She’s got the medicine that everybody wants- Grace Potter interview 2


Two years ago I had the opportunity to speak to Grace Potter as she and her band, the Nocturnals, were passing through the Carolinas in support of their debut album.

Once again, the band is playing a string of dates in the Carolinas, but this time, the band has a brand new self-titled record that debuted in the Billboard Top 20,is currently the album of the month in Playboy and has received accolades from every major music publication in the Country.

Grace was kind enough to give me a few minutes of her time as the band continues grow their audience- the old fashioned way- through constant touring and hard-work.

CH: Hello Grace! Congratulations on the immediate success of your new self-titled cd. I think you debuted in the Top 20..

GP: It did!! I am so excited!

CH: You have new band members working with you since we last spoke.

GP: That’s right, we have a North Carolina girl, actually!

Y!W: Catherine Popper…She worked with Ryan Adams and the Cardinals didn’t she?

GP: Exactly, exactly. And we have Benny Yurco. To be honest, Benny was always kind of the fifth Beatle in the band, anyways. He knew all the songs, he knew all the ropes, but he wasn’t expecting to get in full-time. When it was time to reform the group- instead of just replacing our former bass player, I thought it would be more interesting to kind of recreate the band, and get a new energy and a new focus. Having five members certainly adds a depth and allows for more sonic elasticity.

CH: The production on this album certainly showcases that, and it actually sounds like a band that is playing live together, enjoying that experience, and not just piling up tracks…

GP: We were playing live together, so I am glad you picked up on that. Most of the lead  vocals are live, and the backing vocals are obviously overdubbed. But there is very little overdubbing that went on. You know it is like when you make a really, really good pancake or something- sometimes you only have to put syrup on it, and not butter, or chocolate, or powdered sugar or all that other crap…(laughing) In this case we just put a little syrup on it and it was good to go.

CH: When I spoke to you two years ago, I asked you “What is next?” as your career path or trajectory was already on a straight path up. Since then you have done the Good Morning America show (again), which for many is a lifetime experience…

GP: An early lifetime experience (laughing)… early a.m.

CH: And you are doing the Tonight Show ( also again)… you certainly have shown me what is next…

GP: You know, when we did those two shows on our first record, it was really our training ground… rock band boot camp. This time around, we are really able to enjoy it, and it feels less like a whirlwind, and more like what we were born to do.

CH: You have really engaged your audience through things like your facebook page and viral videos of acoustic performances for the songs on your new album that you have been posting on your website…

GP: Mtv is gone, you know, and the only way to make people feel like they are seeing the real thing is to shoot a band in an irregular situation. Where they are playing their instruments live, and you can tell it is all real, and you can tell it is all coming from the heart. We have eight of these viral videos that we have done, so we are slowly putting them out. It has been a really fun journey.

As far as facebook- that is all me, well the facebook is not me, but I twitter, and the posts that I do go to facebook. I now have that instant connection with the fans. We have such a crazy life, so it is kind of our diary and running commentary… I am slowly starting to understand it, although I still do not know how to sign into facebook (laughing)

CH: You are touring again…. well, check that… do you ever stop touring?

GP: We very rarely stop touring…it has been a part of our identity since the beginning and it is something that I love. We create waves, not metaphysically but physically. we go out there and we play to people, and we look at their faces. That’s how we know- that is how we identify success- through the look on people’s faces at the end of a night.

CH: Well- I thank you for your time and look forward to being one of those faces at your show at the Lincoln Theatre in Raleigh on July 21.

GP: Thanks again, Clay!

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A Charmed Life, and an immensely talented musician- Brian Ray

photo credit ©Glen Wexler Brian Ray has a gig that every other musician on the planet can only dream of. He also has a career  that a screenwriter would be afraid to create for fear of being too utterly unbelievable….

Brian Ray is the rhythm guitarist and bass player for Paul McCartney… That Paul McCartney.

When Paul sits down at the piano, Brian has the job of playing the bass lines that changed the way people play bass. Brian has had a career filled with gigs like this, playing with legends, writing hit songs for people like Smokey Robinson and more…

With Sir Paul visiting the Queen City on July 28, I took the opportunity to ask Mr. Ray a few questions…

photo credit © Glen Wexler

ch: Thanks Brian for taking the time to give me a call…This leaves out  quite a few- but a few highlights…Your first band backs Bobby Pickett of  “monster mash” fame,  14 years with Etta James, writing hits for Smokey Robinson and playing rhythm guitar and bass with Sir Paul McCartney on tours, in the studio and at the Super Bowl, arguably the biggest show out there. Do you ever stop and pinch yourself?

Brian: I pinch myself regularly.(laughing) Every once in a while I say to Abe (Abe Laboriel Jr., McCartney drummer) “Look where we are! We are playing in the White House for the president, who is sitting 4 feet away! How do you top this… I am indeed very fortunate and very grateful for everything, but I have also worked very hard to get to where I am.

ch: You have played two Superbowls, how do you top that!

Brian: Yeah (laughing) Really, we continue to play these iconic shows like the Super Bowl, the White House, the Isle of Wight that we just played. Again I am just so grateful to Paul for everything he has done for me, and to Etta James for the same.

ch: In addition to playing with Paul McCartney, I believe you have recorded with Ringo Starr as well, you might be one of the few people on the planet who has recorded with both living Beatles…

Brian: You know, I did, I always forget to mention that. (laughing) I met Ringo in 1977, and in 1981 or 1982, I recorded “She’s About a Mover” with him.

ch: You also recently played a halftime show in tribute to Les Paul, how did that come about?

Brian: I was recording my new solo record, and had a crazy idea to write a break into the song, “I Found You” that was like a marching band, but with guitars in place of the trombone parts, guitars in place of the trumpet parts and so on. After a bit, I got up to around 40 tracks of these parts and I thought it turned out great. Not long after that I was introduced to Stephen Ross, owner of the Miami Dolphins and I mentioned how cool it would be to have that march out at a halftime show in place of a marching band.  On the spot, he offered to let me do it. As the planning progressed we decided to do more familiar songs, and I ended up doing it with Rick Nielsen and Orianthi, who was lined up to be Michael Jackson’s guitarist before he passed away. You can watch the whole tribute on youtube.

ch: We have  mentioned a few of the numerous people you have played or written with. Are there any artists that you would like to work with, that you have not?

Brian: Good question. I have really been getting into the Retro Soul coming out of Northern England and from people like Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. Growing up, I listened to a pirate radio station out of Mexico called XURB and a dj named Wolfman Jack. The songs he played were the rythm and blues that are the bedrock for all rock and roll. Without it, there would be no rock and roll…So these new bands really interest me, and I would love to write with someone like Sharon Jones or James Hunter. I would also like to write with Robert Plant or one of the younger bands like MGMT.

ch: Your new single, “I Found You,” is currently streaming  on your website. Great summer song….it recalls the days of my youth, when summer meant great new songs on the radio, songs that would hook you immediately, those songs that when you hear them, they immediately carry you back to that time…

Brian: Thanks for saying that. I know what you mean,  One of those songs for me was the Loving Spoonfuls’ “Summer in the City” . Really a great song.

ch: What is the official release date for the new album? -Are there any plans to tour in support of your solo release after the McCartney Tour?

Brian: My  new single, “I Found You”  and “Happy Ending” will be released digitally with Sony/ICON , July 6 on iTunes, with the  full length being released a month later on August 3. The physical release  on Whooray/ICON will be around the same time, with a deluxe edition being released on my website, www.brianray.com.  I would love to tour, and have a new manager, Jamie Talbot, Sanctuary Mgmt.,  so we are looking to see about something in September or October.

ch: Thanks again for taking the time out of your day to talk with me, I look forward to your new cd, and seeing you in Charlotte on July 28 with Paul McCartney.

Brian: Thanks Clay,

Grace Potter & the Nocturnals- cd review

 I have been a fan of music for over forty years, a consumer of music for 30, and an active performer for over twenty and I have reached an age where there is not much room for something new.  My music purchases have slowed, and I catch myself returning to the records I bought twenty years ago over and over.

They are few and far between… those disks that just grab you, the ones that make you hit play again and again immediately upon the fading of the last note. “Grace Potter & the Nocturnals,” the third and self titled disk by the band from Vermont, fits into this category and strikes the notion that rock is dying from my vocabulary. It will also fall into my long term listening pile.

A veteran of the music scene at the ripe young age of 27, Grace Potter has dropped the gauntlet, or just downright stepped on and over, the over-produced tripe that fills today’s airwaves, with this collection of immediately satisfying well- written organic rock. By organic, I mean music played by the musicians on the record cover, not studio musicians or, I shudder to speak it aloud- samples.

Stand- out tracks are tough to single out, as this record hits me as a cohesive collection, meant to be played in it’s entirety… If pushed, highlights could be, “Medicine,” with it’s immediate sense of urgency and twisting guitars or first single, “Tiny Light,” which begins as a soulful plea and evolves into a tour de force for all players.

Before this review glows too far, I do have one complaint- the inclusion of a re-recorded version of the opening track- “Paris(Ooh La la)” which was released previously as a bonus track to the band’s last cd.

With the addition of bassist, Catherine Popper, a North Carolina native, and second guitarist, Benny Yurco, “Grace Potter & the Nocturnals” delivers on all the promise shown on earlier releases. Buy it, but be ready to hit play- again and again.

Rich Williams, Kansas guitarist- “There’s Know Place Like Home”

Kansas- June 9 at Koka Booth Amphitheater

To many in the musical world of 2010, Kansas is just another tour stop in the center of the country- the place of Dorothy and Toto and tornados…

But to people of my generation, when you say Kansas, the mind races not to a geographic place, but to finely crafted songs with intricate arrangements  featuring guitars, violins and soaring tenor vocals. Growing up, the songs of Kansas filled the airwaves on what was then known simply as rock radio, but has evolved over the graceless passage of time into Classic Rock. The band was a powerful force in the era of Arena rock, with a number of classic hits, including “Dust in the Wind,” “Fight Fire with Fire,” and the inescapable “Carry On Wayward Son.”

Some thirty plus years after the heyday of these songs, Kansas is still touring, this time in support of their new DVD release,” There’s Know Place Like Home.” The tour brings them to Cary’s Koka Booth Amphitheater on June 9. I took this opportunity to speak to Rich WIlliams, original guitarist, about the DVD, the tour and rock in general…

YW: How is the tour going so far?

Rich Williams:  We are out West right now, heading to Billings tomorrow night. We have  done about 10 or 12 shows so far.

YW: How are the audiences ?

Rich Williams: We have always been a family friendly band, so a lot of people have brought their younger brothers or their kids, so we have always had a real good spectrum. But especially since Guitar Hero 2, we have had a big surge in younger audience members. Families play that game together, so that has brought whole families to the show

YW: On the classic recordings like “Carry On Wayward Son”, there were two guitarists, how long have you been carrying the weight as the sole guitarist?

Rich Williams:  Kerry Livgren left the band about 25 years ago, then we did two albums with Steve Morse. And it has basically been me since then.  Our violin player also plays guitar on some songs, but for the most part it is me, for about twenty years.

YW: I have always been intrigued by the interaction between the electric guitar and the violin in your music…it almost sounds like a different instrument

Rich Williams:  Yeah, it really does. When we play either in unison or in harmony, it kind of creates a third instrument

YW: This tour is a co-billing with Styx and Foreigner.  Your new DVD features you guys with a symphony, are there any plans to do this again?

Rich Williams: Yeah, when this tour is over with Styx and Foreigner, we go back and do symphony dates again, to really support the DVD.

YW: Kansas has not played in North Carolina in several years, the last time I remember was at Speed Street in Charlotte, 7 or 8 years ago…

Rich Williams: I spend all my off time up in Youngsville, right outside of Wake Forest. The last time we played in the Raleigh/Durham/Cary area was at Walnut Creek, when it was just called Walnut Creek. This will be the first time back in a long time. We have not been back to NC since that Charlotte show.

YW: This show will be like a homecoming to you. Thanks for your time- I look forward to seeing you in Cary on June 9.

For more information on Kansas, or on their new DVD, please visit http://www.kansasband.com

Roger Joseph Manning – rock’s most prolific session man- and one helluva songwriter…

RM_309

In 1990,  radio was in need of a new direction…  Hair Metal was king, grunge had not quite taken a foot hold, and college radio was filled with so much of the same that it was a wasteland.  In the spring of that year, I was a college radio dj, playing a mix of all of this. Then along came a little album called “Bellybutton,” by a band named Jellyfish. It was filled with melodic, hook-filled songs that would have fit in perfectly in the early 70’s. This cd changed my views on music in that era. Sadly, it did not change radio…

One of the founders of Jellyfish was Roger Joseph Manning, Jr.  Since the demise of Jellyfish in 1994 or ’95,  Mr. Manning  formed another great band, Imperial Drag, and played keyboards on discs for everyone from Neil Diamond to Cheap Trick, Glen Campbell to Beck. He has also released two critically acclaimed solo albums.
Roger will be playing the Charlotte Pop Fest on September 26 in Charlotte, NC. With this event in mind, I took a moment to chat with Roger…

CH: Hey Roger. Thanks for taking a moment to speak to me.

RM: Hey, I appreciate the interview.

CH: I was listening to your latest release, Catnip Dynamite, this weekend and your song, “Down in Front” came on… just to let you know- I am am the “Tiny” you refer to in the song…6’9″ and I stand in front at concerts..

RM: HA

CH: Okay- since that is out of the way…In addition to your solo releases, Catnip Dynamite and Solid State Warrior, you have played or sang on records by, well…everybody.

RM: I have been so fortunate, over the years, to have been invited in to assist in whatever way I could , on these records. I am continuing to do that. In fact, if anything, now I am looking to expand that. I have not done it for a while, because I have been immersed in solo world. So, I am reaching out and trying to get back in to the community, and play on everything and anything. It is very fulfilling, because it is all across the board, you know stylistically. All kinds of different challenges, finding different ways to express. I like really coming through for the artist and giving them what they want.

CH: As a young musician, was this studio work something that you envisioned yourself doing?

RM: Well it was hard for me to envision life past Jellyfish. We had our challenges starting off, like any group. We did get signed relatively early on, and the machine started moving, and there is so much to do there, that you get lost in that world… It is hard to find the time to even think of anything else. And, as fast as that started- it was over, and we decided to go our separate ways. Suddenly it is just not there anymore. HA HA  Fortunately, I had a vision with Eric Dover to move forward, and then the same thing happened there. So the session stuff was just sort of a natural progression, that frankly, fell into my lap. I didn’t pursue it, but I found the more I did it, the more I enjoyed it. That led to a healthy “word-spreading, ” and it is something that I have done off and on for over 10 years now, and it has been great fun.

CH: So, back to your own material. Do you see yourself playing more live shows with your own material?

RM: No. It is simply a financial issue. It cost so much money to rehearse, pay my guys. HA, I mean there is no big production involved, but ..for an artist of my size, other than major cities or specialized festivals , like the Charlotte Pop Fest, or the shows I do in Japan, it is hard to have any kind of financial guarantee that is going to cover all the expenses. So logistically it ends up being inefficient, and there is just so much more to do, here, at home.
This Charlotte show is a real fluke, in that it is a well organized festival to coordinate funds and all the money for all the bands. James presented it to me, and it just made sense.

CH: So the Charlotte Pop Fest will be your only show of 2009, other than a recent appearance with another artist, Bleu?

RM: Yeah, and that barely counts, I was only on stage for a mere 4 songs.

CH: What kind of setlist can we expect in Charlotte on the 26th?

RM: Mainly stuff from the two solo releases, Catnip Dynamite and Solid State Warrior, and some surprises. HAHA

CH: Your touring band consists of at least one member from a former band…

RM: Yeah, Eric Skodis. He is the drummer, and he has some amazing vocal harmony sensibilities that he pulls off while he plays the drums. He is a real asset. All the guys are, they all sing like birds, and you know… There are plenty of great bass players and guitarists in Los Angeles, and drummers, but so few of them can sing, let alone have an understanding of more complex, involved harmonies. And I am really just so fortunate that away.

CH: The bass player, is that Linus of Hollywood?

RM: Yes, a true talent in his own right. He will playing his own stuff at the Festival as well.

CH: Wanted to mention a couple other things. I recently rounded up all my Imperial Drag demos that you released via the old “weed” format…great stuff.

RM: Yes, in a perfect world, we are going to be releasing  4 Cd’s of Imperial Drag outtakes and some live rarities. It will all be done in house, and I will be ideally selling it from my website, but that is still in the works.

CH: I randomly flipped over to “I won’t pay to buy it” from these demos as we speak. In a perfect world, this is a radio hit. It just has that perfect sunny afternoon late ’70’s, early FM radio feel, if that makes any sense whatsoever..

RM: Oh yes, it does. That is what beats through my musical heart, so to speak, and just rolls out of me. That song was written as Imperial Drag was forming in 1994, and I am as proud of it today.

CH: One last thing, I mentioned that I was listening to your stuff over the weekend. When that song went off, I hit shuffle on my ipod and the next song was “Lord, Is it Mine” off Supertramp’s Breakfast in America….it was like the perfect next choice. It could have been – well , you. And I mean that as a compliment

RM: HA HA. Well, I am flattered. Thank You , that is definitely in my school of composition.

CH: Thank You, and I will see you in Charlotte. Again, I will be the one you tell to get down in front…

RM: HA. Thank you Clay, appreciate it.

Roger Manning will perform his only live solo show of 2009 on September 26,  as part of the Charlotte Pop Fest.
For more info: http://www.charlottepopfest.com

Avril’s Guitarist, Evan Taubenfeld, steps out

With his upcoming solo release, Welcome to the Blacklist Club, Evan Taubenfeld is stepping out from the shadow of his former boss- multi-platinum artist Avril Lavigne. The album is pretty much what you would expect from one of her co-writers- polished, guitar driven pop. The first single is a co-write with Bleu- “Boy meets Girl,” and is a perfect soundtrack to a late summer day.

I had the opportunity to speak with Evan about this upcoming cd, and his appearance at the Fillmore in Charlotte on September 17. Unlike a lot of touring artists- this 25 year old is funny, self-deprecating and very personable…

Evan Taubenfeld

CH: Thanks for taking the time to chat- The tour you are about to embark on- is this your first solo trek?

ET: No, actually this is my second one. I did a similar tour a couple months back with a band called the Academy is. I got the rust out of my system and am now ready to return to rock greatness. Haha. I am sure it is anxiously awaited. Haha

CH: I have heard your single, “Boy Meets Girl” on Sirius XM several times. I was familiar with the Bleu version of this song- yours is very good, congrats on the pre-release radio play…

ET: Bleu McCauley-yeah… we have written together many times. He had this chorus, and this is very presumptuous of me, I said that is too good for you HAHA, I am taking it and fix it up, gonna make a better verse and make it my song.

CH: This single is on your solo debut, Welcome to the Blacklist Club. What is the official release date?

ET: Well, it is funny that you ask that. Originally it was August 4, and then I kept saying in interviews- August 25…cause I liked the ring of that better. HA. But I got something yesterday that said it was September 15, due to me totally procrastinating on approving the album artwork.

CH: I wanted to ask about your influences, as clichéd as that is. On the tracks I have heard, I get a lot of Rick Springfield…

ET: It is funny you say that. I made sure that everyone I worked with on this album, producers and co-writers, listened to “Jesse’s Girl” before we even got together. In terms of writing- the Beatles and the Police, obviously, because they are the best ever. I love pop! Everything from Kellie Clarkson, Avril, Ace of Base, Jordan Sparks, or David Archuletta…. I don’t care who it is, if it is a great song, I love it.

CH: Well, I share that philosophy with you. A great song is a great song no matter the artist. Best of luck with the debut cd, and this tour.

ET: Thanks a lot! Hope to see you there.

Evan Taubenfeld will be appearing at the Fillmore in Charlotte on September 17.

Ace Frehley discusses Les Paul, sobriety and his new cd, Anomaly.


 

photo ©Kevin Britton

photo ©Kevin Britton

 

If you were male, between the ages of 10- 14 and growing up in the late 1970’s, odds are, you were a fan of KISS. If you are a guitarist between the ages of 35- 45 and living in 2009, odds are you picked up the guitar because of Ace Frehley..

Ace Frehley has influenced more guitar players than almost anyone in rock. With his signature riffs pouring forth from his low-slung Les Paul, it is hard to imagine a cooler figure in rock. At a time when disco was taking over the radio, KISS was still delivering “the rock.” In fact, “Love Gun” was my first album, and it is still hard to imagine my mom going out to buy it for me…Ace will be releasing his first solo album in 20 years on September 15, 2009, I had scheduled an interview to chat about this release, however on the day of the interview, the legendary Les Paul passed away. Mr. Frehley, a personal friend of Les Paul, took the time to speak to me about his cd, and his late friend.

CH: Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me. I know today has been a busy day for you, and I am sorry for your loss of a personal friend, Mr. Les Paul. The Les Paul has always been your instrument of choice, with not one, but two signature models.

Ace: yeah.

CH: Beyond the instrument, his innovation and influence are incalculable.

Ace: I don’t know how many people really understand how instrumental he was in multi-track recording, not just as an innovator in making and designing great guitars, and his playing and records that he did with Mary. He was just a giant

He was a sweetheart of a guy. I was lucky enough to be able to call him a friend, I was lucky enough to jam with him, trade stories,  and listen to a couple of his jokes. He was always a fun guy, who seemed like he loved life, and that is probably why he lived to be in his nineties.

CH: Again, I am sorry for your loss, and his legacy will always be felt in the music world.

I would like to talk about your new cd, Anomaly, out September 15.  This is your first cd since 1989’s “Trouble Walking.” Obviously you have been busy since that release, with the 6-year reunion with KISS. Are some of these songs from that period before the KISS reunion?

Ace: There is one song on the cd that is from prior to that period. The song called, Sister is a song that I actually performed back in ’90-’91, but most of the songs are songs that I have written and produced here in New York. I am happy with the way it turned out, even though it took a long time to put together, but I think for anyone who hears it- it will be worth the wait.

CH: From the clips that I have heard, it sounds great, and definitely has the same feeling as your classic solo debut from 1978, which a friend of mine recently called “the last great KISS record.” I tend to agree with that statement, by the way… and Anomaly is truly a solo release. You wrote, produced and even designed the artwork…

Ace: Yeah, you know it is pretty much my baby. I produced it, except for the one cover song; Fox on the Run, which was done by Marty Frederickson. You know, I came close to having it done in 2008, but I am glad that I didn’t. From the time I was gonna say “that is it”, some songs were written, some things were rewritten, and the process of recording is an ongoing thing with me. The problem with producing is I never know when to stop (laughs), especially with digital recording. You have so many parameters you can edit, change and alter, you basically have to just one day say, “This is done.” (laughs) I finally got to that point a couple of months ago…

CH:I think all your fans will be very pleased with the results.

Ace: You know, I kinda feel like I did after that first solo album when we all went off and did our own things and I madethe record with “New York Groove.” I remember after that was mixed, I was listening in the car, and I had a really good feeling about it…I kind of feel like that about this one.

CH: I also want to congratulate you on another significant aspect of the release date. September 15 will be the three-year anniversary of your sobriety.

Ace: Thanks. I am more focused, I am writing better songs… every aspect of my art has gotten better. But it took a while for me to realize that. Your old thoughts and ways are telling you that you need all that stuff to do great stuff, but once you get out of it, you realize that it is a lie and, you know, you do better work without it.

CH: From what I have heard of Anomaly, that definitely shows. Thanks for taking the time today to talk.

Ace; Clay, it was great talking to you. Hey, One day at a time we get through this crazy life, right?

CH: That is exactly it- thanks!

Ace Frehley’s new cd, Anomaly will be out on September 15,  2009. A fall tour is also in the works.