A Quick Chat with Meat Loaf
Mike Ragogna: I think the first thing I have to ask you is what to call you... Mister Loaf? Marvin?
Meat Loaf: I have been called Meat since about the fourth day of my life. I was born bright red. Some babies are. My youngest daughter was. They put you under these yellow lights for a couple hours and the redness goes away. Well it didn't go away for me, so the doctors suggested they keep me in the hospital for I don't know how long, maybe a week, two weeks, whatever. My dad was a member of the Dallas police force at the time and he actually talked the nurses into making a sign. He thought that I looked like nine and a half pounds of ground chuck, so he talked the nurses into a sign that said, "Meat" and put it in that little plastic slot on the crib, and move my crib to the center of the room and leave it there. I don't think my mother was very happy with it, but that's what happened. So as a child my mother called me M.L., my dad called me Meat, a lot of the kids on the street would call me Meat. The loaf came about in the eighth grade--This is true--People have always asked me and I've made up a thousand stories but I stepped on a coach's foot and he screamed, "Get off my foot you hunk of Meat Loaf." Eighth graders think everything's funny, so the next day I came into the locker room and they had spelled "Meat Loaf" as two words. Not one, but two, so that my first name was Meat and my last name was Loaf. I have a high school football program where it says, "#74...Defensive Tackle...Meat Loaf Aday."
MR: So you had no choice but to be a tough guy, huh?
ML: Yeah. A lot of kids get bullied, and I was definitely bullied and picked on. I'm in the fifth grade and I weigh a hundred and eighty five pounds. By the seventh grade, I weighed two hundred and forty. This morning, I weigh two hundred and forty-seven. I weigh seven pounds more than I did in the seventh grade. I went all the way up to three forty and then I lost a hundred pounds. Yeah I was picked on and bullied and teased and everything, the only difference is that I was mean. I had a lot of good friends, but if people picked on me I beat the hell out of them. I learned how to fight. I grew up in Texas, and what you do on weekends is you go out on dates, you'd go to Jack In The Box and have fights. That's what growing up in Texas was all about. That was like a ritual.
MR: And that was kind of the theme of some of your most popular projects.
ML: I learned how to act. When I was about eleven or twelve years old my father was an alcoholic and he would be like Jack Lemon in Days Of Wine And Roses, he would disappear for days at a time and my mother would go looking for him. When I got old enough, when I was eleven or twelve I stopped her. This was in the fifties and in between Dallas and Fort Worth along the Trinity River were some of the worst, meanest redneck bars you've ever seen. I wouldn't let my mother go in to see if my father was in that bar. This is how I learned how to act: I would walk into that bar and I would put on this thing--I'm over two hundred pounds and I would send out this vibe and my eyes would read. Basically, what I'm saying is, "If you lay one finger on me, you're dead." I became a bad mother. Then I'd go back to the car and be shaking like a leaf, like, "Oh God, oh God." I was scared to death. But that's really where the acting came in. I learned how to act that way and then I learned about technique. I can't even tell you how much I've studied now. I worked with Strasberg a little bit, I never worked with Meisner but I worked with his protégée, I've worked with Stella Adler's protégée, it goes on. I've studied the craft.
MR: Rob Cavallo made the connection between your acting and singing.
ML: He said, "Meat Loaf is an actor who thinks he can sing."
MR: In your mind, is that true?
ML: It absolutely is. Until I had the character down and until I know what the intent is--Every song, every script, every scene has different levels of intensity and intention. I was working with a singer yesterday and explaining that to her, "Okay, right now you're really angry. You're in a fight. Now you're coming out of that fight, you want to try to turn around and resolve and reclaim that relationship. You want to bring that tension down and see if you can get this guy back to where he was." We were basically going through acting class while she was singing, and she was great, she did everything I said. That's how I do songs. I have to know the intent, I have to know where the transitions are, I have to know where the intensity is and when to back the intensity off. I don't just pick up a song and sing it; it doesn't work that way with me. And every song is a different character. If you come to a show and you pay attention you will also notice--I've read a lot of Brando and early Strasberg when Marilyn was in there and Pacino and James Dean. Before Brando ever studied a single line he would develop the mannerisms of that character, how that character walked, was the left handed, was he right handed, did he lean this way, did he do this, did he do that. Every song I do on stage is a different character, they have a different movement. Believe me, no other singer that walks on stage even comes close to thinking about doing that.
MR: Your live performances are legendary because of that and to me, you're one of the great rock singers.
ML: Well, I'm going to disagree with you on that. A lot. The one thing that happens on stage is that I never listen to myself sing, so I have no idea what I'm doing singing on stage. I'm into the scene. If It's a duet I'm doing it with a partner. If it's not a duet I create an imaginary human being and I'm singing to that person. But I don't listen to myself sing. We've taped every show we've ever done since '86. I will listen to them, I'll go into shows five or six hours early and listen to the tape so I can go, "Oh my God, what were you doing? Don't let me do that again."
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
ML: You can't rely on anyone but yourself. You have to make it happen yourself. It requires even more work than it ever did in the sixties, seventies, eighties, nineties, or even the two thousands. There really are no more record companies, you have streaming companies like Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre have put together. Artists make most of their money from touring and endorsement these days. I don't know how publishers are still in business. To make music is really tough. I make music because I still have something to say. I have something to prove, not to you and not to Bill Smith out there. I have something to prove to myself. My fight is never with someone else, my fight is always with myself, to be better than I was yesterday, to improve, and to move forward and learn.
To be continued...
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
A Conversation with Buzz Cason
Mike Ragogna: Buzz, considering your history, you truly are a record machine. But wait...you have a new album titled Record Machine, imagine that!
Buzz Cason: Yes, Mike. Record Machine is my second album for Plowboy Records and I'm really excited that it's doing real well at radio and everyone seems to dig the music
MR: So let's go back one or two years to when you first started in the music biz, do the catch-up thing for folks right proper-like. What got you into music anyway? And is the rumor--that I'm starting right here--true? That you secretly wanted to become the next Buddy Holly?
BC: I have formed a band in high school called The Casuals with the late Richard Williams, Billy Smith, Chester Power, and in the late Johnny McCreery. We traveled all over the states backing folks and incidentally the first song we played on the road was "That'll Be The Day" by Buddy Holly, although I was a little more into R&B than what he was doing.
MR: You've been recording for six decades sir, putting many of your contemporaries to shame. Shame I say! Excluding Record Machine, which we'll get to, I promise, what are some of your favorite recordings that you've appeared on [cough, cough, Jimmy Buffett] and which songs have you either written or co-written that still give you that giggle of joy when you hear them?
BC: Of course, the song I wrote with Mac Gayden called "Everlasting Love" has been the most successful song I've ever written and I still get a kick out of hearing it on the radio and also the vocals that I did with Jimmy Buffett on "Come Monday" still are fun to hear.
MR: Alamo Jones dubbed you "The Father Of Nashville Rock," his beating me to that since I was just seconds away from declaring that as well. Okay, how did that Dad of Nashville Rock approach Record Machine's track list, recording process, etc., that was different than his previous albums?
BC: There was no set process in setting the album up. Since I have a studio, Creative Workshop, there in Berryhill, Tennessee, I have the convenience of going in pretty much at my selection of time and recording. What was really special about this record was my son Parker Cason helped me out with arrangements and co-wrote the song "Record Machine."
MR: Do you listen to the album on your car's CD player or through bluetooth from your iPhone?
BC: So far, I have just listened to the album on CD but I will listen on bluetooth soon.
MR: Your son Parker appears on this album. So even though the music business is in shambles, you didn't try and convince him out of choosing this profession?
BC: He pretty much decided several years ago when I took him to a session that Jerry Reed was doing that he wanted to do music as a career. He said, "Dad, I know now what I want to do," after seeing Jerry Reed perform and play guitar there in the RCA studio. He did make his folks proud when he got his music business degree at Belmont University here in Nashville.
MR: How many times a day do you listen to U2's cover of your original song "Everlasting Love"? Are you surprised by the everlasting love that's been given to "Everlasting Love"? Off the top of your head, no cheating, how many artists have recorded "Everlasting Love"? And how often do you get together with co-writer Mac Gayden for a writing session for the followup, "Everlasting Love Part II"? See where I'm going with this everlasting question?
BC: We never could have imagined the success of "Everlasting Love" since it was written as a B-side for Robert Knight in 1967, but we certainly appreciate all the versions which I believe is somewhere around 40, but there's about 8 to 10 that have charted and have been successful. I don't get to write with Mac Gayden nearly as much as I'd like to anymore but we keep talking about it and we'll get together one of these days!
MR: It's also rumored--not started by me--that you wrote "Soldier Of Love," a song The Beatles covered. Phh, yeah, right. Okay, prove it...what's the story behind that one?
BC: Yes, I co-wrote "Soldier Of Love" with Tony Moon, who was a guitarist with The Casuals at the time back in 1962. We wrote the song for Arthur Alexander, who did the original version of it. His producer requested that we write a song for him. You might know Marshall Crenshaw, The Beatles, and Pearl Jam covered that song, which is never really been a single hit but it's been awfully good to us and a lot of folks know the song when we go out playing it on the road.
MR: Is there anyone you would still love to work with who you haven't yet?
BC: I would like to write some rockabilly songs with Chris Isaak! So if you can hook us up, I'll pay you a commission. Thanks!
MR: Ha! Any thoughts on today's music scene? Any favorite artists or songs?
BC: I think it's actually great that there are so many genres now and so many different outlets for our music. Of course, some of it I don't care for, but for the biggest part I find some real creative energy and unique ideas coming out of it...I still like to listen to Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan but I may listen to Train, Jason Isbell, Tom Petty, Wilco as well as any of the contemporary artists that are that are out there now
MR: What is your advice for new artists?
BC: Make your vocals unique. Don't be afraid to be a stylist and write songs that people can sing along to ...you can go deeper on your albums but write something for radio while you're at it
MR: Got any plans for your next six decades in music?
BC: Every now and then, I'll think about hanging it up and just going fishing and playing golf, but then I realize how much fun I'm having doing this so I'll just keep on rocking until I can't rock anymore.
A Conversation with Patty Farmer
Mike Ragogna: Patty, your book Playboy Swings basically documents the relationship between jazz and Playboy magazine and its beginnings. What got you interested in the topic and what's your own history with jazz?
Patty Farmer: While I like jazz a lot--if I had to pick one music form that would be it--my primary interest is entertainment history in its entirety. Growing up, I loved the Great American Songbook, but when I got into college, a boyfriend turned me on to jazz, and I discovered artists like Miles Davis who I found captivating to watch. But It was only while doing research, when I came across the fact that the Playboy organization was the largest employer of entertainers in this country for almost twenty years, that I dug deeper. What I discovered was Playboy's--and when I say "Playboy," I really mean Hugh Hefner's passion and commitment to the music and the artists--provided not only places for performers to work but also a place where artists got paid while honing their craft.
MR: Beyond wanting to exploit its hip factor, what do you think internally drove Hugh Hefner to the genre? Did he have a predilection for jazz?
PF: It was the music he grew up with in his youth and gravitated to. While still in High School, he wrote about jazz for his school paper under the pseudonym "Hip Hef." I think he found it romantic and sophisticated at the same time.
MR: What was the rivalry like between Down Beat and Playboy?
PF: It wasn't an actual rivalry; really more of a robust competition. By 1957, Playboy was one of the primary proponents of jazz in the main stream media. Until then, nearly all coverage had been relegated to specialty publications such as was Down Beat and Metronome. Both Playboy and Down Beat were trying to capture jazz fans by getting them involved with magazine jazz polls. Down Beat came out with their poll first, but Playboy did it better. They then even topped themselves with their All-Stars, All Star Jazz Poll, where they asked the celebrity All Star Poll winners to, in turn, vote for their favorite musicians. Both polls essentially created dream team jazz bands but one was compiled from the subscribers and one from the All Star Poll winners Esquire magazine also had a poll but they focused on the opinions of critics rather than readers.
MR: Do you think jazz benefited from the Playboy connection? Which artists may have benefited the most?
PF: Both the music and the artists definitely benefited from the Playboy connection. One of the primary benefits was the visibility the music and the artists received from the simultaneous exposure in the magazines, the clubs, and the festivals. The first Playboy Jazz Festival in 1959 was a milestone event. Jazz became an integral part of the Playboy lifestyle experience through the magazine and came to be seen as part of the culture's hip factor. Playboy introduced jazz as an art form that you could also sit down and listen to and appreciate, especially when it started featuring jazz performers on the television shows like Playboy After Dark. The caliber of the Playboy Jazz Festivals, and the artists who were featured, elevated the music to a whole other level and exposed the music to literally thousands of people. The idea of a jazz festival was new at the time, and the magazine, which suggested to readers that a jazz record--playing on the phonograph while cocktails were served--set the stage for seduction. Hef personally enjoyed jazz in many situations--celebrations, reflective, seductive, and relaxing--and definitely converted many others to his way of thinking! All of this exposed jazz to a much bigger mainstream audience than ever before.
Tony Bennett is probably the one entertainer more connected to Playboy than any other. He was there from the start. And has had the honor of appearing on virtually every single Playboy entertainment platform, including multiple episodes of both TV series, 1959-1961 and 1968-1970; many different Playboy Clubs and resorts and more recently the Playboy Jazz Festival.
MR: Playboy's classy presentation of jazz and music in general had to have been a surprise to fans of the genre and the magazine's subscribers. What was the initial reaction or fallout when it first was introduced?
PF: It was a surprise but I'd say a happy one. In that very first issue of Playboy magazine in 1953--with Marilyn Monroe on the cover--Hef could have written his editorial about any movie star, sports figure or politician he wanted, yet he chose to write about the Dorsey Brothers. His subscriber's positive reaction and encouragement--I believe--laid the ground work for the magazines continued coverage of the genre to this day.
MR: You've written this book mostly based on interviews of artists and experts. Who were some of the more fascinating people involved and can you give a couple of stories about them?
PF: Now Mike, you're asking me to pick which of my kids I like most! Not fair, but I do have to say I really enjoyed speaking with jazz great Sonny Rollins a whole lot. And he was extremely generous with his stories and time. In Playboy Swings, he shares a story about how he met Bob Cranshaw when he was booked to play at the first Playboy Jazz Festival in 1959. The Rollins-Cranshaw collaboration proved to be one of the most enduring partnerships in all of jazz--lasting over 50 years. Sonny credits Hef, "with being a forward thinking person who wanted a free America, a place not just of integration but of advancement. Sonny continued, "and he took a step in that direction with his Jazz Festival and I was quite happy to have had the opportunity to appear there."
Jamaican piano great Monty Alexander tells Playboy Swings readers how Kai Winding recruited him from Jilly's to play at the New York Playboy Club. He was the first piano player there and he requested that Kai also hire two other musicians who he played with at Jilly's; Bob Cranshaw and Gene Bertoncini. That was the very beginning of the New York Club. Because they didn't have a cabaret license, they were only allowed to have a combo of stringed instruments--so they played without a drummer. Monty thought it was funny that although Kai was the musical director, he couldn't legally play his trombone until the license was granted.
MR: Which jazz artists do you admire most and which works--could be theirs or others'--are your favorites?
PF: To this day, I love Tony Bennett for the swing he put on the Great American Songbook and his impeccable styling. And I admire Louis Armstrong whose unusual voice I actually love, along with his trumpet playing. I also loved Miles Davis for the soulfulness of his music and I was fascinated by his attitude onstage and off. I just loved watching him onstage- he just played what he wanted, the way he wanted, without seeming to care what anyone thought, yet he commanded your attention. Every time I hear Dee Dee Bridgewater's "Song for my Father," I tear because it's so lovely. Gregory Porter's "Liquid Spirit" is a consistent 'go to' for me, as is "Be Good." Both these artists are wonderful and in Playboy Swings, both took time to talk with me about what the Playboy Jazz Festival meant to them and other artists. Joe Lovano is also brilliant and I listen to him often. I can't even pick a favorite--all his pieces just transport me.
MR: Will Friedwald, who is considered the world's leading expert on all things Sinatra, Bennett and most things jazz, also was involved. How did he help with the book?
PF: Will was enormously helpful in many ways including, providing background and context for me. As well as making many introductions. I couldn't have picked anyone better to have on my speed dial. He's a good friend and it wouldn't have been as much fun without him around.
MR: Did anything possibly significant to you personally have to get deleted for space?
PF: Who told you? Yes, I did meticulous research and compiled a Complete Playboy Entertainment Reference Guide where I listed every artist from every year of the Playboy Festival, the winners of the PB Jazz Polls, every artist on each of the TV episodes including the highlights of that particular show, the entire library from the record company, the opening of each Playboy Club, the name of every Playboy Interview by date, and much more. And the publisher, in their wisdom, said it took up too much room and they didn't think anyone was interested so they cut the entire section! I think I need another publisher!
MR: Do you think the Playboy branding still has a value with regards to jazz? Where do you think its heading?
PF: I absolutely do. Playboy, with their precise management approach and their close affiliation with experts such as George Wein--Jazz Festival creator and promoter--has established the Playboy Jazz Festival that will continue to present established jazz musicians as well as up and coming jazz talent for many, many years to come. I've spoken to many artists, including Gregory Porter, who say that playing the Playboy Jazz Festival is a definite mark of achievement.
MR: What do you think of current jazz scene?
PF: I love that I see so many young people entering the scene--and am very encouraged that they can actually study jazz in schools such as Julliard. But on the other hand I worry that so many of the small jazz clubs are closing. In New York you still have places like the Vanguard, Jazz Standard, the Blue Note, and Dizzy's at Lincoln Center but there used to be so many more. On a happy note it appears that Jazz Festivals seem to be prospering in more and more cities world-wide. I run into people who plan their vacations around them.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
PF: Find a place to play and play. I constantly run into musicians who are waiting for the 'right' time and the 'right' showroom. They need to get their music in front of an audience--lots of people, whenever and wherever possible. Another important issue is that the old traditional means of a record label supporting an artist and their work--has been almost completely dismantled. Now new, as well as established artists, have to make the best use of whatever social media is available to get their work heard. They have to take control, not be shy, and push their own work!
MR: What is the future bringing for author Patty Farmer?
PF: I hope I'll just get to continue doing what I love to do with talking and recording the history of the country and world's entertainers.
A Conversation with Brooke Annibale
Mike Ragogna: Brooke, your new album The Simple Fear will be out on October 2nd. Beyond its single "Remind Me," can you tell us anything about it?
Brooke Annibale: I found the album title The Simple Fear within the lyrics of the first song on the album. It really summed up the themes of the record for me. I was going through a lot of changes, and realizations about life. In my writing I found myself tackling the expectations of life and the fear of not finding those expectations met. I think that's a fear that we all have in common at some point. Putting it into perspective makes a pretty complicated thing like fear, seem very simple.
MR: What's the story behind "Remind Me"?
BA: This song ended a bit of a writing drought for me. It wasn't that I wasn't writing but I just wasn't writing things I liked enough to even finish. I wrote this song start to finish all in one day. It helped me build back my confidence in writing, and opened the door to writing the rest of the songs for the album. Even though it was written so quickly, when I was writing it I didn't actually know what I was writing about necessarily. My writing was almost completely subconscious about a situation I had been in months before. It was months after I wrote it before I realized how deeply it related to that experience in my life.
MR: You started songwriting at 15 back in Pittsburgh, and you released your first album, Memories in Melody by 17. What put you on a musical path?
BA: I started writing lyrics at a really young age, sometime in elementary school. I really loved writing lyrics, and when I got to my teenage years I wanted to learn an instrument to be able to put those lyrics to music. My maternal grandfather played the guitar and started a retail and live sound company that is still owned and operated by my family here in Pittsburgh. It seemed like the natural choice for me to dive into guitar lessons. As soon as I knew enough chords I was throwing songs together.
MR: You lived and worked in Nashville. What happened during your time there?
BA: I moved there in 2005 to attend college at Belmont University. I majored in Music Business, participated in school showcases and interned at a few interesting places in the industry. When I graduated, I moved back to Pittsburgh for about 2 years, before moving back to Nashville. I've made three records in Nashville since 2010 (2 albums and an EP) all in the same studio. I started recording at The Smoakstack--the studio I recorded all of these in--because my friend from college and now producer, Justin March, worked there as an engineer. A lot of the people I work with in Nashville stemmed from relationships I made in college with people who are working in the industry now. I've been living back in Pittsburgh since early 2014.
MR: Your music has been in many television shows. Have you seen how they're used and what're some of your reactions?
BA: Yes, I've watched every time it's happened...or I find it online! With the most recent one, I actually watched the placement of my song "Silence Worth Breaking" on the TV in the studio where the song was recorded, while I was making this new album. It was kind of one of those full circle moments... I was in the place where we made the song, and worked so hard on the details and the mix, and then there it was playing on the TV.
MR: Having had a music career from an early age, in your opinion, what's changed about the scene and what's changed in your own life as you've matured? What have you learned?
BA: Well there are the obvious things, like the fact that when I started out, Spotify didn't even exist or that MySpace was the main way to promote music online. But adapting to new platforms has always been the norm while I've been making music. Sonically, there's been a pretty obvious shift in the "scene" towards more electronic sounds, but I like to try to find the balance between the more organic, acoustic instruments and the new technology that makes any instrument electronically available via a keyboard or computer. I've definitely learned a lot since I first started. Being 17, and making a record in a studio teaches you a lot, but it took me until I was 23 to find the recorded sound I was really looking for with my own music. I think I'm better now at knowing what direction I want to take a song when recording.
MR: Who are your favorite contemporaries?
BA: Some of my favorites include, Brandi Carlile, The Swell Season, Elliott Smith, Lisa Hannigan, Ben Howard, Kathleen Edwards. The Beatles are probably my most cliché favorite and longest running influence, as my aunt and uncle introduced me to them at a really young age and I've loved them ever since.
MR: What would you have done if music hadn't been successful for you?
BA: It's really hard for me to tell or picture what else I could be doing right now if I never picked up a guitar. I have a business degree though, so I suppose I might be doing something in business. However, if you consult my 3rd grade journal, which I found a few years back, my answer to, "What do you want to be what you grow up?" was, "I'd like to be a singer, an actress, or a real estate agent." I have no recollection of wanting to be an actress or desire to be one now, but I would definitely delve into real estate! Very odd answer for an 8-year-old though!
MR: What is the best advice you were ever given?
BA: Back when I was trying to decide where to go to college, it was between a few rural colleges outside of Pittsburgh for business, and Belmont University in Nashville for Music Business. I wasn't considering going that far away for school. Nashville is about 8-9 hours by car from Pittsburgh. My older sister said to me something like, "This could be your only chance to choose to live in another city and experience another place." And also something along the lines of my hometown always being there to come home to.
MR: Did you follow it?
BA: Yes, as I ended up going to Nashville for school. There were lots of reasons of course, besides this advice, but I always remember how encouraging it was. I can't imagine where my career or my life would be in general if I hadn't gotten out of my hometown for a while and explored. It fostered my independence and my curiosity about traveling and experiencing other places. I've also met people from all over the country that I still work with now just because I went.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
BA: Well, even though I've been making music for about 11 years now, I still feel like a new artist! But this is what I'd have to say to people starting out: Be wary of who you let represent you. You don't want someone speaking on your behalf if they are doing shady or pushy business, or are not kind to people. Also, I'd have to add if you're considering spending time in a city full of the music industry, do it for awhile! You don't have to stay forever but you'll most likely make relationships that will change your music and career for the better. But above all else, my advice would have to be genuine in everything you do with your music. If you can't be genuine about it, maybe you shouldn't be doing it.
MR: Beyond the new album, what else will be happening in your immediate future?
BA: I will be playing a lot of shows this fall, in New York, Chicago, Nashville, DC, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and a few house concerts in between.
MR: Are you satisfied with what you've achieved to this point? Do you feel you should be doing more?
BA: It's hard to say I'm satisfied, because there are so many things I still want to achieve. But every day that I'm able to make music for a living is an incredible opportunity, regardless of how many ups and downs I experience. I certainly hope to be doing more in music in the near future because I'm not sure I've ever had or ever wanted to have the choice of doing something else.
CHRIS DUPONT'S "EASE THE BLOW" EXCLUSIVE
According to Chris DuPont...
"One time I was asked to sing at a funeral for a young suicide victim. He was the brother of some dear friends. Being a participant and spectator in someone's grief can be a powerful and humbling thing. I wrote 'Ease the Blow" to document the things I saw that day, and to remind myself that no one can truly understand another person's pain. I'm passionate about mental health awareness, and I hope this song gives listeners a quiet moment to remember the dead, and to notice the people around them who may be struggling."