Monday, October 24, 2022

New Music From Old Friends: A Conversation with The Smithereens' Jim Babjak

The Smithereens
L-R: Mike Mesaros, Jim Babjak, Dennis Diken, Pat DiNizio

The Smithereens are among a small number of groups whose music transcends time. Their new release, The Lost Album, showcases the band at their prime, beautifully capturing their unique ability to incorporate a wide array of musical styles culled from a variety of genres and eras into songs that are instantly accessible and permanently memorable. Formed in 1980, the New Jersey quartet is celebrating its 42nd year and is as busy as ever. With 11 studio albums released between 1986 and 2011, the band earned its legion of devout fans through a near-constant touring schedule. Theirs is a lasting legacy of musical integrity and innovation that survived even the death of founding member Pat DiNizio in 2017. Known for their infectious, cleverly crafted songs that could be “mean, sweet, joyful, or brooding,” in the words of bassist Mike Mesaros, The Smithereens’ latest offering represents not only a remarkable gift for their fans, but also an enticing welcome to new ones. For the band themselves—Mesaros, drummer Dennis Diken, and guitarist Jim BabjakThe Lost Album is nothing less than “emotional gold,” according to Mesaros.

A lengthy conversation with Jim Babjak a few days before the album’s September 23rd release yielded wonderful insight, reminisces, and advice from a man who was there from the beginning, candid in his memories, and a refreshingly down-to-earth human being. With many exciting events looming on the band’s horizon, The Smithereens are decidedly not relegated to being “only a memory.” Read on and enjoy!

Roy Abrams: Thank you for taking the time to call and speak with me for little while today. Just as importantly, thank you for the decades of music! This album coming out when it is represents a real synchronicity for me. I fell down what can only be described as a “Smithereens rabbit hole” this summer, and it was an intense period of rediscovery. It lasted for a couple of months, and I was listening to everything I could, watching every live performance or interview that was available on YouTube.

Jim Babjak: I do that, too! Especially if I end up getting a boxed set of like, everything the Hollies ever did, or The Move, or the big Neil Young boxed set, you know. I dissect it, I remember things from the past, I hear new things, new mixes. I already preordered the Revolver vinyl and CD deluxe set. Like $300-400 on that stuff. That made me think, how much did I spent on The Beatles in my entire lifetime? It’s got to be the price of a car. I buy everything! I’ve bought the White Album, Abbey Road, Sgt. Pepper, all the deluxe sets, All Things Must Pass. I was one of those guys who never gave up my vinyl. I remember when CDs came out, Oh God, it was so long ago now! People were selling their vinyl for pennies and getting everything on CD; now they’re getting rid of their CDs and putting everything on their iPod. I’m not getting rid of any of mine! I’m keeping it; it’s there! I don’t want to just depend on the air! I listen to vinyl every day. On the weekends, in the morning, I’ll put on a record.


RA: Aa a follower of your Facebook page, after learning about The Lost Album I reached out to your publicist the second I read your post. I’ve been listening to it nonstop and man, it's the return of an old friend. Hearing the opening chords of “Out of This World” brought the same chills-up-the-spine feeling as the first time I heard “Blood and Roses.” Speaking as one fan, and probably on behalf of all the others, thanks so much for doing this!

JB: People have said the same thing. As soon as they heard that opening chord, it was like, “Sounds like The Smithereens!” [Laughs]

Jim Babjak in the studio
The Lost Album sessions

RA: Can we discuss the background behind the new album and the decision to release it now?

JB: All I can say is that life just got in the way. There were just too many things going on. So, when we recorded that album, it was at a time when we lost our record deal and we just recorded everything that we had and wanted to see where we were going. When we got signed to RCA, we re-recorded half of them that made sense together. The rest of the songs that were left over, which is The Lost Album, were truly “lost.” There’s such a mix of styles on this album, it’s almost strange releasing it as an album, but here's the thing: When we were doing this, I was having a house being built, and we lost our record deal. I wasn’t sure what we were gonna do. But we are survivors so we just decided to go in and record it, but then after we got signed to RCA, we just kind of forgot about it and moved on to other albums, other tours. I ended up getting a day job for 19 years. I was raising my kids and, you know, I guess since I’m not working my day job anymore and (after) the loss of Pat, we went back and started looking through our archives. When I discovered this, I thought, “Well, this is really good. I think our fans might like this!” I think I did mention it to Pat maybe 10 years ago when I found it on a cassette, and (we) just never got around to it. You know what? There’s more stuff we have to look at, with what people might like. We don’t want to release everything. I also have a new album’s worth of solo material that’s all done and I never released it. It’s because of the day job, life going on, raising your family, making a living, touring; all this stuff just gets in the way, using all your tine to do this. It’s overwhelming, too. I’m in my record room right now and I’m looking at hundreds of cassettes. [Laughs] It’s crazy. At the same time, I’m working on new material for a new album using Robin Wilson and Marshall Crenshaw, so there’s also that. You’ve got to keep moving.


RA: The songs are so different, stylistically. It’s like a photo album in that the songs are snapshots of different moments in time. Regarding the recording process, did you do all the basic tracks live, then add overdubs? So many of these songs sound as if you had recorded a rehearsal and absolutely nailed the track.

JB: Yeah, for that time period, that kind of was like a rehearsal. It was so long ago that I don’t remember if it was the first take or second take, but we did do the (basic) tracks first. Pat would normally sing a rough vocal, although the lyrics weren’t all done at the time. We’d be sitting around the table eating chicken parmigiana sandwiches and writing down lyrics! [Laughs] That’s the way it still works. I should say that; there’s no exact method. There are a few times where I have written the lyrics first and then added music but most of the time, I’ll come up with a melody and music first, and a hook. Usually I like to come up with a hook, like the chorus, and then build around that. Sometimes it’s based on a true event in my life but it’s really hard to write a song that’s all true. It ends up changing. I wrote a song called “Point of No Return” … inspired by my late wife (who) passed away six years ago from cancer, I remember having to say to her one time, “I guess I’m wrong again this time,” because I would just let her have her way,  you know? I was in the Lincoln Tunnel, on the way to record at Crystal Sound, and I was stuck in the tunnel, and I’m like, “Oh, man. It’s the point of no return.” And as I’m sitting in the tunnel, it kind of came together. I started writing this song about the point of no return in a relationship. It wasn’t exactly like that; the rest of it was all just made up. But going back to the sessions, yeah, pretty much we recorded the basic tracks, worked out all the riffs, solos, bass parts, and then put the vocals down. A lot of these are sort of unfinished. Like Mike says in the liner notes, it’s 80% finished. Some of them are fairly finished. I don’t know what more we would have added to “Out of This World,” maybe another guitar to strengthen it more.


RA: It’s part of the charm of the new album. Nothing is burnished to a high gloss, but that’s awesome. There’s a sense of “these are the songs as they should be.” There’s such a sense of comfort. For your fans, it’s a sense of coming home.

JB: Yeah, I kind of felt that it would get that kind of reaction.


RA: Referring back to the “Smithereens rabbit hole” I found myself in this summer, as a multi-instrumentalist myself who gravitates toward the bass guitar, I was reminded of how Mike’s bass lines are as integral to the band as a certain famous left-handed bassist was to his. With the 10-year hiatus Mike took from the band, you had Severo (“The Thrilla”) Jornacion take over the bass guitar responsibilities, which was a formidable task. Each musician has his own approach to the instrument, which results in a very different feel to the rhythm section and by default, the whole band. Was there any adjustment process for you during this transition?

JB: As far as my playing goes, I didn’t adjust anything—not a thing! [Laughs] I feed off of Dennis and Mike both but in those days, I guess I was just feeding off of Dennis. Severo would have to feed off of us. I would come up with counter melodies. The reason why is because when Severo was with us, Dennis and I and Pat would work together and he would come in later and do his bass parts, whereas with Mike, we would do it together, and I would wait to see what Mike was doing and what Dennis was doing. I would interweave between that, so we’re not playing the same thing. That started way in the beginning with Pat. Pat gave me these demos, and they had these simple chords, but I thought, “I don’t want to play the same thing he’s playing” so I gotta come up with some riffs, or I gotta lift a finger here, add a finger here on a chord just to make it sound different, and have the strumming be different, and that’s how we came up with a specific sound of the band. We were just feeding off of each other. I got to say, Dennis and I have been playing together since 1971; we were kids, 13 or 14 years old, and we were together for 9 years before we met Pat, just playing in my garage, playing at parties and stuff.

The Lost Album
Cover Art

RA: There’s a sense of real down-to-earthiness to the band, to the music, which brings me to another question: How do you and the other members manage to remain as grounded as you have?

JB: I don’t know. It’s hard for four guys to stay together that long. You know, the three of us went to school together—Mike, Dennis, and I—and we grew up in a working-class town, a factory town. U.S. Metals was there; my dad used to work there when I was little. Later on, he opened up a tavern. It was a blue-collar town, just a good work ethic. I don’t know—we all had (a lot) in common, we grew up in the same era, liked the same kind of music—which is very broad! During the disco period (not that I hate disco; it’s fine, I actually like some of it, but it’s not what I wanted to play), in those years I went back and bought records by Chuck Berry, Elvis, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, Muddy Waters; I went back. We were all into the roots of what we were playing. That was my foundation; classic songwriting structure and a good hook and a good melody; we just all had this common interest and common goal to succeed as a band and make a mark.


RA: As well you have! Given the amount of time that you’ve spent with the others, what insight can you offer into each of them from both a musical and a creative perspective?

JB: Well, Dennis has been playing for a long time, and he can play anything. As you can tell by a song like “In a Lonely Place,” he is just a great drummer who can fit in anywhere. His musical knowledge and his record collection … when I first met him, he had hundreds of records, and now it’s in the thousands. (He has) an encyclopedic knowledge of music. Mike and I both had accordion lessons when we were 7, 8, 9 years old, and we had our Communion together in 1964, so we go pretty far back. His training for playing bass probably came from the accordion or piano when you’re using your left hand to play bass notes and your right hand to play melody. I think Mike’s bass lines are so melodic. Dennis and I were playing years before we started and said, “Well, you can play the bass, because that’s the only instrument left!” [Laughs] So he picked up the bass, I showed him how to play “No Matter What,” “Can’t Explain” and “My Baby Left Me” by Elvis Presley. This was after high school when he started playing. He picked up a Rickenbacker bass at a flea market, and we both bought leather jackets there [Laughs]. He went away to college for a semester, came back, and he absorbed the (styles of) Dee-Dee Ramone, John Entwistle, Paul McCartney, Graham Maby—he absorbed all those styles into one! When he came back from college, it was like “Holy crap! This guy’s a world class musician!”


RA: There’s really no other bass player who sounds remotely like him.

JB: Yeah, it’s very interesting. He’ll tell me, “This is what McCartney would have done. He would have held the note here, or clipped a note here, or let it ring out here … all these subtle little things that nobody would think about unless you’re a musician. With me, when we’re playing live, I like to leave an open space for Mike and for the drums and for whatever. You have to know how to do that instinctively, you know. There are certain people I couldn’t jam with because they’re just masturbating on the guitar. That doesn’t interest me at all. You’ve got to play together, you have to weave in and out, and do countermelodies. Pat’s interesting because when I met him, he was really into the simplicity of writing songs like Buddy Holly. But before that, he was into heavy metal, listening to Black Sabbath and the later Jeff Beck stuff with Mahavishnu Orchestra, and all that stuff. So, his influences were a little different in that he liked the heavier stuff. I never listened to Black Sabbath back then. The heaviest I got was The Who and Led Zeppelin. You meld all those styles together and then you come up with us! It’s easy to say, oh, there’s a Beatles influence, or The Who, but it’s a lot more than that. It’s everything, the things we heard on the radio as kids in the ‘60s. The radio was just wonderful back then.


RA: Wasn’t it?! I was talking about that with my wife last night. Remember WABC and Harry Harrison?

JB: I love Johnny Cash, too. In high school, I would be afraid to say that I actually liked Tom Jones because my mom used to listen to Tom Jones while she was cleaning the house. And man, that guy had a set of pipes! I probably saw him perform five times in later years.


RA: Didn’t he appear on the same bill with the Rolling Stones on the Ed Sullivan show?

JB: Did he? I never heard that. [Author’s note: He did.] I know about the Hendrix/Monkees combination. We had a weird combination once. We opened for UB40 on a tour. That was an odd tour but it was a successful tour. Anyway, I digress, but there you have it. It’s everything from Johnny Cash to Led Zeppelin. [Laughs]


RA: What was the decision-making process like for you, Dennis, and Mike to carry on after losing Pat?

JB: Well, one thing is that we’re survivors, it’s the continuation of life. It has to go on. My wife had cancer for 16 months—pancreatic, which is the worst one to have—there’s no good outcome with that one. She said to me, “Just live your best life. Carry on. Go forward.” I was going to get a tattoo with her name on it and she said, “No, don’t do that. The next woman you’re with is not gonna like that.” [Laughs] So, she was looking out for me. I’m dating a wonderful woman right now. With that being said, my wife actually prepared me for this, and then when Pat died, we did a tribute show where the money went to a scholarship fund for young musicians. What we did was we called up everybody we know that could sing a song or two, which turned out to be a three-and-a-half, four-hour concert. Tons of people joined us: Richard Barone from The Bongos, Keith Zaremba from The Fleshtones, Bebe Buell (Liv Tyler’s mom, who was actually a centerfold in the ‘70s!), Marshall Crenshaw, who’s a longtime friend of ours since the early days—he actually played keyboards on our first album and baritone guitar on “White Castle Blues”—and Robin Wilson, who I had been reacquainted with. Pat had recorded some solo stuff in his studio in Arizona years ago. He was a clerk in a record store in 1988 when we were passing through Tempe, Arizona to do autograph sessions. There’s pictures of us with him as a young kid working there. All those guys came to see us before they were in the Gin Blossoms. He sang with us, (as well as) Ted Leo. There were so many guests! After the show Marshall and Robin both said, if you want to do some more shows in the future, I’d be more than happy to do it. That gave us a spark, and maybe three or four months later, we did our first show. I was kind of nervous, and it turns out our fans want to hear us play the music and see us live. It’s good therapy for us, and for me in particular, to keep doing what I love and moving forward. I don’t want to sit around and retire and do nothing. I want to keep going as long as I can. We all do. As long as people love hearing it, and we love playing it, there’s no reason to stop. Both Robin and Marshall add their own style to the band, and to the songs. I can’t wait for the new stuff (to come out), maybe next year; we’ve got to get our schedules together. People are so happy that we’re continuing. It’s keeping the music alive and it’s keeping us alive, and that’s a good way to look at it, too.

Jim Babjak's little secret
Photo by Cindy Sivak

RA: Isn’t it amazing that you can start off doing something musically when you’re in your twenties and forty years on, you realize that it becomes even more fun? I wish somebody had told me that when I was twenty!

JB: Yeah, it is more fun, especially now that we don’t have to answer to any record labels or anything. All that “Oh this next single has to be radio-friendly,” “You’ve got to use a click track, blah blah blah” … all that shit’s gone. [Laughs] Like, our first album and our second album, and the 2011 album, we didn’t follow any directions, we played from our hearts , and that’s the best way to do it. It’s not like I don’t like the big records that we had; they were a little slick, but that was good, that’s what radio wanted, that’s what our record labels wanted and I guess that’s what got us whatever mass appeal we garnered. That was all playing from the heart, too, but at least now we’re not being told what to do, and we’re just playing how we feel.


RA: What advice would you offer for young bands who are looking at the “music industry” such as it may be and are pretty daunted by it?

JB: It is daunting. It’s a whole different animal now. There’s a lot of things I didn’t know back then. I thought when we had a hit record, I’d start making a good living. [Laughs} But as far as record royalties go, it was very small. Whatever money we made was from hard work and from touring; months and months on a bus, playing cities. I don’t know, you’ve just got to follow your heart and maybe not do it for the money or the stardom, but that’s not a good thing to say. A lot of people do want the stardom and (to) make lots of money. I don’t think we ever had that mentality. I never liked the term “rock star.” I’m not a rock star, even back in the day. Mick Jagger’s a rock star, not me. Or Jimmy Page, or Elvis. I’m just a working musician, (that’s) how I look at myself. It depends on what you want out of life. And the main thing is to have something in your back pocket in terms of making money. As I mentioned, I had a day job for 19 years, from 2001 to last year, and recorded albums and toured. I balanced both and raised a family.


RA: Bravo. That’s beautiful.

JB: Yeah! [Laughs] It wasn’t easy, but I had to do what I had to do to survive and provide for my family. Now, it’s great. We get offers to play and we go! I tell people to do it for the right reasons. If it’s your passion, then go for it, but have something to back up your income, your schooling, your trade, whatever you need to do. You know what? The music business is a roller coaster, that’s for sure, because I’ve been through it many times. I’ve been up and down so many times, at least ten times. This house was being built, that I’m living in now, when we lost our record deal. I thought I was gonna lose my house, you know? I actually went to work in a warehouse for a while, loading trucks. I was loading trucks when our Greatest Hits came out, and I was praying to God that nobody would recognize me, because there were articles in the newspaper about us, they were playing on the local radio station, but I was pretty anonymous, nobody recognized me. It was the same when I started working in an office. I was in a cubicle, and for many, many years nobody knew I was in a band. I kind of liked it that way. It’s hard if you’re starting out as a musician, you’ve got to have thick skin. Even with us, we got a lot of rejection letters to our demos, there were club owners who told us we sucked; pretty much for the first five or six years, but there were a few people who did champion us, like the owner of Kenny’s Castaways in Greenwich Village, Pat Kenny. He would book us on a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, once a month, on the weekend. The same thing (happened) with the Court Tavern in New Brunswick, (owner) Bobby Albert, who also passed away recently. That a regular gig, I call it our Cavern Club, because we played there every month. You’ve just got to go with the flow and roll with the punches, is what I say. Have a thick skin and if you really believe in yourself, then don’t listen to everybody else. They might tell you, “Oh, you can’t sing.” But they’re just people; they might think that a good singer is somebody you’d see on American Idol. Listen to Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, and Neil Young. Their voices are unique and they fit with the music. They’re not necessarily great voices (to me they are!), so it’s hard to say. You might think you’re not talented but if you feel like you are, go for it! [Laughs} Long answer, isn’t it?


RA: Where you do feel popular music is heading? Do you sense any kind of subcultural return to roots or do you see us becoming gradually submerged into a vat of technological ear candy, in terms of what constitutes our so-called Top Forty?

JB: Oh, God. I’m afraid I don’t even listen to what is Top Forty and haven’t for a long, long time. I’ll be in a restaurant or tavern or somewhere where they’re younger, hipper  … oh, yeah, in Whole Foods, I heard Tame Impala, and I’m like, “Wow, this is really cool!” Did you ever hear of them?


RA: I actually have, because one of my students recently made me a playlist that contained several Tame Impala tracks. Very interesting!

JB: What do you think of them? There’s a couple of songs that remind of what Paul McCartney or The Beatles would sound like today. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but I liked it a lot. There’s a band called Rival Sons—I don’t know if you’ve heard of them—my younger kids are turning me on to more modern kind of rock bands. They’re out there, but you have to hear them on college radio or Sirius. I heard them on a college station. I tend to listen to that because that’s where you can hear newer music. Now that I have Shazam, when I’m in the car, I can press the button and see who it is, and then order it. There’s another band I heard on the radio and said, “I’ve got to have this” It’s a band called Lord Huron. Have you ever heard of them?


RA: No, I have not.

JB: Oh, check it out! The song is “Mine Forever”—check it out! It’s got a great hook, it’s pleasant, and I think they’re touring. I was somewhere once and I saw their name on the marquee. I thought, that’s great. So there is like –I don’t know if you’d call it “underground”—but I don’t even know, Rival Sons might be playing big venues for all I know. Really well-produced stuff. They’re out there! But as far as being Top Forty, it ain’t gonna happen. I know that even if we put out a great album—let’s say we put out the greatest album in our lives next year—there’s no radio station that’s gonna play it, other than like college or satellite. They won’t play the new Pearl Jam album or the new U2 album, so why would they play us?


RA: Are there any plans to return to Long Island in the near future? I know you came to Eisenhower Park last summer.

JB: I don’t know, I don’t see anything on the books right now. I’m at a loss. I depend on our booking agent for that.


RA: I just want to say thank you for putting The Lost Album out. You and your friends have brought a lot of joy and a lot of happiness to a lot of people for many, many years, and I am overjoyed to see that the journey continues. I’m greatly looking forward to the new album next year and hope our paths cross again for another interview at that point.

JB: Yeah! And hopefully, we’ll see you whenever we play your area.

RA: You certainly will!

The Lost Album has previously existed only as a sentimental “scrapbook” for Dennis, Pat, Jim, and me. Mine was tucked away in a dusty shoebox with other cassettes—forsaken raw nuggets of outtakes, demos, rough mixes, and silly chatter. Now, the inevitable turning of the clock and the tragic demise of friend and brother Pat has buffed and polished this collection of songs into emotional gold. The Lost Album remains only 80 percent finished and rough mixed. The feeling and style, however, are all there, outweighing any overdub or mix considerations. It is something new, yet vintage, emerging from its warm analog tomb into a cold digital world.” -- Mike Mesaros

Author’s Note: Shortly after the interview took place, I received more Smithereens-related news to share: Christmas with The Smithereens will be re-issued in a limited-edition green vinyl edition on November 18 via Sunset Blvd. Records. Available for the first time in 10 years, it can be pre-ordered here. 

© 2022 by Roy Abrams


Friday, August 5, 2022

Speaking from Experience: Holly Montgomery in Conversation

Holly Montgomery

I am utterly mystified as to why the name of Holly Montgomery is not more widely known. Although the singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist is a steady presence on the mid-Atlantic performing circuit with more than 300 gigs per year to her credit, she has remained a regional phenomenon through today. This relative obscurity is poised to change with the recent release of Sorry For Nothing via KZZ MusicThe artist’s earthy voice, combined with unflinchingly honest songwriting and a stellar team of musicians, delivers a listening experience that, for this pair of ears, presses all the right buttons. Shortly before the album’s May 6 release date, I had the opportunity to spend some time speaking with Holly and learned a great deal about this superbly talented, intelligent, and passionate artist. Read on and enjoy! 

Roy Abrams: Congratulations, Holly, your new album is awesome! If we had crossed paths back in the ‘90s, you would have already (a) been a part of my local concert series, (b) received commercial radio exposure on my radio show, and (c) been the subject of a feature article in the publications I was writing for at the time. I’m scratching my head, wondering why it’s taken this long for your music to reach my ears.

Holly Montgomery: You’re very welcome. I hope that this comes out the way I mean it to sound, but I’ve been told that my whole life, and I’ve been really trying. I try and I try and I try and frankly, it’s finally getting out there now because one guy had the balls to sign a woman who was over (the age of) 22. [Laughs]


RA: There are a few songs on the new album which have been on constant replay on this end. 

HM: Which ones?


RALooking for Lancelot,” “All for Nothing,” and “Song Of My Life.”

HM: Oh, wow. That’s awesome.


RA: They grabbed me straight away. You’re such a solid lyricist. The ability to capture and keep a listener’s ear on first listening is rare; as you and I know, not everyone can do that. In my opinion, you can! I found your “Bass/Vocals/Songwriting/Production” video on YouTube and was fascinated by what I learned. You said that music wasn’t something you thought about, it was just something that was, so the recollection you have of hoisting yourself up on a piano bench sets the stage for a very early start!

HM: Since I was super young, I don’t ever remember not trying to get up on a piano bench and starting to play before hearing “Be quiet! I’m trying to watch TV!” I was just trying to plink out piano stuff; that was the way that it always was.


RA: As a multi-instrumentalist to whom the bass guitar has always held a special place, I loved learning about your “clarity moment” when you realized that when you were listening to songs on the radio, you were singing the bass lines. I’ve never heard another bass player put it out there like that. That’s really cool.

HM: Yeah, it’s especially not something that you think of for women so often. I was in my late teens when I had the bass “Aha!” moment. Even at that age, I had already been obsessed with music for my whole life. As a little kid, I used to keep journals of all my favorite lyrics. I would hear a song on the radio and write down the lyrics; I was always obsessed with it. 


RA: Are you self-taught?

HM: Yes and no. In elementary school and high school, I played the trombone. I went to college on a trombone scholarship, so I already knew and have always appreciated the value of education. I love to read music and I read music often, even though the gigs that I play don’t really require it! I enjoy reading it and knowing what the hell I’m doing, you know?


RA: Regarding your songwriting process, in the video, you stated that “I have to be an actor.” I’m wondering how one navigates that bridge between the autobiographical content and focus with slipping in and out of character that your statement implied. Which is more challenging for you? What obstacles and opportunities do you face in the process?

HM: One of the most important things for me about songwriting and lyrics is that when I write a lyric, it has to be true. That doesn’t mean that has to actually have happened. For example, with “Looking for Lancelot” I was inspired to write it because some guy made an offhand, kind of snide remark about how daddy issues were “in” with female writers. I thought, well, I have daddy issues, I’ll write a song. My father died when I was seven, so of course who’s not going to have daddy issues? But  when writing a song, it’s not very interesting to just say, “Well, my dad died when I was seven, and I wish I had a dad.” That’s a boring song. (I thought) okay, who have I known in my life who lost their fathers or who had absent fathers, and what did they go through and what challenges did they face? And so therefore the song becomes true because I’m not just like sitting in a room and making up things. I have to try to write about things that I know. Many of my best ideas come from listening to my friends say what they’re going through. For me, in terms of the actor part, it’s much more difficult for me to sing a song that is personal. You’ll find this hard to believe after seeing me onstage, because I’m not great with big crowds around. In my element, I’m perfectly comfortable onstage, but offstage I’m a little bit of an introvert. When I start singing songs about myself, I go, “Uh oh! Do I really want people to know anything about me?” But it’s part of the process, and there’s personal stuff that I put into “Looking for Lancelot” and “All for Nothing,” which was straight autobiographical. I was having a really bad day, at the end of a long string of bad days. I was like “Is anything ever going to go right in my life?” You write the song and those things always pass, but I wrote it in the midst of that horrible string of bad luck.


RA: There’s an inner strength that appears to be ingrained in you. The world-weary resignation evident in the three songs I mentioned is forged by experience. One verse of “Looking for Lancelot” stands out in particular:

There’s a picture of me at seven years old.

My father had gone, the world had grown cold,

I still remember that day.

Since then, I’ve been looking mostly in vain for the right song,

the right man to help dull the pain,

but unlike my daddy, it stays.

Those are some of the most powerful words that anybody has written anywhere, at any time. As autobiographical as that is, it can and will serve as mirror for those who are unable to articulate the way you’ve been able to.

HM: That verse is definitely autobiographical. I do remember that day very clearly. I was thinking about my life laying out before me. My parents were divorced by the time I was born. I saw (my father) every other weekend. There was already a fracture. It’s interesting; I’ve spent my whole life wondering. My father was a classical musician, he was a really, really great classical piano player. He might have hated what I did because I’m a rocker chick, I don’t know, but I sure wish I could have found out.



RA: While preparing for this interview, I learned that you became the adoptive mother to three children from Kazakhstan through your involvement in a particular charity organization. Can we discuss how this occurred and how it impacted your life?

HM: I was in L.A. for a while and did a bunch of different things, from the ridiculous to the sublime. I had my deals, I lost my deals. One of the last things I did while I was living there was (that) I had a deal and then got called into an office one day, where the guy who was supposed to be managing me was like, “Well, you’re turning 30, and it didn’t hit, so (it’s) too late.” I was like, “Wow. Okay.” I had just spent years putting that deal together, paying the guys in the band, spending the years and the money of my life, and we had an incredible band that was ready to go at any moment. That was it for that. I started thinking to myself that if I don’t do something worthwhile in the world, what’s the point? I was overcome for the next year after that with (thinking that) I want my life to have counted for something. I don’t want to just be like those people you see walking up Sunset Boulevard with a shopping cart, with worn-out sequined pants and a cowboy hat with a big sign that says “Hey, listen to my record!” I could definitely see that future ahead of me and I didn’t want that. It started out that I began volunteering for this organization called Kidsave. They bring kids from orphanages in different countries to the United States for summer visits, to find sponsors or possibly adoptive parents for them. So I started doing some volunteering work for them, stuff in their office, and then I agreed to host some kids. I hosted a couple of kids and then finally, one day, from a picture in a binder, there was my son staring at me. I went, “Oh wow, this kid looks intense!” I got him into the program and ended up hosting him. That was it; I couldn’t live without him. I met two kids while I was in Kazakhstan adopting him and went back two and a half years later and (adopted them too). That was kind of what happened there. I took some years off from the music business because in my mind, I thought, I’ve been navigating the music business in L.A. for ten years, how hard could this be? [Laughs] It was really, really hard. When you have a fifteen-year-old who’s never owned a toothbrush or been taught how to tell time, or that there was a World War II, or what a washing machine was … The level of “What? You don’t know two plus two? Oh, shit!” That was it. It took all of my attention, which was the best thing I could do. When I finally came back to music, I came back in knowing that at this point, people are going to consider me as approaching middle age, which is a big no-no if you’re female, but I don’t care anymore! For the last ten years, when I got back into my career, I just haven’t cared (about the perceived age issue). Of course I want people to like it and listen to it. I’ve done what I can. I have a great family, so I’m just doing what I can do at this point.


RA: I have a very good feeling about the partnership you’ve entered into with Kirk Pasich at KZZ Music. How did that relationship form?

HM: It formed because I put out an album called Leaving Eden in 2016. Somebody submitted that album for the first round of the GRAMMYs. I learned a lot since then. I learned what that means and what it doesn’t mean. I had no idea. It came out, then I got this notice and I thought, what the hell is this? I thought it was a joke at first. It was really interesting to me, because that album was a collection of different kinds of songs that I had collected and recorded over the past few years before that. I was like, “You know what? The odds of anybody listening to this further are probably nil, but I don’t care. I’m going to go to L.A. and go to some GRAMMY parties.” I called up the guitarist, Sherry Barnett, who was the guitarist in a band I played in during the ‘90s called The Mustangs, which was an all-female country band.  I’ve never really listened to country music, but people always think that I have, I guess because of my accent. So, I called Sherry and told her what happened and that I was coming out to L.A. to go to some GRAMMY parties and hopefully I would see her. She said, “Oh, I can’t believe it!” because Suzy (Suzanna Spring), who was the lead singer of The Mustangs, is going to be here too. We should record a reunion show!” I told her that I would only be there a few days and that I wanted to go to those GRAMMY parties and make myself feel more important than I actually am. [Laughs] She was like, “Oh, it’ll just be one day.” So, of course, most of the trip was (focused) on The Mustangs. We got together and recorded this video and song that Suzanna Spring had written.  Sherry is a very well known, fairly famous concert photographer herself and she had been shooting some photos for Blue Elan RecordsShe marched in there and kind of pounded the door down, saying, “Look at this video! Listen to this song!” and she bugged him until The Mustangs got a deal. As I said, I’m not a country singer or a country musician, so Kirk told me, “Well, you should give me the songs you’re recording. Maybe we can license them.” I said, “Heck, yeah. That would be great!” So, I passed on the stuff I was writing and recording for the album I just did and Kirk was like, “I don’t want to license this, I want to sign you to an artist deal!” I was like, “What?! Really!?” Pardon my language, but there’s no other word for it: What guy in Hollywood has the balls to say this: “I don’t care how old you are or how much you weigh. This is great music.” I was like, okay, let’s do it! I was pretty busy for the next year fulfilling The Mustangs’ contract and then COVID hit. I know for a lot of people COVID was devastating; for me it was so great. I had been doing like 300 shows a year up until COVID. The year before it hit, I played 320 shows; I was tired! During COVID, we recorded the rest of this album that I’d started, and there it is! This album is very different from the one before, and that album was really different from the one before that. I don’t want to sit around and do the same things I’ve always done. I don’t want to sit around and listen to the same music. You only live once; there’s too much to learn in the world.


RA: How long have you been working with your current band? 

HM: I’ve been playing with the drummer (Andy Hamburger) for ten years. He’s so amazing and is one of the busiest guys in the mid-Atlantic. He’s awesome and I’m so grateful to have him in the band. I’ve been playing with the guitarist (Buddy Speir) since 2014. He’s just amazing. After I did “Looking for Lancelot” and “All for Nothing” he produced the rest of the album. He’s just got magic in his fingers and for our live show, Island Styles plays with us. He’s the guitarist for Candlebox; he tours a lot. It’s always a little tricky to get people’s schedules to line up, but when they do, I play like a powerhouse. I’ve played thousands of gigs with these guys. I’m grateful for any time I can get them on the gigs.

RA: Listening to the string and guitar arrangement of “Song of My Life” brought echoes of “Kashmir” to mind, which begs the question: Did you listen to Led Zeppelin growing up? 

HM: Oh yeah. Growing up, I listened to Zeppelin, Queen, Aerosmith. I listened to all that kind of stuff so much, and then at one point I stumbled upon a John Denver record. I was also listening to everything my older brother Bucky listened to. My brother and I had a band in high school called Dorothy Boys, which was like this really hard prog-metal band. I had this weird eclectic background because in high school all my friends were total jazz-heads; they loved jazz. I was playing trombone in the school band and I thought, I just don’t see myself as a jazz trombonist. At the same time I was playing in this metal band with my brother. I listened to a lot of prog stuff growing up. I mean, I listened to Yes’ Fragile probably hundreds and hundreds of times, (as well as) Jethro Tull and Genesis—I loved that stuff.


RA: As a bass player, I notice you play a 5-string. Did you start out with one or make the switch from a standard 4-string model?

HM: I started out almost from the beginning on 5-string. I had only really been playing bass for a year and a half or two years when I moved to L.A. I moved to L.A. to go to Musicians Institute because I was like, okay, I want to get caught up, because I want to be good. I want to be a good player, I don’t want to be a lousy player! I had no money; I lived in my truck off of Hollywood Boulevard for about two weeks before I made a few dollars where I could live somewhere. Not long after I moved there, I actually started working for Mike Tobias, who is a very famous bass guitar maker. We’re still friends to this day. I started playing Tobias basses because he let me work there and pay it off. I’ve been playing 5-string ever since!


RA: In addition to Kidsave, are there other charities you’re currently involved with?

HM: The last few years, I’ve been trying to work. I have a kid in college so I’ve been working a lot. In addition to Kidsave, the International Anti-Poaching Foundation is one I love. It’s an empowerment foundation, believe it or not. It’s a guy, this former Australian Special Forces guy, who found the passion to try to protect species such as tigers and elephants from going extinct and has finally settled on a formula which is wildly successful. He’s training squads of female rangers. James Cameron actually did a short feature on the focus of the organization. What they found is that with female rangers out there, the level of violence between the poachers and the authorities has drastically dropped. The women are able to go in there and say, “Hey, man, why are you killing this elephant?” whereas with men, it ends up with fighting between them. If I take time to support anything these days, it’s those two organizations.


RA: My gut is telling me that you have some exciting days ahead following the release of Sorry For Nothing. Congratulations on this excellent new album and I hope to be able to experience your music in a live setting one day soon!

HM: Thank you very much!

© Roy Abrams 2022                

Monday, May 2, 2022

Jeff "Skunk" Baxter: Traveling at the Speed of Heat

Jeff "Skunk" Baxter
Image by Joel Manduke

To the delight of his fans, musical icon Jeff “Skunk” Baxter is releasing his debut solo album, Speed of Heat, on June 17th, on BMG/Renew Records. The name, no doubt, is instantly familiar to fans of Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers. His presence in the music world, however, looms even larger. A renowned studio musician and producer, Baxter’s contributions are as ubiquitous as the famed Wrecking Crew or the Session. His extraordinary talent has graced hundreds of other artists’ work, among them Barbra Streisand, Carly Simon, Joni Mitchell, Carl Wilson, Ringo Starr, Rod Stewart, and the Ventures.

With Speed of Heat, 72-year-old Baxter shows that his creative fires are stoked and that he is moving ever forward. Excited to share his new album with the world, Baxter is returning to the road with a tour that will bring him to Long Island on May 10th, at the Metropolitan in Glen Cove, as part of the Long Island Classic Series presented by Michael “Eppy” Epstein of legendary My Father’s Place fame.

Speed of Heat features contributions from several notable guests, including Michael McDonald, Clint Black, Jonny Lang, and Rick Livingstone. The album’s twelve tracks consist of a combination of originals and “inspired classics,” including a re-imagining of Steely Dan’s  “My Old School” and “Do It Again.” Along with songwriting collaborator and musician C.J. Vanston, the album’s originals highlight the depth and scope of Baxter’s musical genius in vivid relief. In a word: astonishing.

From the driving, hard-edged take of Steely Dan’s “My Old School” to the haunting, a cappella pedal steel featured on “The Rose,” breathtakingly jaw-dropping moments abound. It is unmistakably clear that Jeff “Skunk” Baxter has created a definitive personal statement with Speed of Heat, one which will endear him further to his legion of existing fans while introducing him to a generation of new ones.

During a recent Saturday afternoon, Baxter was eager to talk about the new album and happy to share memories of some of the people and places he’s encountered in his 50-plus year musical voyage. Similar to another guitar-playing peer’s second career as an astrophysicist (Queen’s Brian May), a little-known fact about Baxter is that he is a highly respected defense consultant and counter-terrorism expert for the United States Government. Addressing his alter ego directly during our conversation provided a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a man who is not only an acknowledged musical force, but also a keenly intelligent fount of fascinating scientific knowledge and experience. Read on and enjoy!


Image by Jimmy Steinfelt

RA: Congratulations on this new record! I’ve been listening to it pretty much constantly for the past 48 hours. As a musician, I’m kind of at a loss for words.

JB: I really appreciate the compliment, thank you! I had a lot of help from good friends.


RA: So I see! You’re going to be coming to our neck of the woods on May 10th, coming to Long Island for a performance at The Metropolitan in Glen Cove, which is part of Long Island Classic Music Series organized by Michael “Eppy” Epstein of My Father’s Place fame. I’m wondering if you have any history with him or that illustrious venue?

JB: I believe I played there a long time ago. I know I played out on Long Island when I was a kid, at the Action House and places like that. But it’s been quite awhile since I’ve been out there, and I’m really looking forward to it!

RA: As far as Speed of Heat goes, the fifty-year span between Steely Dan’s debut album and the release of your debut solo album begs the question: What was behind the wait to put out your own record?

JB: I always thought it was kind of typical for any artist who leaves a very successful band to immediately do a solo album. I thought, nah, I’ll percolate a bit, and it was pretty busy between studio work and producing records and playing with other folks. There wasn’t a whole lot of time! So, I got together with my buddy C.J. Vanston over the course of about the past twelve years. Every once in a while, we’d get together and do a little recording. It sort of blossomed. It was going to be instrumental and then I mentioned it to Mike McDonald and he said he’d like to play on it. (Also) Clint Black and Jonny Lang. I even asked Steve Tyler to sing on it and I sent him a copy of “My Old School” with me doing a scratch vocal. He said, “Who’s that singing?” I said, uh, Steve, that’s me, I just (did) a scratch vocal, and he said, “What the hell’s the matter with you? Why don’t you sing it? It sounds good to me!” I said, well, you know more about this stuff than I do, so okay! (It went) on and on until it became almost half instrumental, half vocal. For the writing process, my buddy C.J. and I had been playing together for many years doing jingles (commercials) together, and we found that we write literally without talking. We could just start playing and things would happen. I (told) him that if someday I ever did a solo record, I would really like to do it with him. That’s kind of how it all worked out.


RA: That’s fantastic. You mentioned that you two could write without talking. My ears picked up an almost telepathic communication between the two of you, so thank you for corroborating that! Another thing my ears picked up is how you were able to bring out performances in your musical guests that transcended what they usually did on their own recordings. Clint Black’s vocal on “Bad Move” is markedly different from what his fans are familiar with.

JB: Well, that was actually part of the deal: If you want to play on the record – I had told Mike McDonald and Clint and Jonny that first of all, we want you to write with myself and C.J., and we also want you to do something that you’ve never done before. In other words, I didn’t want it to be typical. (I said to them), if you’re okay with that, welcome to our world! But you’re right—the track that we cut with Clint was very different from anything he’s ever done. It also underscores what an incredible musician he is! We thought it would be fun to explore that with all our friends.

RA: It’s interesting how the greatest musicians—and I respectfully include you—have the ability, when working with other people, to inspire them to reach deep inside themselves and find a level of “best” in others that they didn’t even know they had. Jerry Garcia said as much about his experiences working with David Crosby on the latter’s first solo album. What was Clint’s reaction when he heard the playback?

JB: He was really surprised, but he’s a big Steely Dan fan and the lyrics and the sort of feel of the first 16 bars has that kind of Steely Dan feel to it, and he was right at home. Also, you asked me about how I get the performances out of people. I’ve been producing records as well, for people like Billy Vera & The Beaters, the Stray Cats, and a number of other artists—even the Ventures! That was the whole idea: Let’s see what you got! Because I know that you’ve probably never been really challenged. Not that you’re not a great musician, but I’m here to sort of push the envelope. As you say, it is such a treat to hear someone dig deep.


RA: Here’s a technical question about recording. You’ve mentioned a preference for plugging directly into the console, as you did with Steely Dan. Is that solely for guitar, or did you do that for the bass and pedal steel as well?

JB: Pretty much direct. I use a Roland guitar interface that I helped design. I’ve been with Roland for 47 years, so I’ve been designing and being involved in a lot of projects, but yeah, no amplifiers, just plug in, because there’s something about the closeness, the connection.


RA: I’ve been a huge pedal steel fan since I was a kid, listening to Pete Drake’s work on George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. The sound just captivates my ear. What you did on “The Rose,” the immediacy, as you said, reaches out and grabs the listener in an intimate way. Speaking of that track, your bio says that the song was recorded to honor your father. You referred to his life advice to not dwell on your success, to move forward and strive for self-improvement and knowledge. Can you share some thoughts on your relationship with your Dad? It sounds like something that was very, very special to you.

JB: The actual story was that on the 25th anniversary the existence of Guitar Player magazine (I was on their advisory board at that time), they had a wonderful celebration up in San Francisco. They said, we’d like you to do something special for the folks that have passed on who are part of our community. I said sure and I thought about it. I had heard “The Rose” on the radio and said, what a beautiful song! What I’m gonna do is go out and do an a cappella pedal steel version of “The Rose,” and that’s what I did as they were going past the different photographs of different folks. Just as I got to the end of the first verse, Adrian Belew came out, plugged in, and started to play with me. I just love Adrian’s playing, and he's a good friend. By the time we got to the end of the second verse, we had a whole band (onstage). I thought back and said, what a great way to approach this piece of music! So that’s what I did, and basically used that as a template. When I was playing it, I was thinking about my Dad. He was very important in my life, we were good friends as well, and I had a tremendous amount of respect for him. When I was doing the performance for Guitar Player magazine, I tried to make that connection as best and as deeply as I could.


RA: It’s a beautiful track.

JB: Thank you! The voice of the pedal steel is incomparable. I don’t think anybody’s ever done anything a cappella on pedal steel, and I thought, it’s time to showcase the voice.


RA: Regarding guitar playing, you once said “Style has a lot to do with phrasing, and phrasing has a lot to do with how you speak.” Can you offer any additional thoughts on that concept?

JB: To me, phrasing is almost everything because it creates a rhythmic pattern that people can relate to, which is extremely important, obviously, when you’re trying to play something and have people understand it and become interested. I always refer to the knowledge that one acquires from playing the guitar as developing vocabulary for the guitar. You know, you could play three chords and it’s like, you know, “Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water.” That certainly has a descriptive to it but Jack was brought up in a family that was broken and very poor. And Jill, who came from a much higher economic situation … they were in the mountains alone, and they decided to go up the hill, etc., etc., etc. In other words, I think vocabulary (adds) sophistication and subtlety to the story. If you read “Christ Climbed Down” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the actual construction of the words has as much to do with the phrasing and meaning as anything else. So, they’re certainly intertwined and tangential at the least, concentric at the best.


RA: I wanted to jump, if we could, to 1978 when you left The Doobie Brothers after Minute by Minute. You’ve been quoted as saying that you have to recognize when it’s time to move on. When you made the decision to leave, what were the thought processes that led up to it?

JB: It was a combination of so many different things. The band was changing. If you’re a change agent, you have to understand change and when it’s time. When I brought Mike McDonald into the band, it really, really changed the whole psychological, philosophical construct of the band. For many people, that was a very difficult change. When the band matured and, I would posit, had fully developed and embraced the change, sometimes you don’t really need to be there anymore … and you need to know that, and you need to read the tea leaves, so that’s kind of what happened.


RA: Returning to the new album, what were some of the standout writing sessions that you had, and what were some of the more magical moments in the studio?

JB: Certainly, writing “My Place in the Sun” with Michael and C.J. We put a lot of effort into that (not that we didn’t put effort into anything else). Michael’s a fairly deep lyricist in his own right and making sure that the vehicle that we created would showcase him in his best possible light was a task that we took seriously, and took a little more time, I think. (In the studio), C.J. and I have this wonderful ability to play together with non-verbal communication. There are two songs on the album—one is “Giselle” and the other is “Juliet”—that basically were composed on the fly.


RA: I loved reading how your daughter came up with a beautiful simile to describe “Juliet” … “like a sunrise.” I actually read that before listening to the track and realized that your daughter is correct!

JB: That’s very kind. I always play my music for my kids, because I want to get their input and sort of gauge how we’re doing here. When she told me that, it really touched me deeply.


RA: In researching for today’s interview, one of the things that struck me was the almost ubiquitous nature of your presence in the field. It’s far broader than most people would suspect. Have you lost count at this point of how many artists you’ve worked with as a session guitarist and/or producer?

JB: Oh, gosh! [chuckles] I’m not trying to be disingenuous, I don’t know---500, 600, 800 sessions, movie soundtracks, jingles, scoring … it’s hard to say. I apologize, but I don’t have an exact number.

Image by Jimmy Steinfelt


RA: I watched a fascinating video that you did for the D’Angelico Showroom sessions, and a couple of statements you made during that video made me sit on the edge of my seat. One of the things you said  was: “Frequency and oscillation – that’s the glue that holds the universe together. Every time a guitar player plays a guitar, he is in tune with the physics of the universe.” To my ears, it suggested a very unique blend of a scientific mindset combined with a deeper spiritual understanding. Any thoughts on that?

JB: Well, it’s something that I’ve always kind of believed in and thought that I understood, being a kind of a scientist and a physics guy as well as a musician. I was positively reinforced on that by my late friend Charlie Townes, who won the Nobel Prize for inventing the laser. Charlie and I worked together for years up at Lawrence Livermore, at the National Laboratory there on the Laser Advisory Board. I’m still at the lab, actually, after 25 years. Our job was to review every program at the laboratory. It was three-day process (consisting of) myself, Charlie Townes, Dr. Edward Teller, Mike Campbell; a number of different people at the lab were members of the Laser Advisory Board. By around the third day of reviewing programs like “Femto Laser Peening in a Pure Nitrogen Atmosphere” … I mean, everybody’s eyes were watering, and people were passing out. So, Charlie stood up and said, you know what? I’m going to do an hour on theoretical physics and God. Even “Fast Eddie” (Teller) woke up. Everybody was enthralled while Charlie went ahead and explained the glue that holds the universe together, which is frequency, because he knew a lot about that. He understood frequencies and coherent frequencies, because a laser is a coherent set of single frequency. Not only did he understand, but he actually did something with it. Frequency is what holds all of the matter in the universe together. Every time you play a note or strike a chord, a chord is a set of coherent oscillations. A string is a single oscillation. When Charlie talked about the human spirit being a function of the electromagnetic transducer, which is your brain—it’s an electromagnetic engine which runs on electricity, broadcasts and receives, creates frequency, creates radiation which may actually echo forever! Someone won the Nobel Prize for discovering the echoes and the reverberations of the Big Bang, so this is not out of the realm of reality. And when Charlie began to use that to describe the human spirit as a set of coherent oscillations, I said, “Charlie, that’s what music is!” and he said, “You got it!” Dr. Edward Teller was a concert pianist.


RA: I did not know that!

JB: Yeah. He loved Mozart. All the wonderful physicists who I’ve had the privilege and opportunity to work with, I’d say 95% of them were musicians.


RA: That is somewhat of a mind-blowing fact. In school, were you a science kid?

JB: Absolutely! I was a big fan of the International Geophysical Year and I subscribed to every science magazine there was. No doubt about it!


RA: As long as we’re on the topics of science and physics, there was another quote from the D’Angelico video that stood out: “Once you understand the basic tenets of the science and the physics, it really doesn’t make any difference where you go; it’s just a different manifestation of what you can do with electrons.”

JB: That’s right! The way an electric guitar works, in my day job, I describe to a number of my colleagues that a radar as just an electric guitar on steroids. Basically, the way an electric guitar is that you vibrate a piece of metal over a set of magnets that are surrounded by a coil of wire, and when you do that, you create electric current. You create electrons. Once you create those electrons, you can do basically anything you want.


RA: I was fascinated to learn about your career as a defense consultant and counter-terrorism expert, and I want to thank you for your service to our country. This question is coming out of left field, but I can’t help asking it anyway. Speaking to your experience the field, and given the U.S. Navy’s apparent ongoing encounters with what seems to be superior science and technology, can you offer any thoughts on what they may be dealing with, and is that a national security threat?

JB: Well, are you referring to what some people call Unidentified Flying Objects?


RA: Yes, I’m referring to the story that the New York Times broke back in 2017 about the U.S. Navy’s encounters with these unidentified objects that have been occurring for several years.

JB: My caveat to everything, and this is very important: I am speaking as a private citizen. I am in no way at all representing anything or anyone or any entity that is connected with the United States Government. I need to have that disclaimer. That said, in my opinion, although from a theoretical physics point of view, in an infinite universe that is so vast and so varied, the possibility of alternate life forms and cogent life forms—thinking, sentient life forms—is so real that it would be difficult to argue the opposite. As far as what they call Unidentified Flying Objects, Unidentified Flying Systems, etc., to me, it’s difficult for people to separate technology from alien technology or otherworld technology. After World War II, (there was) the discovery and the uncovering of some very sophisticated technologies that were created in Germany during World War II—swept wing aircraft, jet aircraft, and the “foo fighters” (the phenomena that were following the bombers of the 8th Air Force into Germany that were zipping around the bombers, like globes of light. Thanks to German technology, they invented magnetic tape! We really wouldn’t have a record business if it wasn’t for that. But they also were experimenting in the areas of anti-gravity, and this gets into an area (in which) there’s certainly some controversy about a possible invention called Die Glocke, which utilized some very advanced physics to possibly create a force field that would repel gravity. To me, after the war, both Russia and the United States gained access to those technologies. One could posit that some of what we see is the application of those technologies. I’ll just leave it at that. Could they be sentient beings from another part of the universe? Quite possibly, and there are also explanations that are tangential to that.


RA: After this current series of shows, what are your future plans for the coming year or so? Any plans to do another record?

JB: I haven’t really thought about it. Again, I think that’s something I certainly would aspire to. It’s like having children—maybe you need to wait a little bit. Get familiar with the child you have and enjoy; take advantage of, and just live with and develop what you’ve already done. But certainly, I would like to consider it. This whole solo project was the last thing on my musical bucket list. That doesn’t mean it will be the last thing on the bucket list as a singularity.


RA: Jeff, thank you so very much for taking the time to speak with me this afternoon. Worlds of respect to you, and congratulations on this wonderful new record.

JB: Well, listen, Roy. I really appreciate you taking the time. Flattered is not the right word—I’m honored that you would take the time to spend with me. 

© Roy Abrams 2022