Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Interview with Chris Difford and Aimee Mann: 1994

This is the second time I was allowed to interview Chris Difford. I had seen Squeeze on their previous tour for the release of Some Fantastic Place. That show was in October 1993 at Lisner Auditorium in D.C. The show was full band with Paul Carrack on keyboards and Pete Thomas (from Elvis Costello's band) on drums. It was a fantastic show. 

So I was surprised to see the band was touring the states again in July 1994.

What I didn't know was that this show was an acoustic show with no drummer. Well, I say "no drummer" but in reality Paul Carrack played both keyboard and drums. He had a snare, cymbal and bass drum with which he kept a rudimentary beat while playing keyboards with his other hand. Incredible.

So of course, I had to see the band again. I bought my ticket for July 7 and decided to see if I could interview the band again. Since I was no longer in college, I improvised. The local alternative station WHFS was the only one that ever played Squeeze. I knew they put out a monthly music magazine so I decided to call them up and see if they would accept a freelance article/interview. 

The person I spoke to said they would be willing to consider anything I submitted, so I didn't waste any time calling Squeeze's record company and telling them I was a freelance writer etc. Now I wasn't exactly lying since I had every intention of writing something up and submitting it. In fact, I did just that, but as far as I know they never used it. Ah, the ups and downs of a freelancer. 

Anyway, when the day of the show arrived, I found myself falling victim to a near-paralyzing migraine. The was compounded by the fact that we were in the middle of a terrible heat wave and my little Toyota Tercel chose that day to conk out. I sucked it up, took my migraine medicine and headed out to Hammerjacks.  

Hammerjacks was an odd venue, by the way. No closed, it was usually reserved for heavy metal and other hard rock acts. I didn't know that, but when I got to the show, more than one person commented on it being an odd choice.

After driving through ridiculous (for a midday) traffic to Baltimore, I spent probably another 30 minutes or so trying to find the location. All I had was a paper map and I wasn't really the best at reading those. After asking several puzzled old men if they could direct me to Hammerjacks, I finally remembered it was near the Camden Yards. Asking that question got me where I wanted to go. 

I was excited to do the interview. I was particularly excited to interview/meet Glenn Tilbrook, since I had interviewed Chris already. Unfortunately, the band's manager told me Glenn had fallen ill and was in his hotel room trying to recover before that evening's show. She went on to say that I would be interviewing both Chris Difford and Aimee Mann. While I knew Aimee was the opening act, I had no idea they had collaborated and were in fact doing most of the Squeeze portion of the show with Aimee as band member. In fact, as it turned out, Aimee only did a handful of songs alone, the rest she did with Squeeze as her backing band during their portion of the show. Awesome!

The bad news was outside of the song Voices Carry, I knew absolutely nothing about Aimee, her music or career post 'Til Tuesday. While the idea of offending her or being rude was horrifying to me, I didn't really have much of a choice. 

Aimee Mann circa 1985.
I made it clear that I hadn't realized Aimee was part of the interview since the record company had said nothing about it. I was assured it would be all right and led back stage to wait. It wasn't long before a woman approached me and said I should follow her to the tour bus. 

It was only as we were walking, that I realized it was Aimee Mann herself escorting me out. She looked nothing like I remembered from the music video. She was incredibly tall, which I didn't expect. Her hair was darker than the bleach blonde look she had before and she had it all pulled back. Oh yeah, she also had glasses. To me, she looked like a grad student earning extra money working for a band for the summer. 

Anyway, I managed to compose myself to tell Aimee that no one told me she would be there, but she seemed unconcerned. We got on the bus and walked past the rest of the band, minus Glenn. 

Aimee was cool in that she actually contributed and helped me do the interview. I think she was (almost) as big of a Squeeze fan as me. I wish I had known her solo work at all because I've since heard a lot of it and am definitely a fan, but sadly I didn't. When the interview was over, I asked her if she would be doing Voices Carry in her set. She kind of teased me for asking, saying it wasn't really an acoustic song. But during her set she said, "A guy asked me backstage if I would do this song, so blame him." We were then treated to a verse and a chorus of the only Aimee Mann song I knew. 

When I told my cousin Steve that Aimee played my request, he said, "Yeah, you and every person she saw between the bus and stage asked the same thing." Bastard! Also, when she came out on stage, she had affected an entirely different look. Her hair was teased out and the glasses were gone. Her I would have recognized. 😀

Anyway, that show is in my top five of all time live concerts I've ever seen. The interview that is below. 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Chuck Berry: 1926-2017

I was sad to hear of Chuck Berry's passing today. The first song my dad tried to teach me on the guitar was Chuck's Memphis, Tennessee. Maybe not the easiest choice for someone who didn't play guitar at all yet, but it always stuck with me.

Chuck had his flaws as a person, but don't we all? The fact remains that what we know as rock and roll would never have existed without him. He took the best parts of blues, jazz, jump and country and turned it into something new. He was the catalyst that launched a thousand riffs. RIP Chuck:

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

RIP Brent Johnson

I received word last night that an old friend and bandmate Brent Johnson passed away yesterday. I’m having trouble wrapping my brain around it since he was a relatively young man. I was lucky enough to play in THEATRE OF ICE with Brent on and off for a few years back in the late 80s. Brent was one of the smartest, funniest people I ever met. I always thought of his lyrics as being like Stephen King set to music. He could weave a tale of terror with the best horror writers out there. Here are a some of my favorite memories with him.

He spent the night in my apartment in Provo back when we were doing a show somewhere. Dale was there too for a while, but since he was single he left us and went out on the prowl. We stayed up late into the night talking about music and life. As conversations with Brent often did, the subject turned to the macabre. One of my favorite things to do as a kid was stay up late telling scary stories. I thought I was too old to be scared by ghost stories, but I was so very wrong. Brent knew stories that would make your hair stand on end.

Once when we were being interviewed for a music magazine, the writer was making some not-so-subtle digs at Brent’s Mormon faith. Rather than get angry or defensive, Brent handled it with grace and skill that I always wished I possessed.

One of my favorite shows we did was a Halloween extravaganza. We played at a place called Cinema in Your Face. This was an old style movie theater with a big stage and balcony. I’m not sure if it’s still around, but it was the main place in those days where you could see art films in Salt Lake. We played through the night while they showed monster movies behind us. A video of that existed at one time, but sadly it’s lost now.

The last time I saw Brent in person was when George and I were crashing at his place in Arizona so we could catch Paul McCartney in concert during his 1990 tour. Brent’s answering machine had a Theater of Ice song on it at the time. Brent told us he was going to have to change it because his boss had called there, but thought he got a wrong number because all he heard was “some guy screaming.”

Over the past several years, we’ve talking about reuniting for a show or two. I wish we had been able to pull it off.

Rest in peace Brent. To quote you, “Life is a wild and scary thing, who knows what tomorrow brings?”