Michael Cavacini

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Archive for the tag “Chuck Berry”

A Conversation With John Oates

John Oates

I recently had the opportunity to interview the incredibly talented John Oates, one half of the 2014 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees Hall & Oates. In addition to having a stellar career with Daryl Hall, John has created a strong catalog of music as a solo artist. On March 18th, he’s releasing three five-track EPs – Route 1, Route 2 and Route 3 – as part of his latest music project entitled Good Road to Follow. You can learn more about this on the official John Oates website.

Below is my interview with John and two behind-the-scenes videos about Good Road to Follow. Enjoy!

Congratulations on being a 2014 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee. You and Daryl were first eligible for induction in 1997, yet you weren’t nominated until now. Hall & Oates came in as one of the top five acts that people wanted inducted in the official Rock & Roll Hall of Fame fan poll. How does it feel to receive this honor from both the public and your peers?

To me it’s like a lifetime achievement award. I’m happy that the fans and public were finally allowed to vote and I’m sure that had a lot to do with us getting admitted.

The 2014 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee list is a diverse one. In addition to yourselves, there’s KISS, Nirvana and Peter Gabriel, just to name a few. Are you fans of these artists and are you looking forward to performing with them on stage at the end of the ceremony on April 10?

I am honored to be part of this particular “class.” All of these artists have unique and qualified talent and all are deserving to be in the Hall of Fame. As to performing, I have no idea of what  or who will be involved.

Speaking of performances, I attended your concert at the Tower Theater in October 2013. As always, it was excellent, and you performed one of my favorite songs, “Las Vegas Turnaround” from the Abandoned Luncheonette album. You mentioned writing the song while sitting on the step of your apartment on Quince Street in Philadelphia, which is right around the corner from where I live. What was the inspiration for this song and how did it come together?

Two young ladies were walking by and they stopped to talk. One of them told me they were flight attendants – “airline stewardesses” – and were about to do a “Las Vegas Turnaround.” When I asked what that was they told me it was a quick trip from Philly to Vegas, then right back again. I had never heard that expression and it seemed like a great title. I wrote the song around the idea of flying. “Gambling fools to the holy land Las Vegas.”

I’ve always had a soft spot for many of the Hall & Oates tracks where you sang lead, especially “Mano a Mano,” “Possession Obsession” and “Keep on Pushin’ Love.” When working on an album together, how do you and Daryl decide who should handle the lead vocal?

Some songs just work better for Daryl’s voice and his sound has become the trademark of our biggest hits, so when I wrote certain songs like “Maneater” or “Out of Touch” it seemed like the best thing to do was have him sing it.

What is the songwriting process like for you? Do you sit down and say, “I’m going to write a song,” or does inspiration strike and you start taking notes?

The rules are: “No rules.” Anything from the most mundane to the most profound can be the fuel for inspiration. The difference between songwriters and others is that songwriters are always somehow tuned into the world, situations, emotions, and experiences that other people may not be aware of. Then it’s down to the ability to articulate those things both musically and lyrically into a song that people can relate to and that touches their souls or makes them want to shake their booty, or maybe both.

John OatesWhether it’s your work with Daryl Hall or your solo albums, you clearly have a diverse taste in music. Which albums or artists have influenced you the most over the years?

I was lucky to be a kid at the birth of rock and roll, but I was also aware of the music that came before me, the big bands, jazz, etc. My first guitar and lyric hero was Chuck Berry. Elvis was well…Elvis. The traditional american folk and blues artists were very important to me as well: Mississippi John Hurt, Doc Watson, Blind Blake, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Jim and Jesse, as well as the newer folk interpreters like Dave Van Ronk and Joan Baez. My tastes extended to the historical performer like John Jacob Nile. Then 60s R&B was very important: Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions, The Stax/Volt recordings with Booker T and the MGs, Motown, and of course, East Coast doo-wop and Philly soul. 

Your first solo album, Phunk Shui, is a terrific collection of pop, rock and soul music. One of the songs on the album, “Love in a Dangerous Time,” was re-recorded for the Hall & Oates album Do It for Love. What’s the story behind this song and do you prefer one version over the other?

I wrote that song with Arthur Baker and Tom Farragur. It was about a changing world as I saw it…AIDS, violence and turmoil. I prefer my solo version because the music is more ominous and less pop. 

You followed up Phunk Shui with 1,000 Miles of Life, a rock album with country undertones, and Mississippi Mile, a stripped-down bluesy affair. What inspires you to shift direction from album to album?

I don’t see it as a shift. I see it as an evolution and the maturation of me as a solo artist. 1,000 Miles of Life was my first album that I recorded in Nashville and I wanted to take advantage of all the amazing musicians. Also, the songs were very introspective and I knew that their playing style and sensitivity to lyrics would bring out the best in these particular types of songs. Mississippi Mile was more of an “homage” to the music that I loved as a kid and re-working some of my old favorites into my personal style. That album was basically recorded live in the studio, also in Nashville.

John OatesYour most recent musical endeavor is called Good Road to Follow. As part of this project, you released five musically diverse singles in 2013, and in 2014 you have a trilogy of EPs coming out. What should fans expect from the EPs?

It will be released on March 18th as a package with three discs. Each disc has five songs assembled based on style as best I could. Since the project began as a series of singles there was no thought about flow and style. I just wrote the best songs I could with a wide variety of collaborators, both as writers and producers. The discs are entitled: Route 1, Route 2 and Route 3. 

What made you want to take this unique approach to releasing music?

I have been moving beyond the concept of an album in the traditional sense. The world has accelerated and listeners’ desire to create personal playlists seems to be setting the standard. However, after hearing a bunch of my digital singles there was a lot of demand for an album, so I had to figure out a way to assemble all this diverse music. I did the best I could and all three EPs are the result. 

So far, my favorite song from Good Road to Follow is “High Maintenance.” It’s easily the best pop song I’ve heard in quite some time. With this single, as well as the others, you’ve collaborated with a variety of artists. What has it been like working with such a diverse group of musicians on this ambitious project?

I am proud of all the songs on Good Road to Follow. It’s just different flavors. Everyone who worked on this project did it for the love of the music and I was blessed to be able to share this musical experience with all of them. In a way, I had to be kind of an artistic “traffic cop” since I was the only one who knew what the entire body of work sounded like. So, I had to be careful to keep the sonic landscape somewhat coherent but at the same time allow the people I was working with freedom to bring their own creativity to the project. It has been an amazing experience and I can’t wait for people to hear it. 

A Conversation With Michael Des Barres – Part 1

Michael Des Barres 2I recently had the opportunity to speak with one of my favorite musicians and actors, Michael Des Barres. Many of you may know him for his role as the sinister Murdoc on the TV show MacGyver. Others may know him from his tenure as lead singer of Silverhead, Detective and The Power Station. While music is Des Barres’ main priority, he still makes time for acting, including his recent role in the wonderful film California Solo.

Below is part one of the interview. Stay tuned for parts two and three. And at the end of each part I’m including live clips from Michael Des Barres’ concert in New York City on March 7, 2013 at the Bowery Electric. I was in attendance, and it was an awesome show. Enjoy!

Hello, Michael. You recently announced your new radio show, Roots and Branches. How did this come about?

I had a relationship with David Lynch because I had done Mulholland Drive with him when it was a TV show. And what happened was he cast me to play the bad guy in the pilot for a TV show for ABC but ABC passed on it because it was incomprehensibly Lynchian, ya know? (laughs) So, a couple years go by and he invites me to the premiere and I realize I’ve been absolutely cut out of it and replaced by these two chicks fucking. And I thought, oh man, this is very exciting, but where the hell’s my footage? (laughs) So, we’ve had a relationship for a while. 

But he’s got this amazing TM (transcendental meditation) movement going, and he just created this network, Transcend Radio, and he’s contacted people and asked them to produce some content for that and it ended up my door. And I came up with a show called Roots and Branches, which is essentially about influences, where lots of musicians got their influences and passed it on to the next generation, and the next generation. I deal mainly in American blues music and also the edginess of  Manhattan rock and roll, heroin rock and roll, I call it – the psychosis of rock and roll. So I do various genres. I play a song and then I play a song that was obviously influenced by that song or artist, hence the title Roots and Branches, because it’s very important for me. And I do it in the vein of Stevie Van Zandt, who flies the flag of the lineage of rock and roll, the history of rock and roll, soul, pop, and rockabilly, and all of the wonderful music that is, in a sense, threatened by extinction today because of the advent of technology.

If you can see relationships between artists, you can go deep into it and that’s what I want to create: A sort of atmosphere of research, ya know? You start at Zeppelin, then you back to the blues and where that came from. You listen to Jack White and then who influenced him, and equally groundbreaking musicians that inspired them. And it becomes this enormous organism, and hopefully an enormous orgasm (laughs). 

I recently read Rod Stewart’s autobiography, and in it he talks about how his music as well as other artists’ music, including The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, was influenced by the blues. What was it like during this time period?

I was in the clubs at the time you’re describing with Mitch Mitchell saying to me, “Why don’t you come see me play with this black bloke?” And I did, and it was Jimi Hendrix. I was there in London at the birth of the skinny rock and roll dudes being inspired by the blues. It was a phenomenal hybrid, which I’ll explore deeply in my show. It’s why working working class English boys and girls would turn to the oppressed black slave music that came out of oppression – out of Chicago and the Delta. Why would that be? I think it’s because it’s almost the same today: You get out of the ghetto by being a rapper or a sports figure. It’s the same man, you know?

Yeah, Jeff Beck was heavy. But there were a lot of people that were plugging in and turning up because rock and roll was blues real loud, essentially. And if Chuck Berry hadn’t existed, there wouldn’t be a Mick Jagger or Keith Richards. I mean imagine a world without Chuck Berry in it. What a horrible thought. (laughs). But they were smart enough to marry that with the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud and the style of Oscar Wilde. It was this pop-hybrid of Muddy Waters, Oscar Wilde and Lord Byron with a slide guitar. It was this incredible cocktail of stuff.

Your modern music seems to harken back to that classic three-chord rock and roll. 

Yes, because what happens is, as an artist in the beginning it’s all about passion. Then you learn how to do it and you learn the chords that are complicated, and to keep yourself interested you start experimenting. And you lose sight of why you did it in the first place. Rock and roll is a synonym for having sex. It’s not a synonym for meditation. So you’ve gotta roll with it. And, for me, I went on all sorts of tangents because I was thinking too much. But when I got back to it three years ago, when I was in Texas recovering from an accident, I broke a lot of bones, I had time to reflect on what I really wanted to do, so I started to write. I couldn’t write with my right arm because it was smashed, so I wrote with my left hand these social media updates and people started to respond. So I took those ideas and put them to simple chords, blues-based music and I wrote “My Baby Saved My Ass,” (laughs) which sounds funny and cute but it’s true. It’s a redemptive song about the redemption of love transcending a drug addict’s downward spiral. 

MDB

Stephen King once stated that, “The idea that creative endeavor and mind-altering substances are entwined is one of the great pop-intellectual myths of our time.” Like King, you’ve overcome drugs and alcohol. Do you agree that these substances don’t enhance an artist’s creative work?

He and I are the only ones that have said that. I mean, I’ve been saying that for 30 years. The myth of the self-destructive genius is bullshit. And I can give you one and only one example: Jim Morrison did not write the “Great American Novel” … and he could have. And it’s as simple as that. Genius is divine; it’s a talent you’re given by the universe. It’s like being born beautiful and you fuck yourself up.

I always think of Chet Baker and his beautiful face and how ravaged it was at the end of his life when he fell out of a hotel room window and smashed his skull because of heroin. So, I’m with Stephen King. It is a myth, and I’m 100% more creative with clarity than I am in a fog. I might think I’m a genius, but I’m not.

What made you stop using drugs?

I looked in the mirror and I looked like a monster. And I’m way too narcissistic and vain to look like that. I can honestly say vanity got me through it (laughs). I felt like a fool, and there’s nothing worse for me than feeling foolish. And being a slave to something? Good lord! I can’t be owned by a bag of white powder…unless it’s foundation. It’s absurd; it’s childlike. Unfortunately many of our greatest artists capitulated to it and died, and that’s a shame.

To answer your question, I’m not being glib when I say I looked in the mirror and didn’t like what I saw. It was absolute vanity. But once I got into that spiritual groove, I woke up from the trance of drugs. And I wrote “Obsession” within the first few weeks of being sober. Everybody around me was saying “I’m obsessed with this” and “I’m obsessed with that.” Is it an obsession? Yes. So I thought, OK, and I wrote that song, which was a worldwide hit because people could relate to the thing. 

Roots and Branches with Michael Des Barres

MDB - Roots and BranchesThe always-wonderful Michael Des Barres has a brand-new weekly radio show, and the first half-hour episode debuted tonight. It’s called Roots and Branches and it airs on Tuesdays and Fridays at 4:30 p.m. PST (7:30 p.m. EST) on the online radio station Transcend Radio. You can listen from your computer or smartphone on the Transcend Radio website or on Live365.

The goal of the aptly named Roots and Branches is “finding peace in a violent world through exploration of the lineage and history of rock and roll.” This rock and roll safari, lead by Michael, explores how musicians are connected to and influence one other. And each episode has its own theme.

The first show’s theme was “Peace in Action.” After a rousing acoustic rendition of “Hot ‘n Sticky,” Michael played songs by Bob Dylan and John Lennon and explained how they were connected and how their ultimate message was peace. “I believe in peace, but I don’t believe in peace on your couch, eating Cheetos. Peace is not a passive stance, it is action. It’s like a pebble in a lake, and the ripples will grow,” said Michael.

He went on to play songs by Chuck Berry, The Rolling Stones and a live Patti Smith bootleg. In between songs, Michael provided interesting commentary and information about the songs and artists. And he closed out the show with his terrific new single, “Life Is Always Right.” This song is available on iTunes, and I highly recommend you buy it. I’ve been listening to it all day. It’s sounds gorgeous, the lyrics are beautiful and Michael’s vocal is mesmerizing.

I look forward to future episodes of Roots and Branches. It’s a terrific concept, carried out by one of the most captivating musical personalities on the planet. Make sure to tune in – you won’t be disappointed.

On a related note, I had the pleasure of recently interviewing Michael. It was an extensive discussion that resulted in a ton of great content. Keep an open eye out for part one of that interview next week.

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