Saturday, September 9, 2017

Chelsea Williams: Integrity Intact

Chelsea Williams
image by Hadas Di

When searching the internet for the meaning of “busk” one receives the following information:

 

busk

[buhsk]

verb

gerund or present participle:

busking

 
Definition: to play music or otherwise perform for voluntary donations in the street or subways.


So, if one were to correctly use the present participle form in a sentence, it might read:
 

“Chelsea Williams sold 100,000 copies of her first three indie CDs
 while busking on Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade.”

 

Of course, you might also wonder at the sample sentence, but rest assured … it is not only an appropriate use of the term; it is also stating an astounding accomplishment in the life of a young singer/songwriter from Glendale, California, who has just released her debut album, Boomerang, on Blue Élan Records.

 

According to the official biography on her website, Chelsea Williams has been described as the music industry’s best—or worst—kept secret. Having already performed on The Today Show, opened for The Avett Brothers and Dwight Yoakam, and duetted in a guest appearance with Adam Levine for Maroon 5’s “Daylight (Playing for Change)” video, the true foundation of her career is the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, California. The Promenade is well-known to area residents and tourists for its diverse shopping and dining opportunities, as well as the constant presence of buskers; street musicians whose challenge it is to catch and keep an audience. It was here where Williams has spent the past ten years mesmerizing passersby, selling her homemade CDs for $5 and $10. Among those who stopped to listen and buy were singer/songwriter Sheryl Crow, one of Williams’ prime influences; famed director Ron Howard; and producer Toby Gad. Gad, who had worked with Beyoncé and Natasha Bedingfield, was taken with Williams’ talent and took her under his wing. Together, they worked on a project that resulted in a full-length album and a record deal with Interscope Records. Unfortunately, Williams soon felt  that the label’s commitment to release the album was nonexistent and decided to dissolve the deal. Shattered, she enrolled in college, studying geology, thinking that perhaps she was better off pursuing music as a hobby rather than a career. However, after some time had passed, Williams reconnected with both her passion and her muse. Returning to the Promenade with newfound commitment, a collection of new songs grew under her belt, and Williams was ready when Fate visited—not once, but twice, to make her believe— in the form of Kirk Pasich, President of Blue Élan Records.

 

Pasich was adamant about allowing Williams to maintain her artistic and creative integrity. Williams describes her relationship with Blue Élan in the most glowing terms, adding, “I had never been given a record budget that came with so much creative control before.” With that freedom comes the knowledge that the new album achieves a primary mission: to take listeners on a journey. “That’s what I love about music myself, Williams says, “the ability to take somebody on a journey that they weren’t planning on.” Recorded with producer and multi-instrumentalist Ross Garren (Kesha, Ben Folds, Benmont Tench), Boomerang is a journey through a richly diverse landscape of Americana, indie folk, and lush pop … a winning combination of words, music, instrumentation, arrangement, and production leaving no doubt that Chelsea Williams has joined the front ranks of popular music’s New Guard.

 


Currently on tour to promote the new album, Chelsea Williams will be headlining the renowned NYC venue, The Bitter End, on September 11th, and will be opening for Rusty Young and Poco on September 13th at Manhattan’s City Winery.


 
A phone call from Chelsea on August 23rd provided the opportunity to discuss her remarkable path to success ...

 

 

Roy Abrams:  I want to congratulate you on Boomerang! How does it feel?

 

Chelsea Williams: It feels amazing! I’m so proud!  I’m dreaming![Laughs]

 

RA:  Listening to the album for the past couple of days, I’m loving what I’m hearing. If we could, let’s circle back to earlier times. Something that fascinates me about your trajectory is what you did at the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, California. How many years did you perform there? How frequently were you appearing? (I know that they have a rotational performing schedule.)

 

CW: I still play out there, occasionally. I definitely hung out there for about ten years. There have been periods of time where I’ve played there more often, but there was a time when I played there around 20 hours a week.

 

RA: You started while still in high school?

 

CW: No, I started when I was 19.

 

RA:  So many musicians are devotees of busking. What’s your take?

 

CW: It’s a really beautiful experience, because you kind of get people’s gut reactions. Some people go (to the Promenade) to listen to music but most people are there to shop or to eat lunch or do something else besides listen to music, so it’s kind of interesting to see what types of people you can get to stop; people who weren’t there to see me. It ends up being a really great connection, too, because it’s quite different than playing onstage in a dark room where you can’t see the audience. You know, you’re like two feet away from them, looking them in the eye, which can be terrifying, but I also think it creates a stronger connection between the audience and the performer.

image by Hadas Di
 

RA: I understand that you started playing guitar at 13. When did the live performances begin?

 

CW: I think I started playing coffeehouses in L.A. around (age) 15.

 

RA: What’s the indie support scene like in L.A. these days?


CW: You know, I’ve kind of been a little bit of a lone wolf over there, doing my own thing, playing on the Promenade, and working my own way up.

 

RA: So interesting that you connected with Sheryl Crow in the Promenade environment!

 

CW: Yeah, I’ve met all kinds of cool people. Ron Howard also bought my CD out there. [Laughs]

 

RA: So, Kirk Pasich from Blue Élan Records encountered you there one day and basically said, “Let’s put out an album.”

 

CW: It sounds crazy but it really did happen like that. He basically came up to me while I was playing and handed me a business card and said, “I want to make a record with you. You can have all of the creative control. We don’t want to tell you what to do; you tell us what to do.” I didn’t think he was serious! I didn’t actually call him back the first time he gave me his card because it didn’t sound like a real thing to me. It sounded too good to be true, but it wasn’t! Luckily, I saw him again out there a couple of weeks later and he gave me his card again, and we met, and it was the real thing. Now I have a record and I’m opening for Poco. That’s crazy!

 

RA: Your experience with a major label deal almost drove you from your passion. That was Interscope Records, which is crazy, because I remember when they first started, and how they were known as the artist-friendly label, so apparently something changed over time, and I’m glad that you were able to get away!

 

CW: Thank you! That was an odd situation. They definitely (I think) were looking for a specific kind of artist when they signed me, but I wasn’t aware of that [chuckles] so it didn’t end up working out.

 

RA: Listening to the album, the autobiographical nature of the lyrics is readily evident. Do you find that to be cathartic?

 

CW: It’s a mixture of freeing and terrifying. The writing process can be very freeing when I see everything on the page, finished. The process of going through that can be very therapeutic. Then, when I’m basically singing journal entries into a microphone in front of a hundred people, that part can be terrifying at first, but that is also very cathartic, you know?

image by Hadas Di
 

RA: The song “Fool’s Gold” was written about your experience with Interscope. What advice would you have for young artists who are approached by the majors? What would you tell them to keep their antennae up for?

 

CW: It’s important to know who you are, and that the label understands who you are, which seems simple. Even if you don’t have creative control—because a lot of times, with the major labels, you won’t—if they understand who you are and are not trying to turn you into something else, I think that’s a very basic (thing); it seems obvious, but I think a lot of times, it can be misunderstood.

 

RA: At one point, you were considering becoming a geologist. Were you an Earth Science kid at school?

 

CW: Actually, I got into geology a little bit later in life. It was after my deal with Interscope, and I was kind of reassessing whether I wanted to be a professional musician or whether I should just do it for fun. At that point, I felt like all the fun had gotten sucked out of it. I feel like that’s a really important state to hold on to as an artist. It needs to be fun! So I ended up going back to school and studying a bit of geology and I was doing that when I met Kirk. And hey, someday maybe I will go back and study to be a geologist, but right now I’m very happy that I’m just doing the music thing.

 

RA: As are your fans! Regarding your musical influences, from your Mom you got Carole King, Todd Rundgren, and James Taylor. Was Bob Dylan a self-discovery?
 
 

CW: Yeah, Dylan was a self-discovery for me. I had some musician friends and we would listen to Dylan records together. My Mom, as a vocal coach, was not a huge fan of Bob Dylan, but she put up with me listening to him in the house! [Laughs]

 

RA: Among the other influences you’ve cited are Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, and Elliot Smith, which is really interesting to me. The first time I heard “Anything Worth Saving”—which, by the way, was my introduction to your music—I kept telling myself, “I can hear her singing this with Elliot Smith.”

 

CW: Oh, wow— that’s a huge compliment—thank you! I absolutely love Elliot Smith and his craftsmanship as a songwriter. The production styles of the recordings he made are just fantastic. I’ve been very heavily influenced by that.

 

RA: What drew you to Radiohead?

 

CW:  Up until I started listening to Radiohead and bands like The Pixies, I had been listening to mostly folk music; either acoustic singer/songwriters like Sheryl Crow or old-school stuff, like Patsy Cline. Then I was introduced to Radiohead and The Pixies and something sparked within me. I guess I was going through high school and that sort of angst-y emotion that needed to get out, which I was able to get out by listening to (those bands).

 

RA:  How did you meet Ross Garren, your collaborative partner in the studio?

 

CW: Oh, that’s a funny story! We were on tour, and I actually met him at a park and ride in Ontario, California. We were going on tour with a country band and I was singing and he was playing harmonica in the band. We ended up spending five days together on a tour bus and becoming great friends and producing a record together! [Laughs]

 

RA: For the songwriting/demo phase, you chose to stay in a remote area with no outside distractions such as wifi or cable, then brought everything back to L.A. How did everything come together in the studio?

 

CW: We did production demos before we got all the musicians into the studio and had the pressure of “Okay, well, we gotta get this done by 4:00!” We did production demos with whatever sounds we could find on his sample library, just to get a general idea of what the sounds we wanted were, and then we ended up calling the musicians and all pulling up to a studio in Burbank called Heritage Recording Company. It’s a really cool spot. It’s small but he’s got a bunch of vintage gear, he’s got a nice vintage board, and mics and stuff. We recorded the bulk of the record there, when Ross and I got back to L.A.

 

RA: How long did the sessions take?

 

CW: I think we got everything in two weeks; it was two weeks spread out over a little bit of time. We did three days of bass, drums, and guitar; I did two vocal days, then we did overdubs of strings and all this other stuff—horns, all kinds of musicians coming in and out!

 

RA: What has kept you focused on and committed to the organic process regarding instrumentation and recording techniques?

 

CW:  I’ve always made my living performing live, (so) I think that’s a big part of it. I never want to put anything on a record that I couldn’t reproduce live. That’s always been very important to me. Now, when I go on tour, will I have a string section and horns? Probably not, but I could recreate that live!

 

RA: I spoke with Rusty Young yesterday and learned that you recorded a version of “Rose of Cimarron” with him.

 

CW: Yeah, we recorded it at Cash Cabin, in Hendersonville, outside of Nashville, Tennessee. It was so much fun!  It was exciting to go there with the purpose of recording with Rusty; it was really kind of mind-boggling! [Laughs]

 

RA: How did you cross paths with Rusty?

 

CW: I met him at Blue Élan event. We were both on the same night; it was a little press event that Kirk had put together at his place. We saw each other perform. I was blown away, and he apparently was impressed and called me up to record with them!

 

RA; The official CD release has taken place. What are your plans for the coming months?

 

CW: I’m pretty much going to be on the road for September and October. I’m going to be opening for Poco in New York on September 13th and I just found out I’m playing at the Bitter End on the 11th, which I’m so excited about—that’s a bucket list thing for me! I’ll be playing Nashville, Ohio, Tennessee; going all over for the next two months.

 

RA:  Has your Mom attended any of the CD release parties?

 

CW: Not yet, but I’m hoping she’ll come to the official CD release party on August 29th. I’m trying to get her to come to that one! [Laughs]

 

RA:  With all of this activity, do you still find time to go back and play at the Promenade?

 

CW: I do! I’d like to think that I always will. I grew up there; it’s kind of like my home. It feels like my hometown.

image by Hadas Di
 

© Roy Abrams 2017

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

After 50 Years, A Solo Album from Poco's Rusty Young


Rusty Young
image by Henry Diltz

One can write a book about the storied life of Rusty Young; in fact, he has already done so! From his childhood in Colorado to the present day, Young’s journey embodies so much of the American spirit, where patience and perseverance can achieve one’s dream. The remaining founding member of Poco is currently navigating the waters between two major milestones: the band’s 50th anniversary and the unveiling of his debut solo album, Waitin’ For the Sun, set for a September 15th release on Blue Élan Records. He will be appearing with Poco at Manhattan’s City Winery on September 13th for an evening of musical celebration.
 
To their fans, Poco represents one of America’s best treasures: an iconic country/rock group responsible for creating some of the best music in its genre, laying the groundwork for countless others who proudly point to Poco as a prime influence. Interestingly, Poco’s origins lie in another iconic American group, the legendary, short-lived Buffalo Springfield. Featuring Stephen Stills, Neil Young, and Richie Furay, the level of talent (and ego) was such that the band was doomed to a very brief existence. For the band’s final album, Furay and producer/engineer/bassist Jim Messina enlisted the help of an extraordinarily gifted pedal steel guitarist, Rusty Young, to contribute his talents for Furay’s “Kind Woman”—a song that may well be the first true example of the country/rock genre.
 
With the demise of Buffalo Springfield in 1968, Furay, Messina, and Young added bassist Randy Meisner and drummer George Grantham to the ranks and formed Poco, releasing their debut album, Pickin’ Up the Pieces, in 1969.The band endured several personnel changes through the years. Meisner left in 1969 and was replaced by Timothy B. Schmit; ironically, both musicians went on to join The Eagles. In 1970 Messina left to form Loggins & Messina and was replaced by Paul Cotton. In 1973, Furay, frustrated by his lack of success compared with that of his former bandmates, left to form Souther-Hillman-Furay. Still others came and went.  Poco’s greatest commercial success came with its 1979 hit, “Crazy Love,” penned by Young, who also wrote several of the band’s best-loved songs, including “Rose of Cimarron.”
 
Speaking with me from his secluded cabin nestled deep in Missouri’s Mark Twain National Forest, Rusty shared some stories from his illustrious past as well as his plans for the present and future.
 
Roy Abrams: I want to congratulate you on the new record. I’ve been soaking in it for the past two days and cannot possibly convey how much I love this music. After 50 years and multiple opportunities to put out a solo album, why was now the right time?
 
Rusty Young: Over the years, all the guys in the band (Poco) have done solo records except for me. Jimmy Messina did Loggins and Messina and solo records, and Richie (Furay) when he did Souther-Hillman-Furay; Timothy B. (Schmit), Paul Cotton … everyone who’s been through the band who’s a singer/songwriter has done that but I always focused on making Poco the best it could be; having the best musicians, the best quality of live show. At one point, I was playing with Jimmy Messina, and Kirk Pasich, who’s the head of Blue Élan, came up to me—it was out in California—and said, “Have you ever thought about doing a solo record? I have a label, and we’d be interested.” Suddenly it just dawned on me that maybe this is my time, you know, how fate works and how fickle it is … maybe this is my time to do the solo record and certainly, this is toward the end of my career and if I’m going to do it, now would be the time to do it! And so I came home and I wrote a few songs; I had a couple of songs I was working on and I finished them up. I really liked the way they went, and I thought, “What is the right time for that challenge in my life?” So I said, sure, let’s make a record.  It took a year for me to write enough songs. I wrote about twenty songs and ten of them made the CD that’s out now, Waitin’ for the Sun. So it was a matter of timing, and the fact that everyone else has done it except for me, and I really wanted to accept that challenge, because it’s way different than making a band record. Everything’s on you … all the songs are on you, all the singing’s on you, the pace of the record, the sound; it’s just your project. It was really, really fun!


 
RA: How did you choose Cash Cabin as the location to record your album?
 
RY: The guys in the band now, Poco, they’re just brilliant musicians. They’re the best of the best in Nashville: (Keyboardist) Michael Webb, Rick Lonow, who was the drummer in the Flying Burrito Brothers towards the end there with Sneaky Pete, and (bassist) Jack Sundrud, who’s been with me since 1985. Webb and Lonow are session musicians; they work at all the different studios around Nashville. They both worked at Cash Cabin and said that it had the perfect atmosphere for my project. I used them on the record because they’re the best musicians I know, and we’ve worked together long enough that they know what I like and what I want, and we communicate without even talking about things. When they said Cash Cabin’s the right place, I said, well, let’s go! And it was! It was a wonderful place to record.
 
RA: Were the songs’ arrangements a collaborative effort, or did you provide a working template?
 
RY: Well, I usually have an idea for a song; I pretty much know what I want, although I may say, “Hey Rick, how about you try this instead of that?” Or, Rick will say, “You know, this would be really good on this song,” and I’ll go, “Yeah, I didn’t think of that. That’d be great!” So it’s collaborative, and Michael Webb is such a brilliant keyboard player, I just let him go, I don’t even begin to tell him what to play. I come in with pretty much an idea of what I want to hear, and they know how to do it, they know how to get it.
 
RA: The album has very much of a live set kind of feel.
 
RY: It is live, you know. We went in the studio and recorded; I played guitar, Michael would do his keyboards; everything was really live. On most everything, I’m playing two or three guitar parts; I had to go back and overdub the steel guitar. I laid down a basic guitar track, then put on the electric lead, the mandolin; stuff like that. It has a real live feel to it.
 
RA: You previously spoke about the writing process and how the songs came “in the hours before dawn.” What is it about that time the muse seems to speak to us a little bit more persistently?
 
RY: Yeah, isn’t that wild? The title track, “Waitin’ for the Sun”, really documents the writing process for this album. I would get up at 4:00 or 4:30 in the morning, when it’s still dark. You know, I live in a cabin in Missouri, in Mark Twain National Forest, overlooking the Huzzah River, and it’s absolutely beautiful! We’re up on a bluff, so it’s dark and then you could see the sun come up over the hills, and it’s really inspiring. I think my brain works well (while) sleeping; it gives me ideas. When I just wake up and have that first cup of coffee, I sit there with my guitar on my lap, pencil and paper next to me, the ideas just start coming. I’m not sure where they come from. It’s so serene; here, it’s so quiet, and when the sun comes up, the birds start chirping, and life starts coming around. It’s really, really inspiring, and it made some of the songs, like “My Friend”—I’m just on my way to Nashville now to shoot a video for it—come so quickly. I knew what I wanted to say, and it just poured out. It maybe took an hour to write that song. That’s the best, when that happens!

image by Henry Diltz

 
RA: I spoke with Richie (Furay) a couple of years ago when he released Hand in Hand, the album containing “We Were the Dreamers”, a song reflecting on his time with Poco. With “My Friend”, it’s wonderful to see that the friendship has remained intact through the years.
 
RY: I was thrilled that Richie and Jimbo (Jim Messina) said that they’d love to sing on it. And you know, the funny thing about that song is that I wanted to write a song about—you know, next year’s the 50th (anniversary of Poco), and about the fact that, through all these years, all these great musicians have gone through Poco. I mean, Poco is probably too big to hold that bunch of guys over the first ten years, and just how lucky we are, because everyone’s really succeeded. We were struggling in the early days. I was in a little apartment I could barely afford out in the Valley in L.A. We didn’t have a lot of money; we were just doing our best to make it by. After all of these years, everyone has been so successful. I’m really happy with my life and the way things have gone. I’m thinking about how everyone has been so successful and we’re all so lucky. So I was starting to write about that, and I’ve been doing the song in concert for the past few months and I suddenly realized that the song is not just about the band; it’s about everybody! It’s about all our friends who have been with us over these 50 years; the people in the audience who come to see us every time we play, and we’ve all been through those same experiences. You know, times may change, you know they will; life’s been good to you and me … all those lyrics apply to the audience, too. So the song is really more universal than I even realized when I wrote it!
 
RA: Speaking of universal, “Sara’s Song” has to be the quintessential father/daughter song. My antennae are telling me that it’s going to become a staple at weddings.
 
RY: Oh, thank you!
 
RA: I understand that you began playing guitar when you were six years old, but because of the area where you were growing up, they started the kids on lap steel and moved them to the guitar in six months. Is that accurate?
 
RY: That’s true. This is 1952; it was a long time ago. They would have a giant classroom with 20 kids in it, and everybody played lap steel; I can’t remember if it was the first six months or a year. Probably because it’s easier for a little kid than to put his fingers on guitar strings and push down; with lap steel, you just hold a bar and you can make music, so they can teach you the basics of music before, and then you would move to guitar. That’s what everyone did.
 
RA: What was the spark that inspired you to put your pedal steel through a Leslie rotating speaker?
 
RY: I came from a hotbed of steel players in Denver, Colorado. The best steel players were there, because Oklahoma was (nearby), Nevada with Las Vegas; they’re all right around Denver. And I worked at the biggest steel guitar store in the country—Don Edwards’ Guitar City in Denver, Colorado! So, a lot of great steel players came through, and there’s this one guy, his name was Donny Buzzard, and he was my hero. He came from Oklahoma, and he was a real innovator. He would try everything! We both worked at that same guitar store and on slow afternoons, we’d sit around and play. He’s the one that showed me how to play the steel with a comb, to make it sound like a tack piano. He was doing the voice box thing that later on Frampton and Joe Walsh did; he was doing that in 1962! And of course, that started with Alvino Rey, who was a steel player in the late ‘40s; he was the first one to use the voice box. But Donny Buzzard was my ideal. He always had a brand-new Corvette, he played steel guitar, and he would try everything and anything. He was brilliant; he was really my hero. I model myself to this day after Donny Buzzard. He showed me that steel guitar didn’t have to sound like Hank Williams all the time; that it could do more things. When I had the chance to go out and play rock ‘n’ roll in L.A., I brought all those ideas with me, so it was a natural transition. I knew it would work.
 
RA: You started gigging at 12 and by the time you were 16-17, you were going to high school during the day, giving guitar lessons in the afternoon, gigging at night, then going out to jam, coming home and sleeping for a few hours, then doing it all over again. How?
 
RY: Yeah! [Laughs] Well, I was young, and I loved steel guitar, and everything revolved around that. And I loved the atmosphere at the studio where I taught and sold guitars. The whole vibe there was just so intense. When I went out to L.A., I was disappointed because there were so many great steel players in Denver, Colorado and there weren’t in L.A. There was like one guy who was pretty good, but a lot of the steel players in Los Angeles at the time would have starved if they lived in Denver, Colorado.

image by Henry Diltz

 
RA: Music is certainly in your blood. Your grandparents were performing musicians, correct?
 
RY: Well, my grandmother was a little red-headed girl, and she played piano. That’s how she met my grandfather. She played piano for the silent movies; you know, back in the old days they didn’t have sound for the movies; they would have a piano player in the theaters. They would just make up music that goes along with what they saw on the screen. And I think that Grandma passed that “making up songs as you see them” on to me. My grandfather had a big band that played all the big resorts up in the Rockies in the ‘20s and ‘30s. I think they passed on a musical gene.
 
RA: In addition to your grandparents and the other members of Poco, you’ve also singled out Stephen Stills, Neil Young, and Gerry Beckley as influences.
 
RY: When the Springfield had broken up, Neil would occasionally come by Richie’s house in Laurel Canyon and he was working on his solo record. There were times when it was just the two of us, and he would sit down and play a song that he was working on. That was the beginning of me being around those kinds of really talented musicians and songwriters, watching him, and watching the process in the very beginning. You know, his first album, Jimmy played bass and George (Grantham, Poco’s drummer) played drums. The next album after that, he had a steel guitar player. I think there was a little influence going on there! Being in the studio when Stephen was recording, and watching that whole process … we were managed by the same people that managed America, Hartmann and Goodman, so I was around them a lot. They invited me to play on their records when George Martin was producing them; I got to hang out with George Martin. Watching those guys write songs—just being around really great songwriters—Paul Cotton, Richie Furay, Timothy has his thing which is so special. I did a lot of sessions; everyone from Gladys Knight to Three Dog Night. I just saw a lot of great songwriting and the process and the recording. I tried to be a sponge and soak up as much as I could about how to write songs and how to record. There was a lot to learn, and it took a while, but I had great teachers!
 
 
RA: Speaking of Stephen, “High and Dry” has a very Stills-Buffalo Springfield flavor to it. I’m wondering if that’s an accurate read or am I missing the mark?
 
RY: I think so, and I (also) think Richie’s influence with the Buffalo Springfield. A lot of the first (Poco) album that was recorded (contained) songs that he had written when he was in the Springfield. They even cut demos of them but didn’t record them. So there was always a big Springfield influence. I think you can even hear that on the new record. You know, “Waitin’ For the Sun” has Springfield and Beatles influences in there. “Gonna Let the Rain Wash it All Away” has a real Stones influence. There are different influences all over this record that were influences that I have that came from great musicians.
 
RA: Going back to Poco’s early days, when I spoke with Richie, his decision to speak with David Geffen and put Souther-Hillman-Furay together stemmed from “the way Poco was being accepted out in the world.” What’s your perspective of that time in the band’s history?
 
RY: Yeah, Richie was struggling because everyone around us had been successful: Stephen with Crosby, Stills and Nash; Neil Young’s solo career; Jimmy had Loggins & Messina and they were doing great. Poco was the only one that was struggling as far as Top 40 radio goes. Back in those days, it was so different than now! There was AM radio and FM radio. We were a big hit on FM radio. AM radio was where all the hit singles were. The people who had the AM hits were the ones who were selling a million records. FM sold well, but it didn’t necessarily sell a million records. With Santana, you had AM and FM, and (they) were huge; and Chicago and that kind of stuff. Richie was frustrated because all around him, people were having such great success and that weighed heavily on him. And when the voices came and said, “Hey, maybe the band is holding you back,” it was easy for him to try and go in a different direction. I don’t blame him—I totally understand.
 
RA:  In 2014, you had announced your retirement.
 
RY: I was!
 
RA: You mentioned at the time that you were working on a book. Are you still working on it?
 
RY: It’s actually finished. Blue Élan has connections in publishing, so we’re exploring that.
 
RA: It sounds like that label did for you what David Geffen did for John Lennon, basically saying, “You make the record that want.” It sounds like you were given complete freedom to just follow your muse.
 
RY: They did. It’s a really, really wonderful place to be. I haven’t experienced that, really, ever. David Geffen made those kinds of promises but he never came through. [Chuckles] He had ulterior motives. But this is really an artist-friendly family; they don’t sign you unless they believe in you, and when they believe in you, they go whole hog. It’s really a great place to be!
 
RA:  Are you acquainted with Chelsea Williams, the artist who will be opening for you at the City Winery show?
 
RY: Yes, very well. Actually, we just re-cut “Rose of Cimarron” with her. I like Chelsea a lot! a
 
RA:  With Poco coming up on its 50th anniversary and the imminent release of your debut solo album, how do you deal with the juxtaposition of those major milestones?
 
RY:  I know—it’s pretty dizzying! My schedule … I’m leaving today and I will be working all the way through until December, but I’m sure December will fill up, too. So yeah, it’s a lot of work! I’ve been doing laps around the cabin [Laughs] and hopefully I’ll be in good shape!

image by Henry Diltz


© Roy Abrams 2017
 

 
 
 
 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

DAVID CROSBY: SOUL MEDICINE AND SKY TRAILS


David Crosby
image by Henry Diltz



Back with his third album in less than three years, David Crosby is having the time of his life. Beginning with 2014’s Croz, followed by 2016’s Lighthouse, the legendary former Byrd and co-founder of Crosby, Stills, Nash (& sometimes Young) is charging headlong into his golden years with a focused passion, an inexhaustible supply of musical energy, a flow of brilliant songs, and the help of some blindingly talented friends. Both on record and in concert, Crosby is captured at stunning heights of creative power. His new album, Sky Trails, is exclusively available as a limited edition at his shows; an official summer retail release is planned. Crosby and Friends are currently on the road to showcase the new album in a performance that interweaves a treasure-trove of greatest hits drawn from many phases of a long and legendary career. The tour arrives on Long Island on May 18th at The Space at Westbury.


Preparing for this interview, I reflected back to the last time I had the opportunity to speak with David Crosby. Lighthouse had just been released, and the tour had just completed its first show. Early album reviews from both critics and fans were resoundingly positive, and the opening night concert in Atlanta left both performers and their audience ecstatic. David was in a chipper mood as he called me from his tour bus. At one point during our conversation, I referred to Lighthouse as “soul medicine” and he picked up on the phrase right away, repeating it to his band mates on the bus.


From my initial introduction to David Crosby’s music at the age of 15 through the many interviews with him during the span of more than 25 years, my love of the music has remained a constant; my respect and admiration for the man has grown exponentially.



Speaking with the two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Famer as he continues to break new musical ground, I am struck most by his humility, his humanity, and the feeling that, in some fashion, I am speaking with an old friend. So, as always, for the music, and for the friendship, I say: Thank you, David.

   
 

Roy Abrams: How are you, sir?
David Crosby: I’m a happy guy, man.

 

RA: I can’t believe we’re speaking this quickly again, with all that’s going on in your life!
DC: And in the world! Holy …

 

RA: Yeah. That’s a whole other subject!
DC: Yeah.

 

RA: I wanted to congratulate you on the Lighthouse album and the tour. David, since I got the album, I listen to it every day. That’s no bullshit.
DC: I’m thrilled! That’s really, really wonderful to hear. You know, I’m very proud of that record. I think that this thing of me being in two bands—one acoustic, one electric—is the best way to stretch myself and push myself. And at this stage of my life, that’s exactly what I need. This new record, Sky Trails, and this band, with my son James, is a fully electric deal. It’s the completely opposite end of the scale from Lighthouse. Having both of these to be able to do and push myself with? Boy, it’s so terrific, man. I’m the luckiest guy in the world.


 

RA: Listening to Lighthouse again last night, I was thinking about how your 25-year-old self would have been awestruck by the degree of prolificness—
DC: Yeah, what the hell? What’s going on here? Yeah, I’ve been baffled by it, too. All my friends ask me, what are you eating for breakfast? You know, I’m very happy. I did love being in CSN but being out of CSN is kind of great; it opened a floodgate on material—I’ve been writing like crazy. So that’s a very good thing. Not to say that I won’t ever be in CSN again; but it’s just making me write like crazy and, of course, that’s the center issue of the whole deal: you’ve gotta have songs, or you don’t have anything.

 
image by Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images
David Crosby
image by Buzz Person


RA: Speaking of Sky Trails, you and James had put out “Capitol” a little while back; once again, I was struck by the instantly identifiable sound that the two of you have formed.
DC: [Laughs] Yeah, we do have an identifiable thing … and the jazzy chords kind of pushing (things); that’s us!

 

RA: Regarding the core musicians who you’re working with on this album, I’m floored to see Jeff Pevar back in the mix. How did that happen?
DC: I said, “Hey! James and I would love you to come and play guitar with us again.” Because he’s a terrific player! It’s not like CPR, though, because we have these two girls in the band now. Mai Agan plays bass and is a stunner of a player from, of all places, Estonia. She’s a jazz bass player who has her own band in Scandinavia. And then we have Michelle Willis from the Lighthouse band who is an astounding singer. It’s very exciting, I have to say.


 


David Crosby and Michelle Willis
image by Buzz Person


David Crosby and Mai Agan
image courtesy of Steve Silberman

 
RA: Are the musicians who played on the record the same who are accompanying you on tour?
DC:  Yes, (including) our drummer Steve DiStanislao, who fortunately is on a break in-between tours with David Gilmour.

 
Jeff Pevar, David Crosby, Steve DiStanislao
image courtesy of Steve Silberman

RA: How have the rehearsals been going?
DC: The way I do it is very exciting, man. Every day I get ready to go and I get all excited and charged up [laughs]; I want to go over there (the rehearsal space) early and start playing sooner, because it’s really fun!

 
RA: I saw from pictures that James had posted the other day while you were rehearsing in L.A. that you have some pretty illustrious company next door!

 
Jeff Pevar, David Crosby, Paul McCartney
image courtesy of Jeff Pevar

 
DC: [Laughs] Yeah, yeah. He came wandering in … it was so funny, man. We were singing a song that I love to sing, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee”; we have a vocal arrangement of it. So we’re singing that, I’ve got my eyes closed, all spaced out and loving it and thinking, “Wow, this sounds so good!” and I get to the end, and somebody’s clapping, somebody’s applauding. I turn around and it was McCartney! He’s a really sweet guy, man. He came over and brought his whole band over another time and we played a few songs for him. We went over there yesterday and they played a few songs for us. We’re all a bunch of hams; we love showing off for each other. But I really like the guy. You know, that’s not an easy crown to wear, and he does it pretty gracefully. I’m proud of him as a guy; I think he does a good job!

 

RA: Something else I’ve always admired about you, separate and apart from your own music, your own songwriting, is the way in which you’ve supported and introduced new talent, going back to Joni and Jackson. Shawn Colvin was somebody who you turned me on to 25 years ago; certainly, Michael Hedges as well. Now, we’ve got Becca Stevens and Michelle Willis. My question is: Why that is such an important thing for you? It’s not something that I see many other artists do.
DC: Here’s the thing: Yeah, I agree. Not everybody does that; I do do it. I’m always on the hunt for really good singer/songwriters because I think that’s where the best of the stuff comes from, and particularly lately, I’ve been on it even more because the streaming services have killed us being able to make money off of records. We no longer get paid on our music; so that’s what we have to face. So, that’s okay for (some artists); I can handle it because there are a lot of people want to buy tickets for my shows. But for a young person, there’s no record money! You can’t sell any records because everybody’s used to getting them for free! That just makes it almost impossible for new, young talent to break in. They’re still at the stage we’re they’re driving a van 300 miles to play to another 35 people. And that doesn’t work out. So I try to find them and give them as much of a leg up as I possibly can. If I find somebody really talented, then I think it behooves me to focus a light on them, because they deserve it!

 



RA: That’s a beautiful thing. I have Becca’s album and Michelle’s album thanks to you; I would not have known about them otherwise. So, thank you!
DC: [Laughs] Well, at least you can count on me to only turn you on to good stuff, I promise.

 

RA: It’s been way more than that! I started listening to you when I was 14-15; I’m 56 now, so that’s the majority of my life, which I why I always say thank you every time you and I speak.
DC: Man, I really appreciate the help, so thank you back!

 

RA: You mentioned the last time we spoke that there were a couple of guest artists who appear on the new record—Michael McDonald and Jacob Collier.
DC: Michael McDonald wrote one of the songs, called “Till Tomorrow Falls on Love”, and it turns out that he’s just a good a writer as we all thought he was!

 
RA: What was Jacob’s role?                       
DC: He sang on the first song on the record, one of James’s songs called “She’s Got to Be Somewhere” and he sang harmony on it. He did a great job, of course!

 

RA: I spoke with him back in January, and he singled out you, Herbie Hancock, and Quincy Jones, saying that he loves that you still bring that childlike energy to the table. He said, “I’ll play a song for David, and he’ll hear something, and he’ll jump up and clap.”
DC: I can’t help it! Look how good he is!! [Laughs} He’s one of the people I’m trying to turn the rest of the world on to. I think he is one of the most talented people I have ever met in my life.

Jacob Collier and David Crosby
image courtesy of David Crosby


RA: Scary! And he’s so grounded; it’s uncanny to me.
DC: He has got his head screwed on right, doesn’t he? I really love him. I just love him.

 

RA: We had spoken briefly at the beginning of this conversation about our current world circus. I’m curious as to your thoughts on this, our whole condition, and also how you see the role of music in playing the cultural resistance role as it has in the past.
DC: I think circus is a great choice of word. I think it’s a clown car. I rarely this many truly stupid people I one place. It’s doing harm to us, and to the United States of America, and to the world. So I’m very disturbed by it. I’m very, very upset by the ridiculous Congress, by the ridiculous president, by the complete collection of unbelievable assholes that he has managed to put together. I’m a bit of a corny guy, man. I really actually believe in the United States. I love it. I think it’s the best idea that anybody’s ever had about how people could live together in a representative democracy. But we don’t have it. We have a corporatocracy and there’s nobody in Washington working for you or for me. So, we have to get down in the trenches and earn it back. And it’s not going to be easy. They’ve done a lot of redistricting, a lot of gerrymandering, a lot of pick-and-shovel work to make it harder for us to unseat them, but we simply have to. We have to get into this next midterm election and cream them. Anything else isn’t going to save the country.

 
David Crosby
image by Henry Diltz

RA: I agree with you. I also wanted to get your take on the incredible upswell of public resistance. I was a teenager during the Vietnam War and have vague memories of older relatives and neighbors getting involved in anti-war protests. I see that happening again. I’m a teacher by profession. My high-school students are galvanized like you would not believe.
DC: I see it too, and I see that also. I think that as bad as Washington D.C. is right now, I think it’s going to inspire some good art. I’ve seen some graphics that were brilliant; I’ve heard some music that’s starting to happen that’s pretty good. My own song about Congress, “Capitol”, is (pretty) critical—

 

RA: —It’s spot on!
DC: I think you’re going to see a lot of that. Hopefully, the artistic community in the United States will step up to the plate, because it’s part of our job. It’s not the whole thing; our job mainly is to make you boogie or take you on an emotional voyage, but every once in a while it’s our job to be a town crier, and say, “Hey, it’s 12:30 and all is not well.” And all is definitely not well, so it’s time for us to step up. Every day, I get messages on Twitter saying that CSNY should get back together again, because they want us to be their voice. We should. We absolutely should. I don’t know if we will, but we should.

 

RA: You just saved me from asking my next question! The last time we spoke, that was a subject I didn’t broach just out of respect. You’re in the middle of creating some of the most amazing music I’ve ever heard in my life, period. I respect your history, but I also respect your desire to live in the present. I get it. I’ve also had my ears and eyes open and have heard two of the other three members of CSNY start to talk about, “Well, maybe we should … “ so now it’s interesting to hear you say, “Maybe so.”
DC: I know they ask us all the time. Every day, I get messages. I don’t know. It’s not up to me. It’s up to Neil.

 

RA: So if Neil were to say, “Let’s do this,” that would be something that you would hop on.
DC: Yeah, I’d do it. No question I’d do it.

 

RA: Where would you find the time? [Laughs]
DC: I think the country needs it.

 

RA: I think the country would be honored! Shifting back to the present, people who have followed you throughout the years are just blown out by Lighthouse.
DC: [Laughs} I should have gotten the new record to you, because I think you’re gonna love it, too. It’s the same deal, it’s (got) very, very good songs, but it’s totally different production.

 

RA: Is there a release date for Sky Trails?
DC: Yeah, it’ll be out this summer, while we’re on tour. We’ll be selling advance copies at the show.

 
image courtesy of David Crosby

RA: Final question for you: As far as the set list is concerned, will be hearing a majority of songs from the new album?
DC: Certainly a lot of it. We’re going to do a bunch of songs from there, a bunch of songs from CSN/CSNY, and a bunch of songs from CPR—that’s the core of this band. Me and Pevar and James are here together again, so we’re going to do some of that material. I love that material!

 
Jeff Pevar, David Crosby, James Raymond
image courtesy of Jeff Pevar

RA: We’ll see each other in May when you come to Long Island—
DC: Do come to the show, man, because the songs will speak better for me than I can.

 

RA: Thank you so much for your time today, David! See you in a few weeks!
DC: Thank you, man! I appreciate the help!

image courtesy of Roy Abrams


© Roy Abrams 2017