Believe it or not, it has been 37 years since Country Music duo The Judds first entered the charts with their debut single “Had A Dream (For The Heart)” (a cover of a 1976 track by Elvis Presley). However, it was 1984’s #1 single “Mama He’s Crazy” that sent their career into the stratosphere. Up through 1991, every single by The Judds reached the Top 20 on the Billboard Country Singles chart, 14 of them reaching #1. Their six albums were certified gold and/or platinum including WHY NOT ME? (1984), ROCKIN’ WITH THE RHYTHM (1985), HEARTLAND(1987), RIVER OF TIME (1989), andLOVE CAN BUILD A BRIDGE (1990). In short, The Judds practically owned the Country Music charts all throughout the ‘80s. Although their albums did better on the Country charts than on the Pop charts, they certainly did cross over and sold a lot of records to folks who wouldn’t normally listen to Country music. The Judds were literally everywhere. And I haven’t even mentioned all of the awards they won over the years…
However, all good things come to an end. The duo – mom Naomi Judd and daughter Wynonna Judd – was sidelined in 1991 when Naomi was diagnosed with Hepatitis C. They immediately stopped touring and Naomi essentially retired from the grind of the music business. However, there was a lot of music left in Wynonna so she embarked on a solo career that was just as successful as The Judds’. Reverting to using her first name only, she released the album WYNONNA in 1992. The album hit #1 on the Country Albums chart and #4 on the Billboard 200. Her second solo album, TELL ME WHY (1993), did similar business and proved that Wynonna could easily carry The Judds legacy into a new decade. Other hit albums include REVELATIONS(1996), WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW IS LOVE (2003) and WYNONA & THE BIG NOISE (2016). Wynonna even reunited with Naomi a few times over the years, but those were never meant to be permanent. While her solo career is more or less low key these days – by choice – than during her first two decades, she’s no less a Country superstar in 2020.
Wynonna returns to her roots this year with the release of her RECOLLECTIONS EP. This five-track release finds Wynonna in fine form, recording a handful of her favorite songs including “I Hear You Knocking”, “Angel of Montgomery”, and “Ramble On Rose”. Mostly recorded during quarantine at her Tennessee farm, RECOLLECTIONS will surprise those who think of Wynonna as just a commercial Country Music artist. This EP is loose and bluesy, filled with honest emotion, and a spirited rootsy vibe. This might be the most raw that we’ve ever heard Wynonna. In a sense, this is much like being a fly-on-the-wall during a fun and relaxed jam session with Wynona and her band. The love and passion she has for creating music is on display for all to hear. She says that the recording of this EP took her right back to where she started and, in many ways, it certainly feels that way. But she’s matured as an artist and all her life experiences come through loud and clear. This is the real Wynonna and that is what makes this an inspiring listen whether you are a fan or not.
The daughter of legendary guitarist Johnny Copeland, Shemekia Copeland was born to sing the Blues. Her first public performance was at the Cotton Club at the age of 10 but she didn’t fully commit to a singing career until the age of 16. Johnny took Shemekia on the road with him and she became his opening act. Thanks to her electrifying live shows, she became one of the most talked about artists on the Blues scene. She signed a recording contract with Alligator Records, releasing her debut album, TURN UP THE HEAT!, in 1998. She followed that up two years later with the award-winning WICKED. Her third album, TALKING TO STRANGERS (2002), was produced by New Orleans legend Dr. John. Her next release, the Steve Cropper-produced album THE SOUL TRUTH, was released in 2005.
At this point in her career, Copeland was being lauded as one of the most exciting Blues singers in the studio and on stage. Her tour schedule took her around the world, playing to adoring fans in intimate clubs and bustling Blues festivals. In 2011, she inherited Koko Taylor’s crown as the new ‘Queen of the Blues’ at the Chicago Blues Festival. But that wasn’t her first ‘award’, having won many from the Blues Music Awards, Down Beat Magazine, and others. Copeland’s 2015 album OUTSKIRTS OF LOVE reached the #6 spot on the Billboard Top Blues Albums chart. In 2018, she released the album AMERICA’S CHILD, which climbed to the #3 position on the Blues chart and walked away with Album Of The Year and Contemporary Album Of The Year awards at the 40th Blues Music Awards. They also honored her with the Contemporary Blues Female Artist Of The Year Award in 2020.
Two years after AMERICA’S CHILD, Shemekia Copeland returns with UNCIVIL WAR, an intimate and powerful follow-up to one of her most successful albums. Produced by singer/songwriter/producer Will Kimbrough, whose career dates back to the ‘80s and his Roots Pop band Will & The Bushmen. The album includes performances and/or songwriting from Kimbrough, Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, Jason Isbell, Steve Cropper, Shawn Mullins, Duane Eddy, and others. While the album is certainly brimming with the Blues, fans of Rhythm & Blues, Soul, Gospel, and Americana will find a lot to love on UNCIVIL WAR. From “Clotilda’s On Fire” to “Apple Pie and a .45”, “Uncivil War” to “Love Song”, the album is filled with songs that reflect the emotional times that we are all experiencing in 2020. While the subject matter may cut deep, there is still a real sense of hope, strength and passion that shines through in Shemekia’s voice. In times like these, let Shemekia be the voice of peace, love, and understanding.
When a major Rock band splits up, most people expect the lead singer/frontman to be the breakout star while all of his former bandmates struggle to keep themselves in the public eye. However, this is Mötley Crüe that we are talking about… and Mötley Crüe is no ordinary Rock band. Known for their hard rocking hits in the ‘80s and their offstage debauchery, the Crüe became one of the most popular bands in the Hard Rock and Heavy Metal genre. One of the most astonishing things about the band is that they were able to maintain their credibility while also becoming hugely successful and one of MTV’s most popular bands. And for a Hard Rock band to maintain their integrity while also being commercially successful was a rarity in the ‘80s – very few bands knew how to maintain that balance. And you have to admit, Mötley Crüe deserves a lot of credit for thriving and surviving… at least through the ‘80s.
The public first learned about Mötley Crüe’s inner turmoil when lead vocalist Vince Neil left the band in early 1992. While Mötley Crüe continued with a new vocalist and Vince pursued a solo career, their releases did not sell as well as expected and Vince eventually rejoined the band. However, even while their main band was back together, bassist Nikki Sixx and drummer Tommy Lee pursued musical projects outside the Crüe’s universe. While Sixx continued down a Rock ‘n’ Roll path with Sixx A.M., drummer Tommy Lee took a far more eclectic solo path. From Hard Rock to Punk, Nu Metal to Hip Hop, Tommy approached his various solo recordings and side projects with the same manic energy that he exhibited in the Crüe. He even guested on album by a wide variety of artists including Fall Out Boy, Richard Marx, The Smashing Pumpkins, Rob Zombie, Post Malone, Fuel, Jack’s Mannequin, and others. Since the late ‘90s, Lee has continued to work with Mötley Crüe, yet still finds time to record and release solo albums as well as albums with Methods Of Mayhem and Rock Star Supernova. With each release, he has continued to explore and experiment with many genres of music.
On his 2020 album ANDRO, Tommy Lee rounded up a cast of vocalists and musicians and created a Hip Hop-influenced album that couldn’t be more different from Mötley Crüe yet still manages to retain the same restless energy and bravado as anything else he’s done over the last 40 years. From the scream-filled Rock blast of “Knock Me Down” (featuring Killvein) to the dark cover version of Prince’s ‘When You Were Mine” (featuring Rock Star Supernova vocalist Lukas Rossi), ANDRO is a sonic blast of edgy, blissed-out Hip Hop ‘n’ Roll. Other guest vocalists on the album include PAV4N, Josh Todd, Mickey Avalon, Brooke Candy, Moonbounce, King Elle Noir, PLYA, Push Push, and Shotty Horroh. The album is modern and sleek while still playing it dirty and dangerous. Tommy Lee has certainly done some surprising and unpredictable things in his life, and it’s nice to see that he’s still challenging himself and his fans.
STEPHEN SCHNEE: QUIET PLACES has just been released. How are you feeling about the album and the reaction you’ve had to it so far?
ANDREAS VOLLENWEIDER: QUIET PLACES is intended to provide something like a hide away, a place where we can slow down, step out of the crazy spinning carousel of life, and breathe freely for a moment. Especially in these times, such moments of contemplation are of existential importance. The first things that go overboard in such situations is our view for the positive, which very often is overpowered by the seemingly dominant negative. Music can lead us to such a place where we can gather strength for our fight for the better and the good. The feedback we have received to QUIETPLACES so far makes me quite confident, that it really does work…
STEPHEN: It has been quite a while since the release of your last album. Do you consider QUIET PLACES a continuation of your recorded legacy or a musical rebirth? Or maybe a little of both?
ANDREAS: I do not follow any strategy, neither in my life, nor in my work. I mainly follow my intuition, which has been a reliable mentor so far. For the first time, I had an unusual, additional support from my work on my novel IM SPIEGEL DER VENUS. I could actually say that writing has inspired the music and the music has inspired writing.
STEPHEN: During the lengthy break between your last album and this new one, did you gather quite a backlog of material ready to use, or are the songs on QUIET PLACES written specifically for this project.
ANDREAS: The music of QUIET PLACESis actually the result of many hours of improvisation with the brilliant young cellist Isabel Gehweiler. Although musical structures were formed here and there, most of it is still open and free and could never be played the same way a second time. As an additional source of inspiration, the themes and ideas behind the novel REFLECTIONS OF VENUS always floated somewhere in the room.
STEPHEN: While many music fans are fairly aware of the songwriting process in Rock music, how do you compose your songs? Are they born from improvisation or do you think of a certain melody and then begin writing composing around that?
ANDREAS: All our music from the past 40 years have come from improvisation – one could almost say that the music has written itself.
STEPHEN: And sticking with the same subject, do you compose your music differently today than you did 40 years ago?
ANDREAS: I am far too wild a spirit, not to be tamed even by myself. I am not disciplined and structured enough to construct music intellectually on the drawing board.
STEPHEN: QUIET PLACESis filled with beautiful melodies that evoke a sense of wonder and beauty, which is especially welcome during these trying times. When putting together an album, is it easy to create an atmosphere that will take the listener on an emotional journey? Or is that the most difficult part of the recording process?
ANDREAS: You have to go on these journeys yourself, dive into these depths yourself, experience all this yourself, and the music will emanate the right atmosphere all by itself. The work on our mindset, and our stance towards life, with the sum of our feelings, thoughts and values that must be the basis of our artistic expression. Only then we are worthy of credibility and people will follow our invitation to join us on the journey.
STEPHEN: QUIET PLACESis the beginning of a new trilogy for you. Like your first trilogy, which began with 1981’s …BEHIND THE GARDENS – BEHIND THE WALL – UNDER THE TREE, do you pre-plan out which direction you want each release to go, or do you let the music guide each project?
ANDREAS: As I said earlier – I am planless and clueless 😉
STEPHEN: QUIET PLACESserves as a companion piece to your first novel, IM SPIEGEL DER VENUS. Did you initially conceive QUIET PLACESto work as a ‘soundtrack’ to the novel or are you treating them as two separate projects?
ANDREAS: QUIET PLACESwas never intended as a soundtrack for the novel. It has developed parallel to the story, it has accompanied me over the many years of my research, it has grounded me, and made my thoughts fly, just like a good travel companion should.
STEPHEN: Over the years, your music has been classified as everything from New Age to Jazz to Classical. How would you prefer your music to be classified?
ANDREAS: Honestly? I PREFER NOT TO BE CLASSIFIED, AND SO DOES OUR MUSIC (same way as you and everybody else, I think…)
STEPHEN: What is next for Andreas Vollenweider?
ANDREAS: The international release of QUIET PLACES, the novel as well as the audio book. That keeps me busy for quite some time. Touring seems not really to be an option due to the virus. All we can do at the moment are these LIVE@HOME mini concerts on YouTube. It’s a very surprising new way for me to bring the music to people, even to places we could never travel to. I must admit that I have underestimated this option very much and today, however, I am very excited about it. I would never have thought that such an intense feeling of closeness is possible in this very virtual situation. But seen in this light, even a love letter that the postman brings is also virtual. You are not personally present there and yet, if the letter is well written, you can touch your loved one deeply.
Special thanks to Andreas Vollenweider
Additional thanks to Larry Germack, Clint Weiler, and Doreen D’Agostino
Folk and protest music, for the most part, are timeless. There are certain songs that may focus on a particular incident in history, but most Folk-oriented ‘protest’ songs address universal issues that are still sadly relevant. When you sit down today to listen to a classic by Pete Seeger, you suddenly realize that the more things have changed, the more they’ve remained the same. Seeger is associated with his social activism and his amazing cache of songs – that he wrote or co-wrote – including “If I had A Hammer”, “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?”, “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine”, and “Turn! Turn! Turn!” Just as beloved as iconic singer/songwriter Woody Guthrie, Seeger’s songs came from the heart, although some speculate that they may have been sent from somewhere more magical and/or mystical. For decades, his words and melodies have become part of pop culture. They are important cornerstones in the soundtrack of our lives. Pete Seeger remains an icon that all of us should always hold in high esteem. His words were often direct, sending messages for all of us to take to heart. However, the musical arrangements were – and are – often left to reinterpretation…
And that’s where Kronos Quartet comes in. Formed in Seattle, Washington in 1973 by violinist David Harrington, the Grammy Award-winning quartet is often filed under Classical Music, but as they’ve proven time and time again, Kronos Quartet is often unclassifiable. They’ve tackled everything from Jazz to Pop, Avant-Garde to World Music. They have also collaborated with an impressive cast of artists in the past including Elvis Costello, Phillip Glass, Joan Armatrading, Laurie Anderson, Nelly Furtado, and Nine Inch Nails. Since their first album in 1979, Kronos Quartet has embraced change and growth. Instead of taking the easy road straight down the middle, this outfit has taken every off-ramp and explored each musical town before getting back on the road and heading for the next musical adventure. Their catalog is wildly diverse and thoroughly engaging. Like Pete Seeger, Kronos Quartet creates music that touches the listener emotionally. It is truly inspiring.
Kronos Quartet may create music that seems – on the surface – worlds apart from Pete Seeger, that hasn’t stopped Harrington & Co. from exploring his classic songs on LONG TIME PASSING: KRONOS QUARTET & FRIENDS CELEBRATE PETE SEEGER. The album features a fresh approach to Seeger’s music but still retains the power of his initial cries for unity and peace, driving Seeger’s messages home in fresh, new ways. On the album, Kronos Quartet is joined by friends Sam Amidon, Maria Arnal, Brian Carpenter, Meklit, Lee Knight, and Aoife O’Donovan, all of whom add their unique voices to the recordings. The songs on LONG TIME PASSING – “We Shall Overcome”, “Which Side Are You On”, “Turn! Turn! Turn!”, “The President Sang Amazing Grace” and more – were written years before many of us were born yet they are still as relevant as ever. One would think that the world would have evolved over the years, but like the planet itself, everything just keeps spinning and the issues we deal with – from personal to political – just get recycled over and over again. We should turn off the TV, put down our smart (?) phones and really listen to the messages on LONG TIME PASSING. We shall overcome, indeed.
KRONOS QUARTET & FRIENDS
LONG TIME PASSING: KRONOS QUARTET CELEBRATE PETE SEEGER
STEPHEN SCHNEE: Your album HOLY SMOKES FUTURE JOKES is about to be released. How are you feeling about the album and the reaction to it so far? ERIC EARLEY: It’s been difficult to gauge response during all the social unrest happening with focus flying all around, but I’m personally pleased with the recordings, the singles have done well as far as I can tell, good playlist placement and pre-order.
STEPHEN SCHNEE: This is your 10th album in a two-decade career. When you started the creative process (writing and recording), did you approach this album differently than the previous nine albums? ERIC EARLEY: My approach for this one was quite different, I was coming from a very focused place, having delved deeply into the Bardo Thodol and its philosophy and narrative, all the songwriting seemed to spring from a place of pondering the afterlife and if in fact there is any meaning in the word ‘after.’ Each song explores the idea of death not as an ending but a shifting of states not so different from the shifting that happens in our lives day to day.
STEPHEN SCHNEE: Musically, Blitzen Trapper is not easy to pigeonhole. Journalists and fans are going to bicker back and forth about where you fit, genre-wise. Do you feel comfortable being ‘labeled’ under a certain genre? Or is that something you even think about? ERIC EARLEY: It’s not something I think about really. The ‘Americana’ label is nice and extremely general, so I’m fine with that, but I’ve noticed that labels have unique meanings for each individual and their own purely personal associations which makes the labels entirely meaningless in a real sense.
STEPHEN SCHNEE: Musically, which artists inspired the music on the album? On albums by other arists, you can instantly hear a Beatles influence. However, on HOLY SMOKES FUTURE JOKES, the songwriting and arrangements seem closer to Paul Simon than Paul McCartney. ERIC EARLEY: Definitely a more soft-spoken vibe on this record, I was going back into the Elliott Smith recordings and even further back into the John Fahey/John Renbourn/Roy Harper recordings I listened to when I was younger.
STEPHEN SCHNEE: What was the inspiration behind the album HOLY SMOKES FUTURE JOKES? ERIC EARLEY: The Bardo Thodol as I said seemed to supply a backdrop, the 11th section in particular, the narrative of the Intermediate States as well as the study of the 48 Peaceful Deities and the 52 Wrathful Deities and their relation to different ideas about psychology, mortality and mental health.
STEPHEN SCHNEE: The lyrical subject of this album revolves around life, death, and some dark issues that lie somewhere in between. Were you hesitant to release the album while we deal with this pandemic, or do you feel that your approach to the subject matter may provide some food for thought – and even comfort – to the listeners? ERIC EARLEY: I hope it’s comforting, to see humanity not as the center of life on this planet but as a very small sliver of the story, trying to understand our place and practice Cosmic Humility, our survival is not paramount, life has persisted before us for billions of years and will persist without for billions more in other states, times and realities. Our relationship to the planet and to one another is part and parcel of the life/death cycle and should be seen as such. To me that is comforting.
STEPHEN SCHNEE: Regardless of the subject matter, the album is still uplifting, honest, fun, and hopeful. Is this an album that came together quickly? And do you still wish you could go back and make small changes even this late in the game? ERIC EARLEY: The songs were written in a two-month span and the recordings made in a three month span, so relatively quickly. I have no regrets about this album at the moment, which is great!
STEPHEN SCHNEE: Is there a track on HOLY SMOKES FUTURE JOKES that you feel is a great ‘gateway’ track to the album? For example, opening track “Baptismal” certainly contains many great musical aspects that are expanded upon elsewhere on the album – creativity, melody, harmonies, and excellent musicianship. ERIC EARLEY: “Baptismal” is the gateway, the fingerstyle work and narrative content are an opening into the ideas I explore throughout the album.
STEPHEN SCHNEE: Over the years, vinyl gave way to CDs but now that seems to be in reverse. Over the years, regardless of format, have you always thought about Blitzen Trapper releases as ‘albums’ and arranged the tracks like a two-sided LP? In many cases, the emotional and musical flow of an album is just as important as the quality of the songs. ERIC EARLEY: I think my perspective is shaped by growing up in the eighties and nineties, a time when album format was still a very real thing. That format isn’t as prominent now, but I still veer toward that idea when putting an album together and I think as far as songwriting, the songs always come in a group that needs to be shared as such.
STEPHEN SCHNEE: What’s next for Blitzen Trapper? Have you thought of unique ways to promote the album since you can’t tour at this moment? ERIC EARLEY: I’ve done a few live streams and interviews and the like but for the most part I’ve been preoccupied with my day job during the lockdowns and haven’t been centrally focused on music and with touring a distant memory it’s tough to see how promotion will go. I really don’t know what will come of the usual record cycle that’s been industry standard. I feel like all the really young hungry artists will forge new ways of doing all of this but it’s difficult to see how anyone will make a real livable wage from music for a while since most artists have never made proper income from recordings.
STEPHEN SCHNEE: SING YOUR DREAMS is now available. How are you feeling about the album and the reaction to it so far? DENISE KAUFMAN: Well, it isn’t really quite out yet, so our friends and fans have only heard the tracks we previewed – “Made for Love,” “Jai Ma” and “Put A Woman in Charge.” We’ve gotten wonderful responses to those songs. When we toured last summer/fall we played a few of the songs from this album live and people wrote to us asking where to get the tracks. We’re glad we can finally share them all!
SCHNEE: Were the tracks on the album relatively new compositions or do any of them date back to the band’s early days in the late ‘60s? DENISE: It’s about 50% vintage Ace of Cups songs. The rest were either written recently or sometime in between 1972-2012. How’s that for a span of time? “Waller St Blues” was the first song we wrote as a band in January 1967. In recording it for this album, we wrote a new verse about the Haight-Ashbury today. Mary Ellen Simpson wrote “Dressed in Black” in 1967 about her crush on one of the guys in Blue Cheer. We revamped it and wrote a new verse/bridge when we reunited and started playing live again. On “Gemini” we stayed true to the way we played it in the old days with psychedelic organ sounds and all! Diane’s song “Little White Lies” was written in the last couple of years but the theme of a cheatin’ boyfriend goes back, doesn’t it? The song “Slowest River” grew from one stanza of a poem by Algernon Charles Swinburne that Mary Gannon Alfiler found on a crumpled napkin at The Sleeping Lady, a restaurant/venue in Marin County, CA. Mary brought the napkin home, started writing at the old upright piano, and I joined in to co-write the lyric. The song evolved further as we were working on Sing Your Dreams. The mantra/chorus in “Made for Love” (the second song in the closing medley) was written by Mary Gannon Alfiler about 20 years ago in Kauai and I wrote the spoken word verses in February, 2020, as we were finishing the album. Some of our songs from back in the day felt current to us just exactly as they were, and some called out for a new approach or some rewriting.
SCHNEE: You experience with a lot of different musical styles on the album. From the Glam Rock stomp of “Put A Woman in Charge” to the African grooves of “Jai Ma”, this album really displays your diverse talents. Were you originally concerned that you were taking the album in too many directions? Or is that what excited you about making SING YOUR DREAMS? DENISE: We’ve always played in and explored different musical styles and we never felt as though we shouldn’t or couldn’t do that. We have five singers/writers in the band with different musical influences and passions. We honor the lineages that nourish and inspire us and hey – this is music – let’s play and sing! Fortunately for us, our amazing label, High Moon Records, gives us full freedom to express our musical range.
SCHNEE: With such a diverse batch of songs, what do you feel is the perfect ‘gateway’ track, the song that you feel best defines the album? DENISE: Oh gosh. I was hoping you’d tell me that!! For a straight up 60’s vibe, I’d say “Dressed in Black” or “Gemini.” If someone wants to know more about our hearts and values, I’d say “Basic Human Needs,” “Sister Ruth” or “Slowest River/Made for Love.” If you want to rock out to some strong women laying it down, “Put a Woman in Charge” and “Boy, What’ll You Do Then?”
SCHNEE: “Lucky Stars” is a joyous slice of Pop. What inspired that track? DENISE: Mary Ellen was in a Mark Knopfler phase – immersing herself in all his music the way she does when she focuses in on someone. (These days, it’s Stevie Ray Vaughn.) Anyway, she was thinking about how inspired she was by having a hero, how she loved the sound of Mark’s guitar and how her own music had carried her through really challenging times. You know, we’ve lost so many of the friends we played music with in the old days. We’re one of the only bands we know whose original members are all still here on earth and playing. Who could have imagined that, 50 years after our original incarnation as a band, we’d finally get the chance to record and share our songs? As the song says,” it’s been a long, long road” and we DO thank our lucky stars. We hope our story and our music encourages people to keep on keepin’ on and to sing/live their dreams, whatever they are.
SCHNEE: Who were some of the musical guests on the album? DENISE: We’re really honored to have all the wonderful guests who shared their musical mojo with us. Some of them are our old friends from the 60’s with whom we toured and shared stages. The very first track we recorded when we reunited was Wavy Gravy lead singing his anthem, “Basic Human Needs.” Bay Area luminaries Sandy Griffith, Nate Soulsanger, Larry Batiste and Bryan Dyer joined us on vocals supporting our Hippy Icon and Temple of Accumulated Error, Wavy Gravy. Jackson Browne sang lead on “Slowest River” and Jason Crosby played the beautiful grand piano on that track. Jackson also sang the mantra/chorus of “Made for Love” with Bob Weir and David Freiberg. On “Jai Ma,” we have Steve Kimock on lead guitar, Bakithi Kumalo on fretless bass and the whole Escovedo family on percussion and vocal ad libs: Sheila E, “Pops” Pete, “Moms” Juanita and brothers Peter Michael and Juan. It was a great family day in the studio! Steve Kimock also added some guitar magic on “Dressed in Black.” On “Gemini,” our longtime brother Peter Coyote talks about the ethos of the “Free Store” on Haight St. on the spoken word outro. On “Sister Ruth,” Jason Crosby played the grand piano and Jack Casady played bass. On “I’m on Your Side,” a gem written by Mary Gannon Alfiler and our producer Dan Shea, Dan’s friend and musical colleague Sheldon Brown played the clarinets. Finally, our amazing multi-instrumentalist producer Dan Shea played on a number of tracks – always adding just what was needed.
SCHNEE: The overall feeling of the album is hope, strength, and power. However, it is also a reminder that we all face adversity and we need to look to those positive feelings to lead us to our own personal triumphs. Were there any particular incidents – personal or otherwise – that inspired the overall direction of the album? DENISE: Certainly, the political realities since 2016 affected us. The rise of white supremacist groups, hate crimes, racism, misogyny and environmental degradation – devastating on all fronts. We finished the album the week before the COVID shutdown in California and released the track/video for “Made for Love” as a stand for generosity, kindness and connection in troubling times. Then George Floyd was killed and we each got into action in our own way. We feel the themes of this album are timely. In “Basic Human Needs” we sing with Wavy “not just churches, not just steeples, give me peoples helping peoples…. down in the garden, where no one is apart. Deep down in the garden, the garden of your heart.” When the band reunited and started recording, it was Diane, Mary Gannon, Mary Ellen and me – just four of the original five band members. When our first album was released and we started touring in late 2018 and early 2019, we reached out to our friend Giovanna Joyce Imbesi to play keyboards with us. She was a brilliant musician, a deep and wonderful soul and she loved our songs. Giovanna had lived with neuroendocrine cancer for 12 years. She couldn’t commit to joining the band but was well enough to go on some adventures with us. She lifted us musically and spiritually and it was a joy to play with her. Sadly, by last summer her health had deteriorated and she couldn’t go on tour. Fortunately for us, we met the amazing Dallis Craft, our permanent new member and lead singer of “Put a Woman in Charge.” There were still a couple of shows when Giovanna was able to sit in with us. Our last show with her was at The Sweetwater in Mill Valley, CA, in October 2019. She passed away the following month. SING YOUR DREAMS is dedicated to Giovanna. Life is precious. Wear a mask and take care of each other, please.
SCHNEE: When Ace of Cups reunited, were you initially focusing on your original audience or were you hoping to appeal to a new audience that may not have been aware of your musical legacy? DENISE: We were hoping to appeal to old friends and connect with new audiences as well. Ever since the release of our live album in 2003 (culled from rehearsal tapes and various gigs in the 60’s) people of all ages from all over the world have reached out to us through our website. We got messages such as “I’m at 22-year-old guy in Buenos Aires and I’ve been waiting for your music all my life.” or “I KNEW women were making their own music in those days, but I just couldn’t find it!” So, it’s both for us. We want to stay connected with our original cohort and also be open to anyone who feels the pulse and heart of our music.
SCHNEE: When Ace of Cups originally formed, the idea of an all-girl Rock band was considered a ‘novelty’. Since Ace of Cups, we’ve seen everyone from Fanny and The Runaways to The Go-Go’s and The Bangles (and many others) prove that playing Rock music is not just a man’s game. Was there a moment or era when you realized that the novelty had worn off and people were taking female rock bands seriously? DENISE: Hmmm. Good question. It was certainly clear that by the late 70’s – 80’s there were many more women playing in bands. I am not sure who was taken seriously and by whom. Fanny was a great band. All wonderful musicians. I didn’t/don’t know much about the Runaways. I recently watched the new documentary on The Go-Go’s and had to admire their determination – especially on that first European tour when they played for some really rough audiences. I still think female rock bands are judged by “male” standards and, as far as I know, very few women are in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
SCHNEE: “Waller Street Blues” recalls the spirit of the hippie nation of 1968. Were things back then really as wonderful as we’ve all read about? DENISE: There was a period of time early on when it truly was wonderful. 1965-67 especially. It seemed as though the old structures were giving way and there was a sense of community and creativity. The Free Store which Peter Coyote talks about at the end of our track “Gemini” was a corner store on Haight Street where people brought what they didn’t need any more and took whatever they needed and wanted. No financial exchange. Just a sense of sharing. The Diggers were feeding people daily in Golden Gate Park. Much of the food they sourced was discarded by supermarkets for being a little discolored or because a new shipment had arrived. Add some rice or beans and they’d turn this “found food” into wonderful meals where everyone was welcome to gather and eat. Music, dance, poetry, prose, journalism, poster art, clothing as art, theater, new social structures and communal living – everything was up for exploration. Psychedelics were at the center of these transformations and even though times changed, the ripple effects of those days are still reverberating today.
SCHNEE: Ultimately, the album is pure joy. What keeps the band so optimistic and youthful? DENISE: We were drawn together in 1967 because we loved playing music. We loved singing together. Even though we went our own ways after the Ace of Cups dissolved, none of us ever stopped playing. We were all in various bands and kept growing musically and as human beings. Most of the music we wrote in the 60’s still lives for us today. It’s relevant and still speaks from our souls. We don’t know how much longer we have on this earth, but we’ll offer the best that we are for as long as we can. The Ace of Cups card in the Tarot has clear streams of water flowing forth out of a chalice into the world. That’s us.
SCHNEE: What’s next for Ace of Cups? DENISE: Well, all the shows we were scheduled to play this summer and fall have gone the way of COVID cancellations. We are scattered across California and Hawaii, so we haven’t been all together since March. We do a Sunday Zoom convergence and really enjoy that. We have at least one more album to release in another year – it’s about half finished and we look forward to getting back into the studio to finish it. Right now, we’re excited to share SING YOUR DREAMS and see what magic synergy might come our way. We hope that our music can lift some hearts and be a reminder of what matters in this world. “Remember what we came here for – hold on to this connection, it’s all that we are.” (‘Made for Love’)
SCHNEE: What music have you been listening to lately? DENISE: I’ve been listening to Ola Onabule’s song “I Knew Your Father,” Anais Mitchell’s “Why We Build The Wall,” D Smoke’s “Black Habits,” anything by Bill Withers, Jorma Kaukonen’s Saturday night live shows from Fur Peace Ranch, and my grandson Eli Smart’s new track/video, “Cruella Deville.” And from here in Kauai on our family farm, a lot of birds.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way – Herb Alpert is a national treasure. The legendary trumpeter and music mogul has not only created an enormously satisfying back catalog of his own – solo and with The Tijuana Brass – he also co-founded A&M Records, a label responsible for a plethora of hits since the early ‘60s. If you love The Carpenters, The Police, Rita Coolidge, Supertramp, Cat Stevens, Amy Grant, Quincy Jones, Janet Jackson, The Dickies, Bryan Adams, Cat Stevens, Joe Jackson, and Peter Frampton, you can thank Herb (and co-founder Jerry Moss) for taking those artists out of the wild and bringing them straight into your living room. However, Herb Alpert is much more than a successful musician and music industry mover and shaker. He is a painter and sculptor, as well as a philanthropist. Although not as prolific as he was in decades past, he still continues to record both as a solo artist and with his wife, vocalist Lani Hall. And over the years, rumors have circulated that Herb Alpert is one of the kindest and most personable music legends in the industry. And it all started with a trumpet and a trip to Tijuana, Mexico…
In the early ‘60s, while on a trip to Tijuana, Mexico, Herb Alpert was attending a bullfight and was inspired by the sound of a mariachi band and the crowd’s excited cheers. He decided to try to recreate that feeling in the studio and “The Lonely Bull” was born. With the release of that song in 1962, Alpert laid the foundation for his career for the next decade… and beyond. Naming his ‘band’ The Tijuana Brass, Herb and his bandmates – the studio version of the TJB consisted of members of The Wrecking Crew – created a unique sound that was often copied (The Brass Ring, anyone?) but never equaled. The 1965 album WHIPPED CREAM & OTHER DELIGHTS features one of the most iconic album covers in music history. After a dozen years of TJB glory (and millions in record sales around the world), Alpert retired the band name and continued as a solo artist. In 1979, he scored a #1 hit with “Rise”, a single taken from the album of the same name. And then…. Well, there’s just not enough space to talk about all of his accomplishments here. The only way to tell a more complete story would be a documentary and an accompanying soundtrack. And guess what? We’re in luck!
HERB ALPERT IS… is the title of the long-awaited documentary that covers the incredible career of Herb Alpert. An amazing look at an amazing career deserves an amazing soundtrack and the newly released HERB ALPERT IS… does not disappoint. The release – on three CDs or five 180gm vinyl LPs – comes in a lavish set that easily matches the majestic music contained within. The music begins with “The Lonely Bull” and features a very healthy amount of classic TJB tracks – including the #1 single “This Guy’s In Love With You” as well as other longtime favorites like “Tijuana Taxi” and “Spanish Flea” (AKA The Dating Game theme) – before heading off on a more varied solo career tackling everything from Smooth Jazz to Funk to Trip Hop… with some Reggae thrown in for good measure. While some of these recordings date back nearly 60 years, they are still fresh and invigorating. Alpert’s knack for recording songs with instantly hummable melodies is undeniable and a great hook stands the test of time. Herb Alpert is a man who turned an inspiration into a career that continues to inspire others. The proof is here for all to behold. Herb Alpert is… music. And music is… Herb Alpert.