I just interviewed John Thayer, my favorite new indie pop artist. His first EP, Laurel Street, is an excellent collection of music that everyone should check out, and the follow-up, Take It Back, is coming out in February. If the last name Thayer sounds familiar, it’s probably because John’s brother, Tommy, is the lead guitarist of KISS, my all-time favorite rock band.
I recently had the honor of interviewing one of the greatest guitarists in the history of rock, Don Felder. For 27 years he was a member of one of the most influential and popular rock groups of all time, the Eagles. During his tenure with the band, Felder wrote the music for “Hotel California” and applied his signature sound to countless hits, including “Victim of Love,” “One of These Nights” and “New Kid in Town.”
Felder was inducted with the Eagles into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1998. After parting ways with the band, he went on to become a New York Times best-selling author with his autobiography, Heaven and Hell: My Life in The Eagles, and in 2013 released Road to Forever – Extended Edition.
He is currently touring with Foreigner and Styx on the The Soundtrack of Summer Tourand they released a companion album, The Soundtrack of Summer: The Very Best of Foreigner & Styx, featuring a new version of “Hotel California” that’s performed by Felder, Styx and Foreigner.
Below is part two of my two-part interview with this legendary artist. You can read part one here.
I 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.
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.
The 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.
I just finished Rod Stewart’s autobiography, and it was a fascinating look into the life of one of my favorite singers. The book covers all eras of his storied career, and it features multiple sub-chapters that are referred to as “digressions.” I learned about Rod’s love for model railroads, bluesy rock and fine art. I was also delighted to read about the creation of his most famous albums, numerous romantic relationships and legendary musical collaborations. My only complaint is that it didn’t delve deeply into Rod’s albums from the 1980s; instead, it simply touched on them and talked about how he wasn’t giving it his all until Out of Order. That said, I highly recommend Rod Stewart fans and those who enjoy classic rock give Rod: The Autobiography a read. Its written in a refreshingly humble tone, peppered with humor and filled with stories that’ll keep your interest from cover to cover.
Over the past year, I’ve fallen in love with Spotify, which has allowed me to enjoy artists I know and love as well as discover new ones. While I’m a fan of all kinds of music, melodic rock is my favorite.
Below are three albums I’ve been listening to over and over again:
JOHN WAITE – ROUGH & TUMBLE
John Waite’s newest album, Rough & Tumble is simply awesome. His signature voice is as strong as ever, and his lyrics are quite impressive. I’ve always been a fan of his music, everything from The Babys to Bad English, and, of course, his amazing solo albums. My favorite track from this album is “Evil.” It has a killer guitar riff and a funky groove that will get you moving around the room in no time. But don’t take my word for it, check out the video below.
JOE COCKER – HARD KNOCKS
Joe Cocker has a legendary voice and a unique stage presence. His latest album, Hard Knocks, is filled with a wide variety of music, and it’s all good. One of my favorite tracks is “Thankful” because it’s a soulful number that builds to an outstanding climax featuring a choir and Cocker’s signature scream. As you’ll see from the video below, it’s a spine-chilling song about the importance of being grateful.
MICHAEL DES BARRES BAND – CARNABY STREET
For those of you that read my recent post about Murdoc, you know how I admire the talented Michael Des Barres. Well, his new band just released its first album, Carnaby Street, and it’s excellent. Listening to it conjures up visions of Rod Stewart and The Rolling Stones. If you like no-nonsense rock n’ roll, then this album is for you. While there are many great tracks, one of my favorites is “Please Stay.” It’s a slow, soulful number that’s full of emotion. Below is a live version of the song.