Monday, January 16, 2017

Guitar Virtuoso Russ Hewitt

All Photos by Alan Mercer except where credited

A longtime rock guitarist from Texas, Guitar Virtuoso Russ Hewitt has also been playing Nuevo Flamenco for over ten years. A graduate of North Texas University with a degree in classical performance, Hewitt is also a seasoned studio musician. Inspired by a backpacking trip through Europe and travels in Turkey, China, and Egypt as well as the experience of playing with musicians in those countries, Hewitt calls his style "Latin World." Impeccably recorded with a bright, sparkling sound, the music is rhythmic and upbeat, overflowing with the joy of making music.

His current CD, ‘Cielo Nocturno’, shows all the signs of becoming a run-away success.  Shimmering with the rumba flamenco rhythms and lightning guitar runs that have become trademarks of Hewitt’s distinctive style, the album includes a stellar line up of returning musicians including percussionist Raphael Padilla (Miami Sound Machine, Chris Isaak), drummer Walfredo Reyes Jr. (Santana, Steve Winwood, Chicago), bass player Bob Parr (Cher, Barry White), guitarist Alfredo Caceres (Gipsy Kings All-Stars) and most notably Larry Carlton who features on the delightfully easy grooving ‘North of Home’.

The recording was mastered by Chris Bellman who, in his time, has worked with the likes of Van Halen, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Elton John while completing the lineup are guitarist Ardeshir Farah and accordion player Vladimir Kaliazine. 

Accolades are coming from all over the world in forms of press and reviews including two silver medal’s from the Global Music Awards in the instrumental category for the song ‘Presidio’ and album category for ‘Cielo Nocturno.’

Photo:  Psymon Imagery

In fact the favorable opinion gained from Hewitt’s debut CD, ‘Bajo el Sol’, rapidly translated into prolific airplay and a ten-week stay at #1 on Music Choice.  It took up residence on the Smooth Jazz indie charts for 16 weeks and the first track to be released to radio (the dazzlingly Latin flavored title cut) climbed rapidly into the Top 20.

The follow-up single, ‘Lydia’, enjoyed similar success, peaking at #15 and storming into the Billboard’s Top 40.  Not content with that, Hewitt then made it three for three with ‘El Beso’ which also made it onto that same Top 40 listing and was named as one of the top smooth jazz tunes of 2009 by

Cover design by Salar Ziaie

In addition, ‘Bajo el Sol’ was generously acknowledged by the music industry.  It was included on the ballot for the 52nd Grammy Awards in the categories Best Pop Instrumental Performance, Best Pop Instrumental Album, Best Instrumental Composition, Best Instrumental Arrangement and Best Engineered Album whilst elsewhere Hewitt gained an ‘Honorable Mention’ for the album’s title cut at the 2009 International Songwriting Competition.

Photo:  Psymon Imagery

When Russ’s sophomore project, ‘Alma Vieja’ came long in 2011 it delivered two more Top 40 smooth Jazz singles, ‘Pacific Sunrise’ and ‘Samba Samba’.

Not surprisingly, Russ has endorsements from a wide spectrum of suppliers and manufacturers.  These include Godin guitars, Radial Engineering (Tonebone), Analysis Plus Cables, Morley Pedals, V-Picks, Neunaber Audio Effects, Voodoo Lab, BBF Pedal Boards, Primacoustic, Mission Engineering and DLS Effects.

Always striving to extend his boundaries into sound tracks and commercial work, Russ contributes artist interviews and a monthly guitar lessons column to ‘The Sound’ magazine whereas his prowess as a composer has resulted in five Telly Awards (for ‘Parent Compass’) and the DVD companion to the New York Best Seller ‘The Harbinger Decoded’ by Jonathan Cahn.  Russ has written the music for the upcoming feature film ‘Thirst: Mission Liberia’ which has already won a Silver Telly in the Spiritual – Faith category and a Bronze Telly in the Documentary category.

AM:  It’s been a long time Russ! Nineteen years to be exact since we last saw each other.

RH: I can’t believe it.

AM:  I always knew you would be recording your own albums. You have three out now don’t you?

RH:  Yes, I just released my third album titled ‘Cielo Nocturno.’

AM:  What was the goal with this third album?

RH: The goal with the third album is to tie in my first two albums together.

AM:  How do you describe the music of the first album, ‘Alma Vieja?’

RH:  That album is Latin Rumba style. I wanted to expand and play other Latin rhythms for my second album, ’Bajo El Sol’ so there’s a Milonga, a Tango and a Cha-Cha. I wanted to tie it all together on my third album. I took the best of both first albums and continue to expand on the Latin style.

AM:  So you encompass many different styles of Latin music by now.

RH: The beauty and the advantage that I have, with what I do, is that I’m not true Salsa, true Cuban and I’m not Brazilian. I can pick and choose what I want from each style.

AM:  That sounds like the most fulfilling.

RH: On the new album, there is a Cumbian rhythm, a Samba, a Reggaeton rhythm and a Louisiana Fatback groove. I can mesh all this together into a hybrid of my music.

AM:  How did you get introduced to this kind of World music growing up in Texas?

RH:  It’s funny, many of the people who play my style are former Rock music players. I first discovered it when I was going to school getting my classical guitar degree at the University of North Texas. A friend of mine had given me Ottmar Liebert’s first CD.

AM:  I remember lots of people had that one.

RH: I always enjoyed it, as it was very listener friendly. After I graduated from college I started looking for gigs and I noticed the same guy getting all these bookings. He was doing Gipsy Kings, Ottmar Liebert, Strunz & Farah. I ended up hooking up with him doing an apprenticeship for two or three years.

AM:  So he saw your talent right away. How often were you playing?

RH: I played Rhythm Guitar and that’s when I learned about more of the artists and that style. I played three to four nights a week with him. I always enjoyed it because I liked that style.

AM:  So you left playing rock and started playing Latin World music?

RH:  It was great for the nineties because by then, the guitar solo didn’t really exist anymore in Pop music. It completely went away. Grunge killed all that, but I was able to do these long, crazy guitar solos playing Flamenco gigs at restaurants. People loved it and it fit that style. After a couple of years, I branched off on my own.

AM:  Did you consider this music your new career?

RH:  I played it for fun until my last Rock band broke up. The producer who did my last Rock band heard me play with my full Flamenco band and he told me he wanted to record me in that style. Sure enough, a couple years went by and we talked again and we agreed it was time to record.

AM:  See, it was so meant to be.

RH: Ironically since I’ve been playing this style I’ve gotten more press and reviews, radio play and more sales than all my years as a Rock guitarist put together.

AM: Did you just start writing Latin World music?

RH:  It was a test as I had never written original music in this style. The very first song that I wrote ended up being the title track to my first album. After I wrote that song I knew I could do this.

AM:  That is such a wonderful discovery for you.

RH: It gave me the confidence to know I could write in this style. I have something to offer that is a little different than what is already out there.

Photo:  Psymon Imagery

AM:  Do you feel established?

RH:  Yes and no.  As with any artist, you believe you can always do more and that you want to do more. Part of the reason there was such a long-time gap in between the second CD and the third one is I got invited to be a part of so many projects for other people. That was great but after a couple years I realized I needed to put out my own new album. I had been so busy doing other people’s projects but I did get into film scoring.

AM:  Oh wow! Looks like you’re set for a while.

RH:  I would like to get to the point where I could tour under my own name playing this style of music. This will always be my home base. I like exploring a lot, so I may re-image my music in Big Band style or Quartet style, for example. I want to continue to branch out working on other people’s projects as well.  

To learn more about Russ Hewitt visit his web site

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Revitalization of Ted Neeley

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

In 2013, Ted Neeley went back into the recording studio to record his album ‘Workin' For The Words,’ merging the raw and rootsy sounds of the American southwestern plains with the eclectic influences of a wider world. Then later in 2013, came the new digitally re-mastered production of his ‘1974 A.D.’ original vinyl album, distributed as a CD called ‘Ted Neeley 1974 A.D. / 2013 A.D.’. His music is available on iTunes, Amazon, and his web site.

Later in 2013, in celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the film Jesus Christ Superstar, Ted toured the US screening the new digitally re-mastered DCP print of the film. The screening events included a pre-screening audience Q&A and post-film meet and greet with special appearances by all of the principal cast members including Barry Dennen (Pontius Pilate), Yvonne Elliman (Mary Magdalene), Kurt Yaghjian (Annas), Bob Bingham (Caiaphas), Larry Marshall (Simon), Josh Mostel (Herod), and choreographer Rob Iscove, in select cities. Carl Anderson was celebrated at each of the events.

Ted's EP ‘Rock Opera’ was released in April 2014. ‘Rock Opera’ highlights selected tracks from the original rock operas Jesus Christ Superstar and Tommy, along with unique vocal collaborations with long time friends and Superstar co-stars, including Yvonne Elliman in their duet "Up Where We Belong", and with the late Carl Anderson, featured in the re-imagined "God's Gift To The World". The EP also includes an exclusive track of a live on-stage performance of "Gethsemane". ‘

In the spring of 2014, Ted was invited to Rome, Italy to perform as Jesus in the Peep Arrow Production of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar,’ directed by Massimo Romeo Piparo. The show also featured popular Italian rock band Negrita on stage during the performances along with a 12 piece orchestra. Negrita's frontman Pau played Pontius Pilate. The show ran for a few months in Rome and had such an overwhelming response from fans, it went on to tour all over Italy through May 2015. During the tour Ted reunited with his film co-stars Yvonne Elliman and Barry Dennen for a special one-night-only performance in the historic 12,000 seater Arena di Verona on October 12, 2014. The show sold out and they added a second show that night.

In the summer of 2014, Ted played the role of "The Publicist" in Darren Lynn Bousman and Terrance Zdunich's film ‘Alleluia! The Devil's Carnival.’ Other stars include Barry Bostwick, Adam Pascal, David Hasselhoff and Paul Sorvino, The film had its world premiere in Hollywood at the Egyptian Theatre August 11, 2015.

Ted Neeley continued his appearances. Following the JCS Italy tour, Ted has continued the special in-person anniversary JCS screenings. He now returns to Europe for the next leg of the 2016–2017 Jesus Christ Superstar Tour. Ted is also continuously in the recording studio so new music will be coming in the near future! 

Please view my first blog with Ted Neeley here

AM:  I am in love with the DVD ‘Superstars (The Making and Reunion of the Film).’ It’s a dream come true for any fan. How did you come up with this idea?

TN:  We did a reunion in New York last April. The whole purpose was to get everyone together since we had not been together since we made the film. We combined it with honoring Norman Jewison, our magnificent director, and it was just outrageous.

AM: Who decided to film everything for DVD?

TN:  Honestly, I filmed the event for myself. I wanted to have something of all of us, after forty some years all together again. We had three camera coverage, and then thought, “You know what? Somebody else might like this.” So, that’s what we did.

AM:  That’s taking the bull by the horns!

TN:  No question. For years, all of us at some time or another tried to work something out with Universal to honor Norman. If it wasn’t for Norman Jewison this film wouldn’t have happened. He’s not an unknown director. He’s made so many great films.

AM:  I would say he’s a famous director. How did you end up hosting these screenings all over the country?

TN:  I tried to put these film screenings together and was told the film was from a long time ago and they weren’t sure there would be an audience for it anymore. So, one day my business partner Frank and I are sitting around talking about it and he asked me where I would want to screen it. I said it would be great if we could get Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood. Just by chance, Frank had met the General Manager of the place two weeks earlier, so he called him. The guy said he was the biggest fan of the movie, so let’s do it! That was our first screening.

AM:  And I was there!

TN:  Yes, I know! Because we screened it there, it gave us some credibility. We like to screen it in classic theaters that have been around for a long time. So now the Theaters call us and ask if we are available for a certain night. The people go nuts over the film.

AM:  I’ve been going nuts over it for forty years.

TN:  And now we have that remastered digital print.

AM:  You didn’t have that at Grauman’s did you?

TN:  No, because of that screening Universal got interested in the film again.

AM:  Doesn’t that make you feel good to do something like this?

TN:  Yes!

AM:  It’s never going away.

TN:  We have four generations coming to see it. The audience is moms and dads and children. In Philadelphia, the first family I met who had the VIP tickets, had a six-year-old little boy. He was holding a teddy bear in one hand and the Superstar album in another. He kept looking at me and his mom told him to ask the question he wanted to and he asked me if I could still hit the high notes. (Laughter)

AM:  And you were happy to say yes!

TN:  Absolutely.

AM:  I know you are going to Europe to do the LIVE stage show. What is it like performing this show in Europe?

TN:  Even more exciting than it is here. For example, I am in an Italian Production Company. I’m the only non-Italian in the show. I don’t speak Italian and they don’t speak English but we sing it in English because everybody over there wants to hear it in English.

AM: Where do you go first?

TN:  We are going into Amsterdam. We were there last year for Christmas and New Year’s. The people from Amsterdam came over to Rome to see the production.

AM: How did you get involved in this European production?

TN:  The director has been doing this show every Christmas and Easter for twenty years. In fact, it was the Twenty-Year Celebration and that’s why I was invited to join the cast.

AM:  How long were you originally going to do the show?

TN:  They wanted me for ten weeks in Italy.  It’s some place I always wanted to go, so I said yes. We were there two years! Now we are going to Belgium, Germany and Switzerland. No matter where we play it becomes a rock concert. People end up jumping, screaming and hollering.

AM:  Oh Wow!  How inspiring for you!

TN: The producers from Amsterdam saw all this enthusiasm and decided to take the show. Then they told us the people of Holland are reserved and they will love the show but may not show it. Opening night in Holland and the audience went berserk! They were standing up and singing along. Some of these people saw it as children. Every night is a new experience for me.

AM:  You have redefined what a career can be. There is magic involved.

TN:  There’s no question. I go on stage every night. That’s the question I get the most, “Aren’t you getting tired of doing this same show?” This is a revitalization for me every single night! As long as it’s doing this for me I am going to continue to do it.

To learn more about Ted Neeley visit his web site

Monday, December 12, 2016

Sue Raney Is The Christmas Lady

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

Sue Raney was born in the small town of McPherson, Kansas. She and her family moved to Wichita shortly thereafter, and it was there that her parents discovered she could sing…at the age of four. When they moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, she performed as a youngster. She had her own radio show at twelve and a 15 minute TV show when she was fourteen.

After a move to Los Angeles in 1955, she became a regular on the Jack Carson radio show when she was sixteen. At seventeen, she was signed to Capitol Records and did her first album with Nelson Riddle called ‘When Your Lover is Gone.’ She also recorded with Billy May, and Ralph Carmichael on Capitol, and with Billy Byers on Imperial and Philips.

In the 1970s, she appeared on numerous TV variety shows. The Dean Martin Show, The Danny Kaye Show, The Red Skelton show, countless appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, The Joey Bishop Late Show, and The Mike Douglas Show. She also appeared with Henry Mancini on a PBS Special that included such stars as Julie Andrews, Andy Williams, Johnny Mathis and Steve Allen…among others. She did appearances with Bob Hope, Don Rickles and Bob Newhart, with the latter two in the Las Vegas main showrooms. She toured and sang with the Four Freshmen in the late '60's and early '70's.

She was part owner of a jingle company in the late '70's, writing and singing on many station ID's and commercials. Then, in the early '80's, she was signed to Discovery Records and began recording again. She was also the lead singer with Supersax and the L.A. Voices vocal group.

In more recent times, she has been performing with the Pops conductor, Richard Kaufman, doing symphony concerts in the U.S. She has also toured with Michel Legrand and performed in numerous jazz festival in the U.S. and abroad.

When not performing, she is a vocal coach, and teaches from her home in Sherman Oaks, where she resides with her husband, Carmen Fanzone, a former major league baseball player. He is an accomplished musician, having performed with the Baja Marimba Band and has contributed to many of Sue's CDs.

Her 2007 CD, Heart's Desire, a tribute to Doris Day, found her returning to Capitol Records Studio "A" where she cut her first record. She was accompanied by full orchestration (brass, reeds, rhythm and strings), arranged and conducted by Grammy-winning musician Alan Broadbent. It received among the best reviews of her career: "…finds her singing better than ever." – Will Friedwald; "a genuine masterpiece no serious fan of the Great American Songbook can afford to miss." – Rex Reed. Her 2011 CD, also with Broadbent, Listen Here, continues on in a similar quality vein.

Sue Raney has one of the most beautiful voices in music. She is always in tune, displays complete control over her vibrato, and has the rare gift of being able to interpret lyrics with such deep understanding that she makes them sound fresh, even if the words are familiar. Or as Julie Andrews observed a while back, "As for Ms. Raney – well, she is a marvel."

AM:  What made you decide to record a Christmas album now Sue?

SR:  I’ve always wanted to record a Christmas album. Just never had the chance to do it until now. I discussed it with Jordi Pujol, who is the owner of my label, Fresh Sound. He told me I had to record one.

AM: What kind of songs did you choose?

SR:  I really only recorded traditional songs. A lot of people wanted me to sing some newer, lesser known songs and I did record one unknown song which is the title track ‘Christmas Lady.’ Everything else is traditional Christmas music.

AM:  Do you have a favorite Christmas song?

SR:  I do now, it’s called ‘A Christmas Love Song’ and it is a beautiful song.

AM: Do you have a traditional favorite?

SR:  I recorded ‘We Need A Little Christmas’ with a sweet little arrangement and I find myself going around the house humming it the most.

AM:  Are you doing much live performing these days?

SR:  No, I’m really not. I don’t like to travel anymore. I do go to New York occasionally and I did play Feinstein’s before it closed. I haven’t been there in a while now.

AM:  You used to play there all the time.

SR:  I used to play there all the time yes, but I like my peaceful little at home life now.

AM:  I do notice that East Coast artists tend to stay on the East coast and West Coast artists stay on the West Coast. No one seems to travel like they used to.

SR:  Years ago someone told me that Mel Torme would spend six months in New York and six months in Los Angeles. He really was bi-coastal. I think it did wonders for his career. I ended up in the jingle business more than recording albums but I always thought that would have been a good thing for me to do.

AM:  When you started recording was your music considered jazz?

SR:  No, I was seventeen when I was signed by Capitol and the first album was produced by Nelson Riddle. We recorded all standards.

AM:  That was considered pop music, then wasn’t it?

SR:  Yes, pop music like Nat King Cole and Sinatra and Tony Bennett. They were all considered Pop Artists. Now we call it the Great American Songbook. That was the Pop era. I tried to get hit records like everybody did to give my career a little boost.

AM:  Even if you didn’t get a Top Ten record, all your music is available today. Did you ever imagine that those early recordings would be available now?

SR:  No, and I wish some of it wasn’t available. (Laughter) There is a new release called ‘The Capitol Years’ and it’s all my work with Capitol. It’s painful for me to hear some of it.

AM:  I understand because it’s so long ago and so distant.

SR:  In those days you just went in and opened your mouth and sang and went home and everything else was taken care of for you. You didn’t concern yourself with the mixing or if you hit the right notes. You never saw or heard anything until the final product was released. I would always wonder why they chose that picture for the cover.

AM:  As you continued to record through the years you had a lot more control over the final product, right?

SR:  Oh yes. I’m really involved now. I sit in there and listen to the mixing. This was in the 80’s when I recorded the music of Johnny Mandel. From that time on I realized how important it was to oversee everything. Now I choose the picture I want and the take that I want. I learned this late in life.
AM:  That’s because you came up at a time when no one was involved.

SR:  I don’t think they wanted us around the recording studio.

AM:  Do you have plans to continue recording?

SR:  I’m always thinking I’ve recorded my last album but if my voice is OK and I can still do it, I will record another one.

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Incomparable Rumer

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

Rumer, is a Pakistani-born British singer–songwriter. Her stage name was inspired by the author Rumer Godden. Rumer's voice has been described by The Guardian and many others as being reminiscent of Karen Carpenter. Supported by leading music industry figures including Burt Bacharach, Jools Holland and Elton John, Rumer was nominated for two Brit awards on 13 January 2011. She has performed at several festivals such as Glastonbury Festival. Her new album, 'This Girl's In Love: a Bacharach and David Songbook' s now available.

Rumer, the seventh of eight children, was born in Tarbela Dam, Pakistan. Rumer's family lived there from 1977–1984 while her British father was contracted as Chief Engineer of Tarbela Dam Project, funded by the World Bank.

Her parents split and her Streatham-born mother moved back to England with Rumer and her siblings. Rumer became fascinated with the work of Judy Garland at a young age, and sought solace from difficulties at home and school by listening to artists such as Aretha Franklin, Joni Mitchell and Tracy Chapman. She was encouraged by her musical family, who all played instruments and played in their local Catholic church. This began her interest in becoming a performer.

Rumer later discovered her biological father was the family’s Pakistani cook, with whom her mother had had an affair when living in Pakistan. While her mother was dying of breast cancer in 2001, she asked Rumer to make the journey to the North West Frontier of Pakistan to search for her real father, with her mother reportedly saying "I want to leave this planet with my house in order". She discovered on arriving he had only recently died in a freak accident.

Rumer briefly attended the drama course at the Dartington College of Arts, in Devon before dropping out, moving to London at 18 and getting a job as a waitress.

Rumer's debut album, ‘Seasons of My Soul’ was released in November 2010, produced by her mentor, British composer Steve Brown. Her debut single, ‘Slow,’ was featured on Smooth FM, and the single "Aretha" on BBC Radio 2's Record of the Week feature, and she is signed to Atlantic Records. She supported Jools Holland on his UK tour in the Autumn of 2010 which included a performance at the Albert Hall in London.

After Burt Bacharach invited Rumer to his California home to hear her sing, Atlantic Records released Rumer Sings Bacharach at Christmas on 13 December 2010. It featured ‘Some Lovers’ from the musical Gift of the Magic by Bacharach and Steven Sater.  A limited edition 7-inch vinyl version was also released with a cover personally designed by Rumer.

Rumer also contributed to a memorial concert to film composer, John Barry, which took place on 20 June 2011 at the Royal Albert Hall in London where the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Dame Shirley Bassey, David Arnold, Wynne Evans, trumpeter Derek Watkins and others performed Barry's music. In January 2012 she started her first American tour in Los Angeles.

Rumer's second album ‘Boys Don't Cry’ was released in May 2012. It contains a selection of songs by male artists and writers from the 70s and 80s period. Covers of songs by artists such as Todd Rundgren, Gilbert O’Sullivan, Neil Young and Terry Reid were chosen to mirror the solace and anguish Rumer experienced since achieving success and fame (BBC Music review).

Rumer released her second album of all original material, and her third total studio album, ‘Into Colour’ on 10 November 2014 in the UK, Ireland and Japan. The record was then released worldwide in early 2015 by Atlantic Records.

In 2015, Rumer released a collection of unreleased tracks and B-sides from her back catalog entitled, ‘B Sides & Rarities.’ The collection features collaborations with the likes of Dionne Warwick, Stephen Bishop and Michael Feinstein.

Rumer's fourth album, released under the East West Records label, features her take on select tracks from the songbook of Burt Bacharach and Hal David. It was released on 25 November 2016. Rumer remarked about how this album "was one she couldn't have made five years ago" and that how she felt that she had the right "emotional palette" to draw on the songs she recorded. It was produced by her husband and producer Rob Shirakbari at Capitol Studios in early 2016.

AM:  Can you give me a little bit of background Rumer?

Rumer:  I come from a family of musical people. All my brothers and sisters play guitar or some instrument. It seemed like a normal thing to compose music as well. My brother Chris wrote poetry. He really inspired me when I was five years old. I used to sit there with a tape recorder and record him and play it back later. (Laughter)

AM:  That is so sweet. Were you singing as a child?

Rumer: Yes, I was obsessed with Judy Garland. I related to her because she had brown hair and brown eyes. The first movie I saw with her was ‘Easter Parade’ where her character doesn’t know her left from her right and she’s kind of clumsy and not the most beautiful girl. I just related to her character.

AM:  So you would sing Judy Garland songs?

Rumer:  Yes, they were the first songs I was learning, so inadvertently I was learning the great American Songbook from Judy Garland films.

AM:  When did you realize you were going to be a singer for your life career?

Rumer:  I think when I realized, I was not going to college. I couldn’t think of anything else I could do. I had an instinct that it would be worth the shot. I guess I was eighteen.

AM:  Did you receive a lot of encouragement?

Rumer:  I don’t really remember being encouraged. I was quite shy and didn’t really show off. I don’t remember people ever telling me, “Wow you have an amazing voice.”

AM:  Really!?! 

Rumer:  I don’t think I was confident. It took me years to build that confidence to perform in public.

AM:  When did you start performing in public?

Rumer:  When I was sixteen or seventeen. I come from a very small tourist town in the south of England. It’s a retirement area, but also a holiday area, much like Florida. They always had a lot of live music in the bars and pubs during the summer. A lot of local bands would play. It used to thrive but not so much now. Back then, any time of day you would go into a Pub, there was a live band.  So, one day I walked in a Pub and they told me I could get on stage and sing a song, so that’s what I did.

AM: How do you go from performing in small Pubs in the South of England to an international recording contract?

Rumer:  It was quite a long journey. I moved to London when I was eighteen. I got a job in a wine bar. I met some people who were musicians and I joined their band and got my first experience in a studio with them. Also, my first experience playing shows with them. Then I had to go back to my hometown because my Mom was sick.  After that I came back to London and started writing songs by myself and playing on the singer/songwriter scene.

AM:  That makes sense. You had a little experience by this time.

Rumer:  I played open mike nights and started meeting and connecting with people. I just started understanding the business and how to get my music heard and get it out there. No one really took any notice of my music until I found a producer who was willing to make an album on his tab. I had to record the whole album with him before I could even get any interest. Once the executives heard the whole ‘Seasons of My Soul’ finished, they got it.

AM: The song that stands out on that album is ‘Aretha.’ Where did that come from?

Rumer:  That song is a mixture of childhood memories. I wanted to write a song about music itself and how important it is. Music can be salvation.

AM:  Music IS salvation!

Rumer:  Music was definitely an escape for me as a kid. My mother had a mental illness. I was depressed as a child so my Aretha Franklin tape or my Patsy Cline tape or whoever it was I was listening to, it was comforting to me. I believe it filled the space that not having a mother created. These singers gave me the female energy I was missing.

AM:  That’s beautiful.

Rumer:  So, I put the whole thing together in a story. My producer at the time, Steve Brown, had never made an album before but he wrote theater music. They call him the British Stephen Sondheim. He’s very clever. He understood it theatrically when I brought it in. He added some good guitar chords. We put the whole thing together.

AM:  What are some of the musical differences in your albums?

Rumer:  ‘Seasons of My Soul’ is a lifetime’s work. It’s a culmination of my entire Twenties. With your first record, you have the privilege of playing them live before anybody knows them or cares who you are. It’s easier to try them out in front of an audience. This album is my deepest work. I’m never going to lose my mother again. That was deep. I’m never going to be as emotionally unstable as I was in my Twenties.

AM:  That is so true. I never thought of it from that perspective.

Rumer:  ‘Into Colour’ is more collaborative. So, I collaborated with various songwriters and I really enjoyed the experience. It’s not as deep because I didn’t have as much time.

AM:  Success came fast and was difficult for you, wasn’t it?

Rumer:  I wasn’t ready or prepared or groomed for success. It came out of the blue and I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know what live TV was or playing in front of five thousand people was like. I was doing everything for the first time. I got a lot of stage fright anxiety. I had to come to America to get away in 2013. I had to re-group and get my creative energy back. That’s when I wrote ‘Into Colour.’

AM:  How did the Bacharach & David tribute album come about?

Rumer: This project was offered to me by a record company in England so I said, “Sure.” We did it and I think we did a really nice job. It was hard at first because it’s quite a big thing to do. There’s a huge catalog of iconic, legendary songs. The project was daunting but we just went back and listened to the music and listened to what Hal David was saying with his lyrics. We listened to Burt and what he was saying. We wanted to put across a sense of what they were trying to convey. 

To learn more about Rumer visit her web site

Monday, November 21, 2016

Singer/Songwriter Reagan James

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

R&B Singer/Songwriter Reagan James, thrust into the national spotlight in 2014 as a Top 10 artist on ‘NBC’s The Voice’ combines soulful melodies with contagious beats in her growing catalog of original music.

Reagan tried out for ‘The Voice’ by singing the Ed Sheeran song "Give Me Love". Two coaches - Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani- turned around for her, both wowed by her vocals and shocked that her strong voice came from someone so young. After hearing what both had to say, Reagan picked Blake Shelton as her coach. She later posted a video of her cover of his song "Neon Light" on YouTube.

Raised in Burleson, Texas, just outside Fort Worth, Reagan was a high school student who had been posting covers of herself singing songs on YouTube and even released an independent album called ‘Remedy,’ in October, 2013 which was produced by her stepfather, music producer Scot Cloud.

Her latest independent studio release ‘Have a Nice Day’ released in January, 2016 reached No. 24 on the iTunes R&B/Soul chart—the first of many steps in Reagans' post-The Voice career. Establishing a new identity all her own, ‘Have a Nice Day’ is yet another striking exhibition of James’ lyrical prowess and melodic genius. A year in the making, the album is the result of hundreds of hours of musical study and an overall broadening of James’ worldview. In her own words, “The lyrics of these songs are simply a letter to everyone who hears them; enjoy, and have a nice day.”

Don’t miss the opportunity to catch a live show with this emerging artist, and see why multi-platinum producer Pharrell Williams gleamed, “The swagger she has is amazing; it’s addictive to watch.”

AM:  Reagan, how long have you been singing?

RJ:  I’ve been singing since I was eight but I’ve only been singing well for about three years.

AM: You were on The Voice two years ago?

RJ:  Yes I was on it in 2014.

AM: Tell me a little about the whole experience. Was it what you thought it would be?

RJ:  No, I didn’t know what to expect. It took up a whole year of my life. I got the call in January and I was on the show until December. It was long and exhausting.

AM:  Were you in Los Angeles the whole time?

RJ:   I went back and forth. I was there a total of eighteen weeks over the course of the year.

AM: Did you find the overall experience to be valuable?

RJ:  Very valuable. I had so many meetings and got to meet so many people. I got a lot of experience under my belt. I do think I as too young to be there but I also think it was good because I wouldn’t want to do it now. I’m happy that I got that out of the way as early as I did.

AM:  How did you get on there in the first place?

RJ:  I would have never gone and pursued the show. They came after me by finding me on the internet. The casting director called my mom and said she wanted to give me a private audition. So, I went to Houston for that.

AM:  OK that makes sense because you don’t seem like an artist who would go on the Voice.

RJ:  No, I wasn’t. I never was, even when I was on it.

AM:  Did you feel a bit like an outsider?

RJ:  Yes, but not in a bad way. I’ve always been kind of an outsider no matter where I go.

AM:  I like seeing you on these local television shows.

RJ:  I do a lot of those.

AM:  I saw one where the host asked you about Kelly Clarkson since you are both from Burleson.

RJ:  I get asked that all the time.

AM:  How have you adapted to having fans?

RJ:  Easily I guess. I don’t see myself as above anybody. They are just people who like my music and it’s an honor for me. I don’t see myself on a pedestal or anything like that.

AM:  Did you expect that the public would enjoy your music?

RJ:  Yes.

AM:  That’s because it’s so good.

RJ:  It is good. I don’t make music that I think isn’t good.

AM:  Reagan I have listened to your album, ‘Have A Nice Day’ over and over again. I have introduced your music to many people who are of every age and they all love it.

RJ:  It appeals to a lot of different types of people. It’s a great album. I’m going in a different direction now.

AM:  What style of music is ‘Have A Nice Day?’

RJ: It’s a pop R&B album.

AM:  What direction do you want your music to take?

RJ: I want to go more aspects of gospel and a more mature sound. There are a lot of pop music in this album. I want to overall vibe of my next project to be a little different.

AM:  I think they should all be different while you find your style.

RJ: Sure, I’m still exploring what style of music I want.

AM:  Are you recording right now?

RJ:  Yes, I have been recording at Wavelight Studios in Fort Worth.

AM:  Are you working with the same team as you did with ‘Have A Nice Day?’

RJ:  Yes I am. I’m working with Jeff Rockwell, who has been my producer for four years and my guitar player, Aaron Anthony who has been with me for about a year and a half. I’ve always made music with him.

AM:  Do you constantly write music?

RJ:  Yes!

AM:  Do you consider yourself more a writer or a singer?

RJ:  That’s tough because at one time I did consider myself a writer more, but at some point, I did consider myself a singer first. I think they are about equal.

AM:  What is your ultimate career goal?

RJ:  My overall goal would be to be the best influence I can be and do for other people what my inspirations have done for me, which is give me hope and the joy that music gives me and a reason to live. That’s what I have gotten from music and I hope I can give that to other people.

AM:  I know Amy Winehouse is a big influence but who are some other artists you have looked up to?

RJ:  Ray Charles is a big influence. I love Sinatra. I listen to a lot of older music. I love Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson.

AM: Do you have any advice for young people that want to follow in your footsteps?

RJ: Don’t be reckless. Have a head on your shoulders. Don’t be pushed around, but also listen to people. Don’t think you know everything. Take the advice you are given.

AM:  You are smart!

RJ:  I try! (laughter)

To learn more about Reagan James visit her web site

Monday, November 7, 2016

It's Easy To Appreciate Stephen Bishop

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

At the age of thirteen, Stephen Bishop found himself at a crossroads. A clarinetist with hopes of becoming a History teacher, he was forever changed after watching the Beatles one night on "The Ed Sullivan Show." His brother Denny bought Stephen an electric guitar and a "Mel Bay" chord book at the store he worked in, and turned his stereo into an amp so Stephen could play music. He began to learn to play guitar and make up chords as well, writing his first song, "Surf’s Turf.." a pathetic sounding instrumental. He formed a band called, "The Weeds" and began to play at local fraternity parties incorporating his own original songs with various songs from top 40.

The Weeds won 2nd place at the Claremont Battle of the Bands, prompting one of the judges to explain that "Stephen Bishop is going to be a big songwriter someday!" Determined to fulfill that prophesy, Stephen made the trip to Los Angeles. He walked the streets with his $12 acoustic guitar, playing songs for various publishers in Hollywood... eventually landing a publishing deal at $50 a week for E.H.Morris Publishing. One of his songs was recorded only to be followed by a long wait...many years went by. At one point, Stephen considered leaving L.A. to return home and work for his Dad’s Insurance company. Through a good friend, Art Garfunkel heard some of his new songs and recorded two of them on his Gold recording, 'Breakaway.'

He started playing around town singing his songs in person for artists like, “Barbra Streisand...Bette Midler...Diana Ross." Shortly thereafter, he was signed to ABC Records who released his first album, "Careless." His two hits from that album were, ‘Save It For a Rainy Day,’ and ‘On and On.’ Eric Clapton, Art Garfunkel and Chaka Khan all contributed their talents to the album. Soon the album went gold, as well as his next album, ‘Bish.’

He sang the hit theme, ‘It Might Be You,’ from the movie, ‘Tootsie,’ as well as writing and/or singing 13 other films including, ‘Animal House,’ and ‘Separate Lives’ from ‘White Nights.’ His songs have been performed by artists such as: Phil Collins, Eric Clapton, Barbra Streisand, Art Garfunkel, Steve Perry, Stephanie Mills, Kenny Loggins, Johnny Mathis, Phoebe Snow, David Crosby, The Four Tops, Aswad and Pavarotti.

In 1989, Stephen released the album ‘Bowling in Paris’ with Phil Collins (co-producer on some songs), Eric Clapton and Sting contributing.

He appeared as the "Charming Guitar Player" in ‘Animal House,’ wherein John Belushi slammed his guitar into smithereens in the Toga Party scene. He appeared as, ‘Blue London,’ in Henry Jaglom's, ‘Someone To Love.’ Stephen Bishop also appeared in ‘The Blues Brothers,’ as a State Trooper. He has performed at the Library of Congress and at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York for an event for the U.N.

Stephen was nominated for two Grammy’s and awarded an Oscar nomination for his song, ‘Separate Lives.’ In Eric Clapton's autobiography he mentions Stephen as one of his favorite songwriters. Stephen’s newest album is titled ‘Blueprint’ and available worldwide.

AM:  Stephen your new album is so good. How did you pick a producer to work with?

SB:  That’s the biggest challenge. I’ve known this guy, Jon Gilutin, for many years. We worked together twenty years ago. He’s a talented guy so I thought let’s give it a go. We ended up working together but I never knew he was as talented as he is. He did a great job on the album. There’s so much to do when making a quality album.

AM:  How did you put together the songs for this album?

SB:  I was laying in my man cave and decided I wanted to put out another album. We started at a relaxed pace only working on it three days a week, but we ended up working hard. So anyway, I have a ton of demos from the old days so we used the demos as a ‘Blueprint’ as where to go with the song, like making it more expansive or keeping it simple. That’s where the name of the album came from.

AM:  I like the title.

SB: I had another title nobody liked. I wanted to call it ‘Work, Home, TV, Bed.’ (Laughter)

AM:  What is one of your favorite songs on the new album?

SB:  I really like ‘Before Night Falls’ which is about mental illness. That is about a friend of mine who was suicidal.

AM:  I like ‘Ultra Love.’

SB: That is a song like the old Stylistics songs.

AM:  ‘She’s Not Mine’ is wonderful.

SB:  That song was written right after my divorce. That’s a heavy song.

AM: You are such a fun person!

SB:  I like to have fun.

AM: Yet in your song writing, you come off as a serious person.

SB: Very serious, yes. Everybody has different dimensions to their personality right?

AM:  (Laughter) Maybe not everybody, but creative people do.

SB:  I remember going to my high school reunion and there was a girl I hadn’t seen in twenty years. She used to flirt with me and give me the hardest time. I was kind of a dweeb in high school. Well she flirted with me at the reunion and we got biblical later. Then she was so disappointed, she said, “You know what? You’re not like your album.” (Laughter) “I thought you were your album.”

AM:  That is crazy.

SB:  It’s weird isn’t it? I’m not a heavy guy who goes around thinking the world is in trouble. The song ‘Blue Window’ lets out my real, true feelings.

AM:  You come across as a very passionate and committed person who is intelligent.

SB:  Thank you, I try.

AM:  You wouldn’t be able to write like you do if you weren’t smart. I love your sarcasm too.

SB:  I use tons of sarcasm. I have two sides to my writing. I have my serious side and my funny, eclectic, weird side. I’ve been putting them on albums for years. On my second album, ‘Bish’ I have a song called ‘What Love Can Do’ where I have all the guys who sound like the guards in ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ I’ve been doing things like that for a long time. I like having funny and weird songs.

AM:  You have a long history of working with some of the biggest superstars in the business.

SB:  That makes me sound so good.

AM:  You are in the best company all the time. How did you end up working with Chaka Khan on your first album ‘Careless?’

SB:  I ran around with her because I was friends with her boyfriend at the time, Richard Holland. He’s still a good buddy of mine. He wound up marrying Chaka, who I just worked with again last year.

AM: Art Garfunkel played an important part in your career too didn’t he?

SB:  He sang a couple of my songs on his ‘Breakaway’ album. He has recorded seven of my songs now.

AM:  Everybody has recorded your songs.

SB:  I have had a lot of covers from big stars but they were never a single. I was lucky with Beyonce because she sampled ‘On & On’ in her song ‘Ring Off.’ That was supposed to be a single but it was all about her parents breaking up and then her mother got remarried so the single was off.

AM: Well the list of names who have recorded your songs is long and full of the biggest stars.

SB:  I am grateful but as they say, “You can’t rest on your laurels.”

AM: Your new album proves that you are not close to that. You like to re-imagine your songs like on your Brazilian album.

SB:  Wow you have that album? You are a real fan. That’s one of my best albums. Nobody ever heard about it. It was for sale in Target. We worked hard and are very proud of it. It’s out there somewhere.

AM:  It’s a really great album.

SB:  Do you know how long I’ve been writing songs?

AM:  A long time.

SB:  I started writing songs when I was thirteen. By the time I was fifteen and a half I’d written 200 songs.

AM:  That’s because you are a real songwriter. Does it bother you that the term is a lot looser now?

SB:  I do hear songs on the radio and I wonder will anyone remember this? I am so fortunate that my songs still get airplay. I listen to everything so I can stay hip to it all.

AM: Not only do people still play your music but they have emotions attached to the songs.

SB:  They do.  When I do shows and meet & greets it can be really heavy. People get emotional and tell me they got married to my song.

AM:  Do you like hearing these stories?

SB:  It’s funny how it works. I remember seeing Donald Fagen in a restaurant and I told him how impressed I was with Steely Dan. I was in awe and he looked at me and went very nonchalantly, “Uh Thanks.” Then I think of myself when people tell me how much my music means to them and I go, ‘Thanks.” Then I feel like I should show more appreciation. It’s hard to appreciate yourself. It takes work to accept appreciation of yourself. 

To learn more about Stephen Bishop visit his web site