Friday, October 23, 2015


As anyone who has ever been in a band can likely attest to, the complexities of creative personalities working in close quarters can often lead to tension, argument, and outright dissolution if the situation gets out of hand. Steve Hackett knows this all too well. From 1970 to 1977, Hackett was a member of one of progressive rock’s most influential and enigmatic bands—Genesis.

image by Armando Gallo

Hackett brought his unique brand of musical vision to the mix, and was eager to contribute more of his own material to the band’s studio albums. To his dismay and eventual disgust, Hackett found two insurmountable obstacles which prevented him from achieving his goal: keyboardist Tony Banks and bassist/12-string guitarist Mike Rutherford exerted a form of control over the band which ultimately led to not only Hackett’s departure in 1977, but also (according to Hackett) Peter Gabriel’s exit two years earlier and, in 1996, the loss of Phil Collins.

Steve Hackett is the only member of Genesis who has warmly embraced the band’s musical/historical record, and has toured the world several times performing selections from the seven-year period in which he was involved with the group. The global success of these tours bears witness to the enduring popularity—and importance—of the music to millions of fans. Hackett returns to the Long Island area on November 8 for a performance at the Westhampton Performing Arts Center and on November 11 at The Space at Westbury. This time around, fans are in for a multi-course feast of both Genesis gems from 1970-1977 and material culled from Hackett’s solo career which now spans 40 years and 24 albums, up to and including his brand-new release, Wolflight. The current tour is dubbed From Acolyte to Wolflight with Genesis Revisited—the Total Experience … which may be a mouthful but it’s an accurate description of what to expect when Hackett and band take the stage.

I first spoke with Steve Hackett in October 2014, not long after a much-covered incident concerning a Genesis documentary DVD which, to the majority of viewers, turned a blind eye toward Hackett’s solo career, resulting in a public demonstration of indignation during which Hackett vowed not to offer the documentary DVD for sale on his website. In conversation, Hackett’s tone was neither bitter nor petulant; rather, his voice conveyed mature wisdom interwoven with a dry sense of humor. Not only is the man a creative genius, he also possesses a keen intellect that encompasses art, literature, and science in the true form of a Renaissance man.

This year, I had the opportunity to speak with Steve Hackett twice during the past few months—once at the end of August and again in mid-October—to cover even more ground than our expansive conversation of last year. Hackett was friendly, candid, and eager to talk; in other words, an interviewer’s dream subject.

Once again, for his candor, friendliness, and most importantly, time, I thank Steve Hackett for spending part of his time with me.

Read on and enjoy!

image by Tina Korhonen


Roy Abrams: The title of this upcoming tour speaks to the enormous volume of art you have produced during the course of your career. Given that sheer volume, what were the logistics like in terms of putting a set list together?

Steve Hackett: Well, I think people have been aware, they’ve been following the stuff I’ve been up to in recent years, but I devoted two years or so to doing exclusively Genesis work again, the stuff that was created in the ‘70s, mainly with Peter Gabriel and myself. The thing about that is, a number of other people who were interested in my Genesis afterlife were disappointed that I wasn’t doing anything from Spectral Mornings or Voyage of the Acolyte or Please Don’t Touch, all of those albums, so the tour, for me, is how to celebrate 40 years as a solo recording artist, and at the same time, promoters and agents (were) asking me to do Genesis Revisited (tour) again, because it did very good box office. So the solution to that was to divide the past up into two separate sets, one of which is vocal solo material, and the second set (is) Genesis songs, ones that I haven’t performed before in recent years, such as “Can-Utility and the Coastliners” and “Get ‘Em Out by Friday”, “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”, “Cinema Show” … so I’m trying to celebrate both halves of this history and make it totally immersive by giving them surround sound. We’ll be using surround sound; it’s part of the flight back of audio, I keep thinking (of) a kind of audio crusade, I ought to really go for that with people who are prepared to accept narrow bandwidth and the kind of disposable aspect of music these days, (I wanted to) celebrate it ever more so. It’s the equivalent of the wide screen.

RA: Personnel-wise, are you bringing the same people out who accompanied you on last year’s (Genesis Extended) tour?

SH: It’ll be Nad Sylvan singing the Genesis stuff; I’ll be singing the solo stuff, and it’ll be harmony singers with the band. (Keyboardist) Roger King works as my collaborator and musical director. We also have Rob Townsend on saxes, flutes, and additional keyboards, percussion, and various other things. We have Gary O’Toole on drums, who is a singer as well, and on bass this time it’s going to be Roine Stolt, formerly of Flower Kings and Transatlantic. For lack of a better word, he’s going to be doing the Mike Rutherford parts, the double neck bass and 12-string stuff. He’s also part of the harmony-singing team. I’m hoping to hand over some of the bass duties so he doesn’t get saddled with them all, so that he and I can so some twin lead stuff, and kind of get the best of the whole team.

RA: “Wolflight,” the title track of the new album, is a marvel that I cannot stop listening to. It combines virtually every element of what makes Steve Hackett a unique artist, highlighting what, to these ears, is compositional genius, instrumental mastery, and stellar arrangement and production skills. Can you talk about the process of writing and recording that piece, as well as the rest of the new album?

SH: My wife, Jo, we wanted to lyrically celebrate the early history of the tribes that eventually (spread across) part of Asia and even part of Africa; the people for whom the Great Wall of China was built, in order to keep; them out, the Golden Horde; the people who brought down the Roman Empire eventually; the early guerilla fighters. They didn’t play by the rules, but they were great survivors. The more and more I read about their history, I find it fascinating. So “Wolflight”, the title track, was really designed to celebrate that. Those people used the wolf as a totem, very often they befriended wolves and (developed) a symbiotic relationship between those animals and humans, which formed the basis for their mutual survival. Compositionally, I wanted to work with a guy called Malik Mansurov from Azerbaijan, who plays an instrument called the tar, and working with him is a bit like working with a guy who’s a cross between Ravi Shankar and John McLaughlin. (He has a) wonderful spiritual quality to his playing and a fluidly fast technique; quite extraordinary. I worked with him, first of all, live, with a Hungarian band called Djabe, and I was thrilled to work with him in Hungary, get him into a studio, fly him in from Azerbaijan, and I have much more stuff recorded with him. So that was part of it, the world music aspect, I thought, how can you have acoustic music, folk music, world music, regional stuff, and rock, and orchestral stuff all in one piece? So that kind of pan-genre approach, working almost like a wrestling tag time where as soon as the energy might start to flag, the other guys kicks in, another team takes over. These different genres, I wanted to be able to fire salvos from one to the other.

RA: It’s one of the most remarkable pieces of music I’ve ever heard.

SH: Well, thank you! I’m glad you like it! I followed my instincts on it, and I really didn’t know whether people would like it or not, but it has had a great reaction. This aspect of something Slavic and Nordic and elemental with the orchestral bit … I always thought, what would it be like if guys like Tchaikovsky and Grieg and Borodin, what would they do if they got hold of a rock group? I was thinking along those lines, those dark elemental forces that they were so clever at conjuring with orchestras, where the orchestral stuff that they did rarely sounded flaccid; it retained that tension and that interest, it seemed to be highly charged emotionally, and very exciting. Having an orchestra is exciting; that’s the real challenge for us rockers. All of those elements came to bear on it.

RA: You have mentioned that songs will often be conceived out of dream experiences. What are some of the most notable examples of this?

SH: Funnily enough, on the first Genesis Revisited album I did, there was a track called “Valley of the King” where the music came complete in a dream, and I thought, I’ve got to try and do something like that. I had this sound in my head that sounded like a cross between the string instruments of the orchestra, and what the guitar could do. It makes up another kind of hard-edged sounding orchestra; a bit distorted, a bit raucous, but it’s got the size of an orchestra. It’s kind of cinematic rock, in that way.

RA: What are the similarities and differences between writing from the dream experience to writing from inspiration through books, films, fine art, or nature?

SH: I think what happens is, in my case, I work on paper; memory is fallible. I like writing things down in books, and I hope to God that I don’t finish the book before it’s time to do the album. I think to myself, God, if I spread this out over a number of books, I’ll never go back to Book One. It’s actually a diary, this thing. It’s got that idea of 365 pages (and) some of those things might be of relevance, if I update them as I go. It’s crawling around in the dark, really, and catching chinks of light, and stitching those into a pattern, working out which pieces of the jigsaw puzzle bear relevance to each other. Or, if they aren’t relevant to each other, how might they work ….

I found out many years after the event that John Lennon worked in that way. He said, you have ideas, and you join them up later. [laughs] That’s a very good way of working! It’s nice to know that The Beatles didn’t get it all at once. It’s very easy to assume, “It’s written from beginning to end.” Neither do filmmakers work in that way. If things don’t happen sequentially; you arrange that, that’s part of the arrangement of a song. No one can teach you how to write a song, and I don’t think you can even teach yourself. If you’re going to surprise yourself, you’re going to have to allow a certain amount of passive gestation.

RA: You have collaborated with an astonishing array of artists during your career. Two in particular I am most curious about: Richie Havens, who appeared on “How Can I?” and “Icarus Ascending” on 1978’s Please Don’t Touch, and (original Genesis guitarist) Anthony Phillips, who appeared on “Emerald and Ash”and “Sleepers”on 2009’s Out of the Tunnel’s Mouth. Can you talk about how those collaborations came to be, and what the experience was like working with each of those artists?

SH: Genesis were great friends of Richie Havens and we used to listen to him on the way to gigs. Particularly, with Richard MacPhail (former Genesis tour manager); sometimes I used to travel with the road crew, and he had tapes of Richie Havens. I was struck with what a marvelous voice he had, and I remember seeing him live at Jimi Hendrix’s last big gig at the Isle of Wight in 1970 and Richie was on a couple of acts before Jimi, and there was a thunderstorm raging at the time, and his voice just raised above the storm, and I said, “My God, this guy has a voice that has the power of the storm!” It all became one to me. If I can mythologize this slightly, it seemed as if the thunder and lightning were his percussion, almost Godlike. He was an immensely nice man. By the time we were playing arenas in London, we were doing three nights, sellout shows, to 18,000 people per night in London. We invited him to be the opening act. Unfortunately, the audience was keen on seeing Genesis. I went backstage and met him via his keyboard player, Dave Lebolt, who also worked on Please Don’t Touch. We shook hands and I said, “I’m sorry that the audience reaction in no way parallels the quality of your performance.” And he held my hand and shook it for a very long time. And I said, “Look, would you like to come to dinner at my home?” My mother was living there at the time; she had just broken up with my father. He helped her wash up; that’s the kind of guy he was. That was just great! At the end of the evening, he suggested, “Why don’t we work together?” I phoned him up three months later and said I’d written something with him in mind and he said, “I can hear it already. It sounds great, man.” He was so positive—he was the real thing. One of the most positive, wonderful characters I’ve ever worked with.

RA: What a great description! I had the pleasure of meeting him many years ago—

SH: It’s unforgettable, isn’t it?

RA: How did you cross paths with Anthony Phillips?

SH: Although we never played in Genesis during the same era, he and I became very good friends. We see a lot of each other, we have some mutual friends. He’s also very humorous, very talented, and a very nice man. I’d been trying to get him to play on something for quite some time. He said, “What do you need me for to do this?” I said to him, “Because I’ve got a feeling that you’ll come up with something that I wouldn’t think of!” Sure enough, that leap of faith was recorded. He showed up at what he thought was going to be a rehearsal at my home. I happened to have Roger (King) there, who was recording, and I said, “Look, I’m going to get out of the room, and if you record anything you’re happy with, just tell me, because you don’t need another guitarist looking over your shoulder when you’re doing that.” Ten minutes later, he’d come up with this gorgeous double 12-string part which fitted with my guitar part, this arpeggiated picking thing on the chorus of “Emerald and Ash” and it brought it alive, totally. He used open tuning because he figured it would make the notes ring on more. (He was) absolutely right and had done the thing I had predicted, which was something that I hadn’t thought of. That combination of chiming guitars was very much like Genesis; it very much captured that Genesis spirit. And then he did the same thing on “Sleepers” and I thought it was lovely. Over the years, I’ve tried to talk him into doing an album, with the two of us; so far, I’ve failed. He might just say to me one day, “Hey Steve, maybe it’s time we should do that!” [laughs]

RA: Listening to “Wolflight", my wife and I were struck by how eerily akin to Peter Gabriel’s atmospheric aura, if you will, the track was in parts. You and he seem to possess much in parallel in that regard. In all the years since you left Genesis, did the two of you ever talk about working together? If not, would you consider it now?

SH: It came close, at one point! At one point, we were sharing the same phone book with regard to Latin musicians, and I’d recorded some stuff in Brazil and he wanted to go there and said, “I guess you’re the guy I should get in touch with” with regard to that. I did an album (in Brazil) called Till We Have Faces. Funnily enough, I got Pete a copy of that, and I was hoping to play harmonica for him on one of the tracks, because he was also interested in blues harmonica. He was another Paul Butterfield fan, so we had that in common. It hasn’t happened so far, but maybe at some point that might happen. Again, we have friends in common and we’re interested in several of the same issues that concern the world, not necessarily in purely musical terms, but in other aspects as well.

RA: In the video presentation for the Tribute album which you released in 2008, you voiced your love of Bach’s music, saying “It’s like Beatlemania to me.” What lies at the root of that relationship?

SH: I think, if you were criticizing it, you’d say the complexity of it, but it’s not that, it’s the completeness, the self-sufficiency, that fact that you can conjure a world, with one instrument. Bach’s music is entirely indifferent to whatever instrument it’s being played on. It sounds wonderful on guitar, cello, violin, any number of keyboards, be they steam-driven or electronic.

RA: 1999’s Darktown seemed to have been a watershed moment for you as a lyricist. You were quoted as saying, “It was the beginning of a new way of looking at things.” Many fans view this as your Plastic Ono Band album. What forces coalesced to make this album such a pivotal experience for you?

SH: Darktown was kind of a hiatus for me. I was dealing with the fact that, in the 1980s, there was a high level of creative restriction for guys like myself who had grown up as an album artist, and I still felt that what was most commercial wasn’t something that record companies were necessarily going to understand. What (record company) people thought of as esoteric in fact was the very thing that was going to fire up fans. So there was this divide between the two. I’d like to think it was the first of many albums where I decided to go my own sweet way and let the publishing be damned. It was an album that was bringing me back fully to myself. I thought, the pursuit of excellence is really what it’s all about.

RA: You were credited with orchestration on that album. Is that area still under your exclusive creative domain?

SH: No, not at all. These days, I’m happy to either do it all myself or collaborate on it. I’m very open. I think it’s always a team that makes an album, even with composers of yesteryear (like) Max Bruch, doing his violin concertos, being influenced by the violinists that were playing it. There’s nothing wrong with having a musical conversation. (It’s not confined) to just the world of jazz. Listen to your collaborators or however you deem it! There are certainly ways of doing this. I understand that a thoroughly democratic process doesn’t always work. You’d have anarchy in an orchestra! There are times when I think it should be open.

image by Armando Gallo


(A day off between shows in Southampton and Basingstoke, UK)

RA: Thank you so much for speaking with me again! How’s the current tour going?

SH: It’s my day off today, but I’ve got interviews! [laughs]

RA: Well, thank you for taking some time on your day off and speaking with me! I’ve got a few more questions for you to wrap it up, OK?

SH: Sure thing!

RA: Fans of your music are not casual listeners; this music matters to them in a way that is more the exception rather than the rule in today’s everything-is-disposable environment. You have made it your business to connect with your fans throughout the world, from your personal involvement with your website to your global travels to perform for your fans in far-flung locations well off the beaten path of most tour itineraries. There is obviously a deep level of commitment displayed towards your fans. Can you talk about that relationship and the role it plays in your life?

SH: There was something a while back when I first met Jo, who became my wife. Basically, we started to run the business as a couple. I’d worry that she hadn’t really had experience in that area. Suddenly, we were self-managing, and I would say to her, “Oh, we may have to be a little careful here about the way we go about this.” But in the end, it proved to be the right thing. I’m talking about making no distinction between fans and friends; as much as possible, to let the people in. All those social networks that you talk about, (they all shared with us that) it’s really cool, what you do. Basically, before shows, we do a meet-and-greet; there’s an after show, there’s a few people who get invited to that, and I sign things for people outside the theater on the way in, and on the way out. There are more things besides meeting the crowd proper, (by) doing the shows. Largely, I owe it to her. She hasn’t really had any experience at this, and I thought, first of all, that we wouldn’t be able to maintain that level of accessibility. It’s completely opposite to this sort of Greta Garbo/David Bowie kind of approach. You know what? It’s actually worked really well for us. It’s increased the fan base and it means I’ve got a lot more friends! It’s actually worked out very, very well.

RA: I’ve seen your website and your Facebook page; you are continually dialoguing with people from all over the world.

SH: We get back to people, inasmuch as is possible, and it’s been extraordinary. We’re about six weeks in to what is basically a three-and-a-half-month stint on the road and I’m still standing! [laughs]

RA: Hopefully, because it’s your day off, today you can sit down!

SH: I’m actually sitting down; you’re quite right! [laughs] It’s an interesting time, all of it. Everything I’ve been up to has undergone this resurgence of interest. I think ever since my wife and I became a full-time couple, it made things a lot easier. It’s been an extraordinary ride. I don’t know at the level of interest; I suspect that part of was due to the fact that I started doing Genesis re-records and shows of exclusively Genesis material, so that put me in touch with fans that I once had with the music, with that band, but then we’ve extended it beyond that to several albums I’ve done since then. I’m doing a show that’s part Genesis, part solo, (having) very modern, up-to-date stuff with the old solo stuff, and the band stuff. So it’s a bit like I’ve become my own support band, it’s crazy. The doors of the museum are wide open again for the much-loved numbers of the 1970s, such as “Cinema Show”, “Get ’Em Out By Friday”, things that were kind of romantic, a little bit Gilbert and Sullivan, I think. But it’s been growing and growing and growing, and I think that’s extraordinary. There's a box set which is about to be released on the 23rd (October), a collection of all my Charisma (Records) stuff, the years 1975 to 1983 including live shows and, of course, Wolflight, which has done very well. The response … maybe it has something to do with having embraced the Genesis catalog again, and it’s probably influenced my writing style, to a large degree, but I think that I stopped making a distinction between what Genesis did and what I did, so if I wanted to do long songs, I went for the detail, which tended to be story-telling vehicles, then I worked on that. There’s something about the songs that stay with me of other people’s that I’ve enjoyed that tend to have this story-telling quality to them. Whether or not they are love songs, or they’re about other subjects, as far back as the Greek myth referenced stuff that Genesis stuff. They’re the ones that really worked for me.

RA: You frequently refer to “a film script in miniature” or “a film for the ears” … it’s such an apt reference, given your almost otherworldly ability to create visuals with sound. Is this an after-the-fact observation on your part, or does that concept play a role in the creation of the sounds themselves?

SH: The way I write things these days, there’s a whole ton of ideas, and I write them down in a black book, and I wait for them to haunt me. I wait for the strongest ones to surface; the ones that I can’t ignore. And I will go back and study every page and test out every melody. On a day when I come up with an idea, I’ll be telling myself that it’s the strongest thing since sliced bread, but the reality is that I can’t hold allegiance equally to all new ideas. They’ve got to have something about them; even instrumental melodies, they seem to conjure some kind of setting for me. I can’t put it into words properly, but there has to be some otherworldly or magical quality, as you say, to it in the first place. There’s got to be some kind of alchemy there, and I don’t really know why it works, but I suspect I’m probably taking a leaf out of several people’s books who write things. When you’ve been trying to write original stuff for as long as I have, I used to be very concerned, worrying about whether people would notice if I borrowed a style here, or stolen something from some other genre, but these days I’m only concerned about authenticity rather than originality. I tend to think that those kinds of things --- originality – it really has all been done. It’s just a case of how are you going to do it yourself?

image by Armando Gallo

RA: As a lyricist, it is immediately apparent how much of a student of history you are. Has this been a lifelong interest, or something that developed as you grew older?

SH: It’s a growing thing. I think in my early life I did a lot of sleepwalking, to be honest. I was adrift on a very apolitical and non-historical sea. There was so much that went on (on the news) that drifted past my head and I really didn’t have an opinion about those things. And then there comes a point where you go, Hang on a minute – that shouldn’t be happening! And it draws you in, and I think that current events have their (roots) in history, and it’s nice to be able to trace back, and not just look at some of the situations which you have some idea of how things are going to pan out. They often say that if Hitler had been more aware of history, he would have figured that Napoleon met his nemesis on the Russian wastes, and how come Hitler made the same mistake? Looking back is a way of having a surer future. (I’m not suggesting that you go and invade the rest of the world, of course!) So there’s something of that and the fact that Jo, my wife, is very literary; she’s written a couple of books, made films of various things, and she’s a great historian and a great detective. Wherever we travel, she tends to make it an event. She uncovers what’s going on in a particular place, and she’s a great teacher!

RA: In our last conversation, we discussed your creative relationship with Chris Squire and Steve Howe, but did not touch on your experience working with Brian May. What are your remembrances of that time?

SH: I met Brian May in South America. This is ironic; he told me that he was influenced by the guitar work I did on a Genesis track called “The Musical Box” … I realized that at the end of that track, there’s a three-part guitar harmony. I thought, I don’t believe what I’m hearing! I mean, he’s the master of three-part guitar harmony as we know it. I had no idea I was an influence on him. I discovered that he was a very modest, very bright guy, and the driving force behind Queen. We became pals, and shortly after I did GTR with Steve Howe, which was a fruitful guitar pairing, we were talking about doing something together. After the initial enthusiasm, it seemed obvious to me that he had so many commitments and the stuff that I started (recording) with him, I kind of claimed it back, and said, “Are you happy to be on that?” and he said, “Oh yeah, fine.” There was also stuff we did called Rock Against Repatriation back in 1989-1990 [a charity project formed by Hackett to help stop the repatriation of the “boat people” in Hong Kong]. It was great working with him. (Material) resurfaced many years after the event in the guise of Feedback ’86, which was roughly the time I started working with him and Bonnie Tyler, a great Welsh singer. I noticed that Brian was very quick on the uptake whenever we were in the studio together. Ideas with him came thick and fast; I was amazed at his speed! I tended to be more the kind of guy who would mull things over a bit and then try them. He seemed like a whirlwind, and that was terrific, because we had a limited time together so we threw (out) as many ideas as we could. It was like an impressionistic painting, really, getting as many ideas down on the canvas as possible and refine them later, bring them into focus later. There are some really lovely things that came out of that.

RA: Sketches of Satie, released in 2000, is a beautiful collaboration between you and your brother John. The symbiosis is striking. Can you discuss that musical relationship and if/how familial ties influence it?

SH: That happened many years ago. John, who is five years younger than me, started to not only play guitar, but he became interested in the flute. There are a couple of things here that were important: We saw some stunning King Crimson gigs at the Marquis Club in London, and I think he really fell for Ian MacDonald’s work with that band—his flute work. We ended up buying a flute together and whilst I continued on pretty much exclusively guitar and harmonica at that point, John was basically taken up big time with the flute. There was another album I bought at that time; if you remember, what tended to happen in Britain in the 1960s or possibly even the early part of the 1970s, when you bought records, it tended to be in electrical stores, or it might be in a bookshop which had its own section for records; just cardboard boxes with albums filed alphabetically, so you literally had to thumb through until you found Elvis Presley under “P” … it’s extraordinary to think of the way records were sold in those days! I found an album that had an intriguing cover, and it turned out to be a classical album and I discovered a piece on this that I’d been looking for, for a long time. I knew it was a classical piece, didn’t know who wrote it, I would hum the melody to people, and I eventually bought it. I realized that it was Erik Satie’s work. This stuff had been arranged for orchestra; it was a bit of a variation on some of the arrangements that Debussy had done of Satie’s work. They were great pals, Debussy and Satie. There was a flute player on it called William Bennett who was a big influence on John, so I have to jump ahead a few years now to 1975 and my solo record, which John got to play on professionally, for the first time. I was about 24-25, John was about 19-20 and he’d just gone off to Cambridge to study languages; he’s very bright and got a scholarship there, but he decided that it was really music, after all, that he wanted. He didn’t really feel that he fit into the whole Cambridge thing, the whole kind of snobbish thing; I guess that would be the equivalent of your Princeton or Harvard. I think he just really wanted to get his hands dirty with music. John’s done lots of flute and guitar albums; he’s just done a rock album; his second rock album under his own name. It’s in the shops here. He’s also going through a resurgence. His album is on Cherry Red (Records). So we both got on board with Satie, we loved the melodies. I wanted to be able to produce something of John’s. I actually wanted it to be a John Hackett album, as the flute was taking the lead on most of these tunes, and I thought I’d play backup to him. The record company we had at the time was Camino Records. An ex-manager (involved in running) Camino Records suggested strongly that it would probably sell more if it was a double-header that had my name on it. Reluctantly, I agreed to that. It’s quite a good album, that’s all l can say.

RA: During last year’s conversation, we talked a great deal about Genesis, your dissatisfaction with the recent film documentary, and your relationship with Tony and Mike. Have you ever received feedback from them on the Genesis Revisited albums and tours? What is your relationship like with them today? With Phil? With Peter?

SH: Socially, absolutely fine! I think, when it comes to professionally, you have to remember that there’s a competitiveness about the core of Genesis. I haven’t heard any comments how they feel about that, I think the last time I did a Genesis Revisited in the 1990s, before I’d done a bunch of re-recordings, a double album—now there’s a Volume Two of Genesis Revisited. I think when Tony was asked, he said, “I haven’t been involved in it, therefore I don’t think I can comment on it.” It was no comment. In a way, it’s a politician’s answer … it’s in the nature of the way the band functions. I know that people find it very strange, but I was involved with a very strange band. Very creative—and if you speak to any of those guys, you may get a comment or [laughs] … or not! It’s very difficult, isn’t it? It’s like one guy said, “Well, I couldn’t comment on the presidency of Barack Obama because I wasn’t responsible for world events at that time!” So, funny, isn’t it, how all that works. Since the Genesis documentary—there’s been a documentary in which I was involved that we started filming five years ago that’s just been released, so I’ve kind of got my own version out there. I think it’s easier. You can try and do things in tandem, but at the end of the day it’s much harder to function as a group, and you get representation. The Americans know all about that, don’t you? “No taxation without representation,” you said, and here’s dear old England going, “Grumble grumble.” But the fact is (that) independent autonomy has to be at reach if you’re going to be a serious contender!

 - Roy Abrams
   Long Island, NY
©2015 by Roy Abrams
All Rights Reserved—Contact for permission to reprint

Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Brief Conversation with Carlos Santana / Must-See Shows from Joe Bonamassa, Santana, and Graham Nash

Carlos Santana made headlines on Monday, July 20, with the announcement that his memoir, The Universal Tone, had won an American Book Award. A must-read for fans of the artist, The Universal Tone will captivate any reader curious to learn about the life, career, and philosophy of this immensely talented, spiritually enlightened, charmingly humble man. His Corazon tour, now into its second year, is a celebration of Latin music that has been delighting audiences across several continents. The tour comes to the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium on August 14th , marking a return to beloved territory for the musical legend.

Carlos Santana - image by Erik Kabik

A transatlantic phone call to Florence, Italy on July 22 provided the opportunity for a brief conversation with Carlos Santana. He was in great spirits, and we managed to cover a decent deal of ground in a limited period of time …


Roy Abrams: Congratulations on receiving the American Book Award for The Universal Tone! It’s very apparent that the memoir has struck a universal chord with readers. What was the writing process like for you?


Carlos Santana: Thank you for asking! For me, I was very diligent about taking the high road and speaking about things that I felt were inspiring and healing and hopefully people can identify with seeking light constantly no matter what gets in front of you. (I also wanted to honor) those like Bill Graham and, of course, Clive Davis, Tito Puente, and all those who have played an incredible role in teaching me, in opening doors for me in teaching me how to maintain a very, very high standard.


RA: I’m a quarter of the way through the book now, but have to say that even at this point, I am mightily impressed by its honesty, but even more so by the spirituality in evidence throughout the pages. In the introduction, you say that you realize that you’re not alone, that you’re connected to everyone, which struck me as the equivalent of John Lennon’s famous line, “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.” Another statement you make about locating the source of your spiritual goal reflects George Harrison’s   “The Inner Light,” where you say, “It is always right here, in the here and now, in my spirit and music and intentions and energy.” To many, this realization is the key to humanity’s ultimate survival. How do you view today’s society in the light of what appears to be a collective waning of spirituality, and what would you offer as a remedy?


CS: I think that the healing and remedy is to invite people to actually claim, accept, and own that we are beings of light, and to manifest love. A lot of people I know get really upset because it doesn’t mesh with the misery philosophy of wretched sinner (with its accompanying) guilt and fear; the chains that bind you to Hell, quite literally. I don’t accept that God would create a concept like that. I think that the concept came from a twisted, crooked mind, you know, and so in that sense a lot of Fundamental Christians would be really upset, because they have to have a sacrifice all the time. But my God doesn’t need sacrifice, never requires sacrifice, he doesn’t require man’s time, because for God, it’s the eternity now. So what I would have to offer to humanity is an invitation to look in the mirror and constantly repeat, “I agree with myself. I accept myself. I love myself. Therefore, I am worthy of all the blessings and miracles and grace. I am a beam of light, and therefore I can create miracles and blessings.” It’s not just the Pope who can do that.


RA: Your definition of The Universal Tone is “the music inside the music” where “ego disappears and energy takes over.” Was your acceptance of being a conduit of The Universal Tone gradual in nature, or was it the result of a singular epiphany?


CS: There were many, many epiphanies. For me, it all started with my mother and my father, watching them ascend constantly beyond what they knew or what they had. As I said in the book, my mother and dad didn’t have any formal education; yet they (taught us the importance of) integrity, being kindly, and being hard workers. Some people go to the best universities, but they’re not necessarily nice people. They’re kind of clever fools. My Mom wouldn’t have that. I think it started with mother and my father, for me. They set the tone for what I would be thirsty for later on, with them and without them in my own navigating through this life.


RA: This is the Corazon tour’s second year, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Are there any spots that you’ve visited so far where the response has been surprising even for you?


CS: No, it’s all been equal and the same, from Mexico to Africa. People claim the songs no matter where they are in the world.

RA: You have amassed a considerable list of musical collaborators over the decades. Are there others who are on your “bucket list”?


CS: Yes, of course! Right now, the closest one is Ronald Isley from the Isley Brothers. Somewhere in the future I would like to collaborate with Andrea Bocelli, Lady Gaga and Kirk Hammett (from Metallica). It would be nice to do something with Sting and Prince; however it would have to be mutual consent of song. To me, life is a big Rolodex and a big portfolio. It’s not being stuck on one page.


RA: I had the pleasure of speaking with Gregg Rolie years ago when he released a solo album, and remember hearing his admiration for you and the rest of the Santana band. I understand that the original members of Santana have gotten back together and there is an album (Santana IV) that has recently been completed?


CS: Yes, we’re going to finish mixing it in September, possibly October.


RA: Are you planning on taking it on the road?


CS: We’re in the process of crystallizing that.


RA:  New York City, for so many musicians, holds a special place due to its incredible cultural diversity. It probably contains in its population representatives of all the countries that you’ve performed in thus far. What’s your relationship been like with New York City and what would you like to say to your New York fans?


CS: I just want to say thank you so much, for wanting to share with us since 1969, when we came to the Fillmore East—I think we played (our first show) with Sha-Na-Na, Canned Heat, and Three Dog Night. Nobody knew who the hell Santana was, and then we played with PG&E and Buddy Miles. Ever since I can remember, coming to New York and hanging out in Harlem and seeing Tito Puente, there’s quite the school or university of learning how to reach new levels of intensity with energy!




Other must-see concerts in August include:



Joe Bonamassa - image by Rhonda Pierce
This musical tribute to Albert, B.B., and Freddie King includes covers from the three blues legends, performed by Bonamassa and his stellar band. The tour continues the celebration of the genre begun in 2014 with the “Muddy Wolf” set at Red Rocks, a concert that paid tribute to Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. Be sure to catch Bonamassa and company on August 7th at the Susquehanna Bank Center in Camden, NJ, or on August 8th at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ.


Graham Nash - image by Eleanor Stills
Back in May, Graham Nash and I had a lengthy conversation which explored his 50-year career, up to and including his current solo tour, which features material culled from the artist’s diverse musical collaborations, including The Hollies, CSN(Y), and brand-new songs co-written with guitarist Shane Fontayne, who is accompanying Nash for these intimate shows. Don’t miss the tour when it comes to the Paramount Theatre in Huntington on August 12th.

Monday, June 15, 2015

David Crosby: Like Fine Wine and Good Cheese

image by Eleanor Stills
Strong, clear, and incredibly dynamic, David Crosby‘s voice permeated the electrically-charged atmosphere of Brooklyn’s Kings Theatre, bringing the sold-out crowd to its feet time and again during the triumphant May 16 performance by Crosby, Stills and Nash. Graham Nash was equally as powerful in his own right, and Stephen Stills reclaimed a level of vocal strength not heard in years, but it was Crosby who astounded the most. Like the young Byrd who flew into uncharted musical territory in the 1960s, Crosby’s voice soared effortlessly to stratospheric heights, melodiously swooping down, around, and through the voices of his two partners, creating transcendent harmonies that left me open-mouthed in awe from start to finish. Judging from the reviews of CSN’s recently-completed U.S. tour, the group has reached deep into itself and found new reserves of energy and stamina, delighting audiences from coast to coast. Speaking with David backstage after the May 16 show, it was immediately apparently just how stoked he was with the performance, citing the audience’s overwhelmingly positive response as the catalyst that brought out the very best in the band. Including—as always—new material with the classics, Crosby’s solo spot provided a tantalizing hint of what is to come when he brings his summer solo tour to Town Hall in New York City on June 25.

A lengthy phone conversation with Crosby conducted on May 30, one week prior to the tour’s launch on June 6 at the Kerrville Folk Festival, provided an opportunity to revisit some familiar territory and explore uncharted terrain with a musical legend.

Roy Abrams: Having seen CSN on every tour since 1977, what I witnessed at Kings Theatre on May 16 may well have been a performance high. I’ve read nothing but stellar reviews of the shows. With the US tour wrapped up, what was the general consensus from the three of you?

David Crosby: Well, frankly, we’re kind of surprised at how well it’s going. We felt the same way as you did. Those were stunner shows, the two of them there. We did two out in New Jersey and we did two there. I was amazed. You know, we can deliver a certain level 95% of the time but a great audience pulls us up. That was a great audience. They were really into it. I think it’s partly because it was New York and partly because it was Brooklyn, and partly because that theater was so good. Is that a beautiful theater or what?! I don’t know if anybody’s going to play the Beacon anymore! That place is a stunner!

RA: Definitely! As far as the acoustics are concerned—

DC: —Fantastic!

CSN, May 16, 2015, Kings Theatre
image by Roy Abrams

RA: Going back to last year’s performance at City Winery in Manhattan in support of your Croz album, your voice just keeps getting better and better, defying both time and logic. Although I asked you this question last year, how do you account for it? Do you do vocal exercises or anything of that sort to keep it in shape?

DC: Like fine wine and good cheese, it improves with age! I have no real explanation for it, man. If I were religious, I’d say well, they have more work for me to do … but I’m not. I can’t really find any sensible way to look at it except to be grateful. I go for it in the middle of a song, and it’s there. I can hear it; I know it is, I know I’m singing well. I don’t want to brag about it, because it’s not something that I am really responsible for, as if I had cleverly written a great song. I’m personally proud of it when I write a great song, that’s something else. But to be given the gift of being able to sing the way I do at this age, I can’t take personal credit for that; it’s just something that’s there. The only sensible thing I can do about is be grateful … and I am incredibly grateful.

image by Buzz Person

RA: I’d like to talk about the two new songs you unveiled during the tour: “What Makes It So” and “Somebody Home” … What was the genesis of each of those pieces?

DC: In each case, they came out of a tuning. I find a tuning on the guitar, I start playing, and words would come. “What Makes It So” is me, once again, championing independent thought and “think for yourself” and the other one, “Somebody Home”, that’s sort of an apology from all men to all women. It’s me saying, “You know, we all make this mistake of thinking that the wrapping paper is what’s important and it’s not, it’s the gift inside.” We all do, man. We all look at a great-looking girl and we think, “Wow, that’s a great-looking girl!” We don’t really think about the person inside that girl, which is really where the pay dirt is.

RA: As evidenced by your guitar playing on “What Makes It So”, you are obviously still uncovering new places to go with non-standard tunings. I know that EBDGAD is a personal favorite of yours.

DC: I have a bunch, man. [chuckles] The most remarkable one is the one I found by accident, recently, and so far I’ve got two entire pieces of music in it that are just amazing! And not only that, but I showed it to my friend Marcus Eaton, and he’s got two songs, finished songs with words, and it just happened by accident. I was trying to reach another tuning and I did it wrong [chuckles] and I hit that one.

RA: When we chatted backstage at the Kings Theatre show, you mentioned that you had 14 new songs under your belt, which begs the question: Are there any new plans for a follow-up to Croz, or maybe even a less band-oriented record that mirrors your upcoming solo tour?

DC: Yeah! Let me count them here, I’m looking at my computer. I’ve got one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen … I have fifteen sets of words here on my computer screen and two finished songs. And then I have, I think, five pieces of music that I'm working on that don’t have words yet. (So there are) nineteen things that I’m working on!

RA: Speaking of new music—

DC: Oh, I have another finished one here! I just finished one with Michael McDonald. Amazing, amazing! God, is he fun to work with! Holy shit!

RA: How did you cross paths with him?

DC: I’ve idolized him. I don’t know if you know this, but all these singers in the world, we all wish we were Michael McDonald. He’s the best male singer of all, period. There isn’t anybody close. The way Bonnie Raitt is for women, he’s head and shoulders above the crowd, and I’ve always idolized him. So, when I got a chance to meet him, I tried hard to befriend him, and we did wind up being good friends. Now he lives here in Santa Barbara, near me, so we got together at his house and my house, and got this song, and I think we’re both going to record it. Now we decided that we’re going to write some more, because it was a very good process.

RA:  Speaking of new recordings, I asked Graham if there were any plans after this frenetic year of touring to reconvene for a new CSN studio album. He said that he felt the three of you would probably sit down and discuss it at some point next year. What are your thoughts on that?

DC: I don’t want to write it off—never say never. But right now my focus is on solo stuff.

RA:  Your views of the songwriter as troubadour have always struck me as particularly on point, especially given your history of speaking out when you have been sufficiently moved to do so, which has not always been confined to the medium of song. Given your role as a community crier of sorts, I’m curious to know your thoughts on the current political environment in the United States and our current standing in the global environment.

image by Buzz Person

DC: You know that song of mine, “What Are Their Names?” Well, that’s about who’s running things; who’s really running things. And here in the United States, because of decisions like Citizens United … money talks. The really wealthy people (and) the corporations have bought our Congress, with one or two exceptions. But massive 98% of the Congress is completely bought, which means that the system is completely broken; it’s no longer a democracy, it’s a corporatocracy. That’s a very bad thing. We’re getting into another war in the Middle East because—there’s no political or even religious basis for it—it’s because they want to make a profit. People who arm, train, house, clothe, feed, transport our army make a profit (costing) trillions of our dollars in order to do that. So they call up Congress to say, “Give us a war, we’d like to have another war, thank you. And make it nice and far away, so it’ll cost a lot to get our stuff there.” And Congress says, “Yes, sir!” That mess in the Gulf, where the platform blew up and we killed eleven guys, that didn’t happen. And nobody’s gone to court, by the way, and nothing really happens. BP spent more money telling you how cool they were and how they were cleaning up than they did on cleaning it up … and that’s corporations running things! It’s not a good thing; it’s very bad for the American people. It means that the Constitution is no longer the rule of law, and I’m very distressed by it. I think any conscious American would be.

RA: Is there any politician among this current crop of Republican contenders that stands out to you as being particularly scary?

DC: Yeah, all of them! [chuckles]

RA: Moving back to the music, for the solo tour, given your extensive catalog, what was the song selection process like? As a follow-up question to that, is the set list going to be relatively static or are you planning on making each performance somewhat of a unique entity?

DC: You know, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I have way more songs that I need for the song list. I do have a song list in mind; I did a little experimenting in Italy with solo acoustic; I did a few gigs there just to try it out and see if I still could do it. I did one test gig here in the States, a benefit for a club here that I want to keep in business. How it will turn out after I get comfortable with it, after the first four or five gigs, I expect I’ll probably be switching songs in and out pretty frequently, because I have more than I need by a long shot.

RA: How do you go about narrowing it down?

DC: Well, think about it … acoustic guitar and one voice. I’m probably not going to try “Wooden Ships” even though it’s one of my best songs, because it’s a band song and it really depends a lot on the three-voice harmony. But I have a ton of other ones; clear back to probably my first decent song, “Everybody’s Been Burned” … I’m probably going to do that. I’ll probably do everything from that to stuff I wrote last week.

RA: How does one keep the fire burning underneath songs that you have performed literally thousands of times during your career? I remember hearing James Taylor speak about his relationship with songs of his in that category, such as “Fire and Rain” … what is that like for you?

DC: The answer is that you just don’t do them the same each time. It’s harder with a band than it is by yourself. When I do them by myself, (a) they’re completely different than when I do them (with) a band because when you’re singing with other people, you have to sing in lockstep with those people. By yourself, you can take liberties with the melody and go anywhere you want. It’s a lot more expressive in telling the story. One of the reasons I’m doing this is because that’s where I started out.

RA: Full circle! Speaking of the writing process, you mentioned that it became easier for you being drug-free. In fact, the quote was “I got the drugs out of the way, which gives me consciousness.” It was somewhat of an ironic statement, given the atmosphere of the ‘60s and mindset of “expanding one’s consciousness” through certain substances …

DC: Here’s the key to that whole subject. All drugs are not the same. That’s one of the mistakes the government’s made right from the get-go. They just say “drugs”, period. They don’t understand, or they seem to not understand, that they’re all completely different.  Hard drugs—cocaine, heroin, speed, stuff like that—absolutely destroy your ability to write. They destroy your creativity along with destroying your life. I wouldn’t say that was true about weed. Weed, if you smoke it in the morning, you’re not going to get anything done that day! I’ve always written in bursts, and when this latest surge hit, it hit so intensely and it’s lasted so long that I stopped even smoking weed, because I want to be able to really pay attention. If the Muse is going to stop by the house, I want the doors open and the lights on; you know what I’m saying? Currently, I’m completely sober. I probably am going to smoke (well, not smoke, but vaporize) again, you know; I live in California, so I can. But right now, no, I would rather write songs and would rather be really on top of my game when I’m doing this.

RA: Last year when we spoke, we went through a short list of some artists with whom you’ve crossed paths, and you provided some memories, opinions, and insight. I have a new short list for this year, if that’s okay.

DC. Sure!

RA: We talked about your days with The Byrds and your thoughts about bandmate Roger McGuinn, but we never got around to two others, Gene Clark and Chris Hillman.

Byrds-era David Crosby

DC:  Well, Chris and I are close friends. We like each other. Our politics are on opposite ends of the spectrum but I really respect him, and I think he’s a dedicated musician and a really good one. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard him and Herb Pedersen together? It’s stellar. If I had to pick who I like in country music, it would start with Alison Krauss and Union Station, and the very next one would be Chris and Herb. It’s that good!

RA: Recommendation taken! I will definitely seek it out.

DC: Try to see them live. They’re just amazing! Frankly, I would love to work with Chris. I would love to work with Roger (McGuinn). Roger’s very happy doing what he’s doing, a folkie. I get that, I understand that, I respect that.  You can’t legislate somebody into playing a particular kind of music. Roger and I have come to a sort of agreed upon friendship and truce about it; I don’t bother him about it. I know that he knows I would love to do it, and if he ever wants to do it, all he’s got to do is say so. But I respect him, man. The guy’s a terrific talent. He and Chris .. I understand that they’re different than me and that they’re doing what they need to do, and I kind of like of them. Gene … I miss Gene. He didn’t know the rules. He grew up completely outside of Hollywood and the music business and all that crap, and he was as talented as he was because he didn’t know. He heard The Beatles and said, “Oh, I can do that!” He did!

RA: How about Jimmy Webb?

DC: Oh, man, what a talent! What a wonderfully crazy, wonderful guy! I’ve recorded Jimmy’s songs in the past and I have great respect for him. If I was looking to write a Broadway musical, I’d hire Jimmy. He’s one of the best writers we’ve got. I think he’s right up there with Randy Newman and James Taylor and people like that. He’s been hugely influential and he’s done incredible work.

RA: James Taylor was the next on my list …

DC: James is … he’s the King James Version! He’s certainly one of the top three or four singer-songwriters of all time. He’s a fantastically talented guy; an incredible writer, incredible player, incredible player. He has this about him also: he’s a gentleman, a nice man. He’s polite, he’s well-mannered, he’s extremely intelligent, and he’s paid lots of dues.

RA: How about David Gilmour?

DC: I think Fender guitars should erect a monument (to him)! He does more with touch, and with hands, than most people could do with an entire pedal board. One of the reasons I love him so much is that he can play melody off the top of his head, not just blues licks. He can play pure melody right off the top of his head so brilliantly. He also happens to be a fantastic singer and a fantastic writer. He, again, is a gentleman and a nice, decent guy. He’s a wonderful cat to hang out with because he’s extremely well-educated and well-read and can talk to you about anything at any time on any level.

RA: The final name: The Jitters, a/k/a The Section …

DC: Ah! The Jitters and The Section overlap; they’re not quite exactly the same thing. The Section was a band in L.A. (with) Danny Kortchmar on guitar, Craig Doegre on keyboards, Leland Sklar on bass, and Russ Kunkel on drums. In the Jitters, we had Craig Doegre and Russ and Danny Kortchmar. We did not have Leland on bass, we had Tim Drummond. The Jitters was the original Crosby/Nash band, live, and it was a fantastic band.

RA: David Lindley was with you, correct?

DC: David Lindley was there as well, at the complete opposite end of the guitar world from Danny Kortchmar. And they loved each other and they played off of each other. They were completely different; as different as chocolate and cheese. They were wonderful together and it was a fantastic band.

RA:  Is there any one memory of your time spent with the Fab Four that particularly stands out?

DC: Yeah. The “Day in the Life” experience. That was a shocker. I was hanging out with them, they were making Sergeant Pepper. One of the nights that I was there at Abbey Road, they sat me down and played me “A Day in the Life”, which they had just finished, and I don’t think I’ll ever be quite the same.

At Abbey Road Studios with The Beatles

RA: It’s been more than 50 years since your creative journey began. The creative fire has been burning brighter and hotter—

DC: It’s burning extremely hot. I’ve had a couple of other points. Right when I first met James and we did CPR, that was a great writing period, and right when we were just starting Crosby, Stills, and Nash was a great writing period, and this is …. I just don’t know what to tell you. Every day is like a shocker. I found stuff last night on the guitar (that’s) good as anything I ever thought up, musically. I’m sitting here trying to figure out how I’m going to get the words!

RA: Parting thoughts?

DC:  Hopefully, we’ll be able to keep doing it for a little longer here. I thought it was really good myself. I can’t explain it to you, and I can’t take credit for it; I’m just grateful for it, I can tell you that!

© Roy Abrams 2015