Many Rock n Roll musicians are classically trained …
Lawrence Gowan of Styx immediately comes to mind which is ironic since StringKatz, a quartet of stringed instruments, just recorded Gowan’s A Criminal Mind on their new CD.
Music imitating music or music imitating music?
StringKatz are on to something. Rock music is historically ripe in beautiful harmonies and chords. Even Andrew Loog Oldham, the Rolling Stones’ first manager stated famously the Stones’ music can easily be put to orchestral arrangements. How many times have you heard The Beatles’ tunes in elevator music mode?
Please listen below to my chat with Helga Dathe and Marie – Claude Martel. They are the two violinists in StringKatz. Hear some great tunes as well !
Gino Vannelli ( Montreal’s wayward son) made a rule when he was younger. ‘Never put out music without a purpose …’
That is the reason why it has been over ten years since music fans heard something new from Vannelli. Wilderness Road is the name of the new record and it is a mark of beauty. It is a different sounding Gino yet it still sounds like Gino …
” Well … I can’t sound different …” Laughs Vannelli. ” I am who I am and my style and voice remain the same.”
Wilderness Road is a Bluesy / Americana – themed album and it is exactly the type of recording Gino wanted to do.
” I did not want to do a Jazz or Classical album or anything I had done before. I wanted to explore the rootsy side of things with the focus on storytelling. I had about forty songs written and the ones on the album are the best stories. All the songs were written in the last five years.”
The disc may be ‘ rootsy’ with elements of Blues and Jazz but Gino’s keen ear for perfection and production are what make Wilderness Road a typical Vannelli recording. That unique talent is what made Herb Alpert ( co- founder of A&M Records) sign Gino in the first place. A signature sound which eventually led to twenty million records sold worldwide.
” It is not so much as audio perfection.” Says Gino. ” It is getting an authentic sound. A real sound which comes from the soul. That is what I try to do in the studio.” He laughs. ” My brother Joe has something to do with it also … “
The album is part reflection. Part of an older man looking back but it is also a collection of personal stories and tales which have affected Vannelli in different ways.
” The Woman Upstairs is about an abused lady who lived above my wife and I when we lived in Ahunstic. I couldn’t come up with a name for the song when it was done so I asked my wife. She said why not ‘ The Woman Upstairs …?”
Another tale is about the story of a five year old boy whose body was discovered headless. The killer was thought to be found but he was killed in an accident before he could stand trial.
The album is truly about the human condition.
” I saw this woman taking care of her husband, pushing him in a wheelchair. He had Parkinson’s disease or had a stroke.” Says Vannelli of the song Yet Something Beautiful. “I thought of all the unsung heroes in this world like this woman. The love and patience she had. We don’t hear enough stories like this”
Wilderness Road contains many ‘wistful’ ballads containing a Blues’ backdrop. A canvas which tends to arrive when Gino writes songs on guitar.
” When I am writing on my acoustic, the tendency is towards Blues and Folk. Rootsy / Americana sounding songs. Black Cars for example, was written that way but we turned it into an eighties’ sound to fit the times. The original ‘Black Cars’ could easily be on Wilderness Road – it would fit right in …”
Gino’s new album (his 20th) was not made because of a recent trend of older musicians making Blues’ records. (The Stones, Myles Goodwyn (April Wine) and Randy Bachman ( Bravebelt, The Guess Who, BTO) all have recently returned to their roots).
” I don’t know why they made these albums …” Admits Gino.
” If I had to guess I think it is because they want to ensure storytelling and their own expertise in storytelling does not fade away. I think in this day and age – the art of telling stories in songs has been lost. Some artists want to remind people before it is lost forever.”
Vannelli is in his fifth decade as a recording artist and he is not interested in ‘ fitting in’ with the trends or sounds of today.
” I just do what I feel is right. I don’t pretend or aspire to being anything different. After all these years people know who I am. I know who I am and that’s okay for me.”
Vannelli lives in Portland, Oregon and spends time jogging in the mountains to stay in shape. Once a year he gives Master Classes and it was during one of those classes he met a girl from Quebec who travelled to work with Gino. A voice which ended up on Wilderness Road …
Everyone from the sixties and seventies owned a K-Tel Record.
Philp Kives, the founder of K-Tel products and records was an innovator. One of those few people who come along every couple of decades.
K-Tel Records was the very first ‘streaming’ service. The original Spotify. Amassing hits and not-so-hits into collections on disc. If not for K-Tel Records and Mr. Kives; many artists or music lovers would not exist today.
Please listen below to my chat with Samantha Kives, the daughter of Philip and the current President of K-Tel Records.
Every artist can add and subtract tones from their work of art. Experimenting and learning tones from around the world and ‘adjusting’ the canvas is an entirely different thing.
On Jeff Gunn’s latest offering ‘Sonic Tales’, exploration is the key. An entry into the sounds of an instrument Jeff has nurtured. Few guitar players have devoted so much time to not only growing themselves as players yet passing that knowledge on to other students.
Please listen below to my chat with Jeff and hear some great tunes from the album Sonic Tales.
History comes in many forms. Molly Johnson herself – is Canadian music history.
Molly is a pioneer. Musical theater, Theater, Disco, Funk, Rock / Pop and Jazz. Molly has not only done it all, she has excelled in all.
In 2019, Johnson has been nominated for a Juno Award in the Best Adult Contemporary Category. She has already won a Juno for Jazz Recording and this recent album places her in the company of some of her favorite artists.
This year is also fertile ground for a website she is starting up. A Black History informational tool which she hopes will be a go to place for teachers in all Canadian institutions.
Please LISTEN below to my chat with Molly. Hear some great tunes and find out why history is so IMPORTANT to all Canadian’s futures.
The Rules Have Changed for Musical Virtuoso Robert Berry
Special to Rick Keene Music Scene by Ron Roxtar
Robert Berry always strives to do his best. It seems he’s been good on his word since the release of 3.2 The Rules Have Changed. It is his best work to date.
This album is a follow – up for the original To The Power of Three album released in 1987 by super-group 3. Berry was bassist and lead vocalist on that album and was joined by two prog rock legends. Carl Palmer and the late Keith Emerson. For Emerson, Lake and Palmer fans, wanting a final taste of the legendary keyboardist Keith Emerson; they will get it through Berry’s brilliant playing on this new 3.2 album.
In his career, Berry has performed with some very talented people. Sammy Hagar, Ambrosia, Greg Kihn and GTR. Robert and I spoke at great length about the new album, the glory years of 3 and the fond memories and insights of his friend and fellow band-mate Keith Emerson.
Roxtar : Let me start off by saying I love 3.2 The Rules have
Changed. It’s a great album. You yourself have said it’s your greatest musical
achievement. Why is that?
Robert : You know it started out to become my dream come true. For 27 years I’ve always wanted to do a follow up album for To the Power of Three with Keith (Emerson) and Carl (Palmer). Keith had been poisoned by the idea of it because of some fans writing him letters saying he shouldn’t do rock songs or have female back up singers. They thought he was ruining his legacy. He was very susceptible to that sort of thing. He thought it wasn’t working out. The thing is we had a top ten record with Talkin’ Bout and Keith was the sound of that song.
Roxtar : It’s a really good song. How did you get this new album
: Yeah well here’s the thing, the record company put out a live record of that
tour we did. I was excited about it. Carl always liked 3 so he was good with
it. Keith was like “Whatever it’s money in the bank.” When Keith sat down at
night and listened to the live album he called me immediately and said “Robert,
we were such a good band. We were on fire.” So I sheepishly said “Why don’t we
do a follow up?” I told him if I got us the right deal I’d call him back. I got
in touch with Frontier Records and the president of the label was happy about
it because he’s wanted a follow up for over 10 years. Now here was a chance for
it to happen so they jumped on it. I called Keith back, he got super excited
and we started working on it. That was the dream for me. I was so happy. If
this was the last thing I’d ever do with my friend I wanted to make sure it was
a great one.
he died, I still had all the materials we had laid out the perimeters for just
sitting there. We had at least five songs written and at least 20% of Keith’s
Roxtar : So is it safe to say that there’s still some of Keith’s
playing on this album? At least 20% of it?
Robert : I have to be honest. A few months after Keith passed away I called Aaron Emerson up and asked him to get in on it. I sent him some of the stuff we had been working on and he found it too hard to play. After all, anything Keith Emerson plays on is too hard for anybody. Aaron told me I’d have to contact the estate that sort of owned Keith’s music and so I did. A few months went by and I didn’t hear back from them. Finally I said “Look I’ve got this material and you won’t know what Keith played on so I’m going to release it.” They then got back to me saying we couldn’t use his keyboard parts because they wanted Keith to be credited as a songwriter. I was like “That’s crazy.” Everyone knows Keith is remembered as this keyboard virtuoso.
In being honest I had to redo it. The playing came through my fingers from the stuff that he played, but then again he chose the parts. He chose the sound.
It got me excited about the material
again. My goal wasn’t to sell millions of copies or have another top ten hit.
My goal was to have another album we could be really proud of. I decided I was
going to finish this because we had it all mapped out and I can play all kinds
of instruments. I also have a state of the art recording studio. It was like
because I can, I do. So I decided to finish it up.
The reason why I feel it was my greatest achievement is because it was so emotionally hard to get past the loss of Keith and now hearing the lyrics more I realize what I was writing at the time. The lyrics sort of shifted after he was gone. I used to have these conversations in the studio by myself and it was like I was channeling Keith. I would ask myself “What would Keith do here?” and try to imagine our conversations much like we had done back in ’87, ’88 or conversations we’d had in these later days. It wasn’t meant as a tribute to Keith but when it was done I was really proud of what it was.
Roxtar : You say you didn’t want to make this a tribute to Keith
but obviously in some ways it is. In some of what you were saying about the
lyrics in particularly with the song Our Bond. You have the line I hold the
love of who you are / the passion of your hands / brought to my ears the
music’s blood / that became our bond / a good man may we honour him. Then
there’s this complicated musical prog piece.
: That was written just a few weeks after he died. We’ve lost so many great
musicians over the last few years and people always talk about their music.
With Keith it was a bit the same but people were really talking about what a
loss it was because he was this great guy. This funny guy. He was the most
famous person I ever knew and he was so accessible. People could walk up to him
on the street he was just so friendly. People felt like they knew him as a
friend like I did. I thought I needed to write something about how everyone
feels about Keith. It was not just about the music but the man himself. I was
touched by that.
I thought I’m gong to write something and at the same time I’m going to throw a little bit of Fanfare in there. A little bit of Talkin’ Bout in there. A little bit of Tarkus? I rearranged it all. Of course at the end you hear that piano piece. I kind of just left the note hanging there. So that was a tribute to Keith.
Roxtar : This is all incredible stuff you are telling me. Even
more incredible is the fact that you played all the instruments on this album
Robert : Yeah I did. It’s not something I like to dwell on but I did. I have my own studio because I’ve been re-creating music for Paramount and other film companies for years. So in this album I was recreating what I felt was the essence of Keith’s playing.
I have a lot of singer / songwriters I
produce because they don’t have a band. They want a more one on one. I bring to
life their vision. It’s called Soundtek studios. I spent my life building up
this state of the art studio. I have five drum sets, over 130 guitars, every amplifier
you can think of, super expensive microphones and soundboards, the latest pro
tools. I have to have the best of everything because I’m only striving to do my
also like a museum with all the artists I’ve played with like Ambrosia or pictures
of Keith and Carl people have never seen. I’ve got a letter from Ian Anderson
telling me how much he liked what I did on a Jethro Tull tribute.
Roxtar : So what about when you joined Keith and Carl to form 3?
It was really the third incarnation of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. It was more
like EBP. What was that like for you?
: That’s an interesting question. Both Keith and Carl told me something that
has lasted 30 years in my career. They said “We had Greg Lake in the band and
now we want you. We want you to do your best work. Don’t try to be Greg Lake.”
That meant a lot to me. Especially with Keith because he wanted something new. For Carl it was kind of like doing Asia. We were doing some stuff that was progressive. He wanted it to be like the success he had with Asia.
I was the new guy and I was a Greg Lake fan so it never bothered me if I got
critiqued for being the new guy. If people were saying they wanted Greg Lake
and ELP back I understood that. The criticism never bothered me personally but
it bothered me that it got to Keith so much.
record company loved it. The new fans loved it and we had such a camaraderie
onstage. They treated me like an equal. There were no ego clashes. We had fun
and hung out together all the time. They made that happen because they made me
feel comfortable. The thing was we were trying to forge forward with this music
and into the 90’s. Then all the grunge music with Nirvana, Pearl Jam and all
that came along and changed everything.
Roxtar : How did the fans treat you as the ‘new guy’?
: I have to tell you at the time there wasn’t that much feedback back, but now
29 years later it’s fantastic about how good I was (laughing).
thing is because we had a top ten hit we were getting younger fans. Of course
there was the typical older intellectual ELP fans but I remember in New York
seeing lots of younger fans in their 20’s. So those younger fans were fine with
Roxtar : I think another reason why it was easier for you was that
it was a whole new band with the name change of 3. Even though you were joining
established musicians it wasn’t like joining an established band.
: Yeah exactly. Another thing to keep in mind was we had all new material that
we’d written. So everything was new. People talk about it as a failed project
but it wasn’t. It was really successful.
another reason why the 3.2 album has been so well received. It’s a continuity
to what we did before and with Keith’s contributions. This time we knew exactly
what we wanted to do.
Roxtar : You’ve played with so many established musicians in your
career.What’s the connection with Sammy Hagar?
: In 1985 when Sammy left his solo band to join Van Halen he was signed to
Geffen Records. That label was grooming me to be a Bryan Adams, Sting like
artist. John Kaladoner the famous A&R guy, he had an idea for me. He
thought he would give my stuff to Sammy’s solo band and they could hook up with
me or he was going to give some of my stuff to Carl Palmer. He did both. Carl
called me first and really liked my songs so we started to get a band together.
Then David Lauser of Sammy’s band called me second so it was too late.
later after 3 broke up David called me back and was still interested in working
with me. We met up at Sammy Hagar’s house and Gary Phil flew in from Boston
since he’d joined the band Boston. Alan Fitzgerald wasn’t in Night Ranger at
this time. He had actually been touring with Van Halen playing keyboards and
background vocals behind the curtain. So we all got together at Sammy’s and it
was magic. We became a band called Alliance. It’s funny you ask me about this
because we have a new album coming out.
the time that Sammy was splitting up with Van Halen in the 90’s he called me up
and said “Hey I’ve heard the stuff you’ve done with David would you like to
come and play bass with us in a trio called Los Tres Gusanos (The Three Worms).
That was great because we played The NAMM show, Cabo Wabo and places like that.
the thing if you go to see his current band The Circle and there’s a keyboard
part in some of their songs, well that’s me. I played the keyboard parts for
Sammy’s band The Circle which is pretty much the Van Halen songs they do. I did
about five songs for them but I think they only do about three of them. I play
with Sammy every night, you just don’t see me (laughing).
Roxtar : Wow!So in a way you’re the fifth member of The
: There you go.
Roxtar : I also wanted to tell you how much I like the video for
: Thank you. Yeah, that was done by a friend of mine who did a fantastic job.
That video has a deeper meaning that people might think. The song itself has a
deep meaning. It’s a song written about Aaron Emerson. When Keith was in ELP he
was on the road so much he was never really at home. Someone like Aaron would
see how his dad had this positive power over the crowd. For me, Powerful Man
was about these kids who have rock star dads.
Roxtar : How come Carl Palmer wasn’t involved in this new album?
: You know initially Keith didn’t want to have him involved because we were
going in a different direction. We were going to use Simon Phillips because he
worked with me on an ELP tribute album. We did Carn Evil 9 that I rearranged to
be a bit tougher. The thing is Carl is just so busy. He’s always touring and
this guy’s got so many new ideas. It was Carl who got me into 3.
time around he gave me his blessing and said I could even call it 3, but he
didn’t want to be a part of it because he’s just too busy. I would have loved
to have had him. I’m proud of him because he’s playing better than ever.
Roxtar : What’s your best memory of Keith Emerson?
Robert : You know I have to say I really remember the first time Carl and I drove up to rehearse with Keith. We drove up to his big mansion in Essex. There’s this big gate and Carl’s “Asking where is he?” All of a sudden we hear this voice saying “Hey guys I’m up here!” We look up to the second story windows and in one of the windows was Keith with his butt sticking out. He’s talking with his butt cheeks like “Hey how you guys doing?” It was so funny. Here’s one of the best keyboardists in the world and he’s talking to me with his butt cheeks out.
Roxtar : Okay Robert your stranded on a desert island. What are
your top three desert island discs?
Robert : Oh man that’s a hard one. I’m
so into many different styles of music. I grew up listening to a lot of big
band stuff and I’m really into Mexican mariachi music as well. I do remember
being in college and in my car I had two albums that I listened to over and
over again. One was Stevie Wonder Songs in the Key of Life and the other was
Blow by Blow by Jeff Beck. That guy just blows my mind. As far as a third one
is concerned I’d probably have to bring a Yes album with me. I mean Chris
Squire is just all over the place. I think what Squire, Rick Wakeman and Steve
Howe did was just phenomenal.
Roxtar : You spend a good amount of time on the road with Greg
Kihn. How did that come about?
: I was in Ambrosia for a while and that was fine. I was trying to get them to
do a new studio album and they just weren’t interested. They weren’t even
playing as much as I thought they’d be. They’re a great band and I love those
guys but I want to put out new music so I quit the band.
Right after that I get a phone call at
eight in the morning from Greg Kihn. He says “Hey Robert I guess you might have
heard Steve (Greg’s bass player) had a stroke so I want you to be in my band.”
So I sat up in bed taking it all in. Right after leaving Ambrosia and wondering
what I was going to do next here’s Greg Kihn offering me a gig. Little by
little we began writing together and after about six years I got Greg to do a
new album called Rekihndled. I’m really proud of that album.
Roxtar : So if you’re not playing with Greg I guess you’re focused
on this new tour for the 3.2 album.
: Yes exactly. I’ve got some really great players in my band for this 3.2 tour.
They have to be because of all the material we’re playing. We’re doing some GTR
songs because I worked with them for a bit. We’re doing some of the songs from
the original 3 album. We’re doing an Ambrosia tune and of course my version of
Carn Evil 9. We even do a tough version of Roundabout from Yes. Then we do
songs from the new 3.2 album. It’s a really hard set so the guys have to be
I’ve got Andrew Coyler on keyboards and he’s playing all of Keith’s keyboard parts so you know he has to be good. I’ve got my long time guitar player Paul Weller who got along great with Keith. On drums I have Jimmy Keegan. Jimmy was the drummer in Spock’s Beard for many years. He’s not just a great drummer but a great singer too. So yeah we’re out there playing some great stuff with great musicians.