Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Horsehead Five: Another 5 Must-Watch YT Performances

Here are 5 songs that were meant to be witnessed.  Something's happening.  Entertaining magic.  Your ears will love it, but your eyes will love it more.  ~Horsehead

"Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)" - Neil Young & Crazy Horse ("Ragged Glory" tour 1991)

I get it. A thousand times five you've heard this song.  But this particular performance is a bookmark.  One of those magical spells when the music and the audience become one. Neil Young and Crazy Horse play it crunchy, ...but this time, it is the collective mind of the rock crowd that carries the freight to a whole other level. In this joyful juxtaposition of a little over five minutes, the audience becomes the teacher...leaving Neil Young, wearing his Elvis Presley t-shirt, very little doubt the imprint his rock-n-roll stones have cast.

"So What" - Miles Davis (The Robert Herridge Theater, NY - April 2, 1959)

I'm still amazed how cool early television could actually be. Here is Miles Davis (with heavy company) performing his ground-breaking iceberg of a jam..."So What"...broadcasted in 1959 across the airwaves in perfect black-and-white.  This song, along with the classic album, "Kind of Blue" had yet to be it's all new and baby-jazz fresh to listeners. Maybe not his definitive performance, but the historical weight of the music cannot be denied.
For those keeping score:
Miles Davis - trumpet
John Coltrane - tenor sax
Wynton Kelly - piano
Paul Chambers - bass
Jimmy Cobb - drums

"Stagger Lee" - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

Now this one is a bit of a firestick!  I became reacquainted with Nick Cave from Netflix-binging, "Peaky Blinders."  Digging deeper, I found a blistering performance of Nick Cave chewing on the heavily-covered song..."Stagger Lee"...and he swallows it whole.  Absolutely owns it!  And The Bad Seeds are right there with him.  This is good stuff and must-watch YT.  Good Lord, sign me up.

"The Passenger" - Iggy Pop (09-25-77 Apollo Theater, Manchester)

I don't believe Iggy was totally wasted. Not this time. I've seen him much worse.  But he sure looks like he was trippin' nicely none the less.  That Iggy would go on to survive all those indulgences of rock-n-roll is a wonderful wonder.  This is a sweetly fascinating performance of his classic..."The Passenger" and it must be the busload of bass keeping Iggy from falling over.

The Cramps - (California State Mental Hospital in Napa, CA on June 13, 1978)

The Cramps (this is 2 songs, but short) were surprisingly given permission to hold a free concert for patients being treated inside of a mental hospital!  It sounds like a joke, and maybe the idea was in the beginning, but The Cramps played it for real. Hard, fast and with total respect and empathy for their captive audience.
The patients were allowed to wander freely on and off stage and I felt a bit guilty watching the interaction.  I expected to see eye rolls and smirks from the band and was relieved they played it honest.  And while watching, I realised the "line" between them and us may not be that far to cross.  And is it just me, or does the guitar player look like a G.E. Smith doppleganger?

Good stuff.

Casey Chambers

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Interview: -- Joe Bouchard (Blue Oyster Cult)

in the night... 
sirens delight."
~ Blue Oyster Cult ~

Like all great bands and big bad wolves, Blue Oyster Cult will come and blow your house right the fawck down.  They can thunder your windows.  Speedmetal your doors.  But just as likely, they will have already slithered inside.  Slipped through the cracks in the wall.  Lying in wait.  Waiting.  Inside your dark closet.  Behind your bathroom curtain.  Underneath your safe cozy bed.  And it's there where Blue Oyster Cult will bleed you.  They didn't sing so much about the pompatus of love.  Or heaven and hell.  But about reapers and vampires.  Monsters, abductors and screamers. That was their job.

Sure, the Boys in the BOC...Joe Bouchard, Eric Bloom, Albert Bouchard, Buck Dharma, Allen Lanier...could always get right smack in your face.  But they also enjoyed the subtle play and plunder before the confrontation.  They had your head-rockin' long before you realised you were partyin' to a "come-as-you-are" suicide party invitation.  Or jammin' down to a serial killer's proud collection of eyes.  Blue Oyster Cult will always be the Stephen King of heavy metal rock-n-roll.  Now dim the lights, put the record on and see if you can float.

Joe Bouchard (bass, vocals)

Casey Chambers:  My favorite Blue Oyster Cult song, and I have a bunch of favorites from your discog, is "Nosferatu" from the "Spectres" album (1977) and it's one you composed.   It has such a haunting and ominous sound that gets me every time. And yet it's beautiful.

Joe Bouchard:  Yes, definitely.  One of my most popular songs.

Casey Chambers:  How did that song come together for you?

Joe Bouchard:  It came together pretty fast actually.  I had a studio in my garage with this old white grand piano.  And it was pretty much one of those things where I just sat down and improvised.  The reason the song happened at all was because we were supposed to do a tour of Canada and it got cancelled.  So when I came home for a couple of extra days, I got this lyric from my collaborator, Helen Wheels.  She wrote the lyrics and it's pretty much just like she gave it to me.  I wrote the music and it worked out really good. It's definitely a fan favorite.  I still play it.  I don't play it a lot, but I have played it several times in the last few years.

"Nosferatu" -- Blue Oyster Cult /"Spectres" (1977)

Casey Chambers:  It's fantastic.  And it seems fitting that Blue Oyster Cult would open and close the "Spectres" album with an homage to iconic horror films.

Joe Bouchard:  Yes.  It just happened that way.  I don't know who did the sequencing.  It was usually my brother (Albert Bouchard) and the producers.  The other guys might have had some influence.  Of course, you can't go wrong when you start the album with..."Godzilla."  That was a big one for us.  I just played it last weekend with my brother and my nephews up in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  And yeah, I love playing "Godzilla."  It was written by our guitarist Buck Dharma.  Also known as Donald Roeser.  I just heard the demo for that song recently and what we recorded on that album was a lot like his demo.  So he's really responsible for the writing of that song and he did a great job with it.

Casey Chambers:  Oh, yeah. "Godzilla" hits you right in the mouth.  "Nosferatu"...on the other hand, does the haunting slow creep from behind.  Had you occasion to see the movie before sitting down at the piano?

Joe Bouchard:  Ya know, I can't remember watching it then, but I definitely saw the old Dracula movies.  I had seen some of the iconic scenes from "Nosferatu"...but I had never watched the film all the way through until just this last Halloween.  I did this crazy dance mix of "Nosferatu"...and while making the video for Youtube, I did finally watch the whole movie.  I know it sounds blasphemous, (laughs) but I enjoy doing remixes.  I've been doing remixes of songs that I wrote for Blue Oyster Cult.  I finally got around to remixing "Fallen Angel"...which was a single for us in the '80s in England and it was a lot of fun.

Casey Chambers:  Who were some of your influences?  Was the bass your first instrument?

Joe Bouchard:  Well, ya know, before I was a bass player, I was a guitar player.  And I was influenced by all the guitarists from the British Invasion.  Of course, Paul McCartney was a big influence.  He always had the right bass line for the songs. But I think probably my biggest influence as the one bass player I sort of imitate the most was Roger Glover from Deep Purple.

He had a similar way of supporting the band.  And also he uses a pick and uses a fairly aggressive sound.  And that's what I did.  I didn't really think about it consciously at the time.  But now, looking back in retrospect, definitely Roger Glover from Deep Purple was a big influence for me.

Casey Chambers:  Did your paths ever cross?

Joe Bouchard:  Oh yeah!  I saw him in the studio several times.  He's a really, really nice guy.  We actually played on a few of the classic Deep Purple shows back in the '70s.  We did a stadium in Florida.  A few other shows.  They were always a great band to see.  How they worked the audience.  I mean we're talking about the Ritchie Blackmore era.

I actually went to Ritchie Blackmore's house once.  He was living on Long Island.  Now when we were on tour he was...well...notoriously difficult on tour.  I don't know if you've heard the stories...but when we went to his house, he was the nicest guy.  He had a little pub built into his living room and he was very sweet and cordial.   So I think he's one of those guys that has a bit of Jekyll and Hyde.  Anyway, it was interesting.  Martin Birch, who produced a lot of the classic Deep Purple records...was also producing us.  He produced "Burnin' For You" and my song, "Fallen Angel."  We were recording out on Long Island near Ritchie's house, so, yeah it was fun rubbing shoulders with rock stars.

We didn't get to see that many because we were always working.  And once you're on tour, it's sort of a different atmosphere.  And you don't wanna get in anybody's space. We had a few close friends in other bands.  Like Foghat. Phil Lynott. Thin Lizzy and a few others. Lemmy was a good friend of ours. Black Sabbath.  But, most of the bands...we were pretty separate when we were on tour.

Casey Chambers:  Lynott, Lemmy, and Bouchard.  Brother bassists-in-arms.

Joe Bouchard:  Yeah.  Phil even let me use his bass.

Casey Chambers:  How'd that happen?

"Godzilla" -- Blue Oyster Cult / "Spectres" (1977)

Joe Bouchard:  Our equipment didn't show up for a gig.  It was a big show in New York City.  Down at the...I think it was the Palladium.  Our equipment didn't make it and Thin Lizzy was our opening act.  We said, 'Hey, would it be okay if we used your gear?'  And they said, 'Oh sure!  Use whatever you want.'

Casey Chambers:  The instruments are back in town!

Joe Bouchard:  If you see pictures of me with a Fender Bass that has a sort of mirror pickguard...well, that's actually Phil Lynott's bass.   They had some great equipment.  Your basic Marshall amps and Fender guitars. Stuff like that. And we never sounded better! (laughs)  We sounded great on Thin Lizzy's equipment.  It was all good.  We've played a cover of "Jailbreak."  We were definitely good friends of theirs.  But like I said, not that many from that era.

Casey Chambers:  When did you first hear the seed of what would become the song..."(Don't Fear) The Reaper?"  When did you get to put your bass on it?

Joe Bouchard:  I first heard it...and this is another song that was written by our guitarist Buck 1975 when we were developing songs on what was to become our "Agents Of Fortune" album.

Normally, we would be rushed into recording, touring and then going back into the studio to rush out an album...and then going right back out on tour again.  But we had put out a live album in 1975 called, "On Your Feet Or On Your Knees," so that gave us a few extra months to develop some songs.   We would have meetings and play our cassette tapes and say, 'which ones should we work on?'

Buck Dharma brought in the demo for "(Don't Fear) The Reaper."  It!  This is gonna be a hit.  And it was really hard to find a hit for a band like Blue Oyster Cult.  We were definitely different from the regular pop music that was on the radio at the time.  But once we heard "(Don't Fear) The Reaper," I was completely convinced it was gonna be a hit.

We went on a tour of Europe for about six weeks and we played this cassette demo for people from the record company.  And the reaction was the same.  They loved it.  They loved it!  When we came back to New York after the tour, we went into the studio and the rest is history.  I think we did about eight takes.  And the eighth take or maybe it was the seventh take...that was the one.  That's the one that gets played on the radio all the time to this day.

"(Don't Fear) The Reaper" -- Blue Oyster Cult / "Agents Of Fortune" (1976)  

Casey Chambers:  That's good stuff!  What about that creepy middle break?  The mid-section.  Was that there from the very beginning?

Joe Bouchard:  Pretty much.  Very close.  I changed the bass a little bit in that part of the song.

Casey Chambers:  I remember hearing the album track for the first time after listening to the radio play the single edit so often...and my jaw dropped. It was so badass.

Joe Bouchard:  The magic is...after you put this strange part of the song in the middle, you come back to what you heard in the first two verses...and it just becomes...magical.  It gives me chills.  Even now.  I play it a lot as a soloist.  With other bands.  It's like one of those songs that if I go to a gig and I don't play that song, there's gonna be a lot of disappointed people.

Even though I don't play in Blue Oyster Cult, like I used to, it is still one of those signature songs that you cannot get away from.  We were very, very lucky in that respect.  Some bands have hits that are so bad...and they have to play them all the time.  Not so for "...The Reaper."  "...The Reaper" is just in a category by itself.

Casey Chambers:  Absolutely.  It still sounds fresh and I hear it on the radio all the time.

Joe Bouchard:  Yeah. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  What was it like for you guys watching that song take off?

Joe Bouchard:  Well, we were touring at the time.  And the places we played would be, maybe, about half full.  But as soon as "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" took off, it was sellouts night after night.  It was like...Holy Mackerel!  Something happened.  We had bigger tours.  For about six years, we were on top of the business.  It was a tremendous feeling.  I think we put the album out in the spring but wasn't until October that it really took off.  We could see it night after night.  There would be full houses.  We started drawing more females.  Before that, it was just guys in leather jackets and jeans.  "...Reaper" just appealed to everybody.  And the whole complexion of the tours changed after that.  It was really good.

Casey Chambers:  There's a buried treasure, as Tom Petty would say, on side two of "Agents..." that you wrote called "Morning Final."

Joe Bouchard:
 Yes.  Well, I was actually staying in the city at Patti Smith's apartment with Allen Lanier, our keyboard player. They were living together at the time.  We were just sort of crashing at different places.  And there was this murder that happened in the subway.  And the subway stop was like, maybe, 100 feet from the door where I was staying.  So that was the idea.  I read about it in the newspaper.  And I said, 'oh I got to write a song about this.'

"Morning Final" --  Blue Oyster Cult / "Agents of Fortune" (1976)

I never thought it would end up on an album, but you never know.  It did really well.  The guy who plays with Blue Oyster Cult...Richie Castellano...sings the song when they do it live and he does a great job.  They all do an amazing job of playing that song.  But yeah, that's kind of the story.  It happened in the subway.  It was really close to where I was living and it kinda freaked me out.

Casey Chambers:  Blood on the tracks and Patti and Lanier in the kitchen.  Scary stuff! (laughs)

Joe Bouchard:  Yeah. (laughs)  But ya know, that was kinda what Blue Oyster Cult wrote about.  Science-fiction and bizarre mysteries.  Stuff that wasn't your typical love song type of thing.  Although "...Reaper" managed to slip in not only science-fiction and horror but a love song at the same time, ya know?  That's part of the magic.

Casey Chambers:  Yeah, and that was part of what made the band stand out.  That ominous edginess.  And "Agents Of Fortune" was my entry point into your discography.  So, it's a special one...and absolutely a terrific one.  But not necessarily your best one.  I'd argue that the band hit a high bar, both before and after that album.  In fact, starting with BOC's debut in '72, you guys had an incredibly long streak of killer albums.

Joe Bouchard:  Yeah.  Yeah.  I agree.  It was really strong on all levels.

Casey Chambers:  Let me switch gears.  I picked up your CD..."Jukebox In My Head" I'd never seen before and it's just killer.  I was crankin' the song... "Travelin' Freak Show" all week.  Hope to find it on vinyl.

Joe Bouchard:  Oh yeah, yeah.  That's on my first solo album.  It came out in 2009.  The drummer from Lynyrd Skynyrd, Michael Cartellone, plays the great drum part on that.  That was a lot of fun.

"Travelin' Freak Show" -- Joe Bouchard / "Jukebox In My Head" (2009)

I wrote that song because I heard Alice Cooper on the radio talking about these wild leather boys that became Alice Cooper.  And I was thinking...yeah, a travelin' freak show.   That's what it was like for Alice Cooper back in the day.  So that was the inspiration for that one.  And, of course, I was part of a touring band myself for 16 years, so I know what a travelin' freak show is like. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  I bet!  That song begs to be cranked to 11.

Joe Bouchard:  Yeah, there's a lot of good tracks on that album.  It's also available on vinyl.  You probably have the first version, but I do have a version now with extended mixes.

Casey Chambers:  Do you ever play that song in your set?

Joe Bouchard:  Ya know, I've never played that one live, but I really should.  One of the problems have to tune the guitar to a drop C sharp.  It's like a really low tuning on the guitar.  And with so many songs to do, I just don't have an extra guitar to tune to a low C Sharp.  But I should give it a try.  I will.  I'll say, 'Casey told me to do it.' (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  Great, I'll own it! (laughs)  And you released another album just this past year.

Joe Bouchard:  Yes. I actually have four solo albums now.  The latest is called, "The Power Of Music" (2016) and it's receiving great reviews.  One of the songs getting a lot of attention is "Walk With The Devil."  It's a sorta rewrite of the old story of the bluesman going down to the crossroads and making a deal with the devil.  So I kind of made it a bit more contemporary and put more modern electric guitar figures in the lyrics.

"Walk With The Devil" -- Joe Bouchard / The Power Of Music" (2016)

Jimi Hendrix is mentioned in that song as well as Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck...and the idea of how the electric guitar developed.  And the guitar solos in the song get more and more frantic as it goes on.  It was a lot of fun to put together.
And there are other songs from that record that are really interesting, as well.  My friend John Cook has written quite a few songs for me and my other band Blue Coupe...and he wrote "Photographic Evidence" which is a really good one.

My two other albums are "Tales From The Island" (2012) and "New Solid Black" (2014) and they're both a lot of fun.   I love doing solo albums because I get to make all the decisions. (laughs)  I love working in a band too, but there's something about doing an album on your own.  I record them myself.  I produce them myself.  I'm the artist, but I have to be two people.  And I'll think, 'Well, what would Martin Birch do?  What would Sandy Pearlman say?  Would he tell me to go out and sing it again?'  I conjure up all the people I've worked with when I'm working on my albums.  I really love doing them.

Casey Chambers:  You mentioned your other band Blue Coupe.  That's Dennis Dunaway, Albert Bouchard, and yourself. What have you guys been up to?

Joe Bouchard:  Oh, Blue Coupe, yes.  Well, last year Dennis put out his autobiography.  We're talking about Dennis Dunaway.  Founder of Alice Cooper.  It did really well, so we did a lot of shows to promote his book.

We did the Strand Bookstore.  It's a famous bookstore in New York City.  We actually played a bunch of acoustic shows.  We played the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  We had a big reception there.

"You (Like Vampires)" --  Blue Coupe / "Tornado on the Tracks" (2013)

Plans are definitely on the table for a new Blue Coupe album. We're starting to book shows for later this year.  We are going down to Florida to do a thing.  We've got a couple of benefits up here in New England.  And it's fun playing with Dennis and my brother Albert.

Casey Chambers:  I'm a big fan of Xmas albums. I can't seem to stop picking them up.  And I heard you were going to be doing a song or two.

Joe Bouchard:  I just did a Christmas album with my brother. All original new songs.  It's called "Manic Panic Christmas." (Albert & the Sleigh Riders)  Albert has been working on this for three years.  He wrote some Christmas songs and was....'well what are we gonna do with them?'

He got some other artists in New York.  He got Joey Ramone's brother, Mickey Leigh to do one of the vocals.  And he sounds just like his brother.  It's awesome.  And Christine Ohlman, who was a singer in the Saturday Night Live Band does an amazing vocal.  Joe Hurley does another song that's really cool.  So it was a lot of our friends from the New York area doing this holiday album.  I sing two songs on it and they're really good.  But it came out late, so you'll hear more of it next Christmas.  We're going to reissue it next year with some remixes and we'll get it out around November.

Casey Chambers:  Joy to the world, yo. (laughs)

Joe Bouchard:  Oh yeah. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  I'd like to find out what you've been spinning.  Is there an album or two that's been stroking your ears that you would recommend?

Joe Bouchard:  That's a good question.  I like that new Rolling Stones album..."Blue & Lonesome."  I was listening to The Suicide Squad album.  That's a really cool album.  Kings Of Leon.  I like the one they just put out..."Walls."  But mostly, I listen to older stuff.

When I'm writing, I don't want to listen to too much new stuff because I want to see if I can figure out my own thing.  So, I don't listen as much for pleasure as I'd like to.  I think my favorite new album really is The Stones.  It's just a good listening album.  It's simple.  Real bluesy.  Not a lot of bells and whistles, just good basic rock music.

Casey Chambers:  Well, I want to thank you very much for allowing me to cherry-pick a few things.  I could spend all day discussing your music and how much I've enjoyed it.  You've been more than generous with your time.

Joe Bouchard:  Oh, no problem.  It was great.  It was fun talking to you. Thanks so much.

Joe Bouchard Official Website
Blue Coupe Official Website
Blue Oyster Cult

I'll leave everyone with Joe Bouchard's..."Screams"...from Blue Oyster Cult's self-titled debut.  Enjoy!

"Screams" --  Blue Oyster Cult / Blue Oyster Cult (1972) 

Good stuff.

Casey Chambers
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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

7 Favorite Books I Read In 2016

7 Favorite  Books  I  Read  In  2016

Every book is a new book if you haven't read it yet!  And so, let us begin.

"Doctor Sleep" - Stephen King (2013)
...I was just sure I knew how "The Redrum Kid" would turn out.  And, honestly, I was expecting King to fuck it up.  I mean, why play Jenga with The Shining anyway.  But I was wrong on both counts.  Now look, I don't know if I'll ever catch-up with the human printing press...but Lordy, ain't it fun trying.

"Unbroken" - Laura Hillenbrand (2010) ...Holy Schnikes! How much shit can the human spirit handle?  Page-turning non-fiction about WWII survival and POW brutality.  Truly inspiring and hard to imagine.

"Zero Cool" - John Lange (aka Michael Crichton) (1969)...This is pulpish fiction from early Crichton.  A slice of pulp, now and then, is great for occasionally breaking up the more pompous-ass novels that require just a tad more effort...if you get my drift.  Easy, fun read.

"The Family" - Ed Sanders (2002)...This is Charles Manson's world.  Graphically detailed and filled with head-shaking "almosts and what-ifs."  The author is counterculture ex-Fugs member, Ed Sanders, who is a trip unto himself.  Plenty of celebrity name-dropping and hints of satanism and sado-whateverisms.  If you are the least bit interested in the Manson'll have a hard time putting the book down.  (Note to self:  add Fugs album to my collection.)

In a Glass Darkly - J. Sheridan Le Fanu (1872)...A solid short-story collection of wonderful Victorian creepiness.  The last two stories (novellas actually) are especially cream.  "The Room in the Dragon Volant" is a dark mysterioso and "Carmilla" is a fantastic vampire story that beat Bram Stoker to the punch by 20 years. (This is an Amazon freebie for Kindle readers.)

"Altar Of Eden" - James Rollins (2010)
...Let me be up front by saying I'm a big fan of James Rollins.  His books are always thrill-rides that take off before you barely have time to say, "hey, hi you!"  This one is about genetic experimenting gone south, wrapped around scientific facts and possibilities.  Not his best, but it scratched my itch.

"Raptor" - Gary Jennings (1993)...One of the strangest historical novels I've ever read.  It follows the life of a hermaphrodite back in the 5th century of Eastern Europe, who rises to importance while trying to keep it all on the down-low.  Despite the taboo goings-on, Jennings hands us quite an adventure.

And once again,  "Every book is a new book if you haven't read it yet!"  Go out and get you one.

"I'm Reading A Book"  -  Julian Smith

Good stuff!

Casey Chambers

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Interview: -- James Walsh (Gypsy)

~ Gypsy ~

Gypsy should be a classic rock staple everywhere.  The band had been fine-tuning their musical talents nightly, feasting on overlong house band hours before finally hitting the studio to record their 1970 self-titled debut. By this time, Gypsy was well-oiled and well-tested. And it showed.

It was album rock with a shot of prog.  Cosmic vocals and harmonies with hits of jazz-psych.  Together, you have an almost majestic album.

The band quickly followed with two more albums of equally enjoyable tracks while touring the world with songs just begging classic rock radio crankage.  By their fourth, and final album, Gypsy was long past frustrated and direction-torn.

I was lucky to discover Gypsy while killing time on a recent vinyl-dig.  It was a total blind buy, struck by the beautiful album cover.  As any vinyl enthusiast will quickly tell you, there isn't a much better feeling than dropping the needle on a blind-buy and being pleasantly knocked out by the sound.   Gypsy is just a perfect example of a really good band making really good music getting lost in the sham of the business. Ask your radio to play'em. In the meantime, go out and get you some.

Gypsy (James Walsh Top-Left)

Casey Chambers:  Gypsy released their first album in 1970. What was leading up to that?  How did you score your record deal with Metromedia?

James Walsh:  Gypsy was the house band at the Whisky-a-Go-Go and we played every night of the week.  We'd come early and they'd feed us.  We'd taken over the gig from Chicago after they debuted their double album and left.  We took over their spot.  We got to play with Little Richard and when King Crimson first came to the United States, they played there and we were the opening act for them.  And of course, every night at the Whisky a lot of people...and a lot of record people...hung around there.  It was fun.  Good times.

And Tommy Valando and Artie Valando, who were the president and vice-president of Metromedia came in one night.  They saw us.  Got interested.  And made us an offer.  We had also gotten an offer from Atlantic Records, but we went with Metromedia because they only had one other artist at the time...Bobby Sherman.  He was a TV star who already had a kind of built-in audience, so we thought we would have less chance of being lost in the shuffle going with them.

It was kind of a launching pad deal for us.  But subsequently, it was the wrong decision.  We should have gone with Atlantic.  But that's how we got the record deal.

Casey Chambers:  For Gypsy, or any band for that matter, to release a double album as their debut is a pretty ballsy move. A lot of bands would have sandbagged some songs for their follow-up.  Was that your intent from the very beginning?

James Walsh:  Yeah, well halfway through (recording) our album, we realized we had a lot of good material.  And many of the songs were very long.  Seven, eight...10 minutes long.  So we went to the Vallando Brothers and asked them to let us expand our project into a double album.  Of course, it all had to do with money, 'cause budgets were tight.  After a lot of arguing and negotiating, they let us do it.  We went from a budget of $20,000 to $43,000.  And in 1970, that was a lot of money.  It was a big move for them.  But I think that was a big part of the album's success.

Casey Chambers:  And when the needle drops, the killer opening track, "Gypsy Queen (Part One)" of many lost gems on your self-titled debut...feeds the listener's head.  What a great song to lead-off the album.

"Gypsy Queen (Part One)" -- Gypsy / "Gypsy" (1970)

James Walsh:  Yeah we thought that was the strongest song.  And we got some radio play on it.  That one and "Dead And Gone" were the most successful songs off that album.

Casey Chambers:  "Dead And Gone" was an 11-minute free-ride that hung a progadelic louie three minutes in.  Probably my favorite track.  What were your thoughts when Metromedia edited down the song for single release?

James Walsh:  That was a decision out of our hands. We didn't have much say on it.  The song was just too long for radio.  Nobody was playing anything that long back then.  I didn't like it. If you have a painting, you don't want to just see half of it.

"Dead And Gone" -- Gypsy / "Gypsy" (1970)

Casey Chambers:  Gypsy was very much an album band. When you guys were recording a lengthier number like "Dead And Gone," how difficult was it to get it down?

James Walsh:  My keyboard parts were all worked out in advance.  We did all that pre-production stuff at home, so we knew what we were going to play when we got into the studio. But we didn't have the freedom to cut and paste like they do today with the digital.  It was all tape.  Analog tape.  So, we had to play those songs from the front to the back without stopping.  And sometimes it did get very frustrating when we were six minutes into the song and someone made a mistake.  And then you'd have to go back and start over, but we got through it.

Casey Chambers:  What was the songwriting process like for you guys?

James Walsh:  Enrico Rosenbaum (lead singer) would usually come up with a lyrical idea.  Or maybe a riff or two.  And then Jim Johnson (guitarist, vocals) and I would arrange the songs. Like all of the middle section of "Dead And Gone" was done by Jim and I.  And all the song beginnings were done by Jim and I.  That was kind of our forte.  Enrico was the lyricist and we were the instrumental parts of the whole thing.  Three minds on it.  That's what I think brought a special edge to our music.

Casey Chambers:  Your first songwriting credit for Gypsy was the jazzy-psych mood-slide..."The Third Eye." How did you go about presenting that song to the band?

James Walsh:  We had regular songwriting meetings where we got together to rehearse and we'd present our songs.  And it was always nice to have other people's input, ya know?  Then we would work on it, if we decided we might record it.  Prior to doing an album, we would put together maybe 20 or 25 songs and then slowly work it down to the ones that were going to be on the album.

"The Third Eye" -- Gypsy / "Gypsy" (1970) 

Casey Chambers:  After the album dropped, did you guys hit the road running?

James Walsh:  All over the country, yeah.  And then when we did our second album, we toured all over the world.  We were the opening act for The Guess Who for two and half years.   We traveled everywhere with them.

Casey Chambers:  That's cool.  I guess you got to know those guys pretty well.

James Walsh:  Oh yeah.  Their (record) company actually bought our company. We flew everywhere.  We didn't travel by bus, 'cause you couldn't get away with it back then.  Not with all the equipment.  Yeah, we knew them very well.

Casey Chambers:  You mentioned Gypsy's second album, "In The Garden" (1971), another progadelic gem begging rediscovery.  The 12-minute epic..."As Far As You Can See" just killer.  What a great song and intro.

James Walsh:  Our drummer, Bill Lordan, and I were at the studio one night.  We were just kind of monkeying around looking for something to tag onto the front of that song.  It's kinda eerie the way it starts and then becomes more and more aggressive with the keyboards and guitars and stuff. It worked out perfect and we still play that song, too.

"As Far As You Can See" -- Gypsy / "In The Garden" (1971)

Casey Chambers:  Earlier, you'd mentioned taking over the house band gig from Chicago.  When you guys recorded your 4th album, "Unlock The Gates" in '73, you had Chicago's horn section sit-in, right?

James Walsh:  Yeah, Chicago were good friends of ours. Every Sunday, we'd play some sports with them.  Gypsy against Chicago.  And we were just talking one day about having horns on an album.  It took us about three months to get permission from Columbia Records to let them do it, but they finally did and it was a lot of fun.  And that kind of led into what is today's band.  Now we've got four horns and it's a 10 piece band.  And that was kind of the start of that.  I love the horns.

Casey Chambers:  Gypsy got the chance to perform at both of the legendary Fillmores.  What a nice coup for anyone's bucket list.

James Walsh:  Fabulous places. Well run. Great crowds.  And we played both East and West several times. Gypsy played at the west coast Fillmore with Spirit and Savoy Brown.  And we also played at the New York Fillmore with Poco and Savoy Brown a couple of times.  So it was a lot of fun.  For $2.00 a night, you'd see three great bands.

Casey Chambers:  Wow, you're killing me.

James Walsh:  Yeah, no kidding.  It's crazy.

Casey Chambers:  In 1978, you released a new album under the moniker..."James Walsh Gypsy Band", which had more pop-rock leanings.  More horns and blue-eyed funkiness.  "Cuz It's You Girl" was the break-out track and it was no wonder.  The song was catchy and very much a part of the times.

"Cuz It's You Girl" -- James Walsh Gypsy Band / "James Walsh Gypsy Band" (1978)

James Walsh:  Well, I had come home in 1975 from Los Angeles after Gypsy had kind of lost its momentum and I started another band and presented some songs to Warren Schatz who was the A&R director for RCA Records.  He fell in love with, "Cuz It's You Girl" and subsequently gave me a record deal.  So we recorded that album here in Minneapolis and it did very well.  We went on a tour with that for a couple of years.

And there's a lot of great instrumental stuff on it, too.  We had the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra play with us on that album.  Big orchestra.  About 40 pieces.  It was pretty cool.  We had an idea we wanted to add some strings and we thought...if we were going to do it, let's do it right.  So we made some calls to the union and got ahold of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.  We put charts together and the leader came down and reviewed the material.  It cost about $7,500 to have them in for one day.  But it worked out well.  That record is still being sold by RCA all over the world.

Casey Chambers:  Before I forget, I'd like to back up and ask you about the time Gypsy played the Atlanta Pop Festival in 1970.

James Walsh:  That show was huge.  There was about 350,000 people there. And it was almost the same lineup as Woodstock.  Hendrix and all the great ones were there.  And they had to helicopter us in and out.  It was a mess getting anywhere.  But it was really incredible.  Yeah, it was just awesome.

Casey Chambers:  What a memory-burn that must have been.  Did you cross paths with Hendrix at the show?

James Walsh:  Absolutely.  Yes.  And Jimi also came out to see us at the Whisky A Go Go.  And he came out to our house and stayed with us for a couple of days.

Casey Chambers:  Get out!

James Walsh:  Yeah, he was a very nice guy.  Very quiet.  A gentleman.  It was great.  Got to play a little bit with him, too. Talk music. And, Jimi was a veteran like our guitar player, Jim Johnson, so they had a lot to discuss about that. It was a nice time.

Casey Chambers:  There is a documentary..."Gypsy: Rock & Roll Nomads"...that just came out.

James Walsh:  Yes, and it's doing very well  It's won some film festival awards up here in the city.  And it recently played at the St. Louis International Film Festival.  I think they're planning on going to Sundance with it, as well.  It's really quite an honor after all this time, ya know?  We never quite reached the level we had hoped to.  But this documentary certainly puts everything into perspective for us.

"Gypsy: Rock & Roll Nomads" Official Trailer (2016)

Casey Chambers:  I watched the trailer.  Can't wait to see it. Plus you guys are going to be hitting the stage again real soon.  It's going to be great hearing those classic songs bleed the amps.

James Walsh:  Oh yeah.  People still love hearing those songs in concert.  Matter of fact, when we play, the first 30 or 35 minutes is constant music.  It's pretty cool.  We're going to be performing two shows down in St. Louis at the Wildey Theatre on January 28, 2017.  We're also going to be at the River City Casino in St. Louis in April.

Casey Chambers:  Excellent. That's gonna be some good stuff.  James, it has been a pleasure.  Thanks for hanging out.

James Walsh:  Well, I appreciate it, Casey.

Gypsy Official Website
Gypsy Facebook

Good stuff.

Casey Chambers

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Interview:-- Bob James (Jazz Keyboardist - Arranger)

"...keep making music with conviction and passion and hope for the best."
~ Bob James ~

The smooth jazz genre has had more than its share of eye-rolling albums that got rushed into stores by maypop musicians hoping to cash in.  All air. No substance.

Bob James doesn't play that.  This is the good stuff.  When it comes to smooth jazz...Bob James knows how to ice a cake. Whether solo or surrounded by jazz cronies, Bob has never...ever...kept his Fender Rhodes keyboard on a short leash.

Bob James is 76 now.  At least that's what he claims it says on his passport.  He's a multi-Grammy award winner.  And for over 40 years, Bob's success and longevity can be seen and heard, not just from his own albums or the abundant work he's laid down with other artists...but within the hip-hop community, as well.  Yes, Bob James' work has become somewhat of a "go-to sample cabinet" for DJs and hip-hop producers.

Bob continues to create inspiring jazz breezes and storms with crazy-good arrangements that simply...take us there.  Grab your bags.

Bob James

Casey Chambers:  All great artists have at least one...if they're lucky.  So I'd like to jump right in and ask about the wonderful elephant in the room, your signature jazz piece..."Angela."   How did that beautiful song come together?

Bob James:  Well, I guess it's one of those things, Casey, where sometimes the stars fall into alignment and something very pivotal happens.

The whole project of working on music for the TV series..."Taxi"...came about in a very indirect way to me because I was just making my jazz records.  Doing some touring.

I got a call from the producers of "Taxi" saying that they had a copy of my fourth CTI album..."BJ4" (1977) and had been using it as experimental music when trying to establish mood for the series.  And they asked if I would go into the studio and record more music for them in a similar style or vein.

"BJ4" (1977)

So, I was very happy to get the offer.  Nevertheless, I was aware that music cues in 30 minute TV sitcoms were usually very, very short.  And I wasn't sure I could establish a similar kind of mood like one gets when playing extended six, seven or eight-minute album cuts that allow for soloing and the groove having a chance to develop.

I recommended that they allow me to treat the recording session just as if I was doing something for an album project. And so I did.  As I recall, I did about five or six different songs.  One of which I had thought would be an appropriate theme because I was expecting a show about noisy New York City taxi drivers with noisy car horns or whatever.  A very energetic kind of feeling.

Casey Chambers:  Right, I can see that.

Bob James:  But unbeknownst to me, they were already working on the opening shot of a cab going across the bridge at dusk.  And when they heard this other particular song ("Angela") which didn't even have a title at the time...they really responded to it.  They loved it.  They were wanting to go against the grain of the obvious frenetic music and go for something mellow.  I felt...who was I to argue?  I was just happy they liked it. (laughs)

"Taxi" Opening and Closing Theme

They later used that song in one of the early episodes ("Blind Date"...Season One : Episode 3) which was a story that involved a character named Angela.  That's how the song got its title.  And that ended up being what happened.

Casey Chambers:  How soon did you record "Angela" after you wrote it?

Bob James:  Well, very quickly.  Because they were already in the process of working on the show and on a deadline.  I convinced their music editor to treat my music as a kind of library, rather than doing specific cues and timing.

So over the seven-year history of the series, they gave me a budget to just go into the studio and record music without thinking about the timing.  And all of that ended up being the source music in a kind of "Taxi" music library, which they would pick from as they were working on each individual episode.  I did all the music in New York and they prepared, produced and edited the series in California.

"Touchdown" (1978)

Casey Chambers:  I remember spinning "Touchdown" (1978) and hearing the full-length album version of "Angela" for the first time.  It is so good, as is Eric Gale's guitar solo on it.

Bob James:  I couldn't agree with you more.  I absolutely love that solo.  He was a great, great artist and contributed so much to my music.  I miss Eric a lot.

Before I released "Touchdown", I had been naming all my albums based on numbers leading up to "BJ4."  I used a cover photograph of a nickel for my fifth album, "Heads" (1977) and I wanted to stay with the number series but make it a bit of a riddle.  Of course, it represented six points and it was my sixth album.

By the way, the song that I had originally recorded thinking it might be used as the main theme for "Taxi"...ended up being the title track on "Touchdown."  The very same piece.

"Touchdown" --  Bob James / "Touchdown" (1978)

Casey Chambers:  Funny how things work out, isn't it?  And they're both great songs.  It must have been a real backstroke hearing your music on the radio and TV week after week.

Bob James:  Oh absolutely.  I loved it. The show became a big hit.  Had a lot of fans.  It was a very sophisticated, really funny comedy that ended up going into syndication all over the world.

To this day, "Angela" is still the most requested piece that I have.  And I've heard artists talk a lot about how they get so tired of having to play the same piece over and over again.  Especially if it's a novelty piece that's trendy or something and then 20 years later it's not a novelty anymore.

And now, here it is, over 30 years later and the song still makes me happy every time I play it.  I have a guitar player in my band right now...Perry Hughes...who was also a big fan of Eric Gale,  and plays in a similar style.  And we can conjure up that mood very easily in live performance.

And I've tried to think back...what was the formula?  How can I do that again?  But then I realize there is no formula for something like that.  You just have to keep marching forward and keep making music with conviction and passion and hope for the best.

Casey Chambers:  Switching gears, you played the keyboards and did string arrangements on Paul Simon's "Still Crazy After All These Years." (1975)  How did that come about?

"Still Crazy After All These Years"  -  Paul Simon (1975)

Bob James:  Good timing. (laughs)  Michael Tannen, who was Paul's manager, was also my manager at that time.  And as I recall, Paul was looking to add a little bit of jazz influence in his arrangements.  I was doing a lot of studio work as a pianist, so he hired me to come in and play on his album.

One of my assignments was writing the arrangement for the title track..."Still Crazy After All These Years."  It was an amazing, very challenging, and very nervous-making assignment because Paul was an extremely demanding artist in the studio.  Very, very strong opinions and very deep into his own thoughts.

We had a large orchestra in the studio.  The whole room was full of musicians.  There were strings and woodwinds and french horns...whatever.  And it was expensive, although I don't think Paul really cared that much about how much it cost because he had plenty of budget to work with.

But when he first heard my arrangement for "Still Crazy After All These Years",  he immediately started picking it apart and wanting to change it.  He wanted to eliminate this or change that and I was kind of panicky.  It was not that easy to change things that I had spent several weeks preparing...the orchestration.  But I plunged forward and we tried doing the song a bunch of different ways because I wanted to cooperate with him, obviously, and I wanted to make him happy.

My most proud moment, though, and I still remember it so clearly, after several hours of him picking away at my arrangement and changing it all, Paul came over to me and said, 'Bob, do you think you could go back and try it the way you originally wrote it one more time?' (laughs)  And we did. And that is the arrangement you hear on the record.  Pretty much exactly the way I wrote it.  And the album went on to win Record Of The Year at the Grammy Awards that year.

"Still Crazy After All These Years"  --  Paul Simon / "Still Crazy..." (1975)

Casey Chambers:  Wow, that's a great story.

Bob James:  I love that story, too.  It has a very happy ending.

Casey Chambers:  Did you know the song was going to be the coveted title track at that point?

Bob James:  I don't think so.  I really wasn't...I was just a sideman hired to play a session and write a couple of arrangements, so to my memory, no.  Certainly, the fact that it ended up at the Grammy Awards was way beyond my comprehension of what could have happened.

Casey Chambers:  Well congratulations, again.  Fifty ways to win a Grammy! (laughs)  I'd like to jump back to your first album you made for CTI..."One." (1974)  That included the fantastic "dim the lights" instrumental version of "Feel Like Making Love", which you also helped Roberta Flack take to #1.  Both are equally pleasing.

"One" (1974)

Bob James:  Yes, that was another very pivotal moment for me, for sure.  Great song by Gene McDaniels, who was just a wonderful songwriter.  And once again, it was a little bit random that I was asked to play as a sideman on Roberta Flack's recording of that song.  I loved it.  We all loved it.  We all just thought this song was magical.  It's gonna be a hit.   Especially when we heard Roberta start to sing it.

Right after that session, I was in meetings with Creed Taylor to sign on to do my own album.  I was trying to choose material and I had made a comment to him that I had just recorded this fantastic song and it would be really great to do the first instrumental cover version of it.

And it was within maybe two weeks after I did Roberta's session that I went in the studio with almost the exact same rhythm section.  I had Eric Gale on guitar.  Gary King on bass. I think it was Idris Muhammad on drums.  It was my Fender Rhodes piano.  And we performed it in the same key with almost the same groove.  And what ended up happening is Roberta took longer to finish her record than I did.  My record actually came out first.  And Roberta was not very happy about that.

But we ended up making friends and it did not stand in the way of her version becoming a big hit.  In fact, at that time, many of the disc jockey's were playing both versions back to back.  'Cause it had a nice continuity of essentially the same mood.

"Feel Like Making Love"  --  Bob James Quartet (2010)

Casey Chambers:  I was a fan of "Breaking Bad" during its run and my ears perked up when I heard your version come through my speakers.  It was the episode where Walter takes his clothes off in a supermarket!  Surprising and perfect at the same time.  40 years later and the song is still making people shed their clothes.  Did you happen to see that?

Bob James:  I believe so.  I've had several friends talk about it, which is great.  I've just come back from touring all over Europe and went to a few cities I'd never been to before.  And I was playing "Feel Like Making Love" on that tour.  And the song was still getting great recognition.  It's a song that's just become a part of R&B history and just about everybody knows it.

Casey Chambers:  What have you been working on recently that we might not be aware of?

Bob James:  I kind of shifted gears two years ago and started working on a lot of classical music and composed a piano concerto that got premiered by the Tokyo Philharmonic last September.  I also had a second performance of it here in Michigan just this past June.  It was a very stimulating and challenging change in direction.  And it left me wanting to do a recording project incorporating some of that same element but still staying within the jazz world.

Casey Chambers:  Now that sounds interesting.

Bob James:  My most recent work has been with Fourplay.  We have an album called "Silver" (2015) that represents our 25th anniversary.  I also did an album titled, "The New Cool" (2015) just last year with Nathan East (bassist) from Fourplay.

"The New Cool"  -  Bob James and Nathan East (2015)

But, a studio's been 10 years since I've had a full out studio album under my own name.  I'm way overdue.  I've been working on many ideas here in my home studio and I'm just trying to zero in on a concept to do next.

Casey Chambers:  Well, you have certainly given fans a tremendous body of work to taste through the years.  Each album has been an adventure unto itself and we will definitely be looking forward to your next one.

Bob James:  I appreciate that.  That's the way it has felt for me my whole life.  That's the way I feel about music.  Especially with jazz.  It's a new adventure every time out.

Casey Chambers:  Well, Bob thank you very much for your time this morning.  I've really enjoyed talking with you.

Bob James:  I'm happy to have been a guest, Casey.  Great talking to you, too.

"Angela" -- Bob James / Live At Montreux (1985)

Bob James Official Website

Good stuff!

Casey Chambers

Friday, September 30, 2016


Let's do the Pandora Shuffle...
...and see what the fates allow.

Warren Zevon
Excitable Boy (1978)

I think God created Warren Zevon to help us all learn a bit of history and geography.  You know he's going to drop a name or place in somewhere...and I've come to appreciate his cultural awareness.  In this instance...the Spanish Civil War...delivered in an achingly beautiful Zevon way. Also, I believe he drops a pennywhistle into the arrangement.

"Embraceable You"
Barney Kessel
Plays For Lovers (1953-1988)

I have never met anyone that didn't like Barney Kessel...except for those who have not had the pleasure of hearing him play.  And that's a shame.

"Sufficiently Breathless"
Captain Beyond
Sufficiently Breathless (1973)

The title track has aged surprisingly well. Great arrangement. Has a groovy acoustic thing going on with a dusting of some tasty fuzz guitar. The group included members of Deep Purple and Iron Butterfly.

"Lover's Cross"
Jim Croce
I Got A Name (1973)

Most everyone has heard everything by Jim Croce.  This song was from his final studio album..."I Got A Name".   Sometimes you just have to shake your head and wonder...what if?

"I Can't Keep From Talking"
Golden Smog
Weird Tales (1998)

Another supergroup side-project with Jeff Tweedy (Wilco)...Gary Louris (The Jayhawks)...Dan Murphy (Soul Asylum) and swinging-door other ones.  Makes for a "feel-good heading out-the-door" kind of song...and if I could play the guitar worth a lick...I'd play it.

"Fuel To The Fire"
Rory Gallagher
Photo Finish (1978)

What a forgotten gem.  Pandy did me right shuffling this number to my ears.  Only 47 when he died, Rory was never a media darling like many others of his ilk...but my ears hear the truth.

Well, that's the Pandora Shuffle for this week...and not a "thumbs-down" in the bunch.
Till next time...
"Say goodnight, Pandora."
(( "Goodnight, Pandora!" ))

Casey Chambers
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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Interview:-- Joan Staley (Actress - Classic Movies & Television)

 "Elvis, do you really want me to slap you?" 
~ Joan Staley ~  

  So my friends and I were talking about first crushes. First tv and movie crushes.  For me, it was easy.  It was Alma. (Joan Staley)   I broke into the double-digit age of 10 in 1993.  That was the summer I discovered my favorite Don Knotts movie while flipping thru cable one Saturday morning..."The Ghost and Mr. Chicken."

Everyone has seen it.  It was a funny haunted house story similar to an episode on Andy G. with a cast of familiar characters, trippy organ music, and the prettiest girl I had ever seen...Alma.

She was beautiful alright.  I was love-stung so bad, I swear I could smell flowers coming out of the TV set.  And best of all, she was nice.  She didn't like the smart alec, the wise guy, or the show-off.  Alma was digging Luther (Don Knotts) and that just made her that much prettier.  And from then on...

But unfortunately, time and puberty wouldn't let her wait for me.  I still watch "The Ghost..." every chance I get, and I still keep that first celluloid crush protected alongside Jamie Lee Curtis, Molly Ringwald, and other movie crushes that were yet to come in my adolescent youth.  Anyway, I went on to 5th grade and learned that Joan Staley went on to tally-up 30 other films including an Elvis movie, which is just plain cool.  Plus over 300 tv shows. Did a bit of singing. Has managed dozens of artists from Mel Torme to Manhattan Transfer. And was Playboy's Miss November back when the magazine still meant something. I guess even at 10, I knew she was special.

Joan Staley

Casey Chambers:  The first movie I saw you in, and it's still one of my all-time favorites, was "The Ghost And Mr. Chicken." (1966)  I like everything about this movie.

Joan Staley:  I love that movie.  I saw it just the other night on television.  And it really holds up.  That was one of my last films.

I had been doing a television series called, "Broadside" (1964-1965) which was a female counterpart to "McHales Navy."  The pilot was done on the "McHale's Navy" (set) and followed some of the same structure.  It ran for a year on ABC.  I played Roberta "Honey-Hips" Love, who was in the Navy as a WAVE and was an ex-stripper.  It was a total dumb blonde type character.
TV Guide Jan. 1965
Anyway, Eddie Montagne, who was the producer of that television show said, 'Joan,  I have something I want you to do.  It's with Don Knotts.'  And I said, 'Sold!' (laughs)  It was wonderful when Eddie Montagne told me that my part in "The Ghost And Mr. Chicken" was going to be a straight role.  He gave me a brief thumbnail and I said, 'Absolutely.'  So, that's how it came about.

And I loved working with Don Knotts.  He was great!  He was a total perfectionist.  And he was incredibly prepared.  We shot the movie in 17 days.

Casey Chambers:  That sounds incredibly fast.

Joan Staley:  Yeah, it was.  We followed virtually television scheduling.  And "The Ghost And Mr. Chicken" outgrossed the Cary Grant movie released that same year.  So the studio was very happy.

Casey Chambers:  Eat my dust, Cary!

"The Ghost and Mr. Chicken" Trailer (1966)

Joan Staley:  Absolutely.  And Dick Sargent was co-starring in it, too, and he and Don and I went on a tour.  We covered the South and the East for about two weeks, just hitting one city after another.  Sometimes two cities in one day.  And that was...exhausting! (laughs)  But the movie was opening in those cities and that's what killed it.  And Don was such an incredible worker.  He was fighting a blood clot in his leg, which I didn't know about at the time and should not have been on the road.  But it was taken care of.

Casey Chambers:  So, when you guys were touring, you would actually appear at different theaters where the movie was playing?

Joan Staley:  Right.  Most of them were theaters and some of them were just for the newspapers and press conferences, where lots of questions would be fired at us.  But usually, it was at the theaters.

Casey Chambers:  When did you finally get to watch "The Ghost..." for the first time?

Joan Staley:  While we were on our press tour, we never saw the whole thing.  It was always piecemeal. (laughs)  It wasn't till we got back in L.A. that we watched it for the first time.  And I enjoyed it.  I thought...Wow!  This really clicks all the way through.  The character actors that they had, even in the minor roles, were stars.  Some of them had been stars in silent screen.  So they were all pros.  And it all was pretty much one take unless there was a malfunction of equipment.

Casey Chambers:  I recognized quite a few of them. And it was fun picking them out.  Real thespian veterans.  Was there a favorite scene or otherwise that you recall from the shoot?
Joan Staley:  Well, one scene...and it was not a favorite...but it was the picnic scene.  They used reflectors on an outside shot to catch the sun as well as the hot lights.  And their purpose was to reflect the sun back onto the actors.  They literally burned my eyes.  Or one eye.  They had to rush me to a doctor.   So, that was definitely not a favorite scene for me, (laughs)...but it was a memorable occurrence.

I think my very favorite was the chicken soup scene when we're inside the coffee shop.  Don was so wonderful to work with.

Casey Chambers:  The "I'm having chicken noodle soup with Alma!" scene.  Where you're already at the crowded diner, having to share a table with a customer finishing up his meal.

Joan Staley:  It was all I could do to keep from cracking up. (laughs)  Don cracked up first and then we were both snickering all the way through the scene.  The other actor trying to finish up his chicken noodle soup had to be so straight-faced.  It was just so funny.  That was a tough scene to shoot because there were three of us and each time a different one would start to crack up.  That was not a one take shot. (laughs)  And I also enjoyed the porch scene with Don.

Luther (Don Knotts) and Alma (Joan Staley)

Casey Chambers:  That was one of the sweeter moments from the film.

Joan Staley:  Yes, it was.  It was just Don and myself.  We worked very well together.  And it was such a joy, after all of the westerns, and the saloon girl characters, and the silly characters, to be able to simply play it straight.  It was such a joy.

Casey Chambers:  What was it like being a fixture on the studio lots back then?

Joan Staley:  Early on, I was under contract through MGM. And I spent a year there.  This was during the death throes of the contract MGM always had contract players.  It was tutelage.  They had a drama coach.  Not so much for on set or on film, but just sequences.  Telling you where to place your hands.  Never to show the heel of your hand to the camera.  Maestro Cepparo was the vocal coach.  We'd follow into his studio on the MGM lot.  Followed Howard Keel for voice lessons and Vic Damone.

I was an MGM Deb Star.  Every year, the wardrobe people would nominate one person from the studio for what would be considered future stardom.  It was like...society.  A coming out party.  And I was a Deb Star one year. (1962)  It was quite an interesting sequence of events.

Casey Chambers:  That's good stuff.

Joan Staley:  Yeah, it was.  And then my contract expired and I became freelance.  I then started at Warner Brothers, not under contract, but I started doing a lot of Warner Brothers shows.  And then I went under contract to Universal because they wanted the character of Roberta "Honey-Hips" Love for "Broadside."  We had a contract with ABC for 36 episodes.   I also did a lot of other shows at Universal.  I did all their westerns.  "Wagon Train," etc.

Joan Staley
 (Miss November Playboy 1958)

Casey Chambers:  What was the first TV show you got to dip your toe in?

Joan Staley:  "Perry Mason."  I did several of them and my parts kept growing in content.  I don't remember the succession of the roles, but I have done over 350 television shows and I have been involved in 30+ films.

You made the rounds at the studios all the time.  The pictures.  And ya got to know the casting people for each show.  And you could actually go in and meet someone.  And, of course, I had an agent who would set up appointments for me.

Casey Chambers:   It sounds like a lot of running and dashing all over the place.

Joan Staley:  Yeah, you really were.  You carried your wardrobe in the car because you might have an appointment in the morning for one type of character and something else in the afternoon.

Casey Chambers:  A lot of chasing down jobs and rumors on the studio lot.

Joan Staley:  Yes, it was very busy.  And it could also be very disappointing because you'd make the rounds of the studios never knowing if you were going to be asked to read.  And it would be a cold read.  They would just open the script to a place and you'd read one sequence from a character and they would say, 'Thank you very much.  We'll let you know.'  And didn't! (laughs)  But I was good at cold reading and at capturing the character.

Casey Chambers:  Cold is tough.

Joan Staley:  It is. It is tough.  And usually, the casting directors didn't even give you a thumbnail.  You didn't know if you were a good guy or a bad guy.  Sometimes they did.  And it was wonderful when they did. (laughs)  It made it a lot easier.  But there was a lot of discouragement.  You had to go into them happy and bubbly.

Casey Chambers:  Enthusiastic, sure.

Joan Staley:  Exactly...and you'd get knocked down and be left never knowing when you got a character.  They'd call you later.  After a day or so.  You were getting shot down a lot. You were either too tall, too short, too fat, too blonde, too dark.  Many of the casting directors would know what they were looking for.  Or know what the director was looking for.  But there were a lot of the casting directors who just didn't.

Casey Chambers:  Well, I'd like to switch gears and jump to another iconic film you made from the 60's..."Roustabout." (1964)

Joan Staley:  With Elvis.

"Roustabout" Trailer (1964)

Casey Chambers:  Yeah, I was hoping you might share a little story about working with "The King," if you wouldn't mind?

Joan Staley:  Sure!  When I was living in Memphis, there was a disc jockey by the name of Dewey Phillips.  And back then, he was the king of the South.  He was the king of Memphis.  And Sun Records, which is where Elvis got his start, was also in Memphis.  And he would come in and plug his records and Dewey would play them.  And he would get interviews.  And one of those interviews overlapped on a meet-and-greet.  So me and my first husband, who was a cameraman for a local television station, got to meet Elvis.

Casey Chambers:  This would have been back in the '50s, right?

Joan Staley:  Oh yeah.  It was in 1956.  And we became casual friends with Elvis.  We were invited to some of the celebrations at Sun Records.  He had a birthday once at Sam Phillips' house and I was cutting his cake.  So, it was casual.   We were good acquaintances.  When he started making movies and became this huge monster star and I had also made my way into Hollywood...Elvis had already made a couple of other pictures with co-stars named Joan.  Actresses with the first name, Joan.  And I saw him one time and said, 'When's my turn?  You've worked with every other Joan in town...when is my turn?' (laughs)

Joan Staley and Elvis at Sam Phillip's house (1957)

Shortly thereafter, I was cast in "Roustabout."  He was a nice man.   We were on set.  We had several sets in the film.  But there was a scene where he was going to take off and just leave me.  And I was supposed to slap him.  And I said, 'Elvis, do you really want me to slap you?'  And he said, 'Yeah!  I do karate.'  I said, 'Oh come on!  Karate is not slapping' (laughs)  So when we came to that point in the scene, I hauled off and whacked him!

Casey Chambers:  For real?

Joan Staley:  For real.  I said, 'Do you want me to pull it?  Do you want me to pull the slap?'  Because I was at a camera angle where I could have pulled the slap and not hit him.  But he said, 'No! No, no, no!  I want you to slap me.'  I said, 'Are you serious?'  And I could talk to him because I had known him in Memphis.  So I said, 'Okay!'  And the slap that you hear in the film is the one that I delivered.  That was not dubbed in.

Casey Chambers:  I'll never hear "Don't Be Cruel" the same way again! (laughs)

Joan Staley:  Yeah, his head shook!  Anyway, a story that I have only told once before...and not in recent years...was when we were shooting "Roustabout."  Elvis invited me back to his house with the guys and stuff.  And we had a chance to talk about Disneyland, this and that or whatever it would be, and I asked him, 'What do you miss the most that your stardom has taken away from you?'  He gave me the strangest look.  And he said, 'Wednesday nights.'

I said, 'What do you mean, Wednesday nights?'  And he said, 'Wednesday night church services.'  Those are the services where they just did prayer and singing.  No sermons.  They just had praise.  He said, 'I miss the music.  And I miss the Wednesday night services.'  And I've never heard that in print.  And if you listen to his gospel music and you listen to his voice, there is a poignancy that isn't there in the other songs.  He had fun with the other songs.  And he worked 'em well.  But there is a poignancy in his gospel music that puts shivers on my spine.  He was a nice guy.  I'm so sorry that he died the way he did.  He lost his way.

Casey Chambers:  It was sad.  I loved hearing that story.   Cherry-picking another one of your films, I'd like to ask you about your western adventure..."Gunpoint." (1966)

Joan Staley:  Yes, that was my picture I did with Audie Murphy.  He was a nice man, too.  And you know the story of Audie Murphy, right? He was a medal of honor winner.  Cited for incredible bravery.  We were filming on location in Utah for that picture.  And that was a rough location.  We came into St. George, Utah which is a lovely city now, but back then it was mostly just motels and rest stops on the way to the capital city.  But it was beautiful scenery.

Anyway, there was this one sequence...and before I go on, let me tell you that I have been in Paris.  That's where I graduated from high school.  I have been to the top of the Eiffel Tower.  I mean, my senior year in high school, I was hanging, ya know, over the side of the Eiffel Tower.  And in those days, they didn't have any protection like they do now.  So I didn't think I had any problems with heights.

But there was a sequence in this movie where we were going up the side of a cliff.  They had told us on the way up, we were using good horses.  And to hold onto the horse in front of you by the tail and hold on tightly to the reins on the horse behind you...'cause we were walking them.  We couldn't ride them up.  And the horses were not at all thrilled with going up, I must tell you! (laughs)

But that's the way we went up.  Then when they changed the camera shot, they wanted me to be standing on the side of this cliff.  After the shot, they said, 'Okay, Joan.  C'mon.  Cut. We're fine.'  I couldn't move.  And I said, 'Y-y-y-you want me to come down?'  And they said, 'Unless you're going to spend the night up there, yes.'  And I couldn't.

I was so embarrassed because they had to halfway shut down the production.  The camera guys were already carrying their reflectors and stuff down.  They were slipping and sliding, but they got down the side.  And I couldn't move.  I was scared to death.  Here I was starring in this picture and I couldn't move. (laughs)  Everybody in the crew was watching.  Everybody in the cast was watching.  And I'm the only one on the side of the cliff.  Finally, the director said, 'Joan, just sit down and slide.'   And s-l-o-w-l-y, that's what I did.  The whole way down.  They had a bit of a cheering section going on for me.

And Audie was a practical joker.  There was this one time when the cast and crew were staying at a typical motel.  And the stuntmen would all congregate in one of the rooms before they decided to call it a night.  And Audie threw in a bag of snakes.  He just wanted to see what everybody would do.  And, of course, they scattered.  He was a kid at heart.

Casey Chambers:  Was it around this time that you decided to take a break from show business?

Joan Staley:  It was.  And I didn't leave show business entirely.  I broke my back the last year of my contract with Universal.  My husband Dale (Sheets) and I were horseback riding and we had some of our kids with us.  And by the way, the name Staley was my married name from my first husband, Chuck Staley.

Anyway, we were horseback riding around Griffith Park and the horse that I was on was a Stallion.  And something spooked him.  Or he just wanted me off, I'm not sure which.   Horses have a lead foot that they start out with.  And he started changing leads.  He started spinning.  And then he switched leads.  And he did this about four or five times.  I reset successfully each time.  And then on the last one, he changed leads and I went...'I'm going off.'  All I could think of was I wanted to make sure the reins were tightly in my hands because he bucked.  He bucked me over his head and I wanted to hold onto the reins so that he wouldn't step on me.  So I held the reins and I landed in some metal.  And I broke my back.

Casey Chambers:  Now that's scary!

Joan Staley:  Yeah, it was.  I tried to get back on the horse, and couldn't handle I got off and walked him back.  We stopped by my mother-in-law's house to drop off the kids and I laid down on the floor and could not get up.

Casey Chambers:  I dropped an ice tray on my foot once and I howled like a baby!  You're amazing!

Joan Staley:  Well, I think I was in shock, honestly. (laughs)  My husband took me to the hospital.  They X-rayed me and said, 'Joan, I'm sorry to tell you this, but you've broken your back.'  And I started to laugh.  Laughing was not the right thing to do because that made it hurt even more.  Anyway, I spent the next couple of months in a brace.  I could not get up out of bed.

Casey Chambers:  Good lord, you're Wonder Woman.  I can see how that would slow down your film career.

Joan Staley:  It was all, "This can't be true!' (laughs)  I had met my husband, Dale, at Universal.  He was an executive and was gorgeous...and we started dating and consequently got married.  We've been married for 49 years.  We have 7 children.  And 7 grandchildren.  And 24 great-grandchildren.

Casey Chambers:  That sounds like a nice legacy you've grown.

Joan Staley:  It is.  When Dale left Universal, we started up a personal management company for artists, singers, and actors.  And our first client was Mel Torme.  A fabulous singer.

"Autumn In New York Medley"  -  Mel Torme

Casey Chambers:  Oh yeah, Mel is huge.

Joan Staley:  Yeah.  We managed Mel his whole career.  In fact, we still manage his estate.

Casey Chambers:  Do you have a favorite song?

Joan Staley:  Every piece of music that he did.  Mel was a master musician and he, too, was a total perfectionist.  One of my favorites was "Autumn In New York."

Casey Chambers:  He was known as The Velvet Fog, right?

Joan Staley:  Yeah, and that was a name given to him that he hated.

Casey Chambers:  Why did he not like it?  It was a good thing.

Joan Staley:  It was a compliment, but he didn't see it that way.  It was given to him by a disc jockey named Robin who had a show in New York called "Robin's Nest" and Mel didn't care for that.  But he did succumb.  The license plate on his Rolls-Royce said...El Fog.

We managed Mel for 35 years and that led to many, many, many other artists.  Some of whom we still manage.  We are very excited about managing The Four Freshmen, who are in their 24th incarnation and still internationally touring.  Brian Wilson, whom we've met many times, has said that if it wasn't for The Four Freshmen, the Beach Boys wouldn't have had the sound that they did.

Casey Chambers:  It sounds like you guys are just as busy as ever.

"Zaz Turned Blue"  -  Was (Not Was) feat. Mel Torme (1983)

Joan Staley:  Yeah, we are.  And Mel had a saying and it's true...'When you rest, you rust.'  And so many people will retire, they'll play a little golf, and pretty soon, it's...bye-bye!  And we're not ready to go yet.

Casey Chambers:  Something to think about.  Well Joan, thank you so much for letting me cherry-pick a few of your many achievements.  I really appreciate it.

Joan Staley:  Casey, thank you very much.

Good stuff.

Casey Chambers
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