Paul Niehaus hears things in his head and St. Louis is about to hear them too because this year's St. Louis Blues Society Compilation album, 16 in '16, has just been released. It builds upon the success of last year's 15 in '15 which topped the list of KDHX's "Top of the Spins for 2016."
16 in '16 brings together yet another group of St. Louis musicians performing all original music. The producer and St. Louis Blues Society board member, Paul Niehaus, has been invaluable to this process volunteering his time and his Blue Lotus Studios to create the project.
Paul was a horn player in school but after hearing BB King's "Live at the Regal" at the age of 14 he bought a guitar and began playing. Then he began adding instruments -- bass, keyboards and percussion -- as he began performing with local bands. A 2009 music degree from Truman State followed and he returned home to "practice music as a professional freelancer." He has toured with several blues bands and now is considered one of the most desirable sidemen in town.
While Paul has a passion for playing music it's his audiophile instincts for the quality of the sound that got him into the studio. He says it was the "sounds in his head that got to him": "I'd go to shows and hear how the soundboards and live mixes all too often didn't sound that good. I was obsessed and I would dissect what I would do to it." It all added up to one cognitive experience that "the better you manage all those little parts of it the more awesome the end result."
Paul's sound obsession became a craft as he upped his knowledge, skills and recording equipment. It was formalized with the creation of Blue Lotus Studios in in 2015. He chose the name because "in Indian spirituality the lotus represents this beautiful plant that rises from murky muddy water." He describes sound engineering much the same way; "sometimes an artist comes in with a song and within it there is the statue. But it's like a massive block of marble that needs chipping away at steadily revealing this awesome structure that's underneath it."
Sometimes there isn't even a block of marble. Soul singer Gene Jackson's 16 in '16 song, "Ain't No Way," was just a melody in his head. He came to the studio and hummed it for Paul. "Then Paul picked up a bass and started playing and then added a guitar and some organ. I went home with the music and wrote the lyrics. Then strings were to create this sort of Irish soul sound," explains Gene. It worked so well they are now making an album together for a spring release.
The other side of the production business is people skills. "Every time you get musicians together it is a combination of sum factor of all their personalities, their feeling that day, their moods -- artists are complex eccentric people, myself included. It's all about getting them comfortable and stimulated for a good take and I'm still learning," said Niehaus.
The production of 16 in '16 began over four months ago with conversations between Paul and Jeremy Segel-Moss (Chairman of the STLBS) about potential bands to invite. Each band has the freedom to choose how they want to be represented on the album but it must be original music. The primary goal is to produce a stylistically diverse well-rounded album and Paul feels they have. "If the Blues were an octopus, we got all eight arms represented," says Neihaus.
16 in '16 showcases the talent, energy and momentum in the St. Louis blues community. People like boogie piano man extraordinaire, Ethan Leinwand, moved here to be part of it. The story's the same with our highly regarded Texas transplant, John McVey. McVey describes his up tempo swing boogie cut, "She's My Girl Now," as "sort of a garage band blues rockabilly." He moved to St. Louis because "there are more good blues in this area than the entire state of Texas, and you can reach half of the country in a day trip. In Texas we considered a 17 hour drive a day trip. No more of that for me." Ethan and John have become part of a "self-amplifying feedback loop," as Paul put it, "They love it here and want to be a part of it and make it better."
Those tentacles keep coming with younger musicians like vocalist Emily Richard and pianist/arranger Chase Garrett of Sweetie and the Toothaches with their song "Bigger Fool." Emily says she and Chase "are energetic happy people so jump blues fits our style." The song is personal. "You gotta go through the bad to write good blues," Emily says. Chase, another recent transplant and friend of Ethan Leinwand's also moved to St. Louis "because this is a piano blues city." Another up tempo contribution comes from Little Rachel with "Time Flies in The Friendly Skies." Paul says it is simply "2:42 minutes of dynamite of rockabilly energy."
Leroy Pierson and Tom Hall keep it authentic with their resonator guitars. Leroy's cut, "Easy Rider," also features Curtis Buckhannon on mandolin. They have played it together many times over the last 45 years. Leroy explains that "the tune is basically traditional blues with Lightnin' Hopkins and Henry Townsend influences . . . but if I listen closely I could probably find ten different influences in this song." Tom says his cut "Texas Twister Blues" draws from "a bit of North Carolina Piedmont blues and my own licks with Blind Boy Fuller and Rev. Gary Davis influencing the tune."
Traditional and urban blues, soul and R&B are also on board. Beulah Foehner, daughter of local musicians -- Sharon and Doug Foehner -- makes her vocal debut on her mother's song "Homeless Child." A straight up blues song she wrote "after seeing a photojournalist report about children living in homeless shelters." Skeet Rodgers & The Inner City Band, the urban blues specialists, weigh in with a slow tune, "I Wonder." David Dee's "Bit by The Blues," takes on a Memphis Stax-y kind of R&B blues ambiance that pairs well with Gene Jackson's soul groove.
Tyler Stokes and the Delta Sol Revival stir up the 16 in '16 musical gumbo with "I'd Rather." He says he wrote "a blues-centric song in a way that fits with their Latin/New Orleans/ Rhumba style." The Maness Brothers, a guitar and drums duo, bring a bluesy rock style with "Drive Me (And My Soul)" that is reminiscent of the Black Keys. Tommy Halloran takes us on a jazzy/folksy Americana blues ride with "Sleepin' Dog" that features Eric McSpadden on the harmonica and some killer harmonies from Kari Liston and Leslie Sanazaro. Bob Case, who used to tour with JD Hutto and others offers up "Sometimes It Feels (Like the Whole World's Gone Crazy)" which has an early electrified Bob Dylan flavor to it.
Marty Spikener brings a couple of grooves. One is "to keep the blues scene thriving" which he does as a St. Louis Blues Society board member and by working with kids through "Blues in the Schools" program. The other groove is with his On Call Band that brings a Texas shuffle/backward beat style to the compilation with "Crawling Back." Paul calls it a "quintessential textbook cool blues with some funny lyrics in it." Marty laughs and says, "Paul also calls it a flat tire groove." Paul Bonn & The Bluesmen are also shuffling with "Stop the Killing" that brings an electric low down blues style featuring Jon Erblich on harmonica.
Tom "Papa" Ray brings it all home with a poignant St. Louis story, "Saint Louis Gunshot Blues." He said he wouldn't write songs for a long time but when asked this time he said, "I thought it was time for a proper weather report about our city." Tom says he "wants to do blues for the 21st century" and this styling is "somewhere between Slim Harpo and Gil Scott Heron."
What a way to start the year. The St. Louis Blues Society 16 in '16 has it all: octopus tentacles, gumbo, weather reports, and some great St. Louis sounds that will get stuck in your head.
This article was originally published in the January issue of the St. Louis Blues Society's monthly BluesLetter. To see more photos of Paul Niehaus' Blue Lotus Studios, click the image below.
In the grand scheme of things being a "local" musician doesn't necessarily mean much to national media. However, when you're putting out quality work and incorporating some of the best musicians in your community the significance is undeniable. John Henry Parr, or John Henry as it goes, has proven to be a talent beyond the oversimplification of "local musician." His most recent album Dark City, Dark Country was released this past September, the same day he played Loufest 2016, and has been gaining momentum ever since.
John Henry, previously known as John Henry and The Engine, scaled down the name in the past year or so as an effort to expand his capability to take on live shows in whatever format they were offered, regardless of the availability of additional musicians. "I was spending a lot of time in Nashville and I was noticing the flexibility that a lot of these musicians had playing with a lot of different people," says Parr, "I wanted that flexibility of being a solo artist without wanting to hurt anybody's feelings. So if I wanted to play a show I could put a band together and play it -- even if somebody couldn't make it," which can oftentimes be the case.
Parr has assembled an all-star cast for his regular line-up. "All the guys in the band are in that situation with other projects too," says Parr. Involved indeed. John Horton (The Bottle Rockets) recorded on three of the songs from the record. Other St. Louis music alums include Bryan Hoskins (Cold Hearted Strangers, Red Eyed Driver) and Jordan Heimburger (Red Eyed Driver, School of Rock St. Louis), and Tony Barbata (St. Louis Drum Lab) all have their own commitments to other musical endeavors both in and outside of the city.
Parr has constructed a band of seasoned professionals with which to collaborate both in the studio and in a live setting. The final product translates as a well-constructed rock band with solid notes from acts ranging from Hall and Oates or Rick Springfield to Modest Mouse or New Pornographers. Hoskins and Heimburger especially throw in unique textures with the flexibility to provide a gang vocal sound that would give Arcade Fire a run for their money, while at the same time they are able to put forth the eloquent, precise harmonies that would rival pros like the Indigo Girls or The Everly Brothers. "I'm a big believer in that everything you listen to somehow filters into what you end up writing," says Parr, "Ultimately, I just want to sound like me. I think that this records sounds most like me than ever before."
Dark City, Dark Country was recorded with St. Louis' own David Beeman at Native Sound on Cherokee Street. "John's dedicated to the craft creating a song. His attention to every detail is truly impressive," Beeman stated. The product is a solid representation of a rock band who knows exactly what they're doing. The album is a versatile; at times aggressive, at times vulnerable with a wide-ranging appeal. "I consider myself, our band to be a Rock-n-Roll band," Parr states, "but there's Americana, some blues, a little country, modern tones -- but ultimately it's rock."
John Henry will be debuting the video for his song, "Fade to Black" at Off Broadway on Saturday, February 4, followed by a show with his band, Letters to Memphis, and The Brothers Lazaroff.
The word "prodigy" may be overused, but it is absolutely warranted when referring to blues-rock guitarist Derek Trucks. How else would you describe a musician who was performing alongside legends like Buddy Guy in his early teens and playing in one of the greatest rock bands of all time by age 20?
After a decade of touring and recording with the Allman Brothers Band (in which his uncle, Butch Trucks, was drummer and a founding member) and solo success with his Grammy-winning Derek Trucks Band, Trucks joined forces with his wife, guitarist/singer Susan Tedeschi, to form the Tedeschi Trucks Band in 2010. The 12-piece band has been a success story since day one, with its debut album, Revelator, winning a Grammy for Best Blues Album. TTB followed up with two more critically acclaimed studio albums, Made Up Mind in 2013, and last year's release, Let Me Get By.
TTB returns to the Peabody Opera House on Wednesday night. Trucks took a break on a tour date in Chicago for a quick phone chat from his hotel room.
Amy: TTB has put out three quite excellent albums. Are you guys working on more new music or taking a little break to tour and enjoy the ride?
Derek: We've been staying pretty busy. We recorded one of the last tours to make a live record so we've spent the last month or so mixing and working on that and we also filmed a few of the shows for a bit of a documentary of the band. We just finished that along with the live record that will probably be coming out this spring. Then we've got a few days to get in the studio to start writing and thinking about the next studio record, so we're just getting the wheels turning on that. With a band this big, you just kind of have to keep moving, so that's what we do.
I'm really excited about the live album. We captured a really good show. I was thinking it would be more of a compilation of the West Coast tour; but one of the nights in Oakland was so good on its own that just the continuity of one show felt better than piecing it together.
Amy: Were there any special guests or sit-ins on that one?
Derek: Our friend Alum Khan, who is an Indian classical musician who plays the sarode. His father, Ali Akbar Khan, was one of the great musicians of the last 100 years. He showed up and played some really beautiful stuff.
Amy: You and Susan both had successful individual careers before TTB. Did you know right away when you got together that you'd eventually form a band, or when did you decide to join forces full time?
Derek: I think we had the notion, but she was so deep into her thing at the time and I was as well. The timing wasn't right and I think we wanted to take our time getting into something like that and make sure we knew each other well enough. We were both more comfortable getting married and having kids than starting a band together. [Laughs] It's a big commitment, so we waited about 10 years.
Amy: Are your kids musically inclined? I would imagine there's music happening all the time in your house.
Derek: They listen a lot and they have the love for it but they don't really play yet. They're into their own things. My son is a baseball player and my daughter is into everything under the sun, so they're very occupied.
Amy: What was the first real paying gig you played and how old were you?
Derek: I was probably nine or ten years old. I remember playing the Jazz and Blues Festival up in Toronto, Canada, originally sitting in with local bands and then touring with this group that the lead singer was from Oklahoma. His name was Ace Moreland and he was an amazing singer and guitar player and he would have me up for about three or four tunes every night and I kind of traveled with him for a while. Feels like another lifetime thinking back to it, but it was fun.
Amy: What was it like literally growing up around the Allman Brothers Band and performing with them at such a young age?
Derek: It was intense, you know. Their music was the first music I really listened to and dove into and to have a chance to get on stage and play that stuff at that age was a unique feeling, no doubt about it.
Amy: Duane Allman passed away eight years before you were born. While you never got to actually know him, how did his playing inspire and influence you?
Derek: It was probably even more his sound than the band itself that was intriguing to me as a kid and still is in some ways, as well as his persona and everything I had heard about him and the stories you'd hear about the person he was. It was a huge influence and inspiration.
Amy: Was it hard to close that chapter of your life when the band called it quits?
Derek: No, I was ready to move on. It was an incredible honor to be part of and some great music was made, but I was ready to put it in the rear view and move on to the next thing and really focus on building something from the ground up. I thought it went out in a good way. The last show we did was leaving on the highest note, so no part of me wants to revisit that. I'm probably alone in that sentiment. They'll probably reform in some capacity at some point -- who knows. I've run into almost all of them since then. I just played with Oteil the other night and I've played with Warren and Gregg since then -- I think everyone but my uncle, strangely.
Amy: You've also had the chance to play with your brother [Widespread Panic drummer Duane Trucks] over the past year or so.
Derek: Oh, yeah, it's always good to see little brother, and also Jimmy Herring. I've known him since I was about 12 years old, so he's felt like an older sibling or an uncle in some ways. That band is more of a family affair than ever.
Amy: You and Susan got to perform at The White House for President Obama at the "Red White and Blues" celebration in 2012, where the President famously sang a few bars of "Sweet Home Chicago." What was that experience like?
Derek: Yeah, that was a surreal few days. We played at the first inauguration at the Southern Ball, and then we got invited to play with B.B. King and Buddy Guy at The White House for that blues show and those are moments you don't forget. Just to see B.B. in that room and knowing just how unique that was -- thinking about when he was born and how different the world was that he could sit in there and the day would be about him. That was the thing I remember the most about it. That and Susan yelling for the President to sing, "Sing, Mr. President!" and he grabbed the mic. That was a pretty damn good moment, too. I don't think there will be a whole lot of concerts like that there in the next few years.
Tedeschi Trucks Band performs at the Peabody Opera House on Wednesday, January 25 at 7:30 p.m.
If an album could best reflect America in 2016, it would have to be Drive-By Truckers' American Band, released just over a month shy of the most heated election in our nation's recent history. DBT's eleventh and most blatantly political album to date, American Band oozes with imagery that gouges into the heart of some our most controversial issues, most notably racism and gun violence.
It also happens to be one of the best albums of last year, pairing the vivid lyrics and supreme storytelling abilities of songwriters Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley with the band's signature hard twang and guitar mastery. Twenty-one years after starting out, and after numerous lineup changes, Drive-By Truckers sound stronger and bolder than ever.
The Cooley-penned album opener "Ramon Casiano" recalls the 1931 shooting murder of a 15-year old Mexican boy on the Texas border by future NRA leader and gun-rights activist Harlon Carter. Hood's haunting "Guns of Umpqua" takes us into a classroom at Oregon's Umpqua Community College on the day a gunman walked in and opened fire in 2015.
On "What It Means," the most jarring and powerful tune on the album, Hood speaks unflinchingly about the murders of Trayvon Martin and (closer to home) Michael Brown, wailing softly, "If you say it wasn't racial when they shot him in his tracks / Well I guess that means that you ain't black / It means that you ain't black."
Cooley's deceivingly upbeat foot-stomper "Surrender Under Protest," the first single released from the album, stares down the South's dirty legacy of racism disguised as tradition, asking, "Does the color really matter / On the face you blame for failure / On the shaming for a battle's losing cause?"
I spoke to Cooley by phone just ahead of DBT's show at the Pageant this coming Friday night about the album and the heavy issues it takes on.
Amy: You guys have never shied away from social and political issues in your music, but American Band holds nothing back. Did you set out with the intent to make a protest record or did the songs just come together that way as you were writing?
Cooley: It was one song at a time, really. Because some of the songs go back several years, it wasn't until Patterson and I went in and recorded the first several songs that we realized it was going to be this kind of record. It was like, "Okay, I see where we're going with this. Let's go forward."
Amy: Many of your past albums have been steeped in the imagery and stories of the South, whereas this one paints a broader picture of America as a whole. I'm assuming the title was part of making this distinction.
Cooley: Exactly. We didn't think about the title until afterwards, and there are a lot of things you can draw into that; but it also occurred to me that, though it wasn't our intent, it does say, "We are not a Southern Rock Band and please stop calling us that" right there on the cover. But they'll still keep calling us that.
Amy: This is also your first album in nearly 20 years to not have the signature cover art painted by Wes Freed, but rather a darkened photo of an American flag at half-mast. What made you decide to depart with tradition for this cover?
Cooley: At some point, we just all at the same time said, "Y'know, it might be time to have a photo cover." We all like photo covers and I think Patterson came up with the idea that the subject matter and direction we're coming from needed something that looked a little more photojournalistic.
Amy: Is the photo also at all in reference to the song "Darkened Flags on the Cusp of Dawn?"
Cooley: Well yeah a little, and of course the flag at half-mast in correlation with all of the shootings that we were talking about -- not just mass shootings, but shootings of unarmed black people and our incredible number of innocent bullet recipients.
Amy: Speaking of that, you wrote the tone-setting opening track, "Ramon Casiano." What compelled you about this particular story and how it ties to what is happening in our country today?
Cooley: I wanted to write the song before I found the story; and I particularly wanted to shine a light on the cultish nature of what the NRA has created and cultivated since the late 70s. I was always interested in the whole transformation of the organization, because I knew it wasn't always what we know it to be today -- this kind of right-wing activist organization. So, as I was learning more about that, I came across this story that just happened to be the back-story of the man who headed up that transformation; so all I had to do was tell that story. I was like, that's the song. And I really set out to shine a light on the white supremacist streak that runs through that whole crowd and what really motivates them.
Amy: Tell me about writing the song "Surrender Under Protest" and how you feel the South has or has not progressed with regards to its racist traditions.
Cooley: I was banging my head against the wall writing that song for weeks because it was in the aftermath of the church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina and I was just floored by that, because even though I know that obviously racism is not over, this was a 21-year-old resurrecting some old-school racist terrorism and lynch mob talk that really did shock me. It showed me just how much worse the resurgence of white supremacy was after Obama's election than I even thought it was because that was what prompted this guy to go radicalize himself.
Then, in the aftermath of that, the whole controversy over the Confederate flag erupted and we got to learn why the flag in question there next to the South Carolina capitol came to be there and why it had to be a thing. And it's so typical of the South -- it's a hallmark of Southern politics that they were feeling a little pressure in 2000 to remove it from their actual capitol building because, lo and behold by the year 2000, having a racist flag on your capitol building wasn't good for business anymore. So they felt the pressure and in order to make one of those grand compromises in the tradition of George Wallace standing in the schoolhouse door or the push back against marriage equality, they basically had to take a stand.
So when this horrible shooting happened, one of the victims happened to be a member of the State House of Representatives whose body would, in political tradition, lie in state; so they decided to "surrender under protest" basically and pass a law requiring two-thirds vote in both houses to take it down. They couldn't just quietly go out there and take the stupid thing down without anybody noticing. That was their act of pointless defiance to simply be dragged into the 21st century.
Amy: What was it like growing up liberal in Alabama with its long history of racism and being a catalyst for the civil rights movement?
Cooley: Well, a lot of us have. I think the thing is for some reason, Southern people and Southern politics have never really been in line with one another. I recently was reminded that Alabama celebrates Robert E. Lee's birthday on the same day as Martin Luther King Day; so that was their act of pointless defiance to comply with that becoming a federal holiday. You put up with a lot of that and some of us find it embarrassing and disgusting; and some say they do and I don't buy it; but it's frustrating. You still have to confront those kinds of things all the time.
Amy: With American Band being released just prior to Election Day, you obviously didn't know what the outcome would be; but these songs seem even more urgent now.
Cooley: We were basically writing this album saying, "What the hell is wrong with you people?" without actually knowing just how bad it was. When we were writing a lot of this stuff, Donald Trump wasn't even a candidate. When we started recording it, it was a few months before the primaries even happened. In a way, this record is really about the forces that made him possible. We just didn't know how powerful they were.
Amy: The band has gone through a lot of changes and road-bumps over the years. What do you think has allowed Drive-By Truckers to not only survive, but also continue to thrive?
Cooley: Mostly a real strong unwillingness to have a day job. [Laughs] When me and Patterson figured out that we could do this for a living, we were pretty determined to make it work no matter what came about. So picking up a new member and fixing what's broken and booking the next tour is really always been the priority for us. There aren't a lot of jobs for 50-year-old men without a college education and a big long gap in employment.
Amy: How has your relationship with Patterson evolved over the years as fellow songwriters, band mates and friends?
Cooley: It's finally just reached this level of consistency. It's just like a marriage, you know? If you stick it out long enough, you just learn that the other person's there whether you can stand 'em or not. We just finally figured out that there was this thing we could do that would work better if we could do it together.
Click below to view Tim Farmer's photos of DBT's performance at the Pageant with guest Kyle Craft.
The third annual Art of Live Festival is in full swing this weekend -- featuring four nights of music spread across three local venues, combining local bands and artists with national and international touring acts. Participating venues include Old Rock House, Off Broadway and the Ready Room.
"Live concerts are unique in that there are no passive participants," says organizer Tim Weber, managing partner of the Old Rock House and ORH Concerts. "Fans, promoters, bands, security -- we actively and collectively create the experience, the art, together. That is what we are celebrating with the Art of Live Festival."
One of the last Art of Live performances to take place is the return of G. Love & Special Sauce, joined by Boston-based funk pop band Ripe, at The Ready Room on Sunday evening. A veteran touring act for more than 20 years now, G. Love & Special Sauce released their eighth studio album, Love Saves the Day in 2015, featuring the group's original lineup of G. Love (a.k.a. Garrett Dutton), upright bassist "Jimi Jazz" Prescott and drummer Jeffrey "The Houseman" Clemens playing the signature "hip-hop blues" they originated. The album featured a star-studded lineup of guest artists including Lucinda Williams, Citizen Cope, David Hildago of Los Lobos, Ozomatli, DJ Logic, Money Mark, Zach Gill and Adam Topol.
G. Love took a break from his tour stop in Minneapolis to give a quick phone interview prior to Sunday's show in St. Louis.
Amy: Love Saves the Day came out in 2015. What have you been working on since then and what are you working on now?
G. Love: With G. Love & Special Sauce we put out a lot of music in the last few years -- we put out Sugar and two EPs and then Love Saves the Day, so we're taking a minute before we put out another album; but I did work on a project last fall called Jamtown, which is a collaboration with Cisco Adler and Donovan Frankenreiter, and that came out really well so we're really excited about that. Hopefully that's going to come out in the Spring.
I also did a recording session with blues artists and my old label mate Keb' Mo' and we kind of did a little trial session to see how it would be to work together. We both enjoyed it, so I think in the spring we'll continue on that. I'd like to do a blues record of new original material. I learned a lot from recording with Keb' and our stories sort of intertwined because we both got signed the same year to the same label -- OK Records in '93, when I was 20 and he was my age now, which is 44. It was cool to link up after all those years and get in the studio together.
Right now, our band is on the road working and playing our music and that's kind of always been our life's work and mission, so we'll continue to tour. This tour for us is great for the fact that we don't have a record out. These are always fun years because there's no rules, we can play whatever we want with no pressure on ourselves, so we plan to dig a little deeper into the back catalog on some songs we haven't hit in a couple years and also play all the hits and showcase a lot of the hip-hop blues original sound. It's just about throwing a party every night -- no rules, no holds barred.
Amy: You've always been a big collaborator and Love Saves the Day has a lot of amazing guest collaborations on it. When you do that, are you writing the songs with certain people in mind to record with, or is it happen more organically?
G. Love: Most of the songs you end up writing with the people you collaborate with. For instance, on Love Saves the Day, Citizen Cope and I wrote a tune and we felt really good about it so we said, "Hey, let's cut it." A lot of times it happens like that where you're writing specifically with the person you're singing it with.
There are some other times when you'll have a bunch of tunes and think, "Oh, this one would be good if so-and-so comes in." So also on Love Saves the Day, I knew Ozomatli was coming and so I looked at the tunes and thought, "Oh, these would be good with the horns and the vibe they bring." The same with David Hidalgo from Los Lobos; we know what he's going to bring to the table -- he's going to bring this amazing guitar work -- so we want to present him with a tune he can really shine on. If you're going to have this great talent join you in studio, it's in everyone's best interest to figure out a way to make them shine.
Amy: Who have been some of your more memorable or favorite collaborators over the years?
G. Love: I did have an early collaborator with my first rapping partner, whose name was Jasper. We wrote a lot together and really influenced each other's music. He was my first great collaborator.
Then further on down the line in my career, my most famous one with Jack Johnson which kind of helped launch his career and reinvigorate my career and that collaboration continues. It's been almost 20 years that I've known Jack, and I just linked up with him on the North Shore of Hawaii where I finished my little acoustic tour last week. I had three shows out there. He ended up coming and playing half a set on all three shows and we had a blast. I said at the show that the first day we met, we went surfing and then played music and that's the same thing we did the last day we hung out together.
Then the most recent one, as I mentioned, is this Jamtown thing. I met Donovan through Jack and we've crossed paths a lot over the years and have been on each other's records and he's just great. I love him as a human and a guitar player and singer and writer. He and I had been talking about doing a "barbecue record" -- acoustic versions of our old tunes and a couple covers and originals. So I reached out to Cisco Adler, who I've worked with over the years as a writing partner and said, "Hey, would you produce Donovan and I?" So we went in and ended up writing ten of the greatest tunes I think I've ever been on in my whole career and it ended up being more of a three-man collaboration. It just kind of happened in this way, and I feel like we really have a hit record. I feel like this could be a very exciting year for us with Jamtown, so that's the collaboration I'm most excited about right now.
Amy: You've been playing your signature hip-hop blues for more than 20 years now. How have the drastic industry and technology changes over the years affected how you record and put out music?
G. Love: I think the biggest thing is that technology has changed the way that you make money through your recordings, and because the fact that you don't sell a lot of records, therefore the record label doesn't make a lot of money. There are no budgets to make records now -- there are not a lot of big record deals to get. Like I had a good record deal in the early '90s -- but you used to get like $350,000 to make a record and they'd want you to spend it all and take as long as you could to spend all that money. They wanted to have the best record. So you'd spend a lot of money and a lot of time making a record.
These days, you maybe have 10% of that budget to make a record. We make our records for a tenth of the cost in about a tenth of the time. Instead of going in and tripping on mushrooms for a week trying to capture some magical essence, I go in prepared to bring the magical essence and kick some fucking ass and do it in a week. And I feel like we make such better records now in so much less time for so much cheaper.
Recording has really been a joy because the limitations technology has brought have made us be better -- maybe not richer, but better. For a lot of the jam bands, and us included, most of them never sold a lot of records but made their living on the road and that hasn't changed. That's the beautiful thing about having leaned on your performance craft for a lot of years. The live music culture is by the people for the people and we the people want to keep jamming!
Amy: What lessons have you learned in so many years touring and recording that you would impart to your younger self just starting out?
G. Love: I think to take your time. There's always this urgency -- everything is hurry up, hurry up. What you realize after you do this for a few years is that you're basically just going around in circles. Music is not a sprint; it's a marathon. Give yourself time. You have to last a long time.
The other thing is that the business side of it is a constant learning curve because it's a constantly changing environment so you constantly need to be adjusting with it. I made so many mistakes and had so many missed opportunities. I did a lot of things right but also did a lot of stupid things. There are a lot of things you learn and a lot of things you look back on and say "should have, could have, would have," but the fact is I'm still here and my career is still more vibrant than ever. People come up to us every day and say, "I've been to ten shows" or "I've been to 50 shows," and you're just like, damn, thank you.