My guest this week is bluegrass guitar legend Norman Blake. Norman's recordings have had a huge impact on me, and I see him as one of the most inspired and quietly influential acoustic musicians of all time. Blake came into view in the late '60s, when he began performing as a sideman with artists such as Johnny Cash, June Carter and Bob Dylan. Norman was also a member of John Hartford's seminal Aero-Plain band. During the '70s, he began a solo career that quickly became one of the most popular and musically adventurous within bluegrass. He continued recording and performing - often with his wife, Nancy - well into the '90s. In recent years he has worked with T-Bone Burnett on soundtracks to "Oh Brother Where Art Thou", "Cold Mountain" and the collaboration between Robert Plant and Allison Krauss "Raising Sand". While Norman has quit touring, he still plays and we are lucky enough to have a brand new album, "Brushwood Songs and Stories" that sees Norman in fine form. Norman was kind enough to discuss all of these aspects of his life and career with me. Enjoy my conversation with Norman Blake, and please subscribe to the podcast for free on iTunes!
Music Makers and Soul Shakers
In March of 2016, I'll be releasing a weekly podcast that delves into the lives, careers and studio experiences of musicians, music producers, and even a few music biz-types who have been involved in excellent music. Some will be artists you recognize, others will be the musicians behind the scenes you may not be aware of, but each one has a great story to tell and brings a perspective to great music that will be of interest to music fans of all kinds. Stay tuned here and subscribe if you'd like to hear each episode as it gets released starting in March!
My guest this week is multi-instrumentalist and record producer Steve Berlin. A longtime mainstay of the Los Angeles music scene, Steve Berlin is perhaps best known as a member of Los Lobos, although he is also a sought-after producer and session player. Berlin's production, arranging and session work includes REM, Sheryl Crow, The Replacements, Faith No More, Dave Alvin, John Lee Hooker, The Tragically Hip, Buckwheat Zydeco and many more. I got to speak with Steve and we discussed his long career, the ins and outs of record production, the legendary 80's roots/punk scene in LA, turning down an "offer he couldn't refuse" from Ray Manzarek, creating the masterpiece "Kiko" and much more. Enjoy my conversation with Steve Berlin, and please subscribe to the podcast for free on iTunes!
My guest this week is songwriter and guitarist Dave Alvin. Dave, along with his brother Phil, is a founding member of the Rock n' Roll group The Blasters. The Blasters tore it up on the LA roots/punk scene from the late 70's through the 80's and toured endlessly around the world. Dave went on to join The Knitters and X, as well. He has great stories about growing up in the outskirts of LA, the great scene that evolved there, Songwriting, and his lengthy career making a string of excellent solo records. I love Dave's songs and delivery, but he's also a badass guitar player - a rare feature in singer-songwriters! In recent years, Dave has teamed back up with his brother Phil for some great duo recordings. I got to know Dave a few years back when we worked together on a tribute to the Mississippi Sheiks, and he's always been one of the artists that I hold in the highest regard, so he seemed like the perfect guest to kick off Season 2 of the show! Enjoy my conversation with Dave Alvin, and please subscribe to the podcast for free on iTunes!
Welcome to Season 2 of Music Makers and Soul Shakers. This is a message of welcome and a mission statement to get you all riled up for a new season of the show!
It's the final episode of Season 1 and I'm signing off in style with my guest this week, the spectacular Bettye LaVette. Bettye has a memory like a steel trap and an engaging and self-deprecating way about hr that makes for great storytelling. Since her first single "My Man - He's a Lovin' Man" in 1962 at age sixteen, Bettye has had a career full of ups and downs, and as she tells it, more downs than ups in the first forty! But in those years she managed to drift on and off Atlantic Records 5 times, and at one point, due to some questionable advice, actually asked legendary producer Jerry Wexler to be let off the label. He handed her $500 and told her she'd need it! Growing up in Detroit, and learning to sing in her parents' living room while they were selling booze to the locals, as well as the touring gospel groups of the day (Sam Cooke used to drop in for refreshments), Bettye developed an incredible voice and a desire to get out and perform. Some early success put her on the road with Ben E King, Clyde McPhatter, James Brown, and Otis Redding, but every success seemed to be followed by disappointment with some bad timing, poor promotion, and sketchy advice. It really wasn't until the mid-2000's that Bettye found a new audience and since then has made a string of incredible records with producers like Joe Henry and Patterson Hood with the Drive By Truckers. Her recent book "A Woman Like Me" tells her story, but as always, it's more fun hearing them straight from her! Bettye's latest album is called "Worthy" and is well worth seeking out. Thank you for listening to the show and being a fantastic audience. I'll return soon for Season 2 - stay tuned!
Drummer Jay Bellerose is my guest on the show this week. If your musical taste crosses over with mine at all, Jay is probably the drummer on some of your favorite records of the last 15 years. If you've been following this show, Jay's name has come up many times in other interviews, so it was high-time to drag him in for an episode of his own! Jay's unique approach to drumming, with unorthodox setups and an awesome palette of vintage drums has made him the go-to drummer for producers like T-Bone Burnett and Joe Henry. We talk about his approach to drumming and musicality in the studio, and how he tries to be very selective about the projects he takes on. In fact, he once turned down a gig with David Byrne, only to take his first gig with Joe Henry, opening for David Byrne! Jay has played on albums for BB King, Gregg Allman, Ray LaMontagne, Allen Toussaint, Bettye LaVette, Solomon Burke, Bonnie Raitt and the list goes on and on. Jay and I talked about his early days at Berklee, his long stint with Paula Cole, how to survive in a multi-drummer session with Jim Keltner, and how he had to work to fit into the Robert Plant/Allison Krauss touring band after making the acclaimed "Raising Sand" record. It's an illuminating conversation for any music fan - please share and enjoy, and don't forget to subscribe to the podcast for free on iTunes!
My guest this week is the very creative and grooving drummer, John Convertino. Along with Joey Burns, John started Calexico in the mid-90's after a long stint playing and touring with the seminal group, Giant Sand. His work with Howe Gelb in Giant Sand brought him from LA to Tucson, where he's been living for many years, and has helped to develop a creative and nurturing music scene. Calexico has released a series of amazing albums, and John's unique approach to the drums is always a highlight. The group successfully mixes folk, rock, twang, mariachi, and avant-garde music into their sound, and it was great to discuss all of those elements with John, as well as his history playing in his family band, how he met Howe Gelb and started playing in LA, his move to the desert of Tucson, and his experiences recording and working in the studio. Enjoy my conversation with John Convertino!
Known as The American Songster, Dom Flemons brings a deep knowledge of old-time, stringband, blues, and ragtime combined with the sensibilities of a modern songwriter to audiences all over the world with his band and as a solo artist. A founding member of Grammy-winning group, The Carolina Chocolate Drops, Dom has gone on to release a string of solo and collaborative albums that explore these musical forms, and preserve the music of the past while keeping it fresh and modern at the same time. Dom is a great guitar player, but also plays the bones, jug, fife, banjo, and probably lots more. He's used all those instruments to make some great records, and Dom and I talked about his recording history in his early days in Phoenix, meeting the members of the Chocolate Drops at the Black Banjo Gathering in Boone, North Carolina, and how he wants to keep the spirit of that event alive in his music. We also discussed making records with Joe Henry and Buddy Miller and his current projects that include a collaboration with British guitarist Martin Simpson, and an upcoming release of Black Cowboy songs that will come out this fall. Enjoy the episode!
Studio drumming legend Hal Blaine is my guest on the show this week! Hal's career has been beyond remarkable - he is one of the most recorded drummers in history and was an integral part of the most prolific and adaptable recording teams in the history of music. From the Beach Boys to Sinatra, Elvis Presley to John Lennon, Hal Blaine played on everything coming out of LA in the 60's and 70's. Coming from a jazz background, and a traumatic event in his early life, Hal grew up playing in bands and orchestras before finding work in the studios of Los Angeles. Before long, Hal's personality and incredible skill made him the top call session player for almost any style of music. He had close ties to Phil Spector and Brian Wilson, and is even a character in the recent Brain Wilson biopic "Love and Mercy". Be sure to check out the great documentary "The Wrecking Crew" on Netflix, which documents the session players of that time. Hal was happy to talk about his history and some of the memorable sessions that he took part in. Please excuse the audio quality of Hal's voice - his phone was a little distorted, but you'll get used to it, and it'll be worth it... Enjoy my interview with Hal Blaine!
David Hood, the legendary bassist and member of the Swampers, the Muscle Shoals-based band that backed up countless classic soul records, is my guest this week. Guys like David are the reason I was inspired to do this show in the first place. I first heard him through the Duane Allman anthology, an album I picked up as a kid that contained all this amazing soul music that Duane had been a part of in the late 60's. Upon further investigation, I was led to the world of Muscle Shoals, and FAME Studios, the home of classic soul music for artists like Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Boz Scaggs, John Hammond, Clarence Carter, and so many more. David also went on to play on albums for Paul Simon, Traffic, and the list goes on and on. The Muscle Shoals documentary from a few years back is a must-see, and David was kind enough to spend some time with me talking about the studios, life during that time in Muscle Shoals, and to detail some of the sessions that so many of us know and love. Enjoy my conversation with David Hood!