Californication Music News, Chats with Mark Rivera and Allen Kovac, Plus Johnzo West and David Berkeley Exclusives


photo courtesy Showtime

So here's the official scoop on Californication's music followed by a 45 second snippet of a remix of Pete Townshend's "Let My Love Open The Door"...

"Leading independent publisher Spirit Music Group is collaborating with Showtime Networks in releasing the soundtrack album for the seventh and final season of the network's hit comedy series Californication, premiering this Sunday, April 13th at 9:30 pm ET/PT. The album, entitled Happy Endings (Music From The Showtime SeriesCalifornication), will be released simultaneously with the season premiere via the publisher's imprint, Spirit Records. The soundtrack for the seventh and final season of the series features a six-song e.p. curated by show music supervisor Nora Felder and show creator and executive producer, Tom Kapinos, featuring an exclusive track from Pete Townshend (The Who) and a rare cover by Sid Vicious (The Sex Pistols), along with modern interpretations of '80s and '90s rock classics by such emerging artists as Elsie, The White Buffalo, and Candy Golde.

"Spirit Records is partnering with TuneCore to distribute the release across all digital download and streaming services worldwide and 'leverage their close working relationships with digital stores to achieve prominent placement and promotion. Spirit plans to promote each song as they air via both the show's official web and social sites as well as the most popular fan-driven sites, chat rooms, blogs, Twitter, Tumblr and other dedicated portals where fans congregate. The soundtrack's opening song and first promoted single is a previously unreleased re-mix of Pete Townshend's biggest solo hit, 'Let My Love Open The Door,' which serves as both main and end title for the debut episode. This will be the first time that any Townshend solo work has been available in the digital marketplace for several years. This will be followed by the promotion of three singles in May: Coral Sea's previously unreleased psychedelic take on The Pixies 'Where Is My Mind' and Candy Golde's rave-up version of Paul Simon's 'Boy In The Bubble.' The third single includes the underground classic punk cover of the standard classic 'My Way' performed by Sid Vicious, which was originally produced by Sex Pistol's guitarist Steve Jones, who guest stars as road manager 'Krull.' In June, The White Buffalo's soulful cover of '80s glam metal band, Faster Pussycat's 'House Of Pain' and UK singer/songwriter Elsie's haunting bittersweet take on Fleetwood Mac's 'Silver Springs' will debut.

"Mark Fried (President & CEO of Spirit Music Group), who is also Pete Townshend's publisher, says, 'We're excited to be working with Showtime to release and promote the soundtrack for the final season of Californication, and to find such a powerful way to re-introduce one of Pete Townshend's classic solo hits to the fans.' Adds Music Supervisor, Nora Felder, 'Music has always been a main character for Californication, evenly mixed with both classic and independent artists alike. We are proud to be able to feature and introduce Mr. Townshend's track to the world, along with some amazing versions of other timeless hits by emerging artists.'"


A Conversation with Mark Rivera

Mike Ragogna: Mark, let's jump right into this. So your new album is Common Ground--oh God, excuse me, I meant Common Bond...what the hell!

Mark Rivera: [laughs] It's funny, Ringo said, "Common Bound." He shot a whole video to promote the record and he goes, "Common Bound," and I go, "It's Bond...Bond!"

Ragogna: It's just our little Emily Litella moment. "Never mind."

Rivera: "Never mind," exactly!

Ragogna: So Common Bond...ahem...showcases Mark Rivera as your own artist. You've become a bit of a legend backing up Billy Joel and many, many artists over the years. Where did the need come from for you to finally step out from the pack?

Rivera: It's always been in me. In fact, you and I have a bit of history together I don't think you're even aware of.

Ragogna: It has to be during the Cashman & West days.

Rivera: Yeah, Cashman & West. I played with Dean Friedman back in those days. But even back then I was always in bands writing songs, so it's not something that's like, "Now that I'm sixty years old, let me try to do something new," it's, "I'm going to try to do something that's been in me for a long time and finally bring it to fruition. Jimmy Bralower my producer/co-writer said, "Buddy, it's time." When I did "Sledgehammer" for Peter Gabriel's So, I had written a song called "Hard To Let Go" maybe about a year after, in 1987 or '88. So that song's been around for twenty-five years plus. I wanted to write a song like "In Your Eyes" or "Red Rain" or something, but it came out more like a Memphis-y kind of feel to it because of the players I ended up using, Charley Draton in particular. The short answer is it's something that's been in me for decades. It took a while to get the personnel together and then the chioce of material, but it's funny, Mike, it's always been in me and it will always be in you. I know you're a songwriter as well. I can't say I'm "no longer a songwriter" just like I can't say "I'm no longer a Catholic." I'm always guilty, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry." That's just the way it is.

Ragogna: With the hard Billy Joel connection, it must have been at least a little frustrating for you and the other songwriters in the band. No one expects to co-write with Bruce Springsteen, Elton John or Billy Joel. So how did you deal with that?

Rivera: It's a double-edged sword, Mike. I don't know who to site as an example, but if I performed with a much lesser songwriter for thirty-two years... But I have to be a foil or band member with the greatest American songwriter in our time. As Tony Bennett quoted, "The Walking American Songbook." You can say what you want about Springsteen and Dylan and Paul Simon and McCartney, but to me, without any tripping on this whole thing, Billy is the greatest songsmith and a great lyricist of my time. Again, everybody has an opinion, it doesn't make mine right or wrong. But I really feel that it was no frustration on my part to perform songs like "Leave A Tender Moment Alone" or "All About Soul" or "Vienna" or any one of those songs. All the songs are like three minute snapshots. Unfortunately, Mike, I was never that good, and I may never be that good, but it didn't frustrate me to be on stage. In fact, I was always flattered that he kept me around. I was thrilled to be a part of it. And it genuinely raised the bar. I was writing some lyric and Jimmy Bralower is on one of the songs that said, "Her name is Gina or did she say it was Joan?" and he says, "Mick Jagger would never say 'Joan,' what the hell is wrong with you?" So I had to say, "Okay, would he say Simone?" and Billy would never rhyme "moon" with "spoon"; he would go somewhere else that would captivate your imagination. That's the great songwriter. That's the Jimmy Webb of our time.

Ragogna: You guys had a mentor in Phil Ramone, didn't you.

Rivera: Oh, absolutely. Phil is great, but from my personal mentoring, the time that I spent with my favorite producer had to be Mutt Lange. Lange and I go back to a band called Tycoon back in the seventies. I first met Mutt because Clive Davis insisted that we use Mutt Lange on the recording of Tycoon. We were hellbent on using Jack Douglas because he sounded great, but Clive said, "No, no, no, you have to use this new producer Mutt Lange," and we looked at each other and said, "What the hell is a 'Mutt' and who would want to be in a room with him?" We joked around about that and then Mutt and I became incredibly close. We became like soulmates, and to this day, I get emails from him three times a day with little jokes and things. But at the time in '77, he was the first person who actually thought I could sing a lead vocal, and he had me sing two lead vocals on the album, which I was not even prepared to do. Then in 1980, he called me to play some saxophone and sing some backgrounds on Foreigner 4. So as much as I loved Phil Ramone, I owe a great deal of my knowledge of what goes on and what's become my career to Mutt Lange.

Ragogna: What got you into this musical madness? What's your superhero origin story?

Rivera: Four guys from Liverpool, simply. February 9th, 1964. When I was seven or eight, there was a guitar in the house. So I picked up the guitar and I would be able to figure out melodies and my parents said, "This guy's actually got something." My Uncle Vinny, my godfather, played saxophone, so there was a saxophone in Brooklyn that happened to fall off the back of a truck if you know what I mean. So my Uncle Vinny taught me to play saxophone for about a month and then he told my parents, "He's got to find another teacher because he's already better than I am." I just took right to it, like a fish in water. That was when I was eight or nine, but by the time February ninth came my Aunt Iris, my godmother, bought me Meet The Beatles. She was up in Spanish Harlem and she played it for me and I was like, "Whoa," and that night was the night that changed our culture, that changed our universe.

Ragogna: And that was the night you decided to play saxophone.

Rivera: That was the night I decided not to play saxophone, because there wasn't a saxophone player in The Beatles. But I thought, "Maybe I could play that one," and I pointed to Paul McCartney's bass. I thought, "Maybe I could play that, it's only four strings, it's easier." LIttle did I know how involved it was. So I ended up buying a bass unbeknownst to my parents and I became the bass player in one of my earliest bands. I continued to play saxophone, but they made all the difference. I've got to tell you, I do my due diligence and I just happened to read about a week or four days ago the interview you did with Al Kooper regarding Mike Bloomfield.

Ragogna: Ah, someone read that. Thanks for reading it!

Rivera: Thanks for writing it! First of all, the first band that I actually ever saw was The Blues Project. Al Kooper, I remember I was blown away because I saw him at Manny's with Denny Kalb. I remember being enamored looking at Al Kooper, but I couldn't stop staring down at his green suede boots. It was the coolest thing. "I want those!" But Al Kooper and The Blues Project, all that stuff... I don't mean to get off track, but the article about Super Session... that was my favorite record. "Stop," "Season Of The Witch," great stuff. Al Kooper played an arrangement on my producer's record with this gentleman Ryan Shaw. Al Kooper played an arrangment of strings on "Yesterday," which was a Grammy-nominated record. I still love the first Blood, Sweat & Tears record with Randy Brecker. It's just a great record.

Ragogna: That first Blood, Sweat & Teras album, what a classic.

Rivera: The picture of everybody holding a picture of themself as a child, and the title Child Is Father To The Man, what ends up happening in our lives is eventually we wind up being the parents to our parents, hopefully. It's a great record.

Ragogna: You talked before about doing the teen band thing.

Rivera: Of course...Battle Of The Bands and church dances and everything.

Ragogna: At what point did you decide, "Yeah, I'm going to do this for life."

Rivera: I always played and barely made enough money, we played Battle Of The Bands and pizza parties and all this crap. But there was a band called Eclipse, and Peppy Castro of the Blues Magoos was the lead singer. He left to do something, I don't know if it was with the Blues Magoos or what, but my friend Kenny Papa who was a great guitar player in Brooklyn said, "Hey man, we're looking for a lead singer." So two weeks before I graduated high school, I left and went to Minneapolis to play with the band. We were actually managed by Larry Goldblatt who was the manager of Blood, Sweat & Tears. We were given seventy five thousand dollars to put a budget together to record a record. The side story is that my mother did go get my diploma so I actually graduated. But we landed in Minneappolis and played a club called George's In The Park and the following Monday when the check was supposed to clear, Larry Goldblatt was thrown in jail for embezzlement. Lo and behold, that all went away, but that was the beginning of my career. I thought I was going to "make it" somehow.

But the following September or so, I got a call to go tour with Sam & Dave. That was the first real tour that I did. I got asked to play saxophone for Sam & Dave and I brought my alto. Another quick story, the bandleader Ben Little said, "You blow bari, right?" and I'd never touched a baritone sax in my life, but the words out of a Brooklyn kid is, "'Of course I do! What are you, kidding me? Me and bari are like this!" I instantly leave that rehearsal, run down to Ponti's Music and rent a baritone sax. Now, you've got to realize, I'm about eighteen, I weigh about a hundred and thirty five pounds, so the sax weighs about two thirds of my body weight, and I'm blowing the saxophone, which I've never done, the next day we rehearse one more time and now I'm not only learning the sax part, but I'm in over my head, I'm like, "Holy s**t, I've never played this instrument!" The following day, we opened up for Ray Charles at the park for the Schaefer Festival. That was kind of a trial by fire. But that was my first real gig, and then after that, you just play gigs in the city. I played in probably ten or twelve bands. It was the same core band, but different lead singers would front the band, and invariably, the lead singer was the worst musician in the band. That's how it was back in the day. But at the same time, you really cut your teeth, you had to learn twelve songs at a rehearsal and you just kept your ears wide open.

So that was it. I always wanted to play and I always wanted to be in a band. I've had two jobs in my life... One of them was delivering art supplies and the other was delivering music supplies. That was it. When I was about twelve, I worked with my friends who had a private sanitation route. But just think about how many kids whose parents want the kids to do well, buy them a computer, and now a kid has a computer and thinks he's a producer. The kid's got autotune and he thinks he's a singer. One of my favorite things that I've heard in the past two or three years is Bruce Springsteen's keynote speech at South By you remember that? How major was that speech? He said, "We will never be good enough to shine the shoes of these guys. We never thought for a second we could be that good and kids today, they think all they've got to do is just want to do it and put it out there." Again, that's my beef with the digital world; everybody's got a record but not a lot of people put their hearts and souls into it like back in the day. I really wanted to make a record.

Ragogna: Sadly, a lot of kids have been American Idol-ized into thinking that if they just want to do become a big singer, someone will do it for them.

Rivera: You know what the most popular answer was in the last decade to, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" "Famous." Not "a musician," not "a songwriter," not "a painter," not "a sculptor"...just "famous." Or "I don't know, I just want to be famous. I just want to be on the cover of whatever magazine." They want to be Kardashians. I hate to sound like a callous old fart, but I cut my teeth until two in the morning and then one time, I got home from Tracks at about 1:30, walked up a six-floor walkup with two saxophones on my back, and the owner called me and said, "Dude, you've got to get back to Tracks," I said, "Man, why?" The No Nukes concert had just let out and James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Bonnie Raitt, Russ Kunkel, Bob Glaub, this whole massive contingent of musicians that I'd never met was coming back to JP's and I was going to get to sit in and play with them. I sang four part harmony that included me, Joni Mitchell and James Taylor. And you know what? Being famous never came to mind. In my mind, it was, excuse my French, being really f**king good. I never thought that I'd ever be a Beatle. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I'd be on that level, but someday I wanted to be really good. That really resonates for me.

Ragogna: Let's jump from those days forward to to Common Bond. There's deep connection to what you just talked about. Did you feel that connection as you were making this album?

Rivera: Every day. Every day. In fact, the connection, oddly enough, the song "Tell Me All The Things You Do" by Fleetwood Mac, I played that song when I was fifteen. Kenny Papa pointed that song out. Nobody new that song, but I knew that because it meant a lot to me. I remember seeing Hendrix when I was about fourteen or fifteen, about 1968 I think it was, at the garden. I remember him doing "Spanish Castle Magic" because his amps blew out and he started playing right handed, flip the guitar and grabbed it left handed and went [sings guitar riff] That moment crystalized it. That's my favorite Jimi Hendrix song of all time. Lyrically it would be "Castles Made Of Sand" and "If Six Was Nine," because philosophically he's just a beautiful lyricist, but all this stuff brings me back to my influences, soul music, Wilson Pickett, Sly And The Family Stone, those are who I tried to sing like but as far as Rock 'N' Rollers, Paul Rodgers from Free, Lou Gramm from Foreigner, Stevie Winwood from Traffic, these are the singers. Those were all very soulful, R&B slanted rock bands, so that's what I found myself doing. A song like "Turn Me Loose," everyone who hears "Turn Me Loose" says it's a cross between Jimi Hendrix and Sly and I'm like, "Well thank you," and then they hear me sing something on another song like, "Money Money Money," where I'm really bleeding it out and they say, "That sounds like Wilson PIckett," and all I can say is, "Thank you," because that's who I go to, or I try to go to. All the influences in my entire life came through on this record, I believe, because there's rock 'n' roll, there's R&B, there's certain levels of connectivity, the song "Rise" with Karen Manno, what a beautiful song, where it's a prayer. It's the most eclectic record you may ever hear, which is a quadruple source, because Triple A likes this, but they won't play that and rock stations won't play that and for that matter most radio can't play my record anyway, so I have to go to Sirius radio where I'm getting a lot of love.

Ragogna: It seems like in some ways, success prevented you from doing this record until this point.

Rivera: You're exactly right, Mike. For the past ten years Jimmy and I had been trying to put a record together and unfortunately or by the grace of God there' dalways be a tour that was going on. Look at the last ten years. I went back and forth from Billy to Ringo, I toured with Foreigner in the eighties, Simon & Garfunkel, I'm very blessed to have done what I've done. At the same time it prevented me from being able to say, "Hey man, it's my time, I'm going to do this." Finally, about two years ago, Jimmy said, "Hey, buddy, this is it. You want to do this?" and he played me some great tracks that Johnny Gale, the guitar player, and he had put together and I just blurted out "Turn Me Loose." I just blurted out "Sticky Situation." Those are two of the stinkiest songs on that record. Those were just great guitar grooves and drum grooves that Jimmy had programmed, and then we went into the studio and gathered the troops. To say the least it really is a collection of all of it. There's stuff all the way back from Traffic in the sixties. There's not a lot of eighties because that was a lot of power pop, but everything from R&B and psychadelia--I'm an old hippie and I'm proud of it so it's go that element. Fortunately there are people who dig the record. I'm very blessed that I'm getting a lot of love at Sirius radio. Am I allowed to name names?

Ragogna: Absolutely, go ahead, name everyone you want to do a shout out to!

Rivera: Do you know Mike Marrone from The Loft?

Ragogna: Of course!

Rivera: Mike Marrone has been incredibly generous. He's playing six songs form the record, I'm going down to spin records with him on Thursday in DC, and I'm doing an in-studio broadcast with a whole band in June. Next week Steve Van Zandt is going to have my song on Underground Garage. It's going to be the coolest song in the world next week, on April sixth. I'm really getting a lot of love. Ken Dashow from Q104.3, who loves the record but can't play the record, that's just the nature of the beast, quite frankly. I did a gig last week and three hundred people came to The Cutting Room. I'm very, very close to saying, "You know what? I'm going to get past the gatekeeper somehow." If the music is that good it should be heard. That's my understanding.

Ragogna: And after all this time and success you have the liberty to do what you want to do.

Rivera: I have the liberty to do this, but unfortunately the DJs on the real big stations, the Qs out on the West coast--I'm in Cleveland right now, I should be doing a radio appearance on Rock 'N' Roll City but they can't play my song. I have the liberty to do it, I'm spending my own money to put this record out there, but the gatekeepers are standing there with their arms crossed saying, "Hey, this is who pays the rent here. We can't have this song on." Where did you grow up? You grew up in New York?

Ragogna: Yeah, on second avenue. Name a twenties and I lived there.

Rivera: We went to the Filmore back then. I'm a little older than you, b0ut back in the day there was Rosko On The Radio on WNEW.

Ragogna: Yeah, I used to listen all of those guys while growing up.

Rivera: WNEW had Scott Muni, Pete Fornatale, Alison Steele "The Nightbird," Dennis Elsas, but Rosko was the first voice that I remember hearing. He was a black DJ, and it was like, "This is Rosko on the radio, I do love you so." That was the voice that I heard introducing Jimi Hendrix, introducing Cream, that I heard introducing Santana, Country Joe & The Fish, Richie Havens. The point is, they played everything. They didn't play what was the genre of music that they were buying into, they had the stones to play any song that they thought was good, and that's where you learned. It's like feeding a child. If you don't feed a child a green vegetable, when he's twenty he'll say, "I don't eat it because it's green." Not knowing is a sin, espeically with all the great music. They used to play stuff that was way out there. I found out something from your article, Mike Bloomfield played piano on Moby Grape's Wow/Grape Jam. Moby Grape is one of my favorite bands of all times. I saw them three times. In fact, one of the times that I wanted to see Moby Grape at the Filmore Skip Spence, the guitarist from Moby Grape had a very bad acid trip, so he had to cancel. Lo and Behold, Rosko was supposed to introduce Moby Grape that night, so who do you think it is that took their place at the Filmore that night? "Ladies and gentlemen, the total sound, Cream." Cream played their first big show and I was there, and Richie Havens I think opened up with Soul Survivors. It was a great time. I think I paid three dollars.

Ragogna: We take it for granted. That was history in the making but we treated it as such a casual part of our youth. Did you know it was important when you were watching it?

Rivera: Oh, a hundred percent. I knew the moment they came out, because I had just gotten Fresh Cream, I didn't know all the songs, but I knew "I Feel Free" immediately. The sound of the guitars, Clapton at the time was turning his back to the audience because he didn't want them to see his hand positions or some bullshit, I don't know what it was, but it was insane. I'll show you how impressionable I was, I was about fourteen and I was so impressionable that Eric Clapton wore a buckskin jacket with the long fringe, remember those? I went into a store called Limbo's, which turned into Trash And Vaudeville on St. Marks Place, they had one buckskin jacket left, it was a size forty six, and I'm telling you: If I was a size thirty four it was a lot, but you know I bought the jacket because it was that cool. It was like a hundred and twenty bucks, more money than I'd ever spent on any piece of clothing in my life but I had a buckskin jacket and I was the coolest thing in town. That's how the music made impressions on the young people. You had people like Rosko and all those great DJs and they were willing to say, "Hey, this is a great band." You know the guitar player from Moby Grape, Jerry Miller?

Ragogna: Yeah?

Rivera: You know whose brother he was? Steve Miller. You know what's really crazy? This will go back to my record... Jimmy Bralower, my producer insisted that we have credits. I have credits on my record, and the first thing anyone does when they get my CD is the open it up and they check out the credits. Steve Leeds, the senior Vice President at Sirius radio and the top dogs at Sony Red, they read the credits. And you know what they all said? "Jesus Christ, it's a shame we couldn't get anybody good on your record." The credits read "Ringo Starr, Billy Joel, Nils Lofgren, Steve Lukather, Will Lee..." and it just goes on. To me, when I was a kid I could tell you who recorded, what room they recorded it in, who was the engineer because I looked at the songs. That's why I knew about Jerry Miller, that's why I knew about Moby Grape. It was a great, great time. You'd hear about Jimi Hendrix first meeting up with Buddy Miles and getting connected. I was so plugged into that, and liner notes and credits are almost completely omitted because people just get a digital package or they buy the MP3.

Ragogna: Yup. I left right at the end of when the masses stopped caring about such things. When Rhino collapsed. I feel like the love that went into packages has gone away.

Rivera: I do interviews with radio stations and I say, "What's your favorite song?" and they say, "We only got downloads for these three." You've got to be kidding me. The package is amazing. It looks like something out of the late sixties.

Ragogna: The cover's beautiful.

Rivera: Thank you.

Ragogna: And for full disclosure, I am a fan of your playing. Or is that of yours? However you're supposed to say that.

Rivera: [laughs] I appreciate that, Mike, I really do. That's very kind.

Ragogna: And I love Billy Joel's music, I love those records and everybody gives me this ridiculous smirk when I say, "Billy Joel's one of the best ever." I think it's because his records weren't just records; they became modern standards.

Rivera: Why do you think they call it "popular music?" It's not called "popular music" because it's unpopular. People love Billy Joel's songs. I always say this: When you hear a Billy Joel record, a particular song, for me, it's like The Beatles. I can tell you, when "We Can Work It Out" came on, I was cutting school with John Grado smoking cigarettes in the back of a bus with my father's transistor listening to "We Can Work It Out." He was going out with Karen Shaughnessy, I was trying to get under the bra of Karen Rita. I know what was going on. You know what I'm saying? Billy's music is a three-minute snapshot. It's like a Polaroid. You can go "Boom" and remember the first time you heard it, who you were with--I can almost remember smells when I hear a record. I can always smell her, but that's something else. It's like double albums. And when you hear a record that resonates with you that way, and Billy's music resonates with hundreds of millions of people, we've been across the globe three, five, ten times and people who could barely phonetically understand what we're saying, their eyes are bugged out that he's there. "Billy Joel, Billy Joel!" everywhere you go, they love Billy.

Ragogna: I do wish he did more.

Rivera: We all do. You said something before that was very interesting, that his personal life got in the way? His personal life sometimes when it's most shattered he writes some of his most prolific music. When he went through all the stuff with his ex-manager he went out and wrote The Bridge. The man pours his heart out. I don't know if you should write this, but I really think he's tired of having his heart splattered all over newspapers and whether or not they accept his music. "You know what? I've done enough, fuck what everybody thinks." He so loves the music, Mike. He so loves the music. If you see him sit down at the piano before a sound check and just play it's beautiful. It is nothing less than beautiful. He's the man. I'll put him up against anybody. Everybody says, "Oh, what about the Beatles?" They were great, but John had Paul, because since then Paul hasn't written anything in my opinion that's worthy of a Billy Joel song. That's my opinion. Bruce is a great lyricist, he really is. As far as tunesmithing and writing an amazing melody and writing chords--listen to "Leave A Tender Moment Alone," or listen to "The Bridge" or any one of a hundred songs and they take you on trip. He's a tunesmith. He is the American songbook and I'm very proud--I'm going on thirty three years with the guy, more than half my life spent with him. In fact, I make jokes, "You know what? You've known me longer than all three of your wives, so there." He pours a lot of his being into his music.

Ragogna: He's an interview that I would love someday, but you know what? I've got you, so screw it! [laughs]

Rivera: "I've got you babe!" Everything comes back to song, Mike. I can't help myself. "I Can't Help Myself!" See? It just does it all the time.

Ragogna: Dude, you just "Sugar Pie Honey Bunch"'d me! I feel so Rick Rolled! Okay mister, so you knew I was going to ask so let's just get this over with. What...yes, what is your advice for new artists?

Rivera: Go online and find Bruce Springsteen's South By Southwest keynote speech and listen to it, and don't assume that you're listening to an old man, assume that you're listening to a person who's still thinking about finding your way through this whole maze. Never accept mediocrity. Think about the greatest bands that you love, I'll cite The Beatles but any young person could cite any performer that they really think is great, and then go back do a little due diligence and find out how many thousands of hours they played, how many thousands of miles they drove to get there. People don't get discovered on American Idol. They find their way on their own. What you said before, that we've been American Idolized--I hope I don't offend anyone--but quite frankly, that, to me, is a race to the bottom. The race to the lowest point of mediocrity. I've never accepted that. I don't accept that in a relationship with a person. I talk to people I just met as if I care for them because I do. If someone says, "How are you?" I say, "Very well, thank you, and how are you?" because that's part of the communication of life. If you want to get somewhere in life, be present. Stay present. The greatest musicians, the most present person I know right now is Ringo Starr. Ringo is the most amazingly present person I've ever met. He is right in the moment and when he's on stage he's right there. The greatest musicians I've ever played with are the most present because they're aware of everybody on stage. They're not so hung up on "Me, me, me, me." They keep their monitor level so they can hear the bass player, anything he might play, andything a rhythm guitarist might play, that's called complimenting. That's where your chops really lie. On the firing line. Not in some closet and not when you can autotune something. Perfect ain't right. Stop making music to a computer, make music to how it feels. That's my advice. I know that was a longwinded answer, I'm sorry.

Ragogna: No, that was beautiful! You're a man of integrity, Mark Rivera!

Rivera: Thank you...I think I have a future in this thing, Michael. [laughs] It's really funny, I really feel very strongly about everything. I'm very proud. The greatest gift in my life, my wife gave us two sons. One of them is about to be thirty, one of them is about to be twenty-seven. I speak to them like I'd speak to anybody, I'm very honest with them. When you bulls**t a lot, that ain't good, because that always comes back to bite you in the ass. If you're sincere, man, you'll always do well.

Transcribed By Galen Hawthorne



Johnzo West's version of the classic "Honey Don't" will be featured in Stan Brooks' film Perfect Sisters, and here is what both the artist and director have to say about the adventure.

"I was thrilled when I was asked to cover Carl Perkins' 'Honey Don't' for the film Perfect Sisters, says Johnzo West. "It's amazing how many great songs Carl Perkins wrote, and how many huge artists he influenced, from Elvis and The Beatles to Hendrix and Cash. It's an honor to have the opportunity to pay tribute to Carl Perkins and to have my cover of 'Honey Don't' featured in the film."

"I was so fortunate to be able to license Carl Perkins' 1956 rockabilly classic 'Honey Don't' for one of the more pivotal scenes in my first film, Perfect Sisters," says director Stan Brooks. "Once we had the song - which has a very subversive lyric when juxtaposed against the dark story unfolding on screen while it's playing - it was important to find an artist who could recreate it with a contemporary, but reverent, feel. Johnzo West, an LA rock scene heartthrob, was a perfect choice. This was my first music video as a director and while much of the same preparation I used when directing a film came into play - shot lists, storyboards - doing the video was far more improvisational and reactive than directing a movie. The challenges of changing light and repetitive choruses - made it all the more fun. Once we picked the amazing location (The Record Parlour in Hollywood) the creative vision just fell into place."

And here is the Johnzo West/Perfect Sisters exclusive, "Honey Don't."


A Conversation with Allen Kovac

Mike Ragogna: Hi Allen. How you doing?

Allen Kovac: I'm good, how are you?

MR: I'm pretty well, thank you. Thanks for the interview, this should be very interesting.

AK: Oh, well, you don't know that yet.

MR: [laughs] Oh, I'm pretty sure. So I met you years ago. You represented the Bee Gees at one point, am I right?

AK: Yes.

MR: Anyway, how have you been all these years?

AK: I've been great! You know, I have a lot of fun because I've always been independent. I've never had a job.

MR: Well, one would say independent, yes, but you've never had a job? Really?

AK: I've always owned my own company since college.

MR: You've put a lot of your life into the music business.

AK: It's a lot of fun to make records, and we get to put them out around the world simultaneously in a world where that doesn't happen much. It's usually "prove it in your market and then we'll see if we can get it out internationally."

MR: So your approach with Eleven Seven is to look at it globally, right from the beginning, right?

AK: Yes.

MR: So how does Eleven Seven function as a unit?

AK: I guess I'll give you an example. Some bands on the label we manage, some bands we don't. So, if we find an act, we want to make sure that that manager understands that it's a global platform and that it's a different model than they're used to. If you're a successful manager in the United States or Europe or Australia, you have been conditioned over at least 20 years, if not 30, on quarterly billing, proving your market and charts. Now, it's a global new media world. It's digital, and it's about analytics. I started seeing over the last 24 months that the majors are starting to get into that. We've been operating that way since the mid 90s. I had a joint venture with DDB Needham and Strategic Research, and the way we always operated - way back when you knew me with the Bee Gees - was to figure out through data who their audience was and how to communicate with them. And that's how we came up with the One Night Only campaigns globally.

I'll give you an example; we manage Papa Roach and Five Finger Death Punch. Five Finger was on Prospect Park, an indie, and they had three gold records in a row but only sold around 30,000 ex-North America. Not a very good ratio. And Papa Roach was on Interscope and Universal. In the case of both those artists, we explained to them that if we go simultaneous and global and we do the appropriate setup, we could easily do the business we're doing in the United States. Both bands are now selling as many tickets in Europe as they can sell here, if not more. I was out to dinner last night with the guy who owns Prospect Park, Jeff Kwatinetz, and he was shocked that Five Finger is going to do 6,500 people in London, when they can only do that in a handful of places here in the United States. They were selling only 500 to 1,000 seats before we started this process that I've described.

Another example is an unknown band, like our new signing called Nothing More. Danny Wimmer is one of their managers. He's a festival promoter and has been a manager over the years. I say to him, "I'll sign your band and release it simultaneously around the world, and I'll give you three singles. I'll do exactly what I did with Papa Roach and Five Finger. We'll do a promo tour, festivals, put tickets up for your own tour and then we'll drop the album. And I can work with people around the world that I have a credit card with who know that if I say we're going to do a promo tour, it happens. If I say we're going to play festivals, the festivals happen. If I say we're going to put tickets up - between my tour marketing department, my touring department, and the people here who work at the label - we're able to use the data of the ticket sellers and Spotifys or Pandoras and be able to find and communicate with the audience on a global basis. So, one thing I'll do is I'll send you the 4 pages of quotes on Nothing More, and you'll see that they're from around the world.

Major labels - and even for that matter the independent labels, other than a few, like Epitaph, Martin Mills' Beggar's Group - don't release globally, and if they do, they don't release with any kind of campaign. So there aren't promo tours; they don't have people in the field. They just put the bands on tour and distribute the records behind the tour. That's the model. The major labels will put out Beyoncé globally and simultaneously, or a band like fun. for Atlantic, or the Foo Fighters for RCA. But they would not take an unknown band or bands that aren't the top 15 percent of what they're doing and go global and simultaneous. So, what we've done is we've created a label where we can do that, and we can do it with our management clients or with others.

What caused us to move in that direction was the inability to work globally with our artists as managers, and I made a decision about six years ago that we would control our own destiny. We're not going to rely on major labels' politics by different territories, quarterly billing and charts. We were going to develop careers, and now we've got eOne, who has a band called Pop Evil that's had a couple of number one rock singles, and they're on our label internationally. Prospect Park released Five Finger with us internationally, and now they want to do more. So we're starting to get a reputation for making deals that allow an artist to have a global footprint, as opposed to a deal that just gets the records out here in the United States and Canada.

MR: Right. This is something that's not far away from your prior philosophy of your management of acts and your bigger plans, like rebooting the acts that you had. You knew that there was a global market that you had to pay attention to. So this has tied into your philosophy and your work ethic for the longest time, hasn't it?

AK: Yeah. The first act that I ever broke globally was Richard Marx, and I had to do that around the international A&R of EMI. They had rejected the first album even though we sold six million records in the U.S. On the second record, I just did the promo with a guy named Bob Zimmerman who was still head of Capitol at the time, but Jim Fifield agreed with me that it's a global marketplace and that music should transcend borders, so he sent me on a promo tour with Zimmerman - without the artist - to play the album and set it up internationally. I met everyone internationally through that record, and that was 1989.

MR: I guess this is a good time to ask this. What advice do you have for new artists?

AK: My advice for any artist, including a new artist, is that if you want to cut through the clutter, it's all about quality of content. It's not just whether or not you have a hit song; you have to have a hit album. And it's not just whether or not you have a hit album. You have to have a creative eye and an image, and it's not just having that image but telling that story through a video. And then it's not just the video and the image and the music, but it's also about your performance live. And you've got to compete. Especially in today's world you have to compete, because anyone can make a CD. Anyone can make content, and the only thing that cuts through the clutter is quality. I was on a panel recently with a bunch of very successful managers, and they said you can't sell records anymore, and I said, well, let's say there's this lady who made an album called Jagged Little Pill and it sold 25 million, and now here we are, a couple of decades later, and some other lady named Adele has sold 25 million records. So, it's quality of content. Her voice is great. The other one's voice was great. The lyrics are great, the structure was great, the melody was great. They performed it. It worked. That's called patronage. It's been going on since classical music. So I really believe that, and that's what we tell our artists. If they're willing to do all those things and compete, they can sell records. You know, Buckcherry made a great record for us. We sold a million and a half. They got rid of the producer. They never worked with him again, and the last record sold only 50,000. It's just a function of what's your standard, and are you able to compete objectively with whatever else is out there?

MR: What does Eleven Seven put into helping to foster the personal connection between the artist and the fan/listener?

AK: I think it cuts both ways. I think it's too general to say that the personal relationship over social media is what creates that bond. We have some artists that don't do very much in that area. We have a digital department that's much bigger than most record companies'. Everything from creating the content (we have people on the West and East coasts doing this) to dealing with the social side and all the way back again to dealing with the whole global digital/social side. Essentially, if you've got an artist that created such an experience with their music that it moves the dial, then it means less what they say online. They don't have to say much because the imagination takes over. Other artists need to say a lot because they're not saying enough on their albums. The lifestyle may have to take over. I guess what I'm saying is that not every artist has that same turnkey engagement tool. Some do it in much different ways than others, but you're right. Ultimately, it takes that personal engagement with the consumer or fan, and that can be done in many different ways. That can be done with a song or artwork or t-shirt or a live performance. Sometimes, if an artist knows how to play on a stage that isn't a club, they're not always looking down at the first 12 rows of an audience. They're looking up to the rafters, left and right, and looking in the center and back and making everyone feel like they've engaged with them. Some artists don't know how to do any more than play a club. So it's all a function of trying to learn. I've found that artists that are always learning and competing tend to do much better than artists that know everything.

MR: You know I've never heard it articulated like that. Thank you for that, sir. But you mentioned something before that leads to another question about assets. There are traditional assets that record companies have always been interested in, which are the recorded music, publishing to whatever degree, and exclusivity when it comes to television performances, etcetera. They own the rights to whatever during the term of and according to the specifics of the contract. But now we're a few years where 360 deals are offered as sort of like, "So, you want a record deal? You're gonna have to do this 360, kid." As a successful manager for so many years, I'm imagining you also had to protect the assets of an artist beyond what the record label desired.

AK: I don't understand how a lawyer, business manager and a manager make 360 deals with a record company. That is probably one of the most ridiculous models I've ever seen in my career. I don't think that Mötley Crüe or The Eagles or any act that had success would have been very happy with all the work they did, and then having to share that revenue with some guy who's getting eight figures in an executive office. It's a very hard job being an artist and touring and doing publicity and sound checks and doing a great job for the fans, and then trying to get sleep just so you can get to the next gig and do it all over again. To have to share that revenue with a company that owns the copyright is just abysmal, and I hold the lawyers accountable more than anyone else. They're all on the plantation of the labels, and most managers are, too. They still believe that the labels make it all work, when it's really the artists and the songs. I've never believed that it was the label. I always believed that it was my artists and their ability to compete, and the label was lucky enough to have them. And I think behind closed doors, any of the top executives realize that. So, how the industry, accountants, lawyers and managers allow this stuff is one of the most mind-boggling things I've encountered in the music business.

MR: My last music business job was when the 360 deal began to get popular. I was like, "Oh my God, what are we doing?" To me, it's got all the respect of a carhood signing.

AK: Let's think about this for a second. Music's not selling what it used to. People still have offices on Madison Avenue and in Rockefeller Center. Music's not selling what it used to, but people are making eight figure salaries. We're really back in a time and place where a hit record is gold, not double platinum or 20 million or 15 million. There were only 13 records that sold over a million records last year. Why haven't they changed their model so that they can hire more people? Why do they keep giving themselves salaries and real estate? They're putting all the money in the wrong places. And that's why the independent market share has grown so big.

MR: Nice. May I then ask, having talked about it like this, what does Eleven Seven offer? What's your model?

AK: We offer artists deals on publishing and records. We don't get engaged in merchandising and touring. We guarantee them three singles and a simultaneous global release. We make our deals a lot cheaper than the majors, but we take that money that we're not spending on advances and acquiring 360 rights, and we spend it on three singles guaranteed, not one and out. We spend it on international marketing and promos, and we end up with artists that have 30-40 buckets as opposed to one or two. So our artists tend to be in much better shape touring live, merchandising-wise and album-wise.

MR: Well, would it be too candid to ask you, or for you to answer, actually, what acts have you been associated with that you saw grow tremendously because of your interacting with them?

AK: I can make this really simple for you. We've never had an act do better after us. In over 35 years, there's never been an act at one of my companies that was able to replicate what we did for them.

MR: Beautiful. What is your goal for Eleven Seven?

AK: My goal was initially to have a really solid North American label. My goal last year was to have a solid global label. And next year, it's to work with other labels to give them a global footprint. That's what we're doing with EOne and Prospect Park and several other labels we're talking to right now. Look, you've known about me long enough that you know I don't have to do this. It's the moving of the industry to the right model that creates an ecosystem for musicians and artists, as opposed to the charts and bonuses.

MR: Allen, you feel like you're still a pioneer after all these years, huh?

AK: Well, listen, the artists changed the way artists got paid, instead of getting paid their advances with pipelines. I showed artists that they could get paid by liquidating the pipelines and getting a real advance. I mean, look at what labels are doing today. It's a joke! I have constantly challenged labels to change their models and constantly challenged promoters to promote again, and they are. Promoters are starting to realize that the artists that bring in most of their billing aren't going away. So, to sit down and be able to manage a band like Mötley Crüe and say, "Let's do a final tour and a contract" so that we are not a part of this ridiculous flogging of farewell tours and selling out 72 shows with Live Nation; it's a lot of fun. It's just as much fun as getting masters back for artists when someone isn't upholding their end of a contract. So, for me, the business has always been about, you know, what the other guys' shoes look like. And what shoes I'm in, and how I show that to an artist so that they can sit down and make a decision that's best for them. So, really, as a manager or as a label owner, I've just always been the CEO of some corporation that I had no shares in. I could get fired anytime if they didn't feel that I wasn't bringing in enough revenue. But only in the music business are you not judged on what you're building, revenue-wise or globally. You're judged on how close of a buddy you are. So I've never really been friends with my artists. I've been their CEO, and they hire me and fire me at their whim, and that keeps you on your toes. And sometimes you do a great job and they don't even care. They'd prefer to be in this thing called the music business, which is "we're all friends until we are trying to get more business or until you stop being the gravy train."

MR: Where do you think the music business is heading? I'm not asking for a crystal ball prediction so much as a common-sense projection. Where do you think it's heading?

AK: I think it's clear that the momentum is with digital and streaming and live. And I think we're back to where we were in the '60s when there was a new technology called FM. The major labels had pretty much exhausted doo-wop and country, and they just weren't doing as well as they could have , and what happened was that FM brought about that whole 60s rock thing that caused independent promoters and independent labels to work together. We're pretty much like-minded and we're of the same age. They built great companies like Island, A&M , Motown, Bill Graham Presents, Delsener and Zuckerman, and all these guys got together and developed acts. There's that global independence again for record companies and promoters, where they're developing acts together like they did in the 60s and 70s. That's been gone for a while with consolidation of record companies and promoters. I think the future is going to be scaling down to a number that works for the streamers, and working not to get the buck this minute but to build careers with promoters. And if that happens, which it has with my company, and is duplicated by multiple other companies, I think we're going to see a very healthy music business. And everyone's sort of forced into it now. The Stones are 70. Mötley's going away. I don't know if Tina Turner will do another round. I don't know if Cher will. But they're sooner or later not going to be here. So, you know, time usually helps create change, and I think it's time for the major labels to realize that digital means you can't hold the indies at bay, and I think it's time for promoters to see very clearly that they need to develop new global brands that can fill their venues. That seems to be happening, and it's great to see promoters willing to say, "Let us go out there and develop this band with you." It used to be, "Go have a hit and we'll give you a lot of money." Really, really fresh change. It's fresh change to be working with companies like Pandora and Spotify who are sharing their analytics. I wish Google and Apple did. They'll probably have to sooner or later. But, you know, the bottom line is that there are a lot of companies that have taken the power of where the revenues are and understand that either it's a healthy music ecosystem or they're going to be relying on porn. I think people like music too much to just rely on porn to keep their engines going.

MR: What's great is that you used to come to label meetings with reams of giant printouts - it was like you had every penny in front of you.

AK: Ultimately, isn't that what record companies are supposed to do? You know, I had an artist's career, and like I said, they wanted me to be their CEO. I needed to know that stuff, and I really take my job into consideration every day. I'm very grateful that I have that job, so I try to do it with a very, very high standard.


photo by Kerry Sherck

If you're aware of singer-songwriter David Berkeley, then you also are aware of his many other talents that include novel writing. This exclusive video for his new album's title track, "The Fire In My Head," was handled by Matthew Washburn who utilizes animation to gently interpret David's confessional lyrics with grace.

"I moved to New Mexico a little over a year ago and was pretty blown away by the skies, the light and the lack of green here," David explains. "There were huge wild fires earlier in the summer, and it hardly ever rained. But when it did rain, everything changed--the air changed, the desert bloomed, even the mood of the people lightened. I wrote a new album of songs shortly after arriving and recorded them during a shotgun session with my touring trio (Jordan Katz and Bill Titus) in a crazy studio in the mountains of Chupadero. The album is called The Fire in My Head and the western landscape and weather loom large. I doubled and tripled a lot of the vocals to try to create as intimate a listening experience as possible, almost like the audience is inside my head. The title track employs a line I remembered from a William Butler Yeats poem I read in school. But I recast the meaning of the words in my song to capture both the passion one might feel for a lover who has left and the artistic passion that sometimes drives me to put a pen to a blank page or pick up my guitar. My friend Matthew Washburn created this unique video for the song using whimsical paper puppets to loosely enact the song's story line of a girl escaping to the desert to find herself and a boy longing to bring her back. Washburn made these puppets himself and managed to control them in actual-time using wires. They were then overlaid onto real backdrops in his hometown of San Francisco, lending a magical-realist quality to the production. I was really happy with how it came out. I think the visuals support my vocals really nicely, and the result is surprisingly emotional given that the 'actors' are merely paper cutouts."


Fri, Apr 11 8pm KC Turner House Concert Series San Francisco

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Wed, Apr 30 8pm Cafe 1823 3737 Seminary Rd, Alexandria, VA

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Wed, May 14 7pm Adobe Bar at The Taos Inn 125 Paseo Del Pueblo Norte, Taos, NM

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Thu, Jun 19 20:00 Pllek TT Neveritaweg 59, 1033 WB Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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Tue, Jun 24 20h Le Gibus Cafe 127 Rue Saint Maur, Paris 75011

Wed, Jun 25 19:30 The Slaughtered Lamb - Pull Up the Roots Presents 34-35 Great Sutton St, London, EC1V 0DX

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Thu, Jul 3 19:00 The Inchyra Arts Club Inchyra House, Glencarse, Perth, Perthshire PH2 7LU, Scotland

Fri, Jul 4 The Maverick Festival - Easton Park Easton, Woodbridge, Suffolk IP13 0EQ

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