Director Nick Mead was a friend of Clarence Clemons, perhaps the most well known Sax player in the history of Rock n Roll. The two of them enjoyed their jobs because in the end – the work was not really work.
A trip to China following a Springsteen tour proved to be an eye opening experience for two men whose fate was sealed by a mutual love for one another and art.
Please listen below to my chat with Nick Mead about the film and his friend Clarence.
Clarence Clemons aka The Big Man, was partial to the above words when saying goodbye to a friend. In the documentary – ‘Who Do You Think I Am?’; those words leave the viewer seeking the good wine.
Everyone knows Clemons’music. The entire world (or most of it) have intentionally or unintentionally listened to one of his Sax solos or soulful parts within his or Springsteen’s E Street Band’s songs. Clemons touched the world from within but more importantly – the world touched him from without.
Director Nick Mead ( also a personal friend of Clemons) takes the viewers on a trip. Literally and figuratively.
The film explores where Clemons came from, the places he arrived and the inner voice of Clarence that propelled him forward through his musical and spiritual life. An inner voice that spoke volumes to every person he met on his magical journey.
Mead introduces the viewer to many of the characters that shaped Clemons and in turn – sculpted The Big Man. Bill Clinton, Nils Lofgren, Joe Walsh and Clemons’ nephew Jake Clemons (to name but few), take turns relaying guesses on what made Clarence tick. None quite understanding the entire man but each – knowing the impact Clemons had on his immediate world, the larger globe and on Bruce Springsteen himself.
The Boss and The Big Man were brothers from another Mother. By all accounts in the film, Bruce and Clarence gave each other what the other did not have yet shared a common ground; the same soul. From the time they met, the time they parted ( Springsteen ended The E Street Band for a time) and the time they reunited – emotions replaced the microphone and the instrument. An unmistakable bond took place between them and bonded the world around them. The Clemons – Springsteen relationship also diminished racial tensions as this was one of the first times an African American and Caucasian displayed a mutual love for the world to see.
Clemons himself reflects throughout the documentary on music but mostly life.
The film follows Clarence shortly after the mammoth Springsteen tour ended in 2003 as he ventures to China. An awakening took place with The Big Man as nobody knew who he was. A huge global star and something Clemons got used to -suddenly he was a man of different color walking the streets of China like a bull in a china shop.
Who Do I Think I Am?
Director Nick Mead and Clemons then let us in on a moment that few realize and even fewer discover. The questions, the thoughts behind what is a man’s place in a universe when his sentence is but one in a book filled with billions of pages.
The answer to the age old question asked by a man who by nature loved – and gave his soul to mankind? ‘Order the good wine …’
Take Springsteen, add a sprinkle of Cat Stevens and what do you get?
Good music. Music from the heart. Music from the soul.
That is what the band The Rising Few bring to the mix. Add a producer who has worked with Keith Richards, David Grohl and David Bowie ( to name a few), this group of guys led by Cairo- born Karim – are heading in one direction. Up …!
Please listen as Karim talks about many things including a beautiful girl who inspired his song and ended up appearing in the video.
Mitch Ryder will be collaborating with a young Seattle band in the coming months. Depending on the band’s ability, his songs may or may not work. Ryder prefers to work with his own band so he can just give them what he has written and they can play it.
“Once I meet the guys and learn their sensibilities, their musical abilities and so on …” Explains Mitch. “Then I can see what we will do. If – according to their individual talents, they cannot do what I have written, then we will start from scratch. Collaborations are difficult …”
A recent collaboration which took place, was Mitch working with the legendary Don Was as his producer on his recent album – ‘The promise’. Was has worked with everyone from Bob Dylan to The Rolling Stones and while the pair of icons were working together, Was said something to Ryder which kinda floored the legendary singer …
” All the stuff I did with Don Was was my own material. All except one song which I covered by one of my heroes, it was a live version of a Jimmy Ruffin song.. Don told me that there are two people he would never question in his studio. One was myself and the other was Bob Dylan. That was something I did not understand at all. There is no way I would put my name in the same paragraph as Dylan.”
Speaking of Dylan …
Mitch ran into Rodriguez – the South African wonder who gained a ‘Dylan-esque‘ mystique in the early seventies and disappeared from the music scene following a brief outburst of songwriting brilliance. Ryder ran into him when he was running for city council in Detroit.
“This was decades ago …” says Mitch. ” He had already given up the music part and he almost made it but he didn’t. He got the job he wanted as was related in his unauthorized biography. I think it is marvelous he got to cash in on his early years but these things have shelf lives. After a while it will go out of the public consciences. ”
The ‘throwaway society in which we dwell cause concern for Mitch as far as how quick people get hits these days and how fast they disappear. ‘Timeless songs such as ‘Satisfaction’, ‘Hey Jude‘ and ‘Devil with a Blue Dress On‘ – not quite the same as the hits of today.
“It’s possible to have a bonafide hit in one day.” Says Mitch.” I can’t see my Grandchildren singing along to lyrics when they are my age – songs about the evil things you do in bed to someone or using filthy language to describe your Mother. I do not see these as lasting songs. They are hateful, harmful stuff that may have been the truth about someone’s life and it’s cool they got it out of their system – I just don’t see it as a building stone for society.”
The music business can be a building stone for society but at the same time – quite destructive. Ryder has seen everything in his five decades. Drug use and the very bad side of the music business.
“It is a fun industry to be part of as far as the performance aspect of it but on the business side it is cutthroat and nasty. People have committed suicide over rejection. It is a weird business. People will give up their self-pride, their self-worth over it. Especially in America. They will bend over backwards for their fifteen minutes …”
Mitch Ryder has had more than fifteen minutes of fame in his career. None more pleasing or ‘bordering on embarrassing than when he was Bruce Springsteen’s guest on stage.
“We were having a great time and I got carried away.” Laughs Mitch.” I went in front of Max’s ( Weinberg ) drum kit and I gave the signal for him to bring it down. Slow the beat. Max looked at me like I was crazy! I could tell he was thinking … this is Bruce’s show …What are you doing ?”
“Bruce has said on numerous occasions that I was one of his major influences.” Says Mitch from his home in Detroit. ” I think he was ‘born to run’ regardless of my influence, but it is nice to have such a great performer to acknowledge me like that.”
Mitch Ryder, author of the groundbreaking and in essence, career defining song; ‘Devil with the Blue Dress On‘ – is far from being a forgotten golden oldie touring act. Ryder released his thirty-third record in 2012. An album titled “Its Killing Me”. Unfortunately – like most of his post – 1970’s material, that album is huge in Europe and practically ‘out of sound’ in North America.
‘Apparently in America, they only want the things they are familiar with.” Says Mitch.” It’s not so bad in Canada, it is existent yet not as bad. By not securing a recording deal in America, it deprives people from hearing new stuff. It is not the general population’s fault. The audience is totally blameless but my progression continued. There are something like twenty-two CD‘s that America has never heard of. It is a catch 22 …”
Mitch Ryder only has three gold records on his wall. A fact which serves injustice to his songwriting ability. An ability which was egged on by Ryder’s favorite songwriter – Bob Dylan. A lyricist, poet and musician who Ryder to this day – remains in awe of . Ryder is writing a screenplay for his own musical and is implementing ‘a trick’ which Dylan used in his songwriting.
“Most people that go see plays are more intelligent compared to the majority of the population. There are so many nuances in putting on a play. You see something in a play and then you realize that is not what you have seen at all. That’s what Dylan did in his songwriting. Bob Dylan had so much ambiguity in his lyrics, it appealed to all the masses. It meant something to one part of the population and something quite different to a different segment of the population. It held meaning to all of those groups. That was his genius.”
Ryder’s musical is a current ‘obsession’ which is based on a book he just finished. ” Hide Your Love Away‘ is a title borrowed from The Beatles’ lyrics. It was perfect in Ryder’s eyes for the characters he is creating within his original idea and Ryder believes the time is right. He does not see the point of the current trend which takes someone or a group who have had a lot of hit records and create a flimsy story line around it.
” If I wanted to see that kind of stuff, I could go to see a cover band, read an artist’s biography and obtain the same experience I would get by throwing away my money at a theater. I am looking for something more compelling. Something to keep the audiences in the theater so they walk away humming the melodies if they cannot remember the lyrics.. I’m not sure if I can do this but it is the kind of thing that I will not find out until I find out.”
Ryder has also recently penned his autobiography entitled, “Devils And Blue Dresses”. A book which is continuing to climb upwards having already won a Gold Medal from the IPPY Awards as well as taking 1st place in their Performing Arts category. It also took 1st place from The Indie Excellence Awards in their Autobiography category, and was a finalist in the Performing Arts category of ForeWord Reviews annual BOTYA.
” The book contains my life. ” Explains Mitch. “Musically and personally. ‘They’ tell me it’s a great book. It’s about my wives and children – people I have met along the way and not just people in the music industry. It is about things that happen in your life, rights of passage, strange events, epiphanies, revelations, abuse, self-destruction, redemption – the whole deal. ”
Ryder’s voyage contains meeting and playing with many legends in the music business. Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett to name a couple. The latter – quite the handful on the road according to Mitch. A real character.
It is impossible for Mitch to cite any major influences, the thought alone to come up with such a vast list – too taxing and unworthy to those he may leave off his list of influential artists. When he started with The Detroit Wheels, they just wanted to play music and were astounded to be suddenly meeting musicians who they once held as ‘out of reach’ in their minds.
Mitch Ryder is now ‘one of those guys’ …
Please stay tuned for Part Two where Mitch discusses the hypocritical state of American politics,the general decay of the American infrastructure, drug abuse and music …
“Its part of the genetic make-up when you come from America. Baseball is part of the DNA …” Says Scott.
Kempner was the rhythm guitarist for The Dictators, a band formed in New York in 1974. They were part of the pre – Sex Pistol invasion and helped enormously (along with bands like The Ramones), in the Pistol’s rise to fame.
Ironically, Kempner is replacing Tommy Ramone as the opening act for ex – (current?) Sex Pistol Glen Matlock on a tour which will bring the pair to Montreal in March.
“We are both going into this cold, no one wants to put pressure on anything – it will take a life of its own. It will fall together naturally. You throw it all up in the air and you really don’t know what will come out of it and creativity gets released by that process. You have to have faith!”
” I have never met Glen …” Admits Scott. “I knew Sid Vicious through Nancy. She was from my neighborhood so I knew her before she met Sid. I am looking forward to meeting Glen. He is responsible for writing so many great songs. He is one of my idols, I have all his albums and I have high expectations for this tour! Foremost – Glen is a songwriter.”
Songwriting is the demon which has pursued Kempner since he was seventeen. Always considered a great guitarist – Scott believes he finally ‘grew up’ and into his ability to write great tunes about twenty years ago.
” It’s something which needs to be settled deep within. At a particular time in my life, no matter how hard I tried, I could not get it …! Suddenly, in the past years, it is easy for me to write. Thankfully – because it is something that has haunted me my entire life.”
Kempner explains he never felt ‘whole’ as a musician without the writing as part of his résumé.
” I came out of the shadows of songwriting. I now have the ability to not have to wait for someone else to write a song. Suddenly I was doing it better and I felt whole as a person. It was pretty frustrating for a while. I became a songwriter once I was able to express myself. If you are able to look in the mirror without squinting, really open your eyes and look, take it all in and feel good – you are a better person and in my case – a songwriter….”
Kempner’s rock n roll life started because of what he and his friends ( band mates) thought was the end of rock music in the mid – seventies. He was ‘floored’ by The Beatles on Ed Sullivan, overwhelmed after seeing The Who live and arrived complete, vision wise, after hearing Bruce Springsteen in 1975.
“As far as the band was concerned, garage rock was dead. The Stones’ last good record was Exile ( at that time ), Zeppelin not the same and even The Who were on to their thematic phase. The Kinks were the only band left that were still vital …! That was the attitude. We were young kids who did not know any better than the ends of our noses. We thought of ourselves as a rock n roll band which wanted to get as big as possible, doing things within our limits. I guess we were embodying the punk limits, yet that word was not part of the vocabulary at the time. We thought we were putting our stamp on things …”