom's ever-expanding devoted nation of fans know well, there was nothing he loved more than making music. As he says in the interview, he was so loving the process of bringing in new songs and recording them with the band that after hours in the studio he'd go home and write a new song. Because he wanted to do it again the next day. He was having fun. And the joy of that fun is injected directly into the tracks of this album, and the others, and preserved forever. In high fidelity! 

It's true the man was remarkably productive. Not only did he write and record a considerably immense amount of music, it's all great music. He was not a guy who made albums because he was contractually obligated. Although he was. He did it because he loved it, and invested everything he had into every song, and every track.

Many stories he relates herein shine a lot of light into the essential Tom. Such as the one about how the great "Swingin'" got born. Tom fell into its chords and started playing them although the band was playing something else entirely. But he persisted. No words, just music. Gradually, they joined him, and he "ad-libbed" the entire song. 

Tom with Mudcrutch at the Troubadour.
Photo by Paul Zollo.
Or how after writing the brilliantly dark and funny "Rhino Skin," a song about the need for one to form a rough exterior as protection from the brutal vagaries of existence - he had to stand up for the song. Everyone - Rick Rubin, the guys in the band- urged him to change the lyrics. And he tried! But ultimately he knew what he had was best. And that, despite those who felt it wrong, the lyric and sentiment remain, that "you need elephant balls if you don't want to crawl through this world on your hands." 

It's also a conversation which shows how deeply Tom was intricately involved in each and every aspect of making Echo, from the songwriting, arrangements and recording though sequencing, album art, and more. 

He also kindly delves into the origins of many of these songs. One of the main reasons he and Zollo bonded over the years was shared reverence for the craft of songwriting. Tom's genius with music itself - with those simple but ingenious chord patterns of each song - gave many the wrong impression that what he did was easy. Because he worked and worked on songs to get them so perfect that they were seamless, and seemed to have fallen out of him with no actual work. And except for a few exceptions, such as "Swingin'," this rarely happened. In truth, his use of chords was always quite brilliant, but deceptively so. Yet, as Tom said, if you think this is easy - try doing it. And he was always happy and proud to have the opportunity to discuss the music itself with a fellow musician. After all, the guy was an absolute genius at the creation of music. Yet rarely was he asked to expound on how he did it.

As his friend Bob Dylan once remarked in an interview, he was often amazed by the odd range of random subjects about which he would be asked. The interviewer said, "Well, what should they ask you about?" Dylan laughed and said, "How about music?"  

This is the first of many archival interviews to come. Future ones include in-depth creative conversations with Frank Zappa, Bob Dylan, Dave Brubeck, Rickie Lee Jones, Paul Simon and many more.

Tom Petty on Vine Street. 
Photo by Paul Zollo.

June 11, 2018 @ 2:12 pm

Episode Four: Hop Li on Pico. A Conversation between Louise & Paul



"Songwriting," said Leonard Cohen, "is much like the life of a Catholic nun. You're married to a mystery." That mystery -- where songs come from, and how to reach them -- is one all songwriters learn to embrace. Though it's an unanswerable question, for many it is a galvanizing force.

As Leonard said, "If I knew where the good songs came from, I'd go there more often."

The Great Song Adventure is an exploration and celebration of that ongoing mystery, the source of songs. It began when Louise Goffin invited Paul Zollo to speak at one of her master-classes in songwriting. That conversation was so fun and electric, and went off in so many directions, they considered turning it into a podcast. 

Their original vision was a show that could preserve these kinds of conversations, and could extend to include intimate, expansive musical conversations with legendary songwriters they both know well and revere, such as the brilliantly eloquent Van Dyke Parks, who was their very first guest.  

And so the Great Adventure commenced, as Louise and Paul traveled all over interviewing songwriters and building content for their show. They did  new interviews with legendary songwriters - and also great current songwriters - as also created nnew shows around interviews from the Zollo archives. The first archival ones to come are talks with Tom Petty and Leonard Cohen. 

Part of the original vision was to conduct these talks at Chinese restaurants, so as to have the fun of talking while eating good Chinese food (a great long-standing musician tradition), but also to distinguish the show with a charmingly distinctive old-time radio ambiance. To provide not only a good conversation, but a location which would be present in the fun sonics throughout.

This was a miscalculation. One built mostly on Paul's enthusiasm for the idea (which might have been inspired more by the food than the sonics). However, instead of being charmingly distinctive, as hoped, it proved to be - well - noisy! Distracting. And so, although yummy, the idea was jettisoned for sonically-pure spaces.

However, Louise & Paul did conduct a trial conversation - just between the two of them- at Hop Li on Pico in West L.A. And though admittedly too thick with audio ambiance, this historic episode has been preserved, and we are happy to present it to you now.

Hop Li Seafod Restaurant: 10974 Pico Boulevard.
West Los Angeles, California 90064
310-441-3708.  (Tell them Louise & Paul sent you.)

May 29, 2018 @ 7:16 pm

Episode 3: Danny Kortchmar, aka Kootch



Danny Kortchmar


The Great Song Adventure is proud to present a conversation with the legendary Kootch. Danny Kortchmar. Guitarist, producer, songwriter and more, he’s both a great musician and a tremendously impactful one, having provided his distinctive musicianship to countless landmark albums. These include Sweet Baby James by James Taylor and Tapestry by Carole King, as well as classic records by Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Harry Nilsson, Warren Zevon and more.

In fact, he’s so legendary as the guitarist on these landmark albums that people often overlook how many great songs he’s written. But there’s many famous ones, including “Honey Don’t Leave L.A.,” recorded by James Taylor, “Sunset Grill,” written with and recorded by Don Henley, “All She Wants To Do Is Dance” and “Dirty Laundry,” also recorded by Henley, “Somebody’s Baby,” recorded by Jackson Browne and “Tender Is The Night,” written with Jackson and Russ Kunkel, and recorded by Jackson.


Born in New York, he spent summers with his family at Martha’s Vineyard. He met James Taylor there when they were in their teens, and they formed the band Flying Machine, playing songs James wrote and some they wrote together, such as “Night Owl” and “Knocking Round The Zoo.”

He became a valued sideman, playing on a wide range of albums. He knew Peter Asher from his days in the duo Peter & Gordon, and when Asher went to Apple, Danny suggested he consider his friend James Taylor for a record deal. Asher agreed, and James was the first and only American artist signed to Apple. Asher produced the first self-titled album, featuring much guitar playing by Kooch. When Apple folded, they all came to Los Angeles, where James signed with Warner Brothers and made Sweet Baby James, featuring “Fire and Rain.” In that song is a reference to their origins: “Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground.”  

In 1967, he joined the Fugs. When they broke up, he followed Fugs bassist Charles Larkey to the West Coast, and with Carole King formed a band called The City, with whom he made the 1968 album Now That Everything's Been Said. When that failed to fly, he kept working with Carole,on her debut album and on Tapestry, her second album.

When Asher began producing, he enlisted Kootch and a studio band which became known as the The Section. As discussed in our interview, they were a remarkably tight, rock-solid musical unit ideal for any song - be it a tender ballad or a rocker. The Section was Leland Sklar on bass, Russ Kunkel on drums and Kootch. On James Taylor’s albums as well as her own, Carole King was the pianist/keyboardist. When she was not there, Craig Doerge took over.

Presently he’s making records and touring with an ensemble called Danny Kortchmar and Immediate Family, featuring Russ Kunkel,  Lee Sklar, Waddy Wachtel, Steve Postell and Jim Cox. He just released an album with them called Honey Don’t Leave L.A., and has embarked on a mighty tour. They’re heading to Japan - playing Billboard Live in Osaka on June 14 and elsewhere.


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    • The Great Song Adventure Spotify Playlist