Posts Tagged ‘band’

Saw Buffalo Springfield last night at Wiltern.

Awesome show, all the old songs done impeccably. Sold out crowd loved it. They were a great group then, as now. I remember seeing them in ’67; they were great then.

They’re doing a tour in the near future. Stills is in good shape, Young always is and Furay is a great singer. Harmonies were tight.

For information on their tour, check this out Buffalo Springfield tour


Sharon Corr is one of the gorgeous Corr sisters, the violinist of and a vocalist in the Corrs, the great Irish recording act, which has sold over 26 million albums, and toured the world to sellout crowds. The Corrs and U2 are the reigning stars of Irish contemporary music. Sharon has recorded her first solo album and it’s simply wonderful. We had the good fortune to get to know her when we had an extended vacation in Ireland and she was kind to allow us to interview her in July of 2010 in Dublin. She’s charming, great fun, down to earth, and personifies class. As you will read below, Sharon has a full life as a musician, wife and mother. She’s married to the handsome, dashing, successful Irish barrister, Gavin Bonnar.

TM: Why are you doing a solo album?

SC: Because I make music, that’s what I do.  I perform, write, sing, play, and I’ve always wanted to make a solo album.  I’ve been working with the Corrs for about 20 years, and my family, been with them for like 100 years, and we all took a hiatus to have children and stop touring, get off the road and get some normal life going. But in the couple of years that I was having my children, I was very inspired and wrote a lot music, and that spurred me on to make an album.  So it was a very organic, natural process.

TM: Is the music different from what you were doing with the Corrs?

SC: It’s different in that I’ve changed emotionally.  I’m a little more mature.  It’s not drastically different because for me to do so would be for me to deny myself, so what I wrote for the Corrs is what I was naturally inspired to do.  What I write for me is what I’m naturally inspired to do. There’s a similarity as in it’s very melodic and the violin runs the whole way through.  It’s my main instrument.

TM: Is it different instrumentation than what Corrs’ music traditionally has been?

SC: The Corrs’ music is your basic rhythm section, drums, bass, guitar, lead guitar, keyboards, violin.  I’ve got the bodhran on the album, a single drum with a skin on it.  It’s an old Irish drum that I hit with a stick which is actually called a tipper.  It’s sort of fat at either end and makes a beautiful, very ethnically Irish sound.  So, no, the instrumentation isn’t very different from the Corrs.

TM: In terms of songwriting style, do you consider this to be different in the sense that it’s more Celtic, pop, folky?  Are there any strains of styles that are different?

SC: It’s a little rockier, it’s a little heavier.  Violin-wise I wanted to explore my classical side on the album as well.  I was brought up playing classical violin and then switched over to more traditional later on in my teens.   I’ve explored variations on how to play the violin so it would feel more classical one minute, or more bluegrassy, and then the next minute it would be back to traditional Irish.  I’ve wanted to explore myself vocally on this album and violin-wise and stretch myself more.

TM: On the Corrs’ albums, was there violin on most tracks?

SC: On the earlier albums, on every track.  Later albums, there were maybe a couple of tracks without violin on it, but it is a very strong part of our sound.  It is part of the intonation that I suppose identified the Corrs’ music.

TM: Who, besides Charlie Daniels  of “The Devil Went Down To Georgia,”  is both a vocalist and a violinist at the same time?

SC: Alison Krauss, and one of the Dixie Chicks, of course, but it is still a rarity and for that reason it’s very identifiable.

TM: Let’s talk about the songwriting process.  How do you write these songs?

SC: Almost every song on the album was written on piano.  What I basically do is spend a lot of time in and around my piano.  If I’m making a cup of coffee, the piano’s nearby.  Or minding the kids.  I’m coming in and out of the piano all day.  I don’t like to force myself to write.  I like it to be just something I’m continuously doing, because I don’t respond well to a schedule. I like to have it as something that’s part of my organic day.  I’m always writing, and I chose to do it that way because if I ever stop writing, I find it hard to get back on the writing horse, and grapple back what I knew from the last song I wrote, and it takes me awhile.  I find a chord progression on the piano that inspires melody.

TM: Then do you come up with lyrics?

SC: Yes.  Usually the lyric is something I will start singing while I’m messing around on the piano.  I’ll find like a word like “butterflies.” I wrote a song called “Butterflies” – I kept finding butterflies in my life.  Everywhere I looked there was a butterfly.  At Christmastime, there was a butterfly around our table and it wasn’t the time of year, and it was sort of out of sync, so I was inspired to write something about butterflies, and it almost comes out before I think about it, and then I have to discover the lyric around what I’m thinking.

TM: Songwriting comes easy?

SC: Yeah.  I used to find lyrics incredibly difficult. To really touch people, you have to create a lyric that you yourself understand, that you know that perfectly encapsulates the situation, and there are only certain writers that can really do that, that will say something in a way that puts you in the situation where you can touch it, you can feel it, and you can smell it ­– if the lyric is saying something.  You have to feel it.

TM: Are they all songs about love?

SC: No.  “Butterflies” is about that moment before you get on stage, butterflies in your belly. When I took time off to have my children, I missed the road desperately.  I more desperately wanted to have children at that stage of my life, but I missed playing music and what happens before you get on stage.  I was on tour for almost 20 years of my life so that was more my norm than the other … I wanted to get back out on tour and knew the only I could get do so if I created an album that created an interest, so that people would want to buy tickets.

TM: But you do write about love, I presume.

SC: Oh, yes.  A lot of it is love.  “Butterflies” is about love of music.

TM: Have you done any covers or anything traditional?

SC: I have covered the The Corgis’ “Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime.”

And I’ve covered “Small Town Boy.”  Sort of flipped it on its head and made it really, very dark.  It was an 80’s gay anthem, and I’ve just tried to focus on the lyric and turned it around. Traditionally, I have done “Mna Na h’Eireann” which is a piece by Sean O’Riada.  It means “Women Of Ireland,” and it’s a hugely famous piece. I did a new arrangement of that with Jeff Beck.

TM: Is that in Gaelic, the song?

SC: The name of the song is in Gaelic but it’s an instrumental, and then there also have been lyrics written to it, maybe over the years.

TM: On the Corrs’ album, the songs say “written by the Corrs.”  Is that really what happened?  All four Corrs get together and write?

SC: All four of us are writers, but we didn’t necessarily all write together en masse at the one time, Caroline and Andrea wrote a lot together.  I wrote a lot on my own.  Jim and Andrea wrote a lot together.  So we were each writing, at least a quarter of the album each, so we just went “The Corrs.”

TM: So it’s one for and all and all for one.

SC: Yeah, but if you picked out the individual songs, they would be different individuals writing.  If we’re in an interview and somebody said, “Okay, who wrote “So Young?,”  well everybody would say, “I did .”

TM: You mean “you?”

SC: Yeah, I did, and then if it was “Queen Of Hollywood,” we would say Andrea wrote it, so…

TM: How about “Breathless?”

SC: “Breathless” was Andrea and Mutt Lange.

TM: There’s no doubt that the Corrs have a tremendous pop aspect to them, but there’s also a folk aspect to them.  When you got signed or started putting out your first music, was it as poppy or as, as near pop as it ultimately became?  Or were you pushed in that direction?

SC: Oh, God, no, no, that was our idea.  Originally, when we started writing together, before we were signed, it was pure pop.  It was very electronic, very pure pop, and then we introduced the traditional Irish because I played the violin so we introduced it into the music.  And then we developed our sound over a couple of years of writing.  We got a record deal ultimately because we chased David Foster into a studio in New York while he was recording Michael Jackson. The edge of the Irish music really appealed to him, he really got that.  The harmonies he loved.  I think we got signed because of that combination.

TM: How did four siblings end up in a group with each other?

SC: I don’t know.  I say our music was our life because it actually was; there was a lot of music in our life.  My parents were both musicians.  My mother had a voice like Karen Carpenter.  My father was a keyboard player, piano player.  They played gigs at the weekends.  Mom was a stay-at-home mom and then a singer at the weekend, and then dad worked in the local electricity supply board and then played at the weekends with Mom.  So it was our lives.

TM: What did your dad do for a living?

SC: He was the head of accounts in ESB.  That’s Electricity Supply Board.  So he was like an accountant.

TM: I take it he encouraged the kids.

SC: Oh, yeah.  My mom and dad found their greatest joy in life was music.  It was where they were most happy.  And I think they found if you can be in the music business, you can have a very special life if you can be in the music business.  Obviously, it’s a very precarious industry, a very difficult industry, but I think they really believed in following their dreams and certainly following their talent.

TM: When the group first began, what were the ages of the kids?

SC: We began in 1990, the oldest is Jim, my brother.

TM: How old was Jim?

SC: I was 20, Jim was 26, Andrea was 16, Caroline was 17.  It sort of fell together.  There was an idea to have a band.  Jim always wanted to have a band with his sisters.  I’m not sure how keen we sisters were actually, but certainly he was into that idea.

TM: What were you doing then?

SC: I was managing a record store.  I was working in a pub.  I had finished school.  I was playing violin

TM: Where were you living?

SC: I was living in Dundalk, our hometown.

TM: And that’s up near the border of Northern Ireland.

SC: Yes, it’s about 15 miles from the border.

TM: What kind of a town is that?

SC: It’s a great town, and for music.  Great traditional sessions, great players, there’s a great orchestra in the town.  It got a bit of a bad rap because a lot of the Troubles (how the Irish refer to the conflicts between the Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland), a lot of guys causing the trouble in the North would cross the border and move to Dundalk just to get away from the police over there, and it got a bit of a bad rap at stages but it was a good town to grow up in.  We were very happy there.

TM: You formed the group with the intentions of getting a record deal?

SC: It was a lot more naïve than that.  We formed a band.  We really liked the implications of forming the band and trying to have a career.  What actually happened was we formed the band almost by mistake because we wanted to audition for the film The Commitments, which was running open auditions in Dublin at the time.  The guy who became our manager was MD on the move and he knew Jim, our brother, because Jim had done some recordings for him, and he said, “You guys, why don’t you audition?”  So that’s when we first got together and started rehearsing some songs together.  The first time we played together was on stage for Alan Parker, auditioning for the movie.  That day, the casting director for that movie, who was a good friend of John Hughes, said out of the blue to him, “You should manage them,” and to us, “You should let him manage you,” and that was it.  It was fate.

TM: Then what happened?  Did it take of quickly?

SC: No, no.  It took us four years to get a record deal.  We had to start writing.  We really started learning our craft, started writing and understanding the whole process of writing, just feeling our way through it and making it up as you go along.  We spent four years doing that.  We pursued a lot of different record companies over the years, none of them were interested, and the same guy who turned down the Cranberries, also turned down us, so we knew it wasn’t that bad.  Eventually we played a gig in Dublin and the then Irish ambassador was Jean Kennedy Smith.  She came to the gig with a friend of ours, Bill Whelan, who composed River Dance, but that was after this.  She then invited us back to the Kennedy Library to play for the World Cup. So we went out there, and John, our manager, obviously thought, “Well, this is a prime time to hit the American record labels.”  So we did.  We went over to L.A. and hit all the labels over there, and were just total fish out of water.  L.A. was just so terrifying to us, and New York was so big and so scary, and we were just these little country bumpkins with our violins and tin whistles.  And it was bizarre but it’s where the chances happen in life when you take yourself completely out of your comfort zone and land yourself in somewhere you don’t understand and you’re just trying to make your way through it.

It was the last day before we were supposed to go home and no record company was interested.  John, our manager, had the wonderful idea of gate crashing the Michael Jackson session in the Hit Factory in New York, because he knew David Foster was producing.  He’d been told by Jason Flom, who was with Atlantic Records at the time, that this guy was their in-house producer and he was amazing:  “You should get to meet him.”  So John didn’t wait for an invite.  We went.  We arrived at the date.  Big burly black guys are minding Michael Jackson.  We said, “We’re here to meet David Foster,” and they thought we had a meeting.  So we arrived, and we looked official, we had all the instruments, so we could have been there – although we looked probably a bit oddly dressed.  David come out and he because he was curious, and we just said, “Can we play for you?”  So we got round a piano in the studio.  Jim played piano, I played violin, Caroline bodhran, and Andrea tin whistle, and we all sang harmony, and three songs that we had written.  Then we played him some pretty well-produced demos, and we were signed the next day.

TM: Are you doing harmonies on this album?

SC: Yeah, and interestingly, I have used some male vocalists for harmonies on this album as well because I wanted to explore the more male sound on the album as well and see how that worked with my voice, because I know my voice with my sisters works amazingly, and I wanted to try it out with other people.

TM: Were you singing lead on Corrs’ product?

SC: I sang lead on one song on one album, but we liked to keep our roles fairly defined, so not a lot.

TM: You write the song, then how do you judge whether it’s record-worthy, whether you want to take it to the recording stage?

SC: I pretty much know straight away.

TM: Do you play for your husband, your producer, for an A&R person?

SC: I play it for my husband and then I tell my producer, “We’ll go into the studio to record another song.”

TM: How do you get your musicians together?  Do you rehearse before you go in or lay it down first in the studio, your basic track?

SC: It depends on the song.  For the initial recordings on the album, I was actually rehearsing for the Isle Of Wight Festival last year and also for Glastonbury.  In rehearsing those, they started to sound so good that we just went, “Okay, we need to start recording these immediately,” because we just knew we had the right five.  Probably the best way to record is to rehearse first.  It depends on the track.  If it’s only me, piano and vocal, well then, obviously, I don’t need to.

TM: When you played Glastonbury and Isle of Wight, were these Sharon Corr performances, or performances with the group?

SC: Sharon Corr, yes.

TM: You’ve been going out and performing individually?

SC: Yeah, I also released a single last year as well,

TM: Those are pretty big gigs to play, aren’t they?

SC: Yeah.

TM: Have you been playing any other places or you just only play for 100,000 plus?

SC(laughs) I was very aware that if I told people I was doing an album, because I didn’t sing lead in the Corrs, they would think I’m doing a violin album, an instrumental album.  I knew I needed to identify myself as singer/songwriter, as a vocalist.  Even though I’ve always been that, the public didn’t know that because they were Corrs albums and seeing me play violin and sing background vocals.  So I knew I had to introduce myself to them as I know me.  How I did that was I took some high profile festivals.  I asked the guys that I know, “Can I play them?”  I did.  I went in with a bang.  I took a big band with me and it was scary for me because I hadn’t played live in a couple of years, but I loved it, and I was exhilarated, and it got my name out there, and people went, “Oh, yeah, Sharon Corr,” and then they just started immediately identifying me as a solo artist.

TM: And how did it go, the shows?

SC: They went great, really well.  I was so sick beforehand, ill with nerves on the Isle Of Wight, because I hadn’t played a live gig in five years, but I wanted to do it more than anything that could pull me back.

TM: And who was the band?

SC: The band is Anthony Drennan, which also played with the Corrs.

Fantastic guitarist, Keith Duffy on bass, Jason Duffy on drums, Gerry O’Connor on mandolin.  I had two backing vocalists with me. I had another guitarist, Conor Brady, so it was a really big band, because I was very aware that because I’d left stage at the height of our success, for me to come on in like an any way small with a tiny band, and “Here’s me and my violin,” was not gonna cut it.  I needed to go on and out there big so people wouldn’t have to start wondering.  They’d just go, “Oh, yeah, that’s Sharon Corr, the solo artist, and she has a big band.”

TM: Did the Corrs intend to go on a hiatus as long as they have?

SC: I don’t know what we intended.  We knew we needed a break; we’d been on the road a very long time.  I certainly knew my biological clock was ticking very loudly and I needed the opportunity to have children.  It was getting late, we had huge success, we had toured the world a couple a times over and it was time to find our own identities and our own lives.

TM: What are the plans now for the Corrs?

SC: I think we’ll do something next year, another album next year.

TM: Then tour again.

SC: We’ll see.  It’s harder to get everybody to agree.  Some people want to tour, some people maybe don’t.  I think we’ll do gigs.  I don’t know if it’ll be in a standard tour.

TM: Did you have children?

SC: I had a boy first, Cathal, we call him “Cal” after the lovely piece Mark Knopfler wrote, “Cal,” and Flori is our second born. He’s four, she’s three.

TM: How’s that been, motherhood?

SC: Frantic.  Certainly a huge eye-opener.  I never realized I was so vulnerable in this world until I had children, so it’s been scary, wonderful, exhilarating, really hard work, harder than touring, and I’m just delighted.  They’re great, terrific little kids and they are my world.

TM: And your husband supports you as a musician, doesn’t he?

SC: He loves it.  He really gets, he gets a huge kick out of it, and I think he could see me when I wasn’t playing that I wasn’t quite myself, that I didn’t feel good, that although I had my children, I wasn’t expressing myself, and I really need to do that.

TM: What is your background in music, how have you been trained?

SC: I started playing piano from probably as soon as I was tall enough to reach the keyboard.  My dad gave me a couple a lessons and then I taught myself, and I then started violin lessons at six.  I was classically trained up until about 15, and then I just wanted to explore it myself, and wasn’t really into the incredible discipline it took to be a top classical musician – and I also wanted to play music as I interpreted it, not as Beethoven wrote.

TM: Did you go to university at all?

SC: I went to college.  I did science for about eight months and then left.  It just was not me.

TM: When did you first realize you could be a professional musician?

SC: I suppose I always thought I could be a professional musician.  I was playing music almost all my life, so I could have always gotten a gig. There was never a time I thought I couldn’t be.

TM: When the Corrs started playing, during that four-year period before you got signed, what kind of gigs were you playing?

SC: We did a couple of small tours.  Went though Ireland where it would be one guy and a dog there and then you’d get the complete opposite at the other end of the country, and all of a sudden they’re totally loving you and then you’re coming offstage shaking because people adore you.  When you were new, a young band and people don’t know you it’s just from gig to gig, touch and go.  We did every gig there is to do.

TM: Are you surprised at how successful the Corrs became or have become?  You’ve sold 30 million albums and toured, played stadiums and gotten great reviews besides U2, the biggest band in Ireland.

SC: We’ve outsold U2 in a lot of territories as well, which a lot of people wouldn’t know, but am I surprised?  You’re always going to be surprised because that’s just something that mostly all of the time nobody gets, that sort of success, but we certainly worked for it.  We worked, we worked, we worked.  We sold every album door-to-door…

TM: And did all the promotional activities you had to do.

SC: I was just speaking with a guy from the Times yesterday and he did our bio years ago.  He became a great friend of ours, and he said, “You were the hardest working band in the world.”  And we were.  We sold every record.  That’s the only way you do it.

TM: But you enjoyed it, too, right?

SC: You have to have the talent and the music.  We loved it but it was exhausting.  If you were doing 18 hours of interviews in Taiwan for like six different territories on the one day, that was exhausting, but we always respected the fact that we were getting a chance to do this.  It’s remarkable.  It’s remarkable that anybody experiences that much.

TM: It’s been tremendous fun, hasn’t it?

SC: Incredible, brilliant fun, the laughs I have with my sisters and brother,  talking about old stories and manager and stuff we used to get up to.  Experiences all over the world.

TM: Can you think of any disadvantages to the fact that you were in a band with you family?

SC: It was hard to tell each other just to go get lost, because they’re your family.  They don’t get lost.  They stay with you, and we were at quite a tender age, the days where you’re developing your independence, your sense of yourself, and at that age we got all immersed in a sense of ourselves, of a unit, rather than a sense of our own personal identity, so it was very, very difficult to bring out and form your own identity within, and as, for the sisters, even more difficult because we’re so alike.

TM: That’s one of the reasons probably why taking a break has been good.

SC: Absolutely wonderful.

TM: If not absolutely necessary.

SC:  Oh, totally necessary.  I mean we would have had total burnout and I’m very grateful, and respect getting that chance, because I would have been maybe so immersed in being together too long.

TM: Was there pressure from the outside, the record company, the promoters, the manager to, “No, just stay together.  Do one more tour, one more album?   How can you stop now?”

SC: Absolutely, but we worked with a team.  Our manager got us our record deal.  He worked with us from the really early days, so he was also a parental symbol, he knew us all very emotionally, and that we were jaded, wrecked.  He couldn’t for his own conscience force us to have stayed in that mode, although there would have been many other tours to do. Caroline already had a child at this stage.  He got it.

TM: Are your mom and dad still alive?

SC: No.  My mom passed away in 1999.  My father’s still alive.

TM: Your mom must have been so proud of what happened, right?

SC: Yeah.

TM: She was thrilled, right?  And dad is, was thrilled.  Is still thrilled?

SC: Delighted, yeah.  It gets me every time.   (tears up remembering her mother)

TM: Dad doesn’t work anymore?

SC: Dad took retirement, and many years ago while mom and him could still have a bit of fun.  It was a really beautiful thing because we hit the big time and Mom and Dad had been our inspiration our whole lives. We booked them first class tickets to Australia to come see us in concert and put them up in five-star hotels.  And from where we came from, that was dramatic.  I remember buying her a Donna Karan skirt for Christmas and that was a huge treat. Mum saw the biggest concert we ever did, and the following November she passed away…

TM: What was the biggest concert?

SC: The biggest concert we did on our own right was here in Lansdowne Road and it was 45,000 people.  Other concerts we did were for 100,000 but they were with other bands.  We toured with the Stones which was insane.

TM: You toured with the Stones?

SC: Yeah.  It was fun.

TM: How did the Stones audiences react?

SC: They loved us because they didn’t see us coming. You would never put the Stones with this sorta sweet Irish band, family band, and it worked because the minute we launched into the Irish stuff – and they could see we knew our stuff, so they loved us.

TM: Did you get to meet the Stones?

SC: Yeah, for sure.  We hung out with ‘em .  Very interesting bunch of guys.  (laughs)

TM: Tell me about this concert you played for 45,000 people.

SC: That was 1999.  It was in July.  We were the second Irish band ever to do it.   I think U2 did it and then we did it.  It’s a traditionally a rugby venue called Landsdowne Road.  Our promoter said “You guys can do it.  You can sell it,” and we did and it was phenomenal.  To do a gig that size in a country this size, on your home turf is pretty spectacular.  It’s amazing to get that many people from your own country turning.

TM: That must be one of the great joys of being a musician is to get the recognition and the appreciation from fans, which I take it you get all the time, don’t you?

SC: Yeah.  It’s certainly something I missed while was having my children was getting feedback.   You’re sitting at home on a piano.  You’re getting no feedback except from your husband, which is lovely but I was used to a lot more feedback than that.

TM: When you go to the supermarket, do you get recognized and stopped, or do people leave you be?

SC: They’re pretty cool in Ireland.  Very often you’re hanging out and somebody says, “Are you one of the Corrs, Ma’am?”  I go, “Yeah,” you give an autograph.  But they’re really nice about it.  Ireland is a small country.  They’re used to seeing the likes of Bono and Aiden Quinn and Liam Neeson showing up and down the street and they don’t bother them.  They say, “Hi, how’s it going?  How are ya?”

TM: The story of you and your husband needs to be told from your perspective.

SC: Oh (laughs). Okay.  The Corrs hadn’t released an album yet.  We were about to release an album and we were recording our first video to our first single “Runaway” in the Phoenix Park in Dublin, where the zoo is and where the president lives.  The L.A. girl who was the stylist for the shoot begged us to stay in Dublin that night, and said “Don’t leave me. I’m stuck in Dublin.”  So we booked a room in the Shelbourne Hotel, three of us girls into the one room with a single bed because that’s all we could afford, and we went out with this girl.  Then she decided to go home and she left us because she was tired.

I had just broken up with a guy a couple a weeks before and I was like, “I’ve had enough guys.  I’m not goin’ out with them anymore.”  Same old story and it’s not happening, and so I just was not looking for a man in my life at all, no interest.  And I’m standing in this bar at the Gaiety Theatre, which is a very famous theater in Dublin, and this guy walks up to me and I’m like, “Okay.”  I couldn’t really hear him because the music was very loud so I said, “Well, do you want to go outside and talk,” and that was it.

TM: Didn’t you stay up all night talking to him?

SC: We sat outside on the bench on Stephens Green until 7 in the morning  talking about everything, and it was just one of those nights where you said, “So do I,” about 150 times.

TM: Did you know that night that you were, he was the one?

SC: Yes, I went home to Dundalk the next day and I remember opening the back door and my mother had her head stuck in the oven,  cleaning it, and I went, “Mum, I met the guy I’m gonna marry.”  She just took her head out of the oven and went “Aahh,  really?,” and I said, “Yeah.  We both knew.  It was just instant.    Absolutely.  And I used to say to people, “How do you know?  What are you talking about?  How could you possibly know that that’s the person?” and they could never give me an answer, and I know why, because you just know.

TM: And your mom said something about it, too, when she met him, right?

SC: He arrived up in his morning gear which is what the barristers wear into court, and he’s obviously run out of court in Belfast to come up and see me, and he rides up in his car, he is walking up the driveway, and of course my mum’s got the squinty windows going.  She goes, “Oh, I’d like him for myself.”  (laughter) To which my dad said, “No way!”

TM: Do you go to legal functions then with him sometimes?

SC: The odd time, oh yeah, I do.  Over the years I was permanently on the road so I would always miss the one thing he needed me to go to, which was hard on him.  But, yes, I’ve gone to a few over the years.

TM: Do you like those?

SC: Depends on the people involved.  It’s all about personality.  Everything you do.  I find what he does very interesting.  He’s in libel, and I find his perspective on it very interesting.  Certainly from somebody in the limelight, these guys are just so necessary and can change your whole world when they get it right, so I think it’s a lovely combination that we have.

TM: Jeff Beck is on your record.  How and when did you first become interested in Jeff Beck?

SC: I knew about Jeff Beck my whole life, but I didn’t know him. This last year my manager invited me to see Jeff Beck  play Vicar Street, a small venue in Dublin, about 1,000 people.   The audience was full of guitar guys and it was an amazing gig, and he had Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, and he had a girl called Tal (Wilkenfeld ), a bass prodigy, about 19 and an incredible player.  The gig was mind blowing and I know most of the guys in these venues because I live here. So I said, “Can we go back and meet Jeff?,”  so we went back and it was really refreshing.  He’s so young at heart, very happy and cheery, and goes, “You know a friend of mine, Rod Stewart,” because we sang on a record with Rod Stewart before and we just got talking.  Walking out of the venue with my manager and I said, “Wouldn’t it just be amazing if Jeff could play on the album.”

We knew it was an incredibly long shot because Jeff’s very choosy about what he works on and it’s never about commercial success It’s about a love of what he’s doing.  We knew we’d kind of have to inspire him to get involved, to give him a piece of music that he just wanted to play on.  So we came up with the idea of doing “Mna Na h’Eireann,” the arrangement of it, and we knew when we started working out the arrangement that we were onto something pretty special, and that if he got it and heard it, because the thing is to get the track to the person, he’d want to do it.  It’s hard to get tracks to people but we got it to him eventually and as soon as he heard the track he wanted to play on it. He recorded it in his studio.  I gave him the track, said “You do what you want on this, Jeff,” and he come back with dazzling work.

TM: You put out your own record, didn’t you?

SC: I financed my own record.  I started up my own record company, which is basically just a company that finances your record, which is basically just my money.

TM: What’s the name of the company?

SC: Bobbyjean Records.

TM: What is that from?

SC: Jean’s my mom.  Bobby is my father-in-law.  I put out a single, “It’s Not A Dream,” last year.  I was finding it very difficult to get a record deal.  The credit crisis happened.  I was offered a new record deal the year before and Lehman’s –  Lehman’s Bank – collapsed and then the record deal was un-offered the following week!  So then I was in a limbo.  I was tied to the record company, negotiations went on and on and frustrated me recording, but eventually I got it sorted was able to record and then I just went “Okay.  Forget this.  I’m putting it out.  I need to get myself out there.”  So I put out a single.  I employed independent pluggers in the U.K., and it got great rotation and it got the A-listing on BBC Radio 2 — the highest you can get! It was phenomenal, and I knew the public liked it.  I knew the radio guys liked it, and I thought, “Well, just because you don’t have a record deal at the moment doesn’t mean the public shouldn’t hear your music,” because at the end of the day they’re just bankrolling the project.  That’s what they do.  So I bankrolled it myself.  I did the whole thing myself, and now I’ve just been picked up by a record company.

TM: And it’s a major and there’s gonna be a big push.

SC: Yeah, it’s Warner Bros.  U.K.  And the album is called Dream Of You.

TM: Desert Island Discs.  Name me five CD’s you would take.

SC: Nick Drake, Treasury.  Joni Mitchell, Blue.  It’s really hard! Oh, Paul Weller, Wild Wood.   Jose Gonzalez …and maybe Stanley Road by Weller too.

SC:  Stanley Road, it’s a really great album.  I’m missing other classics, because you know when you ask that question, you go blank.  I would like to take some individual songs. Sarah McLachlan, “Angel.”  Such an amazing song.  And I would take Billy Joel’s “Lullaby.”  I would take “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin.

TM: What are two or three memorable thrills, moments you’ve had in your career?

SC: Playing “Long and Winding Road,” in front of Paul McCartney.  That was tough, and the sound was really difficult. We had nothing in the radio monitors and it got slower and slower because we were tryin’ to catch up with each other. That was a painful, a memorable moment.  Playing for Nelson Mandela and his getting up and dancing to the Irish music.

TM: That was in South Africa?

SC: No, it was actually in Galway, because he got an honorary degree at the University in Galway and we played for him that day.  Meeting the Stones, my gosh, they are just legend, those guys.  That’s ridiculous.  Now you just see those guys walking around you like, “Uuuuh. That’s Keith Richards!”

TM: How scary is it to play in front of a big audience?  And do the other Corrs also have jitters?

SC: They do.  Jim less than all of us, I think.  It’s less scary to play to a 100,000 than it is to 100 people, because when you’re playing to 100,000, it’s a sea of people.   You’re not identifying individual faces, and then you don’t feel like they’re seeing into your soul while you’re playing, so you can act it even if you’re not feeling it.  But when you’re sitting in a club, a small club, and your audience is there, they can see if you’re scared, or they can see if you mess up, because you’re whole face reacts to a wrong note or a lost lyric, and so I find it more scary to play to a small audience.

TM: Why didn’t the Corrs continue with Foster?

SC: Well, we did.  We did two albums with David, and we wanted to do different things.  On the second album we also worked with Glen Ballard and Oliver Lieber, so we had three producers, and then we produced some ourselves.  We worked with Mitchell Froom then.  As you get on and you get your credentials in the music industry you want to explore more, other areas.

TM: Who’s producing the album now?

SC: Billy Farrell, who has worked with the Corrs for years. He’s from here in Dublin and I’ve worked with him forever. He’s worked with the Corrs as well. We understand each other musically incredibly.

TM: Describe the experience of working with David Foster and Mutt Lange.

SC: David has a really big personality.  He is quite cheeky, quite bold.  He’s has this glint in his eye, which is great.  Very, very attractive, very, very fun.  One of the first things you notice about him is his gift.  He’s so unbelievably talented.  He has perfect pitch.  If somebody plays something, he’ll play it immediately on the piano exactly.  He is just perfect.  He was our first real producer and we learned everything from him.

TM: And you cut in L.A.

SC: We cut in L.A.  Yeah, we did, and Jim co-produced the album with him.

TM: You like L.A.

SC: I like L.A. but I didn’t like it then.  It was too much of a shock for me culturally.  I didn’t really know how to negotiate it.  I didn’t understand what the people meant when they said something to you.  The way to approach L.A. is to expect very little, and it’s a city you use for your own ends, and you can meet some great people there, but it’s quite transient.

TM: Mutt Lange, what was it like to work with him?

SC: Incredible.  Mutt is very focused,  probably the most focused person I’ve ever met in my life, like a train running in one direction when he’s doing an album.  I know there’s no sidelines, there’s no nothing else, and he would work 24 hours a day.  He would do a vocal 20 times, 50 times.  He would do background vocals again, again, again and again and then to infinity until he gets exactly what he wants.  His techniques for backing vocals I find very interesting and have used it, taken it with me, some of the techniques.

TM: Where did you cut with him?

SC: Most of “Breathless” was cut in Switzerland in his home there, and some of it, lthe violin, the backing vocals for “Breathless” were all cut in Dublin.  And the other stuff that we did was cut in Dublin.  Mutt always writes with you so that’s his deal.  If he’s workin’ an album, he’s writing the album with you.  He did two songs, we cut half in Dublin, half in Switzerland.

TM: What’s his instrument?  What does he play?

SC: That’s a good question.  I mostly just saw him behind the desk.  I think guitar.  He’s got a beautiful voice.  You can hear his voice on Shania Twain’s records.  Really beautiful.

TM: What do you do in your leisure time?

SC: I don’t have much leisure time.  (laughs) I look after my children.  I read.  I run, and I love dinner and wine.  That’s great.  Socializing is one of the best things you can do.  Friends.  I love friends.

TM: What are the other Corrs doing now?

SC: Caroline has three children, she’s very busy with them.  Jim has one child, a boy, and everybody’s doing a little writing, for maybe gearing up to do something next year.  Andrea got married last year, so she’s in the middle of wedded bliss at the moment and having a real good time.

TM: Do you stay in touch with your siblings?

SC: All the time.

TM: You’re talking on the phone, you’re seeing each other.

SC: Yeah, we’re always talking.  We need each other to talk about every situation.

TM: You were Miss Twitter, U.K. What was that about?

SC: Twitter is only something that came about maybe a year and a half ago, and Gavin (her husband) said to me,“You should get into that,” and I was like “Yeah.  Why?”  and he said, “Steven Fry is doing it”, and (I said,) “Okay, well then it must be cool.”  So I started trying it out and…

TM: Steven Fry?

SC: He’s a very famous comedian/actor.  Friend of Hugh Laurie.  You know Hugh Laurie, House? I got into it.  I was tweeting and then I found all these fans all over the world would come on and start asking me questions, and it was great way of interacting with people in Indonesia and Brazil and in the States and wherever they would come in from.  And it was funny, I started to see the depth of the Corrs’ fan base and then my own fan base emerging from it.  It’s literally 140 characters.  It’s like a text message but it goes out simultaneously to everybody who’s following you.  So then they see it and then they can reply and you can reply to whatever you want.

For me, it’s a brilliant thing just to go, “I’m on radio, BBC Radio 2, in five minutes, tune in.  I’m doing the Wogan show tomorrow night.  I’m doing this or that.”  It’s a great way of sort of self-publicizing, and it’s also a great way of having what you say undiluted.  So it doesn’t go through somebody else’s filter, you know, so I like it.  It’s fun.  People talk a lot of crap on it and that’s great fun too.  Anyway, they had a Twitter competition for Miss Twitter U.K. and my fans kept voting for me.  They would go to sleep for 20 minutes, and then vote again when they could vote, and they just kept voting on rotation, and then I won Miss Twitter U.K.

TM: And what kind of a ceremony was there when you were awarded…

SC: There was none. (laughter) I’m disappointed.  I’m still waiting on my crown.

Cindy Johnson (my wife):  Can I ask a couple?  Cal and Flori, are they musical?

SC: Funny, I was driving the car yesterday and I was singing the ABC’s to Cal and Flori, and Cal started to sing and I could hear that he was almost in the right  pitch   and then pitching to the next note quite well, so I can see it’s coming.  Flori, yeah, for sure.  They love music.  She starts crying.  I covered “Danny Boy” as well.  That’s one of the tunes I did on the record and, not vocally, I did it instrumentally, and she cried.  She doesn’t want me to play it because it’s a sad song.  So I know she’s very musically in touch

CJ: And you encourage them as you were encouraged?

SC: Big time.  I want it to be a very organic thing for them.  There’s a piano, a violin, guitars in the house.  So they will just be part of their everyday thing.  I want them to start messing around, and then I’m not gonna get them formal lessons for quite awhile, and I may teach them myself up to a certain point.  But most of all, I just want them to enjoy music because I think it’s the greatest therapy in life.  I want them to have that, what I had.

CJ: Do you have any other plans for other writing?  Like a book, or a musical?

SC: I toyed with different ideas over the years.  I’ve been quite attracted to doing maybe scoring for movies, maybe the incidental work on movies, but that takes an awful lot of time, and for the moment I’d probably just rather pitch a song for a movie. But I have written an awful lot of instrumentals over the years and I did write a piece called “Rebel Heart” for a BBC series called Rebel Heart and it was nominated for a Grammy, which was really cool.  So I love writing instrumental music.  It’s always been part of what I do.

TM: Will you ever do a bluegrass album?

SC: I don’t know, I’m not trained in bluegrass, so for the purists, they’d probably go, “What the hell’s she at?  That’s not bluegrass,” but I’m very interested in all forms of music.

TM: Maybe a straight, straight Celtic Irish roots album you might do someday?

SC: I could, but you know what I’d probably more likely do is a country album.

The funny thing is is because it’s just that I know my voice suits it, because every time I sing like a country song, people go, “Well you sing country music.”  I sang “Jolene” recently, and what a great song.  The lyrics are phenomenal.  She (Dolly Parton)  is some writer, that woman.  She is incredible.  So I sang that recently and everybody was going, “You should do a country album,” and I’ve always kind of known that about me that there’s something country going on inside me.

CJ: Two more things.  Now you’re going to Spain.  Can you talk about that?

SC: I’m shooting a video in Spain for the single, in the Alhambra palace, which is an old Moorish palace  And they’ve never done anything like this before in the Alhambra, and it actually made me worried that they agreed because I thought, “This is just too good to be true,” because I’ve waited a long time on a record deal.  I’ve waited a long time on getting things done, and now things are happening, I’m almost a little scared.  But I spoke to a guy in the record company months ago, just happened to be talking about my favorite spot in the world, which is the Alhambra in Andalusia in Granada, and I said, “I always wanted to launch a record there,” like they would ever do that.  And he said, “You never know.  Let’s look into it.”  So they have agreed that I can shoot a videoI’m absolutely stunned.  I mean it’s so beautiful and it’s so spiritual, and mystical, and such an incredible place, and the history is enormous.

CJ: Advice to new artists?

SC: Write, write, write, write, write, write.  Keep writing and write more.  Try to control your own music.  Try to write it yourself because it’s very hard to make money from records nowadays, and at least if you can get songs published, you can make some money, but stay true to yourself.  Be very open to every idea that’s pitched out to you, because it could be just the one that tips you like John Hughes saying to us, “Let’s just go to the Hit Factory.”

TM: Your fans.  All race, creeds, colors and ages, right?

SC: Yes.  It’s a beautiful thing, and I think we were most surprised when we hit Japan. Because it was our first experience in Asia and the Japanese audience just responding like crazy to traditional Irish music was a huge thrill. They are so quiet while we’re playing.  So respectful, and then we started to pick it up as, “They don’t really like the show, do they?  They’re not enjoying it, and actually it was like the quieter they were, the more they were enjoying it.  But I remember when the Irish stuff came on, they went nuts.

CJ: A dream team of who to work with in the future. Just one name.  Someone you’d like to sing with.

SC: Oh, to sing with.  Oh my gosh.  Robert Plant.  I’ve met Robert.  He’s a cool guy.  I’d love to sing with him.

TM: People that you’ve been excited to meet as other than the Stones and Jeff Beck.  Any other musicians?

SC: I was very, very excited to meet Neil Finn.

TM: Sure.

SC: Because their album Woodface..that would definitely be a Desert Island  Disc for me, you know, something you never tire listening to.  Desert Island Disc without a doubt.  I just think he’s an incredible songwriter I love him, and the reason we worked on In Blue with Mitchell Froom was because he had worked with Crowded House on Woodface.  I did meet Neil Finn and I actually wasn’t really able to speak  because I was too star-struck.  It was, it was embarrassing, because all the guys were looking at me, “He’s your favorite.  Will you get on with it.”  And I was like, huh?

For more information about Sharon Corr, visit her website at

Lanky, handsome Thad Beckman has a solo career as an accomplished guitarist, songwriter, and singer and he’s the accompanist for the Americana adventurer, raconteur, singer-songwriter, Tom Russell (see his interview), for whom he does a terrific job. Thad’s solo act is likewise entertaining and compelling: he clearly knows and loves what he is doing.

Thad is very pleasant company, easy going, easy to talk to, easy to be with. He’s based in Portland, Oregon and roots aficionados will appreciate his quality writing, playing and singing. I interviewed him rolling along the rails in Southern Oregon on the Roots on the Rails train in April 2010.

TREVOR: You’ve got four albums out now.  What are the names?

TB:  “Carry Me Back” I did in 1998 in Austin.  Then I did “Beckman” recorded in Northern California in 2003.  Then “Blues Gone By,” a solo blues thing, 2006 — in Portland. Then “Me Talking to Me,” which I did couple years ago. 1998.

TREVOR: And they’re on your own label?

TB:  Thadzooks Records. I sell them on CD Baby, at shows, and I’m on I-Tunes.

TREVOR: When did you become a professional musician?

TB:  1980, September.

TREVOR: What did you do before that?

TB: I roamed and traveled.  From ’71 through 75, I was in the Air Force, and that’s when I started getting back into playing music.  I studied classical music, started playing classical guitar, and then I got out and I took music classes for a year.  Then I rambled around a bit.  I was married, got a divorce, played gigs here and there but nothing steady and did this and that for let’s four years.  I was on the East Coast and I thought it was time to do something — make a stand.  I’d gone to college, taken a zillion different classes in many different things.

TREVOR: Did you get a degree?

TB:  No.  I went for literature, did music, took a business law class, just looking for something that might strike me, and music was the only thing that really interested me.

TREVOR: You’ve been playing since when?

TB: When I was 12.

TREVOR:  Were you in bands?

TB:  Yeah.

TREVOR:  Rock and roll?

TB:  Almost immediately.  In ’65, ’66, ’67, we started playing together.  There were three or four of us in Catholic grade school and then we made a band and played church socials, and played “Paint It Black.”  Stuff like that.  We were kids.  In high school I was actually in a good band.  We played every weekend all the way through high school. Then I quit.  I sold everything I had and quit playing for five years and I started up when I was 22.

TREVOR: Why did you quit playing?

TB: Part of it was I didn’t really take music seriously and myself seriously as a player.  Music was a more than a hobby, but it wasn’t something I thought I considered seriously.  Then the drug thing really hit in the 60’s, and I didn’t like what it did to our band.  We had a good band, but drugs entered into it and things changed in a way I didn’t like, and I got fed up with the scene.

TREVOR: So how did you become a professional musician?

TB:  By playing professional gigs.  I worked up a repertoire.   I got to the point where I could do four hours of music because that’s what you needed back then. On the Coast of Oregon I had played one summer; they hired me to play three nights a week. It was fun, that was in ’79, ’78, and I thought, “I think I’ll really do this.”  I went back to the Coast, the same club hired me indefinitely three nights a week, and I did that for two years.

TREVOR:  And what were you doing, covers?

TB: All covers.  Willie Nelson stuff, Kristofferson, John Prine, Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon, the songwriters.   I got turned on to Mississippi John Hurt somewhere in there, which pulled me over, and then I started learning how to play the guitar more seriously.

TREVOR: How did you learn, did you teach yourself?

TB:  Pretty much.  In Portland, Oregon, there was a guy named Gary Nichols, a tremendous talent. You would just go, “If I had half your talent,” but he had a real hard time performing.  He was very nervous about it, but he was doing shows with Leo Kottke, and was Portland’s answer to him, except he was (also) a great singer. He lived on the Coast, was married, had gotten into construction work, had an alcohol problem, and he and his wife split up. He was a great picker, so I moved in with him, and we jammed all the time and I learned a ton watching this guy play.  I was surrounded by players who were better than me and I just played all the time.

TREVOR:  You’re accompanying Tom Russell; how did that happen?

TB: Tom and I have a mutual friend who lives in El Paso whom I went to visit  two years ago, and I saw Tom play.  I gave him a card at the end of the show and said, “Hey, if you ever need a guitar player, look me up.”  I’d never been a side guy, and I remember walking away from that table going, “Christ, what would I do if he called me?”   Nine months later, I was back in El Paso and so was Tom, and his guitar player, Michael, needed to take a break as his dad was ill.  Tom invited me over to the house, we played for a couple of hours and hit it off.  I went home, studied his music for three hours a day for a month, started working with him, he liked it and hired me full time.

TREVOR: What do you do in the interim?

TB:  I do my own shows.  I teach three days a week up in Portland when I’m in town.  Then I’ve got my own little tours I still do.

TREVOR: Do you enjoy being a sideman?

TB:  I do. As a musician, it’s a whole different approach to playing. I’m used to playing solo, and you know I do a lot of finger picking, and then you do it all yourself.  You approach the thing completely differently, and, as a musician, I very much enjoy it because I’ve had to learn a ton and it’s been a lot of fun to explore a different avenue in music.

TREVOR: He’s a good person to travel with I take it.

TB: Absolutely.  We joke.  He said, “You came along at a good time because,” these first tours I started on, the hotels were better, the gigs were better, the food was better, he’s really got it down.  The traveling is all very simple.

TREVOR: Is he demanding?

TB: No, other than he expects me to play well every night, but that’s not demanding.

TREVOR: Do shows always go well?

TB: The only time I’ve had a bad show, and it wasn’t our … not that there’s a fault thing, it wasn’t because of the music.  It was just a venue, the people, the situation wasn’t well organized, but again, not his fault or mine.  We haven’t had a bad musical show.  He’s as steady as a rock, he may get tired, his voice may get tired, but his story telling is always spot on and he varies it every night. He’s always cracking me up, he’s got that entertainment aspect of it down.

TREVOR:  My wife and I found you as a performer to be very engaging. Does that come easy?  Did you teach yourself?

TB:  That actually came from playing different venues, different shows, and finally just relaxing.  I used to get uptight and I would have everything I was going to say planned out in my stories, and that was okay, but a lot of times I would be stiff, and then finally I  said, “Just be yourself.”  You hear that all the time.  I just relaxed, telling stories that basically are true, and I have things I draw on, and there’s a natural ham element to it.

TREVOR: Do you write a lot?

TB: I write in spurts.  I’ve got maybe 12 or 13 or 14 good ideas in songs.  Then I get up every day and I write for hour and hour and a half, and I work on a tune or two until I finish it, and that process doesn’t stop at that hour and a half.  I don’t have the mental muscle to write much beyond that because I also practice every day so, but that (writing) continues through the day.  Those songs will cycle through my brain and if something hits me I’ll write it down.  I’m processing the material all the time.  I did my last album in 2008 and I didn’t write a song again until three months ago, and now I’m writing every day again.

TREVOR: Do you co-write ever?

TB: I can’t.  I’ve tried it. I’m not interested in it.

TREVOR: Do you produce all your records solo?

TB: No.  The first one I did, “Carry Me Back,” was produced by Merel Bregante, he drummed with Loggins and Messina.  Great drummer, good producer.  He lives in Austin now.  He and David Heath and I co-produced it.  The rest of them I produced myself.

TREVOR: And who’s the band?

TB: In Austin I use the best guys.  I had Gene Elders on the fiddle and Floyd Domino on piano on “Carry Me Back” on board.  Denny Bixby is on bass, Rodney Crowell’s guy, on “Me Talking to Me.”  On the latter, Bryce Shelton isn’t really famous, he’s just a great drummer.  I try to draw in the best players I can find.

TREVOR:  What’s the music scene like in Portland?

TB: It’s active.  There are a lot of clubs happening.  There used to be a real strong blues scene.  Portland was a good blues town, best in the Northwest, and in the 80’s it was a great jazz town.  Unfortunately, that’s not true anymore.  There’s a real strong indie rock thing in Portland.

TREVOR: How would you categorize the kind of music you do?

TB:  It’s roots-based singer/songwriter.

TREVOR: With a heavy influence in blues.

TB: For sure.  On the last album, there are two distinct country things on it.  There’s a little bit of funk on it.

TREVOR: What do you enjoy and dislike about being a professional musician?

TB: It’s constantly creative in a way that I get to do what I like to do.  I play the music that I like to play.  I’m not in a cover band, I’m not a side guy all the time. What I don’t like about it is there’s not a lot of money involved.  (laughs)

TREVOR: Unless you get a hit.

TB: If you get a hit, you can squeak by, but there are guys in Portland, tremendous players, playing for 75 bucks a night.  You can’t live on that.  And that’s the market, it’s just the way it is.  Everything went up.  We’re making the same money we made in 1980.

TREVOR: Give me your perceptions, feelings about “Roots On The Rails,” what we’re in the middle of now.

TB: This is sort of a fantasyland to me.  I love it.  I did the one in the Southwest, which is very different than this, because we didn’t stay on the train.  They’re narrow gauge so you, they bus to towns and then the group gets on a specific train for the day and it chugs through the mountains at 20 miles an hour, and it’s great, (with these) steam plumes.   There’s a lot more people on a boat cruise.  This is cool because you get 50 people, and at the end of four days you all know each other, and I haven’t really had a bad experience with anybody on either one of these trips.  Everybody’s very respectful.  You got Steve Young sitting watching all these people at an open mike.  You wouldn’t find that in a town.  That we’ve got a place to go to have some privacy is great … Look at this!  (laughs at extraordinary sights out the window).

Trevor: What music are you listening to now, anything contemporary?

TB: Before I came on this trip I listened to a lot of Dave Alvin, Steve Young because we’re doing shows with them.   I haven’t listened to a lot of contemporary music.  I’m not hearing any great writers.  We’ve talked about that a ton.  Great music, great production but…

TOM RUSSELL (joins in):  Sonically everything’s become pretty interesting.  There’s no songwriters.  It’s a dead art. It’s all over. Except for a few people.

TB: Yeah.  (laughs)

TR: It’s mysterious, an alchemy that’s been lost.

TB: Yeah.

TREVOR: Let’s talk about heroes and influences.  Hank Williams, Mississippi John Hurt?

TB: Yeah, all the blues guys.  All the Delta guys.   All the old country guys up into the 70’s.  Merle, Buck Owens, George Jones, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, T-Bone Walker, Muddy Waters huge, Howlin’ Wolfe, and all the players associated with them.  All the guys in Chicago.  Jimmy Rodgers, Willie Big Eyes Smith.  All the guys that were the support players.  Tremendous musicians.  Hubert Sumlin, incredibly inventive guitar player with Howlin’ Wolf.  He’s still alive and a very nice man.  I got to meet him.  A lot of people who are my heroes in my music world are people that are close to me.  Victor Guschob is a painter in Portland who lives a reclusive life, who turned me on to electric blues and he had a tremendous feel and love for it. My sister and my mother were extremely influential getting me to play music and to not quit.  Those kinds of heroes are not the great players that I’ve listened to, but without them I wouldn’t be here.

For more on Thad Beckman, go to his website:

Francisco Aguabella passed away at the age of 84 on May 6, 2010. He is gone, but his music and spirit remain.  I was his attorney for the last 17 years, and he backed me as a musician on a number of projects. He was one of the greatest drummers in the history of music, playing drums and congas and many other percussive instruments.  You can hear him on these cds: First Love, Last LoveDizzy, and Contemporary Retro.

What a powerful presence this quiet man brought to any occasion. He was gifted, and through discipline, perfected his craft so that he is rightfully regarded as one of the giants in the history of drumming, from bata to conga, Afro-Cuban to rock to traditional. He played up to the end, and I was very touched to see him lug his heavy drums uncomplaining nor asking for assistance.  I never saw him angry, I never heard him complain, he loved people, and we loved him back.  He was a class act in every sense of the word, kind, reliable, stable, and consistently humble.  He was a genuine in what he did, had a good sense of humor, and fun to be around. He wanted to do his best at all times.

What an honor it is to have known and worked with this fine person.

In addition to being a great person, Bernie Becker is known as one of the top recording and mastering engineers in the world. He is the sound engineer, in the studio, and live concerts, for Neil Diamond. He also does the mastering for Trevor McShane. Here’s our visit with him at his beautiful, modern studio, Bernie Becker Mastering, in Pasadena, California.

TREVOR:            What is mastering?

BERNIE:            We take the tracks that have been recorded and mixed, the final songs and we’ll put them the sequence if one may not exist to that point, then we’ll look at the level of each song, and the EQ (equalization) of each song, and fit all the final pieces together to make it one cohesive product from top to bottom.

TREVOR:            Why isn’t that done at the recording studio?

BERNIE:            For the same reason that you can’t basically mix when you’re recording.  You need to concentrate on recording.  It’s like trying to record a song while you’re writing it.  In your mind you think “I could do all this at once,” but in reality you got to do one thing at a time.  You write the song, then you play the song, then you gotta record it, and the guy recording the song is trying to get each individual instrument or vocal performance to its own optimum level.   Concentrating on one thing at a time is  what recording is about.  Then you consider how each track fits together in one mix, and then in mastering, you consider how all the songs fit together in one package.

TREVOR:            Most recording studios don’t have the ability to do mastering.

BERNIE:            It’s more commonplace nowadays, but previous to recent computer technology, it was always usually a separate place. We tried for years to have a place where, and we did several projects where people would record downstairs, do a live performance, we’d do a live mix of that in the studio, and then we’d send that into the mastering room.  It was a one-step process from a live performance to a finished CD.  People have done that in varying degrees for years, but, especially today people wanna go back and fix things.  They wanna punch a vocal or they wanna fix a mistake.  We’ve become so engrossed in making sure that every little thing is perfect, and that’s the nice thing about your project, that it doesn’t have that glossed over, over-produced, over vocal tune, over time-corrected thing.  Part of the problem with some music today is that it’s overdone.

TREVOR:            How important is mastering?

BERNIE:            Mastering came originally from getting things onto a disc, onto a record to where it could actually physically play back properly, so it was more of a QC (quality control) process at one time — so a record wouldn’t break your speakers or your needle when you played it back.  As CD’s came into the picture, it became a lot more about designing the sound past the mix.  In the old days, when you were mastering for a record you would use an equalizer to take out things that might literally cause the needle to skip or the needle to break.  Nowadays, you’re much more of a creative consultant to take all the things that maybe haven’t been put together under normal recording studio circumstances, or many different circumstances. A lot of people used to go to a certain studio to get a certain sound, and maybe there’s 10 different songs and 10 different mixes, so then mastering becomes much more of like trying to fit the pieces together.

TREVOR:            How often do you actually pick the order of the songs?

BERNIE:            I’d say 30% of the time.

TREVOR:            And do they, do the clients usually go with it?

BERNIE:            Out of the 30%, I’d say about 30% of the time.  Everybody has their favorites, but a lot of the time people who are micromanaging sometimes lose sight of what’s supposed to be happening.

TREVOR:            Why are you in the mastering business?

BERNIE:            Well, number one, I like people and I love music, and through the years of doing different things — live sound, recording, mixing and mastering —- I came to the conclusion that that most of the fighting is over with by the time that you get to the mastering, or if there were other personnel problems, most of the time that’s dealt with by the time…

TREVOR:            You usually don’t have the producer in the studio, or the artist with you when you’re mastering do you?

BERNIE:            It gets rarer and rarer but in the old days, usually the engineer would come and the producer, and sometimes the artist.  Now a lot of times people send stuff on FTP sites instead of showing up for a session.

TREVOR:            What’s FTP?

BERNIE:            Where we can just send finished files on the Internet.

TREVOR:            How long does it take to master or work on any given song?

BERNIE:            Usually anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour on a song.  Usually you can get through a whole CD in about 6 to 8 hours, but it just depends on how complex it is, how many songs there are, if they’ve all been done in one place.

TREVOR:            How many mastering labs are there in Southern California?

BERNIE:            Three or four on the level that we have; on the next level, a B level, there’s probably 10.

TREVOR:            Who are your clients?

BERNIE:            About 70% are independent artists that are signed to their own label or have their own production company, and 30% are record label people. The guy that I do a lot for is Neil Diamond.  He’s signed to Sony; last year (2009) we did six different projects for him.

TREVOR:            Let’s talk about your involvement with Neil Diamond.  What is it?  How long have you had it?  What do you do for him?

BERNIE:            Well, I’ve worked for him for 20 years and I haven’t gotten any older during that time, but a lotta the other guys I work with have — just kidding.  I started out just to go to his studio to fix the tape recorder and to finish some wiring that another engineer didn’t finish, and then he ended up wanted to record some demos and the demos ended up becoming the first album that I did with him which was called “Lovescape,” and that was in 1989-1990.  He had a really nice studio.  It used to be owned by United Artist Records, and it was Liberty Jazz before that, and it had never been updated to the 70’s or the 80’s.

So when we did that, he was always happy to write songs there.  He likes to write songs there; he thought of it as more of a songwriting tool than a recording studio, but maybe having somebody like me around helped because he’s got a band with 12 or 13 people, so you can fit them all in there and cut a complete record almost all at once. That’s what we started doing.  Then I went on the road with him and did some live work, live recording, and that turned into doing some live sound for him and then I worked for a few other people, like Donna Summers, where I did the same thing, going on the road and working in the studio, and just trying to be an all-around guy. That’s part of what mastering is to me, too: you’re looking at things from all the different perspectives.

When recording first started, mastering is where people started.  It was the bottom of the line, because you had to know the least, because you, you had to properly mix something to have it mastered.  So after you mastered for a little while, then you went to mixing.  After you learned how to properly mix something, then the high end of the job was the recording engineer, so you worked your way up to that. Today some people do it all but not well, some people do all well, and the computer in general, has given everybody the ability to try different things that they couldn’t do before.

TREVOR:            Let’s go back to Neil, is he easy to work with?

BERNIE:            Yeah.  He’s a good artist, he’s very focused, and over the years he’s developed a way that works for him.

One of the first sessions that I ever did was for Thelma Houston and it was funny because we spent about maybe an hour trying to get a sound that she was happy with in the headphones, and then when we got her happy in the headphones, she says “Don’t tell me that the sound that I have right now is exactly what you had for me when I walked in.”  And I said, “Okay, I won’t tell you, but it is.”  And she replied, “That always happens to me. I should just be quiet and sing for an hour until I get comfortable.”

Then it dawned on me that you have to listen to the artists and try to find out what they want and balance that with what you know is right as an engineer because sooner or later, you have to go to the fundamentals. Somebody like Neil Diamond who has made a lot of recordings is a “fundamentals” kind of guy.  He grew up making records that were not multi-track records but starting out in mono where everybody performed together and  branched out from there.  It’s fun to work with somebody like that as opposed to somebody who grew up in the multi-track age where they’re unfamiliar with the fundamentals of how you get things right to begin with.

TREVOR:            What do you think of Trevor McShane’s work? You’ve mastered all of his albums.  You did “First Love, Last Love.”  You did “Dizzy.”  You did the Michael Jarrett album where Trevor wrote the lyrics.  You’ve done now “Contemporary Retro.”  Today we’re picking up the mastering of “Organic Soul,” and, you haven’t heard it yet, but we’re dropping off “Adventures in Modern Recording.”

BERNIE:            I’ve been able to work on, on all those projects so far and I’ve definitely seen a developmental process, and that excites me the most probably about working on Trevor McShane is that there’s always, even in the infancy stages of your first record (First Love, Last Love), is that there’s very much a connection of the artist and the music that’s happening.  In my opinion, that’s what people pick up and why they like music in the beginning, because it’s an emotional connection.  If the artist can’t produce that emotional connection, regardless of the song, even thought the song’s super-important, and regardless of the recording technology being used, or misused — if the artist can make an emotional connection with the song — and hopefully the song is great — that’s a sign of a good artist.  Trevor McShane is an above-average artist certainly because he’s able to connect with songs, whether he’s written them or not.

A lot of artists today don’t emotionally connect with a song.  They can technically perform it — sing high notes for example.  You have a genuineness.  Trevor McShane has a genuine quality to his approach, which is authentic from the beginning.  We’ve seen a lot of development in the vocal recording techniques that you guys have used to get a sound, and your performance certainly has, has grown a lot, but there’s that unique, genuine quality even on your very first CD, where you’re connecting with the song, you’re performing it, and that comes across.  There’s nothing in the recording that, that hinders that or hinders the listener from enjoying that perspective, and I think that’s the thing that people get.

TREVOR:            Do you listen to the music when you’re outside of the studio?

BERNIE:            Yeah.  All the time.

TREVOR:            Do you ever listen to Trevor…

BERNIE:            Yeah.

TREVOR:            …outside of the studio?

BERNIE:            Yeah.  I do… as a consumer.  Most people don’t know about who produces something, or who records something.  They just listen to it, and are either going to like it or not, and when the artist has that, that genuine emotion, that people pick up on that.

TREVOR:            You work in all genres, right?

BERNIE:            Yeah.

TREVOR:            From classical to jazz to…

BERNIE:            To rap, to everything. My favorite is singers/songwriters.

TREVOR:            Let’s limit to the singer/songwriter category.  How much of the time do you think to yourself “This is good. This is great. It’s not cutting it.”  How often do they make the grade?

BERNIE:            When I first started trying to be an engineer, I concentrated on good engineering skills and left the music secondary. Then you realize that that alone doesn’t make it, because I made a lot of really great sounding recordings of terrible music, terrible orchestras, terrible performances.  It’s fun from an engineering standpoint, because you’re just concentrating on the sound, and then three months later you go back and listen and go “This is terrible.”

As to singer/songwriters, if the genuine, emotional connection is there, even if the material could be not great and the artist is maybe not a great performer, I still enjoy that, and that’s why I enjoy that genre.  About 70% or 80% of the time, that connection is there,  and that makes it happen for me.   If you go beyond that, where the song is good and the singing is good, then you’re looking at maybe 10% or 5% where you think, “Hey, this is amazing.  People should hear this.”

TREVOR:            Let’s talk about Barry Keenan (who works with Trevor on much of his music as a producer, musician, and co-songwriter) and how you got to know him, and your relationship with him.

BERNIE:            That would have been 20 years or so.  Barry had a friend who was an engineer that worked at my studio in Van Nuys, Colin, who was a bass player in a band called “The Invisible Poet Kings,” which sparked my interest with just the name of the band.  Then I saw an album cover which sparked my interest more because I’m thinking, “The Invisible Poet Kings,” that’s a great name what, what’s this all about?  Then I heard a song which sounded like maybe 1000 tracks mixed together.  There was a lot of instrumentation and a lot of singing, it was really well done, and I found out through Colin that Barry was a recording engineer and he had had his own studio, and he booked some time at the studio.  Now it is commonplace for people to walk in and have 60, 70, 80 tracks. Back 20 years ago we had two 24-track machines, so that’s 48 tracks, and we had, I think three P-88’s, and Barry was making use of all of ‘em.  So there were 10 MIDI’s.  He brought all his MIDI instruments and he hooked up and he had everything playing live and it just sounded like an orchestra.  It was very interesting; I’d never seen anybody take that much information and mix it down into something that people could enjoy.

I like working with him because he’s in a small group of people I personally know who have navigated technology and haven’t given up any of the fundamentals of making good, recorded music.  Some new engineers have that talent, that knack, but it’s harder to find because you didn’t grow up recording real people.  Barry has a musical way about him because he’s a musician, and he has the technical way about him because he’s an engineer.  He’s been able to come at it from both sides of the glass, per se, and then take that foundation and hop, skip and jump across technology.  We all struggled with the sound of digital, but now we’re at a point where it’s not so much that we’re struggling with. We’re just trying to get the most out of it that we can, and Barry can do that.

TREVOR:            You know him as songwriter and performer as well.

BERNIE:            Which is great because he brings all those qualities, all those high qualities to his, his engineering and production, because he’s got it together.

TREVOR:            Another aspect I always say is that a great producer can engineer, knows music, and arguably can be a diplomat to get along with people and get everybody else to get along with each other. Would you say that Barry can do that?

BERNIE:            Yeah.  He can get along with, with a lot of different people, in a lot of different circumstances because I’ve seen him do that.  (laughs) He’s a good politician, but he’s always trying to make good music … and get people together.  When I first started in this industry, my first introduction to producers was that they would go out and stand in the room with the band, stand right by the singer and get them to emote.  They were almost used car salesmen in a way.  They were right there selling the whole thing.  Even if the singer wasn’t good, or the band wasn’t good. Some of these guys came from Atlantic Records.  They had track records.  I was amazed at what a producer did, and sometimes they didn’t come in the control room very much.  As things changed, the producer was in the control room more, along with the engineer, and then because of technology, the producer and the engineer, and sometimes the musicians all became this one person. You have to have talent and you have to have experience, and he’s got all that.

Bernie Becker in his recording studio

Hi Friends,

I was able to get in to see a great show of Paul McCartney at the Hollywood Bowl last night!

Paul McCartney rocked the Hollywood Bowl last night. For three hours, fronting a first class band, he executed one hit after another flawlessly. It’s nice to see that at his age, he can still put on a first class show, and arguably, this is the best he’s ever been. The new songs were pretty good as well. The audience was comprised of all ages and Sir Paul certainly made a bundle, with ticket prices as high as $375, but then how often do you get to see one of the Beatles.  In these modern times, binoculars are no longer needed given the big screens. The sound was excellent. He hit the stage at 8:10 and played continuously until 11 P.M, closing with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club” band.

Five musicians were able to duplicate the hits, there was nary an errant note played or sung. A good time was had by all, the weather was compliant, and I’m inspired to write more good songs.

My profile with Paul McCartney in a blaze of light singing "Day Tripper"

Friends and colleagues,

Thought you might be interested in this article about me, front page of the legal newspaper in Los Angeles, The Daily Journal, last Friday.

By Jean-Luc Renault

Daily Journal Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES – Neville Johnson, the 60-year-old founder of Beverly Hills’ seven-attorney firm Johnson & Johnson, sat hunched over a counsel table during a morning hearing last week at the Central Civil West Courthouse.

Superior Court Judge Carl West was about to decide if he would give final approval to a settlement in a long-running class action involving $30 million in levies on video rentals and cable retransmissions in foreign countries the Writers Guild of America West failed to disburse to several thousand writers.

If West signed off, it would be the second time Johnson, a plaintiffs’ lawyer who spent his career representing individual clients against institutional defendants, prevailed against a powerful Hollywood guild.

He already reached a nearly identical settlement over the same issue in 2008 against the Directors Guild of America. With a similar case against the Screen Actors Guild nearing a settlement, Johnson is poised to go three-for-three. But West put the brakes on that momentum temporarily after he directed both sides to tie up a few loose ends in the agreement.

Johnson has an intimidating presence. He’s a big, gruff guy whose gravely voice is punctuated with expletives.

He’s got a sense of humor that puts others at ease, and his toothy smile glints with the same impish charm flashing behind his crisp blue eyes.

“He’s a funny guy,” said Lincoln Bandlow, a Lathrop & Gage partner who defended several clients in the entertainment industry against plaintiffs Johnson represented.

“In one case, I had won a motion after Neville lost an earlier one,” Bandlow said. “He said to the judge ‘If you’re going to give him one, you should give me one, too!'”

That’s how Johnson has been able to aggravate opponents while, at the same time, win them over.

“He can be fun to argue against in court, and he can be frustrating to argue against, too,” said Bandlow. “He’s a pit bull with a bone – he’ll grab a hold of it and keep shaking even after you think you’ve prevailed and moved on. But whenever I get a call from somebody who wants to sue a record label or a big company, Neville is the first guy I tell them to call.”

Tenacious as he is, peers say Johnson can sometimes get carried away when arguing for something he believes in.

Paul Kiesel, a partner with Kiesel, Boucher & Larson who is co-counsel on the WGA and SAG class actions, said Johnson “can, at times, be unbridled in his passion.”

“Neville brought me into these cases to provide a calming influence over a very passionate personality that he brings,” Kiesel said.

Johnson, who often describes his cases as David versus Goliath, would be proud of that characterization.

“Everyone in this town wants to make a deal with someone we want to sue,” Johnson said. “And that’s what we do.”

Johnson knew he wanted to be a lawyer by the time he was 12.

That’s when he was awestruck after watching Marvin Freeman, a lawyer and family friend who later became a Superior Court judge, argue in court.

But after studying sociology and journalism at UC Berkeley, the Loyola High grad took a detour on those plans and founded the “Night Times,” a Bay Area newspaper. He said journalism, like law, had always appealed to him as a career.

“In both areas, I like that you can take on large adversaries for the benefit of society,” he said.

But after a dispute with a business partner a year later, Johnson left the news business and to pursue a law degree.

“Law school was the single most important event and turning point in my life,” he said. “It sort of gave me a reason for being on the planet.”

After graduating from Southwestern Law School in 1975, Johnson had stints in private practice and as a public defender. He went solo in 1978, and his big break came three years later when he started representing Yoko Ono and the estate of John Lennon.

In 1984, he sued Earth, Wind & Fire’s publishing company in a separate case and won.

Johnson represented Mark Sanders, a telephone psychic service employee, in a lawsuit filed against ABC in 1993. A reporter from the network had used a hidden camera and microphone to record conversations with Sanders at the service’s office as part of an investigative report.

The 5-year case, which Johnson eventually won before the state Supreme Court, redefined news-gathering laws.

The win also kick-started Johnson’s invasion-of-privacy and defamation practices – strange pursuits for a former newsman.

“I do find it somewhat ironic that I became one of the lawyers who had significant success suing the media for right of privacy and defamation,” Johnson said. “But media has its problems like any other industry. I did a valid public service by keeping them on the straight and narrow.”

That’s how Johnson views the majority of his cases: public services benefiting the little guys.

The guild cases are a prime example.

The money, known as foreign levies, came from European and South American countries that began collecting taxes in the 1980s on video rentals and cable retransmissions of movies and TV shows to compensate copyright holders.

In 1991, the countries started sending the funds to the three guilds, which were supposed to disburse the money to union and non-union directors, writers and actors. But the guilds said some recipients were impossible to locate, and after nearly 15 years the unions were sitting on tens of millions of dollars in undistributed funds.

Johnson learned about the money from Eric Hughes, a candidate for WGA president in 2003 and 2004. Hughes had gained access to the union’s financial records from a board member and, through his research, learned that the directors’ and actors’ unions were also holding large amounts of undistributed levies in trust.

He passed along that information to Johnson, after which the lawyer asked current clients who fit the mold to serve as lead plaintiffs in each of the suits against the guilds.

“He was a mastermind behind all these,” said law partner Doug Johnson, who is not related, and who also worked on the cases.

The DGA case was the first to reach a settlement, the terms of which required the guild to do a full accounting of its foreign levy program and keep a database on its Web site where directors can claim their portion of the more than $10 million in undistributed funds.

The 2008 settlement netted $399,538 in attorney awards and fees for Johnson’s firm, just short of the $400,000 the lawyers had requested for their 436 hours of work. Lead plaintiff William Webb was awarded a $15,000 incentive fee for his involvement in the case.

West, also the judge from the DGA case, approved a similar settlement agreement with the WGA in September.

Although the sum of the WGA’s undistributed levies was larger, the settlement arrangement involving a Web database was essentially the same as the DGA’s.

Pending West’s approval, requested attorney fees in the WGA settlement range between $500,000 and $1.75 million.

Johnson is also requesting that William Richert, a non-union screenwriter and one of the lead plaintiffs on the case, receive an incentive payment of $20,000. The other two lead plaintiffs, Maude Feil and Ann Jamison, would receive $3,500 each if approved.

Johnson is also representing Ken Osmond, who played Eddie Haskell in “Leave it to Beaver,” in another class action against SAG involving $8 million in undistributed levy funds, which is set to follow the same path as the other two lawsuits.

“I’m not going to say it was cookie cutter, but our work did become somewhat easier as each case developed,” said Johnson, adding that the lawsuits were necessary to dislodge the funds being held by the guilds.

“The Number 1 goal in all these cases is to provide accountability and transparency, and I think we’ve gone a long way in achieving that end,” he said. “It was the only way.”

On the weekends, Johnson pursues eclectic hobbies.

Fifteen years ago, the opposite was true. Johnson was all work, all the time, and it was taking its toll on the wearied lawyer.

That changed when a priest friend pulled the busy lawyer aside one day.

“He told me to respect the Sabbath,” said Johnson, who was raised Catholic. “Hey, I’m down with that! One does not have to spend their entire life working.”

Johnson’s most recent side project is recording and releasing albums under the stage name Trevor McShane, which was, until recently, a secret identity.

As McShane, Johnson’s deep, twang-inflected vocals are laid over a bed of bluesy rock n’ roll – the kind one would expect to see married baby boomers dancing to after having three too many beers at their local bar and grill.

But during the week, he insists that he’s all Johnson.

“First and foremost, I practice law,” he said. “I don’t want to be perceived as someone not serious about being a lawyer – by clients, judges and opposing counsel. But I’m serious about getting my music out to the public.”

With big plans this year – he’s releasing one new song for each week of 2010 – he said it would have been hard trying to keep his identities separate to fans and music critics.

Besides, it probably would have been even more difficult to sell some of the dubious claims in McShane’s biography, which tells about the reclusive musician’s stints as a Tibetan monk-in-training, a merchant seaman, a graduate student in Bulgaria and a science professor at a small Midwestern university.

It sounds a bit kooky, but McShane’s sort of an inside joke for Johnson, who laughs when talking about pursuing his other passion in life.

“We’re only on this planet for a limited amount of time,” said Johnson. “I don’t want to be one of those people at the end of my life saying, I should have done this.”