Tag Archives: Ian Hunter

DTM E Street1500-Nub

DownTown Blog – On E Street

DTM E Street1500-Nub

On December 1, 2017, UK Label Nub Music (via ADA/Warner Music) released the new DownTown Mystic EP, On E Street featuring Max Weinberg and Garry Tallent for the Holiday season in the UK & Europe. As you probably know, Max and Garry form the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame rhythm section for Bruce Springsteen’s legendary E Street Band. Personally, I think the rhythm guitar player should also be included as part of the rhythm section since the bass & drums won’t know what they’re playing to. 🙂

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The On E Street EP contains 4 rare recordings with Max on drums and Garry on bass. Rare, because they’re playing with someone other than Bruce. There are only a few times this has happened, despite all of the studio work both men have done separately. As far as I know, other than Bruce, the only artists that Max & Garry have played together in the studio with are Ian Hunter, Gary U.S. Bonds, Ronnie Spector and me—DownTown Mystic. I know, that can’t be right, right?

Max

I went to Columbia High School in Maplewood, NJ, the same as Max, who’s a year older. We had mutual friends and even then he was known as “the drummer”, walking the halls with his drumsticks in his hands. He played in the HS Orchestra and also the best rock band in the school. It was not surprising to me and others that he was playing in an orchestra pit on Broadway after graduation, or when we heard that he had become Springsteen‘s new drummer after auditioning for him.

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I met Garry after giving his girlfriend a 45 my band had recorded and that I was handing out at a very “in” club in NYC that we were playing. She gave it to Garry and he dug it and came out to hear us play. He ended up playing bass with us in the studio for a production deal that we got from playing that same club and even did a live gig with us in Asbury Park, NJ. The band eventually broke up and I stayed in touch with him. I contacted Garry and asked him if he wanted to work together to record some songs of mine. He brought in Max to play drums. What are the odds, right?

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The 1st track on the EP, Way to Know, was recently released in the UK as a single for the Rage Against The Brexit Machine project by Nub Music. It’s not the version that I played for Garry. The original demo that I recorded for the song was a bit more mid-tempo and much sparser in the arrangement. It also featured a piano. Garry was the one who changed the tempo and the arrangement, so I have to blame him for this recorded version. lol As I’ve stated previously, the funniest thing I remember about cutting the track was hearing Garry tell Max to “play like Charlie Watts”. 🙂

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The 2nd track, And You Know Why, features a very economical bass line from Garry and one of the most restrained drum tracks from Max that I think he’s ever played. And You Know Why has a great deal of meaning to me personally. It’s a song that came to me at a time when I was burnt out on writing and playing music. I was seriously thinking about giving up music altogether and this little tune would not let me quit. Then to have the good fortune of getting to record it with the E Street rhythm section is really quite a blessing.

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The 3rd track, retro rocker Hard Enough, is an up-tempo number that owes a great deal to the great New Wave band Rockpile, which featured guitarist Dave Edmunds and bassist Nick Lowe. The funny thing about this song is that I was not that thrilled to record it. I had given Garry 2 songs to listen to and decide which one he wanted to record. He picked Hard Enough, which was not the song I favored. Garry said he liked the George Harrison-type riff that I played but I think he picked it for more obvious reasons. When I hear his bass line it reminds me of his bass on Springsteen’s Ramrod from The River album, which is one of my fave songs by Bruce. So what’s not to like, right? 🙂

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The last track Sometimes Wrong (Demo) was an idea that I had to rock up the song from the way I originally wrote it. Garry and Max gave it their best shot but I don’t think it really quite meshed the way I had envisioned it. I finally decided to go back to the original version when I recorded the track with Steve Holley and Paul Page (the rhythm section for Ian Hunter’s Rant Band). It leads off DownTown Nashville and I think it’s much better as I wrote it. I did keep most of the guitar parts from this demo version and the guitar solo I play on the end of the song is one of the best off the cuff solos I’ve ever put down on tape. It was a one-shot live take that I was able to pull off. I just wish I could mute the incessant vocal track singing “sometimes wrong” on the fade out! 🙂

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I’ve been asked many times what it was like to play with Max & Garry and I always say it was one of the easiest sessions I ever played on. They play so intuitively together. Just a look at each other and they instinctively know what they’re going to play or where to go next. All I had to do was play my guitar. It gave me an appreciation for what Bruce has with these two anchoring his E Street Band. The other thing I get asked is why there are no photos from the studio. There are a couple of reasons. #1, the E Street Band has very strict rules as its own entity. They don’t do endorsements as a band and photos are a bit of a gray area. So #2, I didn’t want to seem like a “fanboy” taking pics and possibly creating a bad vibe in the studio. I think it’s always better to err on the side of caution in these types of situations.

One of the coolest things for me personally from On E Street is that I realized one of my deepest musical ambitions. After my band broke up so many years ago, I made a goal for myself to play with the very best musicians possible, and with On E Street that became a reality. My sincerest gratitude to Garry and Max for truly making that dream come true. 🙂

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DownTown Blog – 2016 Year In Review: Part 1: DownTown Nashville

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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

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

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 21st DownTown 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. 🙂

To be continued…Part 2: Rock’n’Roll Romantic

DownTown Blog – DownTown Nashville

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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.

Sometimes Wrong

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 & Lloyd and 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! 🙂

Backdoor

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 Doss lent 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.

Believe

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

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.

Steve Holley

Steve Holley

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.  🙂

Paul Page

Paul Page

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! 🙂