|Mark and Pinetop Perkins|
This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Mark Carpentieri, owner of M.C. Records.
Few contemporary label heads can lay claim to playing drums behind such an array of legendary music figures as R.L. Burnside, Hubert Sumlin, Wild Child Butler, Jorma Kaukonen, Robert Cray and Pinetop Perkins.
Nor are there many label chiefs who have also produced such a full-tilt boogie load of leading roots, gospel, and blues artists that includes: Odetta, Pinetop Perkins, Kim Wilson, Susan Tedeschi, Ruth Brown, Big Jack Johnson, Marie Knight, Joan Osborne, Madeleine Peyroux, Phoebe Snow, and Victoria Williams.
Meet Mark Carpentieri, owner of M.C. Records in Northport, New York.
From Lynbrook, Long Island, Carpentieri began his music career in 1984, hosting a respected weekly blues program on WBAU in Garden City, New York. He spent a decade at WBAU, leaving in 1994.
In 1986, Carpentieri started to play drums professionally with Little Mike & the Tornadoes, a respected Queens, New York-based, working-class group often called on to back such blues icons as guitarist/singer Hubert Sumlin, and pianist Pinetop Perkins.
Disenchanted with the band’s growing road schedule, Carpentieri left Little Mike & the Tornadoes in 1987 to finish his last year at Queens College in New York, where he was taking courses for a B.A. in Communications.
The following year Carpentieri launched his own band Somethin' Blue, which released two independent albums. The critical success of the recordings encouraged Carpentieri to release Mississippi bluesman Big Jack Johnson & The Oilers' "We Got To Stop This Killin'" on M.C. Records in 1996.
To date, M.C. Records has released over 30 recordings by such artists as Odetta, Cyril Neville, Kim Wilson, Gary U.S. Bonds, Cindy Bullens, and R.L.Wild Child Butler.
Do you consider M.C. Records a blues label?
It’s mostly a blues label, but I would say that it’s more of a roots label. If you look at our catalog, and if you do the math, there are more blues records by far. On the other hand, I do think that the Odetta stuff, especially her last records, were certainly in line with folk. And we have done a little bit of gospel, so I think, yeah, we’re more of a roots label.
How did you come to recently release Cindy Bullens’ wonderful solo recording “Howling Trains and Barking Dogs?”
I was very interested in working with the group (the Refugees) that she has (with Deborah Holland and Wendy Waldman). We were kind of negotiating and talking. We didn’t end up picking the album (“Unbound”) up. They self-released it for a lot of reasons. We got on really well, and we stayed in touch. Then Cindy said she had a new record and asked if I wanted to hear it. I did, and I think it is really a good record. It’s a great classic Americana record, well-written songs. You talk about songwriters. She’s a tremendous songwriter. So there was this opportunity to work with her. It worked out really well. I really like working with Cindy.
You’ve had a good run with Cindy’s album.
Yes, we have had a good run. We had a real nice ride on the Americana charts. So we are looking forward to working together again.
Cindy Bullens is certainly not a blues artist.
We have always gone for the right or left (within the musical spectrum). We are a blues label, and that was certainly there in 2000 when we did the Sleepy LaBeef record (“Tomorrow Never Comes”). But Sleepy was certainly not a blues artist by any stretch of the imagination. I just love working with people who make great music.
Like Cyril Neville?
Cyril Neville is a tremendous artist.
Where is your label at in terms of growth?
There are several releases that we are still trying to pursue and some artists that we would like to sign. Right now, I am working on that. The label is like it has always been. It’s been an interesting year. Still, we try to do interesting music with interesting artists that have something to say. That hasn’t changed.
What staff do you have?
I have an assistant, and a book keeper. When we release records we will hire outside people to work Americana radio. For radio, we often hire Leslie Rouffe at Songlines in Nashville. When we did Cyril Neville’s record (“Brand New Blues”) we hired Jeff Appleton at Marathon Entertainment to do our triple A radio (the adult alternative format), and our commercial and non-commercial radio.
How is the label distributed?
We’re with E1 in America and Outside Music in Canada. In Europe, I don’t have one distributor. I will go country by country. I’ve had a couple of records licensed through Dixiefrog Records in France, which will cover Europe.
Has the internet helped or hindered sales?
To really break it down, we are just selling a lot less music these days. How that is broken down at the end of the day I’m not sure is relevant. It is relevant in a business sense where to focus your energy but, in the ultimate sense, we are just not selling anywhere near the music we were selling 10 years ago. That’s the bottom line.
It’s about whether people will actually spend 99 cents on one of your songs or $8.00 on one of your CDs—the 10 songs that make up a CD is its own situation. So, in some ways, the internet has (made that possible) but it has also made peoples’ interest in music wane, ultimately. Or wane in owning music. Certainly, we are getting a lot (of revenue) for streaming music and things like that. That’s good, but it doesn’t make up for what the business was 8 or 10 years ago.
So much more music now passes through a smaller funnel to the public.
I think there are a couple of things. First, in terms of blues, let’s say, the audience is getting older. It’s an older audience. They have a lot of records in general. Two, there’s a lot less ability for them to find their records. You can’t go into a (retail music) store anymore. There (once) were so many places to get music. We had Tower Records which was one of the great stores; and the (retail stores) that are still there, like Borders, they have reduced the space given to CDs.
What the internet has done is that it has reduced the (pricing) perception; that for some reason paying $11 or $12 (for A CD) is expensive now, compared to 20 years ago when $16 was not expensive. With downloads, music to purchase was devalued. Why would you pay $15 for a CD? That’s crazy.
There are also more entertainment options today.
Right. You have those kinds of multiple dynamics working at the same time. That makes it less of a sale. I think between that, and being able to listen to a lot of stuff online, you can combine all of those things and the amount of purchased music is a way down. So it’s not one thing.
Forty years ago, blues and folk labels were competing in the marketplace with distinct catalogs. Market competition wasn’t as strong. Today, similar labels are competing against decades of music catalogs, and everybody else out there.
Exactly. There are a lot of things going on. If you want to pinpoint this or that or one kind of thing, (for dwindling sales) that is kind of foolish. There are a lot of things going on. It is what it is. It’s not going back. This is where we are at, so you try figure out these things based on today’s standards.
Why launch a blues label in the mid-90s?
That’s what I played, that’s what I loved, so it was doing what I knew.
Sure but why a label? You were working as a radio host, and as a drummer.
I remember that I was playing with Mike (Mike Markowitz in Little Mike & the Tornadoes), and I was 24. I was in my last year of college. This was just before he broke, and got his first record with Blind Pig. He said, “C’mon Mark, we’ve got the deal. I want you to be in the band,” and all of this stuff. I remember touring the summer of ’87; touring with Hubert Sumlin and Pinetop Perkins, and I hated it. Not that I didn’t like playing, I loved playing, but that wasn’t my life. I didn’t want to be on the road 250 nights a year. I really didn’t. And I figured that, “If I’m 25, and I hate it. This is not for me.” I was still a single guy. This was going to be a piece of cake. I was walking into a situation where I was going to be a professional musician playing. I did like that but I just thought that this was not how I wanted to do it.
What did you hate about the road?
I guess it was the lack of control. It was like, “We are going to be here, here and here, and hanging out here.” “Where are we staying?” “I don’t know.” I wasn’t crazy about all of that. A long weekend (playing) was great, but I knew what the schedule was for those guys. At that time I was doing radio. I knew the scene. I knew what everybody was working, how many nights a year they were playing.
I was like, “It sounds exciting,” but I really didn’t want to do. Not for an extended period of time. I couldn’t picture myself doing it. I liked knowing where I’m playing and where I am staying. It just didn’t appeal to me as much as it should have.
You went back to college?
That was my last year. It took me a long time to finish school. I was in Queens College (in New York), and I was getting my B.A. in Communications.
One of the difficulties of playing or recording blues today is that the book was written decades ago.
Yes it was. One of the toughest things for me is to find artists, and (projects) that are interesting. I will give you an example. About 1998, Wild Child Butler was on my label (with the album “Lickin’ Gravy.”) So I would book tours for him. He would come down and do three or four nights. So we were playing Warmdaddy’s in Philadelphia, and a bunch of the local blues guys came because Wild Child hadn’t been in Philadelphia in decades. Everybody was just yapping. Then a Muddy Waters’ track came on, and everybody stopped talking.
It’s really hard (to duplicate or beat the past in blues) because the really great people are gone. People who do it really well sometimes are just copying that (past), not that that is a bad thing. It is enjoyable for me, and I love that. But recording something and listening to something in a club are different experiences. I guess I am not a very good commerce guy because it’s really tough for me to record. Can you top that? Can you get close to that?
Or can you make records that will be around for a long time?
That’s been my goal. I haven’t always succeeded, but I’m pretty happy with the catalog.
Blues is similar to classical music in that fans just want to hear the historic catalog.
I think that it’s also a matter that a lot of the blues base is still pretty much local. It’s not that (the musicians) aren’t talented, but they aren’t nationally talented. I think that those people who are nationally talented, who you look at all of the time, they have something that is different. Some of the top blues people today, Marcia Ball and all of those people, they definitely are different. They are not doing that.
It’s kind of like comparing Bruce Springsteen and a bar band trying to play rock and roll. That is always going to sound bad or not as good or not as interesting.
It is tough being an original blues act today.
The genre itself is tougher because there is not as much growth with it (as other genres). It has gotten to a certain place and it hasn’t gone anywhere. In a lot of ways, it stopped growing in the ‘60s once blues-rock became its own thing. After that, everything has just been a copy of what happened previously.
There aren’t a lot of great blues songwriters around either.
The problem—in terms of songwriting—is where is it going to get you? If you are a really great songwriter, why would you focus in on the blues? You can’t make any money on it. At one time, there was money. Back in the ‘40s and ‘50s you could sell hundreds of thousands of your songs. Now you can’t.
A blues songwriter was lucky to get paid years ago.
It depends. It depends who they were. Whether they got paid or not at least there was stardom there.
What makes a good blues drummer?
A good blues drummer is in the pocket, and you are not thinking about the drummer. When you see a great artist, especially a blues artist who is really working on a rhythmic….especially that traditional Chicago sound; if you are paying attention to the drummer then, unless you are a drummer, that’s a problem. Drummers should be driving the band, and staying in the pocket, locked with the bass player. You probably shouldn’t be paying that much attention (to the drummer). You should be feeling it. It should be a great experience. But the drummer should be there in the pocket driving (the music).
Who do you consider the classic blues drummers?
I am a huge fan of Willie “Big Eyes” (Willie “Big Eyes” Smith who is best known for several stints with the Muddy Waters band), and his son (Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith) is just phenomenal. Those are two. When I listen to drums, I always like the work of Willie. He was in the pocket, and he did some interesting little fills. I always liked his fills. He was always in the pocket. To me, he is the quintessential blues drummer.
There were so many great drummers in Chicago during the Chess, Delmark and Cobra era.
All those guys back then were all so good. Pick any of those guys, and they are all great. You can’t even pick one over the other because they were so in the pocket. Fred Below (who died in 1988) and all those guys. I didn’t get to see a lot of those guys. I certainly got to see Willie and his son many times, and a lot of the other guys.
You produced Odetta’s last three recordings.
I knew her from 1998 until her death on December 2, 2008. Besides the three CDs I produced with her, she also appeared on our tribute to Sister Rosetta Tharpe, "Shout Sister Shout," and on Pinetop Perkins', “Ladies Man.” My wife and I shared many meals, and laughs with her over the years. I truly miss her. I was glad that Odetta was able to witness President Obama's election, but I wish she were here with us today to share her incredible wit and wisdom. We sure could use it.
[In Nov. 2008, Odetta's health began to decline and she began receiving treatment at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. She wanted to perform at Barack Obama's inauguration on Jan. 20, 2009. On Dec. 2, 2008, however, she died from heart disease in New York.]
What attracted you to working with Odetta?
I read an article about Odetta, and I remember turning to my wife Catherine, and half-kidding, saying, “We should contact Odetta.” Then we started to pursue it. She was someone who I always loved and cared about, and Catherine was just a huge fan since she was a little girl. Those were the records that she would collect when she was small.
It was just an off-the-cuff situation. The timing all around was really great. We were looking for people to record. It was always tough for me to go head-to-head with the bigger blues labels like Alligator and, at that time Rounder and Blind Pig, which were constantly recording (blues and roots artists). So I always had to go to the right of that to get my artists.
How did Odetta see her career at that point? She was such a well-known folk music name, but she rarely recorded after the ‘70s. Did she feel overlooked?
I think there was a sense between management that…I will give you an example of how it worked out. To meet her, we ended up going to Orange Country, New York, and seeing her at Bodles Opera House. At that point, she was still playing guitar. Basically, she was by herself (as a solo act). She was traveling a bit by herself then. We drove her back to her hotel. We had never met her before then, so it was that kind of situation.
Whether she felt overlooked, I don’t know what she felt, but I think that there was a sense that she still (felt) she had a lot to say, and she was just waiting for the opportunity.
[The 2005 documentary film “No Direction Home,” directed by Martin Scorsese, highlights Odetta’s musical influence on Bob Dylan, the subject of the documentary. The film contains an archive clip of Odetta performing "Waterboy" on American TV in 1959.
In a 1978 Playboy interview, Dylan said, "The first thing that turned me on to folk singing was Odetta." He said he found "just something vital and personal" when he heard an early album of hers in a record store as a teenager. "Right then and there, I went out and traded my electric guitar and amplifier for an acoustical guitar.”
"I'm not a real folksinger," Odetta told The Washington Post in 1983. "I don't mind people calling me that, but I'm a musical historian. I'm a city kid who has admired an area and who got into it. I've been fortunate. With folk music, I can do my teaching and preaching, my propagandizing."]
By 1999, Odetta was better known as a name than as an artist.
I think that she was fading at that point to people. In the ‘60s, Odetta was on TV, she was on “The Johnny Cash Show” (on ABC-TV), she was a public figure. I think that the other problem was that within a couple of years she would stop playing guitar, so her health at that point was slowly starting to become problematic. So the timing (of working with her) in a lot of ways worked out well.
We were lucky that when we started working with Odetta in ’99, we were able to work with (her manager) Doug Yeager. He was great. Odetta’s years with us, she got paid a lot more money per concert, and she had an accompanist. It just worked out a lot of better.
After you began working with her in 1999, you recorded the album “Blues Everywhere I Go” that led to her first Grammy nomination in 50 years.
Yeah that whole situation was pretty amazing. It was also the first time that she was in a recording studio doing a full-length album in 17 years. I remember when we did the first playback from “Blues Everywhere I Go.” We recorded it, and then played it back. She just grabbed me, and we started dancing in the studio. She was so happy.
Another Grammy nominated album in 2007 was Odetta’s wonderful “Gonna Let It Shine” with the Holmes Brothers and pianist Seth Farber, which was was recorded live for the holidays in 2005.
Yes it was. We did it at Fordham University where (public radio station) WFUV is. WFUV was always good to Odetta. They would have these member concerts that they would do for artists, and they would make it into an event and as a fund-raising opportunity. We contacted them and said, “We’d like to do a concert and you guys can charge for it, and you can keep (the door), and we will record the show. This way it gave us a friendly venue because she had done concerts for them before. It’s a beautiful hall. It all worked out.
An emotional night?
Any time that I had the opportunity to work with Odetta, it was always emotional. She was completely on (for that album). It’s some of the best vocal work she did for us.
[“Gonna Let It Shine” was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album. It would be the last album of new material Odetta would release during her lifetime.]
Marie Knight was supposed to sing at Odetta’s memorial service, but she was in the hospital.
Unfortunately, I found out about it the day of the wake of Odetta. That was really a double whammy. Marie Knight was supposed to sing at Odetta’s memorial. We were trying to reach her for several days. It wasn’t that unusual that I wouldn’t catch her in the day. Sometimes, she would go and see her sister. I spoke to her several weeks before, and she was always good with her dates. I ended up calling her that day; a woman answered, and it was her sister. She said, “Well, Marie’s in the hospital with pneumonia.”
Marie never recovered?
She would go between the hospital, and a nursing home, I would see her, but it was a double whammy going to Odetta’s memorial because Marie was supposed to sing there, and she didn’t. In a lot of ways, I never saw Marie again. I kept going to visit her but she was in and out (with her health).
Marie Knight was certainly an artist off the beaten path prior to you recording her.
You couldn’t be much more beaten than when I started working with her. Odetta had a name, and she was touring but Marie wasn’t. Marie wasn’t on the road and she hadn’t recorded (for years). Only a handful of gospel aficionados, knew about her because her heyday was in the ‘40s and ‘50s.
[Growing up in Newark, New Jersey, Marie Knight began singing gospel music as a child in the Church of God in Christ. She performed at Carnegie Hall in 1938 in John Hammond’s legendary "Spirituals to Swing" concert with Sidney Bechet, Count Basie and Benny Goodman. In the ’40s, Knight and Sister Rosetta Tharpe released several gospel recordings for Decca that broke through to the R&B charts, an almost unheard of feat.
After the duo split up in the mid-‘50s, Knight continued to sing gospel as well as R&B. She toured with the Drifters, Clyde McPhatter and Brook Benton. As her musical career waned, she took a job with the telephone company, and became a minister at the Gates of Prayer Church in Harlem.]
Marie was still a minister when you approached her to sing “Didn’t It Rain” on “Shout, Sister, Shout: A Tribute to Sister Rosetta Tharpe” released in 2003?
Yes, she was. I spoke to her on the phone, and she sounded so strong that I just made her an offer. I said, “Just come down to the studio.” Even if we didn’t do anything, I was going to pay her anyway.
Songs like “Precious Memories,” “Up Above My Head, I Hear Music In The Air,” “Didn’t It Rain” and “Beams of Heaven” established Marie and Sister Rosetta (who died in 1973) as one of the top American gospel acts of the ‘40s. Still, Marie was overshadowed by Rosetta Tharpe’s fame.
Yes, she was. Obviously, it was the Sister Rosetta’s show. So, (working with her) it was kind of like signing a new, very old artist and almost re-introducing her.
How did Marie come to record with you?
It was kind of an accident. We were completing the tribute to Rosetta Tharpe and Gayle Wald (a professor of English at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.) who wrote the liner notes, and wrote the biography (“Shout, Sister, Shout!”) of Sister Rosetta, contacted me and asked if I had contacted Marie Knight. I said, “Marie Knight? Are you kidding me? She must be dead for 20 years.” Gayle said, “No, she's still alive.” She was living up in Harlem. She lived in Harlem to the very end when she passed away recently (on Aug. 30, 2009).
[M.C. Records’ most ambitious, if not most celebrated, project, "Shout, Sister, Shout: A Tribute To Sister Rosetta Tharpe" was released in 2003. The album features performances by Maria Muldaur, Bonnie Raitt, Odetta, Joan Osborne, Michelle Shocked, Marcia Ball, Sweet Honey on the Rock, Phoebe Snow, Janis Ian, Victoria Williams, Tracy Nelson, Angela Strehli, Marie Knight, and the Holmes Brothers.]
I recall Marie in the ‘60s having R&B hits like “Cry Me A River” and touring with Brook Benton. Marie would have played the chitlin’ circuit while Odetta was more upscale.
Marie was much older and traveled a lot of different circles. It wasn’t where Odetta played, it wasn’t where she recorded. Odetta really wasn’t playing to a black audience for the most part. She was playing to the white folkies. That is why, I think, they never crossed paths.
They hadn’t known each other previously to working with you?
They had absolutely no idea of each other because they didn’t travel the same circles. Odetta was a folk artist and, by time she was coming up in the ‘50s and ‘60s, Marie was traveling the R&B circles. They had never met. They met up eventually because, once the record came out, and (booking agency) Concerted Efforts put the “Shout, Sister Shout!” tours together. Those two ended up being very good friends. As matter of fact, I still remember that in summer of 2008, we had both Odetta and Marie over to our house for a lunch. That was really nice. Those two became very good friends in the end.
When you telephoned Marie to ask her about recording, was she suspicious of your motives?
Marie probably was the most suspicious person I ever worked with. Even when I started managing her, she was very guarded. It took awhile for everything to warm up. Once she got (in the studio), she got paid cash. Once she saw the professionalism of how everything was run, she was very happy. But it took awhile, and we agreed to use her piano player, Floyd Waites, which I felt was something that would make her feel more comfortable. He was a piano player from her church. We only used him once. He didn’t end up touring with Marie. He moved out of the area. But that made her feel comfortable. So we started working together, but it was a bit of a slog. She was a very guarded person. Of course, at the end, we were very close.
“Let Us Get Together,” Marie’s tribute to Reverend Gary Davis in 2007 was her first full-length recording in 25 years, and her last.
Marie was much older than even I suspected. She was 89 when she died. Even in January of the year she passed, we did an interview with the BBC, and she was hounding me for work. There were a lot of things coming up. After several years, she was finally starting to break through. She was going to do Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble. We had (Jorma Kaukonen's) Fur Peace Ranch coming up. She was working, and she was so happy. She liked the people that she was working with, and she was getting recognition. She was getting paid well, in a lot of ways, similar to Odetta.
Working with Odetta and Marie Knight, you must have felt like a musicologist.
What was great about both of them was that they had so much to offer. You listen to those Odetta records (with us), and it really stands out what she did. The Marie Knight tribute to Reverend Gary Davis is just such a beautiful record. As matter of fact, it was one of NPR’s records of the year (2007). Marie would put on such phenomenal shows. I played with her on several of her last shows. She just ended up getting pneumonia, getting really sick, and she died after about six months.
You recorded Pinetop Perkins’ “Ladies Man” in 2004, when he was 91.
I thought he was a little older, but you could be right, and he’s still around. I used to play with Pinetop back in the ‘80s. His manager Pat Morgan was saying, “Let’s do a Pinetop record.” I said, “Pat, he’s recorded the same music over and over again. He doesn’t learn songs.”
Not that he should. That’s not his problem, but for me to put out a record of the same stuff that he’s done over and over again didn’t make sense.
So I said I would think about it.
Eventually, I came up with the idea of him recording with women. I’ll never forget that when I went to the Blues Music Awards when Odetta was nominated, and Pinetop was there. It was a hot day, and he was in the hotel lobby. His tie is all out. He kind of has his head down. I said, “Pine do you want a cup of coffee? He said, “Yeah.” I get him a cup of coffee, and he’s still looking down. Then Odetta is coming down the steps of the hotel, and he straightens out his tie, and he's sitting straight as an arrow.
I guess that planted a seed. If he plays with the women folk, he’s going to rise to the occasion and we would record a lot of songs that he hadn’t done before.
And that’s exactly what happened.
And that’s exactly what happened. We ended up getting Susan Tedeschi, Madeleine Peyroux, Ruth Brown, Marcia Ball, all of these great women to work with Pinetop. In terms of his late career, that’s a pretty great record. So that’s the other thing that I keep trying to bring something out (of an artist)—even at 91—to see if they have something to say, we can figure it out. It all worked out. Pinetop was treated well, and they (the women) fawned all over him. He was very happy.
[Mississippi pianist Pinetop Perkins shares the distinction, with one of his lifelong friends, David “Honeyboy” Edwards, as being the oldest living Delta blues performers who continue to tour and perform from the past century. A sideman on countless blues recordings, Perkins played a brief cameo in the 1980 movie “The Blues Brothers” on the street outside Aretha's Soul Food Cafe having an argument with fellow bluesman John Lee Hooker over who wrote the blues classic, "Boom Boom."]
Here you are a small blues label, with limited budgets. But with your tribute albums, you have been able to attract some big names. What’s the selling point?
For people like Phoebe Snow, Joan Osborne, and Susan Tedeschi, the short list ends up being the people who get it. What I try to do is say, “Listen this is where we are at.” They understand that this (album) is not going to sell 100,000 copies—even back in 2003 when the business was better than what it is now.
These are, in fact, projects in which they have an opportunity to work with an iconic artist that they respect.
I’m very selective who I contact, and I try to get people who want to do that. They are getting paid, it’s not like we’re asking them not to get paid. But it’s not like they are going to get all of this money to do it. They are doing it because they understand that in a lot of ways, that they are helping that artist.
I think it’s also them understanding my catalog of work. When I can say that I’ve worked with Odetta and with R.L. Burnside, they understand the label. Madeleine Peyroux was such a fan of Odetta and Marie Knight that she would do anything for them. Madeleine Peyroux gets it, she’s humbled (by Odetta and Marie Knight).
It seems very strategic who you pick, as well.
Yeah. You want to pick people who really can do something that is also going to resonate. That there’s general affection between the artists you pick, and we always (record) in a way that they are there. When we worked with Susan Tedeschi, she was in the studio with Pinetop. When we recorded with Madeleine and Odetta with Pinetop, they were all in the studio together.
You weren’t doing, “We’re sending the track over.”
Sometimes that just has to happen. You have logistical situations, and you have a release date, that does happen. Not so much in my stuff, but I do understand deadlines where you just can’t do it (together). Where I think the magic comes is when we bring in people who really want success to happen, and have affection for the (other) artist.
There more intimacy in having them together in the studio as well.
Absolutely, and it's fun for everyone.
Older artists may up their game because someone young and famous is there, and younger artists are thrilled to work with people who have influenced them.
It elevates everybody’s game. When we recorded Susan Tedeschi and Pinetop, they were doing the Ottawa Blues Festival. So I went to Ottawa, and they both came into the studio. Basically, Susan just wanted to play with Pinetop. I played drums on that (session) We played for about an hour and change before we got around to recording the song (“Since I Lost My Baby”). Susan just said, “I have to have this. This is great." So if you have that energy (in the studio), you are already there. And Pinetop loved it, he had a blast. He was very happy.
You have continued drumming.
I love playing. I played drums when I was in middle school, and I also played in a (school band) band, played the snare and the bass. I wasn’t good, like everybody else at 16, I got a guitar and took lessons. I just wasn’t good at the guitar either. I kept playing and it was like, “I’m not getting this.”
How did you come to play drums?
My younger brother, for whatever reason, bought a drum set. I got behind a set, probably the second time only I had played drums behind a set. I just picked up on that really fast, I was very surprised on how quickly. I just started playing drums. My brother sold the drums, and I was like, “Okay no drums.”
Then, on a camping trip when I was 22 or so, a friend of mine said that he (and some friends) had a rehearsal studio in the basement of a store in the next town over, and they were looking for someone to come in for $40 or $50 a month. And there’s a drum set there. Those guys were really good musicians, much better than me, and they kind of let me learn to play drums. They had been playing for years.
So I started playing with them. I would go to the jams at Dan Lynch’s. He and the Holmes Brothers would hold jams, I started playing there. Within a year or two I started playing professionally. I started playing with Little Mike & The Tornadoes when I was 23.
Where are you from?
I’m from Lynbrook, Long Island. Born there and grew up there. I still live on Long Island. There’s a lot of music here, but not like it used to be.
By 23, parents tend to go, “Time to get a job, a real job. Where’s the career here?”
I was actually then working two jobs, and I was trying to keep in school, and trying to figure it all out. If I had not met that friend of a friend, I probably wouldn’t have played (drums) and done all of this other stuff.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record. He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide: Celebrating 40 Years Of The Juno Awards.”
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