The Doobie Brothers have been entertaining audiences across the world for more than 40 years. In 2010 the band released World Gone Crazy, their first album in a decade. They continue to be an inspiration with their recordings and their rigorous tour schedule.
CityBeat caught up with guitarist and vocalist Tom Johnston by phone this week. Johnston discussed the changes the band has seen through 40 years of Rock n Roll and what guides the creative process of the band. They will be performing at Riverbend at the PNC Pavilion this Sunday alongside Chicago.
CityBeat: You guys have been touring on the road for over 30 years. Do you ever get tired of just being on the road?
Tom Johnston: You get tired of travelling. You don’t ever get tired of playing. The playing part is what makes you come out here in the first place. I think Keith put it the best, Keith Knudsen, “You get paid for all the time it takes to get to the town and then you play for nothing.”
CB: You have seen music change over the years in recordings from albums to 8-Tracks to tapes to CDs to MP3s and iPods. Do you think it sounds better or worse today, the classic analog vs. digital question?
TJ: If you have hearing like mine, it really doesn’t make any difference. There is basically the school of thought that digital recordings aren’t as warm as analog. I can’t really tell you the difference when I am listening to it. Maybe if I did a mix there would maybe be a difference in analog that I could tell the difference. They have really come a long way with digital recording. They have ways of mixing digital recordings now so it sounds more like analog. Some people still buy albums if you can get them. People are still putting albums out. In fact, this last album we put out, World Gone Crazy, there was over 14,000 actual albums put out with the CDs, and by that I mean actual vinyl records for the people that want to hear it in analog.
CB: How many guitars do you have and what is your favorite to play?
TJ: Oh boy. I’ve got a lot of guitars. Basically, everything I use on the road is PRS and that is what I play live. I use two basic guitars live that I trade off and I have a Martin acoustic that I play as well live. It is pretty much all about Paul Reed Smith right now. At home I have a Stratocaster and I have some older guitars I have had for a long time, an old Les Paul, an old 335, a couple Strats and a Telecaster. But live and when I am out on the road, it is strictly Paul Reed Smith.
CB: When you began and wrote the early hits and songs for the band like “Rockin’ Down the Highway”, what were your early inspirations?
TJ: My inspirations at the time of writing a song like that had pretty much been put in place from playing since I was 12 on the guitar and picking up singing when I was 15. Most of my early stuff came from Blues and R&B and Rock & Roll by the guy I consider the King of Rock & Roll, that was Little Richard and people like Jerry Lee Lewis. Later on, that changed, I got into Hendrix and Cream and quite a few other people I am not going to be able to think of right now. David Mason albums, old Fleetwood Mac albums, you know from the ’70s, just a lot of stuff going on then. As far as players, Albert, Freddie and B.B. King were huge in my guitar playing. I call them the Three Kings, that’s basically how a lot of people refer to them. There are a lot of singers that influenced me. James Brown was definitely one of them.
CB: Have you had a single issue or incident that has ever changed the way you approach music?
TJ: If I ever did, I am not really sure when it was. I know the first time I ever watched, one of the few times I actually got to watch, James Brown live was 1962 in Fresno and that was pretty much a life altering event, musically. I had never seen anything like that. It just blew me out of the water. I couldn’t believe someone could work that hard that consistently and put on just an incredible show. That was a big event in my life.
CB: Over the years, you have had some health ailments with your voice and other things. How do you stay healthy on the road now?
TJ: I take care of myself. Back in the old days it was the Rock & Roll lifestyle, that wasn’t really healthy. But the biggest sideline I ever had was stomach ulcers which I developed in high school but it fully bloomed when I was out on the road in 1975 when I actually had to leave the tour. That is really the only health issue I ever had, but it was a bad one.
CB: Do you consider yourself or does the band consider themselves spiritual in any way and did it ever play a factor in your music or writing?
TJ: To be honest with you, no — at least not in the secular way of any specific religion. It’s not that we are not a religious band, it is just everybody has their beliefs about the world and mankind and how we got here I suppose but it is certainly nothing we would talk about.
CB: After all these years, I assumed you guys would talk about everything.
TJ: We talk about a lot of stuff but that isn’t one that pops up. Actually it popped up this morning. I was just giving my views on Buddhism and thinking it was a little more realistic since it is based on mankind’s shallow man as opposed to strictly about a specific deity and things having to be done a certain way. But those are just opinions and I don’t really follow it that closely; I don’t think anybody in the band does, to be honest with you.
CB: Do you guys take on different leadership roles within the band?
TJ: Yeah, to a point. It is basically when we are recording. When we are playing, it kind of happens naturally. Recording it is pretty much whoever writes the tune will be leading if you will, but other people come up with ideas for the tune so it is pretty much always a group effort.
CB: Are there any current Rock bands or new Rock bands on the scene right now you would like to collaborate with or work with?
TJ: I think John Mayer is an incredible guitar player. I really enjoy his work. Another one is Bruno Mars — I think he is extremely prolific as a song writer and pretty amazing. There is a band called Mannish Boy, which is a Blues group. I really like those guys. They are new. Most people aren’t going to know them. They aren’t Pop or anything like that. They are simply a Blues band but they are really, really good. There are more, I just can’t think of them right now. There are more people I think are really good out there that would be fun to get in the studio with. It would be fun to work with Christina Aguilera or Cee Lo Green. It would be fun to work with anyone from Maroon 5. We recently worked with Luke Bryan for that TV show on CMT called Crossroads and we had a ball doing that.
CB: I love Luke Bryan and his music. He has kind of blown up recently.
TJ: He is a good guy. He is a really good guy. We had a lot of fun doing that show. Everybody was just having a lot of fun.
CB: Do you have any creative outlets or hobbies outside of playing music?
TJ: It’s outside of the band in a sense but I write music for a hobby. I love writing. I do it all the time. I have a little studio at home. A lot of the stuff I write would never be used by this band. I am starting to branch out and write with other people now too, which is something I haven’t done as much. I have always kind of just written my own songs. I have started taking the steps to go out and write with some other writers who are very prolific and very much involved with the Pop scene or the Country scene or whatever else. I just really started doing that before we came out on this tour. When we finish this tour this year, I will go back to doing that some more. It was fun. It was a new place to go. It is exciting to get in and work with someone else because they help you find a lot of stuff you don’t know you have and I think you do the same for that person. You come up with songs that you would never come up with if you were just sitting there by yourself.
CB: Do you use social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter to stay connected to your fans?
TJ: There is Facebook and Twitter and all that stuff on our website. I don’t do any of that stuff. For whatever reason it hasn’t called me. I don’t have any need to be in touch with people or stay in the limelight or find out what is going on. I am kind of a private guy and I would like to keep it that way rather than blast it all over the universe. I don’t belong to Facebook. I know tons of people who do it and that’s great. From a business point of view, it is a really smart way to go. From a website point of view, it is a really good tool for getting your music out there, events out there, where you are going to be, maybe even staying in touch with other musicians, things like that but mostly I do that on the phone. Twitter, I have never even used Twitter. I know people do it all the time but I have never gotten involved with it.
CB: I still use a telephone because I prefer to talk to people.
TJ: It is alive and well in the younger generation. That’s how they communicate.
CB: My last question is do you have any fond Cincinnati memories over the years?
TJ: Yeah, playing at Riverfront Stadium, playing at where we are going to be playing this Sunday which is right on the river, Riverbend. We have played there lots of times. I was just talking to a gentleman a little bit ago about playing in Blue Ash the last time and a tornado came through and shut the show down and we never got a chance to go out and finish it. We have been playing Cincinnati since we started so we are talking 40 years of playing Cincinnati.
CB: We look forward to seeing you on Sunday.
TJ: Thank you very much. We are looking forward to being there and it will be a gas as always. This show with Chicago has pretty much been sold out everywhere we have gone. The crowds have been great and it is a good combination. The two bands, we get together at the end and do an encore of everybody in both bands playing at the same time and it is pretty powerful.
Local singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist S.R. Woodward is not your average clean-cut, guitar-strumming, doe-eyed heartthrob. No, this guy is far too weird for that racket. Combining slightly-flat-yet-charming harmonies sung in a baritone warble with peppy, synthesized musical backing tracks, he’s a troubadour of minimalist ditties that lie somewhere between cheeky and heartfelt.
Bootsy Collins spoke with music writer Brian Baker for this week’s CityBeat, revealing the conceptual, philosophical and educational elements behind his new album, Tha Funk Capital of the World (out this Tuesday). The album’s label home, Mascot Records, is giving a sneak peak in the form of tribute track “JB-Still the Man,” Bootsy’s James Brown requiem featuring a spoken-word tribute to Brown’s rare influence on the world by Rev. Al Sharpton. The groovy track (available as a free download at the link below) is just one of the tributes to Collins’ heroes on the album. Collins talked to Baker about how Jimi Hendrix’s own voice ended up on Funk Capital’s Hendrix tribute, “Mirrors Tell Lies.”
We caught up with Ohio native, Eric Singer aka “CATMAN”, drummer for the infamous band, to discuss local sports and the show on Friday.CB: First question, how do you feel about Lebron leaving?
CB: Did you see the owner’s reaction?
Eric: Oh yes, I did. I am a huge NBA fan. I am on NBA.com everyday. I am actually a huge Lakers fan and even though we were on tour in Europe I did not miss any of the playoff games. The games would start at 3 am and I would watch every other day. My body clock was so out of whack. I would stay up all night watching. Everyone on the tour would ask why I looked to so tired and it was because I stayed up until 7 am watching basketball.
Eric: You are in Cincinnati. I saw that you just signed Terrell Owens.
CB: Yes we did, what do you think about that?
Eric: I think it is a great thing. Obviously, I am a Cleveland Browns fan being from Cleveland.
CB: We won’t hold that against you.
Eric: No, I have always rooted for the Bengals. My Dad had season tickets to the Browns in the 60’s and he would take me to all the games. My Dad was also a musician and he knew Paul Brown personally. I think Paul Brown coached at Ohio State so we also loved the Buckeyes so Ohio State Buckeyes are always my college team of choice.
My Dad was always a huge Bengals fan because he loved Paul Brown. Basically I root for all the AFC teams except the Ravens for obvious reasons. I cannot stand the Ravens like most Cleveland fans. I always root for the Bengals. Overall I think it was a good pickup. T.O. is a personality but at the end of the day he is a great talent and is a great receiver. The Bengals may make some noise this year. I don’t look for much from the Browns this year to do any damage. I just want them to improve over last year. They have had so many changes with management and quarterbacks. I think that it would be nice to give the people of Cleveland something to look forward to versus focusing on the Lebron situation.
CB: The sentiment here in Ohio doesn’t seem
as bad as I thought it would be about Lebron based on what I had heard
in the media.
Eric: Of course, they showed the same 2 guys on TV burning their Lebron jersey in the streets over and over. It was a slow news day. At the end of the day, it is just a game. I think it becomes an obsession with some people. I am a huge Laker fan. I stay home every night during the season and watch every game. I get upset when they lose but at the end of the day, it is just a game and they are not curing cancer. I play drums in a band and it is important to me because it is my livelihood, but at the same time I keep a reality check about what I do.
CB: It is not solving world hunger.
Eric: Exactly. Some people get too serious about it in my mind. Some people hate their 9-5 job and they have passion about a sports team or a band and that is what they look forward to doing. I understand their passion, but you have to keep it in perspective.
CB: I have talked to a lot of drummers this week. I have kind of had a week of drummers, culminating with you.
Eric: That sounds like it could have a double entendre. “I just had a week of drummers.” You gotta watch how you say that. (Laughing)
CB: What is the longest you have gone without playing the drums?
Eric: Oh I have gone awhile. Probably a few months. I am 52 years old. I have been touring every year for 26 years straight and been drumming for 42 years since I was 10. It is like a car. I have a lot of drumming miles on my body. I find that when you go away from something, it renews your interest and enjoyment in it. You enjoy it more when you come back. My whole life can’t be about drums and KISS. I am not one dimensional. You have to have other interests. As much as I know that you have to have focus because that is important if you want to have success along with hard work, sometimes you need to step away from it. It makes it feel fresh when you get away and then come back. Even though I have played some of these songs a hundred times, after I get away from it for awhile it feels fresh and lets my body heal.
CB: It is an extreme sport.
Eric: It is very much like athletics. Rock and roll drumming is different than playing in a lounge band. It is hitting hard objects and absorbing all that shock. As I have gotten older I have had to learn different ways to approach it. I have massages all the time to take care of my body and keep my body stretched out and loose because it is a necessity at this point.
CB: Do you do any weight lifting or activities to condition for it?
Eric: Sometimes. Lately to be honest I have been lazy. Usually when we are off tour, I will go to the gym and try to condition with cardio and keep my stamina up at least a few times a week. That makes it not such a shock to your body when you go back to hitting things after you have been away for awhile.
CB: Have you ever been star struck?
Eric: No, not really. When I first moved to LA in 1983, I used to go to the Beverly Hills Diner after rehearsals. This is when I first realized that I lived in LA and when you go to a Denny’s or a diner that you will see musicians and actors. The first time I was sitting there and Lionel Richie came in with Irene Cara, who had a big hit at the time. He said hello just like you were a normal person. That kind of set a precedence for me with a guy who was a huge star at the time on MTV and making hits and he is just a regular guy who comes in here and says hi to me. I always remembered that whatever you do may be special or unique, but it does not make you better than someone else. I remember him and think it was a good attitude.
CB: That is a good attitude.
Eric: I am a big fan of many bands and I met Jimmy Page this year in London. That was kind of cool because I had never met anyone from Zeppelin, but I am around these guys all the time. I have played in some big bands KISS and with Queen. I played a Nelson Mandela benefit with Bono and Annie Lennox a few years ago. I have gotten to play with people and meet them this way. I met Dwyane Wade the other night on Jay Leno and that was cool because I am such a big NBA fan. I like to meet people that I have a lot of respect for and admire what they do. I don’t get star struck because I have been doing this a long time and realize at the end of the day they are just people.
CB: They go home and put their pants on one leg at a time.
Eric: Exactly, one thing I have learned that once you really get to know people you find that there is a common thread that runs through all of us.
CB: I interview people and have found that the big
bands like yourself are the most down to earth and normal. Many of the
newer bands that are just starting out seem so arrogant at times and it
bothers me and I always think that won’t work and they are not going to
make it like that.
Eric: You are right and that is a great observation. That is what I find as well. Usually people who are doing it at a bigger level, they don’t act like that. I don’t know if it is a confidence or mindset but they don’t need to do that. I live in LA and there a lot of people who are posers. They go to clubs and dress the part and think they are important. They go out every night and dress up and locals think they are in the band, but they are big fish in a small pond and they are not the real players. You are right, the people that have more fame act normal and don’t need to pretend to be anything and they are usually more cool.
CB: What can we expect from the show on Friday?
Eric: “The Hottest Show on Earth” is great. The one thing I always admire about our band is that we are always trying to improve and make it bigger and better. We are always trying to make a bigger visual spectacle. That is what we are known for and putting on a big show. I always say it is like Rock-n-Roll meets the circus. It is about being entertainers and being entertained. Anyone who saw the tour last year, we have changed the songs around and changed some of the visual things in the show. It is probably the biggest show that we have ever done with visual and screens and pyro. It is a big undertaking to take this tour around the country. There are 15 or 17 trucks that move this stuff around. A few of them have our faces on the side with the new Dr. Pepper adds, so you may see 5 or 6 of them rolling down the road in Ohio this week so you will know it is KISS on tour. I am not saying this because I am biased and in the band, but everyone must see a KISS show in their life.
Eric: We are playing Riverbend on Friday right?
Eric: I remember Riverbend. We have played there before and I actually went to a concert there before. I was on a tour in 1987 with Gary Moore and we saw Huey Lewis in the News there. They were huge at the time.
CB: I actually saw them this past weekend at HullabaLOU in Louisville.
Eric: Really, one of my good friends is their guitar player, how were they?
CB: They were amazing actually and sounded the
same. It was surreal to see bands ranging from Bon Jovi to Al Green all
in one place.
Eric: Did you see Al Green?
CB: Yes I did and he was FANTASTIC! He made me smile!
Eric: I went to see him a few years ago with Gene after we played a show in a casino on a night off. Al Green sings amazing. Gene is a huge 50’s doo wop fan and so we went to the show.
CB: He was spot on and blew my mind.
Eric: Did all the ladies come up and give him flowers?
CB: No he had bundles of roses he was passing out.
Eric: A lot of the older women still love him. He is old school and a real swooner, but he sings his ass off.
CB: I have had a phenomenal week of music and I am hoping to top it off with KISS on Friday.
Eric: You are right it is like a Cherry on Top after all that great music this week. It is great music on top of a great show. You must go see it and be converted and see it in the flesh. You will be converted to Kisstianity. There is no band like KISS and it is a dream come true to be in the band since I was a huge fan from the beginning. I was a fan from day 1 and saw them in Cleveland in 1974 when they opened up for the New York Dolls.
CB: It is like a religion.
Eric: The kind of drummer that I always want to be was to be a visual and show type drummer and I can do it all in KISS. I couldn’t be in a more perfect band.
CB: I hope to get religion on Friday.
Eric: You have to.
CB: Before we wrap up, tell me about the Wounded Warrior Care project that you are supporting.
Eric: It is the Wounded Warrior CARE project. We have gone to visit the soldiers in their facility. A dollar from every ticket sold goes to this project. Those people have gone and sacrificed their life. Regardless of people’s political views, these people go and do this on a volunteer basis to protect our rights. They have given their life so we have to make sure that there are people when they get home to help them get their life back and that is what this project is all about. You may disapprove of war, but you need to respect these people regardless of your views. You are able to say whatever you want in this country because these people go out and fight for your rights. We want to help them be able to get their lives back.
Eric: I also need to say KISS is a great family value this summer. Kids under 14 get in free on the lawn with the purchase of an adult lawn ticket. Up to four children per valid adult (21 and over) lawn ticket. Valid for Live Nation amphitheatres with lawns only. These also must be purchased on the day of the show and are subject to availability.
We know that times are tough for some people economically and we know there is no better way to get their mind off their troubles than to go and see a band like KISS. It is our way of trying to give something back to those who have supported us over the years. Everyone needs to see KISS at some point in their life.
CB: You may as well start early as a kid right?
No, by "Local MTV," we don't mean some new reality show featuring pregnant 16-year-olds entering rehab for their crack addiction, hoarding and narrow interior design skills. That "M" once stood for music (or so we're told) and today we are offering you a look at a couple of local musical acts that recently produced music videos — Dance Rock band Walk the Moon and Hip Hop's Trademark Aaron. Like audio recordings, it's become easier to make quality films (and music videos) with little money, as these clips show.
What are your favorite memories from the Southgate House?
On Monday night/Tuesday morning this week, as news that the popular Newport music venue would cease to exist (in its current state, at least) leaked out, I watched a steady stream of comments on Facebook respond to the news with a mix of stunned disbelief and sad nostalgia, as fans of the club shared some of their best stories and memories.
Many people were quite emotional, and I wondered why I wasn't having similar feelings. Since the late ’80s, I had been a frequent visitor to the club, and, over the entire span of my 20 years writing about music in Greater Cincinnati, I have consistently covered events at the venue. I was not totally unmoved by the sudden announcement, but I certainly wasn't as shaken as others appeared to be.
Hello. First stop, Blue Wisp, where I got carded. I was so excited to get carded, really. When you start getting older, you're easily amused.
I saw Cincinnati’s Syd Natanists here. Bring on the funk. Swarthy from the Swarthy Band was kicking ass, sitting in on bass, and the amazing Marvin Hawkins was hitting skins. Elliott Ruther rocked on guitar and vocals, and we had keys — someone tell me who was on keys — sorry brother, you were awesome. I got distracted by CityBeat Big Dog John Fox, who was standing tall next to me, looming over my shoulder and watching my every move. Actually, he was drinking a beer and grooving out, smiling. Yo, this band was tight. Play on players, you got my vote.
Lately, we’ve been ridin’ this down-home Folk/Americana/Indie wave in the Queen City music scene. Jake Speed. Wonky Tonk. Frontier Folk Nebraska. Wussy. Fairmount Girls. Gul'durnit, we love ‘em!
Maybe it’s our hospitable river-town tendency to have a big, open heart for such middle American tunesmithery. Maybe it started with our love for the Ass Ponys and their AltCountry ways back in the ‘90s. Who knows?
Nothin’ wrong with any of this, mind you. But I’d like to take a moment on this here blog to clue you into a small contingent of freaky, confrontational local bands from the past that were the furthest thing imaginable from such comparatively downright friendly musical acts.
The city of Cincinnati memorialized a fallen local musician Friday by unveiling Michael Bany Way in Over-the-Rhine. Formerly called Jail Alley, it runs off of Main Street, where Bany was killed in 1995 following a performance.
Bany's brother Mark has worked tirelessly to recognize his brother's accomplishments and to help the local music community via the Michael W. Bany Music Scholarship Fund. At Friday's event Mark presented this year's scholarship to Jalessa Andrews, who will attend Bethune-Cookman College to pursue a degree in music education.
Voting for Greater Cincinnati's annual celebration of our amazing local music scene, the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards, is now open. Vote for your faves or, even better, do some research online, check out all of the nominees and THEN pick who you think is most deserving.
Click here to get started on your ballot.
The 16th annual CEA ceremony will be held at Covington’s Madison Theater on Jan. 27, featuring more live performances than ever and first-time host Ted Clark, known for his monthly “live chat show” Ted Clark After Dark. Ted will present a special edition of Ted Clark After Dark at the after-party, this year held at The Loft, just around the corner from the Madison and above Tickets (the former home to the Rock club Radio Down). The after-party will also include the annual “Fashion Trashies,” presented by members of local Indie Pop legends The Fairmount Girls and honoring the best/worst/weirdest-dressed CEA attendees.
Tickets to the Jan. 27 ceremony/party will go on sale this coming Wednesday through CincyTicket.com. Proceeds from ticket sales are being donated the Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation.
Another new aspect of this year’s CEAs involves the “New Artist of the Year” nominees. The acts nominated in that category will perform at the first-ever CEA new music showcase at Bogart’s on Jan. 18 (confirmations pending). Audience votes at the event will help determine the winner of the category, along with votes from the nominating committee (who also choose the Album and Artist of the Year winners).
Tickets for the new music showcase will go sale soon through Ticketmaster.
Now, a few words on "the process." Since the nominees were announced on Wednesday, I've received several queries asking "How do I get nominated for a CEA?" from various artists and/or their representatives.
It's the same answer found in the old joke, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?"
Practice. And also work hard and keep spreading the word about your awesome music.
As has been the case in the entire the 16-year existence of the CEAs (and as has been noted every year in our coverage of the event, including this year), a nominating committee is assembled each year to determine the CEA nominees. These include writers, promoters, club owners, local-music radio hosts and others whose opinion on local music-makers we trust. This year's committee included approximately 40 such people. We try our best to include those whose expertise is either wide-ranging or specific to a particular genre represented in the CEA categories. (Judges do not have votes counted if they're cast for an artist with whom the judge directly works.)
This year, invitations to participate in the nominating process were sent out to nearly 70 people, so obviously certain experts declined to participate, missed the deadline for nominees or just ignored our request.
The committee is asked to nominate up to three artists per category who caught their eyes and ears this past year. The only guidelines are that the artists should have been active in the past 365 days, the nominees should be largely original (though certainly talented, straight-up "cover bands" are generally not eligible) and the judges are also instructed to give special consideration to any act that has released new recorded material in that same time-frame.
The CEA nominating judges are listed in the CEA "program" annually. I will not release their names here because I've personally received many rude or stupid emails telling me what an idiot I am for not nominating "fill in the blank." The nominating committee was kind enough to participate; I don't want to open any of them up to such haranguing and harassment.
Finally, I'd just like to say that every year there are TONS of really great acts that deserve a nomination but don't get one. It's not personal. It's not "political." It's not "who you know." It's simply a matter of time and space. If every artist who deserved a nomination got one, the CEA show itself would run 16 hours — and that's just to read the nominations for each category.
I agree to some extent that award shows like these are a little frivolous and that the process for nominations isn't perfect. It never is, for any awards show. We have thought about letting the public nominate the artists (a la the long-gone "CAMMY" awards presented by The Enquirer), but ultimately feel that the way the CEA process is set up works best. Because, ultimately, whoever wins their category is going to deserve it.
Though we take the process seriously, we've always thought of the CEAs as more of a celebration than a contest. I invite you to think of it the same way and join us for the show, whether you were nominated or not. The CEAs are for the ENTIRE Greater Cincinnati music scene. The awards are just a good excuse to get everyone together. Instead of being a sore sport about your lack of attention, come out and congratulate and party with your fellow nominees.