'Tis the Season: Chatting With Scotty McCreery, Rita Coolidge and Tom Keifer, Plus Slam Dunk's "Fantasy" Exclusive

"I enjoy getting out in front of the crowds every single night, I enjoy seeing their faces light up and having a good time out there and seeing the smiles on their faces. That's what gives me a thrill now, just getting up there for the live action and just performing."
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A Conversation With Scotty McCreery

Mike Ragogna: Hi, Scotty!

Scotty McCreery: Hey, how are you doing?

MR: I'm fine, and you seem to be doing really, really well. Serioulsly, I'm sitting in front of so much news on you that I don't even know where to start.

SM: Yeah, it's a crazy time of year for us. We're pretty pumped up and excited about what's coming up.

MR: Well, one thing that's coming up is your new Christmas album, Christmas with Scotty McCreery. What went into choosing the songs for this record?

SM: That was the tough part of this record. Singing the songs was easy because most of them I've heard my whole life, but picking them was crazy because you hear so many and there's so many different classics and traditional that you hear every year. So we sat down with a pen and paper and I put down my favorites and other people put down theirs and we kind of clashed ideas and once we got down to about eleven we were good to go.

MR: You recorded one of my favorites "O Holy Night," and you handle those high notes really well.

SM: Oh, I appreciate it. That's a tough song to sing so we took our time with that one for sure.

MR: Yeah, "Oh night divine" kills everyone.

SM: [laughs]

MR: You include a couple of new originals.

SM: Yeah, definitely.

MR: Do you want to go into them?

SM: Yeah, "Christmas in Heaven" is my favorite on the album and I was actually writing a song like that one about my grandfather and how we miss him down here and it wasn't a week later after I started writing that one that the guys in Nashville sent me this song and it was just such a perfect thing and exactly what I wanted to say in a song. I haven't really mastered my songwriting craft yet, so if I see a song that says exactly what I want to say and more I'm going to go with it. That's what that song was, and Christmas is coming around again, that was a different kind of Christmas song but it's just talking about the powerful time of Christmas, the healing power of Christmas and the great time of year it is and what it can do. To me, if a Christmas song is going to be new, it has to either make you get up and dance or it has to be really meaningful to you, so these two are definitely meaningful to me.

MR: Let's talk about Christmas for a second, Scotty. Can you throw out there one of your favorite Christmas stories, maybe one of your favorite gatherings of the family?

SM: Oh, man. Christmas is by far our favorite time of year in the McCreery household so we have plenty of stories. I think if I'm going to look back at Christmas stories, I'd probably say the Christmas I got my first guitar from my grandfather. I was probably ten or eleven and I got my first guitar. I didn't know what the heck I was doing with it at first but I got into some lessons and really started picking it and it kind of led me to my musical love today, so that was definitely a big moment for me, Christmas-wise and life-wise.

MR: You were very close to your grandfather, weren't you.

SM: Yeah, he passed away. I have another grandfather that's still alive and kicking but my mom's dad is passed away now and he was definitely a good grandfather. He definitely cared a lot about us and we were close, you can definitely say that.

MR: Okay, so what do you want for Christmas?

SM: For me, this year, I'm not asking for a whole bunch of stuff. I'm just looking for some new tires for my truck, and whether or not I get it at Christmas time is whatever. I've got a nice truck and stuff but I've just got to get some--I've got kind of wimpy tires to have on it, so I'm just looking to beef it up a little bit.

MR: Cool. Did you maybe get the truck for Christmas last year?

SM: No, I got the truck pretty much for my birthday last year because we had to wait around for it. The winner and the runner-up for American Idol win a truck from Ford, so I got a nice truck.

MR: Now we're going to have to get into all of this prestigious stuff that's been happening to you this year. First of all, there's Billboard's 21 Under 21: Music's Hottest Minors of 2012 category, and you were number four on that.

SM: Yeah, I saw that, it was pretty wild.

MR: And you're in the Guinness Book of World Records.

SM: Yeah, I think it was "Youngest Male to Enter the Charts at Number One." That's pretty cool. I remember looking at the Guinness Book of World Records when I was a kid, looking at the man with the longest fingernails and all that. You never think you'd be in there but it's definitely pretty cool to be in there.

MR: And ironically, look at that, there you are, right next to the guy with the longest fingernails!

SM: Am I really?

MR: No, no, I'm kidding.

SM: [laughs]

MR: And you've got items on exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of History.

SM: Yeah, I was informed about that a couple days ago. I remember sending the outfit to them so that's pretty cool. We'd go there as kids and I'd take fieldtrips there with school and now I have my own exhibit. That's pretty daggone cool.

MR: Yup, it sure is, and then there's the big one. You won American Idol.

SM: Yeah, that's the big one. That's got me going for sure.

MR: I want to make an observation: You seem like a really normal, together guy who's had a lot of hits and a lot of success t a very young age. How is that possible? How can you remain a normal, nice guy after all that?

SM: I remember being asked the question in my first interview with American Idol before we'd even made it past the first day and they sat down with a camera crew and said, "Scotty, what makes you different?" and I just told them, "What makes me different is that I'm normal. I'm just your average teenage kid." I didn't expect this to happen to me. I wanted it to, but I didn't expect it. I've just been going with the flow the last few years, I guess. I went back to high school and finished out there and finished my tour as well, so you mix that in and I'm in college now and have Monday to Wednesday schedule so Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, we're hitting the road. I'm just trying to maintain a balanced lifestyle. I think I have to, especially at this young of an age, you know?

MR: Absolutely. Scotty, are you conscious of your age? It does come up as we're talking, but because of the amount of success you've had, you may still be a teenager physically, but do you feel like a teenager anymore?

SM: I feel like I've had to do a lot of growing up over the last few years. I definitely do have to be conscious of my age; I still have to have fun like I'm a teenager. I'm turning nineteen in five days, so I'm still enjoying it and I still do stupid stuff like all the teenagers do and get in trouble and stuff, but I definitely have to be an adult because my job is in the adult world. But when I'm back home or in my everyday life, I'm just your normal average teenage kid, I guess.

MR: Cool. How are your pals taking all this?

SM: My pals? They're just enjoying it with me. They don't really read too much into it or get too excited about it. They did in the first place, but now, they just kind of treat me like the same old kid, because they see everybody else freaking out when we're walking down the street. I think whenever I'm around them, they really try to just be normal and treat it like the old times.

MR: So they give you hell for that and razz you a little?

SM: Yeah, they definitely do. They're probably the ones that hate on me the most. It keeps me grounded, so I need it.

MR: What is your favorite thing about singing and entertaining? Do you like going to the studio most, do you like going on tour most?

SM: I think when I first started out, I liked the studio most, just getting in and being creative and really working with the guys in Nashville. But after touring with Brad Paisley, I enjoy getting out in front of the crowds every single night, I enjoy seeing their faces light up and having a good time out there and seeing the smiles on their faces. That's what gives me a thrill now, just getting up there for the live action and just performing. That's what keeps me going.

MR: Beautiful. Was Brad a mentor to you?

SM: In a way, yeah. He's a guy that I can really look up to as far as being an artist and just being an upstanding guy. It's been nice for this being my first country tour and I've definitely learned a heck of a lot from him.

MR: Are there any stories you can't tell on the radio?

SM: I don't know, maybe just with the guys on the bus, having guy humor stuff but other than that, it hasn't been too, too bad.

MR: [laughing] Scotty, I asked you this before, but let's do it again. What advice do you have for new artists?

SM: You've just got to go out there and hit the ground running. You can't be scared. I know you'll be nervous because I was, but you've got to have fun with it. Take it in every day and you never know what can happen. You never know where the road is going to take you, but you've just got to be willing to go down it with your best foot. That's what I have to say.

MR: What's your advice to Scotty McCreery as you're moving into your future?

SM: Focus on the music. If you focus on the music and get the right songs, I think the rest will take care of itself. It's been a wild year for me with the success of the album--winning an auto, I've won awards. That's been cool but I haven't really had that major hit song yet, so I really have to focus on that, personally and as an artist. I've got to focus on the music.

MR: You know it's just a matter of time, right?

SM: I hope so.

MR: You were an awesome person to talk to, I really appreciate the time.

SM: Yes sir. Y'all are always good to me, so I appreciate it.

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne


Slam Dunk's "Fantasy" Premiere

On November 13, 2012 File Under: Music will release Welcome to Miami, the sophomore album from Slam Dunk (Jordan Minkoff, Duncan MacConnell, Caitlin Gallupe, Luke Postl, Kain Bryson). Produced by Colin Stewart (Black Mountain, Ladyhawke, Cave Singers), the eclectic rock 'n' roll stomp of the band's sophomore release is backed by manic, saxophone freak-out psychedelic, backwoods howling and the occasional splash of minimalism. From the opening soul hits of "Can't Stand It" and on to the thunderous spaghetti-western rumble of "Horse Bumper," Slam Dunk find themselves venturing off into a myriad of styles that make up a pretty dense album.

Forming in the summer of 2009, the group of five Victoria-based friends decided to create a band that would incorporate everything they adored in a classic pop hook, but invoked with something more cathartic, brash and chaotic. Slam Dunk quickly became one of the West Coast's most revered live acts. Described as "the E-Street band on Crack," Slam Dunk's live shows command people to lose their s**t to a blend of shout-along choruses and twisting fuzz-guitar melodies.

Slam Dunk - 10 Fantasy by File Under Music


A Conversation With Rita Coolidge

Mike Ragogna: Why it's Rita Coolidge!

Rita Coolidge: Hi, how are you, Mike? It's so good to talk with you.

MR: It's great to talk to you, Rita, it's been a while. First of all, you have a new album, A Rita Coolidge Christmas, that features your duet of "Baby It's Cold Outside" with Lynn Coulter.

RC: Well, first of all, I want to say that it's probably my favorite cut on the new Christmas CD, and Lynn has been my drummer most of the time for about twelve years and I just love his voice. When he's not working with me, he has his own band and he's just an amazing singer and, of course, I love to sing with other people, especially duets. It's kind of been a big part of my musical career, to have a duet with a fabulous male singer. I could blame it on Kris (Kristofferson), but I don't. Lynn and I started duets in the show a few years ago and it just became kind of an automatic to do "Baby It's Cold Outside." And I have to tell you that because of the Christmas shows, live, it's one of the reasons that we did the record. When we perform that, Lynn comes front and center stage and sings that with me and it is visually the most animated, hysterical thing I've ever seen. I can barely sing the song, he's so funny.

MR: A little mischief for Christmas, eh?

RC: It is Christmas mischief, so much that after Christmas, when we're doing shows just where it's cold, because it doesn't have a lyric about Christmas in it, I say, "Let's do 'Baby It's Cold Outside.'" They say, "It's a Christmas song!" and I go, "No it's not!"

MR: So this is your first Christmas album, isn't it?

RC: It is, and it's something that I've wanted to do since I started recording.

MR: Yeah, and is this selection of songs those that you grew up with and are very attached to or are they things that you've, over the years, just started embracing?

RC: Well, yeah, both of those things. You know, a lot of the songs are songs that have meant a lot to me. That's why I started doing Christmas shows, because I think that desire to record a Christmas album has always been in my heart and in my mind, and back in the seventies, A&M would say, "Oh it's such a small window for selling records that we need to focus on your pop career and we don't need to jump off and do that because you sell limited amounts of records." But I said, "I have the rest of my life to sell them!" Finally, somebody got it, because now Christmas music literally is being played right at Halloween instead of even Thanksgiving.

MR: [laughs] Actually, I think it's being played when the kids are going back to school.

RC: I know! It's a much bigger window. Like a door.

MR: Hey, Rita, I interviewed Kris Kristofferson recently. Of course, you two were married in addition to your being a recording act, and when the subject of Rita Coolidge came up, he said such beautiful, glowing things about you.

RC: Oh, that's very sweet, and I would be the same way if you asked me about Kris. He is just one of the most wonderful human beings I've known in my life. Our marriage didn't work out, but we have remained very loving friends. He's a wonderful father to all of his children, he is a great grandpa Kris to our daughter's children. I love Kris.

MR: Beautiful. Recently, a friend said, "Mike, when you interview these artists, why don't you just ask them to tell you a little bit about themselves?" Can I try that on you?

RC: I would say, "How long have you got?"

MR: [laughs] Rita Coolidge, oh Delta Lady, please will you tell us a little bit about yourself?

RC: About myself now? Usually, when I'm asked that question, it's from a journalist working for a college newspaper who didn't do their homework and I have to go back and start at the beginning and they're astounded by the length of the answer to the question. You know what? I'm happy, I'm grieving the loss of both of my parents in the past few months, so it's kind of hard for me sometimes to focus on other things. I'm grateful to have been chosen, not necessarily by them, but I guess so to have been with them when they passed, and that's the most recent thing that's happened. I'm a happy woman with my family, my husband, my daughter, my grandchildren, my son-in-law, my surviving family. I'm very, very focused and very close to the members of my family and I think that more than anything, that's what brings Christmas home is really being connected to people that you love. That's pretty much who I am. I'm a grandmother who still has a wonderful time playing music.

MR: That's a beautiful answer, thank you, RIta. Let's talk about the album more. Got a thought about "Rockin' Around The Chirstmas Tree," the album starter?

RC: When I was a child, I had the great experience of being friends with little Brenda Lee, and little Brenda Lee had a big hit with it.

MR: Wow, so Brenda Lee was pals with Rita Coolidge. Then again, why is that a surprise? And speaking of friends, let's bring your pal Nelly Neben into the conversation. She's so lovely, and she's the one who actually got us together at Universal. I'll always be grateful for that union, plus she's been a friend over the years, but that's enough about Nelly for now. [laughs] Speaking of pals, you have quite a few iconic ones. That takes us to you being the legendary "Delta Lady," that song having been written about you by Leon Russell.

RC: Right!

MR: And you were on the Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour with Joe Cocker, a classic album.

RC: You know, that was one of the great experiences of my life. I learned so much on that tour about being in the music business and being around people who were often out of control, because I was right out of Florida State University. I graduated from Florida State, went to Memphis for a while, and because of my relationship with Delaney & Bonnie and friends, I met Leon Russel. Leon was actually my boyfriend for a while, but that all led to the Joe Cocker Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour. Mike, I feel like, in a sense, I've kind of been in the right place at the right time and met people who had such an amazing journey, but the Joe Cocker Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour, for me, was Rock 'N' Roll University--right out of Florida State and R&R U.

MR: That must've been a wild tour. Do you have one little story maybe that we don't know about that happened on that tour? It doesn't have to be dirt.

RC: You know, I think that, in a sense, it was kind of hard on Joe because Joe was young and at that time. He was prone to taking a lot of whatever anybody put in his hand, he would gob it into his mouth and that really was to his disadvantage because he had this great talent but because of the drug use, he thought that he didn't really have to do that tour. Of course, it was a huge tour that had been set up by his management at that time, Dee Anthony. When he said to Dee, "I don't think I want to do this tour," he said "No, this is not a choice. The contracts are done, deposits are in, we're doing the tour." So Leon called and said, "I need you to put together a background choir" and everything started. It was four days and nights of unbelievable rehearsals at A&M at the Charlie Chaplin soundstage, and we left there for the Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour in an airplane that said "Cocker Power." It was a DC-8 with fifty-five people on the plane--men and women and children and a dog--and half the people didn't have their seatbelts on or even have seats on the plane. People were sitting on the floor. I guess the regulations were not so strict at that time, but it was the experience of a lifetime and I think it got hard for Joe sometimes, and we would always sit together on the plane as we would travel.

Usually, we would go after the gig at night to the next town or city and I would sit with Joe, and there were nights that Joe would say, "I can't do this anymore," and I would say, "You have to, Joe." There were nights that I would say, "I can't do this, it is wearing me out," and Joe would say, "You can't leave; you're the only friend I've got." It really was such an experience on so many levels. Musically, it was probably the best experience I could have had at that time before becoming a solo artist, which came from that tour. Emotionally, I experienced such deep friendships with people on the tour. There were some really rough times, but all in all, I just wouldn't trade anything for it. I'm always rewarded when my daughter or one of the grandchildren watches the movie of the Mad Dogs on tour and they say, "My gosh, it must have been good back in the good old days."

MR: Rita, that's true.

RC: You know it was a great time in rock 'n' roll, because there was not so much competition, things were simple, there were record labels and record companies that you could go into. I could go into A&M and talk with Jerry Moss and Herb Alpert and actually be a part of a family, and I just have not experienced that recently because it doesn't exist anymore.

MR: I spoke with Herb recently about the fiftieth anniversary of A&M and I kept lauding him about that. Way back, Herb and I worked on a greatest hits package of his music, I interviewed him for the booklet, and I got hang out with him a little. During my recent HuffPost interview, I said to him, "Herb, you had the prototype for how record labels really can function healthily. You had such support and artist-friendly contracts and relationships." A majority of artists who were associated with that label had such good luck and support with their careers, you know?

RC: Yeah, absolutely, and it's because there was a one-to-one relationship with the owners of the record company, the people who made the decisions. The decisions were not made by lawyers and accountants, they were actually made by the people that ran the label and owned the label. There's never been anything like A&M and the family of A&M. Being in the studio and recording at A&M, The Carpenters would be across the hall and Cat Stevens would be down in another studio, it was just an amazing time. It was a great time in Los Angeles in the early seventies. It was just beautiful. There were no riots and fires; none of that stuff was going on. L.A. was fresh and beautiful.

MR: Yeah, you all were really blessed to have had that period and been in that part of the world to make such great records. I want to get to your making such great records. Now, I think it was 1971 when the self-titled Rita Coolidge album was released, right?

RC: I believe so.

MR: Album after album followed--Nice Feelin', The Lady's Not For Sale, Fall Into Spring, It's Only Love, plus your duet albums with Kris like Full Moon. And there was Out of the Blues that saw you in sort of a new genre. But it wasn't really a new genre, you gravitated to that type of material naturally, don't you think?

RC: Oh, my gosh, yes, Out of the Blues being a jazz record with Barbara Carroll. When I first met Kris Kristofferson, we went upstate to Connecticut and spent some time with his manager at the time, Bert Block, who was married to the most wonderful jazz pianist Barbara Carroll. Barbara's still playing in New York, she can be seen at a new jazz club. But when I met Barbara, we literally walked into their house in Connecticut, and Kris and Bert went off and Barbara and I sat and talked for a while and had a cup of tea. She said, "Well I understand that you like jazz," and I said, "I do," and she said, "Why don't we go to the piano and do some music for a minute? Do you feel like it?" and I went, "Yeah!" We sat down and it was hours later that we left the piano. I sang songs that I didn't even know I knew. It was the most magical experience and it lead to the recording of the music on Out of the Blues. The record was not released at that time when we recorded it at A&M about a year later, but it was released in the nineties and it was a thrill. It was released in the seventies in Japan and it was called The Good Old Days, but it was not released in the United States until the nineties and the title was Out of the Blues and we added two new songs.

MR: Yes. Now the thing I wanted to throw out there, why I pointed that album out is because I think it's important in your lexicon, its recordings made right before your huge, huge LP, Anytime...Anywhere.

RC: That's right! And the reason that A&M would not release the record, they said, "You can't turn right and go in different directions. We're trying to establish you as a pop artist. You can't make a jazz record and then get back into pop...just keep your eye on the goal." I said, "Okay, but can I just record it?" and they said, "Okay." And then right after that was Anytime...Anywhere and it was great because Barbara and Bert were on the road with us and every once in a while, Barbara would sit in and play some music with me. So it was amazing, and then, of course, after Anytime...Anywhere, they wouldn't release the jazz record because we again had to stay on track with the style of music that we were doing. But I've always just loved to do different styles of music much like my hero Peggy Lee did.

MR: Anytime...Anywhere was one of the classic albums of the seventies, it having had the hits "(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher," "The Way You Do The Things You Do," and "We're all alone," which helped, I think, to put Boz Scaggs on the map in a bigger way--as both a successful artist and now, songwriter.

RC: Boz was pretty much on the map already because of Silk Degrees. Silk Degrees had been released and Jerry Moss called one day and said, "I want you to come into the office, we're choosing material for Anytime...Anywhere." I went in and he said, "Do you have Silk Degrees by Boz Scaggs," which was, at that time, a big-selling record. Everybody I knew had it, and he said, "This album is in a million homes in America and there's one song on here that I think should be sung by a woman and I think if you agree, it's going to be a big hit for you." Again, back to the relationship of the record company owner and the artist. He played it for me and I said, "It's one of my favorite songs on the album." It was one of the biggest hits I had.

MR: But your recording put him on the map as a songwriter. I don't know of any artist who'd recorded his material besides him before that despite his being a really solid songwriter.

RC: Absolutely.

MR: And there's the Love Me Again LP, on which you covered "Slow Dancer," another one of his tracks from an older album. Rita, I can't keep up with the number of albums that you've recorded.

RC: Me neither.

MR: You have a wonderful, very prolific career, and, of course, you did one of the James Bond themes, "All Time High."

RC: I know, it's great. Of course, when I did it, there weren't as many Bond singers at that time. This year is the fiftieth anniversary of James Bond films. Can I tell you how it came about that I recorded that song?

MR: Yes, please!

RC: It's an interesting story. Cubby Broccoli, who was the producer of all the Bond films, had a daughter and she was a big fan of mine. The music or the artists they chose would be, as music was back in the day, it would be the last thing that was done in a film. I know that from Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid, we did some recording of music during the film, but honestly, it was toward the end of the filming that the artist would be chosen and the song would be recorded. Barbara Broccoli was a fan of mine so she just started playing my records around the house at night when Mr. Broccoli would come home. One night, as she had hoped it would happen, she was playing "Fever" and he said, "Who is that singing? That's who I want to do the Bond film that we're working on now," which was Octopussy, and she went, "A-ha!" to herself, because she told me the story and that's how it came about. Of course, they contacted A&M Records and A&M called me and said, "You've been chosen as the next Bond singer," and that's what happened.

MR: I have to throw out there that tiny bit of bizarre controversy over a certain single's title. What was your reaction when you first heard that?

RC: You know what, it didn't bother me because I had "Higher and Higher." I was used to being banned in Singapore. When I went to Singapore, I couldn't do "Higher and Higher" because they thought it was a drug-related song, not "Your love is liftin' me higher and higher." So I'd already experienced some discrimination with music that had the word "High" in it.

MR: Not to mention the Bond movie "All Time High" was titled Octopussy, so let's throw in some more controversy.

RC: Yeah, but you know what, it was a great movie.

MR: [laughs] It was a great movie. It was Moonraker that, I think, almost destroyed the franchise. It's really unfortunate because after that point, it was very hard to take the James Bond movies seriously. I mean, come on, they even flew to a space station...

RC: Yeah, right, and the mistake was some of the James Bond characters, the actors who played them--Sean Connery, of course, being the ultimate James Bond, though Roger Moore was wonderful too. They had the royal premiere in London and Prince Charles and Princess Diana came and I got to meet them and that was really one of the highlights of my life, to meet the prince and the princess and actually shake hands and look into their eyes. Mike, I think Prince Charles said, "I hope they've paid you well," which was an odd comment, and then I went over to Princess Diana and she said, "Well, you've been paid, haven't you?" I thought it was interesting that both of them had comments about whether I'd been paid or not.

MR: That is pretty funny. And, of course, that was an all-time high for you, meeting them.

RC: It was an all-time high. I have pictures with me and her, but my back is to her as I went through the greeting line. You can't really prove it's me, but I know it is. It was just great doing some of these premieres with Roger Moore.

MR: Yeah. You've done other movie themes, too. One was the love theme from Splash, "Love Came For Me."

RC: That was a great experience because I loved that movie and I loved the song very much. It's been great. I would love to do some more movie themes, but my phone's not ringing right now for that.

MR: [laughs] Well, Adele's phone rang this time out, but then she's the biggest star in the world. Hey, another theme I want to throw out there is "Perfect Strangers," from The Mystery Of Edwin Drood, a musical that's getting revived, I think, on November 17th. The recording you did with Rupert is a beautiful duet.

RC: That was a great one, too. Oh my gosh, I'm flashing back to when you and I and Nelly sat in the studio and chose the songs when we put together the collection Delta Lady. It was just a great time. I think you know more about my music than I do, Mike.

MR: [laughs] Thank you for saying that, I certainly don't, but I want to say that my favorite recording by you is "Cherokee," that relating to your heritage, yours and Priscilla's.

RC: Yes, we wrote it about our father. The first line, "Sweet eyes of my father...," and we were talking about daddy because he was such an incredibly beautiful renaissance, quintessential man. He was a Baptist preacher but he also built every house we ever lived in. He could do anything. He was a visual artist; he painted. I have one painting in my house that he did when my mother was pregnant with me, and I have one of the last paintings that he did after he lost his right hand and could only paint with his left hand and it's as beautiful as they were in the beginning. It was a great loss, but he was a great human being and one that certainly deserved to have a song written about him sung by his girls.

MR: So beautiful. And speaking of beautiful--and speaking about his girls--on this new Christmas album, you have "Circle of Light." Can you talk about how you wrote it and what inspired it?

RC: You know, I'd seen a special on PBS and it was called, The Many Faces of Hate or something like that, and there was a man who was speaking who'd been a survivor of the holocaust and had experienced that, and he was talking about how our hearts are like a hurricane--that there's all of this turmoil in our lives and struggle and things that we go through and sometimes, you feel like you're in the eye of the hurricane until you realize that in the eye of the hurricane is blue sky and birds are flying around and it's like a sunny day. As the hurricane moves through, anyone who's experienced a hurricane knows there's a period when one part of the hurricane comes through but in the center, as this man spoke, it's like our hearts. In the center of our hearts is pure love. He was comparing the light in the hurricane and the blue sky to the light of the love that lives in our hearts. It just had some kind of an impact on me and I sat down at the piano immediately after watching this and started writing this song and Priscilla came over to my house a couple of days later and we finished it because we love to write together. She's just my best friend in the whole world and continues to be, and that's how we wrote the song and of course, with our group Walehwa, it was a perfect opportunity to record it.

MR: Rita, I have to ask you my traditional question, what is your advice for new artists?

RC: You know, it's probably the same that it always has been but even more so now. The competition is so very competitive that I think if I could have done anything else...and I tried. I went to Florida State and graduated with a degree in art and minors in English and art history, and I planned on teaching music in school or teaching art, being involved in a teaching program because my mother was a school teacher, but because I had been singing since I was two years old and listened to Peggy Lee from the time I was three or four as much as anybody would let me sit and play a record over and over, I tried to do something else and I couldn't. Music was the only thing that really was my passion. I couldn't do anything else. I always tell young artists, "If you think that you can spend your life focusing on something else to make money, that would probably be a good idea," because chances of making it in the music business are so very small. But if you do make it, just remember who you are and where you came from.

MR: You've said so many wonderful things today I want this to go on for another hour and I want Nelly on the phone so we can really whoop it up here, but I guess we have to wrap it up now. As always, when spending any kind of time with Rita Coolidge is awesome. Let's pick one last song from the album before we go and chat a second about it.

RC: Mike, I want to say what a pleasure it's been talking to you and how much I love you and just what a great reunion we've had with this interview today. The last song I'm going to choose really goes back to my roots with my father being Native American. He was from the Cherokee nation and when we were kids, we would listen to this song and Daddy would always say, "Just imagine that the little boy who's playing the drum in this song is a little Cherokee boy and he's got his drum and the Christ child has been born in Tennessee and the little drummer boy is going to see the Christ child and he has an Indian drum." So that's how the treatment of this song, the arrangement, came about with that in mind. When I sing this song, that's how I visually see it and it's very special. It's a song that fans want to hear all year round, "Little Drummer Boy."

MR: Rita, we should do it a little more often, have another party then.

RC: I love it, thank you.

MR: Thank you so much.

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne

photo by Thomas Petillo

A Conversation With Tom Keifer

Mike Ragogna: Hey man!

Tom Keifer: Hey, how's it going?

MR: It's going well, how are you, sir?

TK: Very good, very good.

MR: You have a new album and first off I want to tell you that I'm really happy to be talking with you after all these years having worked on a couple of projects together in the past.

TK: Yeah, yeah we go back a ways there, man, and it's been a while since we've talked.

MR: Yeah. I've been aware of your challenges with your vocal cords, and I have to throw out there that this is some of the best singing I've ever heard you do.

TK: Oh, well thanks man. That's nice to hear after what I've been through. I was diagnosed years ago with a partially-paralyzed vocal cord and I've struggled with it for years and I have to train and do therapy every day and keep it in shape, so it's certainly nice to hear that it sounds good, so thank you.

MR: Oh yeah, of course. So let's get the history on how this new solo album came together, the writing, going to the studio, all that.

TK: I wrote for it for a long time. The idea for a solo record started in the nineties when the band kind of parted ways and we left Universal. It was just kind of a changing of the guard at that time and I just started thinking about a solo record, so I wrote for it for many years and the songs kind of just kept going on the pile and I never got around to actually making a record. Then I actually decided to start recording. We started cutting tracks for this record in 2003 and I just kind of went to that pile of songs that had been building up and picked some that I liked and I've just been working on it ever since. It was produced independently of a label, a kind of private investing, because the idea from the beginning was to just kind of make it until I was happy with it. I wrote with a lot of different people--my wife Savannah who's a great writer, co-wrote a lot of the songs on the record and also co-produced the record with me, and a good friend of mine here named Chuck Turner who's a great engineer and producer. So from the beginning, it was just kind of like, "Let's have fun and just make a great record and it'll be done when it's done." Little did we know it'd be nine years later. But here it is and it's done and we went through some crazy stuff and mixed and remixed and reworked things over and over and probably made a lot of mistakes along the way, but finally got it where I was happy with it, so here it is.

MR: How does that phrase about wine go?

TK: "We shall serve no wine before its time," I think is the saying.

MR: Exactly. This writing seems to be more personal than your Cinderella songs. Maybe it's the result of living in the area of the country you're in, Nashville, where songwriting is emphasized.

TK: Well, it's one of the reasons I moved here. I moved here in the mid-nineties when I first started thinking about doing a solo record because at heart, I'm a singer-songwriter and you're only as good as the song that you're singing. You can be the greatest singer or guitarist in the world but if you're not playing and singing a great song... That's always kind of the first priority to me, and I'm always trying to write a better song. When I started working here in the mid-nineties, I saw some insane songwriting and lyrics, and it was like, "Oh, I've got to live here." So I drove down here and bought a house and that was it. I looked at the house and said, "Okay, I'll take that one. Let's start writing songs." It's just a great creative community not only from the songwriting standpoint but the musicianship here is insane, and I had some amazing players on the record, a great rhythm section and keyboard player, and a couple of cool guest guitarists that played on it. I've even got Bobby Keys on one track because he was living here for a while and he played sax on one of the songs. It's just a great town to create music. I love it here.

MR: Yeah, and you're pretty much integrated, right?

TK: Yeah, I've been here since '97.

MR: That means that you must have at least once played The Bluebird?

TK: I have not, but I've been there. I haven't done a Writers Night since I've been here.

MR: Well, when you do your Writers Night give me a ring and I'll jump in the car.

TK: Cool.

MR: Have you got any thoughts about the Cinderella years, sir?

TK: In general? Just great times, man. The four of us just feel like the luckiest people on Earth who have had the kind of good fortune as a band together. We still tour together, it's still the original band and we still get along great. It's still a blast. We were just out this summer for a couple of months touring and I'll always have nothing but fond memories about that. What can you say about what happened in the eighties to us and a bunch of other bands? It was just magic.

MR: I'll bet you made Jon Bon Jovi proud.

TK: I'm sure.

MR: For anybody who's reading this and not catching that, Jon Bon Jovi kind of discovered you, huh?

TK: Yeah. He helped us quite a bit in the beginning there, put a good word in for us at Polygram with this A&R guy that ultimately led to us getting a deal. That was a very cool thing that he did.

MR: So I was bragging about your vocal prowess and I'd like to prove it to everyone. I think "It's Not Enough" might be a good showcase for that, what do you think?

TK: Ooh yeah, that's a good rockin' tune.

MR: Can you give the background on that one? Maybe how you wrote it and all that?

TK: That was co-written with Savannah and a friend of ours, Kent Agee, who lives here in town who's a great songwriter. I don't' know if there's any kind of real story behind that one. We were just sitting around in the living room one night with guitars and that just fell out. Sometimes songs have very interesting stories behind them and sometimes they just fall out. That was one of those where there was just three writers in the room and the next thing you know we, had a pretty cool song.

MR: It's kind of funny how you and I go back a while, but you don't know that I'm also pretty close to Kent Agee.

TK: Oh, you know Kent?

MR: Kent is a good friend.

TK: Oh cool. Kent was one of the writers on "It's Not Enough."

MR: Let's talk about another song, maybe one that's more revealing about you or more personal to you than the rest?

TK: Yeah, there are a couple that are very personal. The one that comes to mind that's probably the most personal is "Thick and Thin," which I wrote for Savannah. It was during a time when she was going through something pretty rough. She moved to Nashville to kind of live out her dreams here as a songwriter and an artist and she got signed to a big company here and they're grooming her as a songwriter and an artist and one day, the hammer just came down. It's the ugly part of the business, and none of us ever understand why sometimes. It's happened to me, it's happened to everyone who's been in the business, but it happened at a time when I was on tour with Cinderella and it was obviously a rough time for her and I was home for maybe a day and a half on a break from the tour and this had just gone down. I saw how heartbroken she was and the day I was leaving, she had an appointment somewhere and she left the house and I was just going to kind of get to the airport on my own; I felt horrible that I had to leave. She had just gotten that news and I know that's a rough thing, so I just sat down at the piano and I wrote that song for her to tell her that I'd always be there for her and I would never do anything like that to her. It was my way of saying that I'll always be there for you. That's how "Thick and Thin" came out, and I did probably the worst work tape demo real quick before I left. I left it on a cassette for her with the lyrics written before I went to the airport. That's how that song came about.

MR: Very sweet. Tom, my traditional question, what advice do you have for new artists?

TK: The best thing I can say is to always be true to what you love to do and to not try to follow trends and just be who you are. Try to write and play things that mean something to you and don't compromise who you are. Trends come and go, but you don't. Eventually the trend's going to be you, if you work hard and stick to what you believe in.

MR: Tom, that's a great line. "Eventually the trend is going to be you."

TK: If you wait long enough and work hard enough, yeah, it's possible.

MR: So else what is up on your agenda? What is happening for the rest of the year and on?

TK: Well we're just kind of getting started on doing press and the buildup to the release in Spring, so we're going to do a radio tour and we're working up to acoustic versions to do on the air, kind of breaking them down to the simplest form--one guitar and just sing the song. We're going to get around and play the record for people and talk to people. We're just getting going here.

MR: Nice. Tom, thank you again, this has been great. We have to have a much longer conversation in the future to really catch up. I wish you all the best. Let's actually talk real soon and have a casual conversation. I appreciate your time today.

TK: Great talking to you, too, Mike.

For more information on the new Tom Keifer solo album:

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne

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