This was my life, as it were, tucked neatly away in these red and black and white repositories. I was, and am, a music journalist, a music writer, a critic (a description I despise), sent out on assignment by magazines and management companies, by record labels and PR firms, sent out to break bread with the music universe, with the most creative people in the world. At least I thought so. These were the interviews I had conducted, beginning back around 1972, with a host of musicians, with the players who changed and revolutionized the sound of what we listened to; and with a lot of singers and guitarists and keyboard players and drummers who wouldn’t change much of anything. But even they had histories worthy of revealing and for the first time since I began this odyssey 30+ years ago, I’m allowing these tales of the famous and not-so-famous to be heard.
For a long time, I protected this collection, isolating these rare moments I shared with these denizens of rock’s dark and delightful menagerie. I would allow no one to hear these tapes. I didn’t want to share the experience; it was mine and not yours, and I wasn’t going to let you in, not even a peek. The closest anyone ever came to really knowing what went on that early evening, for example, when I interviewed Supertramp in the bucolic and spectacularly snowbound atmosphere of Nederland, Colorado’s Caribou Ranch, was reading the story as it appeared in a Japanese magazine (if you could read Japanese). And to really understand what it was like sitting in Keith Moon’s rented house, devoid of all furniture save for a mammoth sound system that could have blown the walls down in any fair-sized club, would have required purchasing the magazine (if memory serves, Record Review, long out of print) and reading about the experience.
Something changed, though I’m not really sure what it was. A friend was a seriously devoted Free fan. He set up my guitar for me, intonating it and lowering the action and asked for nothing in return. So, in exchange, I made a copy of a Paul Kossoff interview I had done just a few months before Koss passed on, and gave it to him. He played it so many times, he wore it out. He understood the sanctity of the arrangement, that I had made this for him and him only. He asked if he could make a copy for Rabbit Bundrick, the current keyboardist for The Who and someone who played with Paul in his post-Free band, Backstreet Crawler. I told him of course he could, no problem. And I just knew what this meant to my friend; I could hear it when he talked about it, how he hung on every word Koss muttered (much of it unintelligible due to his rather serious drinking problem).
It wasn’t like I experienced a moment of epiphany and thought, “OK, world, now I’ll let you into the inner sanctum.” Nothing so grand or glorious. I just, in all honesty, saw how much my buddy dug it, and I thought maybe other people might get off on the interviews as well.
Because I knew, as hard as I tried to recreate those events, extracting from my head and heart the exact words and the perfect adjectives, you would never hear what truly transpired. You would never know what Keith really sounded like, how he adopted this crisp and proper English vernacular when making a serious point; how, drunk beyond all human understanding as he downed drink after drink, he was able to speak in a voice that only barely registered as intoxicated, but overflowed with true joy and open honesty in revealing his undying love of the band.
And that’s what this archive represents to me and I believe, will mean to you. This is my secret diary, held inviolate under lock and key all these years, and now, I’m turning over the combination. In truth, it’s a difficult thing to do. We all grimace when we hear ourselves on tape … well, imagine hearing yourself for a 1,000+ hours. Not easy. But I love what I do, and still do love what I do, and I believe that you will understand and be able to look behind the curtain and fill yourself with the same emotion that filled me on that certain day or evening, in a meeting room, or backstage, in a hotel suite, at someone’s home, in a recording studio, or in a car; in the relative quiet of a closed-door sit-down, amidst the roar and chaos of crew and roadies and hangers-on and onlookers scurrying about the hallowed backstage halls; on a small private airplane that is dipping and diving and just about leaving you on the embarrassed side of regurgitating your lunch all over your interviewees (Loggins and Messina, if you must know).
Who knew? Lo, those many years ago, that someone, some day, might want to actually hear, a word that seems to keep popping up in this tale, what Jimmy Page talked like? How Santana spoke in soft tones in describing his love for Jimi Hendrix and John Coltrane? How Frank Zappa’s sardonic wit could embarrass the hell out of you if you weren’t up to the mental challenge? I mean, the interviews were conducted strictly to create printed stories. You were going to read the words, not listen to them.
But the world changed and audio changed and 78s became 33s and 45s, and hi-fi morphed into mono, into stereo, into surround sound, into cassettes, into mini-cassettes; CDs and DATs and MDs and 5.1 and bass reflex speakers and tweeters and heavier magnets, and bottom end, and EQ and mixers and home entertainment systems. Satellite radio. IPods. Content. People wanted to listen to things. Talk radio. Classic rock revisited and reborn. CDs in magazines. DVD players. Who knew?
I didn’t. Consequently, I used a very inexpensive (can we say, piece of garbage?) cassette player. It made noise; it thumped and boomed as the motor turned beneath the sprockets of the cassette tape. And the tape? Twenty-nine cents at the local Grant’s, a sort of early Wal-Mart that sold everything. Certron. Sheraton. Lebotone. Remember them? Of course not, no one does. But they were three for a buck and when you’re a freelance writer just starting your career, you economize. And to further maximize the situation, you’d put multiple interviews on one tape; Side A is Elmer Valentine, owner of the Whisky in Hollywood and Side B is Jan Hammer – remember Focus’ “Hocus Pocus?”
And that’s the beauty of this archive – it’s real and honest and there are disturbing silences and sometimes an angry retort. But it’s so much more than that; it’s a history of music told by the people who created it, in that moment it was being conceptualized. It’s not a conversation with Ian Anderson that happened last year where he talks about Minstrel In the Gallery; it’s a conversation with Ian Anderson talking about that album back when it was recorded in 1975.
If I tell you a little bit about myself, maybe it will better assist you in understanding what these interviews are about.
Nothing touched me like music. The first time I experienced the reverb and Stratocaster twang that painted the Ventures’ “Walk Don’t Run,” the sound turned me around and slammed me in the head leaving an indelible dent. I didn’t know what it was or how they did it, but I knew I wanted to be part of it, part of that glorious society strumming on guitars and capturing it on vinyl for generations to come.
So, as a high school novice, I created the first music column the school’s student newspaper had ever seen. Sending out letters to the various clubs and record companies, I received correspondence allowing me entrée to these palaces of passionate guitar picking [the Whiskey, Troubadour, Ice House, and Starwood, all Hollywood monuments giving birth to the impending sonic revolution that would quickly stampede over all of us] and, on occasion, was sent tickets to review concerts at the larger arenas around town. And when free records began appearing in the mail, I knew there was no holding back the floodwaters.
As an up and coming rock journalist, you had to make your bones. You began by writing pieces gratis for the local rags. Then, I had a live review printed in the Los Angeles Free Press, a once mighty publication gone to seed, but nonetheless, providing me with my first real by-line. $15 U.S. and I thought I had just won the Pulitzer. From there, I scratched my way slowly up the ladder of credibility, landing stories in Creem, Circus, Zoo World, and Rock, desperately trying to create a name for myself and some relatively steady work.
Then, in mid-1973, a publicity company befriended me, took me under their wing as it were, and landed me an interview with Jeff Beck. As a guitarist myself, and someone who’d listened to Truth every day in an attempt to emulate the Englishman’s astonishing solos and never came any close to finding the truth than the fact that I would never be Jeff Beck, still I felt like a god. If I never met another musician in my life, this was enough.
I interviewed Jeff at the infamous Continental Hyatt [nee Riot] House in the very heart of the Sunset Strip, one of the only hotels in town that tolerated the craziness and manic antics of the rock bands staying there. This is the hotel that was home away from home for Zeppelin and the Who and virtually everyone else, Brit bands on the road seeking to let off steam. “Bonzo” riding motorcycles up and down the hallways, rooms completely trashed and set ablaze, and Keith Moon tossing television sets out of windows. Business as usual. The groups ponied up the tab at the end of their stay and the management looked the other way.
The day comes and equipped with a $29 cassette player and a thousand questions, I ride the elevator to his room, knock on the door, and do my best imitation of faux-self-confidence. Fainting was one breath away. Jeff opens the door and the moment is so surreal, it feels like I’m watching myself standing there shaking heads with the world’s most profoundly gifted guitarist.
Beck is talkative and expansive and I’m still floating three inches aboveground. As I’m turning the cassette over to side B, I figure a safety check couldn’t hurt. I rewind a few inches, press play and … silence. Devastating, career ending nothingness. Pressing play instead of record was not on the agenda. Jeff sees this and to my utter astonishment, says I can come back tomorrow. We continue our talk – making certain to punch the record button – and I’m so embarrassed I can barely speak. I return the next day, we cover all the missing questions, and in the end it was truly perfect. That would represent the first of sixteen cover stories I’d write for Guitar Player magazine over the course of six years. When I came back that second day, I brought an all-maple Strat I had, thinking he’d maybe dig checking it out. He loved this Fender and joked about not giving it back. Truth be told, I probably would have given it to him had he asked.
So, that was the beginning of a career that has now spanned about thirty years. There were so many remarkable encounters, it’s almost impossible to recount them all. I went on to interview Robert Fripp from King Crimson, a notoriously difficult subject. Before we even begin, he takes my pages of questions, reads them to himself and spits out his responses as if I’m not even in the room. In 1977, I went on the road with Zeppelin for nine days. Page was another one of those immortals I never thought I’d meet. After vegetating for four days in a Chicago hotel, I’m finally summoned by one of the handlers and instructed, “Jimmy will see you now.” Entering his room, I see a huge hole in the wall, plaster on the carpet, a broken telephone lifelessly lying nearby. Jimmy is a very private individual so he had pulled the item from the wall, flung it against another wall, and thus was the crater created. An auspicious start to say the least.
Several days later, I almost came to blows with John Paul Jones because of that Beck cover I mentioned earlier. Seemed, I didn’t make positive comments about the band and when JPJ read the story [me, in my benign ignorance had brought copies of this issue for each of the band members], he wanted to pummel me.
Those incidents were just a drop in bucket. I flew to San Francisco for a Todd Rundgren interview and the response to my first question elicited this answer: Me: “So, Todd, can you talk a bit about the guitars you’re currently using?” Todd: “ Guitars? I’m not going to talk about guitars. Ask my roadie.”
Or the time I crossed the country to interview Pete Townshend. He was more than happy to talk guitar but at one point he said, “I played that guitar with the two horns. What was that called? Timidly, I whispered, “an SG?” “Yeah, that’s it, the SG.” Pete Townshend not knowing the type of instrument he played. It was priceless.
Frank Zappa, another intimidating personality. I queried him on the early days of the band and he shoots back with, “What magazine is this for? I’ve already talked about that before. And now you’re just gleaning what somebody else has gleaned and …” I didn’t know what he was talking about but I knew he wasn’t going to talk about those formative days.
Cream, one of my favorite bands ever, and I have the opportunity to conduct a phoner with Ginger Baker. This was around the time of the Baker/Gurvitz Army project and a few years after his work with Clapton and Bruce. But I wanted to know about that period and offering up the interrogative, “Could you talk a little bit about working with Cream?” resulted in him burning down the phone line with invectives and bile. Big mistake but I learned: if you want to talk to an artist about his early work, start with what he’s doing now and work backwards. That was maybe one of the shortest interviews I ever did, and probably the longest fifteen minutes of my journalistic life.
But balancing all this were the golden moments: interviewing ZZ Top upon the release of their third album and establishing a relationship with Billy Gibbons that has lasted to this day. Doing the first interview Bad Company ever granted and having Paul Rodgers say to me at one point, “That’s one of the best questions anyone has ever asked.” Later I’d take Paul to see Elvis Presley at the Inglewood Forum, driving him there in my beat-to-hell Triumph Herald. Accompanying Humble Pie on a Japanese tour back in 1973. Befriending Edward Van Halen and writing three cover stories for Guitar World magazine.
There are too many tales to talk about in this limited space. At the end of the day, I can only say that I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to meet my musical heroes. Everyone from Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson to Page and Beck and Van Halen and Supertramp and Procol Harum and hundreds of others. There have been great moments and torturous moments, times when I wanted to shrink into a tiny little ball and disappear and times when I knew I was establishing a rapport with a relative stranger that would endure for years to come. And that moment has endured because it’s here on tape – for better or worse, here they are.
I am now seeking companies and individuals interested in licensing this content. There is approximately 1,000 hours in the archive and a list of the specific artists is available upon request. The interviews range from about 30 minutes to an hour or more and in many cases there are multiple conversations with the same artist.