If you are a fan of great Pop songwriting, particularly of songs with a healthy British Invasion influence, then I have an assignment for you. Head to your local independent record store — or any record shop with a decent cutout bin — and search the stacks for anything bearing the name Richard X. Heyman.
Heyman, a singer and multi-instrumentalist, is one of those artists who, despite years of fine recordings and rave reviews, has largely escaped the attention of the record buying public. Unfortunately that means much of Heyman's supremely tuneful recorded output is supremely out—of-print. On CD, both Living Room (Cypress/A&M 1990) and Hey Man (Sire/Warner Bros. 1991) are casualties of public and record company neglect.
Fortunately, you don't have to be a treasure hunter to find Heyman's latest couple of releases. The full-length CD Cornerstone (Stereo Review's Best Recording of the Month in Feb. 1998) is still available, as is Heyman, Hoosier & Herman, a new CD collection of seven tracks recorded during the Cornerstone sessions. Both CDs are currently available at www.richardxheyman.com.
Although Heyman, Hoosier & Herman, is a collection of leftover tracks, you should in no way take that to mean that they aren't up to snuff. In fact, you might find yourself wondering how Heyman could have left several of these songs off the full-length CD.
But it's just as well. Heyman, Hoosier, Herman is a fine release on its own merits, independent of the previous CD. Particularly notable is the lead-off track, "Hoosier," on which Heyman enlists the help of Peter Noone of Herman's Hermits fame for the lead vocal. It's a great song, and it's nice to hear Noone getting a chance to sing some good contemporary material.
CityBeat recently caught up with Richard X. Heyman to discuss his new CD. Heyman currently lives in New York City, where he regularly gigs and around town and donates his time as a "cat trapper," rescuing homeless felines.
CityBeat: How did the recording with Peter Noone come about?
Richard X. Heyman: I met Peter Noone when we were both on Cypress Records in 1990. A very nice chap, by the way. He was interested in checking out some of my songs and I was certainly eager for him to be interested. He particularly liked a song called "In The Scheme of Things," which was only in demo form at the time. I told him that's the one song I didn't want anyone to record because I was hoping that would be my big hit single on my next album. Of course now I'm kicking myself because, in retrospect — it would have been great to have Peter record anything he liked of my material.
The other song he wanted to try was "Hoosier," which was a track from my first record, a six-song EP called Actual Size. A few months after our meeting in L.A., we were recording the song here in New York.
CityBeat: It's hard to listen to "Why Can't She See Me" without thinking of Dave Davies' guitar playing on those early Kinks records. I'm sure, at least to some degree, those sorts of influences are just second nature, but do you ever find inspiration in records — old or new — for your material?
Richard X. Heyman: It's been said that nothing is created in a vacuum. Sometimes it's a fine line between being influenced and being derivative, though someone else said that the difference between a mediocre artist and a great artist is the mediocre artist borrows and the great artist steals. In the case of a song like "Why Can't She See Me," there's an obvious desire to capture, to emulate, to — whatever the hell word means somewhere between borrow and steal — the choppy, crunchy chord bashing of "Louie Louie," "You Really Got Me," "I Can't Explain," etc. That said, if something I've written sounds suspiciously familiar, I do all I can to make sure I haven't ripped off an old song that's been planted in the deep memory cells of my brain. I'll play the tune to Nancy (Nancy Heyman, Richard's wife and bassist) to see if anyone recognizes it. If I have accidentally lifted someone else's work, I either reject it in its entirety or reconfigure the notes into something original.
CityBeat: "World of Indifference" sounds quite a bit different from the rest of the record in terms of style and production? It has kind of a "live-in-the-arena" sound. What was your approach to that particular tune?
Richard X. Heyman: "World of Indifference," first of all, is atypical of most of my stuff. There's no harmony and just the same basic chord pattern over and over, plus words that aren't about being dumped. The song was recorded in a large loft on 52nd Street and 10th Avenue. I set the drums up in the middle of a very large room and the engineer put a couple of PZM mics on the walls on either side of the set. You really can hear the size of the room on that track. I guess you're right, it could be my imaginary Arena Rock anthem. I can almost see the cigarette lighters swaying from side to side now.
CityBeat: I've found that generally songwriters are not all that crazy about discussing their lyrics, but I was curious about "Until the King Comes Down." Presumably you're not talking about Elvis, rather it seems that the song is about some sort of tyranny? It's a great song, by the way.
Richard X. Heyman: I know a guy who is considered a good lyricist. The only trouble is his lyrics don't make any logical sense. They're abstract, meaning they don't follow the normal thought process. Instead of going from A to B to C, they jump from A to R to T, which is all well and fine, if you the listener want to contribute and fill in the gaps. Me, I have enough trouble finishing up my own lyrics. But thank you, I'm glad you like it. I could B.S. you about the deep meaning of the lyrics to "Until The King Comes Down," but truthfully, I don't have a clue what they mean. I told my wife, Nancy, while I was writing them that these weird esoteric sounding words were forming on the paper. I said I'll have to work on them later to construct a coherent thought. She read them and said she understood them perfectly. She then explained what they meant, but I can't remember what it was. Something about agnosticism I think. Or maybe it was Elvis.
CityBeat: What's up with plans for the Basic Glee album?
Richard X. Heyman: I bought a bunch of recording equipment and recorded my next album which has been done for over a year. The only problem is I didn't buy enough stuff to mix the record and now I'm out of money from all the expenses of the home studio. People come over and I give them a personalized boutique mix from the multi-tracks. That's the best I can do for now. As you apparently know, I have a title, Basic Glee, and about 30 tunes.
In the meantime, I released this mini-album Heyman, Hoosier & Herman consisting of finished outtakes from Cornerstone because they were mixed and ready to go, and also as way to raise money for the Basic Glee mixes. I still have a ton of Cornerstone leftovers if I can't raise the money to mix Basic Glee next year.
CityBeat: [Editor's note] CityBeat asked Heyman about his work as a sideman — he has worked with, among others, Link Wray and the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson, all of whom he discusses in an upcoming book of stories titled Boom Harangue. Instead of answering directly, Heyman offered CityBeat the opportunity to excerpt from his book. The following Boom Harangue excerpt tells of Heyman's experience performing with Brian Wilson.
I had the honor of performing with Brian Wilson on two occasions. Andy Paley, who produced my album "Hey Man!", gave me a call and asked if I would be interested in playing and singing with Brian. The gigs were to promote the documentary film "I Just Wasn't Made For These Times". Of course I jumped at the chance.
The first show took place at a club called S.O.B.'s over on the west side of New York City. After a quick rehearsal on stage, we went back to the dressing room. My wife Nancy was with me and we were both thrilled to have the opportunity to sit and chat with the most talented and influential American rock composer of all time. Nancy complimented Brian on specific songs that meant a lot to her.
She'd say, "I really love Please Let Me Wonder", to which Brian responded as only he could: "Yeah, that's a good song." " Girl Don't Tell Me". "Yeah, that's a good song." " I Get Around". "Oh yeah, that's a good song." Brian Wilson, aside from his musical gifts, is a one-of-a-kind personality. I know it's not fair to assume that I know what he's like based on two gigs, but it's all I have. So keep that in mind. For all I know, he might have been putting us on with his childlike innocence, but I don't think so.
The second gig was at a movie theatre in Lincoln Center. For this one we did a rehearsal in Brian's hotel room. The suite was well appointed, with a baby grand piano and a spectacular view of Central Park. Paul Shaffer played the piano, Don Was was on bass. Andy Paley and Billy West were on guitars. The drummer from my band, Kurt Reil, played percussion and I was on drums.
For this rehearsal, there were no amplifiers for the electric guitars and bass. They just plucked and strummed unplugged, barely emitting any sound. The main accompanist was Mr. Shaffer on the piano. Brian sat behind a desk and sang while we all contributed harmonies. While everyone was in a jovial mood, cracking jokes and having a good old time, Brian sat stone faced, showing no emotion one way or another. In the sunlight cascading through the large window, Brian appeared rather pale. He reminded me of a corpse at an open-coffin funeral. Don Was, notable record producer, suggested quite seriously that we perform the show just like we were doing it in the hotel room. Electric guitar and bass with no amplifier, Kurt shaking sleigh bells and me playing on my thighs with a pair of drum sticks. My heart sank as I saw my big chance to play drums with the legendary Brian Wilson sink to making a fool of myself banging my legs black and blue. It took some doing, but we talked him out of that brilliant idea. He said he thought the vibe was so right. Yeah, maybe in a hotel room, but not on a stage in front of a couple thousand people.
As we were wrapping up the rehearsal, Brian went up to Kurt and asked if he could borrow five dollars. This seemed a bit odd, but Kurt, not wanting to offend his hero, fumbled through his pockets and gave him what was essentially all the money he had on him. Five bucks. Why was millionaire rock star Brian Wilson bumming a five spot off my drummer? Strange behavior. Kurt didn't even have enough money to get his car out of the parking lot.
Later that day we met at the venue for a final rehearsal. One of the pure joys of my musical life was when, after we ran through "God Only Knows", Brian turned around and said out of the side of his mouth "great drummin', man".
The show was a blast and Brian seemed pleased and upbeat. As we left the stage, he said to Andy Paley, "hey man, that was the best God Only Knows' ever." The impression I got of Brian Wilson is he's not your normal guy. I've never seen anyone act the way he does. He's definitely a 60's person, still using expressions like "far out". As far as I'm concerned, and I believe I speak for most of my generation, Brian Wilson can act and be however he likes. We are all
immensely grateful for the beautiful music he created.
Kurt never did get that five dollars back, but we just chalked it up to the eccentric genius that goes along with being Brian Wilson. — Richard X. Heyman