Author Archives: Tim Hibbs

Billy J. Kramer,
The TVD Interview

Billy J. Kramer seemingly came from nowhere (well, Bootle, Lancashire, England, to be precise) to climb the upper reaches of the UK and U.S. pop charts beginning in 1963. Hand-picked to join the NEMS Enterprises artist roster by The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, Kramer was given Lennon/McCartney songs to record and was produced by George Martin. When his original backing musicians quit, professional Manchester combo The Dakotas were hired by Epstein to be Kramer’s band. He rode the wave of Beatlemania worldwide and had several top ten hits in multiple countries.

After the beat music boom crested in 1965, Kramer and The Dakotas parted ways. He launched a new career in cabaret and British television, maintaining a solo career there for the next two decades before relocating to the U.S. He has recently released a new CD, I Won The Fight, and is excited to be a part of the British Invasion 50th Anniversary Tour.

How did you get involved with the tour?

I was approached by the promoters, you know? I’ve been living here for a long time, doing gigs and different things, and when they came up with the idea for this tour, I said, “Yeah.” I’ve been very uplifted by the whole thing. I thought it would be good but it’s been better than I could ever imagine.

After the British Invasion tour ends, I’m going to the UK to do the Solid Silver Sixties 30th Anniversary Tour. It will be with Mike Pender of The Searchers, Chris Farlow, P.P. Arnold, and The Merseybeats. It will be thirty concerts in all and it will the first time I have toured there in eighteen years. I very excited about it.

You toured the U.S. prior to The Beatles’ arrival. Do you still see some of your original fans as you tour?

Yes, definitely. I have a connection with Beatlefest, which I have done on numerous occasions, and the fans always come out.

As you were growing up, what artists caught your attention early on?

Buddy Holly singing “That’ll Be the Day” hit me really hard the first time I heard it on Radio Luxembourg, which I used to listen to on Sunday nights. Also, the bass player in my first band had a brother who would bring records back from America. I remember he had the 78s of Elvis singing “Hound Dog” and “Don’t Be Cruel.” Both of those records blew me away! I started to collect records myself around that time.

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Peter Asher,
The TVD Interview

Peter Asher has had a long and storied career, initially as a musician, briefly as head of A&R for Apple Records, and later as a heavily influential producer and artist manager. Through records he produced by James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt, he helped create the ‘70s singer-songwriter sound which is still influencing artists today. He was at the center of ‘60s Swinging London and with his musical partner Gordon Waller, made records that distilled the essence of that heady era.

He is preparing to tour several U.S. cities as part of the British Invasion 50th Anniversary Tour with Denny Laine, Billy J. Kramer, Mike Pender’s Searchers, Chad and Jeremy, and Terry Sylvester of The Hollies. Asher will act as master of ceremonies for the concerts as well as performing some well-loved hits from the Peter and Gordon catalog.

I know that producer Andrew Sandoval put the British Invasion tour together. How did you get involved?

Andrew is a friend and he works with Keith Putney who books a lot of my shows and runs that part of my career. They came to me with this idea and asked me to be a part of the first British Invasion tour. Unfortunately, I was already booked for that period so I was only able to do the first date, which was L.A., and the last date, which was somewhere on the east coast. I couldn’t do the tour properly, but I enjoyed the two I did. I MC-ed the show, introducing people and sang some of the old songs. This year, they asked in plenty of time if I could put two weeks aside to do the full tour and I was delighted to say “yes.”

Take us through the structure of the show. You’ll be the master of ceremonies and I understand the acts will share a common backing band.

Yes, we have a wonderful band, most of whom are members of my band. Everyone will do some of their own hits and we’ll work up some numbers to sing together. It’s fun! I tell stories about how I met certain people and how I first heard these records. It all fits together in the picture of the so-called “British invasion” which just had its 50th anniversary last year, so it’s now ancient history (laughs). When it comes my turn, I sing four or five of the Peter and Gordon hits.

This whole thing began in a way when Gordon (Waller) and I got back together after a thirty-eight year gap (Ed. note: Peter and Gordon reunited as part of a 2005 two-day tribute concert for Mike Smith, lead vocalist and keyboard player for the Dave Clark Five. Smith had recently fractured his spinal cord and was paralyzed. He died in 2008. Waller died of a heart attack in 2009). At the time, I confess that I wasn’t sure if singing the old songs was going to be a cool and rewarding thing to do. But, in fact, it was very interesting. The audience was a mixture of people our age, who were around at the time and remember it and young people for whom it is historical research, I suppose (chuckles). They’re visiting the living remnants of a period of history that they have read and heard much about.

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TVD Recommends: Forecastle Festival,
July 17-19, 2015

The first wave of artists for the 2015 Forecastle Festival has been announced and, per usual, it is an eclectic and intriguing bill. Forecastle, now in its thirteenth year, happens each July in Louisville, Kentucky’s Waterfront Park, on the banks of the mighty Ohio River. The park is a sweeping 85-acre greenspace with a decorative tributary running through the center, giving you a chance to cool your heels in the water and relax between sets (ponder that, Coachella). The festival’s four stages are spaced with adequate distance to prevent sound bleed, but close enough to easily get from one to the other quickly. But, really, why should you go?

These days, virtually every town with a stoplight has a festival. Seriously, it’s getting out of hand. What once was the purview of a few select cities is now everybody’s Paloozasquatch. Having attended a fair number of these gatherings, I can testify that Forecastle is different. Produced by AC Entertainment, i.e., the folks who stage Bonnaroo, and Forecastle’s founder JK McKnight, it offers many of the same amenities as its big brother (great artists/terrific food/cool vibe) with one major difference: no camping.

While some prefer the immersive, stay-in-a-tent experience, I’m too partial to real beds and hot showers. Downtown Louisville has plenty of parking adjacent to the park and hotels in all price ranges. You come, you see the acts, and a) go back to your room or b) take in one of the after-hours shows. Either way, no bedroll required.

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TVD Recommends: Bloodshot Records 20th Anniversary Blowout at City Winery Nashville

To consider that Chicago’s insurgent indie label Bloodshot Records is twenty years old is a bit off-putting, though in the nicest way. Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was digging Neko Case & Her Boyfriends The Virginian? Or getting knocked to my knees by the absolute power of Robbie Fulks’ “The Buck Starts Here” from Country Love Songs? Don’t even get me started on Alejandro Escovedo’s mid-career peak Bourbonitis Blues.

Through two decades, label founders Nan Warshaw and Rob Miller have consistently delivered records of superior quality and made my wallet the weaker for it. Well played, Nan and Rob.

Like any red-blooded twenty-something, Bloodshot is ready to party and the shindig will commence Saturday, January 24th at City Winery Nashville. With a lineup of label stalwarts Robbie Fulks, Cory Branan, and Bobbie Bare, Jr.’s Young Criminal Starvation League, it is guaranteed to be a night of great music and memorable moments.

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Daniel Lanois,
The TVD Interview

Daniel Lanois is one of the premier sound architects of our time. He has produced some of the largest selling albums of the last three decades, often serving as an auxiliary member of the band in session. He is also a master musician and songwriter who has created an intriguing body of work. His latest album, Flesh and Machine, is a major departure from his previous work. A collection of 11 soundscapes, at times it sounds like sometimes collaborator Brian Eno with a rhythm infusion. Ultimately, it comes off as a bold and totally unique creation, one that Lanois entered with not a little trepidation.

Lanois recently performed his new material at City Winery Nashville, accompanied by a compelling video presentation. For the show, I was seated across from Nashville music legend Mac Gayden. Gayden, who recorded a series of adventurous and experimental records in the ‘70s, has a direct, flesh and blood connection to Lanois. I spoke with Mr. Lanois after the performance, when he reflected on his new direction as well as growing up in Canada.

Flesh and Machine is such a departure for you, musically. How did you choose this new direction?

I spend so much in “the laboratory,” my studio (chuckles), and every day is a sonic adventure. I decided to embrace my experiments and let those sounds be the direction of the next record. I was able to take myself off the songwriting hook, so I wasn’t operating by any of those preconceptions. It was a new-found freedom for me. I still have a regard for conventional songwriting, of course, but I thought this time I’ll have the laboratory experiments direct me into this new frontier.

This music is also more rhythmic than what I’ve done before. I’ve always loved rhythm so to be able to highlight that was something that was special to me.

At your recent City Winery Nashville show, I was impressed by the collaborative process between the three of you, especially Brian Blade. What an amazing drummer!

Yes, he’s just a star and I can’t say enough about him. We’ve been working together over 20 years and he never ceases to amaze me as a drummer and as a human being. He’s a great barometer for the music. Can’t get enough of him!

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TVD Recommends: Hard Working Americans, The First Waltz at Acme Feed & Seed, 12/20

In 2013, tenacious troubadour Todd Snider called some friends to help play some songs he’d been collecting by some of his favorite writers. Answering that call were Dave Schools from Widespread Panic (bass), Neal Casal of Chris Robinson Brotherhood (guitar/vocals), Chad Staehly of Great American Taxi (keyboards), Jesse Aycockand (guitar/vocals), and Duane Trucks, Derek’s younger brother (drums). Alt-country chanteuse Elizabeth Cook helps out on background vocals sometimes as well.

This collective took on the name Hard Working Americans and proceeded to play marathon shows full interactive musicianship and camaraderie. They hoisted their freak flag high, right beside the Stars and Stripes, proclaiming that you don’t have to attend a tea party in order to be patriot. Mostly, though, they just played kick-ass music.

Appropriately enough, they recorded their self-titled debut album at Bob Weir’s studio. The process of putting this group together was captured by filmmaker Justin Kreutzmann in the riveting rockumentary Hard Working Americans: The First Waltz.

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Nicole Atkins,
The Best of the 2014
TVD Interviews

Nicole Atkins first came to national prominence with the release of her debut album, Neptune City. Since that album on Columbia, she issued Mondo Amore on Razor & Tie and has just released the first album on her own label, Oh’ Mercy! Records titled Slow Phaser.

We chatted with Nicole to talk about the new album, her love of vinyl, and a surprise comeback from a beloved melodic rock band.

The first time I heard about you was when my friend and former colleague Sky Spooner raved about you.

Oh, yes, Sky! He was the A&R scout for Columbia who discovered me.

The title of your new album, Slow Phaser, conjures vivid images for me, but what does it represent for you?

It’s funny how that came about, actually. We were recording the album, testing out different sounds, and I said to my producer Tore Johansen, “Hey turn up the slow phaser, man!,” as a joke. As soon as I said it, I thought, “Slow phaser: that’s a really good album title.”

The more I thought about it, the more it made sense because there’s a shit-ton of slow phaser on the album, soundwise. Also, I equated “slow phaser” with late bloomer and that’s what I feel like I am. I’ve always felt that way, so the title felt very appropriate.

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Jody Stephens:
The TVD Interview

The story of Big Star is the very definition of “cult band.” Born slightly out of time, delivering sparkling British Invasion-inspired pop several years after it fell out of vogue, their music went largely unheard during their existence.

However, like their contemporaries The Velvet Underground, their recordings have had a remarkable afterlife and gathered many acolytes who gleefully spread the word about Memphis’ best kept secret. With0ut Big Star, the careers of R.E.M., The Replacements, The Posies, The dBs, Matthew Sweet, Teenage Fanclub and scores of others would have been significantly altered if they existed at all.

On the occasion of the re-release of the Big Star boxed set, Keep An Eye On The Sky, I spoke with drummer and sole surviving original band member Jody Stephens about the group’s enduring legacy.

In the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, Memphis was a hotbed for British Invasion-inspired bands. What do you think caused this convergence of power pop?

I don’t know. I would think that the British Invasion swept through the whole U.S. population as did soul music just after that. I think everyone was pretty taken with both. I can’t speak for Cargoe or bands like The Scruffs. I just know I was a huge Beatles and Rolling Stones fan along with The Kinks, Badfinger, Procol Harum, and many others. People with like interests tend to connect and I think that’s why Chris and Andy and I got together initially. I think Alex was a fan of that music, too, and he came on board to due to our similar music interests.

Was there a particular record that caught your ear and made you think, “I want to create something like that”?

Any Beatles album! It doesn’t matter which one, they were all pretty inspirational.

At the same time you’re listening to this inspirational music, you have Ardent, one of the top studios in the country, at your disposal. How much did Ardent and, particularly, its owner and chief engineer/producer John Fry shape the sound of Big Star?

John Fry was everything about the sound. First he made sure the instruments—drums, guitars, bass—sounded good on their own. You can’t make a good recording if you don’t start with a good base sound. Outside of that, the way John captured those songs in the engineering process just added that extra bit of sparkle. I think that Big Star’s music is still relevant because of the way John Fry captured it on tape.

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Rosanne Cash,
The Best of the 2014
TVD Interviews

To find her voice as a musician, Rosanne Cash had to work diligently to move beyond the long shadow cast by her iconic father. In that journey, she felt compelled to move away from her native South and become a New Yorker, reveling in the creative chaos of Manhattan.

However, a series of life-changing events drove her to get in a car and drive across the South, visiting historic sites and touchstones of her early life. As she did, songs began to flow and she and her husband John Leventhal began writing what would become her new album, The River and the Thread, a concept album chronicling her recent travels.

Did moving away from the South help draw it into sharper focus for you?

Oh, yes. I think I pushed it away for a long time, it felt a little suffocating to me. In my mind, I was a New Yorker and I had to get away from it. I thought the South was in my past except for the people I love who are still there and I’m connected to. Two of my daughters live in Nashville, my sister lives in Nashville, my cousins live in Memphis, so I have family scattered throughout Tennessee in particular. But having a perfect storm of events happen in my life between 2011-2013 gave rise to a lot of songs.

Could you have written this record if you still lived in Nashville?

No. I do not think so. You have to get perspective. To try and write these songs there, it would have been too close. I had to let my heart expand and let down my defenses. That was crucial and my heart did expand when Marshall Grant died, when my friend Natalie Chanin taught me to sew, when I took my son to Sun Records in Memphis and to the place where I was born…those things were powerful.

What is it about the South that makes it such fertile ground for music, literature, and art?

I wish I had the answer. A huge part of this record is the mystery of that situation. As we say in “Money Road,” “we left but never went away”– that haunted quality stays with you. Why did Faulkner come from right down the road from where Emmett Till was killed and the Civil Rights movement began? Which is just down the road from where B.B. King, Charley Patton, Howlin’ Wolf, and Pops Staples started, which is next to where Eudora Welty grew up…you can’t help but be flabbergasted! My husband John and I kept saying, “What is it about the Delta? What is it?”

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Glyn Johns:
The TVD Interview

Glyn Johns’ career as an engineer and producer has been so successful that it almost seems like a Hollywood script. To tick off his list of collaborators is to name many of the most influential artists of the rock era: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Small Faces/Faces, The Kinks, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Paul McCartney, The Eagles and legions more.

While there is an element of right place, right time in his story, his simple yet extraordinary gift of capturing the authentic, organic sound of musicians playing together in a studio is remarkable. When “Good Times Bad Times,” “Satisfaction” or “You Really Got Me” explodes out of your speakers, it’s because Glyn Johns had the good sense and skill to get it down on tape correctly.

While on a book tour to promote his new memoir, Sound Man, we had the opportunity to speak with Glyn in Nashville recently to discuss just a fraction of his work. Smartly dressed and full of energy, he sat down at the interview table, ready to get on with it.

We spent decades as a culture working on better and better music reproduction fidelity, only to throw it all away for the convenience of having 5,000 songs in our pocket. What has the shift to MP3 done for the listening experience?

Oh, it’s dreadful! Not only is the sound bad, nobody listens to complete albums anymore. They just pick and choose tracks. Attention spans are minimal. The worst thing about digital recording is that bands don’t record all in the same room anymore. Songs are built track by track. When the guitarist, for example, is putting down his performance, he is reacting to the tracks already recorded. The problem is, the musicians already recorded can’t react to him! When everyone is playing together, there is a back and forth, a give and take that happens almost subconsciously. My fear is that this method of recording is becoming a lost art.

Of course, some artists are very successful recording this way (digitally), obviously. I don’t necessarily like their music, but our parents didn’t like our music, either.

Do you still listen to records?

Yes! There is nothing like that experience. Back when I first started buying records, there was the excitement of rushing home to listen to it, or going over to a mate’s house who had a better system and listening to it there. Much of what I listen to these days is digital, as it is sent to me in file form, demos and whatnot. But I try to listen to these files in the best way possible.

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