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)"...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"...is 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 the 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 album...it'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 player...as 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 it...so 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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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Interview:-- Gary Troxel (The Fleetwoods)

"If you decide
to call on me...
ask for Mr. Blue."
~ The Fleetwoods ~

It was 1959.  Think about that.  There were no Beatles or Stones.  No Facebook.  No Isis.  And certainly no Pokemon Go.  It was a different time.  Hell, it was a different world!  But love was love.  And a love song was a love song.  Always has been.

Now granted, the music might have been a bit more gentle, in nature, back then.  A little more polite.  But  there certainly was no less...yearn in the burn.  Or ache in the break.  It was all there.  The desire and the angst of being in love.  And The Fleetwoods were mapping out musical roads that weren't nearly as defined as they are today.  With a gorgeous melancholy sound,  The Fleetwoods were the only artists to score two #1 hits in 1959. Sure, the times are much different now...no doubt about it.  But love is love and not fade away.

The Fleetwoods
Gretchen Christopher, Gary Troxel, Barbara Ellis

Casey Chambers:  In 1959, The Fleetwoods released their first #1 hit...the classic "Come Softly To Me."  And you guys wrote that song yourselves, is that right?

Gary Troxel:  Yes, that is correct.  And it was by total accident, I think.  The girls (Barbara Ellis and Gretchen Christopher) had written their part of that song already.  I don't know that they even had a title for it yet.  But after they'd been singing it one day...Gretchen and I went walking down Capital Way in Olympia (Washington) on our way down to the record store and I just started singing...

'Mm dooby do dahm dahm, dahm do dahm, ooby do dahm dahm, dahm do dahm'.

And Gretchen says, 'Hey, slow that down a little bit and see if it goes with what Barbara and I were singing.'  And it did. And that's how it happened.  A complete...I don't know if it was really an accident or not...but it's really odd stuff.

Casey Chambers:  A whole lot of magic.

Gary Troxel:  It sure was. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  So when you guys took the idea back to your singing mate, Barbara...she was on board right away?

Gary Troxel:  Oh yeah, she was for it.

Casey Chambers:  Where did you guys rehearse in those days?

Gary Troxel:  Usually in someone's car.  We recorded out of Gretchen's house because her dad had a tape recorder.  A portable tape recorder.  And that was the tape that actually went to Bob Reisdorff in Seattle.  And if we were singing, we were usually singing together in a car driving down the road.

Casey Chambers:  What was the crowd reaction when you first began performing that song?

Gary Troxel:  The first time we sang it for the public was at a talent assembly at Olympia High School...and they went nuts.  Everybody was telling us we oughtta record it.  And I'm going, 'Right, are you kidding?' (laughs)  Gretchen's the one who took the ball.  She got us together.  She got that recording.  She took the song up to Seattle and she made it happen.

Casey Chambers:  And the song just took off from there?

"Come Softly To Me" -- The Fleetwoods / "Mr. Blue" (1959)

Gary Troxel:  Well, we just couldn't believe it.  It was amazing.  And as time went on...every day we'd hear the song more and more.  That's the way they used to do it.  They only played so many songs on the radio and then they'd start them all over again.  And ours was one of them.  You couldn't turn the radio on without hearing that thing.  And it was pretty catchy.

Casey Chambers:  Teenage cuddle music, no doubt.  I watched the footage of The Fleetwoods performing "Come Softly To Me" on Dick Clark's show.  What was that experience like?

Gary Troxel:  It was scary.  I was petrified.  I'm just amazed.  I mean, I was sweating bullets.  Oh my goodness!  But we were also on "The Ed Sullivan Show" and that was even worse, as far as nerves...because Bob Reisdorff did not go with us that time.  So we were on our own.  And they went and shortened up "Come Softly To Me" which we should not have let them do.  They put us in cowboy-cowgirl outfits. Then they only had one microphone for me and the two girls.  And then, they had a choir behind us singing my part!

Casey Chambers:  What a douche move Ed pulled.  Why would the show do that?

Gary Troxel:  I don't know.  It was just something that they thought they needed to do.  And so they take away everything that we are, ya know?  Even our looks.  I thought it was horrible.  And it was a bad experience for us, as far as we were concerned.

Casey Chambers:  Now Dick Clark's show was in New York, as well.  Did you guys drive across the country or did they fly you out?

Gary Troxel:  No, we flew.  And what happened is that Friday we were on his daytime program in Philadelphia.  Then we flew again that evening and did his Saturday night show in New York.

Casey Chambers:  So when you got there, what happened?  Did you have the opportunity to interact with some of the other artists performing on the bill?

Gary Troxel:  Oh sure.  If you were on the daytime show you were usually the only star or the only entertainer.  But on the Saturday night shows, there were usually three or more acts.  And it was at an old time theater.  It was called the Little Theatre on 44th street.  And it was a real theater.  And they had real dressing rooms and so forth.  So we did meet everybody.  And kind of an interesting aside is that once you went in the building in the morning, they wouldn't let you out.  Because of what could happen to you.  You were kinda trapped inside all day long.  So you'd eat in there and just spend your whole day in there.

Little Theatre in New York City

Casey Chambers:  So they provided all your necessities...but nixed the souvenir shopping across the street.

Gary Troxel:  Yeah.  They don't do that stuff anymore, but they did back then.  For that show, anyway.

Casey Chambers:  Who were you rubbing shoulders with backstage?

Gary Troxel:  Dick Clark was just great.  He was just as nice as what you see on television.  One of the people we met there was Frankie Avalon.  He's the first one we met when we went to the theater the first time.  He jumped out of...as we walked into the theater, it was really dark...and he jumped out and said, 'Congratulations!  You just knocked my "Venus" off the number one spot.' (laughs)

And ya know, we also met Paul Anka.  He liked to play a lot of jokes.  He had a big rubber spider that he would drop down onto the other side of the door.  He'd throw it through one of those windows above the doors in the old dressing rooms.  I heard the girls screaming bloody murder, so I knew to be expecting something.  And sure enough, here came that spider down my window. (laughs)  He did that kind of stuff. Probably still does.

Casey Chambers:  The first song I ever heard by the Fleetwoods, and probably my favorite, was "Mr. Blue."  Very good stuff.  How did that song get in your hands?

Gary Troxel:  The guy who wrote "Mr. Blue" lived in the San Francisco area.  He knew we were going down there to sing at different high schools and had gotten ahold of our producer, Bob Reisdorff.  And Bob arranged for him to meet with us at the motel.

Casey Chambers:  This would be Dewayne Blackwell, right?

Gary Troxel:  Right.  And while we were down there, he played a tape for us.  I think he had three songs.  And one of them was "Mr. Blue."  Everybody liked it, but me. (laughs)  Oh boy!  And now it's my favorite Fleetwoods song, so I don't know what to say.

"Mr. Blue"  --  The Fleetwoods / "Mr. Blue" (1959)

Casey Chambers:  First impression and you just weren't feeling it.

Gary Troxel:  Nope, I sure wasn't.  I thought...how could I be so far off?  'Cause everybody was...oh, they weren't jumping up and down...but they liked that one the most of the three he played for us.  I didn't think too much of it until after we took the tape back with us and sang it a few times.  Until we recorded it.

Casey Chambers:  And that melancholy gem went on to become your second #1 record.  And radio still loves that song.  But the first time I ever heard it was in "National Lampoon's Vacation" (1983)...of all places.  I remember waiting until the end credits just to find out who performed that song.

Gary Troxel:  With Chevy Chase!  Yeah, I thought that was great.  I think technically they're supposed to ask the artist before placing it in a movie, but they never do.  They never ask us.   But so far, I think the movies have done a good job with our songs.

"National Lampoon's Vacation" (w/"Mr. Blue")

Casey Chambers:  How do you ever find out when one of your songs has been incorporated into a film?

Gary Troxel:  Well, we never find out ahead of time.  One of the biggest surprises for us was when they made "American Graffiti" (1973).  Barbara was living in Orange County, I think, and it was after we were done recording...but anyway, she found out just by accident that they put our song "The Great Imposter" in this movie.  And the movie was already out!  We didn't know a thing about it.

Casey Chambers:  Gomer says shazam!

Gary Troxel:  Yeah!  Well, pay us right now...and thank you! (laughs)  It was great.  Because they also sold soundtrack recordings of that movie.  It was like another payday for us.

Casey Chambers:  Good times.  Plus new generations get introduced to your music that way, too.

Gary Troxel:  Yeah, they sure do.  And it is a cult film, so I assume that it will be played over and over so it can be drilled into their heads as time goes by. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  The Fleetwoods had three Top 40 hits in '59 which brings me to..."Graduation's Here"...and it was another one you guys wrote.  The song offers up a much simpler time to my ears.  And I know everything wasn't all jello and pudding back then...but I'm totally on board with the innocence of the memory.

"Graduation's Here"  -- The Fleetwoods / "Mr Blue" (1959)

Gary Troxel:  Yeah, that song was special because it was about our last year of high school.  And we really did have a senior skip.  And the funny part about that song is...I didn't skip that day.  Of all things!  I was kind of in the dark on that one.

Casey Chambers:  The "skip" tradition still continues today, so let me offer you and all the teenagers from the past a big thank you!  When you were growing up in Washington, what did your record collection look like?

Gary Troxel:  I didn't have one. (laughs)  I didn't have any money.  I did not have a job.  I had no records.  But I sure listened to the radio.

Casey Chambers:  Who were some of your early influences?

Gary Troxel:  Myself, I liked Glenn Miller and Tex Beneke and the groups that he sang with.  Which I think was kind of our style with progressive jazz chords and so forth.  Not over the edge, but just real good stuff.  And we all liked that.  Well, I never heard Barb say she grew up listening to Tex Beneke.   I'm not even sure she knew who he was.  But I did. (laughs)

"Chattanooga Choo Choo" -- Tex Beneke 

Casey Chambers:  Harmony seemed to be cool to the rule and The Fleetwoods sure had a nice sound.  You must have known right away that you blended well together.

Gary Troxel:  Yeah, I guess we did.  We didn't have to struggle and all.  The only real struggling we ever did was when we'd have to do an album and everybody wanted to do a certain song.  And sometimes we just couldn't do it, because no matter who sang the lead...it was too high or too low for the other harmonies.  So it just wasn't something easy to do.  We had to pick and choose.

Casey Chambers:  Do you still get the bug to go out on stage and perform?

Gary Troxel:  We still get a show here and there.  We quit going to the east coast because we're tired of the long flights. They always break it up, so we have to change planes.  After complaining for years, we just decided we're not going to do it.  I think our next show is going to be in Denver in October. It's going to be an oldies show.  'Cause we're getting older, ya know? (laughs)  And then we're going to be doing a show in January in Los Angeles.  And that's about it.  So, we've almost retired.

The Fleetwoods bringing down the house

Casey Chambers:  Well, those shows are going to be a lot of fun and bring back a lot of memories for your fans.

Gary Troxel:  Yeah, I guess as long as they can sell the tickets. (laughs)  So far so good.

Casey Chambers:  Well thanks so much for taking the time to do this.  I certainly enjoyed talking with you.

Gary Troxel:  Oh, you're welcome.  And thanks for looking into it.  Thank you.

The Fleetwoods Official Website

Good stuff.

Casey Chambers
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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Interview:-- Walter Egan (Singer/Songwriter)

"We shared our hopes,
our dreams, 
and our goals...
and the fundamental roll."
~ Walter Egan ~

The ecstasy and agony of summer break.
First hellos and last goodbyes.
Worries are small and possibilities are endless.
It's when we realize, maybe for the first time, that time is fleeting and completely out of our hands.
Yes, summers are great. I mean, it's summer after all.  But one never forgets that "special" summer. The one you earmarked for permanent memory burn.  The one you protect.

When discussing "lost gem" albums, Walter Egan's 1978 offering "Not Shy" certainly falls under that category.  With a distinctive California rock sound, Egan delivers hook after glorious hook of "roll-down-the-windows" summer fun. But he does so while gently reminding us just how confusing and frustrating it all can be.  He's made plenty of good music, both before and since, and his last album "Myth America" (2014) is an especially welcome treat.  Walter Egan is a man for all seasons, no doubt...but "Not Shy" will always be June through September.


Casey Chambers:  Your 1978 album "Not Shy" is a pop-rock joy and the closing track..."Hot Summer Nights" is just one of the standout gems.  What do you remember about that song?

Walter Egan:  Well, that's a very interesting story.  The producers for my first album..."Fundamental Roll"...were Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. That would have been 1977.  And I was quite taken by Stevie and all her talents.  We'd be hanging out during those recording sessions and as it evolved, Stevie had this song that Fleetwood Mac didn't want to record.  So, kind of to score points with her, although I really liked the song, too...I told her, 'I'll do it.'  So, I began performing it on my tour.  We were on the road for quite a few months that year.  And it was a good song. It was a big finisher. "Sisters Of The Moon" was the name of the song.

Anyway, so flash forward to the recording of "Not Shy."  When it came time to record what was gonna be the big climax...just as it had been in my live set...the climax of the album was going to be, "Sisters Of The Moon."  Well, Lindsey was the sole producer of my second album at this point...along with myself and Richard Dashut.  And he said, 'I don't think you should record that. Why don't you go home and write a song?' (laughs)  And I was like, 'this is supposed to be the big climax, Lindsey!'  But I took the challenge and went home.  It was in August of 1977.  I was living in Beverly Flat, which at that time was still a funky kinda canyon in the west part of L.A.

And I started reflecting on how the summertime was a time for music. Especially in high school. My formative years.  When we had all that time to spend on music and that's all we did all summer.  I started writing a song about being in bands and sort of reminiscing about the camaraderie of being in a band together.  It was a very personal song.  And it only had three chords...a D minor, a B flat, and an A.  It had this riff and I just kind of got into it.  The next morning, we recorded it.  It wasn't even a whole day old.  And it went on to be the most covered song I'd ever written.

"Hot Summer Nights" - Walter Egan / "Not Shy" (1978)

There were versions in French, Swedish, German, and Japanese.  I did a cover version with new lyrics in the surf band...The Malibooz.  The hit version was by the group...Night...which was Richard Perry's first release on his Planet Records.  They had a Top 20 song with it in 1979.  My version of it was the follow-up to "Magnet And Steel," so you would think that it would've had a great shot.  But by the time Columbia released it, it had sort of passed its prime.  It should have come out right at the end of the summer just as "Magnet..." was peaking.  But it didn't come out until November.  And it just got caught up in the wintertime.  And then it came to life again in 2009 when Eminem used it as part of his comeback single, "We Made You."

Casey Chambers:  How about that!

Walter Egan:  (laughs) So the moral of the story is when Lindsey Buckingham says to go write a song...Go write a song.

Casey Chambers:  That's a great story.  And yeah, I heard your version first, so that's it for my ears.  But how did the band, Night come to record that song anyway?

Walter Egan:  There was a guy who was working in the A&R department at Columbia at the time.  His name's right on the tip of my brain and I can't remember it.  But he, I believe, presented it to Richard Perry.  And here's another weird coincidence.  I had never met Richard Perry during all that time.  I had moved back to New York in the early '90s and got in a band with Richard's brother, Fred.  And we had a band called the Brooklyn Cowboys and we've done some really excellent CDs.  So I got to finally meet him way back in...I guess it was '96 when I got to meet Richard at his house.

Casey Chambers:  That's cool.  After all that time.

Walter Egan:  Yeah, and I kidded him about the modulation that he inserted in the solo.  I thought it was a bit excessive (laughs) and I told him so.  It was fun.  Good times.

Casey Chambers:  Your signature song, "Magnet And Steel" is a beautiful piece of work.

Walter Egan:  Thank you.

Casey Chambers:  Did you know from the beginning you wanted the song to have a kind of doo-wop flavor?

Walter Egan:  Yes.  As a matter of fact, it's very good that you point that out, because that was the seed for that song.  The Stroll was the beat.  That 6/8 kind of thing.  Very '50s feel to the beat.  And I actually have a recording on a cassette that I've transferred of me working out the song and singing many verses that never made the final cut.

But I hadn't gotten the chorus quite right yet.  I believe the lyrics were...'don't turn away now' instead of 'with you I'm not shy.'  I think it was even called "Don't Turn Away Now."  And it was just not a very special lyric.  I hadn't really finished it.

"Fundamental Roll" - Walter Egan (1977)

We had been doing recording sessions for "Fundamental Roll"...a song on there called "Tunnel O' Love."  And Stevie was singing her wailing, banshee, background vocals.  This was at Sound City.  The now famous Sound City.  And that was the night I just went...'oh my God, how am I so lucky?'  Ya know, all the superlatives you could think of about someone falling for Stevie.  In my young youth, at the time, it was just another girl who was very talented. I didn't even know who they were when it was presented to me to have them produce my record.

They were very much a cult item at that point.  But Fleetwood Mac was just starting to break.  So, it was just very amazingly fortunate timing.  They wanted to keep their Buckingham Nicks identity outside of Fleetwood Mac and have this project.  So, Stevie was doing vocals.  I mean if you listen to "Fundamental Roll," it's very much like a Buckingham Nicks/Walter Egan album.  Stevie and Lindsey are just all over it.

Casey Chambers:  No doubt. Good stuff for the lobes.

Walter Egan:  You should check it out again.  It's really amazing.  I hadn't listened to it in a long time and I just kind of revived a couple of those songs from that album.  But I started listening to it and I was like...'Wow!'  It's pretty amazing to think how she's such an icon now and how, at the time, she was just the girl singer in the band. (laughs)  So anyway, I totally fell for her.  On the drive home from Sound City in Van Nuys...I had to drive out to Inland Empire California...around Claremont, which is where I was living.  And as I got on the 101 freeway...and this was about 4:00 a.m. in the morning...there was a Continental with a diamond window.  What they used to call a pimpmobile.

Very tricked out with the lights underneath it and the fringes and all that.  And the license plate on it was NOT SHY.  It said...NOT SHY.  And for whatever reason, that just hit me.  There it was.  It was sitting right in front of me and I just took it.  And by the time I was home in Claremont, I had basically come up with this 'magnet' metaphor.  So, it was this whole weird amazing feedback loop of me falling for Stevie, writing this song about Stevie, and having Stevie perform on it. (laughs)  It just had this kind of amazing magic to it, I guess.  I was lucky enough to sort of date Stevie for about a month in 1976.  And so, ya know, it was quite an adventure for the young lad.

"Magnet And Steel" - Walter Egan / "Not Shy" (1978)

Casey Chambers:  You landed on Boardwalk!  Awesome share.  When you were in the studio recording it, how did you work out the vocal arrangements?

Walter Egan:  The backgrounds on "Magnet And Steel" sort of came to life as we were running the song down in the studio. I don't remember specifically, it just fell together naturally.  It was Lindsey, Stevie, and Annie McLoone singing those parts.  And I think part of it was, I was still very shy about my vocals.  And I suggested that the first line of the chorus...'with you, I'm not shy'...be the background singers singing it, so I could come in stronger on that second part.

Casey Chambers:  Were you surprised the label chose to push that song out first?

Walter Egan:  That came about kind of late in the process, I think.  It was the oddball song in the mix definitely.  It had part of the "Myth of Sisyphus" on it.  Ya know, the guy pushing the rock up the hill...but never quite getting it up the hill.  Part of that myth fell on me when I became famous for this kind of crooning MOR song.  It's an honest, rock kind of ballad, but it sort of got coupled into that smooth yacht rock stuff.  And yet I was always more of a rocker. I was playing hard edgy songs with good melodies and clever lyrics, I thought.

Casey Chambers:  Oh absolutely.  Still, "Magnet..." is just a great song and it seems to keep gaining fresh legs popping up in movies.

Walter Egan:  It does. It does.  It was in "Boogie Nights" and "Deuce Bigelow."  And "This Is 40" and "Overnight Delivery." That was an interesting one.

Casey Chambers:  It must be a great feeling to watch a movie and have one of your songs sneak into the story.

Walter Egan:  It is very much a surreal event.  Depending on if I'm alone or with somebody.  It's my own little movie.  It's like when I go to the grocery store and it comes on and people are walking around singing along with it.  I just think it's so funny.  I sort of remove myself from the moment.  It's really kind of fun.  I've also been an answer in a number of crossword puzzles, which is even more mystifying to me.  (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  That's very cool.  9 Across: "Not Shy" songwriter. 4 letters. (laughs)  I'd like to jump to another one of your albums..."Wild Exhibitions." (1983)

Walter Egan:  Okay!

Casey Chambers:  One of the gems from that album is "Fool Moon Fire"...and you made a rather entertaining music video to go along with it.

"Wild Exhibitions" - Walter Egan (1983)

Walter Egan:  Thank you. (laughs) "Fool Moon Fire." My last charted single.

Casey Chambers:  Could you talk about that one a little bit?

Walter Egan:  It was filmed around the Silver Lake area in L.A.  There was a theater there we were able to rent.  Some people think I modeled it on "Thriller" but my video came out eight or nine months before the "Thriller" video did.  I don't know that he got the idea from me...but I certainly had the idea.

Casey Chambers:  I didn't know that.  But, yeah, the similarities are definitely there.

Walter Egan:  Well, yeah.  We could have a sour grapes conversation some night and I could tell you about all the things I think have been stolen or borrowed from me.  I mean, there's a lot of stuff like that in this business.  And it's hard.  Hard to draw the line between...'was that taken or was it homage?'  But that song..."Fool Moon Fire" was about me as a night person coming to grips with...kind of a metaphoric werewolf in my soul and thinking other people might have that as well.  And so that was the meaning of the word, 'lycanthropy' in one of the verses...that's the official term for werewolfism.  I think it might be the first song with that word in it to crack the Top 40.  But not the last, because Shakira apparently used it in her "She Wolf" song. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  Maybe so, but you still get credit on first dibs, right? (laughs)

Walter Egan:  Exactly!  And we took it literally when it came time to do the video.  Most of the ideas were mine as to how to stage the music in it.  So it was a lot of fun to do.  It was all done on a very small budget.  Most of it was filmed from 4:00 in the afternoon to 6:00 the next morning.  So the whole thing was done in that time frame.

I was on Backstreet Records which was Tom Petty's label.  And that was with MCA which was Universal...so even though they didn't go through the time lapse of me turning into a werewolf on camera, we were able to use some of the old monster movie footage.  But that was actually me with all the werewolf hair on my face. (laughs) And every hair had been glued on.

It was tedious for that to happen.  And the guy that did the makeup...his friend came in.  And his friend happened to be one of the actors from the old TV show "Leave It To Beaver." (laughs)  Richard Correll.  And that was a very surrealist moment for me, cause I'm a huge fan of the show.

Anyway, we did the shoot.  And as the sun was coming up the next morning, they had to take all the hair off my face to do the transition back...to me being picked up.  And I'm thinking that maybe we should have done that in the beginning because the alcohol solvent that they used to get it off with was just painful. The look on my face at the end of that video when my girlfriend picks me up in the Mustang...my face was just...I was just totally burned out at that point.  I was like, 'good can we get it over with?'

"Fool Moon Fire" - Walter Egan / "Wild Exhibitions" (1983)

Casey Chambers:  A fool moon "face" fire! (laughs)

Walter Egan:  It's funny watching that video now...there's a lot of silly things I remember from it.  But yeah, it was cool.    And that song was doing really well.  It was climbing the charts with a bullet.  Got into the Top 40.  And then all of a sudden, it lost its bullet.  And that coincided with...well...during the run of that record, the presidency of MCA was up for grabs.

The guy who had been president and who was my booster at Tom Petty's label...at Backstreet...his name was Danny Bramson and he wanted to be president at the same time a guy named Irving Azoff wanted to be president.  And Irving has a way of always winning in his own very creepy way.  And so he wound up taking over.  But it was a pretty bitter struggle to see who would be president.  A lot of name calling and stuff.  And so when Danny lost, he was out the door.  I was Danny's project.  And Irving didn't want to have anything to do with anything that Danny had anything to do with.  So, he pulled the plug on "Fool Moon Fire."  And it pissed me off.  Y'know, it's a great record.  It had David Lindley playing electric violin on it.  I think Nicky Hopkins might have even been playing piano on that song.  So it was a really cool record.  And that's the sad story of the music business.

Casey Chambers:  Yeah, well to quote another good song on that album...it's..."Such A Shame."  And I mean that sincerely.

Walter Egan:  Very good. Very good. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  Here's a fact a few rock fans may not be aware of...Gram Parsons recorded one of your songs.

Walter Egan:  "Hearts On Fire."  That was kind of my calling card when I went to L.A.  That was my success.  I was able to go 'here's what I've done'.  I had written that after spending the day with a guy named Ray Benson, who was the guitar player for Asleep At The Wheel.  I've always kinda had one toe in country rock anyway.  I was very intrigued by Gram Parsons and then I got to meet him.  When he and Emmy sang together for the first time...it was in my kitchen!  So I got to know him.  In a good way.  'Cause he had a very demonic possession thing where he could turn into this really obnoxious person when he would get drunk or really stoned.  And I got to see that part of him later on, too, but that was after he had recorded "Hearts On Fire."  And yeah, I mean that was a big thrill for me. Because it was a breakthrough.  And it was somebody who I...in many ways, really idolized.

"Hearts On Fire" - Gram Parsons / "Grievous Angel" (1974)

Casey Chambers:  Very cool.  Are you still rockin' the stage?

Walter Egan:  I'm still doing it as much as I can.  I've got a really good band.  I'm going out next week to play a concert in Berkeley, California...which is at The Art House on Saturday the 18th.  On the 25th, I'm playing in Miss Pamela Des Barres' backyard in L.A. doing a house concert there for the third year in a row.

Casey Chambers:  Oh man, I bet that'll be insane.  Spill the wine!

Walter Egan:  It's gonna be fun.  And then we're going to play a Malibooz show opening for The Yardbirds on July 21 at the Canyon Club out there. So, even though I live outside of Nashville, I try to get to California as much as possible.  I'm still writing songs. I'm still recording. So yeah, yeah, I'm still alive.  It's my new phrase this year..."I'm still alive."

Casey Chambers:  So fans can expect a new album soon?

Walter Egan:  Indeed.  The last time I did the Berkeley concert, which was two or three years ago, I wound up getting an album out of it.  My last album was called "Myth America" (2014) which I think is kind of a funny title.

"Myth America" - Walter Egan (2014)

Casey Chambers:  Love it.  The title is fun to say and open to interpretation, too.  I've been spinning "Stop Bein' You" off  "Myth..." for a few days now.  I'll put a link to it.  Good stuff.  Walter, this has been a real treat.  I'd like to thank you for all the good music and for taking the time to do this.

Walter Egan:  Yeah, well I appreciate your interest. You have a good evening.

Walter Egan Official Website
Walter Egan Facebook

Good stuff.

Casey Chambers
Follow me on FACEBOOK.