Monday, November 28, 2016

The Incomparable Rumer

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

Rumer, is a Pakistani-born British singer–songwriter. Her stage name was inspired by the author Rumer Godden. Rumer's voice has been described by The Guardian and many others as being reminiscent of Karen Carpenter. Supported by leading music industry figures including Burt Bacharach, Jools Holland and Elton John, Rumer was nominated for two Brit awards on 13 January 2011. She has performed at several festivals such as Glastonbury Festival. Her new album, 'This Girl's In Love: a Bacharach and David Songbook' s now available.

Rumer, the seventh of eight children, was born in Tarbela Dam, Pakistan. Rumer's family lived there from 1977–1984 while her British father was contracted as Chief Engineer of Tarbela Dam Project, funded by the World Bank.

Her parents split and her Streatham-born mother moved back to England with Rumer and her siblings. Rumer became fascinated with the work of Judy Garland at a young age, and sought solace from difficulties at home and school by listening to artists such as Aretha Franklin, Joni Mitchell and Tracy Chapman. She was encouraged by her musical family, who all played instruments and played in their local Catholic church. This began her interest in becoming a performer.

Rumer later discovered her biological father was the family’s Pakistani cook, with whom her mother had had an affair when living in Pakistan. While her mother was dying of breast cancer in 2001, she asked Rumer to make the journey to the North West Frontier of Pakistan to search for her real father, with her mother reportedly saying "I want to leave this planet with my house in order". She discovered on arriving he had only recently died in a freak accident.

Rumer briefly attended the drama course at the Dartington College of Arts, in Devon before dropping out, moving to London at 18 and getting a job as a waitress.

Rumer's debut album, ‘Seasons of My Soul’ was released in November 2010, produced by her mentor, British composer Steve Brown. Her debut single, ‘Slow,’ was featured on Smooth FM, and the single "Aretha" on BBC Radio 2's Record of the Week feature, and she is signed to Atlantic Records. She supported Jools Holland on his UK tour in the Autumn of 2010 which included a performance at the Albert Hall in London.

After Burt Bacharach invited Rumer to his California home to hear her sing, Atlantic Records released Rumer Sings Bacharach at Christmas on 13 December 2010. It featured ‘Some Lovers’ from the musical Gift of the Magic by Bacharach and Steven Sater.  A limited edition 7-inch vinyl version was also released with a cover personally designed by Rumer.

Rumer also contributed to a memorial concert to film composer, John Barry, which took place on 20 June 2011 at the Royal Albert Hall in London where the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Dame Shirley Bassey, David Arnold, Wynne Evans, trumpeter Derek Watkins and others performed Barry's music. In January 2012 she started her first American tour in Los Angeles.

Rumer's second album ‘Boys Don't Cry’ was released in May 2012. It contains a selection of songs by male artists and writers from the 70s and 80s period. Covers of songs by artists such as Todd Rundgren, Gilbert O’Sullivan, Neil Young and Terry Reid were chosen to mirror the solace and anguish Rumer experienced since achieving success and fame (BBC Music review).

Rumer released her second album of all original material, and her third total studio album, ‘Into Colour’ on 10 November 2014 in the UK, Ireland and Japan. The record was then released worldwide in early 2015 by Atlantic Records.

In 2015, Rumer released a collection of unreleased tracks and B-sides from her back catalog entitled, ‘B Sides & Rarities.’ The collection features collaborations with the likes of Dionne Warwick, Stephen Bishop and Michael Feinstein.

Rumer's fourth album, released under the East West Records label, features her take on select tracks from the songbook of Burt Bacharach and Hal David. It was released on 25 November 2016. Rumer remarked about how this album "was one she couldn't have made five years ago" and that how she felt that she had the right "emotional palette" to draw on the songs she recorded. It was produced by her husband and producer Rob Shirakbari at Capitol Studios in early 2016.

AM:  Can you give me a little bit of background Rumer?

Rumer:  I come from a family of musical people. All my brothers and sisters play guitar or some instrument. It seemed like a normal thing to compose music as well. My brother Chris wrote poetry. He really inspired me when I was five years old. I used to sit there with a tape recorder and record him and play it back later. (Laughter)

AM:  That is so sweet. Were you singing as a child?

Rumer: Yes, I was obsessed with Judy Garland. I related to her because she had brown hair and brown eyes. The first movie I saw with her was ‘Easter Parade’ where her character doesn’t know her left from her right and she’s kind of clumsy and not the most beautiful girl. I just related to her character.

AM:  So you would sing Judy Garland songs?

Rumer:  Yes, they were the first songs I was learning, so inadvertently I was learning the great American Songbook from Judy Garland films.

AM:  When did you realize you were going to be a singer for your life career?

Rumer:  I think when I realized, I was not going to college. I couldn’t think of anything else I could do. I had an instinct that it would be worth the shot. I guess I was eighteen.

AM:  Did you receive a lot of encouragement?

Rumer:  I don’t really remember being encouraged. I was quite shy and didn’t really show off. I don’t remember people ever telling me, “Wow you have an amazing voice.”

AM:  Really!?! 

Rumer:  I don’t think I was confident. It took me years to build that confidence to perform in public.

AM:  When did you start performing in public?

Rumer:  When I was sixteen or seventeen. I come from a very small tourist town in the south of England. It’s a retirement area, but also a holiday area, much like Florida. They always had a lot of live music in the bars and pubs during the summer. A lot of local bands would play. It used to thrive but not so much now. Back then, any time of day you would go into a Pub, there was a live band.  So, one day I walked in a Pub and they told me I could get on stage and sing a song, so that’s what I did.

AM: How do you go from performing in small Pubs in the South of England to an international recording contract?

Rumer:  It was quite a long journey. I moved to London when I was eighteen. I got a job in a wine bar. I met some people who were musicians and I joined their band and got my first experience in a studio with them. Also, my first experience playing shows with them. Then I had to go back to my hometown because my Mom was sick.  After that I came back to London and started writing songs by myself and playing on the singer/songwriter scene.

AM:  That makes sense. You had a little experience by this time.

Rumer:  I played open mike nights and started meeting and connecting with people. I just started understanding the business and how to get my music heard and get it out there. No one really took any notice of my music until I found a producer who was willing to make an album on his tab. I had to record the whole album with him before I could even get any interest. Once the executives heard the whole ‘Seasons of My Soul’ finished, they got it.

AM: The song that stands out on that album is ‘Aretha.’ Where did that come from?

Rumer:  That song is a mixture of childhood memories. I wanted to write a song about music itself and how important it is. Music can be salvation.

AM:  Music IS salvation!

Rumer:  Music was definitely an escape for me as a kid. My mother had a mental illness. I was depressed as a child so my Aretha Franklin tape or my Patsy Cline tape or whoever it was I was listening to, it was comforting to me. I believe it filled the space that not having a mother created. These singers gave me the female energy I was missing.

AM:  That’s beautiful.

Rumer:  So, I put the whole thing together in a story. My producer at the time, Steve Brown, had never made an album before but he wrote theater music. They call him the British Stephen Sondheim. He’s very clever. He understood it theatrically when I brought it in. He added some good guitar chords. We put the whole thing together.

AM:  What are some of the musical differences in your albums?

Rumer:  ‘Seasons of My Soul’ is a lifetime’s work. It’s a culmination of my entire Twenties. With your first record, you have the privilege of playing them live before anybody knows them or cares who you are. It’s easier to try them out in front of an audience. This album is my deepest work. I’m never going to lose my mother again. That was deep. I’m never going to be as emotionally unstable as I was in my Twenties.

AM:  That is so true. I never thought of it from that perspective.

Rumer:  ‘Into Colour’ is more collaborative. So, I collaborated with various songwriters and I really enjoyed the experience. It’s not as deep because I didn’t have as much time.

AM:  Success came fast and was difficult for you, wasn’t it?

Rumer:  I wasn’t ready or prepared or groomed for success. It came out of the blue and I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know what live TV was or playing in front of five thousand people was like. I was doing everything for the first time. I got a lot of stage fright anxiety. I had to come to America to get away in 2013. I had to re-group and get my creative energy back. That’s when I wrote ‘Into Colour.’

AM:  How did the Bacharach & David tribute album come about?

Rumer: This project was offered to me by a record company in England so I said, “Sure.” We did it and I think we did a really nice job. It was hard at first because it’s quite a big thing to do. There’s a huge catalog of iconic, legendary songs. The project was daunting but we just went back and listened to the music and listened to what Hal David was saying with his lyrics. We listened to Burt and what he was saying. We wanted to put across a sense of what they were trying to convey. 

To learn more about Rumer visit her web site

Monday, November 21, 2016

Singer/Songwriter Reagan James

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

R&B Singer/Songwriter Reagan James, thrust into the national spotlight in 2014 as a Top 10 artist on ‘NBC’s The Voice’ combines soulful melodies with contagious beats in her growing catalog of original music.

Reagan tried out for ‘The Voice’ by singing the Ed Sheeran song "Give Me Love". Two coaches - Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani- turned around for her, both wowed by her vocals and shocked that her strong voice came from someone so young. After hearing what both had to say, Reagan picked Blake Shelton as her coach. She later posted a video of her cover of his song "Neon Light" on YouTube.

Raised in Burleson, Texas, just outside Fort Worth, Reagan was a high school student who had been posting covers of herself singing songs on YouTube and even released an independent album called ‘Remedy,’ in October, 2013 which was produced by her stepfather, music producer Scot Cloud.

Her latest independent studio release ‘Have a Nice Day’ released in January, 2016 reached No. 24 on the iTunes R&B/Soul chart—the first of many steps in Reagans' post-The Voice career. Establishing a new identity all her own, ‘Have a Nice Day’ is yet another striking exhibition of James’ lyrical prowess and melodic genius. A year in the making, the album is the result of hundreds of hours of musical study and an overall broadening of James’ worldview. In her own words, “The lyrics of these songs are simply a letter to everyone who hears them; enjoy, and have a nice day.”

Don’t miss the opportunity to catch a live show with this emerging artist, and see why multi-platinum producer Pharrell Williams gleamed, “The swagger she has is amazing; it’s addictive to watch.”

AM:  Reagan, how long have you been singing?

RJ:  I’ve been singing since I was eight but I’ve only been singing well for about three years.

AM: You were on The Voice two years ago?

RJ:  Yes I was on it in 2014.

AM: Tell me a little about the whole experience. Was it what you thought it would be?

RJ:  No, I didn’t know what to expect. It took up a whole year of my life. I got the call in January and I was on the show until December. It was long and exhausting.

AM:  Were you in Los Angeles the whole time?

RJ:   I went back and forth. I was there a total of eighteen weeks over the course of the year.

AM: Did you find the overall experience to be valuable?

RJ:  Very valuable. I had so many meetings and got to meet so many people. I got a lot of experience under my belt. I do think I as too young to be there but I also think it was good because I wouldn’t want to do it now. I’m happy that I got that out of the way as early as I did.

AM:  How did you get on there in the first place?

RJ:  I would have never gone and pursued the show. They came after me by finding me on the internet. The casting director called my mom and said she wanted to give me a private audition. So, I went to Houston for that.

AM:  OK that makes sense because you don’t seem like an artist who would go on the Voice.

RJ:  No, I wasn’t. I never was, even when I was on it.

AM:  Did you feel a bit like an outsider?

RJ:  Yes, but not in a bad way. I’ve always been kind of an outsider no matter where I go.

AM:  I like seeing you on these local television shows.

RJ:  I do a lot of those.

AM:  I saw one where the host asked you about Kelly Clarkson since you are both from Burleson.

RJ:  I get asked that all the time.

AM:  How have you adapted to having fans?

RJ:  Easily I guess. I don’t see myself as above anybody. They are just people who like my music and it’s an honor for me. I don’t see myself on a pedestal or anything like that.

AM:  Did you expect that the public would enjoy your music?

RJ:  Yes.

AM:  That’s because it’s so good.

RJ:  It is good. I don’t make music that I think isn’t good.

AM:  Reagan I have listened to your album, ‘Have A Nice Day’ over and over again. I have introduced your music to many people who are of every age and they all love it.

RJ:  It appeals to a lot of different types of people. It’s a great album. I’m going in a different direction now.

AM:  What style of music is ‘Have A Nice Day?’

RJ: It’s a pop R&B album.

AM:  What direction do you want your music to take?

RJ: I want to go more aspects of gospel and a more mature sound. There are a lot of pop music in this album. I want to overall vibe of my next project to be a little different.

AM:  I think they should all be different while you find your style.

RJ: Sure, I’m still exploring what style of music I want.

AM:  Are you recording right now?

RJ:  Yes, I have been recording at Wavelight Studios in Fort Worth.

AM:  Are you working with the same team as you did with ‘Have A Nice Day?’

RJ:  Yes I am. I’m working with Jeff Rockwell, who has been my producer for four years and my guitar player, Aaron Anthony who has been with me for about a year and a half. I’ve always made music with him.

AM:  Do you constantly write music?

RJ:  Yes!

AM:  Do you consider yourself more a writer or a singer?

RJ:  That’s tough because at one time I did consider myself a writer more, but at some point, I did consider myself a singer first. I think they are about equal.

AM:  What is your ultimate career goal?

RJ:  My overall goal would be to be the best influence I can be and do for other people what my inspirations have done for me, which is give me hope and the joy that music gives me and a reason to live. That’s what I have gotten from music and I hope I can give that to other people.

AM:  I know Amy Winehouse is a big influence but who are some other artists you have looked up to?

RJ:  Ray Charles is a big influence. I love Sinatra. I listen to a lot of older music. I love Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson.

AM: Do you have any advice for young people that want to follow in your footsteps?

RJ: Don’t be reckless. Have a head on your shoulders. Don’t be pushed around, but also listen to people. Don’t think you know everything. Take the advice you are given.

AM:  You are smart!

RJ:  I try! (laughter)

To learn more about Reagan James visit her web site

Monday, November 7, 2016

It's Easy To Appreciate Stephen Bishop

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

At the age of thirteen, Stephen Bishop found himself at a crossroads. A clarinetist with hopes of becoming a History teacher, he was forever changed after watching the Beatles one night on "The Ed Sullivan Show." His brother Denny bought Stephen an electric guitar and a "Mel Bay" chord book at the store he worked in, and turned his stereo into an amp so Stephen could play music. He began to learn to play guitar and make up chords as well, writing his first song, "Surf’s Turf.." a pathetic sounding instrumental. He formed a band called, "The Weeds" and began to play at local fraternity parties incorporating his own original songs with various songs from top 40.

The Weeds won 2nd place at the Claremont Battle of the Bands, prompting one of the judges to explain that "Stephen Bishop is going to be a big songwriter someday!" Determined to fulfill that prophesy, Stephen made the trip to Los Angeles. He walked the streets with his $12 acoustic guitar, playing songs for various publishers in Hollywood... eventually landing a publishing deal at $50 a week for E.H.Morris Publishing. One of his songs was recorded only to be followed by a long wait...many years went by. At one point, Stephen considered leaving L.A. to return home and work for his Dad’s Insurance company. Through a good friend, Art Garfunkel heard some of his new songs and recorded two of them on his Gold recording, 'Breakaway.'

He started playing around town singing his songs in person for artists like, “Barbra Streisand...Bette Midler...Diana Ross." Shortly thereafter, he was signed to ABC Records who released his first album, "Careless." His two hits from that album were, ‘Save It For a Rainy Day,’ and ‘On and On.’ Eric Clapton, Art Garfunkel and Chaka Khan all contributed their talents to the album. Soon the album went gold, as well as his next album, ‘Bish.’

He sang the hit theme, ‘It Might Be You,’ from the movie, ‘Tootsie,’ as well as writing and/or singing 13 other films including, ‘Animal House,’ and ‘Separate Lives’ from ‘White Nights.’ His songs have been performed by artists such as: Phil Collins, Eric Clapton, Barbra Streisand, Art Garfunkel, Steve Perry, Stephanie Mills, Kenny Loggins, Johnny Mathis, Phoebe Snow, David Crosby, The Four Tops, Aswad and Pavarotti.

In 1989, Stephen released the album ‘Bowling in Paris’ with Phil Collins (co-producer on some songs), Eric Clapton and Sting contributing.

He appeared as the "Charming Guitar Player" in ‘Animal House,’ wherein John Belushi slammed his guitar into smithereens in the Toga Party scene. He appeared as, ‘Blue London,’ in Henry Jaglom's, ‘Someone To Love.’ Stephen Bishop also appeared in ‘The Blues Brothers,’ as a State Trooper. He has performed at the Library of Congress and at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York for an event for the U.N.

Stephen was nominated for two Grammy’s and awarded an Oscar nomination for his song, ‘Separate Lives.’ In Eric Clapton's autobiography he mentions Stephen as one of his favorite songwriters. Stephen’s newest album is titled ‘Blueprint’ and available worldwide.

AM:  Stephen your new album is so good. How did you pick a producer to work with?

SB:  That’s the biggest challenge. I’ve known this guy, Jon Gilutin, for many years. We worked together twenty years ago. He’s a talented guy so I thought let’s give it a go. We ended up working together but I never knew he was as talented as he is. He did a great job on the album. There’s so much to do when making a quality album.

AM:  How did you put together the songs for this album?

SB:  I was laying in my man cave and decided I wanted to put out another album. We started at a relaxed pace only working on it three days a week, but we ended up working hard. So anyway, I have a ton of demos from the old days so we used the demos as a ‘Blueprint’ as where to go with the song, like making it more expansive or keeping it simple. That’s where the name of the album came from.

AM:  I like the title.

SB: I had another title nobody liked. I wanted to call it ‘Work, Home, TV, Bed.’ (Laughter)

AM:  What is one of your favorite songs on the new album?

SB:  I really like ‘Before Night Falls’ which is about mental illness. That is about a friend of mine who was suicidal.

AM:  I like ‘Ultra Love.’

SB: That is a song like the old Stylistics songs.

AM:  ‘She’s Not Mine’ is wonderful.

SB:  That song was written right after my divorce. That’s a heavy song.

AM: You are such a fun person!

SB:  I like to have fun.

AM: Yet in your song writing, you come off as a serious person.

SB: Very serious, yes. Everybody has different dimensions to their personality right?

AM:  (Laughter) Maybe not everybody, but creative people do.

SB:  I remember going to my high school reunion and there was a girl I hadn’t seen in twenty years. She used to flirt with me and give me the hardest time. I was kind of a dweeb in high school. Well she flirted with me at the reunion and we got biblical later. Then she was so disappointed, she said, “You know what? You’re not like your album.” (Laughter) “I thought you were your album.”

AM:  That is crazy.

SB:  It’s weird isn’t it? I’m not a heavy guy who goes around thinking the world is in trouble. The song ‘Blue Window’ lets out my real, true feelings.

AM:  You come across as a very passionate and committed person who is intelligent.

SB:  Thank you, I try.

AM:  You wouldn’t be able to write like you do if you weren’t smart. I love your sarcasm too.

SB:  I use tons of sarcasm. I have two sides to my writing. I have my serious side and my funny, eclectic, weird side. I’ve been putting them on albums for years. On my second album, ‘Bish’ I have a song called ‘What Love Can Do’ where I have all the guys who sound like the guards in ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ I’ve been doing things like that for a long time. I like having funny and weird songs.

AM:  You have a long history of working with some of the biggest superstars in the business.

SB:  That makes me sound so good.

AM:  You are in the best company all the time. How did you end up working with Chaka Khan on your first album ‘Careless?’

SB:  I ran around with her because I was friends with her boyfriend at the time, Richard Holland. He’s still a good buddy of mine. He wound up marrying Chaka, who I just worked with again last year.

AM: Art Garfunkel played an important part in your career too didn’t he?

SB:  He sang a couple of my songs on his ‘Breakaway’ album. He has recorded seven of my songs now.

AM:  Everybody has recorded your songs.

SB:  I have had a lot of covers from big stars but they were never a single. I was lucky with Beyonce because she sampled ‘On & On’ in her song ‘Ring Off.’ That was supposed to be a single but it was all about her parents breaking up and then her mother got remarried so the single was off.

AM: Well the list of names who have recorded your songs is long and full of the biggest stars.

SB:  I am grateful but as they say, “You can’t rest on your laurels.”

AM: Your new album proves that you are not close to that. You like to re-imagine your songs like on your Brazilian album.

SB:  Wow you have that album? You are a real fan. That’s one of my best albums. Nobody ever heard about it. It was for sale in Target. We worked hard and are very proud of it. It’s out there somewhere.

AM:  It’s a really great album.

SB:  Do you know how long I’ve been writing songs?

AM:  A long time.

SB:  I started writing songs when I was thirteen. By the time I was fifteen and a half I’d written 200 songs.

AM:  That’s because you are a real songwriter. Does it bother you that the term is a lot looser now?

SB:  I do hear songs on the radio and I wonder will anyone remember this? I am so fortunate that my songs still get airplay. I listen to everything so I can stay hip to it all.

AM: Not only do people still play your music but they have emotions attached to the songs.

SB:  They do.  When I do shows and meet & greets it can be really heavy. People get emotional and tell me they got married to my song.

AM:  Do you like hearing these stories?

SB:  It’s funny how it works. I remember seeing Donald Fagen in a restaurant and I told him how impressed I was with Steely Dan. I was in awe and he looked at me and went very nonchalantly, “Uh Thanks.” Then I think of myself when people tell me how much my music means to them and I go, ‘Thanks.” Then I feel like I should show more appreciation. It’s hard to appreciate yourself. It takes work to accept appreciation of yourself. 

To learn more about Stephen Bishop visit his web site

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Kinky Friedman: Smoking & Uncensored

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

Who else could have written a country song about the Holocaust (‘Ride 'Em Jewboy’), or about a human being kept in a cage as part of a circus (‘Wild Man from Borneo’)? Outrageous and irreverent but nearly always thought-provoking, Kinky Friedman wrote and performed satirical country songs during the 1970s and has been hailed as the Frank Zappa of country music.

The son of a University of Texas professor who raised his children on the family ranch, Rio Duckworth, he was born Richard F. Friedman. He studied psychology at Texas and founded his first band while there. After graduation, Kinky served three years in the Peace Corps; he was stationed in Borneo, where he was an agricultural extension worker. By 1971 he had founded his second band, Kinky Friedman & the Texas Jewboys. In keeping with the group's satirical songs, each member had a deliberately politically incorrect name: they called themselves Little Jewford, Big Nig, Panama Red, Rainbow Colors, and Snakebite Jacobs.

Kinky got his break in 1973 thanks to Commander Cody, who contacted Vanguard Music on behalf of the acerbic young performer. That was the year he and his group made their debut album, ‘Sold American,’ featuring John Hartford and Tompall Glaser. Kinky Friedman did attract enough attention to be invited to the Grand Ole Opry.

In 1974, he recorded an eponymously titled album for ABC Records. Produced by Los Angeles pop helmsman Steve Barri, the album dissolved whatever pure country listenership Friedman might have had but delighted his growing core of fans with satirical pieces such as his response to anti-Semitism, "They Ain't Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore." Along with the satires, Friedman offered quieter sketches of American hard luck such as "Rapid City, South Dakota."

In the mid-'70s, Friedman and his band began touring with Bob Dylan & the Rolling Thunder Revue. In 1976 he made his third album, ‘Lasso from El Paso,’ featuring Dylan and Eric Clapton. The Texas Jewboys disbanded three years later, and Kinky moved to New York, where he often appeared at the Lone Star Cafe. In 1983, he released ‘Under the Double Ego’ for Sunrise Records. After that, he turned primarily toward writing, although he continued to make occasional nightclub appearances.

He has written for ‘Rolling Stone’ and ‘Texas Monthly’ magazines and, most famously, has become a writer of unique and outrageous mystery novels such as ‘Greenwich Killing Time,’ ‘A Case of Lone Star,’ and ‘The Mile-High Club.’ Equal parts whimsy and metaphysics, the books blur fiction and reality. They feature a Jewish country singer turned Greenwich Village private eye named Kinky Friedman, who sometimes returns to his native Texas; other characters are drawn from Friedman's circle of friends in both New York and Texas.

Many of Friedman's songs of the '70s and early '80s were collected on two CD compilations, ‘Old Testaments & ‘New Revelations’ and ‘From One Good American to Another.’ In 1999, the likes of Willie Nelson, Tom Waits, and Lyle Lovett covered Friedman's music on the tribute album ‘Pearls in the Snow: The Songs of Kinky Friedman,’ and a second tribute volume was planned. In 2003 Friedman appeared in a nude, cigar-smoking triplicate on the cover of the Dallas Observer magazine, in a parody of the Dixie Chicks' nude Entertainment Weekly pose of that year. Vanguard released a 30th anniversary edition of Sold American (which included a couple of bonus tracks) in 2003. A previously unreleased 1973 live studio concert called ‘Mayhem Aforethought’ appeared in June of 2005, followed by the compilation ‘They Ain't Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore’ later that October. An Austin City Limits appearance from 1975 that was deemed unfit to air finally saw the light of day thanks to New West Records' 2007 release of ‘Live from Austin, TX.’

In 2015, Kinky Friedman returned with his first proper studio album since 1976's landmark ‘Lasso From El Paso.’ Released by Avenue A Records, ‘The Loneliest Man I Ever Met’ features a number of new originals, along with covers by Tom Waits, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, and Kinky’s best friend, Willie Nelson, who also guests on the album.

This is a one time only format where you can listen to Kinky Friedman talk to me instead of reading. I only ask three questions in the nine minutes. I just let Kinky go with his flow. Please forgive my laughter at times as Kinky kept me in stitches through a lot of this.

To learn more about Kinky Friedman visit his web site

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Destiny Lingers For Rolonda Watts

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

Rolonda Watts is an Emmy and Cable Ace award–nominated journalist, television and radio talk show host, executive producer, actor, comedienne, voice artist, speaker, humanitarian, and author. She can currently be seen on Dr. Drew on HLN. She can also be heard as Professor Wiseman on "Curious George," as the announcer for "Divorce Court," and as warrior priestess Illoai in the latest League of Legends video game. In 2016 she will have a recurring role on the Bounce TV series "In the Cut." She holds degrees from Spelman College, where she was editor-in-chief of the school newspaper and graduated Magna Cum Laude, a master's degree from Columbia University, and an honorary doctorate from Winston-Salem State University. Rolonda lives in Los Angeles, California. 'Destiny Lingers' is her first novel.

After graduating from Columbia, Rolonda returned to North Carolina and began her career as a general assignment reporter at WFMY-TV in Greensboro, North Carolina. She later worked at WNBC, where she was nominated for an Emmy, and WABC-TV in New York as an anchor of a weekly political forum and reporter. In 1987, she began working as a host of ‘Attitudes,’ a talk show on Lifetime Television. The next year, she took a job on the news magazine ‘Inside Edition’ as a senior correspondent, weekend anchor and producer. King World Productions, the syndicator of Inside Edition and also The Oprah Winfrey Show, then asked her to start her own talk show. 'Rolonda' aired for nearly four seasons.

After leaving her talk show behind, Rolonda headed to Hollywood to pursue a career in acting. Her first break was in 1997 when she was cast as Vivica Shaw in ‘Sister, Sister,’ a role she played for six episodes. Since then Rolonda has had guest starring roles in dozens of television shows, including ‘The West Wing,’ ‘JAG,’ ‘The District,’ ‘Yes, Dear,’ and soap operas ‘Days of Our Lives’ and ‘The Bold and the Beautiful.’ In 2002, Soap Opera Digest named her "Scene Stealer of the Week" for her role as the cut-throat Attorney Cameron Reese on ‘Days of our Lives.’

Rolonda is also the CEO/president of her own production company, Watts Works Productions, which co-produced her talk show ‘Rolonda.’ In 2005, she hosted Lie Detector, a reality series for PAX-TV. That same year, she took over as announcer on Judge Joe Brown. She also appeared on ‘Live With Regis and Kelly’ where she traveled cross-country as a judge for the show's ‘Great American Co-Host Search.’

In commercials, Rolonda is the voice of Boeing, Wells Fargo Bank, Tropicana, Southwest Airlines, Big Lots, Children's Hospital, Wendy's, Aleve, and Alka Seltzer - and more.

New York City and Newark, NJ each established an official "Rolonda Day" for her journalistic, community, and humanitarian works. She has served on the Board of Directors for Literacy Volunteers of New York City, the Board of Advisors for the Rahway State Prison's Lifers Group, the Board of Advisors for New York University School of Dentistry, and the Board of Advisors for the United Negro College Fund. She has volunteered as a tutor for H.E.L.P. - the Hollywood Education and Literacy Project. She is a member of Women in Film, AFTRA, and SAG. The Spelman College Alumna Association awarded Ro for her community service. And the McDonald's Corporation honored her as a "Broadcast Legend".

AM:  Rolonda, how is it that you can do and have done so many different things in your life?

RW:  You know Alan I’m glad you asked that because I often ask myself the same question. I do believe that my partner is God. I don’t know any other way I could do all the things I’ve done without the help of Angels and God. It’s all about my faith. I really believe that. I also believe that when God gives you gifts he gives you the batteries to go with them.

AM: That’s a great way to look at life.

RW:  I’ve always felt like a big toy chest full of lots of gifts. I believe my gift back to God is to use them for good. It looks like I do 50 million things but really I do one thing and that is I’m a storyteller, whether it’s ‘Inside Edition’ or ‘Eyewitness News’ or a talk show. Even voice over work and acting is storytelling or executive producing movies and now my novel. It’s all storytelling.

AM:  How did you start writing the book?

RW: Actually the book has been in me since 1996. I survived Hurricane Bertha in North Carolina on Topsail Island where I grew up in the Summertime. My grandparents founded the first Black Beachfront community in North Carolina in 1949.

AM: Awesome.

RW:  We hadn’t had a hurricane since 1954. I was told to evacuate the island but I wanted to stay and cover it for ‘Inside Edition.’ That was dumb. If someone tells you to evacuate the island, do it!

AM: Uh oh.

RW:  By the time the ‘Inside Edition’ crew arrived it was too dangerous to let them on and too dangerous to let me off. I had to ride out the storm. I had to eat at the Red Cross for three days. The police chief had to pick me up and take me to the food and water. We would be talking about the island and all the things we love about it and then we asked each other why we didn’t know each other. We realized it was because of segregation. We couldn’t have known each other.

AM:  That is deep.

RW: I always thought about that and the phrase, “Time moves on but destiny lingers.” What would happen to two lovers who could not be together because the laws and attitudes kept them apart? What if there was an opportunity to go back and get a second chance at your first love? It’s really what’s happening today with race relations and the gay community. I’ve had many lesbians tell me this is their story.

AM: I can understand that.

RW: I also wanted to capture a certain time. I remember the Jim Crow era. A lot of the issues I talk about in the book are real stories from my life. I couldn’t always go places with my class because I was black.

AM: That is so harsh and unreal.

RW: I want to remind younger generations of that time. It hasn’t always been this easy to love anybody you want. I also wanted to deal with issues like racism and classism. It’s a call to action for the younger generation, “What will you do to stop all the thread of ‘isms’ in your own family? When will you put your foot down and say no more. When will love conquer all?”  

AM:  When did you finish writing the book?

RW:  Oh let’s see…a little over two years ago.

AM:  I wondered because you have the endorsement from the glorious Miss Maya Angelou.

RW:  Yes she read the book about a year and a half before she passed. She had been reading it and she was very supportive. I hadn’t finished it yet. I was just piddling about. She told me not to die with this story still inside me.

AM: Wow! I bet that statement had impact.

RW:  That hit me so hard. She loved the book and you can see what she said on the book cover, “Let the story continue.” I do want it to have a sequel. Praise God, she gave me one of her last endorsements.

AM:  Did you just feel uplifted after her approval?

RW: It was a major endorsement. I felt like she was passing the baton. She had been my Auntie and I knew her for 35 years. She always helped me through everything, but a book! I was treading in some highly professional territory.

AM:  If Maya Angelou says the book is good you know it’s good!

RW: I knew in my heart and soul the story was good. I worked on it for so long. It was a hobby for 10 years. I played with it and work shopped it. I met with a writers group. I passed it along to people that I really respected.

AM: And writing was something that you always wanted to do?

RW: I always wanted to be a writer or an author. When I was much younger I asked Auntie Maya how to become a writer and she told me, “You take a noun and you take a verb and ball it all up and smack it against the wall and make it sing.” I thought, Wow! I always wanted to follow in her footsteps. Her endorsement is one of the greatest achievements in my life. The book in general is one of the greatest achievements as well.

AM: So will we see ‘Destiny Lingers’ made into a movie?

RW: Yes, definitely. I like to challenge myself. I don’t believe in mediocracy or getting comfortable. That’s why I keep moving. You cannot get comfortable. So I wrote a novel so now I think, “Write the screenplay.”

AM: That would make complete sense with you.

RW: It’s very rare for a journalist to turn into a novelist and very rare that a novelist turns into a screenplay writer. I’m going to do it. I would love to see it as a movie and then spin off into a television series. You have an interracial couple, a cop and a journalist. Anything could happen.

AM: Talk about timely. You wouldn’t have had any idea when you started writing this book that it would be so relevant in the moment.

RW: Alan, that’s why I said at the very beginning of our conversation that I don’t do this alone. I’ve waited so long for this book to be on a Barnes & Noble shelf and it could not have come out at a better time. All those times I cried to myself, would this book ever happen. One year I even told myself to just forget about it, but Destiny kept calling me. These characters wanted to live. I had no choice.

AM:  No you didn’t!

RW: Then when Dr. Maya Angelou is breathing down your neck, (Laughter) “Make sure you contribute to the literary world!” Well you contribute to the literary world and it’s got to be good. She taught me the book has got to be about bettering humanity.

AM: What is one of the best parts about promoting the book for you?

RW: It’s giving me a chance to talk with people about race and race relations. I’m finding people to be very open with their own personal stories. People stay calm because we are talking about this story but really we are talking about their own lives.

AM: You grew up in a white world didn’t you?

RW: I was the only black in an all-girl high school. I remember going to a debutant party at the Country Club and I couldn’t go because I was black. Five of my girlfriends stood up to their parents and said we’re not going to go if Rolonda can’t go. That’s wrong. They opened up the Country Club to me.

AM: This is in the Seventies!?!

RW:  Honey, that was 1974.

AM:  That’s insane.

RW: Insane! I watched 16-year-old girls stand up to their parents and the status quo and say it’s not right. That’s another thing Dr. Maya Angelou was all about. Stand up and lift. Use your voice. When it’s wrong, say it’s wrong. She was so upset over Trayvon Martin , but she was encouraged that people were speaking out. It wasn’t covered up like it used to be. Back then there wasn’t a consciousness like that. You didn’t have all the cameras. I think even for as horrible as things can be, we are moving toward a better place.

AM: Yes, I agree. I am disturbed by the violence but I believe we are going in the right direction.

RW: Any movement has the sacrificial lambs. Sadly, now they are children and moms and dads. We are moving to a better place but you have to hit a wall before you change and America is hitting a lot of walls right now.

To learn more about Rolonda Watts visit her web site /

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Madleen Kane: Back Where She Belongs

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

Madleen Kane was born in Malmo, Sweden. Because of her striking beauty, at the age of 14 she became a model in Europe. At 15 she won the biggest Beauty Pageant in Sweden, The Dream Girl. She took off as an international model, modeling for agencies in New York, Japan and Paris.

Madleen was discovered by J.C. Friederich, owner of Boona Music productions. She became a popular singer working in 1978 with her album ‘Rough Diamond,’ which became popular not only in the U.S., but across the globe. In the span of a few months she rose to the top of the disco music charts in Europe selling millions of copies. After she released ‘Cheri' in 1979, her singing career took off. Madleen's debut album ‘Rough Diamond’ was originally released in France by CBS and soon after by Warner Bros. in North America. It became a hit on the Billboard Dance Chart. For this album, she recorded a disco version of ‘C'est Si Bon.’ Paris-based production team Michaele, Lana & Paul S├ębastian produced the album.

‘Cheri’ was Madleen's 2nd CBS Disques S.A. / Warner Bros. release, which featured ‘Forbidden Love,’ a dramatic "pop-opus" arranged by Thor Baldursson. The A-side suite of ‘Forbidden Love’, the title track, its breakdown ‘Fire In My Heart’ and ‘Secret Love Affair’ gave her another club hit, which ran for over 15 minutes. Jim Burgess remixed it for a single, which was edited to just over eight minutes. The ballad ‘You and I,’ has become a wedding day favorite in Canada.

She promoted her albums around the globe through several television appearances. While performing in Italy she was presented by Julio Iglesias in a Roman arena with over 40,000 spectators. She became the queen of disco, and along with Donna Summer, toured Japan to promote her second album entitled ‘Cheri.’ She went to the US to promote her album in ten different states performing at the famous Studio 54 in New York among many other venues. She did the ‘Marvin Griffin Show,’ ‘Good Morning America,’ ‘Solid Gold’, ‘Dance Fever’ and many newspaper, magazine and radio interviews.

At the beginning of the 1980s, Madleen moved to Chalet Records, part of Prelude Records, and released her third album, ‘Sounds Of Love.’ It featured ‘Cherchez Pas,’ which was more "electronic" as opposed to her usual symphonic disco songs, and peak #18 in Sweden. Madleen later worked with producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte. Nevertheless, Giorgio Moroder appeared with his mixes in 1981 with ‘Don't Wanna Lose You’ and helped her album sales in clubs. ‘You Can,’ the Flashdance-esque lead single from those sessions spent three weeks on top of the Billboard Dance charts. The album ‘Don't Wanna Lose You’ followed. This was again released on Chalet Records, which was owned by her then-husband Jean-Claude Friederich and distributed by dance promoter Tom Hayden and his TSR Record Company, which was to be Madleen's next record label. Other big hits: ‘Playing For Time,’ ‘You Can,’ ‘Fire in My Heart.’

London's Ian Anthony Stephens and Megatone recording artist Paul Parker teamed up to provide Madleen with ‘I'm No Angel,’ a Billboard Dance Hit from her 1985 album, ‘Cover Girl.’ Madleen, tired of recording, faded away after this album.

A collection of her hits, ‘12 Inches And More’ is her latest release. In January 2010, Madleen's first two albums were reissued on the MP3 via

Madleen speaks four languages fluently. From a young age she was an artist, she painted and wrote romantic short stories. Clothes are her passion, designing her own dresses and blouses. She was the most photographed woman in the world during the 1970s and 80s with many photos including her own clothing designs. She has been on the cover of all major magazines in Europe and on the cover of Playboy magazine twice. Even Carlo Ponti offered her a leading role in a film at the time, but she was too busy recording and promoting her music. She is well known all over Europe, Japan, the Middle East and Russia. She now resides in Santa Monica, California.

AM:  Madleen, you are an international star who left the limelight in 1985 and now you have returned. Is this correct and what are your goals this time around?

MK: Yes, I want to give back to my fans for all those years they have been asking about me. Now finally I can do it.

AM: Does it surprise you that people are so eager to see you again?

MK:  Yes, I’m very amazed!

AM:  You seem so humble.

MK:  Yes, I am a very humble person. I always treat people with respect. I understand people.

AM:  You seem like a deeper kind of person.

MK:  I’m not shallow at all.

AM:  I bet that surprises people who think you will be shallow.

MK: Especially when I was in my twenties. I’ve never been shallow. I’ve always had a very good connection with journalists and reporters. I have always believed that they are there to help you and you should help them. You are working together. I’ve never been late for an appointment.

AM:  I love that.

MK:  I respect people too much. Why would I want to arrive two hours late and not be ready? I’m extremely professional.

AM:  That takes you further than anything I believe. Are you looking for new songs to record?

MK:  Yes, I have some people working for me and we are looking.

AM:  Have you found anything that you are in love with yet?

MK:  Not that I’m totally crazy about yet. Right now I like ballads. I like love songs. I’m very romantic.

AM:  I think you will find new success with love songs and ballads even though people love your dance music.

MK: I will always do dance music too.

AM:  That’s what I love about all your albums. After the dance music there was always at least one hauntingly beautiful love song.

MK:  I was always collaborating with the writers from the very beginning.

AM:  Did you stay in the studio while the songs were being mixed?

MK:  Oh yes, it’s so important to mix the instruments with the voice and put it all together.

AM:  Your producers didn’t mind you in the studio with opinions?

MK:  No, my father was a tenor who sang opera in Sweden so there was always music in our home.

AM:  I heard your father was a singer.

MK:  Yes, he was an actor also in theater.

AM:  So you grew up in that artistic atmosphere.

MK:  I’ve been in the music world since I was six years old.

AM:  Do you have any siblings?

MK:  Yes I have two younger sisters. 

AM:  So you are the first born!

MK: My daddy is so proud of me. I’m the only one who understands the business. I’m the one who followed in his footsteps. My mother was a model. She was a beautiful woman who left this earth way too soon.

AM:  I’m sorry. When did you lose her?

MK:  We lost her ten years ago and she was only 66 years old.

AM:  How do you deal with this loss?

MK:  It’s still hard today. I skype with my sister once a week and we backtrack and remember our childhood. We talk about our Mom and the things we were doing.

AM: I know your three children are grown now but were you a hands on Mom when they lived at home?

MK:  Yes I was always there to take them to soccer practice or tennis or golf.

AM:  That’s the reason you stopped performing and recording isn’t it?

MK: Yes, one of the reasons. I wanted to give my full attention to them and be able to raise my children. I wanted a real family. I didn’t want to be on the road all the time. I wasn’t brought up like that.

AM:  I know you have an autobiography in the works. When did you start writing it?

MK:  I started writing it two years ago. This was always on my mind.

AM:  Did you find writing about your life therapeutic?

MK:  Yes I did. Very much so. You will see why when you get to read it. This book will also be very helpful to others. This book is very compelling and a real page turner. It’s not boring at all.

AM:  How have you handled all the male attention you have received over the years?

MK:  I was always graceful about it. I would just say I’m sorry but I’m not interested. (laughter)

AM:  Did it get boring for you after a while?

MK:  Yes it does get boring.

AM:  Were you able to spot them right away?

MK:  Yes, I’ve always been good at reading peoples’ intentions.

AM:  The book is finished and ready for publication isn’t it?

MK: Yes, we only have a few things that need adjusting.

AM:  Is there anything else you want to do now?

MK:  I really got a taste to perform when I was recently in Miami. Even though I hadn’t been on stage for many years, it felt like it had been yesterday. This is how it felt inside me. It didn’t feel like I had been gone for such a long time. Right away I knew this is where I belong.

To learn more about Madleen Kane visit her web site