Tori Amos: ‘An angry 40-year-old is a scary thing’

Published Aug. 29, 2003/Scripps Newspapers

 

Tori Amos recently celebrated her 40th birthday, and the singer/songwriter says it was no big deal. She’d already had her rites of passage.

“Thirty-five was really hard for me,” Amos says. “Because I wasn’t a mom, I’d had two miscarriages, and in the end I had three, and I wanted to be a mom. I was ready.”

Known for her sometimes painfully intimate songs that combine elliptical poetry with bold expressions of sensuality, Amos – the daughter of a Methodist minister — had been one of the fearless “angry young women” of the musical ’90s. She was a piano-pounding bundle of steely nerves.

Today she’s married to sound engineer Mark Hawley, and daughter Natasha is nearly 3 years old. They share a nice, quiet home, with garden, in Martin County.

Tori Amos has grown up.

“Thank God,” she says. “Let’s be honest with each other, an angry 40-year-old is really, really a scary thing. I’ve been able to stay in this business, and I’ve walked through raving and ranting at the church, and the patriarchy, and the guys who are getting 15,000 boys to chant ‘Die, Bitch, Die’ at their concerts. I’ve gone after them.

“And now I’m going after it in a way that isn’t with anger, but hopefully with a sense of humor. I don’t have the knives out, I’ve got the pen out. And that’s different.”

Her “Lottapianos” tour winds down Thursday at the Sound Advice Amphitheatre. The show is being filmed for a live DVD.

Amos considers “Scarlet’s Walk,” her 2002 release, to be the opening chapter in the second book of her life chronicle.

It’s a musically challenging work, less starkly confessional than vintage Tori; her lyrics are framed by lush aural landscapes. “Scarlet” is the work of an artist who’s come a long way from the bristling canvas of the early days.

“When I was writing (the albums) ‘Little Earthquakes’ and ‘Under the Pink,’ I liked being in that place,” Amos says. “I had embraced the piano again.

“And then, after those two records, relationships were unraveling, I was in a different world. I had moved from the south on the Native American medicine wheel to the west. I was finding out what kind of woman I wanted to be. I got involved in all sorts of relationships with people where I realized I didn’t want to be treated like that, but sometimes it’s a very harsh teaching. And that’s what ‘Boys For Pele’ was about.

“And then I fell in love with this engineer, and it turned my life upside down. I didn’t expect it would be that way. Then I got pregnant by surprise and we miscarried, and that was the beginning of that dark walk.

“So I think now at 40 I kind of see myself more as a lighthouse than one of these ships on the wild ocean. I’ve done that, and it’s better to be a nurturing force.”

Amos’ legions of fiercely faithful fans know her as a woman unafraid to discuss anything in her lyrics, and for her histrionic, sexually charged live performances.

She says she’s comfortable with the changes in her life.

“It’s about power, it’s not about passion. You’ve been in that place and you’ve played ‘Coquette,’ and you’ve done all that. Now it’s time to move. And some women get stuck in that place. Especially in the entertainment industry, and you try and hold onto that place.

“Because I physically wasn’t becoming a mother, the process kept dying. I was in a dark place, and I think that writing the records ‘From the Choirgirl Hotel’ and ‘To Venus and Back’ helped me to move. And then I, surprisingly, got the stomach flu and that became Natasha.

“For me, there’s life B.T. and A.T. Before Tash and After Tash.”

Amos and her family live for part of each year in the Sewall’s Point home they bought in 1995. “I come to write there, and I come to get away from it all,” she explains. “But the husband won’t allow a studio system in the house — he said ‘We have to have a break from the records.’ So I have a piano there, but there’s no work done there. Writing, but it’s more of a creating space and a rejuvenating space.”

Amos records at her other residence, in Cornwall, England. “My husband is British, and he’s difficult,” she laughs. “So we have to be there for football season. My daughter could practically say ‘Arsenal’ before she could say ‘Mom.’ Which I’ve had to come to terms with.”

Her parents, originally from North Carolina, live in Port St. Lucie. “My mother picked the house out for me,” Amos says. “I wanted her to. I was in Europe at the time, touring.

“I’ve always loved my mother’s taste. I just said pick something with a view, and don’t worry about the house because I’m gonna gut it anyway. It doesn’t matter, because I’m gonna make it my own.”

The house, Amos explains, doesn’t exactly have a living room. “I built a treehouse in the middle, which is our entertainment center. It’s a mixture of Alice in Wonderland and Paul Bowles’ ‘Tea in the Sahara.’

“I just had this picture of a treehouse with a white canvas tent and wood, and stone steps. One of the architects in town came and helped design everything.”

She says the treehouse had to be large enough to contain her grand piano.

Thursday’s concert in West Palm Beach will be her last for a while, Amos says.

“It’s not that I’m tired of touring,” she explains. “What’s got to happen, as a mom – she starts school in September. They start them young over there. She’s starting ballet, and she’s starting piano lessons, and she wants to learn the drums. She wants to dance. And she wants to go to school and learn to read. So this is what we have to do this fall.

“We can’t go out on the road for a while, so there’s no touring even being considered until possibly 2005.”

What’s next is a “Best of Tori Amos” CD, with the most popular tracks from life B.T., plus two newly recorded songs. “That’s kind of chronicling how I saw things from 1990 to 2003,” she says. “And I’m interested in scoring some music for the visual arts side. I won’t say films, because it’s hard to know what that’s going to be yet.”

The Boy Who Would Be Stills

Two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Stephen Stills went to a dozen different schools in his youth. The ones he remembers most fondly, however, were in Gainesville.

Stills spent two years at Sidney Lanier Elementary School in the mid 1950s, moved away and returned for a year at Gainesville High during the 1962-63 school year. He came back again to briefly attend the University of Florida.

“I remember the humidity,” says Stills, 56. “The Spanish moss. Paynes Prairie. I remember Frances Murphree diving at the Gainesville Country Club, where the college now has its golf course. She was the star of the pool.

“I remember the KA’s blew up the SAE lions. They had some guy from the ROTC get about a dime’s worth of C-4, and they blew them to smithereens. Nobody told forever. It was much too big of a charge, and it blew out all the windows across the street.”

Stills was just 18 when he left school forever to pursue a career in music. As a founding member of Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills & Nash, he made some of the most significant and lasting music of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Stills was born in Texas, and his parents, Otie and Talitha, moved the family to Illinois and Louisiana before settling – for the first time – in Florida.

“My father was basically one of those entrepreneur types that would just start up stuff, make a bunch of money and then get bored,” Stills recalls. “It would fall apart, then we’d be broke and he would start again.

“We didn’t get to the beach, but we stopped in Gainesville. He thought that was the prettiest place he saw.”

The family’s first home was at Northwest 6th Place and 22nd Street, in a new subdivision called University Court. Otie Stills built the house himself.

“The Dean of Men from the University of Florida lived next door, and he hated us. He almost kept me out of school, I had formative years there. Sold Coca-Cola at the stadium, and I fell in love with the Gators then.”

The dean, Lester Hale, had a daughter young Stevie’s age, Cindy. Today, Cynthia Hale Gross says her father actually liked Steve and his two sisters. Everybody did. “The Stills family built a brick wall around their house with the bricks from the old First Presbyterian Church,” Gross remembers. “And everyone was intrigued by that.”

Gross, who lives in Jacksonville, never forgot her tow-headed neighbor. The families often carpooled to Sunday School. “I always thought he  had one of the most infectious laughs I ever heard,” she says. “You couldn’t hear him laugh without laughing too.”

Stills: “I remember being able to ride your bicycle to school and not worrying about anything. I remember the black people being incredibly friendly. And Mama Lo’s, Jesus, to this day I still have not tasted its like.”

After a stint in the Tampa area, where Stephen attended public schools and a military academy, the family landed in San Juan, Costa Rica. He was enrolled at Colegio Lincoln, a tony prep school.

They weren’t done with Gainesville, however.

“When my father was in one of his flopping around, figuring out what to do periods, I moved back to Gainesville and went to GHS,” he remembers. “I’d gone to Costa Rica, and I came back to Gainesville High School to see about getting out early, and also to see what it was going to take to get into college.”

Stills is pictured four times in the 1963 GHS yearbook. Along with his senior picture, he’s seen playing a bass drum in the band, be-robed in the front row of the chorus, and as part of a folksinging group called the Accidental Trio.

“We were going to be the next Peter, Paul, and Mary,” says Nancy Ruth, the “Mary” of the trio (she was Nancy Willingham in those days). “I always had a feeling Steve would go far with his talent. My mom actually bought him the Goya guitar he played in the trio—I don’t think he could afford a good one—and boy, could he make that thing sing.”

On the back cover of the landmark 1967 album Buffalo Springfield Again, one of the many names listed in the “thank you” section is Peanuts Willingham, Nancy’s mother.

Ruth, who now works as an accountant in Gainesville, remembers that her mom actually knew someone in the music business, for whom the Accidental Trio auditioned. The man was most impressed with Stephen’s guitar playing.

He’d fallen in love with the guitar during that first tenure in Costa Rica. “When I started getting good enough to play, there was nothing to do but play acoustic guitar in the bathroom at night, until my sister came and yelled at me,” he says.

Otie Stills was a land developer, among other things, and he called his teenaged son back to Costa Rica to help him with a project. Stephen finally graduated from Collegio Lincoln in 1963, and that fall he enrolled at UF.

Stills describes his family life as “chaos” and he was determined to get away.

Stills’ first rock ‘n’ roll outfit included his Accidental Trio buddy Jeff Williams, and Gainesville native Don Felder, the resident “hotshot guitarist” in town.

“Me and Jeff got this band called the Continentals, and we got Felder to come in,” Still explains. “He would only show up for gigs. He didn’t rehearse—we never saw him except for gigs. He was too cool to rehearse, and we were just kids. It was a real hoot. Jeff’s big brother was an SAE, so we played fraternity parties.”

Stills had to borrow an electric guitar to play with the band. “I was the drummer first, but Jeff couldn’t play anything. But he could keep time. And he was the one with the car and the mom that was really understanding.” He bunked at the Williams house and taught Jeff how to play the drums.

Felder would achieve superstardom, just a few years after Stills, as a member of the Eagles.

It was during his Joe College days that Stills began to appreciate rhythm ‘n’ blues music; professional soul bands were all the rage on Fraternity Row. There was somebody cool to see every weekend.

Although he attended classes religiously, Stills was not destined to graduate from UF.

“The University of Florida was not the Harvard of the South that it is today,” he says. “It was a step back from that rough-ass prep school in Costa Rica that I went to. That thing was the best school in the area. Presidents would send their sons and daughters to the school because it was so good.

“I came back because I liked it. I wanted out of the house, away from the family. I moved in with friends, and then the college told me that despite my good grades they basically couldn’t accept me because all the records were fucked up. I was there—I know I went to class!

“So I just split and went to New Orleans, then to New York—and the rest, as they say, is history.”

Along with Ohioan Richie Furay, Stills joined a harmony-singing folk group, the Au Go Go Singers. Eventually they found their way to California, where they put Buffalo Springfield together with Canadian singer/guitarist Neil Young.

Buffalo Springfield lasted just 18 months, but the band’s folk, rock and country blend laid the groundwork for so much that was to follow, including Crosby, Stills & Nash (and, sometimes, Young).

Today, Stills has homes in Beverly Hills, California, and in Florida, where he’s registered to vote. He is a lifetime member of the University of Florida Alumni Association.

Stills was the first musician inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice on the same night, for his work in Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills & Nash.

In 1968, just five years after he’d left Gainesville for good, Stephen Stills performed in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.  Buffalo Springfield was opening for the Beach Boys.

“I remember what I wore,” he says. “I wore a green Pierre Cardin suit, and a paisley scarf as a tie. I was very much the ‘British pop star.’ Most people didn’t know that I was there, and nobody paid any attention, and there was no review. Nobody cared. It was a Beach Boys show.

“I think some of my running buds were in Vietnam, and a couple more were off in other colleges, or had moved away. But I was a townie.”

 

@2001 The Gainesville Sun

The elements – Earth, Wind & Fire

Without Maurice White, the 1970s wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting.

The founder, songwriter, singer, percussionist and creative pivot point for the musical juggernaut that was Earth, Wind & Fire, White was responsible for bringing funk, rhythm ‘n’ blues, jazz, pop and spirituality together in a way that nobody — not even Sly Stone, who’d aimed in the same direction — could have foreseen.

The nine–piece group made some of the decade’s most exciting records, crossing boundaries of race, radio and finely etched musical manifestos with the kind of ease that defines the most important kind of cultural innovation.

And the musicianship was always kept at the highest level.

“We just wanted to be the best band in the world,” said vocalist Philip Bailey. “It wasn’t about trying to get rich. We were all just very much in love with the art and we were willing to work, and do whatever we needed to do, to be the best that we could be.

“In our own minds, in our own hearts, we just wanted to lift the bar and, like Maurice used to say, be true to the art form. Let it carry you, and let it be the barometer by which you judge yourself, and not anybody else.”

The message, to the tune, was always positive. Today, the best Earth Wind & Fire songs retain their brilliant musical grooves, and their lyrics are as fresh and immovably, profoundly optimistic as when they were first offered up.

“In Japan, we’re called the greatest funk band,” Bailey said. “I tell them we’re not a funk band — Parliament/Funkadelic is the funk band. I think we’re a fusion band made commercial, because of all the different elements that are there.

“The one thing that we have done is chosen selectively what not to do, and I think that’s been as big a key as any to the longevity. God’s blessings, first and foremost. But I think that because the intent in our hearts, and purpose, was pure.”

 

‘He makes plans’

Born in Memphis, where his classmates included Isaac Hayes, Booker T. Jones and David Porter, Maurice White had aspirations towards a career in medicine. But he got interested in the drums, and he and Jones put together a jazz combo called the Mad Lads to play campus clubs and parties.

White’s mother moved the family to Chicago, where her teen-aged son entered junior college — and, ultimately, the Chicago Conservatory of Music, where he met many of the musicians who would play important roles in the evolution of Earth, Wind & Fire.

White got a job as staff drummer for Chicago-based Chess Records and its Okeh imprint, playing on seminal sessions for the likes of Fontella Brass, Etta James, Betty Everett (that’s him on the original “You’re No Good”) and even Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon.

All day, he’d bang out R&B in the studio, and at night play the traps in the Windy City’s premiere jazz clubs. He became good friends and confidantes with Chess’ staff arranger, pianist Charles Stepney.

The Ramsey Lewis Trio, the label’s star act, recorded in Studio A on the second floor (the Chess Brothers’ business offices were downstairs).

The group would often ran into White and Stepney, who would be rehearsing in Studio B. “Maurice was a fiery drummer, but very soft-spoken,” Lewis recalled. “He would ask me ‘What’s a publishing company?’ ‘What’s a manager supposed to do?”

“Now, I had no idea our group was gonna break up. But he was asking me ‘What’s it like on the road?’ Then I’d see him two or three weeks later: ‘Hi Ramsey; now, what’d you say a booking agent was supposed to do?’ This went on and on.”

In 1966, Lewis’ drummer and bassist left over a money dispute. White was enlisted to play in the “new” Ramsey Lewis Trio, on its never–ending tour of theaters and college campuses.

It was during this period he began playing the kalimba, a hand–held African instrument also known as a “thumb piano.” White would sometimes solo on the kalimba instead of his drum kit.

“He stayed out on the road with me for about three years,” said Lewis. “And one night, afterwards, he said ‘I think in a few months I’m gonna be leaving the group. I’m going to form my own group.’

“I said ‘What is it — jazz trio, or quintet, you got a couple horns or what?’ He said ‘No, man, I’m gonna form a group that’s gonna do magic. We’re gonna play R&B, pop, jazz, and dance …

“I said ‘Reese, take a couple aspirin, go home, meet us at the airport tomorrow morning. You’ll get over it.'”

Within four months White tendered his resignation and moved to Los Angeles to put his dream band into action.

Initially, they were called the Salty Peppers, and their Chicago–cut single, “La La Time,” a regional hit, had been picked for national distribution by Capitol.

The label issued two singles by the Salty Peppers; they were not successful, and a promised Capitol album failed to materialize — but White was already a dozen ideas past the Salty Peppers, anyway.

He had conceived of a multi–player band — an ensemble, really — that would combine hardcore funk with jazz, smooth R ‘n’ B and first–class musicality. And showmanship. He’d told Lewis the band would “fly” on the stage.

“He was on a plane,” recalled Maurice’s half–brother Verdine. “And he sketched it out. A band that would encompass all different types of music.”

Furthermore, Maurice intended to reach out to all sorts of people with positive, uplifting lyrics, and inspirational messages adapted from the Eastern thoughts he’d been studying since a visit to the Far East with Lewis. He planned to play lots of kalimba, too, to connect the group with its African bloodline.

“Somehow, the name Salty Peppers didn¹t feel universal enough,” he later told an interviewer. “I came up with the name because my astrological chart had no water in it: Earth, Air & Fire didn’t sound right so I used ‘Wind’ instead.”

“Reese has always been, and still is, a thinker,” said Lewis. “He kinda thinks and figures out stuff, and he makes plans.

“He carries books around where he jots down his ideas, whether they’re musical, or things he wants to do or think about. He reads a lot of books and makes plans.

“Then he focuses and gets committed and he brings people around him to make those ideas a reality. That¹s what Maurice is.”

Verdine White, all of 19 and still attending high school, had been studying bass back in Chicago under Chess’ studio trombonist Louis Satterfield.

A call from big bro convinced Verdine to move to L.A. and become part of Earth, Wind & Fire. Most of the other chairs in the band were filled by Maurice’s old–school jazz chums from the Conservatory.

The band signed with Warner Bros in 1970, issued a self-titled debut, and the wheels began to slowly turn. They recorded songs for the soundtrack of writer/director Mario van Peebles’ Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song.

A second album, The Need of Love, was released in ’71 and, like its predecessor, went nowhere. “The beginning was difficult,” said Verdine. “Because nobody had ever seen a group like this before.”

 

Full Spectrum Music

Philip Bailey was singing and playing percussion in a cover band called Friends & Love, a big fish in the small pond that was Denver, Colorado.

“Obviously, there wasn’t a lot of African American culture there, but it was a great place to grow up, and a great place to raise a family,” Bailey said.

In 1972, Friends & Love opened an afternoon show for Earth, Wind & Fire at the Hilton Hotel in Denver.

They were already fans, Bailey remembered. “I’d heard the music before I actually saw them, and I didn’t think that they were black,” he said. “Because that was the time of Motown and Philly and doo–wop. My band was playing Rare Earth, Three Dog Night, Blood, Sweat & Tears, all that kind of stuff. Pop that has the most progressive and eclectic sound.

“All of a sudden, I hear this music that¹s totally different. I notice that it has some color to it, but it has a different kind of lyrical orientation — it’s philosophical. So we started doing their music, because we were of that mindset.”

Bailey and Dunn had another gig that night; the White Brothers came to see their show before setting out next day for the rest of their tour.

“After that,” he said, “it became apparent to me that if I didn¹t want to be a local yokel, I was going to have to move.”

Bailey relocated to Los Angeles to play percussion with the gospel trio the Stovall Sisters, who’d backed Norman Greenbaum on the hit “Spirit in the Sky.”

Soon, many of the musicians who’d come west with the White brothers quit, disgusted, and returned to more lucrative gigs in Chicago clubs. The others were let go, leaving only Maurice and Verdine to re-think the whole thing.

The pressure was on. “I think somebody sat down with him and told him look, if you really want to take this to the next level, you need to come in with some guys that have a look, are more aggressive with the sound, and are a bit younger,” said Los Angeles percussionist and singer Ralph Johnson, who auditioned, and won, a spot in the new band.

After a few musicians came and went, afresh–faced new lineup was set in stone. Guitarists Al McKay and Johnny Graham came on board, along with three of the young musicians that had so impressed the Whites in Denver: Larry Dunn on piano, saxophonist Andrew Woolfolk, and — most importantly — Philip Bailey.

In 1972, Columbia Records honcho (and legendary career-maker) Clive Davis auditioned the “new” Earth, Wind & Fire. “Maurice and I had heard that Clive was looking for us,” Verdine White recalled. “We had opened up for Dizzy Gillespie at the Bitter End East, and some guy named Chuck said ‘The man’s looking for you.’ Reese and I thought it was the police, so we started trotting back to the hotel room! And he said no, no, no, it¹s Clive Davis.”

Davis bought out the group’s Warner Bros. contract and put them back into the studio with Joe Wissert, who’d been at the helm for the earlier records.

Each Columbia album — Last Days and Time, Head to the Sky and Open Our Eyes — sold progressively better, and radio was taking an interest, the group was generating a buzz on college campuses, and, as Verdine likes to point out, those were the days when record labels believed in “nurturing” a new act.

Open Our Eyes was a million–seller, and reached No. 1 on the black album charts. Crucially, for this record White enlisted Charles Stepney to refine the group’s arrangements. “He was the kind of cat that, if he couldn’t play an instrument, he’d go buy one, sit in his basement and teach himself to play it,” recalled Larry Dunn. “He was an amazing piano player.”

Two of Stepney’s album productions — Minnie Riperton¹s Come Into My Garden and Ramsey Lewis’ Mother Nature’s Son — were favorites of everyone in Earth, Wind & Fire.

“Mighty Mighty,” the single from Open Our Eyes, was Earth, Wind & Fire’s first appearance on the charts: It went to No. 4 R&B No. 20 pop, in March 1974.

With Wissert out, and Stepney as a full producing partner, Earth, Wind & Fire went back into the studio in late ’74 to cut the soundtrack for a low–budget film called That’s the Way of the World. The band and Stepney worked closely to give the music a sophisticated edge — from the punchy funk of “Shining Star” to the elegantly soulful titles track and “Reasons,” which showcased Bailey’s stunning four–octave falsetto – That’s the Way of the World was refined rhythm ‘n’ blues music, not too rough for the black audience, not too soft for the blacks. Just the coolest of the cool.

This was Maurice White¹s vision come to life.

“Step wrote the music for ‘That’s the Way of the World,’ ‘Reasons’ and a couple of others, then charted it out and conducted it,” recalled Dunn.

“We would go to Chicago, to his basement, and go over the songs. Then we’d go back and record ’em. Then Step would fly out and write the arrangement — or we’d send him the tracks — and then we¹d go to the studio and he¹d conduct the orchestra.”

Verdine White: “He explained music; he explained what was in our heads, what chords were. When I would overdub with him, and with Larry and Ralph, we would talk about music.

“He’d had a tremendous amount of experience, which was great for us. He was kinda like what Quincy Jones was to Michael Jackson, or George Martin to the Beatles. Where you actually have someone who is a musicologist as well as a producer — a producer to explain what’s in your head.”

Stepney and the White Brothers also collaborated with Ramsey Lewis in 1975 on Sun Goddess, the piano legend’s first foray into fusion music. The title track, although it has no lyrics, wouldn’t sound out of place on That’s the Way of the World. Stepney himself played second piano on Lewis&339; recording, and arranged the track.

Although the movie, starring a young Harvey Keitel as a record producer and Earth, Wind & Fire as “The Group,” was a massive flop, the That’s the Way of the World album sent “Shining Star” to the top of the pop and R&B charts, and the title song into the Top Ten. The album, too, went to No. 1 and sold over a million copies.

According to guitarist McKay, the groove was paramount. “On the records, a majority of five of us cut the tracks, and we’d reproduce it onstage. I did most of the guitar work on all the stuff in the studio.

“Of course, I’m not taking anything away from Johnny — he did some great stuff too. Great solos on That’s the Way of the World.

³But it started out, in the studio, with Maurice on drums, and me, Verdine and Larry,² he explained. ³Maurice was at the helm ­ and we went from there.²

The live legend of Earth, Wind & Fire began around this time; as the money started rolling in, White beefed up the already–impressive stage setup with flamboyant costuming, special effects and elaborate choreography.

“He wanted to do something called Full Spectrum Music,” recalled Ralph Johnson. “He wanted to have a band that had a great live presentation. That was essentially it, because at that time everybody was just kind of standing around, and nobody was into special effects, not really.

“He wanted to take it up to the next level. He wanted to have a black band that could play all styles of music and at the same time have a great live presentation.”

Nine became 13 with the addition of the Phenix Horns, led by Don Myrick and Louis Satterfield, longtime White collaborators, on saxophone and trombone, respectively.

The word Phenix — spelled in the Egyptian fashion, without the letter “o” — had great resonance for Maurice White, who loved its connotation as a living thing risen from the ashes of something once alive, now inert.

Through it all, somehow, the music remained the center of attention. “It wasn’t complicated, it was natural,” said Bailey. “It came from Maurice’s concept first, then people’s individual love and taste for music stylings.

“I came from pop radio,” McKay said. “I was a Motown guy. And Johnny and I played great together onstage — he was more of an Albert King, blues style. I was just a little bit of everything.”

“Many of us loved jazz,” said Bailey. “What Al added to the puzzle was the commerciality. What I added was the harmonics and my voice stylings, and a concept, vocally. If it had been something we were overthinking, I don¹t think it would have ever happened.”

 

Powerhouse without peer

“I knew,” Dunn recalled, “that this was going to go all the way. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind. It wasn¹t so much ‘We’re going to be famous!’ as ‘This is gonna be a very huge musical aggregation!'”

Between 1975 and ’79, Earth, Wind & Fire was one of the hugest musical aggregations on the planet. The band sold more than 30 million albums, and won six Grammys, and their world tours were among the hottest of tickets. Six consecutive albums went platinum.

Gratitude, a double LP, was issued in late 1975. Although it contained several new studio cuts (including the chart’topping “Sing A Song,” written around a riff Al McKay came up with in a dressing room), three sides were live (they were literally touring so much, they didn’t have time to finish an entire record).

Gratitude also featured the live Earth, Wind & Fire version of “Sun Goddess,” with brilliant solos by Larry Dunn on piano and Andrew Woolfolk on sax.

Musically, they were a powerhouse without peer, with each musician at the top of his game, and Maurice White and Philip Bailey out front, duetting and trading off vocals. It was like an exuberant, three-ring funk ‘n’ jazz circus. “Keep Your Head to the Sky” and “Open Our Eyes,” with their stirring gospel feel, were always concert highlights.

White and Johnson alternated between drums, percussion and out–front vocals; Verdine’s younger brother Freddie joined the ranks in 1976 to give the band extra punch.

“He was just laying it down,” said Dunn. “I’d never really heard a drummer hit that bass drum like that. At the first rehearsal, it wasn’t miked and I could feel the bass drum. I was like ‘Man, this cat is serious.&339;”

The first special effects, courtesy of an L.A. magician named Nailhead, involved horizontally “levitating” Verdine White on a wire, while he was laying down a particularly funky bass solo. Dunn’s piano would rise eight feet in the air and start to spin as he played, “and I never fell off.”

Later, as budgets allowed, Maurice hired Doug Henning and his assistant, David Copperfield, to create an elaborate stage setup, utilizing both Egyptian symbolism and Close Encounters–style light and smoke spaceship gimmicks.

Their choreographer was George Faison, a Tony winner for 1974’s The Wiz.

According to the band members, there was never a danger that the spectacle would overtake the music … and the spirit.

“We wanted to give the audience more than just an audio concert,” Bailey said. “We were big fans of Broadway, and we wanted to make the visual effects as spectacular as the music.”

“There was so much going on,” Dunn recalled. “All the eye candy was great, but the band was on 900 all the time.”

Halfway through the recording of Spirit in 1976, Charles Stepney died of a heart attack. The album was dedicated to him.

Arranger Tom Washington (aka Tom Tom 84) worked with the band, in Step’s shoes, for the next few years.

Larry Dunn was the “musical director” for the tours. “Even though I was the youngest one, they did listen to me,” he said. “There was none of that. Everybody was a serious musician, and it was about getting it done.

“That’s why the live shows, to this day, are untouched. I haven’t seen too many bands that even come close to that. I’m not saying that because I was in it. It was because I was in it that I can say that. I’d be sitting there onstage and looking around and just going ‘Damn …’ It was pretty serious.”

For the Spirit tour, Reese’s latest infatuation — pyramids, sphinxes and other religious imagery from the Egyptology textbook — took center stage. Henning’s stage design had the band members, who’d arrived in a huge spaceship descending from on high, disappearing into a giant gold pyramid, which then rose in the air before splitting apart — before the shocked audience’s eyes.

The musicians would re–appear in a flash, in spaceman costumes, alive and well. And dancing up a storm.

At one point, Verdine went into an Egyptian sarcophagus while the others played on; Satterfield left his trombone and took over bass duties.

 

Beginning of the end

The records — All’N All (1977), The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire Vol. I (1978), I Am (1979) — were flying off shelves; arenas around the world were stuffed with fans who wanted the total experience.

Maurice built his empire like a pharaoh. Through his Kalimba Productions, he produced hits for Denise Williams, the Emotions and others. He started his own label imprint, ARC, distributed through Columbia, and opened a massive studio and office complex in Los Angeles.

Inside the hurricane, Verdine said, the focus remained on the music. “What you know is that you gotta keep progressing,” he said. “Particularly when you’re dealing in music, because music is something you get from the spirit.

“We noticed that we were digging in deeper, musically. We were never out of the studio. For me personally, it was all the same — the days were nights, the nights were days. It was like one big thread.”

The constant rehearsals were necessary, he said, to remind themselves that they were, first and foremost, a band. “The bigger the place is, the smaller the music is. The smaller the place is, the bigger the music is, because the music has a place to develop.

“When you’re playing in front of 20, 30 thousand people, that’s show business. That”s not really as much music. It’s the same problem the Beatles had when they were performing at Shea Stadium or Candlestick Park — the show was bigger than the music. They really couldn’t hear themselves onstage.

“And I think any band that’s performing in big places has that big challenge of making the music that comes out of an intimate setting, come out just as intimate in a big setting.”

In 1978, the band was featured in Robert Stigwood’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band movie, performing the only song on the soundtrack not produced by George Martin: “Got to Get You Into My Life.”

I Am produced two major hits: Bill Champlin’s ballad “After the Love Has Gone” (with string arrangement by David Foster) and “Boogie Wonderland,” a full–tilt disco number produced by Maurice White and Al McKay, featuring vocals by the Emotions, the female trio White was producing on ARC.

Earth, Wind & Fire, however, would barely survive the ’70s. After 1980’s Faces, McKay quit. “It was just time to get away,” he explained. “Maurice and I were starting to clash pretty bad. It was time to move on; no regrets.

“In the beginning, it was a family thing. We all created and that was it. It was understood that we were a band, and that’s the way I’d always thought of it, as our band. We go in and create music together, and everybody shares in the rewards.

“But things work out a little different sometimes. Not to fault anybody, but you just have to be aware of what you’re getting yourself into when you get involved in a situation like that, with so many people.”

What it was, was mutiny.

“After Al left, it became the Maurice White Show,” Bailey said. “We just started being sidemen, and it just lost all of the magic of what it was before.”

Although “Let’s Groove,” with its electronic beats, was a Top Five hit in 1981, Bailey all but dismisses everything that came after That’s the Way of the World, All’N All and I Am. “Those records were the heart and soul of the band,” he said. “To this day, the whole catalog is driven by those records. All the stuff after that, Powerlight and crazy mess that we did, that stuff didn’t mean a thing.”

One by one, the band members drifted away — even the Phenix Horns accepted a lucrative offer from Phil Collins.

“When you start thinking it’s all you, that’s the beginning of the end,” Johnson said.

“The fact of the matter is, Maurice was only as good as the people he surrounded himself with. He was smart enough to surround himself with a bunch of young, aggressive cats who would listen to him. And that¹s how that sound came about.”

Dunn recalled the 1983 album Electric Universe: “I took it home after it was finished and I played it. I told Maurice the next day, ‘I listened to it. Good music, it is. Earth, Wind & Fire, it ain’t.'”

“When you have a group of nine personalities, it’s hard to hold all that together, to Reese’s defense,” Johnson said. “But everybody is not a leader.

“And so Maurice put out a solo record and it did absolutely nothing. Well, it did absolutely nothing because that was God’s plan — that’s what he wanted, for it to do absolutely nothing. Because at that point, Reese was so full of himself, it was incredible.”

Bailey was livid. “Nothing’s ever just one person,” he said. “Taking nothing away from Maurice’s abilities as a facilitator and a visionary and all that, but without a song which Charles Stepney was a major part of, with an arrangement he was able to craft, without a band, without the rhythm section that Al McKay used to take Maurice’s idea and make it commercial, without a great record company that supports a band, there would be no Earth, Wind & Fire.

“Once we had success, and Maurice was the spearhead, then management and everybody started telling him that he was the god of everything. That he was the be–all and end–all of everything. And he started believing it. And it just tore up the group.”

Bailey, who scored a No. 1 hit in 1986 with “Easy Lover” (a duet with Phil Collins), said that things had got so bad that Earth, Wind & Fire had completely ceased to be.

“The group broke up,” he explained. “All our stuff was sold, all our costumes … some people will tell you ‘Oh, we went on a hiatus.’ You don¹t go on a hiatus and sell all your stuff.”

It would be four years before Bailey and White could speak to each other. The others investigated different aspects of the music business; Verdine went into video direction, and produced an album by the British band Level 42.

“I think we all changed a little bit, because the demands were different,” he said. “And everybody processes the same thing differently. And there was no book where you could ask somebody, ‘How do you deal with this?’ You never know what people are going through.”

 

Touching the world

A truce was reached in 1997, in which Bailey became a full co–owner and co–leader of the band, sharing in all the decisions, planning the set list and in general having just as much clout as Maurice. Touch the World materialized, and the single “System of Survival” made it to No. 1 on the R&B chart. In 1992 came a boxed set, The Eternal Dance, and then the album Millennium.

Maurice White, diagnosed with Parkinson¹s Disease, retired from the road in 1994, although he is still involved in Earth, Wind & Fire recordings.

Today, Bailey explained, “Our relationship is friendly but it’s strained a little bit, just because it’s so complicated.”

White owns the band name, and leases it to Bailey, Johnson and his brother Verdine, who continue to tour — with a huge ensemble, to great acclaim — with Bailey taking most of the tenor and baritone leads that were Maurice¹s trademarks.

Bailey is most gracious in giving praise and thanks to Maurice White during today’s Earth, Wind & Fire shows. The crowd always goes wild.

Don Myrick was murdered in 1993, and Louis Satterfield passed away in 2004. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000, which was, to date, the last time all the surviving members have been together in the same room.

This year, White collaborated with Broadway veteran Maurice Hines on a theatrical revue, Hot Feet, based around classic Earth, Wind & Fire songs.

He declined to be interviewed for this story.

The three veterans are only too aware that, according to history, there could be no Earth, Wind & Fire without Maurice White. And they beg to differ. “Of course, Reese was the spearhead, the guiding light,” said Verdine. “But it was pretty much always a collaborative effort.

“There¹s no way Philip, Ralph and myself could take Earth, Wind & Fire on without Maurice unless we were intimately involved. Because in order to be intimately involved, you have to understand the process of it. And in order for us to keep the sound today, and still lead the band today, we would’ve had to participate intimately in the creation.”

In the final analysis, of course, it’s possible that Earth, Wind & Fire — like so many bands in and of a particular era — just couldn’t survive the inevitable transitions of time and taste.

Innovation’s fuse only burns for so long. After all, the Beatles never made it out of the ’60s.

It’s a fact of show business that Philip Bailey has learned to appreciate over time. “We were able to see things from a different perspective,” he said. “We were able to see what our contribution to the world, to the music scene, had been.

“Prior to that, you’re in it. So you really don’t have the proper perspective.”

@2006 Bill DeYoung

Whistling This: Neil Finn solo (1998)

There’s a lush, green exotic-ness to Neil Finn’s songs, as if they were created in some kind of hothouse rain forest where only the most beautiful flowers get pollinated. Ever since he turned out ‘Message to My Girl’ and ‘One Step Ahead’ as a member of Split Enz, Finn’s songs have had a special and somewhat other-wordly feel to them.

Could be because Finn is a Kiwi, mate, born and bred in New Zealand, the third rock from Australia and a place so far from the United States that just about everything with its stamp seems odd, exotic and attractive.

Or maybe it’s that Neil Finn is just a damn fine songwriter, a man who has that rare gift of turning the everyday moment – or the everyday abstraction – into a sublime pop song. Over the course of four albums with Crowded House, Neil Finn was a melody machine, each sweeter and more delicious than the one before. Crowded House only had one hit in the States, ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’, but it isn’t a stretch to say none of their records, or shows, ever received a bad review. Why Crowded House had to go to England or their homeland to get treated like pop stars, well, that’s a mystery.

Finn has just released Try Whistling This, his first solo album, on which he experiments with different instruments and sonic textures, always coming back to the source: gorgeous melody. The album entered the Australian chart and No 1, and was Top Ten in Britain its first week.

We caught up with him in Orlando, Fla., just before his very first American show as a solo artist.

 

Goldmine: You told me there’s a certain stigma to ‘going solo.’ Are you feeling that intensely?

Neil Finn: Not really. It’s got a touch of the Spinal Tap to it, doesn’t it, going solo? It’s like we’ll find out we’ve got a hit in Japan and re-form and do another tour. There’s nothing wrong with going solo, it just has a sound to it that’s slightly disturbing. But I’m quite well-adjusted to it.

 

You were so faithful to the band for so long. Is there a sense of, I broke up a marriage?

I don’t really feel that guilty about it. I sometimes think ‘What if?’ It carries with it certain risks, and commercially speaking, it’s probably harder. Maybe not quite so much in America, where Crowded House’s fortunes had slipped, anyway. But certainly in England, Australia and New Zealand where things were going very well, it would’ve made commercial sense to continue. But none of that seemed to be central in my thinking at the time.

 

So here you are on the precipice of a whole new thing. Is it daunting?

It’s only daunting when you allow yourself to get caught up in judging your worth by chart positions, or whether you can get on this radio station, or that radio station. That’s the trap sometimes when you’re in the midst of it.

But most of time when you’re traveling with a good bunch of people, as I am, you’re pouring yourself into gigs, and you have an innate feeling of worth, anyway. And it’s really not daunting at all, it’s actually exciting to go from town to town and play.

When I think about the first 10 shows I did with Crowded House, they were very small little pubs in the backlots of Australia. And with about 200 people or something. This tour’s going to theaters with audiences of 2-3,000. So that’s upped the ante quite a bit for the beginning of this band’s career.

 

At the end of the day, though, it’s not like Crowded House. You’re the artist. These guys work for you.

Yeah, but in some ways there’s only a subtle difference. Certainly in terms of recording, with Crowded House I would end up doing most of it myself, anyways.

So in a way, the musicians (on the solo record) were a different cast of characters, that was the main difference. And I didn’t have to consult people to make other decisions – where the touring would go, what sort of promotion we would do, what we would be wearing in the video clips.

I spent a long time thinking about whether I should break the band up. It was in my mind a lot. Once Paul had left, the internal chemistry was altered, and it didn’t feel the same, anyway. It didn’t feel as good. Although we could’ve made a good record.

I got to the point where I needed the space, and didn’t want to have the responsibility for so many people in my life. And the band didn’t feel like it was really progressing.

 

Do you still run into people who are pissed off that you broke up Crowded House?

I think some people are like ‘You guys were poised on the edge, you could’ve been the biggest band in the world, your music was great, why break up?’ I got that a lot in Europe, actually. And some people only got switched onto it on the Best Of, and then all of a sudden we weren’t around any more.

 

Try Whistling This sounds like a continuation of Together Alone, the final Crowded House album, or Finn, the album you made with your brother Tim. The arrangements are more ambient, less structured.

I think it’s definitely a continuation, and I suppose in a way it’s obvious that it would be, because as much as I try to re-define myself…I did actually embark on some pretty lateral and radical things in the course of making the record, but as much as they were thrilling in their different-ness, they didn’t have an emotional impact for me.

So I’d come back to certain familiar and reassuring things, in terms of looking for chord sequences and melodies that can really resonate for me. In some cases I pulled songs back to a more familiar context so I could actually attach myself to them a bit more.

 

Wait a minute…Could that Spinal Tap thing happen?

I certainly wouldn’t put the band back together because my solo career had failed. I think I’m too stubborn to do that.

I’ll just make another record. I think I’d be disappointed if it didn’t find an audience…it’ll find an audience of some sort, because even the Finn record, which has probably sold the least amount of records, it’s the record I’m probably the most proud of. I’m still really, really fond of that record.

 

Why?

I think there’s a sensibility about that it which is really un-fussy, and very open. There’s no double-guessing on that record. It was all done in a free-spirited way and without any thought as to the end result, really. We just enjoyed the process so much.

And I think it’s quite an exotic record. It occupies its own space. The songs are still kind of un-formed in a way; they’re not overly worked at all.

 

There’s a certain freedom about the new arrangements…no conformity.

There’s also the matter of being forced into new angles because there wasn’t the comfort zone of a bass player or drummer there to pick up the songs and make them sound like Crowded House. So I had endless options – that’s not always necessarily a good thing, it can lead you into confusion – but the freedom to be able to start songs off in any manner and actually get out of those patterns and habits.

 

‘She Will Have Her Way’, the first single, has that melodic Crowded House thing going, but then again it doesn’t. What’s different about it?

I think it’s an economy in the rhythm track that Crowded House might’ve been tempted to color up a bit more. A willingness to stick with one atmosphere. We would’ve tended to make the bridge break down, or introduce some really new colors into the thing. I think that one has got a certain attachment to the core, all the way.

 

You recently left Australia after 12 years and moved back to Auckland, not far from your hometown. Do you draw inspiration from that area?

It inspires me to be there. I don’t know how direct the relationship is, but it feels to me like it’s very good for what I do. I suppose you could argue that I don’t have to go that far away – it might be a lot easier for me if I got myself a house out in Connecticut or something. It would still be beautiful.

But there’s something about where you grow up, and the smell, and the lights, the way the shadows fall on the hills, all those things, there’s a very deep connection with them. So I’ve chosen to live amongst it, and I’m hoping that it will continue to influence me.

In the northern hemisphere there’s a certain urgency to the way that things are operated, in a musical sense and otherwise. So it tends to up the pace and the ante of what you’re doing. I think that’s good – in New Zealand, you can drift quite happily for a long time, good lifestyle, and nothing seems that urgent.

 

Your writing is almost uniformly bitter-sweet. People always talk about how dark your songs are…

I don’t think that the songs are ultimately that dark. There’s melancholy at the core of most or them, a lot of them. I think that images resonate when there’s a context of yearning.

It’s a difficult thing to sum up, really, because certain lines come out without any forethought, and then I kind of fill in the blanks. I usually imagine a guy in a room, and I imagine what the room or space is before I know I’ve actually written the song. It has to occupy some kind of place.

I find the most intriguing moments to evoke in songs are the moments of doubt, anguish, when you’re castigating yourself or the person you’re with, the cracks in relationships with people. The sort of difficult areas, that’s the area that I’m intrigued by, and so I suppose that’s what I write about.

 

And you’ve said over and over again that very few of them are first-person songs.

I’m actually quite content at this point in my life. The angst that I’ve had over the years has not really been to do with my relationships. It’s been more to do with the lifestyle that I’ve been involved in, and bands and stuff.

In fact, when I’m down, I don’t write songs. I write songs when I’m feeling pretty good. But they can describe moments… sometimes even fractions of time that happen in the middle of the night, when you wake up and there’s an anxiety there, or a deep concern. By the morning, it’s all fine again, but the song can deal with those sort of moments.

 

How do you do that? Tell me, and I’ll do it too.

For me, the early stages of the songs are always sounds and words that just form. They come with a melody, married to the melody. Then I start singing nonsense and all of a sudden a line’ll pop out of the nonsense and it’ll seem to have some kind of resonance. I’ll write it down, and then another couple will turn up. On rare, beautiful occasions I’ll get the whole thing in one fell swoop, without really thinking about it. But most of the time I have to fill in the gaps.

Every now and again I’ll sit down and have an idea about what I’m gonna write about, but most of the time it just falls out.

 

A song I like on the new record is ‘Sinner’. You were raised a Catholic, and the shadowy figure of God appears in many of your songs. I like the line about not being able to see my faith until I let it go.

An untested faith is not a faith at all, it’s kind of a suspension of disbelief. Whatever you end up with after you’ve rejected everything is probably what’s close to your truth, or your value system. And so I suppose the song’s about that.

And I’m not like a churchgoing man at all; I have a kind of a loose attachment to all of that stuff, still. I rejected it all at some point in my life, too. But it’s ingrained still. You don’t lose it.

 

There’s a web site for people to discuss your lyrics. Have you had a look at it?

I’ve kind of kept away, not because I don’t like the fact that they’re talking about it. I’m kind of flattered that people like them enough to do that. But I actually get a little bit claustrophobic reading about people’s impressions of it sometimes. That kind of thing might intimidate me from writing.

 

Since we have this opportunity, let’s take a few of your better-known songs, and I’ll ask you maybe not what they mean, but how they formed. ‘World Where You Live’.

I was staying in my manager in L.A.’s house, and there was a woman that lived next door to him who always seemed to be having wild sex at about 6 in the morning. It used to wake me up. And I had no idea anything about her, except that she was really rampantly enjoying the thrash-around.

I think that’s where I got the lines “I don’t know where you go, do you climb into space, to the world where you live,” just speculating about this mystery life that was going on next door.

 

‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’.

I wrote that on my brother’s piano. I’m not sure if I remember what the context was, exactly, but it was just about on the one hand feeling kind of lost, and on the other hand sort of urging myself on: Don’t dream it’s over. That one actually fell out literally, without me thinking about it too much.

 

‘Hole in the River’.

That actually was a rare occasion where I sat down and had a story to tell. I’d just been told over the phone by my father that his sister had committed suicide. I was playing the tune on the piano before he rang me, and then he rang me and I just repeated it, basically, to the melody.

 

‘When You Come’.

I’d done it a couple of times before, but that was the first time I was conscious of a real stream-of-consciousness lyric. Images just fell out one on top of another. I didn’t, at the time, think it was all that connected – but actually, now, it seems like quite a coherent statement. I was just juxtaposing the natural world with a personal…pledge, really, I suppose.

 

‘Into Temptation’.

The first few lines of it related to being in a motel in New Zealand. There was a rugby team there, and a netball team – netball’s like women’s basketball. And they were having a really big night in the bar together while I was playing my guitar. And one by one a lot of them paired off.

I went back to my room, and just before I went to sleep I heard a knock on the door next door, and I kind of thought it was my door. I went out to open it, and as I did, one of these netball players was knocking on this guy’s door. They both sort of saw me and went “Ooops!” and he ushered her in. And then they proceeded to get it on in the room.

Those were the first few lines: “You opened up your door, I couldn’t believe my luck.” I was kind of speculating about this guy’s reaction to it.

These probably sound strange, but this is actually the origin of a lot of stuff. You get them from weird places.

The chorus was to do with L.A., really. When there was a big earthquake there, and people were espousing the theory that it was punishment from God for all of L.A.’s excess and sin. So it was “Into temptation, knowing full well the earth will rebel.”

That was the origin of it. It became a song written in the first person, so it related like a personal experience. But really the origin was actually different.

 

How about ‘Weather With You’. Is there really a 57 Mount Pleasant Street?

There’s actually lots of them. My sister used to live in Mount Pleasant Road in Auckland, but it wasn’t Number 57. The number she was at didn’t sound very musical.

Tim had the lines “Everywhere you go, always take the weather with you” and also “Walking round the room singing ‘Stormy Weather'” and that was the extent of it, really. We just imagined the scenario. That was a classic case of imagining a room that a thing was taking place in, and a guy with a bit of ennui, having lost somebody, you know?

 

‘She Goes On’.

That was actually written for a friend of ours lost her mother. I think she asked me if I had anything they could play at the funeral as a kind of tribute. And I actually wrote that and made a little demo and sent it to her. They played it at the funeral, and I realized later that it was actually a pretty good song.

 

‘How Will You Go’.

Tim had heard that this engineer guy he knew called Timmy Kramer had died in New Orleans or something, in quite unfortunate, indulgent circumstances. And we started thinking about him in the context of the song, so it became focused towards that. It’s just angled at somebody who’s leading a troubled life, and can’t resolve their dilemmas.

 

Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead (1990)

Thomas Earl Petty was born and raised in Gainesville, Florida, a small town that thinks it’s Something Big because, for 50 miles east and west, there’s no culture, no big downtowns, no nothing; just pine forests and peanut farms, cattle ranches and cabbage patches. It’s smack in the middle of the skinny peninsula; pass through tiny, Andy Griffith–type cities with quaint names like Melrose, Newberry and Keystone Heights, and after 50 miles each way you hit water.

What separates Gainesville from its neighbors is the University Of Florida. The hallowed home of the Fightin’ Florida Gators is sprawled across half of Gainesville, and every year, when school is in session, the population swells by 30,000 people. In the summer when the college is relatively empty, Gainesville looks like everywhere else in northern Florida.

Other times of the year, though, the place is packed. What with all the students running loose, spending Daddy’s money, it was inevitable that Gainesville–of all the redneck bergs in the area–would be the place to get shopping centers and car dealerships, nightclubs, network TV affiliates and rock ‘n’ roll radio. Subsequently, it became the cultural hub for all of its satellites, the place where things happened.

If you lived there, however, and you wanted to try for the brass ring, Gainesville was as dead as they came.

“One thing I’ve noticed from traveling, whatever town you’re in, somebody will say, ‘There’s nothing going on here,'” Petty says. “Whoever you ask, they say, ‘this place is dead.’ So we always wonder where it isn’t dead.

“I’ve never had anything against Gainesville,” he adds. “I just wanted to make records. The other thing was, we were young and we wanted to do things, to make records and be on TV. And play places other than we’d played a dozen times. Or more.”

From an early age, Petty was sure that rock ‘n’ roll was going to be his ticket out. Ambitious, single–minded and stubborn as a gator on a sandbank, the tow–headed son of an insurance salesman literally never thought of anything else.

In the ’60’s, when rock ‘n’ roll came to town, many young Gainesville boys who would otherwise have wound up driving a truck or a tractor took up guitars–and those that could play them found plenty of work, gigging for fraternity parties or for the endless stream of students that frequented local bars.

Petty was in junior high school when he saw his inevitable future. It came via a chance encounter with Elvis Presley.

The King was in Ocala, 30 miles south of Gainesville, in the summer of 1961, shooting a scene from the film that would eventually be titled Follow That Dream. Petty’s uncle, who ran Gainesville’s camera–supply store, was assistant prop man for the movie shoot. He invited Tom’s mother–his sister–in–law–to bring Tom and his little brother down to watch Elvis work (they were present during filming of the “Elvis looks for a parking place” sequence).

Petty was deeply affected at the sight of Presley, in his white karate robes, breaking boards on the lawn outside his trailer. Behind the ropes, girls were squealing and sobbing Elvis’ name.

That quickly, Tom Petty knew he was finished with Midget League baseball and cowboys and Indians. He was 10 years old.

He traded a slingshot to a friend for a stack of Elvis singles (the friend had inherited the records from his college–bound older sister). He played them night and day, learning every word, and soon persuaded his father to buy him a cheap electric guitar. He taught himself to play a few chords.

The first Tom Petty band, the Sundowners, featured Petty on bass and guitar, with three of his friends from school on guitars and drums. As soon as Petty heard his first Beatles record, the Sundowners were transformed into mop–topped, Beatle–booted hipsters.

The Sundowners became the Epics when Petty was in high school; by that time, he didn’t do anything but play music. All his friends were musicians.

His father, who’d left school to join the Air Force during World War II, saw what was happening to Tom and demanded he ease up on the music. He thought Tom, who had a gift for drawing, could be an architect. A good, solid trade, as opposed to the iffy promise of show business.

Tom graduated from Gainesville High School in 1968, then tried junior college for a year. He came back to his father with an ultimatum: Daddy, he said, if you’ll just leave me alone, I’ll be a millionaire by the time I’m 35.

The Epics were one of the top bands in Gainesville; a good portion of their music consisted of songs that Petty had written.

In 1970, the band changed its name to Mudcrutch. According to Tommy Leadon, the group’s lead guitarist, “I think we liked it because it just sounded sort of dirty and decrepit. We thought it was funny–sounding; I don’t think it really means anything. It just projected a certain image, and we liked that.”

Leadon’s older brother Bernie had left Gainesville for California in the mid–’60s; by the time Mudcrutch was ready to cut its first record, in mid–1971, Bernie had been in the Flying Burrito Brothers and would soon become a founding member of the Eagles. He and Tommy conferred long–distance on how to go about recording.

“Bernie told me exactly how to do the basic tracks, the overdubs, how to mike my acoustic guitar,” Tommy Leadon says. “We set up in this club we were playing in and spent whole afternoons rehearsing the instrumental tracks. When we went down to Criteria, we nailed the first song, ‘Up In Mississippi,’ on take one. The guy (producer Ron Albert) was really surprised! We wasted no time, and got both songs done in one day.”

Mudcrutch knew Criteria studios in Miami because some of their favorite records, like Layla, had been recorded there. Their single–”Up In Mississippi” and “Cause Is Understood,” both written by Petty–was financed by a bell pepper farmer from the little town of Bushnell, Florida, named Gerald Maddox.

Maddox’ son was a friend of Mudcrutch drummer Randall Marsh, and he’d convinced his father to use the proceeds from a good crop of peppers to bankroll the Mudcrutch session. When the single was delivered, 500 copies, it was on the Pepper label; Maddox was listed as Executive Producer.

Mudcrutch had changed guitar players the summer before. During Marsh’s audition, his roommate, a wiry, curly–haired kid from Jacksonville named Mike Campbell, sat in on guitar. Ostensibly, Leadon was the lead player, and Campbell was auditioning for the rhythm guitarist seat (Petty was playing bass almost exclusively).

Campbell dutifully learned all of Mudcrutch’s original material, playing along as Leadon and Petty called out the chord changes. But when he took a searing, note–perfect solo on a jam of “Johnny B. Goode,” they knew he was a born lead player, and a potential asset. Henceforth, Leadon and Campbell would alternate between rhythm and lead guitar.

In those post–Woodstock days, the four–piece Mudcrutch appeared at innumerable free concerts in Gainesville, often playing for nothing. “We’d get up on the stage wherever we thought there’d be a good crowd that would be receptive to us,” Leadon remembers. “And in doing that, we’d get a lot of other jobs out of it. And we built up the name.”

Early on, Mudcrutch made a conscious decision to play original material almost exclusively. It made getting work in bars difficult.

“We used to say, ‘Here’s one by Santana! And just play one we wrote,” Petty remembers. “We used to call out whoever was popular at the time. They don’t know; the club owners don’t know. People’d go, ‘Oh, I dig Santana,’ and they’d hit the dance floor.”

On several occasions, they played “host band” for a weekend–long festival, held at the isolated, ramshackle farmhouse Marsh and Campbell shared on the north edge of town (the whole band lived there off and on, surrounded by girlfriends, chums and hangers–on).

With people camping in the woods, doing God knows what through all hours of the night, Mudcrutch and the other top Gainesville bands would play, one after the other, their amps turned up to maximum. The house’s official tenants, Marsh and Campbell, were evicted after the third “Mudcrutch Farm Festival.”

The band’s steady gig was at Dub’s, the concrete bunker of a rock ‘n’ roll club that was just a mile up the road from the “farm.” Often Mudcrutch pulled a six–week stint at Dub’s; the only thing they disliked was playing for the topless go–go dancers. It made them feel sleazy and unappreciated.

Once or twice, they played a regular “sit–down” concert at the university’s venerable old auditorium. Lynyrd Skynyrd, visiting from Jacksonville, would open. And whenever Mudcrutch played Jacksonville, they opened for Skynyrd.

Leadon dropped out in 1972, replaced by singer/guitarist Danny Roberts. The band also added organist Benmont Tench.

Tench, the son of a Circuit Court Judge, had spent his high school years in New Orleans. Upon returning to his hometown, he started hanging around with Mudcrutch. Petty took an instant liking to the shy younger musician and his creative keyboard work. His organ and piano playing added a layer to his songs that he’d never dreamed of.

Petty was determined to get Mudcrutch out of Gainesville. Between road gigs, when they’d pile in a van and drive south to Tampa, or north into Georgia and Alabama for a few nights’ work, he and the others worked on their promo pack. They also cut a crude demo tape.

After an unproductive trip to Capricorn Records in Macon (“They weren’t interested because it didn’t sound like Marshal Tucker or whatever”), the band started sending tapes out. They received the usual number of rejections. Petty: “We were pretty different from what was going on at the time–extended guitar solos…it was, well, the ’70s. Say no more. It was the mid–’70s.

“And the stuff we were doing, if you hear those first (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) albums, was pretty crude. Snappy. I remember they used to say, ‘But all the songs are so short; they’re too short!’ They didn’t understand it.”

In 1974 Mudcrutch got two responses from record companies that liked what they heard on the tape. One came from London Records, which none of the guys in the band took too seriously because the label didn’t have any contemporary artists, other than ZZ Top. And London requested a tape of cover songs! They knew it was far from prestigious.

The other–and it interested them greatly–came from Denny Cordell of Shelter Records. Cordell, who’d managed and produced Joe Cocker in his Mad Dogs And Englishmen period, had co–founded Shelter with Leon Russell in 1970. Cordell also produced classics by Procol Harum, and all of Russell’s albums. Shelter’s offices were in Tulsa, where Russell lived, and its studios were in Los Angeles.

Cordell was intrigued by the band’s short, snappy songs, a far cry from the long and rambling “free–form” guitar bands that were coming a dime a dozen out of the south during the period. He saw a tough, determined little band, possessed with a drive to succeed on its own terms, with untapped potential.

Cordell invited Mudcrutch west, an invitation they leapt upon. New York, their other option, was too cold a place to be starving musicians. On the way to California, they stopped in Tulsa and auditioned. In L.A., they did a session at the studio. Largely on the strength of Petty’s songwriting, Mudcrutch was signed to the label.

In 1975, Shelter released its one and only Mudcrutch single, a sloppy, reggae–country number called “Depot Street” (Depot Avenue is a large thoroughfare in Gainesville), backed with “Wild Eyes.” Both were Petty originals. The single didn’t chart, but Cordell encouraged Mudcrutch to continue.

“We started an album, and we floundered a lot because we couldn’t get the sound we wanted,” Campbell recalls. “We kept writing new songs and throwing the old songs out. We’d think we had an album, listen to it for a while and say, nah, and throw half of it out.”

Meanwhile, Petty was playing more guitar and less bass, leaving the latter to Roberts, who wasn’t crazy about the idea. Campbell says they were simply “trying to find the best approach. Then after a year or more, Tom started writing some better songs.”

Their future in limbo, Mudcrutch fell apart. “There were personal things, and musically, we were very frustrated,” says Campbell, “especially the rhythm section.” We sort of became a burden to the label after a while, spending money in the studio on an album that wasn’t working.”

When the band members went their separate ways, Cordell retained the contract in order to keep Petty, who he realized was the one with the talent. He’d signed Petty to a publishing deal and meant to keep him in the fold. The question was, would there be a solo career, or another band? He had Petty cut some demos with studio musicians.

At this moment, Tench, who like the others had stayed in L.A., taking gigs with Top 40 bands to pay the rent, accepted a friend’s offer of some free studio time. It would be after hours, from midnight until dawn, but all Tench had to do was buy the tape.

One afternoon, he literally ran into Stan Lynch, an old pal from Gainesville, on the street. Lynch had been the drummer for Road Turkey, another popular band in the university city, and had subbed for Mudcrutch’s drummer many times. He had also come west to seek his fortune. But Road Turkey has split up even before they reached California; now Lynch was drumming for a metal band and working the day shift at Tower Records.

Tench recruited Lynch to the ad hoc group he was assembling for his studio session; Lynch asked along bassist Ron Blair, yet another Gainesville alumnus, and Blair in turn called his friend Jeff Jourard. Guitarist Jourard was in a band called RGF with Blair back in Gainesville; his older brother Marty happened to be the guitarist in Lynch’s Road Turkey.

Lastly, Tench called Mike Campbell, who wasn’t doing much of anything, and Campbell invited Petty. Tench thought Petty could play a little harmonica, maybe add some guitar.

What happened surprised them all. They quickly fell into a pattern of Petty songs, the sound largely that of Mudcrutch, but with Blair’s solid bass and Lynch’s punchy but restrained drumming giving it the power and drive it had always lacked. Petty was learning to sing with a wild, new looseness. They all had a great time. Petty called Cordell in Tulsa; he had found his band.

The year was 1976. Elton John was on top with his Captain Fantastic album, disco was starting to happen, and Denny Cordell, who’d inherited all of Shelter’s Los Angeles holdings when he and Russell had parted company, was masterminding a quirky little rock ‘n’ roll band from Florida.

Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers was released in December 1976. Just under 30 minutes long, the album contains some of the cleverest and most concise rock songwriting of the era. Petty wrote most of it; on some tunes he added words to Campbell’s music (they work this same way today, writing a good half of the Heartbreakers’ material jointly).

“Breakdown,” “American Girl,” “Strangered In The Night” and “Fooled Again (I Don’t Like It)” were structured like early Beatles songs: punchy, hooky and to the point. They were performed, however, like the Rolling Stones: gritty, loud and snarling. It was honest rock ‘n’ roll, young with an attitude.

Cordell’s gift was taking Mudcrutch’s somewhat twangy, country–rock sound and condensing and compressing it into a tight little fist of sonic rock ‘n’ roll.

Still, Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers owed much to Petty’s other major influences–the Byrds, with their chiming guitars and lush vocal harmonies, and Buffalo Springfield, with their taste of playfulness and experimentation.

Critics, for the most part, loved it, praising it as a shot in the arm during the dog days of disco. What most American DJ’s concentrated on, however, was the cover, a photo of a sneering Petty in a black leather jacket, a belt of bullets draped over his shoulder. The photo clearly said, punk, and at the time punk was little more than ugly stories coming out of England about the Sex Pistols swearing on TV, and people putting safety pins in their noses. The album didn’t get airplay.

(Jeff Journard played on early sessions for the album–he doubles Campbell’s signature lead on “Breakdown”–but he was dropped from the final lineup because Petty felt there were already too many guitar players. He and his brother Marty went on to form the Los Angeles band the Motels.)

The Heartbreakers took a long stint at Hollywood’s famous Whisky A–Go–Go; they weren’t making money, but they got to be one of L.A.’s most popular club bands, opening for the likes of Blondie, Al Kooper and Nils Lofgren.

It was during a British tour with Lofgren, in fact, that people started paying serious attention to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. By the end of the brief visit, the crowds were responding more warmly to the Heartbreakers than to the headliner.

The British knew the Heartbreakers meant business, that Petty wore his heart on his sleeve begrudgingly. He was an angry young American. “It was happening in England,” Petty says. “We’d been there and seen the punk thing come down. We’d already seen it before America got a look at it. So when we came back to Hollywood, all of a sudden we were playing the Whisky and there started to be a real club scene again. People started coming, and from there, it slowly built.”

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers earned a silver record in England, where “American Girl” was a major hit; back in L.A., the band was still an opening act, a club band with a growing legion of rabid local fans.

Roger McGuinn, who was being informed more and more often that some blond guy from L.A. was singing just like him, checked Petty out–and recorded “American Girl” for his album Thunderbryd. Petty and Campbell sent McGuinn a new song called “Magnolia,” but McGuinn “couldn’t get behind it” and it was never released.

In early 1977 Shelter recorded the band at Paul’s Mall in Boston, and released four of the live tracks on a 12–inch disc to radio. Official Live ‘Leg contains in–concert versions of “Luna” and “Fooled Again” from the first album, plus a rousing cover of Chuck Berry’s “Jaguar And Thunderbird” and a nine–minute “jam” called “Dog On The Run.” In a shorter form, this song had been recorded in the studio, but was left off the album.

At the end of ’77, the Heartbreakers were well into recording their second Shelter album, provisionally titled Terminal Romance, when fate intervened.

Irving Azoff, who was then managing huge careers for the Eagles, Steely Dan, Boz Scaggs and Jimmy Buffett, included “Breakdown” in the soundtrack to his movie FM. The film, a forerunner of WKRP In Cincinnati (but not as funny), barely made a ripple when it was released. Its soundtrack album, however, was a bonanza for programmers across the country.

There on the wax were Steely Dan, the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt…and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (Petty, as himself, appears in the film in a laconic cameo).

Within weeks of the movie’s release, the sinewy “Breakdown” was all over the FM airwaves. It didn’t matter that the LP it was taken from was over a year old, or that the band’s sophomore effort, now titled You’re Gonna Get It, was released almost simultaneously. Shelter re–released “Breakdown” as a single; it went to #39. The Heartbreakers were Top 40!

They went on tour, opening for Patti Smith, who was then all the rage with her Springsteen–penned “Because The Night.” More often than not, half the audience left after their set. It was destined to be their last tour as an opening act.

Petty got on well with Jimmy Iovine, the one–time engineer (John Lennon’s Mind Games, Springsteen’s Born To Run) who’d produced Smith’s breakthrough. Iovine, in turn, heard so much in the Heartbreakers–potential he didn’t feel was tapped on the Cordell albums–that he agreed to produce the third effort. It would not appear without a fight.

In 1978 Shelter’s distributor, ABC, was purchased by the conglomerate MCA. Petty, who was stinging from what he perceived as chintzy deals with Cordell, saw it as the perfect chance to get out of his Mudcrutch–era contract once and for all.

MCA knew the next album was going to be the one to put Petty over the top; Petty knew it too, and the prospect of making lousy money didn’t appeal to him at all. But the company wouldn’t renegotiate.

Balking at the prospect of being “bought and sold like a piece of meat,” Petty claimed, the contract was invalid because he hadn’t been consulted via the switch to MCA.

The company, in turn, hauled him into court for breach of contract, and the resulting legal wrangling took more than a year. The band was forbidden from performing live, and in May 1978 it filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Immediately, MCA was legally stopped from further prosecution until the matter could be resolved. But Petty had no label to release his (still unfinished) record. It seemed a stalemate.

In the summer of ’79, Petty and Cordell settled their differences out of court, and MCA, as weary from the proceedings, as Petty, offered a compromise; a new subsidiary, Backstreet Records, on whose (small) artist roster Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers would be in top standing. There was also a sizeable increase in the terms of Petty’s recording contract and publishing royalties.

Recorded in stops and starts during the year of legal hassling, Damn The Torpedos was released in the fall of 1979. It was immediately hailed as a great work of rock ‘n’ roll, its themes of rebellion and overcoming adversity made more raw and more real by the tough year Petty had spent in the courts, fighting for what the believed was right. (Of course, the same theme–Petty as the underdog who will fight to his last breath–was all over the two Shelter albums, too.)

Iovine’s production–and the dynamic boardwork of engineer Shelley Yakus–turned the muddy mixidown of You’re Gonna Get It into a sonic wall of sound. The sound got bigger, more expansive; Lynch’s drums, Tench’s organ and Campbell’s guitar seemed to share the wide front of the mix with equal space. The album was clean and melodic like its predecessors, but burst forth from the speakers with a crackling energy they simply didn’t contain. It was as if the Heartbreakers were being released from an iron grip after being held still for too long.

On top of it all was Petty’s voice; thin and reedy, bursting with anger and impatience on “Refugee.” “Here Comes My Girl” and “Don’ Do Me Like That,” each in turn a hit single (the latter went to #10 on the Billboard chart, and remains the highest–charting Heartbreakers single to date).

Disco was fading at last, but the rock ‘n’ roll scene was dominated by “corporate” rock entities, faceless bands like Styx and Kansas, with sterile and synthetic sounds that tended to blend together. Damn The Torpedos, an all–out rock ‘n’ roll guitar album, with intelligent lyrics and ballsy production, couldn’t have come at a better time.

Damn The Torpedos stayed in the Top 10 throughout the first half of 1980–it was kept from the top slot by Pink Floyd’s The Wall–and in time became Petty’s first platinum album. The 1980 arena tour, with Tommy Tutone in the opening spot, was a phenomenal success. (Petty came down with tonsillitis early in the tour, and a few dates were shuffled.)

In September, the band appeared at the “No Nukes” concerts in New York. They’re included on the soundtrack album, performing Solomon Burke’s “Cry To Me,” but they’re not in the film. It could have been an important career move but Petty getting sensitive about his public image, thought they’d played badly and insisted his footage be cut.

MCA got in Petty’s face again before the dust over Damn The Torpedos had even been settled. Announcing that all 1981–and–afterward “superstar product” would be list–priced at $9.98, a dollar more than was standard at the time, they told retailers the first release under the new price structure would be Tom Petty’s follow–up to Damn The Torpedos.

Petty, of course would have none of that. Proclaiming that he would not be held up as an example, he threatened to sit on the album indefinitely–or he might let them put it out, but call it Eight Ninety Eight. MCA, tired of duking it out with its temperamental star, gave in and released the album at the lower price.

For a while, the album was called Benmont’s Revenge; ultimately Petty titled it Hard Promises (on the cover, shot in a California record store, he stands next to a crate of albums under a sign reading $8.98).

The LP’s title came from “Insider,” a duet with Stevie Nicks that almost didn’t make it onto the sequence at all. Nicks, a great fan, had asked Petty for a song, and he’d giver her “Insider,” a taut, emotional ballad about fighting for what you think is right–the classic Petty theme. But “Insider” showed a vulnerability Petty hadn’t displayed before.

Nicks, in turn told Petty that he was obviously giving up something very personal and she couldn’t bear to take it from him.

A grateful Petty then gave her a rocker called “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” and he sang it as a duet on Nicks’ Bella Donna album, with the Heartbreakers providing the music. It remains her biggest solo hit, topping out at #3 in August ’81. A year later he wrote and sang “I Will Run To You” on Nicks’ second album The Wild Heart. Tench completed a world tour as Nicks’ keyboard player.

Hard Promises went platinum soon after its release. It spawned two singles: the Byrdsian “The Waiting,” and the moody “A Woman In Love (It’s Not Me),” which featured old friend Donald “Duck” Dunn on bass.

Ron Blair had been growing progressively more tired of the Heartbreakers’ non–stop touring schedule; halfway through the album he told Petty he would do one more tour, and that was that; he just “couldn’t get on the bus” again.

Dunn auditioned as a new heartbreaker bassist, along with a dozen more of L.A.’s finest players. But the one who got the nod was a virtual unknown, and a guy who had almost nothing in common with the Floridian Heartbreakers. He was Howie Epstein, a Jewish kid from Wisconsin who’d played in John Hiatt’s band, and on a bunch of sessions for some minor artists like Cindy Bullens. He was a fine singer and songwriter in his own right.

When he met Petty, Epstein was playing bass for Del Shannon. The year was 1981 and Petty, a longtime admirer, had agreed to produce Shannon’s comeback album, Drop Down And Get Me. The album stiffed, but the Heartbreakers came away with Howie Epstein.

Epstein’s first appearance with the band was on Sept. 1, 1982 at the Santa Cruz Auditorium. Four nights later, he played before 250,000 at the US Festival outside of San Bernardino.

The fifth Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album Long After Dark, appeared in October. Thematically bleak and shadowy, it was far less buoyant than its predecessors, yet still contained several Petty classics: “Straight Into Darkness,” “Change Of Heart” and the moderate hit single (#20) “You Got Lucky.”

Petty and the Heartbreakers toured for nearly a year after the release of Long After Dark (the promo video for “Change Of Heart” was filmed live in West Germany). Epstein’s harmony vocals were giving their live sound an extra dimension. When the tour was over, Petty took a long break.

“I just hit a point at the end of that tour; although it was a very enjoyable tour, musically. I just was ready to stop,” he says. “I wanted to stop everything for a year and try to resume living again. Because it was dawning on me that it’s impossible to write about things if you’re not out there living a fairly normal life; if you’re in a plane, or a car, or a room for year on end, then things to write about leave you.”

Petty hung around his Encino home (affectionately known as “Fort Petty”), taking his daughters to school, trying to be domestic. He and Lynch went to England to Las Vegas, home to Gainesville for a weekend, just to do something other than play and sing. He got bored very fast.

Ultimately, he built a studio in his basement, and the Heartbreakers assembled there to begin working on a new album in mid–’84. Petty had written several songs with titles like “Rebels” and “Southern Accents,” that described growing up in the south, yet included that patented Petty ingredient–fighting the odds. In many of the songs, just being southern stacked the odds against you.

He decided the album would be a concept piece about the south; ultimately, the band recorded 30 songs for it. They did a dozen in straight country arrangements. The plan was to make it a double album.

Another track recorded in the basement at Fort Petty was Nick Lowe’s “Crackin’ Up.” Lowe and his band had opened some of the American Long After Dark shows.

During the period the Heartbreakers were recording the Southern Accents album, Petty met David A. Stewart, the eccentric writer and producer behind the Eurythmics. Together, they wrote three songs for the album, including “Don’t Come Around Here No More” and recorded them with the Heartbreakers in record time.

With its ringing sitar, stuttering drum machine and mock–psychedelic atmosphere, “Don’t Come Around Here No More” was a single,” Petty says. “It was made like, say, ‘Good Vibrations’ was a single. We wanted to make something that was very different, that was gonna come on the radio and sound real exciting and different.

“I never worked so intensely on the production of a record! I would’ve liked to just send it out as a single; eventually I did get it out about a month before the album.”

But “Don’t Come Around Here No More” hardly fit in with the all–southern theme. Likewise, “It Ain’t Nothin’ To Me,” another Petty/Stewart number, owed more to Manhattan dance clubs than to the glorious confederacy of “Rebels.”

So the theme was rethought, and the album was scaled back to a single. One southern song, “Trailer,” was replaced at the last minute by “Mary’s New Car,” and Southern Accents was ready for a release in April 1985. (“Trailer” became the B–side of “Don’t Come Around Here No More.”)

The Stewart songs “It Ain’t Nothin’ To Me” and “Make It Better (Forget About Me”) were dressed up with sprightly horn charts; Petty loved the idea of putting out a record that wasn’t all “12–string guitars and organ.”

Likewise, Robbie Robertson had taken a vintage ’80 track, “The Best Of Everything,” and given it a horn arrangement and a harmony vocal by Richard Manuel. Robertson and Petty had intended it for the soundtrack to Martin Scorsese’s The King Of Comedy, but MCA had refused to lend the track to Warner Brothers, which was issuing the soundtrack.

“The Best Of Everything” was about a Dixie gal; she’d stayed down south while the narrator, her boyfriend hit the road. Petty loved Robertson’s arrangement because it seemed such a fitting coda to his album about leaving the south for bigger and better things. He saw “Rebels” and “The Best Of Everything” as bookends.

The sessions were not without their moments of conflict. Out of frustration, Petty smashed his left hand into a studio wall during the final sessions; so many bones were broken, a steel pin was surgically inserted into his hand to hold it together. His doctors doubted if he’d ever play guitar again.

Petty put the lie to that when the Heartbreakers hit the road in July for another extended trip. It was an elaborate show. The band was joined by a three–piece horn section and two female backup singers. The set was built like the front porch of an antebellum southern plantation home.

On one of the first dates, in Florida, old pal Roger McGuinn showed up to join the band for “So You Want To Be A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star.” The song, which had been in their set on an earlier tour, became a staple of all the ’85 shows.

They appeared at Live Aid in Philadelphia, the first act (at 5 p.m.) to perform after the emotional finale from London had ended.

Campbell, Tench and Epstein had contributed to Bob Dylan’s spring ’85 LP Empire Burlesque. In September Petty’s manager, Tony Dimitriades, was approached by partner Elliot Roberts with a thought about the impending Farm Aid concert. Dylan, Roberts’ client, didn’t have a steady band at the time; he’d done Live Aid acoustically (with Keith Richards and Ron Wood). Maybe a Petty and the Heartbreakers/Dylan matchup would be a cool thing.

All parties agreed, and after a few weeks of rehearsal the ensemble played Farm Aid, the Heartbreakers barreling through breakneck versions of “Straight Into Darkness” and Chuck Berry’s “Bye Bye Johnny,” along with several songs behind Dylan, including “Maggie’s Farm” (they were all joined on that one by a befuddled–looking Willie Nelson).

The final concerts of the Southern Accents tour, at Los Angeles’ Wiltern Theatre, had been recorded and filmed. The film–which was scaled down from a potential theatrical release to a long–form home video–was a pretty straightforward souvenir of the concert. But the album–titled, like the film, Pack Up The Plantation (something the roadies did after each show) was something else again.

Petty pulled out live tracks from as far back as 1978 (the Animals tune “Don’t Bring Me Down”) and ’81 (a version of “Insider” with Nicks) and sequenced them alongside the selections from the Southern Accents tour.

Nicks was featured singing harmony on the Searchers’ “Needles And Pins” from the ’81 tour; Petty later confessed it had been the one and only time they’d performed the song. And original bassist Ron Blair was included on no less than five of the LP’s selections, alongside the Howie Epstein material.

MCA released a promo video for “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” to MTV, but issued “Needles And Pins” as a single instead. It went nowhere. (Petty had lobbied for “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” as a single–it was upon the album’s release, the #1 AOR track in the country–but MCA didn’t agree.

Petty and his bandmates were especially prolific in 1985. Petty and Campbell gave “Ways To Be Wicked” to the L.A. band Lone Justice; he and Tech wrote “Never Be You,” Roseanne Cash’s #1 country hit, and Lynch co–wrote “Drivin’ With Your Eyes Closed” with Don Henley. Tench recorded and toured with the Eurythmics.

Campbell made the biggest score of them all. He gave Don Henley and instrumental track that Petty had elected not to write words to; Henley turned it into “The Boys Of Summer,” and his recording, featuring Campbell’s melancholy guitar, became one of the year’s biggest hits.

At Christmas time the Heartbreakers backed Dylan on short tours of Japan and Australia (where the “Hard To Handle” video was shot), then brought the show to the States for a series of concerts. The Dylan/Heartbreakers concerts were three–hour marathons of re–worked Dylan chestnuts and a healthy dose of obscure material. The band played several short sets without Dylan, too.

While in Australia, Petty produced a Dylan/Heartbreakers single, “Band Of The Hand” (the theme for Miami Vice director Michael Mann’s feature film of the same name). It appears only on MCA’s Band Of The Hand soundtrack album.

In the spring of ’86, Petty’s friend Timothy Hutton badgered him into making a cameo appearance in director Alan Rudolph’s fantasy film Made In Heaven. Neil Young and Ric Ocasek, both handled by the same management firm as Petty, were also given small roles.

Petty starred as Stanky, a disreputable nightclub owner robbed at gunpoint by Hutton and Ellen Barkin. His onscreen time totaled about three minutes.

It was also during this period that Petty became acquainted with country star Hank Williams Jr. Along with Willie Nelson and Reba McIntyre, Petty took a verse on Williams’ cover version of Hank Sr.’s “Mind Your Own Business.” The record became a sizeable country hit later in the year.

Petty and Dylan wrote “Got My Mind Made Up,” for Dylan’s album Knocked Out Loaded, released in the summer of ’86. Petty recorded a version too, with slightly different lyrics.

After the first round of Dylan commitments, Tench, who’d gigged on Elvis Costello’s King Of America, joined Costello’s Confederates Band for a swing through Europe. He was back for a Heartbreakers session in no time, however.

In late 1986 and early ’87, Petty and the group ducked into the basement to record tracks for their seventh studio album, Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough).

Issued in spring 1987, the album was recorded in short bursts, and some of the songs–”The Damage You’ve Done,” “A Self–Made Man,” “How Many More Days”–were literally written as they were recorded, then embellished with overdubs later. Petty said they’d learned “the joy of throwin’ some chaos in” from Dylan.

“Jammin’ Me,” another song co–written by Dylan and Petty, was issued as the album’s lead–off single. It was then announced that Petty and the Heartbreakers would headline a “Rock ‘n’ Roll Caravan” tour during the summer, sharing the bill with the Del Fuegos and the Georgia Satellites. Petty told the press the multi–bill reminded him of the rock ‘n’ roll tours he’d known as a teenager in Florida.

Other highlights on the album were “Think About Me,” a bouncy rocker in the manner of the old days. “It’ll All Work Out,” featuring Campbell on mandolin, and the dreamy synthesizer ballad “Runaway Trains.”

Only days before the tour was set to begin, someone set fire to the back porch of Petty’s Encino home. Petty, his wife and daughters, plus a housekeeper, barely made it out before the blaze engulfed the two–story structure. All the fire department could do was spray it with water and stand back.

In the end the house was a total loss. Petty’s basement studio–where many of his master tapes and unreleased material was stored–was ruined from smoke and water damage.

In a state of shock, Petty left on his road commitments. Before, he’d introduce a solo version of “The Waiting” with a story about how he’d fought his doctors when they said he’d never play guitar again; he’d beaten the odds. This time, he talked about the somebody who’d torched his house. “You didn’t get me,” he’d call out. The case remains unsolved to this day.

During the “Rock ‘n’ Roll Caravan” tour, Petty heard a radio commercial for the B.F. Goodrich tire company that sounded suspiciously like his own recording of “Mary’s New Car.” The company had asked to license the song earlier in the year. Petty had refused, and now they were using a sound–alike song, and a sound–alike Petty! Furious, he threatened to sue B.F. Goodrich. The ad was quickly withdrawn. Once again, Petty had seen his artistic integrity on the line and had refused to back down.

Originally, Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough) was going to be a double album. Petty was really hot for it this time. But the constant touring with Dylan made such a commitment to recording impossible.

The Dylan/Petty/Heartbreakers axis finished up ’87 with a swing through Egypt and the Mid–East (with Roger McGuinn as opening act) before moving on to Europe and finally England, where it played a multi–night stand at Wembley Stadium.

It was backstage at Wembley that Dylan introduced Petty to George Harrison, and he in turn introduced Jeff Lynne. The two Englishmen were coming off a great season with Harrison’s Cloud Nine album. Lynne was about to leave for America to produce a comeback LP for Roy Orbison.

A month or two later, just around Christmas, Petty was sitting in his red Corvette at a stoplight in Hollywood when he looked over in the next lane and saw Jeff Lynne waiting for the same light. It being the holidays, with no one in town, he was as bored as Petty. Shouting through their car windows, they made plans to get together.

Later, Petty showed Lynne a song he was working on, “Yer So Bad.” Lynne suggested a chord change, one that Petty hadn’t thought of, and together they finished the song. The next day they wrote, “Free Fallin’.”

Hot to record, they rushed over to the nearest studio–at Mike Campbell’s house–and proceeded to lay down the tracks. Phil Jones, who had been Stan Lynch’s drum roadie and Heartbreaker percussionist on a couple of tours, was brought in to play drums. Before they knew it, they were making a record.

“We’d done a couple, and I said to Mike, ‘Well, it ain’t the band, is it?'” Petty says. “He said no, it ain’t. I said, well, I don’t want to cut these again and try to bring the band in. I’m just gonna call everybody up and say, ‘I’m gonna make a solo record.’

“It was a period of time when I don’t think the Heartbreakers were planning to work anyway. So I’d say, ‘Come on Jeff, let’s do just one more.’ He’d say he had to go back, and I’d say, ‘Aw, one more…’ through the whole album, really. ‘You can do two more, can’t you?’ We wanted to get all we could drag out of Jeff really.

“It was really incredibly easy with Jeff there; he has this amazing knack for arrangement. He showed us tons of things that we’d never come across, and by the same token, I think he learned a bit from us. I think that’s why it was such a pleasurable experience, because it was all new guys hanging out together.”

By the spring, they had laid down nine tracks, including “You Got It,” co–written by Orbison and destined for his own album. Harrison played and sang on several of the tunes.

In April, Petty’s manager played the finished songs for Billboard magazine, announcing the imminent release of Songs From The Garage, the fist Tom Petty solo album. Some radio stations received an advance cassette of a song called “Runnin’ Down A Dream.”

Warner Brothers asked Harrison for an extra song to serve as the B–side of a European single. He started to polish up an unfinished tune, “Handle With Care.”

Together Harrison and Lynne found themselves in Petty’s living room, finishing off the song. They had a great time. Bitten by the recording bug, they drove to Dylan’s Malibu home–and the four of them tossed ideas around, finished up “Handle With Care,” and cut the rhythm track in Dylan’s home studio.

Somebody thought of Orbison, who was doing a concert in L.A. that night. He came over and his vocal provided the finishing touch that “Handle With Care” needed. Right then and there, both the Petty and Orbison albums were put on hold. Harrison nixed giving Warner Brothers “Handle With Care” as a B–side. He knew it was too good.

Without thinking about it too much, the fivesome–dubbed the Traveling Wilburys –became a working unit.

Together, acoustic guitars in hand, they wrote nearly 20 songs, each contributing lines. Whoever wrote usually sang, but there were exceptions. On the finished album, Traveling Wilburys Volume One, Petty sang lead on one track, “Last Night.”

“All the Wilburys songs, people want to think that we wrote them individually, but we didn’t,” Petty recalls. “I think Dylan wrote most of ‘Last Night.’ We sat on the floor, the five of us, and wrote, literally, all those songs.”

“It’s even hard for us to believe, really. When we stared that record–this is another thing people don’t really understand–we had been hanging around for quite a while, all of us except Roy. But Roy had been around the sessions for my album.

“The core band then was me, Mike, Jeff and Phil Jones. George was around a lot too. We’d say, oh, Randy Newman’s coming in today–let’s do one for Randy. So it wasn’t like it was just the whole bunch of us together for the first time.”

The Wilburys’ album is unassuming and fun; it’s as if all the participants took off their serious caps for a spell. “It was 10 days to write them, if you don’t count “Handle With Care,” which was done first. Then 10 days to write nine more. We did the basic tracks and went to England and worked for another month, I guess, finishing up.”

Petty says the Wilburys loved what they’d done from the outset. “We were like little kids, leaping on each other’s backs. We were just so thrilled. When you could finally put it up and hear it all going by, that’s when I started to think, hey, this is a pretty good album. We didn’t think about it much until then, because we were so busy. It was a frantic pace we were keeping.

“(But) we set out to make a great album. We didn’t want to do it if it wasn’t going to be real good. And we knew we’d get a bunch of shit if it wasn’t real good.”

Traveling Wilburys Volume One appeared in October, to ecstatic reviews. Many critics commented on how good it was to hear Dylan and Harrison enjoying themselves for a change. And Orbison, it was noted, was in better voice than ever. Two months later, Orbison died of a heart attack. “I’m just glad that I knew him,” Petty says. “I’m honored that I got to spend that much time with him, and work with him. I think the last conversation we had, a few days before he died, he was just over the moon. They’d just finished his album. Roy had a good idea, I believe that things were really about to go his way; we all wish he could’ve seen the great success he’s had ’cause boy, he would’ve loved that.”

Orbison’s Mystery Girl, with contributions from Petty, Lynne and Campbell returned to the studio and finished the solo album, now called Full Moon Fever. Petty thought Songs From The Garage might be construed as a throwaway title, denoting garage rock or just playing around, and that was definitely not the point.

Released in April 1989, Full Moon Fever was cleaner and more accessible than the recent Heartbreakers albums; Lynne’s gift as a producer seemed to know when to bring Petty’s reedy voice up to the front.

Four hit singles came from the album: “I Won’t Back Down,” “Runnin’ Down A Dream” and “A Face In The Crowd” made the Top 20, “Free Fallin'” went to #7 (Petty’s highest–charting single to date). A fifth single “Yer So Bad” was released a full year later after the album appeared, but did not chart.

Petty left two completed songs in the can: One, “Don’t Treat Me Like A Stranger,” appeared on the British CD single of “I Won’t Back Down.” The other, “Down The Line,” was issued as the B–side to “Free Fallin'” in the United States.

Full Moon Fever turned into the Album That Wouldn’t Die. Eventually, it sold over four million copies and stayed in the Top 10 for the better part of a year. With the Heartbreakers, Petty toured the country twice in support of the album, in summer ’89 and again this winter.

During the first leg of the tour, Petty invited the radical environmentalist group Earth First along to distribute literature. As he approached his 40th birthday, he felt a growing concern over the sorry state of the planet. The dedication–in public and in private–to the environmental issue was carried over into 1990, and the second leg of the tour, on which the band returned to Gainesville for the first time in seven years.

In 1976 his onstage raps were usually “Let’s hear it for rock ‘n’ roll,” “Are you feelin’ alright?” and things of that nature. On this tour, he talked about saving the earth, every night, just before breaking into Thunderclap Newman’s 1970 song “Something In The Air.”

The Traveling Wilburys’ version of “Nobody’s Child” (an old country song by Mel Force and Cy Coben) was scheduled for release as Wilbury/Warner Bros single in mid summer. The song was supposed to be included on The Romanian Angel Appeal, a benefit LP (organized by Harrison’s wife Olivia) for the orphans of revolution–torn Romania.

The Wilburys reportedly were finishing up their second album, with no one replacing Orbison, in early June.

Mike Campbell is producing much of Springsteen paramour Patty Scialfa’s first solo disc; in ’89, he and Don Henley collaborated on “The Heart Of The Matter,” which became another hit for the one–time Eagle. Howie Epstein was behind the board for Carlene Carter’s forthcoming comeback LP.

Stan Lynch and Benmont Tench are in the studio with other artists; last year, Lynch co–wrote Henley’s solo hit “The Last Worthless Evening” and other tracks on Henley’s The End Of The Innocence album. Tench most recently appeared on Elvis Costello’s Spike and U2’s Rattle And Hum, among others.

Inevitably, they’ll all regroup as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and cut another record. They’re brothers; they’ve lived and breathed each other for nearly two decades. And to the member, they couldn’t name another band they’d rather play with. Each of the four Heartbreakers name Tom Petty, unequivocally, as their favorite songwriter.

In a career that’s spanned 14 professional years, Tom Petty stands out as an artist fiercely dedicated to his own freedom of expression; he saw what he wanted as a boy back in Gainesville, and he’s fought–and won–many a battle to make sure his dream happened the way he wanted it to.

 

The Heartbreakers interview: Satan Eats Cheese Whiz (1987)

billdeyoungcom Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers Let Me Up I've Had EnoughTom Petty and the Heartbreakers have come full circle. They began, more than a decade ago, as a ragtag quintet of friends from North Florida playing uncluttered rock ‘n’ roll, and eventually came to experiment with diverse and wide-ranging sounds and ideas. With Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough), their seventh studio album (to be released Monday by MCA Records), Tom Petty and his group — a little less ragtag, and a little more worldly-wise — have come back to the future. It took them 12 years, but they’ve finally made a great uncluttered rock ‘n’ roll record.

Gainesville natives Benmont Tench and Stan Lynch, keyboards and drums, respectively, both agree that the last two years — much of the time spent touring with Bob Dylan — were positive for the band. Today they feel as sprightly as they did in their salad days. Over a four-week period last spring, sandwiched in between tours of the Far East and the United States with Dylan, the five musicians recorded more than 30 songs. Many of them, they only played two or three times, and were recorded to capture the spontaneity.

“Most of the record is like that,” Tench says. “‘The Damage You’ve Done,’ ‘Think About Me,’ ‘A Self-Made Man,’ ‘Let Me Up,’ most of this record is from that month of doing live tracking. The second side is mainly that stuff, and the first side is mainly stuff that was worked on more.”

Petty and guitarist Mike Campbell produced the 11-track album, and there are no musicians other than the five Heartbreakers present. Overdubbing, even by the band, was kept to a minimum. Bass player Howie Epstein laid on harmony vocals to a few of the completed songs.

Most of the numbers are straightforward rock-type songs (in 1987, “Petty-esque” is probably a good enough way to describe the band’s brand of guitar-based rock) with an ensemble sound, rather than lead guitar or keyboard, prevalent. There are very few solos.

The exceptions: “It’ll All Work Out” is a ballad in waltz time, with an Oriental sheen. Campbell is featured on the koto, a Japanese stringed instrument.

The score to the melancholy “Runaway Trains” is reminiscent of the synthesizer band Tangerine Dream, hypnotic and dreamlike. It’s also one of Petty’s most strikingly poetic lyrics (Campbell wrote the music, and Petty the basic melody. Lynch remembers that the song existed for several years without lyrics).

With its moody synthesizer and sparkling electric guitar fire, “Runaway Trains” recalls “The Boys of Summer,” the song Campbell co-wrote a few years ago with Don Henley. It was a big hit for the former Eagle.

“Everything he writes now sounds a little bit like ‘Boys of Summer,’” Lynch says with a snicker. Tench gives him a questioning look, then they both laugh. “Ah, print it, I don’t care,” Lynch says, on a roll. “Hey, why not? ‘The Boys of Summer’ been berry, berry good to Mike Campbell. Once a hit, always a hit.”

Tench interrupts his stream of humorous observation. “‘My Life/Your World’ is Mike’s, too, and it doesn’t sound like ‘The Boys of Summer.’”

“It does if you play it backwards,” Lynch says.

With “My Life/Your World,” Petty sings wry social commentary over a dance-club beat. The song sounds like the heir to “It Ain’t Nothing to Me,” from 1985’s Southern Accents album. “I think it’s a better song than ‘It Ain’t Nothing to Me,’” Tench says. “It’s the Heartbreakers play ‘Billie Jean.’”

Otherwise, “Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough)” rocks. It’s not overtly literate (a good sign if one is on the lookout for genuine rock ‘n’ roll), but it’s not without its uplifting emotional moments. For every song like the title track, an all-out screamer (literally), there’s another like “Ain’t Love Strange,” that puts focused lyrics (“It can make you string barbed wire/Around your little piece of ground/For emotional protection/Oh but it’s too late now”) next to an exhilarating, seemingly spontaneous arrangement.

“‘Ain’t Love Strange’ must have meant something to Tom,” Lynch theorizes. “I’m guessing, but I’ve seem that kind of reaction out of him, when we were doing that song ‘Insider’ a few years ago. Good, bad, or indifferent, he made psychic communion with that song. He had made an attachment to ‘Insider.’ He loved it.

“And I think ‘Ain’t Love Strange’ had that same biological reaction. There’s a couple of things Tom is always unwavering on, and that was one of those songs that it didn’t matter if we got a good or a bad version or not, it was going on the record.”

Both Lynch and Tench say this is the first album that all the band members have been completely satisfied with before it’s released. They think it’s an honest record, true to Petty and Campbell’s vision of an all-band effort, circa 1987. “It doesn’t feel overly autobiographical to me,” Lynch says. “This isn’t Tom’s Nebraska. It’s not Okahumpka.”

“It’s not Alachua,” offers Tench.

“No,” Lynch adds. “He said to me, ‘It’s a good rock ‘n’ roll record. We did our best.’”

Campbell co-wrote half the LP’s songs with Petty. Bob Dylan contributed some of the lyrics to “Jammin’ Me,” the album’s first single, which decries the media’s “information overload,” according to Tench.

“I don’t have any idea which parts of it Bob wrote,” he adds, “but I think you can take a wild guess… ‘Take back Pasadena….’ The blatantly cynical and sarcastic stuff is probably Bob’s.”

Typical of a Heartbreakers album, there’s 20-second snatch of gibberish between two songs on the second side. It’s the band engaged in a brief tribal chant, complete with hand claps, ending in laughter and a quick joke. Listen closely, Lynch laughs, and it says “Satan Eats Cheeze Whiz.”

“I like that stuff,” Tench comments. “I think it’s funny. There isn’t anybody who’s any good who’s funny any more. Bruce is great; he’s not funny. U2’s a good band; they aren’t funny. The hell with ’em.”

(The LP’s cover, a favorite among the band members, is a composite face — screaming — made up of pieces of each of their own mugs. On the inner sleeve is a Los Angeles Herald-Examiner news photo, showing a small plane that actually went nose-down into a woman’s backyard swimming pool. near the studio where the Heartbreakers were recording. Petty wrote a verse in “My Life/Your World” about it. They all think that it’s a great picture, too.)

Following last summer’s American tour with Dylan, while Petty and Campbell were cooking up additional songs for “Let Me Up,” Tench went to England for a month-long tour with Elvis Costello. He played piano in Costello’s Confederates. The high point, for him, was a concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London, where Van Morrison sang a few numbers with them. A fanatic for popular music, Tench had long admired the reclusive singer.

Recently, Tench has been recording with the band X, Rosanne Cash, and Ferghal Sharkey. The latter two have recorded new Tench compositions.

The Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers tour, in support of Let Me Up, begins in late May in Arizona. Rehearsals start in two weeks.

“There’s no band,” Lynch says. “It’s a figment of everyone’s imagination unless they’re together. We don’t all live in the same house — it’s not like we’re young kids, we’ve all got lives, we’ve all got creative projects, so it (a tour) re-confirms to us that indeed, there really is a band. That’s what a band does — they play live. So the question of ‘Are we gonna tour?’ is really ‘Are we pro-band this year?’ They’ve decided that they are.

After seven weeks of touring (with no stops scheduled for Florida), the Heartbreakers will take a month off and then connect once again with Dylan, with whom they’ll tour Canada, the southern United States, and Europe. They’ll also play Israel, Egypt, and several other countries in eastern Europe. Dates in the Soviet Union are still being mulled over. There’s prestige in playing there, Lynch and Tench admit, but no money. And that’s something to be considered.

“Nobody knows any specifics, because it changes daily,” Lynch says. “Egypt and Israel are going to pay for the whole thing, so they’re critical in working the tour around. The Israeli dates will pay to bring a 747 full of equipment to that continent.

“Those dates are going to coordinate with the start of the Jewish New Year, so they’re critical…the other stuff is being discussed. It changes all the time.” A southern American swing will reportedly bring Dylan and the Heartbreakers to two, or three, Florida cities.

A Dylan/Petty show is never the same on any two nights. Lynch says that while any one member of the Heartbreakers can be the “backbone” of a song in concert, driving it from start to finish, with Dylan “he’s the backbone, the frontbone, and the whole skeleton. All we can do is embellish. He throws in all the curves.”

Tench says it’s a unique experience. They just hold on tight and ride wherever it goes. “Bob will reel it in and it’ll be under control. It’ll go in whatever direction he feels like taking it in. That’s what you’re doing, the guy’s up there singing what he feels like singing that night, that minute, and you follow it. And this band’s been together long enough that we’re good at that.”

That attitude of Dylan’s made them remember the joy of spontaneous combustion, and its practical application to rock ‘n’ roll, and they were full of that joy when they went into the studio for Let Me Up during a lull in their tenure as his touring partners.

“Any record, whether it’s good or bad, turns out to be a document of the time when it was recorded,” Tench says, “of ‘Here’s what it was then.”

‘The wire is life’: A conversation with Phil Lesh (2006)

‘The Wire is Life’: A conversation with Phil Lesh

By Bill DeYoung

billdeyoungcom Phil LeshMore than a decade after Jerry Garcia’s death, the mythology of the Grateful Dead remains, perhaps more potent and insinuating than ever as the jam band universe — virtually created by the Dead — continues to expand, absorb and excite.

Phil Lesh, by all accounts, had a good year. His memoir, Searching For the Sound, was a runaway best–seller and actually made the leap into a second–printing paperback edition (quite the feat for a rock ‘n’ roll autobiography).

The master of the six–string bass is feeling great, feeling delightfully sober and feeling no lasting ill effects from his 1998 liver transplant, the result of a nasty tangle with the dread Hepatitis C.

He’s kicking off the Phil Lesh & Friends summer tour with a stop at Bonaroo, followed by a two–month trek across the country. This year’s band includes jazz guitar great John Scofield, former Bob Dylan Band member Larry Campbell on guitar, mandolin, pedal steel and everything else with strings, vocalist Joan Osborne, keyboard player Rob Barraco, and drummer John Molo.

We spoke with Lesh just before the tour started. It had been just a week since the tragic death of Dead keyboard man Vince Welnick, and the stench was still hanging in the air from the Dead’s first major P.R. disaster — the removal of free vintage concert downloads at archive.org.

Naturally, both subjects had to be addressed, along with everything else.


Q. Do you still think about Jerry?

A. Sure. Not every day, but frequently. It’s not like he’s looking over my shoulder or anything, but he’s in a good space and he’s watching. In a sense, he’s looking in and he’s aware of what we’re doing, the rest of us down here. The sense that I get is that it doesn’t really matter that much to him, because he’s in another place now. At the same time, I get the sense that he’s pleased that we’re continuing.

Q. I’d like to ask you about Vince Welnick.

A. We worked together early on, when I started Phil Lesh & Friends, and it was a gas. We tried to put it together again, Vinnie had other commitments, and I think we just sort of both moved on. He had his band, Missing Man Formation, and I had mine. It just happened that we didn’t have a lot of contact.

But I was just tremendously heartsick and dismayed when I heard that he had passed away.

Q. Were you aware of the fingers being pointed after Vince died, that some members of the Dead never treated him as part of the “family” after he’d left the band?

A. I had a great time playing with him, every chance I got. As far as “who’s family and who isn’t,” that’s not something you can lay down — you can’t just say “OK, this person’s family” or “This person’s not family.” That’s a concept that doesn’t really have a lot of resonance with me. Because if the crew is family, why isn’t the musician family? I frankly never felt that Vince wasn’t family.

Q. You’re actually turning up at blood drives throughout the tour. Why?

A. Well, there’s never enough blood. I’ve been through it — I’ve used up a lot of blood in my illnesses. Luckily, there was plenty for me; I have the most common blood type. But there’s always a shortage, and you never know how much you’re gonna need.

So I encourage people to give blood, and I also encourage everyone to become an organ donor because it’s the simplest thing in the world. All you have to do is tell your family: Hey, if anything happens to me, I want to be an organ donor. That’s how simple it is.

Q. In your book, you very successfully described the telepathy that’s necessary for groups of musicians to improvise together. Not too many people have captured that on paper.

A. I’m glad you got it, man, because that was what I was trying to convey. First of all, kind of the experience of that, and also the nature of what it really was: A group mind.

Q. Is it easier now to do, now that you’re older, maybe not healthier, but wiser?

A. Even if you’re playing with people you have history with, and that have demonstrated that they get the deal, it depends on the context. And it depends on how everybody feels that day. It depends on a lot of variables, but what it mostly depends on is everybody’s desire to let themselves go and not have to play “their stuff,” and not have to show off. And not have to be the lead voice, so that a dialogue, or a conversation, or a colloquy or a symposium can evolve.

Q. So the idea is: We’re not going to worry about how we get there, or who gets there first. We will get there.

A. If we listen to one another, if we respond to one another’s thinking.

Q. OK, but is this still fun for you, after so many years of doing it?

A. It’s one of those things that, when it’s happening, it can’t be anything but fun. And it’s the most fun that you can have as a musician, because you’re making up polyphonic music on the spot. It’s not just one voice that’s being improvised, it’s everything. The whole musical texture, the whole thrust of it, the whole direction of it, how fast it moves, what kind of twists and turns it goes through, which directions it’s going in. Those are all things that are happening as a kind of consensus.

In a way, that’s a metaphor for a way that together, we can make the world better.

Q. I like the fact that with jam bands, there’s really no pre–set formula Obviously the Dead were out there doing it first. Isn’t it like walking the high wire?

A. Oh, yeah. Wasn’t it Karl Wallenda who said “The wire is life, and everything else is just waiting around”? It’s that risk that gives you the sense of “Wow, I’m really alive right now. It’s not like I’m going to be alive if this comes off,” or “I’m going to be alive looking back on this,” it’s “I’m really alive right now, right in the middle of all this risk.”

Q. It works with the younger guys, too, right? Guys you haven’t been playing with for 40 years?

A. Oh yeah. The thing is that a lot of these guys are really open to that. Larry Campbell is a really good example. He played with Bob Dylan’s band for so many years, and he was like a pillar of that band, playing great stuff. And yet he really wanted more. He wanted to play more. And so he left Bob’s band, and I kinda snagged him.

So now he’s just flowering. He’s playing this amazing stuff that’s almost like, I don’t know, Electro–Celt or something. He’s like some warrior out of ancient history, standing up there playing these laments and heroic tales.

Q. Do you use a set list?

A. Oh sure. We kinda have to, but how we go through it is completely open. Essentially, I just say “We’re going to do these songs in this order,” but how we find our way between them is gonna be up to us at the time.

Larry loves to do these elaborate guitar symphonies as a prelude to a song, so I like to have him do that. Then we just kick the band in at the right moment, and away we go.

Q. What about the Dead downloading controversy?

A. In all honesty, I had nothing to do with that decision. I was as shocked as anybody when everything was pulled. I thought it was a very bad idea to pull everything — eventually, of course, the audience tapes were put back up.

To me, it was kinda like closing the door after the horse had left the barn, because all of those soundboards are already out there — they’ve been out there for years — and they’re out there in digital pristine copies. It’s not like you can stop them from being distributed.

So I think the other guys in the band had some bad advice on that.

Q. There was some awkward backlash from longtime fans who said the Dead had sold out, after giving the stuff away for years.

A. I know, I know, but what can I say? Personally, I get a lot of good things from archive.org. When I was writing the book, I would be writing about a particular period, and I would go on there and listen to music from the period. And it was really helpful. It put me right back into that mindspace.

Personally, I love archive.org, and I would be perfectly OK with the soundboards being up there — but I’m just one guy.

Q. Will the Phil Lesh & Friends shows be made available?

A. We’re going to do instant live CDs available at the shows, and of course by mail order after the show. And there’ll also be downloads of each show available online. We are going to put up one show out of the tour for free, but the rest will be available for purchase.

Q. Here’s a thought: What happens if you play a bad show? Not that you probably play too many bad ones any more, but would you send somebody out there to say “We’re not going to be doing a CD tonight, folks …”?

A. If it’s a bad show, if people don’t like it, they won’t buy the CD, that’s tough. It doesn’t really matter. I think the point is that’s how we are. We go out there and we take risks. And sometimes we don’t pull it off as well as we do other times.

I don’t think there’s going to be a really bad show, but some might be less spectacular than others. That’s just how it works. And some people would want those shows anyway! You never know what people are going to want.

The Man From APPLE: A few words with Peter Asher

The world remembers two Peter Ashers. One, of course, was the bespectacled, slightly nerdy-looking redheaded half of ’60s pop duo Peter and Gordon, hitmaking crooners of A World Without Love, I Go to Pieces and Lady Godiva.

(Beatle fans of course know that Peter and Gordon cut the Lennon/McCartney tunes Nobody I Know, I Don’t Want to See You Again and A World Without Love because Paul was dating Peter’s sister Jane, and actually lived in the Asher family home in the first few Beatlemaniacal years. Then, of course, there’s the song Woman, written for P&G by Paul under the nom de tune Bernard Webb.)

In the 1970s, Peter Asher was the bespectacled, slightly nerdy-looking redhead who both managed and produced James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt, two of the Me Decade’s most successful recording and concert artists.

In between these two prestige gigs, Asher was the head of Artists & Repertoire for the Fabs’ utopian record company, Apple. Asher was only at Apple for a year, but he produced two quintessential LPs: James Taylor and the Modern Jazz Quartet’s Under the Jasmin Tree.

We managed to snag Asher recently, at the tail end of an interview about Linda Ronstadt (for another magazine), and ask him about his time at the Longest Cocktail Party.

What specifically was your entry into Apple?

Paul and I were very close friends. Prior to that he’d been living in my house. So we knew each other very well, and he told me all about his plans. This was after he moved out. He was at Cavendish Avenue. But I would hang out there a lot while he was formulating his Apple plans.

He had liked some of the records I’d been producing at that time. Initially our first conversation was, would I produce some things for Apple? I said I’d love to, and then later on it grew into, would I be head of A&R for the label, and I said yes. So the job offer came from Paul.

Have you found that the things written about Apple have been accurate?

In general, people got it. I mean, there’s mistakes in all the books. They get stupid stuff wrong all the time. You realize how little people do actually check their facts. I’ve just been reading this new Barry Miles one, about the ’60s, and there’s bits in it that are really good and interesting and bits that just have mistakes in them. But that’s kind of the way they are.

It was a bit disorganized in some respects. People tend to write about what was going on in Derek Taylor’s office, for example. But at the same time, there was an awful lot of good stuff getting done. We did put out some good records.

As head of A&R, did you have input with all the artists on Apple?

We had A&R meetings once a week, at which some kind of quorum of Beatles would turn up. We talked about works in progress, and who to sign. I had some overall influence, but none for example on John’s projects – on Two Virgins, there was no input. And when George was off producing Jackie Lomax, he pretty much knew what he wanted to do. I didn’t really have anything to do with it.

But with some of them, I certainly helped. Paul with the Mary Hopkin album, I was very much hands-on. Paul was producing it, but I was certainly there and doing stuff.

And obviously James was very much my baby, and I produced it myself.

For the record, how did you get involved with James?

I’d been in a band with Danny Kortchmar – he played guitar in a backup band for Peter and Gordon. And after that, he was in a band called the Flying Machine, with James. It broke up, Danny gave James my phone number.

James came to London, played me a tape and I loved it. I told him I had just started working for this new label and I’d like to produce his record. He said OK.

Did you have to get approval from the Beatles before signing James?

As a courtesy, of course, I wasn’t going to sign him without telling anybody. I brought it to the A&R meeting. Paul loved it, John didn’t really care that much one way or the other. I said ‘Look, I’m signing this.’ I think I probably would’ve quit if they’d said no. But that wasn’t even an issue. You make me the head of A&R and I find an act I love, I’m signing it. And they all went ‘Oh yeah.’

To be honest, those meetings were always kind of woolly, so if you came in and said ‘I’m the head of A&R and I’m signing this act’ everyone would go ‘Right!’ You could get away with a lot just by being decisive.

To your thinking, were the Beatles actively involved will Apple?

I had contact with all of them. They all had different degrees of interest at different times in different things. It wasn’t consistent.

Was there a sense around Apple that the Beatles were really in trouble?

I think there was a sense that Apple might be in trouble. They closed the clothing shop, there was a lot of chaos, and the record company was existing with some difficulty. So there was a sense that things were in a muddle.

The Beatles were having big rows, but they were always having rows. They were always yelling at each other. But bands always do. I wasn’t out there at Twickenham, I was working, doing other stuff. I wasn’t at the Let it Be sessions. So I didn’t have that sense, no. You did get the sense that they didn’t get on that great, but I don’t know a band that does.

Is that you on the roof in Let it Be, holding a clipboard in front of John with the song lyrics?

No, it’s not. I wasn’t there that day.

Were you involved with Mortimer, the band that almost came out on Apple?

Yes. I can’t remember who first heard them or liked them, but we thought they were pretty good. I think it was two guys and a conga player. We were looking for songs, and Paul let them record  “Two of Us.” I can’t remember if I produced a whole album, or just some tracks for an album.

I do know that Paul, at the time, thought the Beatles weren’t going to cut “Two of Us,” and then they did. And obviously, there’s no point in trying to compete.

And I remember, before the Beatles had it out, a conversation I had with Phil Everly, telling him that they should cut it. That the Beatles would probably let them have it first, because they were such Everlys fans. And that never happened.

Could you say that it was in the air that Apple wasn’t going to last much longer?

Apple as it was originally conceived, it was very clear it wasn’t going to last. Because at the beginning everyone had believed in Magic Alex, and believed in the shop and all that stuff, and that had all been shattered. The question was what Apple would become. And I knew that whatever it would become, under the leadership of Allen Klein, I probably wouldn’t like.

Did you get the sack when Klein came in?

No, I left. I quit. I would have been fired anyway. He fired Ron Kass.

I knew a lot about Allen anyway. I knew people who’d worked with him, with the Rolling Stones, and knew him well. And I thought he was bad news.

Klein was brought in for the big business overhaul.

It did all change. Maybe it wasn’t viable as it was. It probably did need some business organization, but Klein wasn’t the right man for the job.

Did you have to negotiate James’ contract away from Klein?

I didn’t negotiate anything. I just left and took the tapes with me. The rumor is that they were gonna sue, and that Allen wanted to sue. One story is that George talked him out of it, but I don’t know any of that for a fact. But I also know that no one could find any of the contracts, anyway.

Allen Klein certainly said he was suing us. He did a Playboy interview and said that he had sued James and me each for $50 million. When in fact nothing had happened.

I went to Warners and made a deal, but I had to make them indemnify us against any possible lawsuits. Which record companies wouldn’t do now, but they did then.

In the early days, how did Peter and Gordon wind up with those Lennon/McCartney songs? Did Paul play them for you, or give you a demo?

The first one, World Without Love, he played it to us before we had a record deal. He’d just been playing us some songs, and I liked that one. I think he’d written it for Billy J. Kramer, and he didn’t do it, and the Beatles didn’t want to do it. It didn’t have a bridge – it was just two verses. After we got a record deal, we asked him for that song, and he wrote a bridge and gave it to us.

He and I shared the top floor; we had adjoining bedrooms. He would play me a song on the guitar one day, and say ‘What do you think of this?’

Did you feel like you were in a lucky position, with first shot at those songs?

It wasn’t like that. They didn’t write that much for other people. It was after the success of the first one, which had come around by accident – a song he’d written which basically had no home – we’d established a successful relationship, and then he wrote a couple more songs for us.

So of course we felt fortunate. But it wasn’t as if we got first shot at something that was otherwise gonna go out to the song-pluggers or something, because it wasn’t.

Do you still have some of his demos sitting around?

I think somewhere I’ve got a tape of “World Without Love” without the bridge, and “Ill Follow the Sun” or some other song as well.

At what stage did Paul’s song “Woman” get credited to a pseudonym?

I think it was later on, after we liked the song and decided we’d love to do it. Because everyone was starting to say oh, anything they do is automatically a hit because of their names. So he said ‘Would you mind if we said that someone else had written it?’ We said of course not. So then we invented this story that it was a friend of his from school or something, Bernard Webb. Who’d written it – and because Paul had found the song, that’s why it was published by Northern Songs.

Last question: Do you still see Paul?

We’re not as close as we were, but when we see each other, it’s all very friendly.

Who you gonna call? Ray Parker Jr.

No one has ever combined funk and pop with the cool finesse of Ray Parker Jr. A multi-talented writer, singer, guitarist and record producer, Parker shone a particularly spirited creative light on the late ’70s and early ’80s with a handful of unforgettable hits: “Jack and Jill,” “You Can’t Change That,” “A Woman Needs Love,” “The Other Woman” and “Ghostbusters.”

The Detroit native’s forte was catchy songs delivered with good-natured humor, impeccable radio-friendly production and plenty of wink-winking sexual double entendre.

“People have enough problems,” Parker said. “They’re coming to be entertained and have fun. That’s always just been my theory on music, anyway. Somebody’s got to make those songs about politicians and all that stuff; I just don’t feel that.”

He began taking clarinet and saxophone lessons as a young child, and by age 11 was considered one of Detroit’s brightest child prodigies. Ray Parker Sr., who worked at a Ford steel mill for 47 years, recognized his son’s potential and allowed him to play guitar with the likes of Marvin Gaye and the Temptations in city nightclubs. Dad went to every show to keep an eye on things.

At 12, Parker toured with the Spinners, and he was still a teenager when he started doing sessions at Motown – he was in the second-unit band, playing when the famous Funk Brothers were otherwise engaged.

Stevie Wonder, then living in California, invited the young guitarist west to join his band, Wonderlove.”I had an 8-track in my car,” Parker said. “I was 17 years old, going to college, and the only piece of music I had for the whole car was Music of My Mind. I didn’t need anything else. I had a great sound system, and with that album in the car, I was happy.”

With Wonder, Parker opened stadium shows for the Rolling Stones. “I thought that they were opening for Stevie Wonder,” he said. “I was really shocked to see that they were the headliners.

“In my world, in Detroit, the closed world of the ghetto, Stevie Wonder was a superstar. He had all the hit records.'”

Parker worked on Wonder’s Talking Book and Innervisions. He was also making demos of his own songs, which Wonder encouraged. “And I thought gosh, if Stevie Wonder thinks it’s good enough for him to waste his time on, there must be something happening here.” Parker co-wrote “You Got the Love,” the 1974 hit for Rufus and Chaka Khan.

He also found plenty of work as a session guitarist, primarily with Invictus Records, the label started by Holland-Dozier-Holland after they’d left Motown.

Freda Payne’s “Band of Gold”? Parker on guitar. “Want Ads” by the Honeycombs? Parker again.

Next he met his mentor, Barry White, who saw the young songwriter’s potential.

White and Parker co-wrote several hits, including the No. 1 “You See the Trouble With Me,” and that’s Parker’s wah-wah on “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love,” “Love’s Theme” and several other Love Unlimited Orchestra classics.

“He was a real kind person,” Parker recalled. “And very, very super-talented. We’d go into the studio and he’d know exactly what he wanted, right away. I can’t say enough nice stuff about him. He was just a big, big deal in my career.”

Arista Records president Clive Davis signed Parker. The 1977 Raydio album, written and produced entirely by Parker, featured him on nearly all the instruments.” ray-parker-ghost-busters (2)At the time, anyone who was a famous musician that made a record, it was considered a jazz record,” Parker said. “No matter who you were, didn’t matter what it sounded like. It was only a jazz record because you were a musician.

“Musicians didn’t have hit records; they just didn’t allow it. Especially black. If you were black and you were a musician, the first thing they’d do is draw a picture of a guitar and you holding it, and there’s your album cover. And then you go to the jazz stations.

“When they designed my first album cover, that’s just what they did. So I went to Clive and said ‘For some reason, the company has an image of me as a jazz guitar player, and I’m trying to cut Top 40 records.'”

Presto! Raydio became the name of a band, with Parker out front in the cover photos. “Jack and Jill” hit the Top 10 single early in 1978. Although Parker’s silky tenor is featured on the chorus, the leads were sung by a friend of his, Arnell Carmichael.

“I couldn’t sing,” Parker said. “In the early days, I couldn’t even hold a pitch. The problem with being a good musician is you know what pitch is. I know what out of tune is. I don’t need anybody to tell me ‘I was just bad and out of tune.'”

Carmichael shared the lead with Parker on 1979’s “You Can’t Change That,” but by “A Woman Needs Love (Just Like You Do)” two years later, Parker was handling all the vocals. “I wasn’t so sure about that,” he said, “but all my friends said ‘It sounds all right now, you’re not an idiot no more. You might be able to pull this one off.'”

There was no Raydio. Carmichael and the other guys pictured on the jackets were put on retainer, for personal appearances. Eventually the act was called billed as Ray Parker Jr. & Raydio.

By the time of 1982’s The Other Woman, the credits read simply Ray Parker Jr. “That happened automatically,” said Parker. “The band got a little crazy, and everybody thought they were the stars. Everybody wanted more money.”

A pulsating mix of rock guitars and soulful vocals, “The Other Woman” was a huge single, reaching No. 4 in April. The ballad “Let Me Go” was a minor hit, but Parker didn’t score big again until ’84.

He was approached by Columbia Pictures’ music division to write a song for their upcoming comedy Ghostbusters.

“It was a 50 grand deal, to write a song in two days whether they like it or not,” Parker recalled. “A key point – whether they like it or not, I get my money. I loved that deal.

“So therefore, you gotta come up with something. The only problem was, the something became a little harder than I thought it was gonna be. Because what the heck do you write to the words ‘Ghost Busters’? They want the word in the song.”

He watched roughs of the film-in-progress. “I remember they had the Ghostbusters packs on, and they looked real similar to a Roto-Rooter thing I saw. They had backpacks on when they come and clean your drain. I said ‘That’s it – it should be a commercial, and I should never sing it. I should never say the words ‘Ghost Busters’ myself, I should let the background scream it.’

“And that’s exactly what I did. That was the best, smartest thing I’d ever done in my life. That one decision.”

“Ghostbusters” spent three weeks on top of the Billboard chart in June and became the biggest record – by far – of Parker’s career.

Parker was subsequently sued by Huey Lewis, who claimed that “Ghostbusters” was a virtual rip-off of his “I Want a New Drug.” Parker, who says he counted 12 songs that use “the same bassline” (including Stevie Wonder’s “You Haven’t Done Nothing” and M’s “Pop Musik”) settled out of court.

Still prevented by gag order from saying too much about the case, Parker nevertheless brushes it off. “What I can tell you is that I’ve written a lot of songs in my life, and every time it’s really, really successful there’s a lot of lawsuits. So far, in my lifetime, nobody’s collected a dime and it all still belongs to me. You look at the credits and it still says Ray Parker Jr.

“I remember Lionel Richie told me a long time ago, ‘You’re not successful until somebody’s suing you.'”

A label switch, first to Geffen and then to MCA, didn’t produce any more major pop hits (although Parker did write New Edition’s smash “Mr. Telephone Man”). Parker returned to Detroit in the late ’80s to care for his ailing parents, who, sadly, died with in a year of one another.

Today, he’s working on his first album in 13 years, writing songs for kids’ cartoon shows, and hitting the road (he’s been playing guitar with his old friends the Crusaders).

Parker has no regrets about bowing out for a while. “I had an unbelievably lucrative career, I made entirely too much money, I was never going to live long enough to spend it anyway,” he said. “And I didn’t want to be one of these guys trying to figure out how am I gonna get my parents back.”

Taking the 5th: Jimmy Webb

One of the most respected songwriters of the modern era, Jimmy Webb was just 18 years old when he struck up a friendship with Marc Gordon, of Motown Records’ Los Angeles office, in 1966.

Webb had been hired as a contract writer for Jobete, the label’s publishing company, where he provided made-to-order songs for the likes of Brenda Holloway. He left after a short while to pursue his own dreams, and pop singer Johnny Rivers, a budding mogul, snapped him up. When Gordon and the singing group he managed, then called The Versatiles, came to record for Rivers’ Soul City label, they were put together, serendipitously, with Webb.

The young songwriter already knew The Versatiles. “The first two I’d met were Lamonte McLemore, who was a photographer at Motown,” Webb said, “and Marilyn McCoo, who was being photographed by him for some reason. I remember them talking about their group; they were very nice kids.”
Before too long, you became integral to The 5th Dimension.

Jimmy Webb: Rivers went over to this San Remo Song Festival and was gonna be away for a month or so. He left me in charge of this group, running their rehearsals, playing the piano for them, doing a little vocal arranging for them. Somewhere along the way there, the name The Versatiles just sort of disappeared. It wasn’t anything dramatic – they weren’t The Versatiles any more, they were The 5th Dimension. And they had this kind of oddball way of dressing – like the Mamas & The Papas or The Rolling Stones. They dressed very individually. There was no sense of “band uniform” like most of the Motown acts had. Most black groups did dress all the same, or similarly. Here was this black group that had thrown all that away and were dressing very individually. They had a kind of a new look – something, frankly, I wish they would’ve stayed with.

And here was this beautiful sound of a blend of girls’ and boys’ voices. We had five people, so sometime we could do five-part harmony. We could do very rich, close harmony, from a more traditional era.

“I was struggling. I had holes clean through my tennis shoes. Sometimes I’d cross my legs on the piano bench, and Billy Davis would see these holes in my tennis shoes. He would tease me mercelessly about them and stick his finger through the holes and tickle the bottoms of my feet.

We were all just a bunch of kids, having fun. And when Johnny Rivers got back, I had kind of taught the group this song ‘Up, Up And Away’. I was a little nervous about that ’cause he could be very volatile. It could have been a scene, but he liked the song. He said it was not only a great song, it was a great album title.

‘Up, Up And Away’ was very much like a show tune.

Jimmy Webb: That’s how it sounded to me. I expected nothing from it, and it took off like a rocket.

You and Rivers had a falling out not long after. So how did you end up writing and arranging the entire second album?

Jimmy Webb: I don’t want to paint a portrait here of total anarchy, but he was having problems with this group. That had nothing to do with me. I had my own agenda with him.

Bones Howe brought me in to do arrangements. He wanted Magic Garden to be “The Jimmy Webb Album.” I did the first orchestral arranging I’d ever done in my life – I’d been watching people like Marty Paich and paying very close attention. It was fantastic for me. It was really a step up. It was really another level of education. And we didn’t see much of Johnny Rivers while we were making that album.

Those are thematic songs, ‘Carpet Man’ and ‘The Worst That Could Happen’, about a love gone bad.

Jimmy Webb: Yeah, sort of. A lot of the music I was writing in those days I was writing for Susie Horton. To some degree, it was a conceptual thing. It was a take onPet Sounds or a take on Sgt. Pepper. It was that kind of a market that we were in. People were making those kinds of records.

And they were interesting records, because they harkened back to proper song cycles, so that the album had more of a through line. It had somehow more integrity as an album, which I liked and which I kind of miss. I think that was a very valid art form, the album as something more than a record.

Florence said you wrote ‘The Girls Song’ especially for them.

Jimmy Webb: Yes, definitely. We needed a song for the girls. It’s Jimmy Webb ripping off Burt Bacharach.

And Billy has a lot of solos on that album.

Jimmy Webb: In my world, Billy was the lead singer in the group. Now, the group didn’t like that very much. Everybody in the group wanted their share of the spotlight. From my point of view it was like, “That’s OK, that’s fine, if we’re so successful that we can afford for everybody to do what they want to do, fine.” But Billy’s the guy, in my view as a producer, he was the guy who could deliver a big hit record. And I was kind of outspoken on that subject.

Let me ask your opinion on them individually as singers.

Jimmy Webb: I thought they were very easy to work with, particularly in the beginning when they would just sort of stand there and let me spoon-feed the parts to them. When they got along into their career and they began playing Vegas and stuff, everybody’s ego blossomed, which is not necessarily a bad thing, and now Ron wanted to do his sort of operatic thing…. Lamonte was always a bit more self-effacing. Florence definitely wanted to be a lead singer. Marilyn wanted to be a lead singer. Billy was kind of easygoing, because he was so supremely confident in his talent. He knew he was a lead singer.

But I would say that little problems began to surface, little resentments. Sometimes there would be tears in the recording session. Perhaps Florence might not feel she was being given her proper due and that she should have her own song on the album. Perhaps she would go to Marc [Gordon, her husband and the group’s manager] and say, “I think I should have my own song on this album.” I would hear about that.

Florence did your song, ‘This Is Your Life’ in 1970. Did you write it for her?

Jimmy Webb: I don’t remember – I think it came off the Thelma Houston album. I believe I did it with Thelma Houston first. I’m not 100 percent sure, to tell you the truth, it’s been a little while. It was a good song for her (Florence).

Several years went by, and you produced the original quintet’s final album, Earthbound. How did that come about?

Jimmy Webb: It was supposed to be a kind of reunion record for us, even though not that much time had really passed.

I really feel like I sort of lost control of that record. I don’t know exactly how I did. I thought I had a pretty good concept going in, and somehow or other the songs just didn’t seem to come together right. There’s certain parts of it that sound OK, that sound really pretty.

It seems like an attempt at a more R&B sound.

Jimmy Webb: That’s because Billy really wanted to go that way. Billy really wanted to go the R&B direction. I was still thinking Magic Garden. That’s where my head was at.

To put it delicately, there was a lot of in-fighting going on in the group while that album was being made. I remember Ron was bringing his gun to the studio – he used to carry a gun because he had a badge, and he was a security guard (laughing)…. So he’d actually come into the studio wearing a gun, with this real kind of down expression on his face. And I’d go, “Whoa, what’s with Ron tonight? Fasten your seatbelts, this is gonna be a bumpy ride.” He was showin’ attitude, you know what I’m saying?

I think Billy and Marilyn, rightfully, laid claim to being the lead singers in the group.

Jimmy Webb: I wasn’t as clear-headed as I could’ve been. I was kind of into some substance experimentation. I have a lot of regrets about that record. I would love to go back and remake it and make a simpler, more clear-headed record where everybody was trying to at least go in generally the same direction. Because in that case, everybody was just at all points of the compass, pulling for all they were worth.