GRAMMY HALL OF FAME RECORDINGS – The Songs Of Leonard Cohen

GRAMMY HALL OF FAME RECORDINGS

Songs Of Leonard Cohen

 

 

Songs Of Leonard Cohen

Columbia Records

Released: December 26, 1967

 

Three slightly different variations over the years

Nick Krewen

GRAMMY.com

August 25, 2014

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the year the world was introduced to Leonard Cohen, songwriter and recording artist, Canada was celebrating its first century as a nation.

For both Cohen and Canada, 1967 marked new chapters filled with rebirth, hope and a promising future: Cohen already claimed a global following as an acclaimed poet and novelist, thanks to such celebrated literary works as 1961’s The Spice Box Of Earth anthology of prose and the novel Beautiful Losers (1966) (whereby The Boston Globe compared him to James Joyce).

The field of music was the Montreal native’s to conquer, and before he entered a New York studio in May to record Songs Of Leonard Cohen, he had a head start: Judy Collins had furnished versions of “Suzanne” and “Dress Rehearsal Rag” on her own project, 1966’s In My Life, and actor Noel Harrison had released “Suzanne” as a single with modest success.

 

In many ways, folk singer Collins was directly responsible for Cohen’s debut album: not only did she help the poet convert from songwriter to performer with an appearance at the Newport Folk Festival, she also invited Columbia Records legendary A&R man/producer John Hammond to the show, and within a short period, Cohen was signed.

 

Consisting of 10 tunes, including the eventual classics “Suzanne,” “Sisters Of Mercy,” “So Long, Marianne” and “ Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye,” Songs Of Leonard Cohen wasn’t an easy album to make, by all accounts.

 

Cohen preferred his arrangements simple and adorned only with his acoustic guitar; producer John Simon (The Band, Simon & Garfunkel), parachuted in after original producer Hammond was unable to continue the sessions, wanted to add accompaniment.

 

“John Simon wrote some delightful arrangements like the one to  ‘Sisters of Mercy’ still based around my guitar playing,” Cohen told Sylvie Simmons for her book I’m Your Man – The Life of Leonard Cohen. “I wanted women’s voices and he came up with some nice choirs of women. We did have a falling out over ‘Suzanne;’ he wanted a heavy piano syncopated, and maybe drums.  That was my first requirement, that I didn’t want drums on any of my songs, so that was a bone of contention.”

 

In a BBC interview about the album sessions, Cohen also pleaded awkwardness in adapting to accompanying musicians.

 

“I didn’t really know how to sing with a band, with really good, professional musicians that were really cooking,” he admitted. “I would tend to listen to the musicians rather than concentrate on what I was doing, because they were doing it so much more proficiently than I was.”

 

By the time he had finished recording the album in New York on November 9, there had been many takes: an estimated 20 of “Suzanne” and 24 of “So Long, Marianne.” He had also snuck Kaleidoscope, an uncredited band featuring guitarist David Lindley into the studio, unbeknownst to Simon.

 

Songs Of Leonard Cohen wasn’t an instant hit: it actually took 22 years to sell 500,000 copies and turn gold, but it did introduce the 33-year-old Cohen as an inimitable, distinct voice, or as Uncut has described him, “the laureate of romantic gloom and erotic distress,” a man whose monotone intonation revealed longing, romantic conflict and gifted imagery, providing a lasting and sober tonic to the free-flowing escapist vibe known as The Summer of Love.

 

The album serves as a template of inspiration for self-expressive songwriters around the world.

 

 

Remembering Shel

 

Nick Krewen

GRAMMY.com

Nov/Dec 2005

Legacy Recordings’ reputation for mining its vaults and producing superb compilations received another boost this past summer with the release of such acclaimed packages as Johnny Cash‘s 4-CD box set The Legend, Miles Davis‘ quintuple-disc The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions and Bob Dylan‘s Martin Scorsese-driven No Direction Home.

One watershed anthology, however, got lost in the shuffle: the best of Shel Silverstein – his words his songs his friends.

Although he was publicly revered as an author of children’s books, a poet and Playboy emissary, cartoonist, and columnist, the Chicago-born Silverstein has often been overlooked when it comes to his achievements as a songwriter and talents as a recording artist.

Beginning with 1959’s Hairy Jazz on Elektra Records, Silverstein recorded 11 modestly selling albums that spanned the jazz, folk, rock, country and children’s genres — including 1984’s Grammy-winning Where The Sidewalk Ends as Best Recording For Children — before a heart attack at his Key West home in 1999 filched his life.

And while no Dylan in terms of social influence and no Cash in terms of stardom, Silverstein could be viewed as a Davis-sort of trailblazer: a songwriter with a unique knack of delivering tunes that often mixed humor, profundity, debauchery and a childish sense of whimsy across a multitude of styles.

But as the best of Shel Silverstein – his words his songs his friends indicates through nine of its 25 selections, the tunesmith often relied on others to be his voice. Among his stellar hits: The Irish Rovers‘ “The Unicorn,” Johnny Cash‘s “A Boy Named Sue,” Bobby Bare‘s “Marie Leveau” and a pair of Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show classics,  “Sylvia’s Mother” and “Cover Of The Rolling Stone.”

Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show

And that’s just scratching the surface of an 800-plus-song catalogue.

“People tend to be really surprised when they hear all of the songs that he wrote,” says Laura Grover, Legacy freelance product manager and project director of this recent Silverstein anthology.

“There are some very significant hits there.”

More significant, perhaps, was Silverstein’s standing among his peers.

“Personally, I think Shel is the greatest lyricist there ever was or is,” says country music legend Bobby Bare, who has recorded dozens of Silverstein songs over the past 33 years. “He only had about three or four melodies, but as a lyricist, there’s no equal.”

Bare, whose new Dualtone album The Moon Was Blue features Silverstein’s memorably tragic “The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan,” says one of the keys of his close friend’s songwriting success was his fearlessness.

“When it came to writing and being creative, he had balls bigger than my head,” says Bare. “He was not afraid to go over the top.”

It’s a quality he finds lacking in today’s tunesmiths.

“They don’t have his guts,” says Bare. “Where everybody else leaves off, that’s where Shel began.”

Bobby Bare

Whether penning some of the bawdiest pop songs (“Masochistic Baby,” “Stacy Brown Got Two”) or the most endearing of children’s ditties (“Peanut-Butter Sandwich,” “Boa Constrictor”), Silverstein embraced the extremes with enviable mastery.

“He allowed children to reach up and he allowed audiences to reach down a little,” notes Dennis Locorriere, who shared the vocal role of Silverstein interpreter with Ray Sawyer in Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show.

“(The 1973 Silverstein solo album) Freakin’ At The Freakers Ball was just a bunch of sleaze. You could get offended if you wanted to — and some people did — but I think it was part of the same thing: embracing the adult part of the child and then embracing the childish part of the adult.”

Locorriere says Silverstein — who would have turned 75 this year — would cover his hands with scribbled notes if an idea hit him and there was no paper around.

“He was all about the work,” says Locorriere.

Silverstein also resisted the spotlight.

“Shel wasn’t the kind of guy that wanted to be on stage,” says Locorriere, who recently narrated the audio version of Silverstein’s posthumous best-selling children’s book Runny Babbit: A Billy Sook

“‘Hook’ got a lot of opportunities because Shel didn’t want to be out there. He did it to do it and didn’t even want to be famous.

“I always thought that if Shel was more of an attention-seeking performer, there’s a whole lot I wouldn’t have had to do. ”

Although he was aware of Silverstein and “all these killer songs that went from completely ridiculous to unbelievable storytelling” as a teenager, Locorriere didn’t become personally acquainted with the songwriter until Dr. Hook auditioned for the obscure 1971 film Who Is Harry Kellerman (And Why Is He Saying These Terrible Things About Me?) starring Dustin Hoffman.

“When the guy brought in a cassette and said, ‘Listen to these two songs and learn them’ and it was Shel’s voice, I just freaked out,” Locorriere recalls from his home in Sussex, England.

“I probably would have signed my soul to the Devil at that point just to work with and be around Shel. He liked the way we interpreted stuff and then he wrote most of the stuff on our first two albums.”

Dennis Locorriere

Locorriere describes Silverstein as a private man and an obsessed perfectionist who did allow some liberties with his art.

“Shel was very fussy and he’d work on stuff forever,” he remembers. “One of the reasons my relationship with Shel endured was because I was very flexible to his material.

“He’d write a song that’d just kill me, and say, ‘Do me a favor, Den. Sing it for me.’ He’d turn his book around and let you bend the melodies because he figured you knew that better than him. But he wouldn’t want you to change a single word — he’d kick your ass.”

Grammy winner Bobby Bare met Silverstein after he threw a challenge that Nashville songwriters failed to answer.

“Shel came down here at the time I was trying to get all the great songwriters of Nashville to write me a concept album – something with a thread not running through it and not just a bunch of songs,” Bare recalls during a break from a rehearsal in Nashville.

“But Shel understood what I was trying to do and he responded. I was with him on a Saturday night in Nashville. He went back to Chicago and he called Monday and said he had me an album. So we got started and it was great.”

That 14-song album, Bobby Bare Sings Lullabys, Legends and Lies, provided Bare with “Marie Leveau” — his only No. 1 hit — and “Daddy, What If,” his Grammy-nominated duet with five-year-old son Bobby Jr.

It also marked the beginning of a lifelong friendship.

Shel in colour

“In 1975 when my daughter Cari died, Shel came up and stayed with us for weeks, ” Bare recalls. “He was a real good friend and cared about his friends. My kids are still heartbroken over the death of Shel.”

At least the creative partnership ended on a high note with 1998’s The Old Dogs, a 20-song effort of Silverstein songs recorded by the legendary collective of Bare, Waylon Jennings, Jerry Reed and Mel Tillis. It was the last album both Silverstein and Jennings work on before their deaths.

“On the Old Dogs thing, we never laughed so hard in our lives,” Bare recalls. “We worked on it for over a year and Jerry said it was the most fun he ever had with his clothes on. Shel didn’t want it to end.

“We loved each other’s company. We always had a lot of laughs. I miss him every day. He was a great man.”

Bare says he hears Silverstein’s lasting influence in the country music of today.

“Anytime you hear something outrageous, Shel had an influence on it,” he says. “He showed them that there were a lot of new places to go with songs.

For instance, some of those albums I did with Shel – Toby Keith told me they’re his favorite albums. Toby would rattle off some of Shel’s songs that he said he loved. Every one of Shel’s song paints a picture or creates a movie.”

Although his music has been silence, there are pending plans to celebrate the songs he left behind.

“I’ve been talking for a long time with Hal Willner – hopefully we can put together a tribute record to Shel,” says Mitch Myers, the songwriter’s nephew and family representative in charge of the Shel Silverstein Archives in Chicago.

“We’ve had a lot of people who have said they’d like to participate and we have our own wish list.  We’ve talked to a few record labels and there are some possibilities for the coming year.”

Myers reveals he’ll also edit a collection of Silverstein’s Playboy comic travelogues for Simon & Schuster next year.

“Shel was a renaissance man,” says Myers. “That’s the bottom line.”

For Dennis Locorriere, the bottom line was Shel Silverstein’s immeasurable impact.

“He’s added a big paintbrush of color to my life that I wouldn’t want to do without.”

A Trip Down Memorabilia Lane

Collecting Collectibles The Hard Rock Way…

Nick Krewen

GRAMMY.COM

March 2005

At the recent Ft. Lauderdale kick-off for Mötley Crüe‘s Carnival Of Sins reunion tour, a man sat with Jeff Varner and other associates of the band’s 10th Street Entertainment management firm and witnessed bass player Nikki Sixx demolish his instrument.

He smashed his weather-beaten bass repeatedly against the stage canvas before throwing it into the air, pausing only to watch gravity slam it mercilessly back to earth.

“I heard Jeff later tell somebody, ‘Before it hit the ground, Bernstine’s already bothering me for the guitar!'” chuckles the Bernstine in question — Don Bernstine — manager of acquisitions/artist relations for Orlando-based Hard Rock Cafe International.

“I considered that to be the ultimate compliment.”

So did he get the guitar?

“After the show, I had Nikki sign it,” Bernstine laughs.

In the four years he’s occupied the position, the former director of marketing and promotion for British rock legends Deep Purple has been mandated to secure rock ‘n roll collectibles guaranteed to satisfy the palates of Hard Rock customers all around the world.

“It’s a one-two punch, ” explains Bernstine, 49. “The memorabilia helps get the people in the door and the food keeps them there. Between the videos and the music blasting out of the sound system, it’s a real rock environment.”

Samples of Bernstine’s handiwork can be found either hanging on the walls or locked in display cases throughout the thriving global Hard Rock chain of 122 restaurants, four hotels, two casinos and three hotel/casino hybrids.

Hard Rock Cafe Houston
Hard Rock Cafe Toronto

Walk into Toronto’s Yonge Street location, for instance, and you’ll find authentic memorabilia from Shania Twain (her leopard-skin cowboy hats and boots from her desert-shot “That Don’t Impress Me Much” video), Bob Dylan (the acoustic guitar he sports on the cover of 1984’s Real Live album) and KISS (a pair of Paul Stanley platform shoes) among the estimated 200-300 installations.

Even Toronto icons Rush (the custom-made Paul Reed Smith guitar made especially for Alex Lifeson and used during the band’s Presto tour) and Blue Rodeo (a semi-acoustic guitar used by principle singer and songwriter Greg Keelor during recording sessions) are represented to impress the locals.

It’s also a resounding success: co-founded in 1971 by London businessmen Isaac Tigrett and Peter Morton and owned since 1990 by London-based The Rank Group, Hard Rock International reported a 35% increase in profits in 2004 — from $37.7 million to $51 million — based on revenues of $426 million.

Expansion plans for 2005-2006 include introducing Hard Rock Cafes to Venezuela, the Canary Islands, Latvia and India and opening Hard Rock Hotels in Madrid, New York, Biloxi and San Diego.

There’s no doubt that the Hard Rock franchise owes much of its popularity to its rock ‘n roll pedigree.

“You try and hit a lot of hot buttons,” says Bernstine. “You want to hit on certain eras like Elvis, Beatles, Stones. There are certain genres that you want to represent. And in each location we like to have local artists that are represented from that particular city or area, and try and do something specific to that so the local crowd can relate to that.”

But Bernstine isn’t only interested in artifacts from bygone days.

“We also want to establish a stronger presence of newer artists, too.  That’s something I’m working on a daily basis. If it’s a cold call to John Mayer‘s people just to introduce myself, and get the ball rolling, I spend one day a week reaching out to people I don’t know because the Hard Rock Collection is the largest of its kind, so it speaks to itself.”

He’s not kidding: the Hard Rock tally numbers more than 60,000 pieces, dwarfing the Rock ‘N Roll Hall Of Fame’s comparatively meager 15,000 item inventory. Objects range from instruments and wardrobes to gold and platinum records and other personal mementos.

“One of the weirdest things that’s sitting in the Orlando warehouse right now is a small portable television that John Lennon must have used while he sat in bed or had on a nightstand,” says Bernstine, whose duties also includes cataloguing each new asset. “I guess he got bored and started carving little drawings and his name onto the side of it. It’s a hopelessly outdated television, the days prior to cable, but it’s pretty unique.”

So where does he find all this neat stuff?

“From a variety of sources,” Bernstine replies, “Our favorite way is to get it from the artist directly and that’s where I come in – I worked for Deep Purple and in the record business and radio industry for a long time, so I have a pretty wide reach with contacts in the music industry. Every year I try to up the percentage of direct acquisitions from artists.

“We also rely on auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s for some of the harder-to-get, more expensive high-end items — especially items from the Beatles and Elvis: Things that are much scarcer, much rarer, but traditionally show up in auction environments.”

Don Bernstine flanked by Deep Purple’s Don Airey and Robert Plant

Not everyone is co-operative.

“The two artists I’ve attempted to get repeatedly – and are very accommodating to meet with me and talk to me, but they just aren’t willing to do anything – are Metallica and Jimmy Page,” says Bernstine. “Jimmy’s a bit of a collector who I think still has a strong bond to the guitars that he still uses.

“And the Metallica guys have tons of stuff – they just aren’t interested,” he laughs. “They’re very funny about it. They gave us a car from one of their videos, but as far as instruments and things like that, I haven’t been able to get anything from them.”

If the Led Zeppelin co-founder and subjects of the recent documentary Some Kind Of A Monster ever change their mind, Bernstine assures them their donations will be permanent.

“We don’t ever purge,” Bernstine assures. “We don’t sell. Once it’s in the collection – it stays.”

And if something turns up in the collection that a musician wants back, Bernstine is willing to talk. He remembers the time Peter Frampton called to retrieve a custom-made Zematis guitar that had accidentally found its way into the Hard Rock annals.

“Whenever we get a call like that we always try and comply, because it’s goodwill with the artist and generally they’re willing to give us something back,” says Bernstine. “To my amazement, Frampton gave me the suit that he wore on Frampton Comes Alive. He pulled it out of the Rock ‘N Roll Hall Of Fame and gave it to us. So we do get those calls.”

In fact, Bernstine says the inclusion of a piece of memorabilia in a Hard Rock Cafe is almost as big a thrill for the musician as it is for the public.

“Having your stuff on the wall for a musician is like a badge of honour – it’s like being included in a very exclusive club.”

 

Postscript: Toronto’s Hard Rock Cafe no longer exists.

Suzie Katayama – Cellist and Arranger to the Stars

Suzie Katayama…Cellist and Arranger to the Stars

Nick Krewen

GRAMMY.com

October/November  2003

As with most five-year-olds enamored with Saturday morning television, Suzie Katayama was dazzled by the animated images dancing in front of her eyes, fuelling her imagination and making her laugh.

Suzie Katayama

But unlike most youngsters, she was equally taken with the variety of sonics bombarding her ears, ranging from the wild sound effects punctuating the action to the music score that enhanced the cartoon’s emotional impact. She soaked up the work of score composers Henry Mancini, Nelson Riddle, Elmer Bernstein and Jerry Goldsmith.

“It fascinated me how all the colors came together,” recalls Katayama.

A few hundred albums later, she remains fascinated. The Los Angeles-based Katayama has created a respectable niche for herself as an in-demand session cellist and touring performer, stretching her expertise between musical, television and movie projects. It’s a list that covers over two decades of influential contemporary music classics, ranging from Prince’s multi-million selling Purple Rain and Madonna’s stunning Like A Prayer to Alanis Morissette’s breakthrough You Oughta Know and Let Go, Avril Lavigne’s springboard to stardom.

Plying her trade with an 18th century Testore cello and a Salchow bow, Katayama answers the call from recording artists, arrangers, orchestrators and producers to enliven sessions with strings. She often serves as a solo entertainer, as part of a small ensemble or sitting in an orchestra chair. And if cello isn’t on the menu, Katayama can capably deliver accordion and piano parts.

“Sometimes I add a little glue to it,” she admits.

When she isn’t playing, Katayama can be contracted to arrange, conduct and copy music.

But she doesn’t feel she’s anything special.

“There’s a lot of talent out there, but there’s a lot to be said for being in the right place at the right time,” states the woman who has toured with legendary British guitarist Eric Clapton and innovative Iceland performer Björk in the past three years.

“You’re only as good as the boat that floats you. All the people I work with are brilliant and I consider myself extremely fortunate.”

Katayama, who lives with a menagerie of six parrots in the city where she was born, feels much more at ease throwing out the names of several inspiring colleagues within her community circle, including veterans Jeremy Lubbock, David Campbell and Paul Buckmaster.

“I love the camaraderie between us,” Katayama admits. “It’s very much a team effort.”

But the key to Katayama’s demand is her adaptability. There isn’t much she can’t do. Over the past few years alone, she’s bounced from the alternative electronica of Supreme Beings Of Leasure to the aggressive velocity of Alien Ant Farm, with detours into the soulful R&B of Brian McKnight and the jazzy stylings of pianist David Benoit.

When she enters the studio, she has to be ready for anything.

“We usually never get music ahead of time,” she says. “Usually we just show up, and if it’s an arrangement, you’ll be sight reading. Sometimes an artist will say, ‘We need you to come in and put something on.’ You start playing and ask them what direction they want you to go in. If they know, then you try different directions, because you can change the song. If the song is very similar through the bridge and through the chorus, you want to do something a little hooky.”

Katayama says it’s a fine balance between skill and overkill.

“If you do too much, you can change the whole temperament of the song. If it’s a hard rock thing and you put on strings that sound a little too sweet or too smooth, it takes away the edge.”

Katayama began her musical education with the accordion, switching to cello because she was intrigued “by its singing voice timbre” and because her friends discouraged her from trying the viola.

After taking formal lessons with a number of teachers including Greg Bemko, Katayama broke into recording when string player Novi Novog called her in to perform on Prince’s Purple Rain.

“Prince made me listen to rock ‘n roll again, made me excited again because music was going in different directions.

News of her participation triggered a flood of responses.

“I received a phone call from Mike Post, who told me, ‘You don’t know how big this album is going to be,’” recalls Katayama, also an avid photographer. “He was one of the first people to give me the experience of playing for television shows like Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, Hunter and The ‘A’ Team.”

Katayama also works on soundtracks, and remembers being pleasantly surprised two years ago during the recording session involving a veteran country musician.

“We recorded the soundtrack to the film All The Pretty Horses and Marty Stuart just wowed the entire orchestra with his music and live performance — just floored everyone,” says Katayama. “It was a great honour.”

She admits she lives for moments like those.

“When you record something magic, when everything ends up a little better than you expected, and the group plays so well together – that’s the fun part.”

 

 

Gorilla music

Koko The Gorilla releases an album…kind of…

Nick Krewen

GRAMMY.com

January 2003

 

Finally: a recording artist willing to work for peanuts.

With the recent release of a new album, Koko, the 31-year-old Lowland gorilla that has mastered over 1000 words of modified American Sign Language to the point of being able to understand and hold a conversation, has entered the world of pop music.

As the thematic subject of The Laurel Canyon Animal Company’s Fine Animal Gorilla, issued last month (November) by Westlake Village, CA’s Quicksilver Records, Koko doesn’t vocally or instrumentally contribute to the album. But LCAC co-founders Skip Haynes and Dana Walden found sufficient inspiration in three Koko expressions — “Fine Animal,” “Scary Alligator” and “TickleMeChase” — to name the songs and award the simian credit as co-writer.

“We took a lot of our stuff from transcripts of conversations between Koko and her caretakers,” says Haynes, 54, a graphic designer, composer and former member of Ampex/RCA ’70s recording trio Aliotta-Haynes-Jeremiah.

Speaking on behalf of partner Walden, Haynes said the duo also sought Koko’s approval, playing her the album’s nine tracks of easy-listening reggae, blues, rock and Celtic numbers. They discovered the ape has a producer’s instinct.

“On the song ‘Fine Animal’ there’s a throwaway line that says, ‘Do you think I’d lie?'” Haynes explains. “When Koko heard it, she signed the word ‘shame,’ so we took that line out.

“She also said she liked the attitude of the demo better than the finished master.”

The real-life Koko

Retailing for $14 at www.koko.org and available at such notable music retailers as Tower, Virgin, CDNow and Amazon.com, sales of Fine Animal Gorilla will benefit Koko in more ways than one. Haynes and Walden have pledged a generous portion of the proceeds — “anywhere from $1.30 to $7 per CD” — to The Gorilla Foundation, established in 1976 by Dr. Francine “Penny” Patterson to save gorillas from extinction. Dr. Patterson is currently hoping to move Koko and other gorillas from their present habitat south of San Francisco to a more environment-friendly 70-acre sanctuary in Maui, where they will hopefully breed and multiply.

Haynes and Walden are hoping to do their part to contribute to the estimated $3 million cost of relocation.

“This is a way for them to make money without having to rely on donations or gifts,” reasons Haynes. “And there are so many people who love animals, and the shelf life is indefinite.”

Incorporating animals into a musical recording isn’t a new concept. In 1978, The Paul Winter Consort melded the sounds of the timber wolf, the humpback whale and the African Fish-Eagle into a world music collage for its groundbreaking A&M LP Common Ground.

As a mid-’90s novelty, sampled barks and meows made the Jingle Dogs and Jingle Cats recordings all the rage.

Even Peter Gabriel has gotten into the act, spending time at Atlanta’s George State University last year (2001) to explore music communication through keyboards with a dozen bonobo apes.

But Haynes feels he and Walden, a former keyboardist of ’80s Columbia R&B recording act Champaign, are on to something, especially if they can tap into pet owners.

“We make music for people who love animals,” he says. “There’s a huge, huge market and this is a genre that’s never been tapped. There are millions of dog and cat owners, and they all buy stuff,” ”

Although Fine Animal Gorilla is its most recent release, Haynes and Walden’s Laurel Animal Canyon Company have released other CDs, including one by Carla Mitchell, their first official artist. In case you’re wondering, Mitchell is an Amazon…parrot.

 

The idea to make music surrounding animals began on a lark. Hired by The National Academy Of Recording Arts And Sciences to create a collage for its Grammy print program, Haynes thought the idea would translate well to neighborhood pets.  In 1999, he and Walden assembled the dogs, dressed them in sunglasses, and wrote a bunch of songs around it.

“We started by doing an album about our dogs called Ugly Dogs Need More Love and followed it up with Catatonic,” says Haynes.

 

Skip Haynes

Reaction was so favorable that Haynes felt there was a glaring window of opportunity.

“I went back to my partner and said, ‘We’ve got to learn how to make money doing this.’ When you deal with people through their animals, they’re all nice to you, because their unconditional love for their animal spills over, no matter who the person is.”

Carla the parrot was recruited for “I’m A Green Chicken,” although attempts to register her as an ASCAP member failed because, as Haynes notes, “the parrot has no social security number.”

Future projects include Birdbeat, a CD that will featured Carla and other fine feathered friends, a Holiday album and one involving animal psychics.

“We want to see if we can get them to get some animals to help us write some tunes,” says Haynes.

Whether Haynes and Walden can parlay their $80,000 investment into a steady flow of milk and honey almost seems moot. What about the impact the music industry is facing should Koko or Carla become bona fide pop stars?

Will Koko one-up Van Halen and insist that all the brown M&M’s remain in the bowl?

Can Carla claw her way to the top and shoulder the seeds of discontent without swallowing them? And will radio station programming consultants suddenly shudder at the prospect of being replaced in their positions by species of higher intelligence?

Talk about your gorilla marketing.

Pop Music 101

Studying Pop Music 101

 

POP MUSIC 101

Nick Krewen

GRAMMY.com

September 2004

Universities often feature artists in residence, but Andy Hollinden is more interested in featuring the artistry of The Residents.

Andy Hollinden

Hollinden, an assistant professor of music at The Indiana University School Of Music, is offering a three-credit course that binds the eccentric music of San Francisco’s most famous enigmatic eyeballs with the absurdist cacophony of Don “Captain Beefheart” Van Vliet and the summery surfin’ sounds of The Beach Boys.

Captain Beefheart
The Beach Boys

For 16 weeks, I.U. non-music majors will learn, dissect and analyze the histories and cultural impact of this peculiar trio through lectures, listening sessions and the required reading of such noted biographies as Steve GainesHeroes & Villains: The True Story Of The Beach Boys and Ian Shirley’s Meet The Residents: America’s Most Eccentric Band as they wind their way towards an arts and humanities degree.

“Even though their music is very dissimilar, they’re three groups that have a very similar artistic intent: They approach music making as art,” says Hollinden, explaining his motive behind the “Beach Boys, Beefheart And The Residents” curriculum.

“The Beach Boys sold some records; Beefheart and The Residents, most people don’t know who the hell they are, or if they hear them, they hate them.  I’d say they’re very successful artists, although they’re not very successful rock stars. And that’s the whole thrust of the course.”

The Residents

While any academia involving Captain Beefheart or The Residents may be unique to Indiana U., it seems that courses concerning pop music history and its constellation of stars are becoming more commonplace.

If you want to study the cultural impact of The Beatles, the aforementioned Indiana U. and universities in Chicago and Minnesota are just three of many available opportunities.

Looking for a dissertation on Bob Dylan’s prose? St. Mary’s College in Surrey, U.K. is the place to be. The University Of Amsterdam once offered a course on all things Madonna and if you’re a Deadhead, you should be truckin’ to the University Of California Santa-Cruz for your Grateful Dead fix. Several programs have even scrutinized the pioneering hip-hop production of Dr. Dré.

Rob Bowman, who first introduced popular music to Canadian academia concurrently at Toronto’s York University and Brock University in nearby St. Catharines in 1979, remembers the days of leaner choices.

“I call it ‘Guerilla Warfare in the Academy,’” chuckles Bowman, who was 22 and short an M.A. when he initially proposed to teach a college tutorial.

“I proposed two courses, and one on Bob Dylan got turned down,” he recalls. “But the one that got accepted was called ‘A Social And Historical Survey Of Contemporary Popular Music, 1954 To The Present’ – a coded way of saying it’s a course on rock ‘n roll.”

But even as classes got underway, Bowman faced another hurdle: the University senate rejected the course. Only after a vigorous letter-writing campaign by 19 of Bowman’s initial 20 students was the credit course reinstated.

“When you’re teaching something people are suspicious about, they just assume it’s going to be a Mickey Mouse course,” says Bowman, now director of York’s Graduate Program Of Music.

“But I appeared before the senate and brought in essays and exams. I’d make my students write three essays and two three-hour exams, which is definitely a lot harder than many of the courses. There was also tons of reading and they were analyzing musical structure. The students loved it.”

Bowman, also a globally revered author, broadcaster, performer and Best Album Notes Grammy recipient for The Complete Stax/Volt Soul Singles Vol. 3:1972-1975, says he’s surprised at how prevalently pop music has infiltrated post-secondary education.

“When I started, I had no idea it would eventually win at the level it did. Now I think virtually every university has a course on pop music, with classes numbering up to 600 people, and they’re mostly offered for non-majors.”

He credits a changing of the guard for rock’s new academic respectability.

“Part of the explosion has to do with a generation of university professors who are intently interested in this music,” Bowman explains.

“In effect, the allocation of the power has changed, It’s a natural thing to go from general large courses on rock or popular music or R&B for mass numbers of students in their first or second year to offering more specialized, detailed courses for students in their upper year. You’ve still got to have an overall department and academic environment that’s pretty open to that sort of thing.”

Bowman says an even strong incentive behind university and college music electives.

“They make money,” he says. “The large courses for undergraduates make university departments fortunes and in fact often pay for much of what goes on in the rest of the music department.”

But is there a job awaiting students who write their dissertations on Mark Of The Mole?

“Depending on what profession you’re going in to,” Bowman replies.  “The actual content of what you’re teaching is of secondary importance. Hopefully you’re teaching students different ways about hearing and thinking about music. It’s hearing and thinking processes that open the doors towards life-changing experiences. The primary function of education for me is about enriching peoples’ lives.”

Or if you’re Gary Lauer, it’s to introduce the joy of Yes to others.

For $29, fans of the British progressive rock group can enroll online for Yesology (www.csi.edu/ip/ce/yesology) at the College Of Southern Idaho, where they can pore through 56 lessons and 81 tests dedicated to the band’s 35-year history.

“I’m a Yes fanatic,” says Lauer, who designed the non-credit course with fellow Yes zealot Alan Farley and attracted pupils from Singapore and Quebec.

“Their music is very affecting and very extraordinary, but I guess it depends on how it hits your hypothalamus,” he laughs.

The Return Of Redneck Country

THE RETURN OF REDNECK COUNTRY

Nick Krewen

GRAMMY.com

August 2004

 

Country music is getting rowdy again.

As newcomers Gretchen Wilson and Big & Rich suddenly race up the charts with attitude-brandishing anthems like “Redneck Woman” and “Save A Horse (Ride A Cowboy)” and outspoken veterans Toby Keith and Montgomery Gentry watch their fan base increase by leaps and bounds, country audiences have returned to embracing the genre’s ornery streak.

“There’s definitely been a surge in the sort of wild side of country music in the past 18 months,” observes Neil Pond, vice-president and editorial director of Country Weekly, the nation’s top selling country music magazine.

Neil Pond

“Whether it’s a full-blown trend will remain to be seen, but it’s certainly having an impact that’s being heard and felt in country music.”

More importantly, that interest is translating into sales:  Earlier this summer, Pocahontas, Illinois native Gretchen Wilson topped the country charts for six weeks with “Redneck Woman” and took less than three months for her debut album Here For The Party to move more than 2 million copies.

The Nashville-based duo of Big Kenny and John Rich also hit the Top 10 with its humorously provocative “Save A Horse (Ride A Cowboy),” while watching its own debut Horse Of A Different Color sail past the platinum plateau within a month, averaging sales of 70,000 copies a week.

“It’s crazy, isn’t it?” remarked Big Kenny, “Everybody wants to have a Big & Rich time! ”

So why are audiences suddenly embracing country’s rebel yell?

“Before this started happening, country had gotten to a point where it was so safe, so politically correct, so homogenized, so bland, that it had to do something,” comments Country Weekly’s Pond. “The seesaw had nowhere to go but start tilting back in another direction.”

Gretchen Wilson, the former bartender who seems to have started the current avalanche with “Redneck Woman,” said she experienced the frustration of dealing with conservative Music Row tunesmiths firsthand.

Gretchen Wilson

“I often wrote with writers where I had to struggle to use the word ‘ain’t’ because it’s not proper English,” recalled Wilson, whose Here For The Party is abundant with slice-of-life serenades reflecting her small-town upbringing.

“And I’m sitting there looking at them going, ‘Who cares?’ A lot of the people who listen to country music say ‘ain’t.’ If that’s the way I talk, why wouldn’t I sing it that way?

“I think a lot of the songwriting coming out of Nashville was just a little too proper and just doesn’t sound like something people listen to where I come from. They listen to some of the songs and say, ‘Hey, that’s a nice song and everything, but I don’t get it. It’s not my life.”

Wilson says country folks are simply looking for a relatable connection.

“I think ‘Redneck Woman,’ just really hit home with down-home, regular people who hadn’t been spoken to in awhile about ordinary, every day life things,” she explains.

“A lot of the audiences that I’m reaching are stay-at-home Moms and Dads, or they’re two-income families that are working three jobs between rushing around, picking up the kids, taking them to school and bringing them home.

“What I sing about is just every day life stuff that they can really relate to.”

She also says “Redneck Woman” instills an identifiable sense of pride.

“I’ve had to tell a lot of people, ‘It’s not just a song about being a redneck – it’s a way of life,” says Wilson.  “Don’t worry about whether you’re driving the fanciest car or living in the biggest house or wearing the finest diamonds.

“I think a lot of people where I grew up and where I come from are just happy with what they’ve got, and they know how to live life. The important things to them are love and family and friends and good times and making the best of every day with what you have. It’s not worrying about what people think of what you don’t have.”

Big Kenny, who hooked up with ex-Lonestar member John Rich after both had lost their solo deals, says country fans are more tolerant and liberal in their choices than some Music Row stalwarts might suspect.

Big & Rich

“It’s very evident that our country audience likes to have a good time and that they are very open to all sorts of music, but until it’s put in front of people, they can’t decide whether they like it or not,” says the Big & Rich singer, whose on-stage entourage includes a rapping cowboy.

“Being the proponents of music without prejudice, we just go out there and play what we’re feeling, and it seems like the audiences are just wanting to grab it and get galactic.”

This isn’t the first time country has gone wild.

In the ‘70s, the Outlaw movement flaunted the independence of Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and others, cementing their reputations as rebels bucking the system. In the ‘80s, Hank Williams Jr. enjoyed an enviable streak of success filling his concerts with raunchy and classic crowd-pleasers like “Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound” and “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight.”

More recently fare like Toby Keith’s “How Do You Like Me Now?” and “Courtesy Of The Red, White And Blue (The Angry American)”has increased the Oklahoman’s stature as an astute songwriter who often nails public opinion.

Montgomery Gentry’s Eddie Montgomery says reading the public’s pulse is crucial to the success of his duo and other historic renegades.

Montgomery Gentry

“I think all our rowdy guys in the past – our heroes like Charlie Daniels and Hank Jr. and Skynyrd and Merle Haggard and Waylon & Willie, they sing songs about everyday life – the good, the bad, the ugly and the party on the weekend,” says Montgomery on behalf of partner Troy Gentry. “People can relate to that – whether you’re going to school or out here working 80 hours a week.”

It’s even extended to fashion: Montgomery has been alternating his wardrobe between cowboy hats and overcoats to Kufi Caps and slogan-filled t-shirts.

“I like going out and saying, ‘Hey, let’s wake up” so we don’t get stereotyped so damn much,” says the “Our Town” singer. “Because in country music, there are still people who like to stereotype us. We like to rock with the best of them.

“Of course, the original Man In Black always did something for me in the way he sang and the way he wore – the way he carried himself. That’s one thing we like about our heroes, and we want to make sure we do the same thing and never get away from who we really are.”

Country Weekly’s Neil Pond says Wilson and Big & Rich may be getting most of the attention, but other truth-baring artists are on the horizon.

“If you look around you’ll find an artist like Trent Willmon who sings, ‘I’m a beer man. I’m not a refined cultural white-collar guy. This is who I am’ and you hear the other things that he’s about as you listen to the song.

“If you really started looking at the Top 40 in country music, you’d see this is all leading somewhere.”

Athlete Musical Moonlighters

Sports figures

Nick Krewen
GRAMMY.com

 

He’s amassed four World Series rings, an equal number of Golden Gloves and all-star designations, and is a probable shoo-in for The National Baseball Hall of Fame.

However, New York Yankees slugger Bernie Williams is pushing another kind of record these days.

Offering some tasteful and dexterous jazz licks on a blue acoustic guitar furnished with a Yankees logo, Williams recently launched his new Verve CD The Journey Within at Chicago’s House Of Blues.

New York Yankee Bernie Williams
Jazz guitarist Bernie Williams

Performing 45 minutes with such renowned session players as drummer Kenny Aronoff and bass player Lee Sklar, Williams wowed his audience with his compositional instinct and expert musicianship.

The consensus was unanimous: Bernie Williams the athlete could easily pursue a career as Bernie Williams the musician, should the San Juan native choose entertainment after a profession in pinstripes.

“He’s unbelievable,” says Loren Harriet, the producer of The Journey Within who discovered Williams’ talent after recruiting him for another project, 2000’s MLB baseball album Big League Rocks.

“This was a guy who was actually a musician before he became a baseball player. He went to music school and studied Bach and Mozart. Then all of a sudden he decided to play baseball, and here come The New York Yankees.”

Williams isn’t the first athlete to attempt a crossover, since the love affair between music and sports is as old as the game itself. But successful transitions – and marriages — between professions are extremely rare.

Harriet says a talent like Williams is an exception.

“I don’t think athletes realize how difficult it is,” Harriet explains. “It’s like a musician wanting to be a centerfielder for the Yankees. It’s one thing to be excited and want to play but it’s another thing to be actually able to do that. I think they underestimate the highest level that musicians play at.”

Still, Williams’ move isn’t unprecedented. In the ‘50s, another famous Williams, Boston Red Sox Hall of Famer Ted, issued a Christmas release.  San Francisco Giants home run king Willie Mays had a spoken cameo in the regional Treniers hit “Say Hey (The Willie Mays Song)” a few years later. And would you believe Yankees great Mickey Mantle actually recorded a 1956 duet with Teresa Brewer called “I Love Mickey?”

Willie Mays records a cameo
Teresa and Mickey release a duet

But no one maintained a dual career better than singer Arthur Lee Maye. In addition to registering regional hits with the “5” Hearts, the Carmels and the Crowns, he maintained a .274 lifetime average with the Milwaukee Braves, Houston Astros, Cleveland Indians, Washington Senators and Chicago White Sox as Lee Maye.

In 1969, Capitol Records issued Denny McClain In Las Vegas, and the Detroit Tigers pitching ace even performed his organ-inspired cocktail jazz on The Ed Sullivan Show before racketeering, extortion and drug possession convictions imprisoned him.

Today, former Chicago White Sox hurler and Cy Young winner Jack McDowell pumps up the volume as lead singer, songwriter and guitarist with rockers Stickfigure. Meanwhile, ex- San Diego Padre second baseman Tim Flannery has gone the bluegrass route for five albums.

Baseball isn’t alone in transforming athletes to music stars.

Pittsburgh Steeler Terry Bradshaw once quarterbacked a Top 20 country hit with 1976’s “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” but it was Mike Reid who scored the ultimate touchdown.  After winning 1983’s Country Song Grammy for “A Stranger In My House,” writing hit songs for Ronnie Milsap and being named ASCAP Songwriter Of The Year in 1985, the former Cincinnati Bengals lineman scored his own country chart-topper “Walk On Faith” in 1990.

Mike Reid of the NFL
Mike Reid hit songwriter

Boxing idol Muhammed Ali failed to pack a punch as Cassius Clay on his golden-throated Columbia album I Am The Greatest, while multi-world-title-holder Oscar de la Hoya knocked out a Grammy nomination for “Ven A Mi,” his Spanish cover of The Bee Gees’ “Run To Me.”  And champion surfer Jack Johnson’s is successfully testing waters as a lo-fi multi-platinum-recording artist.

Cassius Clay is the greatest!

Los Angeles Lakers’ basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal mined gold in the hip-hop court with Brooklyn-based reverse rappers Fu-Schnickens on 1993’s “What’s Up Doc? (Can We Rock?)”and his own “(I Know I Got) Skillz” and platinum with Shaq Diesel. More recently, ex-Phoenix Suns Olympic gold medallist Wayman Tisdale dribbled out several jazz bass albums for Atlantic.

Pro basketballer Shaquille O’Neal
Pro rapper Shaquille O’Neal

Even wrestling has body-slammed its way into the record business, with Stamford, Connecticut-based World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. fostering sales of nearly 10 million albums. And who can forget Classy Freddie Blassie’s novelty hit “Pencil Neck Geek” or NRBQ’s mid-‘80s mindblower with Captain Lou Albano, Lou And The Q?

It also works both ways. Guy Lombardo traditionally rang in the New Year with “Auld Lang Syne,” but he also chimed in 1946 as coveted Gold Cup speedboat champion. Metallica’s Lars Ulrich preferred the racket of rock to pro tennis, while Percy “Master P.” Miller tried to go from rapper to NBA Raptor.

Yet no athlete can claim Bernie Williams’ prize: a publishing contract with Paul McCartney’s MPL Communications.

“I saw Paul at the Staples Center before a concert, and he said, ‘I want to be involved. I think the demos are great,’” recalls producer Harriet, who has worked with the former Beatle in the past. “Bernie flipped out. Paul McCartney is his hero.”

With the Yankees racing towards another pennant, Williams is curtailing his music until the off-season, when he’ll perform shows in New York and Puerto Rico.

But brother Hiram Williams says the seed has been planted with The Journey Within.

“It is a validation of what he has done, and an idea of where he wants to go afterwards,” says Williams. “He’s getting such good reviews. If he accomplished this part-time, you wonder what he can accomplish full-time.”

 

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When The Novelty Wears Off…

Nick Krewen

GRAMMY.com

 

On Halloween night in 1992, Toronto songwriter Blair Packham left a movie theater in Sarasota, Florida and noticed a small commotion in the shopping mall parking lot.

“There was a concert going on and there were hay bales all over the place and a flatbed truck with a stage on it,” recalls Packham. “There were only about 20 people in the audience, and they weren’t in costume – it was pretty sad.”

His curiosity aroused, Packham headed toward the crowd as the performer — dressed as Frankenstein’s monster — launched into “The Monster Mash.” To Packham’s amazement, the performer turned out to be the hit’s originator, Bobby “Boris” Pickett.

Bobby “Boris” Pickett and his Cryptkickers

“It sort of blew me away, but my first reaction was to snicker,” admits Packham, who wrote a song about the experience called “One-Hit Wonder,” available on his album Could’ve Been King (cdbaby.com and blairpackham.com).

“And then I thought about my own career, such as it was, and how in 30 years nobody was going to be asking me to sing my song in a parking lot somewhere.

“It made me have new respect for him – although I still wouldn’t have wanted to trade places with him on that particular night.”

Blair Packham

The single-hit phenomenon isn’t an isolated one, especially when it comes to novelty songs, but Packham says he’s often perplexed about the associated career perception of frustration and underachievement that comes with the territory.

“I can’t help but wonder why there seems to be a stigma associated with one-hit wonders,” says Packham. “To me, there’s no shame at all, but my gut reaction is sort of embarrassment on behalf of Bobby “Boris” Pickett when I think about that. But he had a No.1 hit four times with that song.”

Once actually — the Gary Paxton-produced  “Monster Mash” by Bobby “Boris” Pickett and The Crypt-Kickers spent a couple of weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in 1962. But it proved to be so popular it re-entered the charts in 1970, peaking at #91, and again in 1973, topping out at #10.

Pickett, 64, isn’t complaining.

“Let’s put it this way – if you had something that paid the rent for 44 years, would you consider it a millstone or a milestone?” retorts Pickett, who recently made headlines with an updated version of “Monster Mash” called “Monster Slash” that criticized the environmental track record of  (former) president George W. Bush.

“It’s allowed me to have a pretty good life of leisure. I’ve done a lot of travel and met a lot of great people.”

Pickett says the song — also the basis for the title of his upcoming memoir Monster Mash – Half Alive In Hollywood — led to the conception of a daughter he never knew existed until 1997.

“I had been in Seattle to perform a medley of my hit,” Pickett recalls. “Because of that song, I met a woman in 1963 and spent an evening with her. Thirty-four years later I was contacted by my beautiful daughter and now I’m a grandfather.”

Pickett, who accepts bookings through his website (themonstermash.com,) isn’t the only artist to raise hits from the dead: Edinburgh duo The Proclaimers first issued “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” on its 1988 album Sunshine On Leith, where it failed to make a dent in the U.S. charts.

But the 1993 inclusion of the catchy brogue-fueled march on the Benny & Joon soundtrack garnered more attention than the future Oscar nominee Johnny Depp, peking at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and selling more than 500,000 copies.

More recently, the tune has been licensed for beer commercials and other ventures.

“It’s gotten new legs,” proclaims Craig Reid, 42, on behalf of his twin brother Charlie.

“In the last four or five years, younger people have been getting into it. When we toured Australasia, Britain, Europe and Ireland last year, the story’s the same: this song is played at the end of the night in this club, or in this student’s union, or played at parties.”

Craig and Charlie Reid

Reid credits “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” for prolonging The Proclaimers’ (www.proclaimers.co.uk) career.

“Although we’ve had a couple of hits in Britain and other places, that’s been the song that did it for us right around the world,” Reid admits. “It’s kept us going, and we’re still able to do the job we’ve wanted to do since we were young teenagers, which is to make music, make our own records and tour. We can still do that because of that song.”

Carl Douglas (www.carl-douglas.com) is also grateful.

Carl Douglas’ smash hit in 1974
Carl Douglas recently

Thirty years ago, Jamaican-born singer and songwriter chopped his way to the top of the Billboard charts for two weeks with “Kung Fu Fighting,” which has since sold an estimated 25 million copies around the world.

“I wish I would have had more hits, but the way that this one has carried on, I’m really satisfied,” says Douglas, 62, from his home in London. “I thank God for the blessing. Many people have tried and never reach that level. To be No. 1 in almost every country on the planet – now that’s satisfaction.”

Not to mention that the hit helped Douglas establish Carren Music, his own successful publishing and production shingle in Hamburg, Germany, and fulfill a fantasy of owning a Mercedes Benz.

“In fact, I have three of them,” laughs Douglas.

Blocking Writer’s Block

 

Nick Krewen

GRAMMY.com

September 2004

 

Marshall Crenshaw feels the pain.

Nineteen years ago, the New York-based singer-and-songwriter was in a state of panic when he vainly searched for inspiration to create the tunes that would eventually become his third album.

The root of his anguish: writer’s block.

“My confidence was shot and I felt kind of beset by circumstances beyond my control,” recalls Crenshaw of the agonizing days, weeks and months before the songs for Downtown began to flow.

Marshall Crenshaw

“I had so many other things on my mind and carried so much anxiety that I just couldn’t write anything.

“In fact, I didn’t want to write anything. I didn’t want to communicate with the world at large.”

It’s a songwriter’s worst nightmare – the ideas cease to flow and the well dries up to the point where one feels they may have written their last melody or lyric.

“That blank sheet of paper looks pretty blank when you’re going through a phase like that,” Crenshaw admits — and he’s not the only recording artist to experience the misery.

Goo Goo Doll’s Johnny Rzeznik, Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, David Bowie, Paul Simon and Mary Chapin Carpenter are some of the many who have been crippled by writer’s block at some point in their careers.

Many theories have been forwarded concerning the causes of writer’s block, ranging from financial stress and personal depression to chemical imbalance and even frontal lobe disorder, but the remedies are as personal as they are wide-ranging.

Some like to talk about it — and as veteran songwriter Loudon Wainwright III admits — some don’t.

“In passing I talk about it with friends who are songwriters, but it’s a bit like impotence – you don’t really talk about how much Viagra you’re using — you kind of keep it to yourself,” notes Wainwright.

Loudon Wainwright in 2014

On one of his earlier works, Album III, Wainwright found a creative way to deal with his dilemma.

“I was so panicked I wrote a song about it called ‘Muse Blues,'” he laughs. “At that time I’d been a songwriter for a couple of years and when I made my first album, I had enough songs for two. So when I got to my third album all of a sudden it was thin gruel. I was clearly concerned because I wrote this song about not being able to write songs — specifically about this idea of the muse as a girlfriend who stands you up.”

Wainwright says he’s seen some songwriters go to extreme measures when attempting to rekindle their creative spark.

“I’ve watched them drive themselves crazy and drink themselves sick about not writing songs,” he says. “When I was living in London a couple of years ago, somebody in the media wanted to talk to musicians and writers who were blocked because of depression and would be willing to take Prozac or some anti-depressant in the hope of loosening the flow.

“I passed on that project. I don’t want to completely eradicate my depression chemically. I use it in my songs.”

Sometimes the block is willfully imposed.  When Grammy winning country singer Kathy Mattea first relocated to Nashville from West Virginia early in her career she had different intentions.

“I came to Nashville to be a writer, but I’m not one of those people who was driven to write, ” she states. “I was driven to sing. I realized my talent wasn’t as raw as a singer as it was as a writer.”

Kathy Mattea

After signing with Mercury Records and watching her career explode with the chart topping “Eighteen Wheels And A Dozen Roses” and “Goin’ Gone,” Mattea didn’t have the energy to compose.

“So I chose not to write,” she admits. “I got to where I was afraid to write bad songs and afraid to face the fact I might not be able to do it at all.”

Almost twenty years later Mattea was reintroduced to the process through her songwriting husband Jon Vezner and his writing partner Sally Barris with an invitation to collaborate on “The Innocent Years. ” Mattea has contributed a few songs to her albums since and has one in the can for her upcoming Narada project due in 2005.

“At this point I haven’t written all my best ideas ten times over, so there’s certain freshness in coming to it not knowing the rules,” says Mattea. “Part of why I’m being compelled to write now is that I’m older and have more life experience.”

Wainwright, who is about to enter the studio for album No. 22, likens the songwriting process to fishing.

“There’s a waiting period, you have a bite and there’s a certain amount of skill in getting the fish into the boat,” Wainwright explains. “Sometimes you can be out there for days and months without anything to show for it.  When I was younger and writing three or four songs a week, I’d hit periods where I wouldn’t write anything and I’d worry.”

But Wainwright says the proper lure is patience.

“My remedy is to basically lighten up and wait,” he says. “My other technique is to write bad, throwaway songs. Sometimes the process of picking up the guitar and trying to write can lead to an actual fish.”

So how did Crenshaw, who now has 11 albums — including 2003’s acclaimed What’s In The Bag? — thwart his nemesis?

“I can’t remember,” he confesses. “But I think I just needed to shut down and regroup, you know? When people have writer’s block, they might not realize it’s time for them to do that. You might have to work through something or solve some problem in your life. The key to writing is to be able to clear your mind and let your imagination work: That’s the whole trick to it.

“You’ve got to pace yourself.  If your stuff is going to really evolve, sometimes you have to take a breath, get some distance from writing and just live life for awhile.”