Posted in Uncategorized on October 20, 2014 by midliferocker

Gary 3

The leader of seminal Americana band The Jayhawks is back and better than ever after a dark time. 

By Steve Houk

Back in the day, I remember always being so pumped when I’d get the very latest homemade cassette tape of new rock and roll from a buddy of mine, one of many I would get from him over the years. It was always great stuff from both old and new bands. On one of those tapes were some startlingly good songs from The Jayhawks, a Minnesota band with a stunningly memorable blend of Americana vibe, 70’s country rock feel, and yet something all their own. It resonated with me bigtime, and still does to this day.

Between 1985 and 2005, The Jayhawks would put out a host of truly exceptional records and garner a deep fan base, and in the years since the ’05 hiatus have survived time and turmoil to reunite in 2014 for a long awaited tour. If you don’t know who they are, well, check them out and you can thank me later. To find a weak moment on one of their albums would be a true challenge.

But it’s funny what happens to alot of great bands at the height of their rise. Jayhawks front man Gary Louris found that being tired of the daily grind can turn progress into quicksand pretty damn fast.

“We were kinda bored, burnt out, and yeah, I also missed a big part of my son’s life,” Louris told me on a tour stop in Indiana. “I mean, by 2005, we had been a band for 20 years, not too many bands do that. I felt like we were kinda stuck at a certain level, so we felt like we were ending at a good point, Rainy Day Music was our biggest selling record, and I wanted to do other things, I wanted to collaborate with other people, experiment with synthesizers and stupid fun stuff, and not just be Mr. Heartland.”

Since the beginning, Louris was the driving force behind the Jayhawks’ rise along with collaborator Marc Olson, and as is the challenge all prolific band leaders encounter after they’ve made it, he was trying to survive while not becoming an alt country nostalgia act.

“I was trying to be everything but The Jayhawks,” Louris said, “I just felt like, I don’t wanna be that guy, the last man standing in the band, trying to hang on ‘cuz I can’t do anything else, past their prime. I always didn’t want to do that.”

Gary Louris (R) with the Black Crowes' Chris Robinson.

Gary Louris (R) with the Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson.

So Louris put his revered band on the shelf in ’05 and happily did some solo work, as well as collaborating with other great musicians like his old buddy Chris Robinson from The Black Crowes and country stars Nickel Creek. After a few scattered Jayhawks reunion shows over the next couple years with and without Olson, his on again-off again relationship with his old friend was back on, so in 2011 the two got The Jayhawks flying again, albeit briefly, and for the first time since they started the band, with only limited success creatively and commercially.

“We patched things up and did a duo record,” Louris said, “and then I started getting these reissues going because at that time our records were out of print, and I had been working on a Golden Smog “Best Of” [his excellent supergroup project with members of Soul Asylum,  The Replacements, Wilco, Big Star and others) and realized there’s nothing like that for The Jayhawks. So between working on that, and with him, and having the reissues come out of Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow The Green Grass, I talked Olson into touring a little, and then we thought, well, if we’re gonna go out, we should have a new record, which was kind of a mistake, it didn’t turn out very good. And then I got into trouble and went to rehab and I cleaned myself up.”

Louris’ culprit wasn’t hard drugs but pain pills, which he first got addicted to after heart-related surgery in 2003. Vicodin, Percoset, you name it, between the pills and the booze, it all started to take it’s toll, even affecting his once-exceptional playing. In 2012, he’d hit bottom and finally realized he needed help.

“It grew over the course of eight years,” Louris confides. “It was a kinda slow build, and then I was outta control, comparatively speaking. I hear people who took 30 pills a day, I was maybe taking 4 and then valium at night, it was a bitch. Thank God for rehab though, I was so f—ing ready. I was falling down backstage, and I was repeating songs onstage when I was on that last solo tour before I went in. I hid it pretty well, pills are easier to hide than drinking. That’s part of the charm of it. People around me noticed it maybe more than others, and there are people that see me now and say, ‘Wow, you’re different.'”

“But really, I was just trying to feel normal,” Louris continued, “I had alot of depression and insecurity, alot of self consciousness all my life. Then when I had an operation [after a 1988 car accident], they gave me pain pills and I thought, oh, I feel kinda normal now. And that’s usually how it starts. I wasn’t really trying to party, I was just trying to feel…OK. But it’s been two years yesterday from drinking and it’s been so great, I enjoy everything alot more.”

Louris’ rehab stint proved to be a major turning point in many ways for the gifted musician, so much so that the new found clarity has also helped him relax in his role as a Jayhawk and not try to keep running away from it.

“When I was sober and cleaned up,” Louris continued, “and I was restarting and re-embracing music, I kinda realized at some point that I have to embrace The Jayhawks instead of trying to run away. I’m always gonna be Mr. Jayhawk. And I actually started enjoying it with this lineup. Now I can find a place for it in my life. It’s never gonna be Jayhawks number one for me, but I think there’s a place where I can do it and love it. I think that opened up the gates where I said I actually like doing this, because it helps me do other things too, and then my life can be diverse.”

The 2014 Jayhawks

The 2014 Jayhawks

It’s lucky for fans of this great American band that Gary Louris is comfortable being back where he truly belongs, feeling better than ever and having fun again onstage with a Jayhawks lineup — sans Olson — that hasn’t played together since the end of the 20th century. And rescuing himself from his demons is something that’s given Louris a new lease on his life and his career.

“It’s so much better than it’s ever been for me, and it makes the show more fun,” Louris says with a likely smile. “I can engage the audience better and the band better, and I can remember the show. We’re laughing alot, playing some weird shit, just alot looser, so our show… it can be anything it wants. I’m just so relaxed onstage, like almost too relaxed, like, ‘Hey we gotta tighten it up! (laughs).’ But we’re not afraid to stop the show in the middle of a song, or laugh at each other. My eyes are open now, and I’m enjoying it.”




Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on October 13, 2014 by midliferocker


Ah, the timeless sounds of childhood. Crickets and peepers singing in the woods. Those chimes out on the back porch. My father calling out across the neighborhood to come on home for dinner. Boistrous laughter from the kitchen.

Oh yes…and the music of Herb Alpert.

No sound was more part of it all than Herb Alpert’s sound coming from the phonograph. Like The Beatles, his was a sound of excitement, but also one of comfort, of security, of home. And all these years later, Herb Alpert thinks he knows what it was that made his and others’ music special, that made it timeless, a part of people’s life fabric.

“After recording (The Lonely Bull) in 1967 and it becoming a big hit, I got this fan letter from a lady in Germany who said, ‘Thanks for taking me on this vicarious ride,'” Alpert told me from his home in Malibu. “Vivid is what I’ve always tried to do, I tried to make visual music. There’s a certain honesty thread that runs through all really good artists, and I think about that all the time. I try to make music that’s real, music that’s coming out in an organic and honest way. That’s the way I’ve always approached it.”

Alpert is still irrefutably an American treasure, a vital and still-working world-class musician with an innate ability to create and discover music that deeply resonates, that slips inside us, and doesn’t let go. “The Lonely Bull” was the first time I ever heard what a bullfight might sound like. My first memory of  “Spanish Flea” was my Mom dancing around the living room, not “The Dating Game” theme just yet. And “A Taste of Honey” signaled my parent’s cocktail hour. The list goes on and the songs remain embedded inside me. At the time, these Tijuana Brass records were eclipsing both The Beatles and Dylan on the charts — no small feat. But why was the Brass resonating so deeply with people then?

“There was no ‘Brass’ per se, I was using musicians of my choice from The Lonely Bull through Whipped Cream and Other Delights,” said Alpert. “But I think it was the choice of my material, the sound of my horn, and it was also timing. I think if we tried that in today’s environment, I don’t think the Brass would have happened.”

Alpert, 79, is keenly aware even today of the moment when his life changed forever. It’s a memory and a passion that drives his many generous philanthropic efforts, including The Herb Alpert Foundation which he founded in 1982, as well as other mostly music-related charitable endeavors that concentrate on giving kids who might not have the opportunity a chance to pursue music. “I always felt that success is not only what you achieve, but also what you do to help others to achieve,” Alpert said. “I don’t know, it’s in my DNA.”

It was during a music appreciation class — which he laments are few and far between today — when an 8-year-old Alpert picked up a trumpet from a table full of instruments.

“My life dramatically changed because of that,” he said. “I think it’s an important ingredient for all kids to have that experience, not necessarily to pursue a musical career, but just to have that experience creating. If you can find your own balance and find your own creativity and appreciate that, I think you learn to appreciate others as well. I think it’s a win-win.”

This kid from East L.A. with the matinee idol looks put down the trumpet just for a minute when he was 18 to try out acting, which included an uncredited bit part in The Ten Commandments. “It was pretty amazing watching Cecil B. Demille, and how they put that whole thing together, he had five guys hanging around him at all times. One guy was walking behind him with just a stool in case he wanted to sit down. But I realized at one point that I really didn’t have it, I just did not have that thing that I feel really great actors have, so I bowed out of that and got back into…well, I was always playing the trumpet, that’s how I was earning a living, but I realized that acting really wasn’t for me.”


He began an unprecedented run of success, including five number-one albums, a few Grammys and millions of records sold. He disbanded the Tijuana Brass in 1969 but reformed a couple times and was able to perpetuate the band’s popularity as years passed, even as he became a successful solo artist.

As his musical star ascended, so did his reputation as a music mogul. Started as a way to promote and distribute The Lonely Bull, Alpert’s A&M Records became a label juggernaut during its heyday. With a roster that included The Carpenters, Cat Stevens, The Police, Sting, Human League, Peter Frampton, Bryan Adams, Janet Jackson and other superstars, he and partner Jerry Moss earned the rare distinction of placing singles in the Top 10 in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.

“We tried to pick music we would have purchased ourselves,” Alpert said. “We always had great artists, and our pursuit wasn’t to find the beat of the week. We weren’t trying to duplicate what was on the charts. We were trying to do something a little bit left of center. We established an environment at A&M, and it was beautiful because we had great artists calling us wanting to record for us, it was not like we were soliciting. When we felt we were losing some of that momentum, it was time for us to go.”

Alpert and Moss sold A&M for $500 million in 1987, and Alpert never really looked back. He has continued to create at a dizzying pace, whether with his horn (he won a Grammy in 2014 for his 2013 record Steppin’ Out and recently released his latest album In The Mood a few weeks ago), with his hands (he’s been an exhibiting artist and sculptor for 40 years) as well as his remarkable savvy in knowing what works (he was a producer of the Tony Award-winning Angels in America). He also received a National Medal of the Arts award from President Barack Obama in 2013 and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Herb Alpert receives a National Medal of the Arts from President Obama in 2013

Herb Alpert receives a National Medal of the Arts from President Obama in 2013

But it’s the painting and sculpting that is the most direct parallel to his musical synthesis, something that moves and shakes him in the same dramatic way.

“I’ve been painting for over 40 years now, and I get that same high when I find a piece that really works, and the same low when I’m in the middle of something that doesn’t look very good,” he said. “It’s a high-and-low game. I mean, the trumpet’s the same way. I’m recording and I sometimes record something that is just not working for whatever reason, and can’t seem to find the key, until an ‘a-ha’ happens, and then I’m starting to feel good again. And for some reason I’m playing better than ever, and I’m enjoying it just as much as I did in the early days. I’m getting more for less effort.”

Alpert’s greatest treasure, however, is his wife Lani Hall, whom he met in 1966 when she sang lead with Sergio Mendes and Brazil 66 (you remember “Mas Que Nada”? Yep, that’s her). The couple has been married for more than 40 years. A Grammy winner herself, Hall is currently on tour with her husband and will be joining him when he plays the Birchmere on October 13.


Herb and his wife of 40 plus years, Grammy-winning singer Lani Hall, 2014

The musician is honest about not being ready for marriage the first time around to wife Sharon from 1956-1971. Yet he has certainly found true love with his longtime bride and musical partner.

“I was like 21 when I married my first wife, but emotionally I don’t think I was ready,” Albert confides. “I just didn’t have a clear picture of what marriage was all about. But I’m fine. I got really lucky with Lani. She’s beautiful, she has a way of seeing the truth. She’s an unusual lady, and she’s tremendously talented.”

So Herb Alpert continues onward, creating beautiful art and gracing the world with his immense talent and sincere conviction. But it always comes back to the music, something Alpert thinks transcends any differences we in this world may have.

“I believe in music diplomacy, I think it’s a great way to bring people from various backgrounds together,” he said. “I could be playing in any part of the world with various types of musicians from different countries and someone can say, ‘Let’s play the blues!’ And you know, everybody’s in.”


Posted in Uncategorized on September 24, 2014 by midliferocker
Puss n Boots Photo_credit_Richard_Ballard 2

Puss N Boots is (L-R): Catherine Popper, Norah Jones and Sasha Dobson (Photo Courtesy Richard Ballard)

Three talented musicians, including one superstar, find a common bond and yeah, a great band.

By Steve Houk

It’s tough to know what to do next after you’ve sold more than 60 million records, won multiple Grammys, acted in movies, and basically conquered the world.

Norah Jones did all that darn fast, and amongst a slew of other projects after her incredible run over the last decade or so, she decided to back off, blend in and get comfortable with two stellar fellow musicians on an ever-evolving side project called Puss N Boots, a country-tinged, Americana-feelin’ cool-as-all-get-out trio featuring Jones, Catherine Popper and Sasha Dobson.

And by all accounts, including the band’s, it’s working out just fine. The group has a new record and a current tour underway including high profile gigs at the Newport Folk Festival and Neil Young’s annual Bridge Benefit, and lucky for DC area folks, they play the Birchmere in Alexandria on Wed Oct 1st.

Most people know about Jones, but let’s not skirt past Popper and Dobson, who are truly accomplished musicians in their own right. Popper toured as bassist/background vocalist with Ryan Adams and Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, and Dobson has hit the road as a sidewoman for, who else, Norah Jones, as well as having her own budding career as a jazz singer/songwriter. No surprise there, everyone in her family is a musician, including her father, well-known jazz pianist Smith Dobson, and the whole family played the Monterey Jazz Festival when she was 12.

But it’s the root connection and band vibe that really brought the three ladies of Puss N Boots together, as well as the attraction of everyone playing equal roles.

“It is so much about that, as far as none of us having to be alone in it,” Dobson told me while walking her dog on a late summer day in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. “I mean, neither Cat or I have had to deal with the level of responsibility that comes along with being as widely known as Norah. It sounds like a dream come true, but it’s also probably one of the scariest, heaviest experiences ever, I can’t even imagine the pressure. So this band, even with higher pressure gigs, it works because we’re together in it, and we really are together in it. From what I know from Norah and Catherine, it’s just been really super fun and low pressure.”

Dobson and Jones hooked up in 2008 after Jones returned from her second huge world tour, all amidst her stratospheric rise to superstardom, when both were laying low hanging around legendary NYC club The Living Room, and a bond was created that has only strengthened with time.

“When Norah got back from her second record tour,” Dobson said, “I was just starting to dabble in hanging out at The Living Room with singer/songwriters, and she was well into that scene. I had stayed on the jazz path and she was dabbling in different worlds, and we lost touch. And when she got back, I was just starting to pick up the guitar and so was she, coincidentally. So I got us a gig at a pool hall, and we kind of learned how to play guitar at a pool hall for about a year or two. Our friendship has always included music, or been based around music.”

After honing their new guitar chops together in the stimulating NYC environment, the two decided to start something more tangible and added the respected Popper to the mix, and lo, Puss n Boots was born. Jones asked Dobson to tour with her in 2010 as both opening act and backup musician on her tour to support her album The Fall — Dobson admits that “I didn’t even believe that I could do the job, but it worked out” — and after the tour ended, the trio got serious and made Puss n Boots a real commitment, writing songs, nailing killer covers (check out their stunning version of Neil Young’s “Down By The River” with Jones on lead guitar, below), and playing more shows, and after a few years at it, eventually releasing an album, No Fools, No Fun this past July.  A truly unique element of the project is that the three often play different instruments than they’re normally used to, making it just another way the ladies of Puss N Boots have found a common bond.

puss alb

“Catherine has a couple songs where she plays guitar, and I play drums on a buncha stuff, and Norah plays guitar on pretty much everything,” Dobson added. “Puss N Boots has been kinda been about like us all coming back together, and it’s been really fun to actually have a record out, because we can hone in on our thing a little bit more. We’ve never really had the opportunity to put so much time into it. It’s so fun.”

And for all three, it keeps coming back to the relaxed and comfortable connection they have on stage, that’s what makes Puss N Boots what it is. Chill.

“If I don’t know what’s happening I just look over at Norah and she smiles and I’m good, ” Dobson said. “Stay connected on stage and you’re golden. And it’s really nice that people enjoy that, it seems to be kind of what we’re riding on as far as it all working out, and it not being like, a joke. It’s about having fun and sharing music and connecting, both with each other, and the audience.”


Posted in Uncategorized on September 22, 2014 by midliferocker


A Southern rock mainstay still has his band on the road after 40 grueling yet ultimately satisfying years. 

By Steve Houk

It was back in the early 80’s, and the guys in 38 Special knew they had played to packed houses in the Northeast before, so why not play the huge Brendan Byrne Arena in New Jersey’s Meadowlands? I mean, they had a couple hit records and some hot FM radio singles like “Hold On Loosely” and “Caught Up In You” under their belt, so their confidence was brimming. But as band co-founder and sole survivor Don Barnes tells it, their management and handlers didn’t share the band’s belief they could fill the big venue.

“They were all like, ‘You don’t really want to go in there and embarrass yourself, ‘cuz you might get like half house,’ ” Barnes said recently from the road, a place he knows well after 40 years out on it. “We kept thinkin’ that we have been back there so many times, we really feel like they would come out and see us. And they thought ‘Well, it’s your funeral, we’re gonna advise you against that, you might want to play a smaller venue, ‘ but we were pretty stubborn about it, and kept saying ‘No, we can do it.’ And buddy, let me tell ya, 24,000 people came out there, and they had to eat their words. That’s one of the cherished memories of up and coming, to finally reach that pinnacle.”

It’s around 35 years later, and 38 Special has pretty much gone the way all the other big Southern rock bands have gone — except maybe the Allman Brothers — where arenas are no longer on the itinerary. But as with many of their counterparts, the baby boomers that showed up at the big gigs back then are still rabid fans today who love hearing the music of their youth, so packed clubs, theaters and festivals are still the order of the day, like the fifteen or so thousand who showed up at a recent outdoor show in Illinois. And you can expect a pretty decent crowd of 38 Specialers to show up Friday night when Barnes’ band plays the Birchmere in Alexandria.

The last remaining member left from the original lineup, Barnes founded 38 Special with childhood pal and former 38 Special lead singer Donnie Van Zant while living in Jacksonville in 1974. Van Zant is the younger brother of the legendary Ronnie Van Zant, who fronted Lynyrd Skynyrd until his death in a plane crash in 1977, and the older sibling of Johnny Van Zant, who would eventually take over for Ronnie and who sings with Skynyrd today.

“We grew up on the same street (as the Van Zants), when I was a kid,” the affable Barnes said. “Three guys who ended up in 38 Special also lived on Woodcrest Road. It was a big four lane road, and when we were young, our parents wouldn’t allow us to go on the other side of Woodcrest, that’s where the Van Zants lived. There were over there on the ‘bad side of town,’ the wrong side of the tracks kinda thing.”

Barnes saw his buddies in Skynyrd slowly climbing their way towards success, so he and Van Zant decided they would give rock and roll a shot too. And the camraderie with the guys in what would become Skynyrd was a key component in Barnes learning the rock and roll ropes.

“I was right there in the middle of all this history being made,” Barnes continued. “Ridin’ my bike to go to (Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist) Allen Collins‘ house when I was 13 years old, him having some European English import records, and we’d sit down and we’d pick out guitar licks, and he would show me a few things. I mean, this was (one of the guys) who wrote “Free Bird” eventually, ya know. He would have a big Vox Super Beatle amp in his hallway and he’d just be rattling the windows when his Mom would come in from work, and she’d be so proud of her son. My mother would never let that happen in my house. And Ronnie, he was four years older and a big mentor as well for us.”

navy jax

Being a navy town, Jacksonville was full of venues the sailors would frequent on leave, and it gave budding young Southern rockers ample opportunities to play live and hone both their performing and songwriting chops.

“They had four naval bases there,” Barnes said, “so all of us kids, I mean from Duane Allman and Gregg Allman to Ronnie Van Zant, everybody played the sailor’s clubs. We were fifteen years old making a hundred bucks a week, that was big money for a fifteen year old kid. There we learned the foundations, the structures of the craft of songwriting, playing the hits of the day, radio songs, and you realized it was a craft, there was a system to it where you have the A section and a B section and then a ramp that goes up to the chorus, and then the bridge and that kind of thing. You learned the structures at an early age. And then we’d get cocky and think, ‘Oh well I can write my own songs now.’ And that’s when you go starve for ten years.”

Barnes and Van Zant played in “like, fifteen bands before 38 Special” and then began to pick up the stronger guys from other local groups as they began to focus on their big dream.

“It started like any band, you play in somebody’s garage and get the cops called on you for playing too loud. But you really tried to get guys who would commit to it. Skynyrd was kinda just taking off and we thought that we were really gonna be serious about it. But it was hard, we all had day jobs too. I wouldn’t recommend it to many kids today, because you work so so hard, and there are no guarantees, and you can give 110% and still not make it. But it does build character, I guess.”

Don Barnes (center rear) and the original 38 Special lineup, circa 1980

Don Barnes (center rear) and the original 38 Special lineup, circa 1980

After conquering the local bar scene, 38 Special sucked it up taking warm up slots often on three act bills playing mostly to alot of yet-to-be-filled chairs, but to their major credit, they played as if their lives depended on it, keeping the standards high no matter what the crowd was. And it turned out that being humble and working hard was well worth the effort.

“We tried to act like we were the headliner, ya know like God help who was following us, we tried to throw it all down at ‘em, so hopefully they would go home and tell somebody. Just keeping that high standard. We felt like if we got a couple of sentences at the bottom of the review the next day, you know it’d say, ‘Peter Frampton did blah blah, and Gary Wright did this, and 38 Special delivered a lively set at 7 0’clock,’ we thought wow, that could mean something! But it never really did.”

Along with the Van Zants, Barnes and his 38 Special boys, and the Allman Brothers, Jacksonville was also a rock and roll breeding ground for the likes of former Eagle Don Felder, Stephen Stills and in nearby Gainesville, Tom Petty, among others. So what was it about this Florida navy town that made it a mecca for young soon-to-be rock superstars?

“People ask what’s in the water down there, I don’t know,” Barnes said. “But I’ll tell ya, comin’ from the west side of Jacksonville, it’s pretty much no man’s land, you either end up drivin’ a truck or goin’ to prison or something. I really think there’s a thread of that underdog spirit, ya know, that comes from not being from New York or L.A. so you really gotta show your stuff to people, you gotta put it in their face, get out there and make your statement. I think that’s what the underlying aggression, the big strong guitars, ya know, “Listen to me!” You’re there screamin’ at people, basically to pay attention, because you’re not fashionable, you’re not from a hip place. I think that common thread of the underdog spirit is what is prevalent with all those people.”

After two middling albums in the mid-70’s kept the band a relative unknown outside of the South, 38 Special shifted into more of an arena-style Southern rock sound and got some attention in 1980 with their third effort Rockin’ Into The Night, but it would be their next two albums Wild Eyed Southern Boys (1981) and Special Forces (1982) that would vault them up onto that elusive next level of stardom. Two Barnes-penned and sung singles, “Hold on Loosely and “Caught Up In You”, were the lightning in the bottle that got them that coveted heavy FM radio airplay and seats began filling in arenas. But Barnes is quick to point out that the road to making it is long and arduous, and can sometimes temper the success.

“It’s such a long road, and it’s tiny baby steps at a time, and when things started happening, you’re a little bit anxious about it all because you worked so hard for so long. It took a lot longer than we thought it would, ya know, we’d do interviews and people would ask, ‘How do you feel now that you’ve made it?’ and we were just so weary. Our management was always about pushing forward, saying don’t be complacent, because there are bigger things to get. If I had to do it all over again, I’d try to enjoy myself a little bit more. Because it was always about push push push all the time, there were times when we’d do nine months of a tour to promote the record, then you’d have to do another record, but you have no songs written, not one note, and you’re so burned out from the road.”

Barnes left the band in 1987 — “It had been ten years of absolute pushing and I was worn out”– and had a solid solo album done and ready for release, but it never saw the light of day, becoming a casualty of the sale of A & M Records. It was a crushing blow for Barnes: “I went on vacation after that, I said I’m going to the islands somewhere, and I did.” He eventually rallied and rejoined 38 Special in 1992, and has been the driving force and band anchor ever since. “I picked up right where I left off,” he said. “There were no ill feelings. Once we lit it all back up, it was all back, the formula was there. We kept going onward and upward, ya know.”

Don Barnes onstage with 38 Special, 2014

Don Barnes onstage with 38 Special, 2014

What keeps Don Barnes — or any of his fellow Southern rock survivors for that matter who are still out there banging away four decades later (like Henry Paul with the Outlaws, Doug Gray with the Marshall Tucker Band and Gary Rossington with Lynyrd Skynyrd) — still working hard out there on the road, playing dozens of shows a year to adoring fans, after all this time? It’s all about using the emotion of the songs they remember to create an experience for those fans, and giving them something special every night.

“I guess it’s that instant reaction in people’s faces,” Barnes said. “These songs have a history all their own, so when we go out there, we take the crowd up, up, up up and they are just manic at the end because we’re unfolding all the history from the beginning. We’re there to make sure they have the greatest time. We see ‘em singing along, giving each other high fives, clapping and yelling, and we also see tears in someone’s eyes if a song reminds them of something or someone. And you see these kids, they’ve learned about all the songs through games and stuff. That is the fuel right there, seeing something you created from that long ago, that after all the scratching and all the suffering, it really worked out OK. You really mean something to these people. It really is special to us.”


Posted in Uncategorized on September 1, 2014 by midliferocker


So, what makes a song timeless, long-lasting and unforgettable? Well, a few things.

One is the melody. Does it stick in your head? Do you want to keep singing it, like “Satisfaction,” “Johnny B Goode” or “Hey Jude”?

Or perhaps it’s the lyrics that move you, make you think or keep you guessing what it really means; as in “Imagine,” “What’s Going On,” “Like A Rolling Stone.”

And yes, there’s the mass appeal; that people from all over the world know the song, can hum the tune, or sing the chorus by heart. Come on, you can sing along right now to “Light My Fire,” “Respect” or “Let It Be.”

Around 1976, Don Felder came up with the melody to such a song that covers all of those attributes, and even now, almost forty years after it was written, it remains one of the world’s most recognizable and well-known songs. Felder is constantly reminded of the depth of its breadth, sometimes in truly profound fashion.

“Two years ago, when I played in New York City for the United Nations, there were 450 or 500 heads of states, presidents, secretaries of state, all these kinds of bluppity blups from all over the world were at this event,” Felder said. “And when I went out and played “Hotel California,” half the people in the audience didn’t even speak English, yet I got a massive response, a prolonged standing ovation, for that one song. You continue to realize that it had such a global impact.”

It has to be hard, and even somewhat daunting, to top being a co-writer of an epic tune like “Hotel California.” But don’t tell Don Felder that. After crafting that classic song about ’70s-era excess and isolation, plus other popular radio-friendly tunes as a member of The Eagles, Felder has had a successful career as a solo artist, a sought-after session man (he just played on Sarah McClachlan’s latest record and co-wrote one of the songs), respected producer, hit songwriter, composer and everything else under the sun; you name it, Felder’s done it. Yes, there is life after Hell.

And who wouldn’t end up as a musical icon after cutting his teenage rock and roll teeth with a who’s who of future rock icons, including fellow North Central Floridians Stephen Stills (he and Felder had a band called The Continentals), future Eagles co-founder Bernie Leadon, and good buddies Duane and Gregg Allman. Truth be told, Duane taught Felder to play slide guitar while sitting on the floor of the Allman family home often into the wee hours. Felder also worked at a local music store where he gave guitar lessons to a gawky Gainesville kid named Tommy Petty who was tired of playing bass. Yes, that Tommy Petty. Not a surprise Felder’s music career worked out pretty well after palling around with those kids.

These days, Felder, who’s 66 but looks 15 years younger, plays dozens of shows a year and currently has a top ten song on classic rock radio, “You Don’t Have Me” from his accessible 2012 CD “Road To Forever.”  And his latest venture, as opening act on the 2014 Sounds of Summer Tour with Styx and Foreigner, is a calculated yet sincere career move aimed to target devoted fans that can sing along to a slew of hit songs from all three ’70s bands in one evening, including a newly arranged collaborative version of “Hotel California.” 

“When the idea first came up and was presented to me,” the easygoing Felder told me from his studio in California, “I was pretty excited about it because I know the guys in Styx well, and [the Styx and Foreigner] fan base was very similar to the Eagles'; same genre so they’ll know all the hits and songs. Plus, it’s gonna actually be fun, instead of arguments and yelling, and I thought, hey wait a minute, we can actually go out on the road, play great music and have fun? Wow, OK, that’s something I haven’t done for a long time. There’s no ego, there’s no drama, it’s just great music and good people.”

The Eagles with Don Felder (second from right) in the early 70's (courtesy Getty Images)

The Eagles with Don Felder (second from right) in the early 70’s (courtesy Getty Images)

Well, you had to know a chat with Don Felder couldn’t go by without a salty reference to his tumultuous past with Papa Eagles Don Henley and Glenn Frey; a legendary period of major collaborative rock genius marred by massive egos, bitter infighting and later, dismissal and lawsuits. But Felder knows the reasons for all that, ones that similarly affected bands as huge as The Beatles. In fact, Felder got a heads up about said band unrest from childhood buddy and Eagles co-founder Leadon before he joined up. And from the first day at the studio, all the warnings he had gotten were unfortunately dead on.

“I had heard from Bernie about all the turbulence and dissent and arguments, and how difficult it was personally in that band,” Felder said. “Anytime you get four or five A-type personalities that all write, sing and play together in the same room, there’s gonna be this struggle for who’s in charge and who’s the boss and what songs and what lyrics and who’s gonna sing this. There’s gonna be this just constant friction going on. So I just stepped to the back and went, ‘I’m here, whaddya want me to play?’  I always thought I had joined a band that was always breaking up. Every day, somebody was upset about something. But at the time, my wife was pregnant with our first child, so I wasn’t going to go storming out of the room in a huff with the opportunity I had there, so I just took a really deep breath and hung in there and played guitar and wrote songs.”

Felder hung in as long as he could, but the band disintegrated under it’s own inflated weight in 1980. They would regroup in 1994 for the Hell Freezes Over reunion and be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 (yes, they all showed up), but things got uglier in 2001 when Felder was summarily kicked out of the band; the reasons differ depending on who you ask. There were suits and countersuits before a settlement was reached in 2002. But Felder relishes his time during the Eagles heyday, while also understanding the pros and cons of both band and solo life.

“There’s a lot of great stuff about being in a band, especially a unique band where everybody sings and writes and plays,” Felder said. “But there’s also that friction and struggle at the same time, that you don’t necessarily have when you’re doing soundtrack or solo and session work. They both have their likes and dislikes about them, ya know?”

But even though he has had solo success in a variety of musical areas since he flew high with The Eagles, it’s “Hotel California” that he regards as his career pinnacle. He is reminded of its reach and impact over and over, and remains grateful to have been a part of rock and roll history.

“I got a text message a few days ago from a friend of mine who’s down in Buenos Aires,” Felder says, likely with a smile, “and it said, ‘You won’t believe this, but they’re doing the Argentinian version of “Hotel California” right here, right now!’ (laughs) You just realize that you were fortunate to be part of writing something that went on to have global success. So I would have to say that’s my crown jewel.”




Posted in Uncategorized on August 19, 2014 by midliferocker

j roddy

When you see J. Roddy Walston attack his piano at live shows with his band The Business, you have to wonder what intense childhood experiences or wild and crazy influences fostered this nearly insane yet fabulously wonderful performance style. Or maybe it was just grandma.

“My grandmother had a [piano] at her house,” Walston said. “She was this really great gospel-slash-country piano player so she would teach us to play. I sat for hours with her trying to learn to play old gospel tunes like ‘Will The Circle Go Unbroken’ and stuff like that. She was on the gospel circuit in the South for a long time. I remember my grandfather loading up the old Town Car with her and her sisters and traveling to churches to play.”

So credit his granny for instilling a love for an instrument that became an important cog in the success of Walston and his band, who just released their third record “Essential Tremors.”  The album’s title alludes to a nervous-system disorder that makes Walston’s hands shake periodically. As far as shaking on the piano, or his guitar for that matter, I mean, just watching Walston attack songs as his churning bandmates throw down a powerful Southern-based dirty rock groove makes you feel that good ol’ kick-ass rock ‘n’ roll remains alive and well. Think Followill-esque vocals with a harder edge to the band than KOL.

So as far as the ivories, who are Walston’s piano heroes? Well, the “Killer” is in there of course, but so is another piano pioneer.

“I love Jerry Lee, but I think song-wise my favorite piano guy is Fats Domino ‘cuz I think he kinda slays it as far as arrangements and just his vibe,” Walston said from the road. “Performance-wise he and Jerry are it. They’re performing for people, but they’re both lost inside some weird spirit-slash-animal place or something. I don’t know what it is that happens to those guys or that it’s anything like what happens to me or us onstage. You kinda feel that people are there but you’re kinda more working out somethin’ on your own, ya know?”

And for a band like Walston’s Business, 11 years of relentless touring is part and parcel of their hard-fought success. It’s where the rubber meets the road, literally and figuratively.

“Touring has basically been what our band is. If we stop touring, people stop talking about us. And when you’re a band that’s trying to get over the hump, you can’t have people stop talking about you,” Walston said. “We did five years of almost non-stop touring, and by the end of that we were definitely ready to be off the road. But then we were off the road for about a year writing this new record, and by the end of that, everybody was confused. We were like, ‘What are we? Are we still a band?’ Touring is sort of in our DNA so it was confusing for a lot of us. It was strange for us not to sit in each other’s stink for eight hours a day.”

Walston’s Tennessee roots naturally throw him and his band into a Southern music category of sorts, but that certainly doesn’t limit them to sounding like Southern rockers.

“This (new) record overall may be a little less ‘Southern-y’, but to me, rock ‘n’ roll is from the South,” Walston said. “People say Southern Rock and mainly think of the Allman Brothers, but James Brown, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Stax, Big Star — all of them are ‘the South,’  they’re no less Southern as far as I’m concerned.”

The reckless abandon that Walston exhibits in his live shows makes every performance special. Overall you feel like you’re seeing a band on the brink of breaking out in a huge way, a band that has paid its dues and deserves the rewards that come from a tried-and-true rock ‘n’ roll tradition: working their collective asses off.

“We had a very long time to figure out what it is that we do and to continue to keep it fresh,” Walston said. “We don’t even travel with a sound guy or anything like that, so every night is different. At this point, I’ve never had a moment when we’re walking on stage and I’m like, ‘I hope we can figure out what to do.’ I always feel that we are ready.”


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 11, 2014 by midliferocker

trigger hippy logo Is there life after The Black Crowes? Steve Gorman’s superb new band proves that there sure is.  

By Steve Houk

So what do you do for an encore after you play drums for 15 years in one of the world’s biggest rock bands? Steve Gorman, an original member of rock heavyweights The Black Crowes, did what alot of great musicians do who still have their chops (and their faculties) after such a run — he started his own band.

And a damn good band at that. Trigger Hippy, who plays the Birchmere August 17th, is an idea Gorman and buddy Nick Govrik had for a few years, one that they weren’t sure they could ever get going.

“I think the first time I ever played with (Nick), I said, ‘Man, we gotta start a real band,” Gorman told me from his home in Nashville. “And he said ‘Yeah we should.’ Well you say that alot and then you move on. But it was something that for the both of us was always in the back of our heads. And so in 2009, we were still tryin’, but the Crowes were so busy from ’05 through ’10 that the scheduling was impossible. In 2010 I knew the Crowes were gonna take a break, and I said, ‘Hey look, now’s the time if you’re interested,’ and we had always thrown song ideas at each other, you know, we had this two years of an idea really seriously germinating.”

So when it looked like the Crowes were coming to a triumphant (and in some ways, welcome) end after 25 years of taking the world by storm, Gorman was finally able to make Trigger Hippy a reality, the only issue was rounding out the band. First, a lead singer was needed, and after grappling with who to recruit, Gorman realized the perfect choice was pretty much right in front of him.

“I was in the car one day and I heard ‘Right Hand Man’ by Joan Osborne“, Gorman said. “Joan and I had been friends forever, and in two years of seriously thinking about this, I never once thought about a female singer. But I heard one note of that song and thought, ‘Oh my God, what’s wrong with me? Joan would be perfect for this.’ I called her the next day and I was like, ‘What’s goin’ on? I haven’t talked to you in forever’, it was a nice catch up, ya know, ‘How’s your kid?’ and ‘My kids are great’ and ‘Anyway, ya wanna start a band?’ She was luckily at a point where she had been putting alot of thought into that very thing, like, it’s hard to be the name on the ticket, it’s hard to just constantly be the artist, everything’s on her shoulders as Joan Osborne. She said, ‘It’s so funny, I’ve been thinking lately, I just wish I was a singer in a band.’ And I said, ‘Well, here it is, let’s go.’ “

And Osborne jumped at the chance, flying to Nashville two months later. The next piece of the puzzle was also someone Gorman knew — talented (and briefly Black Crowes interim) guitarist/singer/keyboardist Jackie Greene. But it wasn’t until Greene and Osborne were sitting together at an early rehearsal that the vision of the band became crystal clear to Gorman. It wouldn’t be the jam band he envisioned, it would be more of a vocal based band, given the sheer vocal talent he had on hand.

“(Jackie and Joan) were just sitting there off to the side singing,” Gorman said, “It was like, ‘Did you ever hear that song by so and so?’ and he would start to sing it and she would just harmonize, and there was that moment, ya know, like in a bad movie about bands, when we all looked at each other and went, ‘Holy shit!’ I’d love to say it was by design, that this was the vision we always had, but it wasn’t that at all, it was really a great happy accident to go, ‘Oh wait, you guys sound amazing together!’  It just fell into place, like literally overnight. The next day we all got back in the room, and we were wholly on our way to being a real band.”

The current lineup of Trigger Hippy: (L-R) Tom Bukovac, Joan Osborne, Nick Govrik, Steve Gorman and Jackie Greene (photo by Paul Natkin)

The current lineup of Trigger Hippy: (L-R) Tom Bukovac, Joan Osborne, Nick Govrik, Steve Gorman and Jackie Greene (photo by Paul Natkin)

After playing a few gigs with respected musicians like current Widespread Panic/former Allman Brothers & Furthur guitarist Jimmy Herring,  they were still looking for that last cog in the machine that would solidify the band, and Gorman was elated when one of Nashville’s top session men, guitarist Tom Bukovac, agreed to come on full time.

“We knew we hadn’t found the fifth person yet, we’d had a couple guys play with us and they were great and it was fun, but you could tell they were treating it more like a gig, and we were getting seriously minded about it. I called Tom praying he would say yes to playing a few gigs with us, I really never thought he would say, ‘I’d like to do this’ because I just didn’t think that was possible. But we did three gigs and after the third gig, he walked up to me and Joan and said, ‘Alright, what’s next? What are we gonna do?’ and we coulda just cried, we were so happy. That’s when we started workin’.”

Finally, Trigger Hippy are ready to spread their wings, their first full album of soul-infused rock is due out in September, and Gorman couldn’t be happier. Why? Just Google the name and you’ll find a dozen live videos that show the band’s power and promise, from solid original tunes to covers like The Beatles‘ “Don’t Let Me Down”, the Grateful Dead‘s “Sugaree” and Neil Young‘s “Southern Man.” So as Trigger Hippy begins their journey, does Gorman think his legendary first band will ever come a’ callin’ to pull him away from this exciting new venture?

“I don’t think so. I’ve thought that before, but if you go see Chris (Robinson, The Black Crowes’ lead singer) he’s very happy doing what he’s doing. But I haven’t given the Black Crowes a second thought since that last tour ended. We had a really good year last year, everyone was respectful of each other. We got along as well as we needed to and I thought the shows were good, so when it ended, I just felt like, that was great, see you guys later, perfect. Now my sole musical focus is Trigger Hippy. Time to move on.”

Steve Gorman (far left) and Trigger Hippy play live in Fairfield CT earlier this year (photo by Chad Anderson)

Steve Gorman (far left) and Trigger Hippy play live in Fairfield CT earlier this year (photo by Chad Anderson)

Trigger Hippy appears Sunday August 17th at The Birchmere, 3701 Mt Vernon Ave, Alexandria, VA 22305. For tickets, click here


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