One day in September I was on Twitter and saw a tweet from Nub Music looking for songs for a project called Rage Against The Brexit Machine. Since I had a deal with Nub I thought I’d take a closer look. I clicked on a link that was provided and read about the project and what it was trying to accomplish. Much to my surprise, it was a campaign aimed at stopping Brexit using pop music to get the message out. I was under the impression that Brexit couldn’t be stopped, so now I was curious.
I decided to contact Mark Lee, the head of Nub, and offer Way To Know to the project. Mark thought it was a great idea and got Label Manager Guy Thompson to send the song to Peter Cook. Peter gave it a listen and liked what he heard. He gave me a call to see where I was at and to tell me more about the project. When I asked if it was possible to stop Brexit, Peter paused and said that Parliament could reverse it. He said the impetus for the Rage Against The Brexit Machine project was the effect that Brexit would have on generations to come. People were not aware how it would hit their pocketbooks until it was too late.
I told Peter that the one good thing that had happened in the US with the election of Trump was the Resistance Movement against Trump that had been started. People here in the US were truly pissed that Trump was elected despite losing the popular vote. Peter felt the people in the UK needed a bit of a push in that direction if stopping Brexit was to become a reality. And the British people should be pissed because the British Supreme Court ruled that Parliament never made a decision to stay or leave!
Peter told me that one of the reasons he really liked Way To Know was that it didn’t preach and laid out the problems in a matter of fact way. This was great to hear and I told Peter as much. I also told Peter that it wouldn’t hurt PR wise that the song features RnR Hall of Famers Max Weinberg & Garry Tallent—the rhythm section from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. That info might come in handy, especially at Radio.
So that’s how I got involved with the Rage Against The Brexit Machine project and got to know Peter Cook. He’s a very decent chap (as they say) and has really put himself out there. You can feel his passion when he speaks and he’s doing the project for all the right reasons. As a fellow artist I’m proud to stand with him and help out in any way I can. The stakes are truly high as the future of the UK hangs in the balance. Check out the Article 50 Challenge for yourself and help Stop Brexit!
To quote Pete Townsend of The Who, “Rock is dead they say”…whatever. This is a tired old chestnut that “they” bring up over and over. I’m not sure who “they” are, and I’m not sure what “they” mean by “rock”. Are we talking ROCK from the 70s, 80s or 90s onward? Or since the turn of the century? It’s a very broad term for a particular kind of music. For the sake of this blog post, I’ll be talking about the original “rock”—Rock’n’Roll.
Since I’ve already made certain statements in interviews about my intention to bring RnR into the 21st century, I’ll back it up. Rock’n’Roll is a totally other animal than “Rock”. As Tom Petty said earlier this year about his discovering RnR, “Not rock; this was Rock and Roll. The roll designates a swing — there’s a swing in the roll.”That’s what I’m talking about. There’s a difference between Rock and Rock’n’Roll, and just to be clear, it’s RnR that I’m putting out there.
All that aside, I intended the Rock’n’Roll Romantic album to be my statement about RnR in the 21st century. I took over a year to build up to the release of it and when I finally did release it on CD in October 2016, it proved to be my most successful release to date. The CD starts off with 2 of 3 songs that feature RnR Hall of Famers Max Weinberg & Garry Tallent—the rhythm section from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. In fact DownTown Mystic is the only artist in the world that can make that claim. Not even Garry Tallent and Little Steven can say that about their new solo records. Not too shabby! 🙂
A big part of the success of Rock’n’Roll Romantic was at Radio. The previous release of the DownTown Nashville EP at Americana Radio in the spring last year was easily DownTown Mystic’s biggest release at the format and helped to set the stage, so to speak, for Rock’n’Roll Romantic. But I also knew that Rock’n’Roll Romantic had a broader appeal to it than just Americana. The strategy of going to the AAA and College formats along with Americana garnered DownTown Mystic its largest radio audience, going from 16 to 36 Adds and more than 70 radio stations playing the music. For me, these results show that RnR in today’s marketplace is not dead, to say the least.
2017 started out by continuing the success of Rock’n’Roll Romantic when DownTown Mystic signed a deal with UK indie label Nub Music to release Rock’n’Roll Romantic in Europe. How apropos for 2017 to be the 50th anniversary of the release of The Beatles classic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the 1st Concept Album. Besides the noise of “the death of rock” is the noise about “the death of the album” and “the death of the CD”. Besides being a true RnR album, Rock’n’Roll Romantic is also a true concept album.
The truth is Rock’n’Roll is here to stay…it will never die. Wait, that sounds like a song I once heard. Nevertheless, it’s true. There’s something undeniable about an electric guitar playing along to a groove that’s being put down by a real drummer and bass player. It’s an irresistible force. Sure, it might not be what’s popular on Top 40 Radio but who cares? There are millions of people who don’t listen to Top 40 Radio.
Meanwhile in the UK, Nub has already released the Side 2 EP to help set up the release of the full Rock’n’Roll Romantic album later in the year. What better place to release some new RnR than in the UK? Oasis has been the biggest band there since The Beatles and they’ve been around now for 20 years. So it’s safe to say that Rock’n’Roll is still alive and well there. This next chapter with Nub Music may turn out to be even more exciting than the success at US Radio for Rock’n’Roll Romantic! 🙂
In the last blog entry I wrote about one of the musicians involved in the making of Rock’n’Roll Romantic who I owed a debt of gratitude—Garry Tallent from The E Street Band. In this blog entry I want to talk about someone not as famous as Garry, but just as important to the making of Rock’n’Roll Romantic—Tommy Mastro.
Tommy & Robert
I first met Tommy when he was playing drums for a band called The Discontent. This was in my previous life as a Manager. It was obvious from the get-go that Tommy was clearly the best musician in the band (I don’t think any of them would disagree) and he played a big part in my decision to manage them. It wasn’t just his muscular playing with “old school” feel that impressed me like Kenny Aronoff (drummer for John Mellencamp & John Fogerty), but perhaps even more importantly, his attitude and personality. He loved to laugh and kid around and was there to be a cheerleader when necessary. His positive vibes were very contagious and many times lifted the band up whenever challenges arose. As a manager, I can’t tell you how important it is to have a guy like that in a band!
I was either lucky or dumb to have 2 bands recording their projects at the same time in different studios. It kept me busy shuffling between the 2 and it also got my juices flowing to record my own songs again. I had always wanted to produce and make records as an artist, but I let go of that dream to start my own company Sha-La Music. However, I started working more and more in the studio with The Discontent and that’s how I met studio engineer Ben Elliott, who the band was working with at Showplace Studios in Dover, New Jersey. Funny thing, the Showplace used to be a club and my band had played there 15 years earlier opening for acts like Robert Gordon and Elliott Murphy. Now it was cut in half, divided by a wall with a GoGo Bar on one side and the recording studio on other side, where the stage used to be. I could usually find the band in the bar when there was downtime in the studio. 🙂
Besides managing The Discontent, Sha-La became the band’s label, releasing their 1st cd societydidit. When it came time to work on new material, I decided to take the band into the studio to record some demos. It was also at this time that I decided to record some of my own songs. I’d been watching Tommy play drums and I could see how solid he was. I had recorded with some real pros like “Mighty” Max Weinberg. The drummer is the engine that drives a band, especially in the studio. The basic track is really all about the drums. A great drummer can make all the difference in recording a great track.
I could see that Tommy had that ability too. I saw and heard what he had done on societydidit. The Discontentplayed punk with a metal edge and Tommy would put a groove in that you don’t usually hear in those kinds of songs. I began to wonder what he could do with my more “old school” songs and was looking forward to making that happen. So when the time came to go back to Showplace Studios to cut some demos, I asked Tommy and the bass player Eric Hoagland, if they would be interested in cutting some of my songs before their session. Both were enthusiastic and one night after a Discontent rehearsal we ran down the songs and it was off to the studio.
Tommy & Eric
It was very cool for me to be making music again and recording with Tommy and Eric made the experience even cooler. I could see Tommy was a bit of a “head case” when it came to playing in the studio. He would stress himself out. I told him not to over think it because he was a great drummer and just needed to let his intuition guide him when playing. He would start to relax and lock in the groove. When it came to playing rock’n’roll he was a natural. He kept it fairly straight but he played with such power locking in on the groove. It really allowed me to enhance the rhythm. I think the 1st track we cut was Turn Around And Go. You can hear how he attacks the track but keeps the groove together.
We cut 6 tracks in that session that I could work on at my leisure when I had some down time. I was also very impressed with what Tommy played. He knew who I had worked with and wanted to impress me. He also knew what I wanted and he knew how to make the songs rock. I started calling him “2 Take Tommy” because we would be doing the 1st take and at some point he would stop. Then he would nail the 2nd take! 🙂
Little did I know at the time that these sessions would be the start of what would become DownTown Mystic. Looking back I have Tommy (with an assist from Eric) to thank for that. As I became more involved with working on the tracks, I decided I needed a name for my project. As it would turn out, The Discontent would indirectly help me find one. On a trip up to Providence, RI for a gig with the band I saw an old wooden sign on the side of the road that read “next exit Downtown Mystic”. Presto! I had my name for the project. On all our trips up to New England I’d never seen it before. Never saw it again. 🙂
Tommy would eventually leave The Discontent, but I stayed in touch and never hesitated to call him to play on my DownTown Mystic sessions. His playing is all over Rock’n’Roll Romantic, playing on half of the album. One of the tracks, Dead End Space, was written with The Discontent after he had left the band and we cut my version with just the 2 of us in the studio. I’ll always remember that session because it was late at night and the only time I was set up with my acoustic guitar in front of the mixing board in the Showplace control room. Tommy was set up with his drums in the studio so we could see each other through the control room glass as we cut the track live to tape. After the 2nd take Tommy was beaming. I could hear him say (in true Tommy fashion) through the glass, “that was so coool”!!
It occurred to me that just about everyone involved in the making of Rock’n’Roll Romantic is, like me, a Rock’n’Roll Romantic at heart. I think that’s very cool and it certainly helped make the project come alive. Since I’ve made it my business to help promote all those kind souls who have helped me, my way of “paying it forward”, I wanted to talk about one of them who has been a big influence—Garry W. Tallent.
Garry is Bruce Springsteen’s bass player. That’s something nobody else in the world can say. He’s a quiet easy going guy and you would never figure he was the 7th son in a family of 13 kids. He’s also a great musician and has an encyclopedic knowledge of all things Rock’n’Roll. Of course, being in The E Street Band definitely has its perks. One of them is you get to play alongside Bruce Springsteen (not too shabby). His rhythm partner in time is drummer Max Weinberg, not to mention playing with the other great musicans in the band…not too shabby either. 🙂
On Rock’n’Roll Romantic, Garry and Max play on 3 songs—Way To Know, And You Know Why and Hard Enough. I can kick myself for not getting a photo of us together in the studio but I wanted it to be cool for them without walking around snapping pics like a fanboy. It was quite an experience working with them, watching how they work together. I learned a great deal in the process, and you might say, they were somewhat responsible for my creating DownTown Mystic. It’s also easy to figure out why Bruce has been so successful, particularly live. Having Garry & Max as your personal rhythm section has got to be a perk for The Boss as well. These guys can rock with the best of them. 🙂
Now, after many years of playing bass, Garry has put out a solo album called Break Time. He is now stepping up to the mic, both figuratively & literally speaking. This was not something I would have ever expected from him. Singing out in front of a band has got to be a new experience for Garry and it’s been very cool to see it happen. I asked him why now, and in typical Garry fashion, he replied “why not”? Truth be told, he said getting older was motivating him to finally get his music out there. Truth be told, it’s good having good timing too. 🙂
He’s got a built-in audience with E Street fans from around the world and he’s made a very good record for them. As far as I’m concerned, whatever was on the wax when I listened was going to surprise me, and Garry didn’t disappoint. On the other hand, it shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise, given that Garry is somewhat of a Rock Historian. Going back to the music that caught his attention as a kid, early RnR, makes perfect sense. He delivers authentic sounding old school 50s RnR in a style that recalls so many of the greats from that period, as well as show his dry sense of humor. Hearing Garry sing Ants In Her Pants is worth the price of admission! lol
Of course, playing in The E Street Band and putting out a solo record has got to be somewhat of a daunting task for everyone in the band. There’s been a very high bar that they’ve set for themselves and then there’s also that guy named Bruce. His name alone brings so much attention to anything in its orbit. That can be a double-edged sword of sorts, but for Garry it only enhances what he’s done.Break Time is a great testament to the talent (no pun intended) that Bruce has placed around himself.
Hearing Garry’s influences gives one the feeling that Bruce could throw anything at him and get 3 or 4 styles to choose from in return. That has to inspire confidence in The Boss to have a guy like Garry manning the Bass behind him. Also, I think it’s important that guys like Garry are around and still interested in putting out music that might be in danger of going extinct. He was an eyewitness to that initial Big Bang and let all that music wash over him . Putting together the crew of musicians to help bring out the authenticity of those influences is also a talent (pun intended). 🙂
If you have the chance, get yourself a copy of Break Time, and judge for yourself. Also, keep your eyes out for Garry on tour this year and if you see him, tell him DownTown sent you. 🙂
February 28, 2017 would have been the 75th birthday of the man who started The Rolling Stones—Brian Jones, the man they called the Golden Stone because of his perfect blonde hair. There’s a reason why I wrote the song Brian Jonesand why it’s the centerpiece onthe Rock’n’Roll Romantic album. The main reason for the song being at the heart of the album is that Brian epitomizes the Rock’n’Roll Romantic. Brian was the trendsetter for Swinging London in the 1960s. It’s been said that Brian lived the life that Mick and Keith only wrote about. For me, it was Brian Jones who caught my attention when I first saw The Stones, just as it had been John Lennon who I immediately gravitated to when first seeing The Beatles. Now there are 2 Bad Boys to idolize! ?
There have been many books written about Brian’s short life and demise. The most recent is Paul Trynka’s excellent book, Brian Jones—The Making of The Rolling Stones. In the UK the book is called Sympathy for the Devil! One of the main points made in the book is that Brian was far more important in not only starting the band, but in the overall British Blues explosion that changed the UK music scene. I found it to be the best account of what it must have felt like being around The Stones in the early days. This was not a bunch of school chums getting together to form a band, but rather a group of individuals who could be very calculating with each other. For Brian, you get the feeling that none of them really had his back. But you also sense that Brian played a big part in setting that in motion.
It feels a bit odd talking about Brian and The Stones as being together because the band has been around for so long as the current entity that it’s hard to picture Brian in this band. When you looked at The Stones, Brian was the odd man out. He was his own brand for sure. Even with Mick Jagger out front singing and bopping around, it was Brian who would catch your eye…by simply standing there! Over the years there’s been a good deal of revisionism in The Stones camp as it pertains to the band’s history, with Brian’s role being minimized to that of a bit player. The truth is something that has gotten, shall we say, muddled.
The real story is an epic tragedy, almost Shakespearean in its unfolding. But as I write in my song Brian Jones, he did not understand his circumstances and certainly never took responsibility for his actions. He was a mojo man who fathered 6 kids with 6 different girls! He had an innate talent for playing musical instruments and he left a distinct imprint on the recordings that he played on. He gave The Stones sound an extra dimension that other bands didn’t have. But he also lived a decadent life, like nobody else around. They had to coin the term sex, drugs & rock’n’roll to describe his lifestyle!! ?
There are many who put Brian’s downfall on Mick and Keith. Did Mick and Keith, along with manager Andrew Loog Oldham, deliberately plot against Brian to take the band away from him? Maybe…probably…but the reality was that The Stones wanted to be in the same arena as The Beatles. That meant they needed to write their own songs and become more pop oriented. Oldham’s choice of putting Mick & Keith together as the main writing team has proven to be an inspired one. Given the personalities involved, Brian certainly saw the writing on the wall for himself.
In recent years it seems like there’s been a whole cottage industry that has sprung up around Brian. Many see him as a multi-talented hero who was “stabbed in the back” by his band, but part of the problem is that we always tend to see our idols or heroes in 2 dimensions. We see them live in concert or on TV, and we read what other people write about them. We don’t know them personally and what they’re really like, so we form our opinions based on assumptions based on a 2 dimensional portrait. There’s a whole school of “oh poor Brian” this and “oh poor Brian” that, but in the end we don’t really know him and what he brought on himself.
In his book, Paul Trynka writes that nobody saw much of Brian in the last year of his life. He went on drug binges for longer and longer stretches and had blackouts. He was seen nodding out on quite a few occasions, even in the studio when he did show up. Just look at the changes in his physical appearance from 1965 to 1968. He goes from being the trendsetter for the hip and beautiful people of Swinging London to an overweight drugged out mess in just 3 years! Take a look at the photos on Between The Buttons, one of my fave Stones albums. Brian looks totally out of it and disconnected from the rest of the band.
I think the real reason they shelved the Rock’n’Roll Circus TV show in 1968 (Brian’s last public appearance with the band) was because of Brian’s physical condition. He was a train wreck! Mick, Keith and Brian had already been busted by the police for drugs. They were public enemies to the UK Establishment, so the last thing that was needed, was for any of them to show up on BBC TV (the only TV in the UK) looking completely stoned! If you’ve ever been in a band with one of the members always being fucked up, you’ll know what I’m talking about. They’re unreliable and bring everyone down. At any rate, whatever went down between them personally is their business.
I once spent an afternoon talking with David Dalton, a Stones biographer, about Brian. He said an interesting and somewhat telling thing—that Mick and Keith were very superstitious when it came to Brian and would get very uptight at the mention of his name. I’m sure, deep down, they harbor some guilt. As for all the conspiracies about murder in Brian’s death, he wasn’t murdered. When you look at the cast of unsavory characters who hung around Brian in the last weeks of his life, one thing is clear, he was the last person they would want dead. The main reason being, he was famous, and that was why they were there. If he was dead, no more hanging out with fame.
However, I do think he died of un-natural causes on the night he joined the 27 Club. Before I continue, there’s 1 thing that can’t be emphasized enough—DRUGS. Since it was the 60s, there’s a kind of playing down of the amount of DRUGS that were being consumed back then. Like tee-hee (yes I used tee-hee), everybody was getting high back then…NO! The amount of drugs involved with this particular individual was almost inhuman. Brian took more and did more of everything in massive quantities. Eventually, this had a serious impact on him. So contrary to the lore about Brian being in shape and getting ready to form a super group with the likes of Hendrix, he had no interest or ability in forming another band.
Brian was done. Brian had abused his body to such extent that all he needed was to have a nightcap and then float in his pool, that was heated at 80-90 degrees, nod off and float away. It’s real easy to fall asleep in a pool like that totally straight. Brian may have shown a bit of wear on the outside, but his inside was worse. The autopsy revealed that his liver was shot and that he had the flabby heart of a 60 year old man despite being only 27. I’d say that qualifies as un-natural! This is something that most people seem to overlook, his actual physical condition. He took drugs by the handful and drank on top of it, and everyone thought he was immortal. He wasn’t. There’s a physical toll to be paid.
As I said earlier, there is a reason I wrote the song Brian Jones. I was in contact with his spirit when I wrote the song, and this was many years after his death when he was all but forgotten. No cottage industry, no Brian was murdered books being written. Of course, it’s hard to know when you’re in contact with the other side. For years I wondered about what I had written in the song and how I knew it. Paul Trynka’s book helped me to understand that I was right. That and a Channel, who I’ve been working with for about the last 8 years, have helped me to understand that I am also a Channel via my music. Things that came through in the song were not things I could have possibly known about at the time.
Now I know I’m opening myself up to a good deal of skepticism, but this is my reality as an artist. I know ideas and creativity come from another place and that we are all capable of tapping into them if we are open enough to receive them. So I will share my experience with those who are open to it. In a recent Channeling session I asked to contact Brian and his spirit came through. I asked him (via Dr. Peebles) what happened on that night he died. Here is an MP3 of the session and you can draw your own conclusions:
It’s somewhat ironic that it’s the conspiracy theories have helped to keep Brian’s name alive and create a legend. “The Truth will set you free”. On the day of what would have been Brian’s 75th birthday, I want the Truth to be known by those with ears to hear it. In his short life, Brian burned bright and then burned out like a comet falling to earth. He deserves to be remembered in a Good Light, as a true Rock’n’Roll Romantic. ?
I did not expect DownTown Nashville to get the reaction at Americana Radio that it got. Within the first 4 weeks of its release it had surpassed everything I could have hoped for. Compared to the DownTown Mystic release 3 years earlier, it was a smash! This was a total surprise! If I had serviced the entire panel and worked it harder, DownTown Nashville might have made the AMA Top 40. That probably would have been more than I had bargained for. 🙂
Ok…so I’ve been waiting for what I feel will be the right moment to release Rock’n’Roll Romantic. I could have done it in Sept./Oct. 2015, but it didn’t feel right. And the more I waited, it allowed me to continue to release & promote, getting the songs heard and keeping my name out there. In my mind, the album is a bit intense to listen to in 1 sitting. It’s a concept album that needs to be heard in its entirety and that’s not an easy sell today, especially for Radio. So exposing the songs little by little was a good strategy. I always heard the album as Side 1 & Side 2, so I wanted to have all the singles on Side 1. Every song had been played at Radio somewhere in the world and every song kicked in its own way. So to hear these singles all in a row would be impressive. 🙂
In the summer (late July) I finally released Rock’nRoll Romantic as a digital album, with the announcement that the CD would follow in the fall. I figured this would give me a chance to finally get the CD together. The digital release was greeted with rave reviews from the press and occupied the #2 slot for July and August on the AirPlay Direct Global Rock Albums Chart. With the CD now slated for release in the fall, I knew that it was now or never. In September I called Rene Magallon at M:M Music, the #1 indie AAA Radio Promoter. It had been 8 years since I last worked with them at AAA/Non-Com Radio and I was somewhat apprehensive.
Hiring M:M Music to promote to Radio is not cheap, especially for indies like myself. But they’re the best at what they do and they don’t need to take on everybody that calls them. I would be moving up to another level working with them. So I call Rene to tell her about the new CD and to let her know that I think the album can appeal to a broader audience. Especially because of some of the names involved like The E Street Band rhythm section—“Mighty” Max Weinberg & Garry Tallent.
Rene wants to hear the album, so I send her a link and she listens. She tells me she’s very impressed with my writing from what she remembers and really likes what she heard. This is cool news! Rene hears EVERYTHING that’s out there, so coming from her, this is a BIG complement. She doesn’t think it’s an Americana release and commercial AAA is not in the picture yet. Rene thinks it has a chance at Non-Com and College Radio. The idea of college kids listening to the CD really interested me because they would be a good way for me to judge the music as being contemporary or not.
Rene asked me if the CD was ready to go and I told her no, but that I would have it ready for release in October. She was cool with that. She also wanted to know my thoughts about what she had said. I told her that I always have a problem about promoting to Radio, if it was worth it. In the last couple of years I’ve been played on 10-15,000 stations around the world. When you’re talking in numbers like that, getting played by a few more radio stations doesn’t seem like that big a deal. Especially with the cost of promo that’s involved here in the US.
But this is Rock’nRoll Romantic and I’m making a statement with it. I told Rene that at the very least I wanted to establish myself as an artist at Radio with this album, so I need to get it heard beyond at what I had been doing. She agreed and thought that the best way to go was getting it out to Non-Com and College which would require between 500-600 cds. That would definitely get it heard. I told Rene I was in.
As an Artist I still believe in Radio because it allows me to judge certain things with the music. Also, I want to compete in the marketplace with the other labels, Major or Indie. Hiring M:M Music would take me to the next level and up my profile out there. You might think you’re great, but until you go out to where the real competition is, you’re just blowing smoke, right? 🙂
Rene gave me a deadline for when the cds needed to be mailed out and set an impact date for October 10 at Radio. Now all I needed to do was create the cd artwork and get the cds made. The 1st thing I did was change the opening track, adding Way To Know, which was not on the digital release. In July I had come up with a track listing for a possible release in Europe that included Way To Know, which had been #1 there earlier in the year. I thought the track listing was better than the digital release and the addition of Way To Know made the concept of the album stronger. Plus as a label, I wanted the CD to be different from the digital album.
I knew the main part of the artwork would be the inside of the cd, which were all credits. Working with digital releases, the only thing that matters is the cover art. It’s only with a physical release that all the credits can be listed. Everyone involved with the project likes to see their names on it, which doesn’t happen with digital releases. In this case, Rock’nRoll Romantic had 15 musicians who lent their talents to its creation and a half dozen co-writers, not to mention the recording engineers and studios that were involved.
I thought that it was all of the credits I had been putting off but I finally realized that it was all about the artwork…in particular—the cover art. I had been waiting for the right time to put out this cd. Now I had the promotion team in place and all the credits were done. But the front cover artwork that was used for the digital album was not doing it for me on the cd. My graphics designer, Larry Bentley, had come up with a great back cover, which I loved. At the 11th hour I just asked him “to try and fuck with it” (the front cover). Larry came back with 3 or 4 ideas, one of which really caught my eye. I asked him to make a few tweaks to it and voila—we had the new cover art! 🙂
With the new cover in place, everything went as planned. The CD was mailed out and promotion began in October. What I hadn’t planned on was the high number of 4th Quarter releases that were out there, making for some stiff competition. The initial going at Radio was slow, especially Americana. The success of DownTown Nashville had spoiled me. Part of the problem at the format is that Non-Com/AAA stations that report to the AMA Chart outnumber the more Americana leaning stations. This meant that Crystal Ann Lea, who works Non-Com for M:M Music, would be promoting to those Non-Com stations on the AMA Chart as AAA.
Even though I knew going in that many wouldn’t think it was an Americana release, I still wanted to take it to the stations that had supported me. I knew they would listen and they did. In Europe I’m known as American rocker Robert Allen, which is great. They don’t understand the term Americana the way it’s used here as a US music genre. If I tell them I’m Americana, the Europeans think I mean Rock’n’Roll. So it’s kind of weird that not everyone at the Americana Radio format here thinks RnR is Americana, or it just seems that way at times.
After 4 or 5 weeks I had 8 stations playing Rock’nRoll Romantic and finally broke into the Top 100 on the AMA Chart, about half the time it took 3 years earlier. Crystal Ann also had 8 stations that added the CD but by December, she had an additional 30 stations that had it in light rotation. Add to that the 17 college stations that Ian Murray at M:M had gotten and the overall picture was an impressive one—over 30 total Adds and over 60 stations playing Rock’nRoll Romantic! Rene had been correct. M:M Music had gotten the music heard and the result was a much broader audience for DownTown Mystic. What makes this even better for me is that this was accomplished in a very tough competitive 4th Quarter. 🙂
As I said at the start of Part 1, 2016 turned out to be a very good year for DownTown Mysticand I want to give thanks to all of the people at Non-Com, College and Americana Radio for their support, as well as everyone at M:M Music for making Rock’nRoll Romantic a success. Now I’m going to celebrate the holidays and look forward to what 2017 has in store. 🙂
It’s that time of the year again when we take some time to look back and assess what we’ve done before heading into a new year. As usual, it’s hard to believe we’re at this point again as another year just seemed to fly right by. You think we’d be used to it by now. 🙂
As crazy as 2016 was for the world in general, it turned out to be a very good year for DownTown Mystic. As the year started, I had this feeling that something “big” was coming. I don’t know why that was, but I could definitely feel it. In 2015 I was focusing on a strategy to release the Rock’n’Roll Romantic album. It felt like the absolute right time for it, but I decided to take a long term approach, promoting digital releases such as singles and EPs to build up to the release of the album.
Now that 2016 was here, I knew I would have to finally release the album. In January, Way To Know was released as a single in Europe. It had been released there in December but an error had caused there to be a problem with the upload to Radio. Luckily, I caught it and had the problem remedied with a new release in January. Way To Know steadily climbed the Official European Indie Music Chart, eventually making it all the way to #1 (here’s a previous post about it). In late January, the video single She Said, She Said, celebrating the 50 year anniversary of The Beatles REVOLVER album, was released exclusively on YouTube.
A pattern of doing 2 releases at the same time was starting to develop. With the release of She Said, She Said as a single, a spring release for Rock’n’Roll Romantic was scheduled. Rock’n’Roll Romantic would be the 1st full album since the self-titled DownTown Mystic album in 2013. Being that it was going on 3 years since DownTown Mystic had been at Americana Radio, there was a worry that Rock’n’Roll Romantic might not be Americana enough for the format. It was around this time that a new idea popped up.
The new idea was to create and release something that would be more conducive to the format. That release would become the DownTown Nashville EP. The original idea I had was about creating a CD to send to the music industry people (A&R, Managers, Publishers, etc.) in Nashville. I had some songs plugged down there and with the sound of modern country going more rock & pop, I wanted to introduce the music of DownTown Mystic for publishing purposes. But the idea soon morphed into creating a CD release at Americana Radio. This would create a story to interest the music people in Nashville and set up the release for Rock’n’Roll Romantic.
Steve, Robert & Paul
I had recorded a bunch of songs with Steve Holley & Paul Page (the rhythm section from Ian Hunter’s Rant Band), along with additional help from guitar ace Lance Doss, that were inspired by the many influences I had gotten over the years from the music made in Nashville. The more the idea for the release began to become clearer to me, the more I wanted to make a statement with it. I needed something iconic for the cover art, something that everyone in Nashville would immediately recognize. Then I realized that I had the perfect cover photo from my last visit to Nashville—the famed Oak Bar Men’s Room in the Hermitage Hotel! It was perfect! I had visited the Men’s Room one afternoon when it was empty and was busy taking photos when the cleaning lady showed up. She was nice enough to take one of me since my selfies weren’t too good. 🙂
Robert in Oak Bar Men’s Room
Now that I had the cover, I wanted to be able to fit the song lyrics on the inside, but that meant I would only be able to fit 5 or 6 songs. That made an album out of the question and the DownTown Nashville EP was created. I decided to release the EP digitally, but only print up 100 CDs, and make them for RADIO ONLY. This would tie in nicely with the visual on the cover (my graphics guy Larry Bentley did an amazing job!). Meanwhile, the single Way To Know kept gaining momentum, climbing the Top 20 in Europe. 🙂
In early March I mailed out less than half of the cds to less than half of the Americana radio panel. For the 1st time I would be promoting the release by myself and I decided to just concentrate on the stations that had played me before, plus some of the stations that weren’t there 3 years ago with the DownTown Mystic release. I had scheduled the DownTown Nashville EP for release on the 1st day of spring—at the Vernal Equinox.
On March 21stDownTown Nashville debuted in the Top 5 Most Added on the AMA Chart…the 1st time that had happened! In just 2 weeks it broke into the Top 100, something that took the DownTown Mystic release from 2013, 8 weeks to achieve. 2 weeks later it was at #60, blowing by the 2013 release, which took 12 weeks to reach #65!! DownTown Nashville would reach #53 and stay on the AMA Chart for 7 months, becoming DownTown Mystic’s best release at the format yet. DownTown Nashville would also be #1 on the AirPlay Direct Top 50 Global Radio Rock Albums Chart in March and April, beating the mark set by the DownTown Mystic on E Street EP the year before as DownTown Mystic’s most downloaded release on APD!
Meanwhile, the single Way To Know was about to start a 3 week run at #1 in Europe. It was only April and the year was rockin’ in a big way and there was still the matter of releasing Rock’n’Roll Romantic. 🙂
On August 5, 1966 The Beatles released their 7th album—REVOLVER. I bought it the next day when it was released in the US. It was a somewhat odd time for a Beatles album…in the middle of summer. Making it a bit odder was the fact that all we had been hearing on the radio was the single Yellow Submarine/Eleanor Rigby. We had pretty much forgotten that Paperback Writer/Rain had been released months before to herald the coming of their next album.
Adding to all this was the fact that Capitol Records had just released in June, arguably, the best Beatles album to date called Yesterday And Today (the Butcher album). So when I got my copy of the album with the cover of the black and white drawing of The Beatles, I was a bit underwhelmed. It definitely wasn’t as good as Yesterday And Today. Why not? Every Beatles album had always been better than the one before it. How could this be?
About the only thing that I remember about the REVOLVER album in 1966 was my friend showing me the import Revolver album from England he had just got. I had never seen an import album. What was different about it? As it turns out, there was a lot that was different. For one thing the record company was called Parlophone, not Capitol, and there were 14 songs on the album! 14 songs?? We only got 11 songs on a Beatles album! Plus 3 of the songs that were on Yesterday And Today were also on REVOLVER…WTF??
We had no idea that Capitol had been trimming down the UK releases so that they could create an extra release that the band had nothing to do with. I mean on one hand it was great. We here in the US could not get enough of The Beatles. So the more albums, the better!! But it all kind of came to a head between the band and Capitol Records with the release of Yesterday And Today. Again, IMO, the best album the band ever released in the US. It would also be the last US-made album from Capitol.
Yesterday And Today became known as the infamous “Butcher Album”. Capitol really did a number on the band with this album. The Beatles started to get serious, entering their artistic phase with the release of Rubber Soul in 1965. This was the album that Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys had credited with inspiring him to create Pet Sounds. How would you feel if you had created the best album of your career and the Record Company in the US decided to cut off the 1st track of that album? Amazing, right?
So now Capitol Records wanted The Beatles to shoot a new cover for their made up album, Yesterday And Today. Famously, The Beatles did a photo shoot wearing butcher’s coats, holding various cuts of raw meat mixed in with parts taken from toy dolls’ anatomies. It was bizarre, to say the least, especially in 1966. Even more bizarre, a cover shot was chosen and went out on a 1st run of the album before the company stopped the presses on it. That album is worth some $$ if you have a copy.
That “Butchers cover” made its point to the executives at Capitol and Yesterday And Today would be the last US-made Beatles album. Starting with the next album, Capitol would only issue the albums that The Beatles gave them. But Butcher’s album was totally correct. To create Yesterday And Today, Capitol had taken Drive My Car and If I Needed Someone off of the UK Rubber Soul as well as I’m Only Sleeping, And Your Bird Can Sing and Doctor Robert off of Revolver, which was still being recorded when they did it!! You can see why Revolver, as released in the US by Capitol, was a bit underwhelming missing those 3 songs.
It really wasn’t until they released all of The Beatles UK albums on CD in the 80s that REVOLVER started to get the well-deserved acclaim it had been missing. Now you could hear the 14 songs the way The Beatles had recorded them together. Today it is considered to be their best album. Next year will mark 50 years of Sgt Pepper, which got ALL the acclaim, but Sgt. Pepper was not a ROCK album. It was their best POP album.
As a young teen it took a bit to get into REVOLVER. The songs were very different from anything the group had put out before. Even the sound was different. It was clearly The Beatles, but there was something different about them. John Lennon called it their Guitar Record. That was the message that the Paperback Writer/Rain single was meant to send to the fans. You could expect to hear more guitars like never before and rock’n’roll like never before. REVOLVER delivered on its promise.
The #1 song that has always represented REVOLVER for me has been the last track on Side 1—She Said, She Said. It was also the last song to be recorded for the album. This was John’s track about an LSD trip in LA with George and Ringo, along with David Crosby and Roger McGuinn of The Byrds, who brought along actor Peter Fonda. It was Fonda who kept telling George that “ he knew what it was like to be dead” because he thought George was having a bad trip, Of course nobody knew that was what the song was about. Clocking in at a tick under 2 minutes with the odd time signatures and the odder lyric “she said I know what it’s like to be dead” was very weird for a Beatles song.
For me, She Said, She Said has always been one of John’s hippest songs. So one day when Ozzie Caccavelli, who was playing lead guitar at the time with The Discontent, said that he had a killer arrangement for the song I had to hear it. #1, because Ozzie didn’t strike me as a Beatles kind of guy and # 2, I couldn’t imagine what he would come up with. What he played me was a straight ahead rocking version that kicked ass! Ozzie’s arrangement was actually more commercial sounding than Lennon’s version and it showed John’s creative genius for writing hit songs, even when he wasn’t trying. I knew we had to record it and so we did!
Earlier this year DownTown Mystic released the recording of Ozzie’s arrangement of She Said, She Said as an exclusive video single on YouTube as a tribute to honor the 50th anniversary of the release of The Beatles greatest album—REVOLVER.
The only problem with being #1 is there’s no place to go but down. I should know. Recently DownTown Mystic was #1 for 3 weeks in Europe and this is the 1st time I’ve had a chance to talk about it. Being #1 is kind of odd because it’s not something you expect to happen. Also, when you say you’re #1, people start to think you’re bragging. I mean you can talk about rising up a chart all you want and nobody seems to have a problem with that. But once you hit #1, all bets are off. 🙂
DownTown Mystic gets a good deal of radio airplay around the world, especially in Europe. But outside of landing on the Euro/Americana Chart in 2010, there weren’t too many charts to talk about there. Last year I decided I would release the Rock’nRoll Romantic album. The big question for me would be how to go about promoting it. I thought I would test the waters at Radio in Europe with a single and released Turn Around and Go.
To my surprise, the single entered the Official European Independent Music Chart at #18 and then #14 a week later. By the 3rd week, the song disappeared altogether. Now this chart is only a Top 20 chart, and musically, it’s primarily Pop/Top 40 kind of tracks (think Euro-Dance, Hip-Hop, etc.). Needless to say, I felt quite good about this since I believe my brand of Roots/RnR can compete, if given a chance. Given that the other songs on the chart were more pop-oriented, I put out 2 more singles that I thought were more Pop (and stronger sounding), but didn’t get bupkis…nada…zilch…zero. This was even more surprising to me. lol
Sometimes things happen…really bad things that seem so senseless. In mid-November 2015 the horrible Paris Attacks occurred. Like everyone else in the world, there’s a feeling of helplessness when anything so inconceivable happens. 9/11 was like that for us here in the US. As an artist you feel the need to create something that can have meaning for people in these circumstances. I didn’t write anything in response to the attacks but I did have a song that was apropos and had a hopeful message. I put it in the back of my mind.
When January 2016 came around I decided to release the song as a single in Europe, knowing that many of the stations that reported to this chart were in France and Belgium. Being that the attacks were still fresh in everyone’s mind, I felt that if I had one song that could indirectly address the situation, this song would be my choice. The song was Way to Know, a straight ahead rocker with a message that doesn’t hit the listener over the head. There’s a subtlety to the lyrics that can be looked at from a number of different perspectives.
Ironically, it had already been at #1 on a US Indie Chart. I had released a digital EP last summer called DownTown Mystic on E Street, which had Way to Know on it. The EP features Max Weinberg & Garry Tallent, the RnR Hall of Fame rhythm section from The E Street Band and had not been released in Europe. So I was bringing my “A” game!
I released Way to Know in January and it was kind of amazing to be truthful. About the 3rd week of January it entered the chart at #19. Here’s the even stranger part for me…there was NO PROMOTION. You can’t hire anybody or email anybody to promote your track. It’s all done by the listening audience who text in their votes. This was really crazy and all happening to DownTown Mystic in Europe. I had to believe that song was connecting with that audience at least on a subliminal level.
The higher I went on the chart the tougher it got. By the 4th week I was at #10 and I was good to go. Now I could drop off the chart and feel real good about making the Top 10. But then it got crazier. The song kept creeping up the chart and now I was starting to get hooked on it. #8, #7, #6, #5 and then to #3. Top 3?? For real?? This is amazing!! Every week people are voting for DownTown Mystic and the numbers keep getting better! 🙂
Meanwhile, I was starting to promote the DownTown Nashville release at US Americana Radio. DownTown Mystic would debut in the Top 5 Most Added on the AMA Chart in the 1st week of release! That had never happened before. Am I on a roll or what? I know it seems nuts to have 2 different releases on 2 different continents going on at the same time but I never expected the success in Europe to continue! I was at #7 when I mailed out DownTown Nashville to Americana Radio and thought it was all over.
But I still wasn’t done in Europe. The following week Way To Know moved up another spot for the 10th straight week to #2 and then stayed there for another week…2 straight weeks at #2 and I was a basket case. I was content with #10 and that was over a month ago! Will I ever get to #1 or will the slow torture continue? The song in front of Way To Know at #1 is some pop song by a French singer, but I can see that I’m gaining on him in the voting.
DownTown Mystic had been on this radio chart for 3 months and had finally reached #1. Now what happens? I mean, where do you go from #1? I have to say it was far more exciting climbing the chart than arriving at that exalted place…but I’d be lying if I didn’t think being #1 is very cool!! 🙂
Way To Know spent 2 more weeks at #1 and then went back to #2. I knew it was over. I had become an action junkie and now the action was over. OMG! lol There was no place to go but back down the chart. Boo hoo…don’t cry for me Argentina. DownTown Mystic spent the first 4 months of 2016 on the Official European Independent Music Chart, going all the way to #1 against all odds. My hope is that the music had an impact with the listeners and gave them a feeling of something positive against a backdrop of tragic events. 🙂
Nashville has always held a fascination for me, long before I ever went there. It’s not called Music City for nothing and I love the city’s vibe. It feels like a small town and music permeates everywhere. There’s no other place like it. Steve Earle called Nashville Guitar Town and I’ve long been a fan of the many great players that ply their trade there. Some of these players’ names are not well known outside the city limits but their presence is felt around the world.
To the world at large, Nashville is a symbol for Country Music, but I like to think it’s a symbol of something more powerful beyond being just an Industry town where Music is the main commodity. The new EP DownTown Nashville is an homage to the city and the music that’s been made there. The spirit of Nashville has infused my songs for many years, as evidenced by the 6 songs that are presented on this release.
I originally wrote Sometimes Wrong for a female artist, since many of the Divine Feminine would cry on my shoulder and wonder why they “always picked the wrong guy”. I only had to change the words HE to SHE to make it work for a male artist, although it’s not easy for a guy to start a song singing “last night I cried”. But on the plus side, women tend to like a guy who can show his feminine side. 🙂 I recorded a demo of this song with Garry Tallent & Max Weinberg on the DownTown Mystic on E Street release last year. We tried to rock it up but it didn’t quite work for me so I went back to the way I wrote the song. I’ve always been a big fan of Don Everly’s rhythm guitar style and give a tip of my hat to him with the acoustic guitar start. I was also a big fan of Foster & Lloydand I feel like some of their work rubbed off on Sometimes Wrong.
Rise and Fall
Let’s face it, the Eagles big comeback in the 90s was mostly due to the impact they had on the artists in Nashville. There’s always been a strong Nashville-LA connection, and it’s had a big impact on my music, especially when it comes to guitars and harmonies. A good deal of that comes from listening to those great Eagles songs written by Glenn Frey & Don Henley, as well as their co-conspirators JD Souther and Jackson Browne. Many of their best work elevated things to mythological levels like the Hotel California or the she-devil Witchy Woman. Their myth-making inspired me to write Rise and Fall. I don’t know why, but for some reason, men are drawn to those she-devils like moths to a flame. We’re gluttons for punishment…yeah, hurt me baby! 🙂
Speaking of She-Devils, the guitar player usually gets the girl, but be careful what you wish for. You never know people’s sexual proclivities and our hero learns the joke’s on him in Backdoor. Speaking of guitar players, John Sebastian wrote Nashville Cats about all the great guitar pickers down in Nashville and I’ve always loved the songs that featured hot guitar licks. All those songs left their impression on my consciousness and certainly inspired me on Backdoor. Former Nashville (via Bama) studio ace Lance Dosslent a helping hand on lap steel to bring out the flavor for me. Believe it or not, Backdoor actually started as a bluegrass song. But let’s face it, rock’n’roll is sexier than bluegrass, so I had to rock it out. I tried for years to find the right groove and finally heard a song by The Tractors that helped me to get it right.
Losing My Mind (Too Many Times)
There’s nothing better than writing a song filled with righteous indignation when you can’t take it any longer and need to vent. Losing My Mind is just that type of song and it evokes Steve Earle for me. His Guitar Town record was a big influence and I have to thank him for making Nashville that mythological place for me. I know Garry Tallent played bass on Steve’s Copperhead Road and I remember meeting Steve’s wife Teresa Ensenat (I think she was #5 at the time) in LA, where she had an A&R gig. I could not imagine them being in the same room let alone being married, but I guess that’s Steve for you. 🙂 I like to think some of his magic rubbed off on me for Losing My Mind, which features some killer guitar work from Lance Doss.
Sony Music put out a Country Hits Compilation cd in Germany featuring a Who’s Who of Nashville. We’re talking Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert, Kenny Chesney, Jason Aldean, Eric Church, Zac Brown, Dierks Bentley…you get the picture. I had a cd out in Europe via Sony and by a stroke of luck, Believe got the final slot. I later learned that John Mayer had refused permission to use his song, so DownTown Mystic got the nod. I can’t tell you how exciting it was to see my name on that cd! It made me want to be in Nashville and was probably the impetus for this release. It also allowed me to hear how my song stacked up and was pleasantly surprised. Of course, compared to my vocal, any one of those other artists would have a smash if they cut Believe. 🙂
Shade of White Bluegrass
I’ve always had a place in my heart for Bluegrass. From Bill Monroe to Ricky Skaggs and everyone in between I can’t help myself when I hear those pickers. As far as I’m concerned, Bluegrass is Happy Music! I love playing it when I get the chance because it is simply so much fun! I originally wrote Shade of White as a country rocker about this painting I have hanging over my bed. After we cut the basic track I realized I had made a mistake with the arrangement and the groove. But the track was so upbeat and sounded so good that I decided to go with the flow. Voilà—Shade of White Bluegrass! 🙂
Steve, Robert & Paul
One of the great things about making DownTown Nashville was getting to record the songs with Steve Holley and Paul Page. Going from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band rhythm section to Ian Hunter’s Rant Band rhythm section is like being in Rock’n’Roll Heaven. It just doesn’t get any better than that for me. Drummer Steve Holley is a NYC legend, having played with just about everyone, including Rock Royalty like Sir Paul McCartney and Sir Elton John. With a resume like that and always being in demand, it would be very easy for him to just give the basics of what’s needed and move on to the next gig.
But that’s not Steve Holley’s style. He comes prepared and gives his full attention to the job at hand, including suggestions on how to approach or improve a track. It was Steve’s idea for the intro part on Sometimes Wrong that was so good I had to have it throughout the song. He’s great to watch behind the drums. When the playback comes in the booth I ask him how he feels about his take. If he’s fine with it, then we move on to the next song. If he feels he wants to do another take, then we do another take. 🙂
Now add the Urban Legend Paul Page into the mix and you have the Dynamic Duo. Paul & Steve work so well in tandem that it’s like a fine piece of machinery humming along on all cylinders. Having worked with them a few times now I’m always amazed at the quality of the parts they put down on tape. I mean they’re great players and that’s a given. But what really make them great are the actual parts they create. As a recording artist I’m trying to create magic in the studio that will find its way onto the tape, and somehow, Steve and Paul make it happen in ways that are not planned. That’s real magic! 🙂