Reviews and Interviews
Issue No. 146, October 25, 1973
Love Has Got Me • Wendy Waldman
BY STEPHEN HOLDEN
Love Has Got Me is an apt title for this collection, since its content is a torrent of celebration and includes practically every pop style extant. Wendy Waldman, a 22-year-old Southern Californian who has written more than 150 songs, makes music that doesn't so much exemplify these styles as synthesize them with grace and fluency. In addition to singing, she plays piano, guitar and dulcimer. Her vocal quality is reminiscent of Laura Nyro's, although lighter and less affected. She takes the rock bottom bass lines that comprise the skeletal foundations of many of her songs from the blues. And she borrows from Joni Mitchell, although, as in the other cases, she treats the source as but another approach at her disposal.
No one of her 12 original songs is like any other. Many are apparently autobiographical, dealing directly with her own ups and downs in love, almost always with philosophic maturity and good humor, and it is her special gift and good fortune that she can turn everything she touches into a legitimate area of personal creation.
The structures of Waldman's songs adhere to contemporary form. Most are short and have the flow and "rightness" that is the hallmark of the finest and most durable tunesmiths. Add to this her compelling lyrics, whose underlying theme is a vividly imagined spiritual restlessness, and you have the singer-songwriter debut of the year.
Due credit for the success of Love Has Got Me must go to producer Charles Plotkin, whose only previous production was Steve Ferguson's unjustly ignored debut album on Asylum earlier this year. For Wendy Waldman he has provided a satisfying, understated setting, one that allows the artist and her material to shine. Each cut begins simply, with Waldman backing herself on either piano or guitar. Various elements -- electric guitar, backup vocals, scaled-down strings and, most importantly, excellent brass arrangements -- gradually accrue, lending each song its aura of self-contained inevitability. Sidemen for the album include Jim Horn (brass), Russ Kunkel (drums) and Wilton Felder (bass). Among the guest backup vocalists are Maria Muldaur (who recorded two of Wendy's songs on her extraordinary solo debut Maria Muldaur), Linda Ronstadt, Greg Prestopino and Jennifer Warren.
The album opens with "Train Song," a hypnotic fantasy in which romantic and spiritual freedom are equated with riding a train in the morning sun. A nice organ-guitar arrangement balanced equally against background vocals creates a delicate yet relentless momentum above which Waldman sings the song's pictorial refrain: "You. can see them chase their hats as the train passes by." "Thinking Of You" is a tender lullaby-reminiscence of an old love. A soft string arrangement punctuated by hard triplet piano chords builds toward a powerful emotional climax. "Gringo En Mexico" is an ingratiating Latin-flavored song that celebrates being happy and carefree on the Mexican seacoast: The track becomes even more ecstatic as the lyrics change from English to Spanish. The beautiful "Horse Dream," a night vision delivered with a strong gospel fervor, has Waldman singing to only her own piano accompaniment.
Then the bluesy "Can't Come In" provides a perfect change of pace. Opening with chunky acoustic guitar chords that recall the intro to Joni Mitchell's "Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire," the cut abruptly segues into a harder, meaner sound as Waldman enacts her desperately painful rejection of a still-attractive lover who has hurt her too many times in the past to be given another chance. Toward the end, a triumphant brass choir comes up front to confirm the lady's resolution. The side closes with the beautiful "Pirate Ships," another magical lullaby, this one sung to a child with a simple arrangement featuring piano, light strings and laid-back vocals.
"Old Time Love," which opens side two, is probably the album's strongest candidate for a hit single. It is a moving tribute to the imaginative power of music, specifically old records:
Well you come to me on the record player
Let me start it from the first side again
'Cause it sounds so fine to me
Are you just a storyteller
Telling stories just to kill your own pen
But it sounds so fine to me . . .
"Vaudeville Man" follows and, unlike Maria Muldaur's gutsier, Dixieland interpretation, Waldman's is more soulful and tentative at the outset, then accumulates a strutting confidence as recollection gives way to rollicking affirmation. "Natural Born Fool'' is a happy-go-lucky expression of the feeling of being a temporary loser, unable to cope with anything, while "Waiting for the Rain" is an ethereal torch song with strong echoes of "Willow Weep for Me."
The title cut, which concludes the album, sums up everything that Wendy Waldman is about. Here she proclaims that with the passage of time, the quality of love changes in unforeseeable ways; that sustained commitment to a lover is difficult; and finally that the question of whether two people really "know" each other is ever-recurrent in an intimate relationship. One of the ways Waldman accomplishes all this is to wring contradictory lyric changes on a single line: `'Well love can blind you, this I know / If love has found you, you better let it go / Well love has got me / this I know." The song is Waldman's ultimate expression of self-acceptance and positive belief. By the time it ends, her music has got me, and I'm not about to let it go.
WOOD & STEEL - TAYLOR GUITARS QUARTERLY PUBLICATION
Volume 37, Summer 2003
SEEDS AND ORPHANS
"Rookie" clinician Wendy Waldman visited the factory on June 5 and updated us on her various projects. Her down-to-earth, encouraging style certainly has found a home in her Taylor workshops, where she has been very warmly received. Wendy focuses on using the guitar as a songwriting tool, thus filling an important niche in our program. Few people ever will play like Doyle Dykes, but nearly everyone enjoys playing songs, tapping into their inner singer-songwriter, and discovering their own unique voice on the acoustic guitar.
While she was here, Wendy picked up a new 910e for herself and a 110 for her teenage son, Abe. After returning home to L.A., she sent the PR department the following e-mail:
"Came home exhausted and played my gorgeous new guitar. I couldn't resist giving Abe his, too, as his last final exam is today, and he was done studying. We sat and played some strange, cool new song of his -- two brand new Taylors ringing out in the house. That was some fun."
A pair of accomplished, Taylor-playing pals accompanied Wendy to El Cajon -- award-winning singer-songwriter Darryl Purpose (912c, 710) and composer, songwriter, performer, and instructor Paul Reisler (812ce, Baby), co-founder of the progressive folk ensemble Trapezoid and founder/artistic director of the Kid Pan Alley children's songwriting project. Both had a chance to sample the Expression System at the 1700 venue, and both left very impressed.
Wendy also brought a few copies of a just-finished CD, Seeds and Orphans. This is not the new studio album she's been diligently working on for quite a while. It's a collection of very new, very old, and very good songs that she's written or co-written for a variety of people and purposes, and which are emerging into the sunlight together for the first time. The "handmade" graphics and simple packaging give Seeds the vibe of an "authorized bootleg", but beneath the funky surface are well-made recordings that offer indisputable evidence of Waldman's tunesmithing prowess. We'll run a full review of Seeds and Orphans in the Fall issue.
Volume 10, Issue 70, June 2003
A Recording Strategy for Independent Artists
By Wendy Waldman
The world of music has changed so much that it's hardly recognizable from what it was even 10 years ago, for better and sometimes for worse. Many of the changes we're experiencing are double-edged swords. One feature of this brave new music world in which we live is that anyone can make a CD these days -- you don't have to have a huge budget to get into a studio and make records. All the developments in affordable digital technology have made it possible for many people to have reliable home studios or at least to have friends who have them. That's the good news and also the bad, because it allows the market -- especially the independent market -- to become flooded with vast amounts of CDs, so many of which are ill-conceived and don't reach the quality the artist envisions.
I think that there are some simple rules that can help you, the independent artist, make the very best record possible. These rules apply regardless of the size of your budget.
Remember this: The record you make is your first real step into the larger world and into the archives of music alongside your peers. It's the calling card that represents you no matter where you are, no matter what point in time, and even after you pass from this world. It then follows that this is not a process to be underestimated, and yet that's exactly what I so often find.
I believe that the most important part of record making is what takes place before you ever go into the studio; in fact, I believe that the actual recording process is the last stop on a train that begins long before you ever walk in that door. The process can take awhile, but preproduction is the thing that will make the difference between something you can be proud of and something you might wince at for the rest of your life. The amazing thing about this is that it's the least expensive part of all -- it only requires your time and your commitment.
So here's a rough outline of the process, as I see it.
THE SONGS: 99 percent of the success rate of your CD will depend on the quality of your songs. That's where it begins, and that will always be the backbone of your work. Put together your 10 best songs. At that point I always say, fine, why don't you write 10 more? Let's have a broad list of songs to choose from. In my experience as a producer, the songs you write after you think you have the songs for your project can wind up being some of the best on your record. You want to push yourself to have a large list of contenders and keep writing right up to the time you go into the studio to record. The record you make is your first real step into the larger world and into the archives of music alongside your peers.
NARROWING THE FIELD: Examine the songs from every viewpoint you can think of. Are they sturdy, well-built and expressive of what you really want to say? Do you harbor any secret lingering doubts about any of them? If you do, stop and look at them. Remember, you can't fix it after you release it. This is where you want to find the songs that pass the test, and the ones you feel you absolutely have to record, even if no one agrees with you. You're hoping to narrow it down to a list of about 15 songs. Play them for friends, at song nights, wherever, to see their impact in front of at least a few people.
PUTTING THEM TOGETHER: Make the simplest compilation of these tunes so that you can listen to them all in one place -- like a rough sketch of the album. Just a guitar vocal or piano vocal version will suffice -- no overdubs necessary. If they exist as demos, burn them all together on one CD. This is the first time you'll begin to get a sense of the album, and it can be a very revealing and important moment. You will be amazed at how much you learn just listening to everything back-to-back. This step can make or break the album.
THE DECISION: Whether you're a band, a smaller unit or a solo artist, you need to have a general idea of the scope for your CD. Do you envision lots of layers -- intricate arrangements needing many tracks and much editing? Do you think this needs to be a simpler sounding CD, with just a few instruments playing, adding subtle color to your basic guitar or piano track? These are things you must consider and plan for in at least the roughest terms before you go in. You may need to have some money set aside to pay for a few extra players. You may need to gauge for extra programming and editing time if you're envisioning a more complicated sound. You can do this even on a small budget if you've planned ahead.
The problems arise when you're in the studio and things start happening that you haven't planned for. For example, if the music starts to take another direction, things get out of hand because you haven't set the limits of what you are trying to create. You also want to leave room for spontaneous things to happen in the studio. People get inspired when recording and lots of ideas -- some great and some inappropriate -- can start floating around. But on your small and carefully planned project, you need to know when an idea, no matter how great, is not necessarily in keeping with your overall design, or is simply unaffordable.
THE MAPS: Now that you have a master list of songs, hopefully two or three more than you think will be on the CD, you have a picture of the way you would like this CD to be. It's now time to create the roadmaps on paper and tape so that when the musicians walk in, the songs are in front of them, ready to be learned and recorded. This is where you make "charts." There are a number of ways to write your songs down. You can use traditional music notation, or the "Nashville Number system" (which is quite marvelous and, for most independents, a lot easier to follow after they get the hang of it), or you can simply write out the chords over the words or on a piece of paper indicating where they fall in the song.
What you can't do is leave this job undone until everyone is sitting around the studio waiting to start the recording, because you're eating up valuable studio time with a job that rightly falls into the category of preproduction.
Write out your arrangements simply, because you want to leave room for things to change -- but it only works if everyone is starting off on the same page. You can make tapes of your songs and give them to your musicians beforehand if they will feel more comfortable being familiar with the music when they get there or if the music demands it.
If you are a band, it goes without saying that it is imperative to rehearse and work out arrangements before you record -- you don't want to be learning material in the studio. And all of the above rules apply to you as well, with the possible exception of writing charts if everyone knows the music well.
THE STUDIO: Talk your plan out with your engineer before you ever set foot in the studio, so that there are no surprising disagreements or misunderstandings cropping up after you've begun to spend your carefully saved dollars. It's a lot cheaper to agree on a direction before you start than to backtrack after you've begun recording. Preproduction is the thing that will make the difference between something you can be proud of and something you might wince at for the rest of your life.
No, you don't need a lot of expensive gear and all the latest plugins to make a great record. If you apply those to bad songs, you'll wind up with slick-sounding bad songs. You need to work with someone who understands that you only have so much money and that you want great performances and clear recording, and that is your goal, period. Believe me, many great and large-selling albums were not made on the latest and most expensive stuff.
SET UP THE DAY BEFORE: It is worth it to plan an extra day in your agreement with your studio and your musicians to set up all the instruments the day before, to get the sounds on the drums and guitars, to check the headphone systems with your engineer, and to make sure everything is running smoothly. It shouldn't take very long to do this, and it is a vital step. You can then walk in the day of recording and start working on your music. You don't want to eat up the musicians' time getting sounds -- wearing them out -- when you should be having a blast playing your music with the red light on.
If you've done your preproduction properly, you can maximize the time you're spending in the studio. You can calculate how much money you have and create a realistic budget for yourself and, by making clear preproduction decisions, not have terrible surprises that can waylay your album.
Recording is an art, just as much as writing, singing and performing. You may be trying to create a sonic painting or just trying to capture who you are on CD for your fans, but either way, the more prepared you are, the more your energy will be available for the music.
Volume 7, Issue 43, January/February 2000
Women Changing the Face of Music:
Producer's Corner - Wendy Waldman
by Lydia Hutchinson
There are very few people in the music industry with credentials that include being a hit songwriter, award-winning record producer, recording artist, sought-out background vocalist, member of an influential band, record label owner, and artist developer. Meet Wendy Waldman.
Born in L.A. and raised in the fertile California music scene of the '60s and '70s, Wendy made the absolute most of the pop music education that was available to her there. In the late '60s she formed the group Bryndle with friends Karla Bonoff, Kenny Edwards, and Andrew Gold, creating one of the first bands completely comprised of singer-songwriters. After an unreleased album, however, the members went on to develop their own highly successful careers. Wendy signed with Warner Brothers and released her first solo album in 1973, which Rolling Stone proclaimed to be the "singer-songwriter album of the year." At that time she was the youngest member of the Warner Brothers "Brain Trust," a group of artists such as Randy Newman, Ry Cooder, Van Dyke Parks, Captain Beefheart, and Maria Muldaur who were signed to the label and known in particular for their innovative and critically acclaimed approaches to music.
Wendy subsequently made seven albums over eighteen years, toured, sang backup for Linda Ronstadt, moved to Nashville to begin her career as one of the first female record producers, wrote a number one country hit, "Fishin' In The Dark," for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, moved back to L.A., wrote the Vanessa Williams mega-hit "Save The Best For Last," and reunited with her Bryndle buddies who began performing and writing together again. And that's just a brief synopsis....
Wendy's most recent project has been developing and producing an independent album by former New Grass Revival vocalist John Cowan. She has worked with him to develop his website and build his audience, utilizing the concept that in today's market, both the live and recorded aspects of an artist's career need equal development in order to ensure longevity.
So now that you've met her, I think it's clear that in looking at Wendy Waldman, you're looking at a woman who's up for a challenge. And if there's something she hasn't accomplished yet... well... she will.
What do you feel like you bring to the table as a producer?
Well, I think the obvious thing that sets me apart from other producers is that I'm a woman. And therefore, like it or not, the world is going to go through a different kind of filter to me.
I'm also a singer and a songwriter. Many producers today are not singers. And, as a singer, I was acutely aware early on, working in the studio, that a lot of singers were really abused by their producers. That a lot of producers didn't tune into what it takes to help a singer get a great performance. I'd had some bad experiences myself -- I knew how difficult it was for me to sing in the studio; I knew how easy it was to get "red-light fever" because I'd had it so much; or to be intimidated, or to feel like you're singing and the guy's reading the daily racing form or whatever.
So what I can bring to the table is that I'm very artist oriented. I'm not as much record oriented, and I think that the best of my work is really much more about the artist than about the particular record. And I think that's a really radically different approach from a lot of what's going on today. To me technology is all stuff we get to use -- and I love it all. Some of it's frustrating and some of it's great, but even the most advanced technology in the world is just a tool in service of the art and the artist.
Why do you think there aren't more women producers out there?
Well, you know, I think it's cultural first of all. I was raised in a kind of post-war generation where there were very few role models for young girls to be that kind of leader, coupled with the fact that growing up in the '60s girls didn't get to be a part of bands. The music and the mechanics of music were a male-dominated thing, because it was guys in their teens getting together and playing in the garage. And through that there was a shared learning experience among boys and men which young girls were denied -- which is why you've got more female solo singer-songwriters out of my generation than you ever did girl band members.
And frankly, I think that the technology is and has been terribly intimidating to women, although you and I know that's changing. There's some marvelous women engineers and there are some really good women producers. But it's still a drop in the bucket compared to the number of men. And it takes a lot of guts for a gal to get up in front of a room full of musicians and say, "No, like this." You have to be confident. You know, there's this moment in the studio (laughs) when you have to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, where you're going to lead the pack. And first of all, that means you have to have the men -- and it's all a room full of men, generally -- accept your leadership. And you're talking about, in some cases, big, rich programmers or hot studio players. And you have to stand up and go, "That's not the way that I think it's going to work for this record. I really think that this is where it needs to go, and I would really like you to try it." And I think that little moment in itself is a terrifying moment for women who have not been raised to take charge and to have faith in their judgment. And it's an equally, if not more terrifying moment for men. For a group of men who have, again, their shared cultural experience.
I've always marveled and thought that the music scene is still in the stone age as far as the roles that women are really able to play. I mean, there's one head of a major label who is a woman. There's probably less than ten great women engineers who are able to work full time. And between R&B and country and pop, there's maybe ten working women producers, and that's probably an exaggeration. Now we're not talking about women who produce themselves. We're talking about women who are hired by record companies that are run by men. You know, if I go up against a guy producer, who's gonna get the job?
How was it learning your producing chops in Nashville?
I was fortunate because when I started producing there was a wonderful community of musicians in Nashville. Very prominent session players who helped me, who stood by me, who let me work. They had respected me as a writer. Brent Rowan, Eddie Bayers, Willie Weeks, Gary Prim, Kenny Greenberg, Michael Rhodes -- these guys were great to me and they liked to work with me and gave me their support. And subsequent musicians I've worked with, for some of them my reputation precedes me. But in some cases I have to go through it even today. Just recently on a project I had a clash of personalities where the first thing was, "Well, Wendy, we think it should be like this." I actually recoiled for a minute and I stepped back in the rehearsal hall and I thought, "Well, Wendy we think it should be like this... okay... calm down. Wendy, what do you think this record should be like." And I went back at it and I said, "You know, with all due respect, when I consider what I think is right for the artist, I would like you to try this. I would really like you to try this," (laughs). And I'd be really shocked at any musicians who would say, "I won't try something." And I did have that experience when I was younger. And I guess that taught me. The only thing I can think of is that women need to talk to each other more about how to stand their ground.
It's a boy's game and it's not going to change. Probably 95 or 98% of working musicians are men, and probably working programmers. So you need to know if you're a woman producer -- (laughs) this is your reality -- you're going to be dealing with guys. And you have to work through your vision of the record so that when you're confronted with the inevitable you don't lose ground. You go, "Okay, I see what this guy's trying to do. But the fact is I know what kind of a record I think we should make. And I'm going to try like hell to make that record." Now I may be wrong but that's another discussion (laughs).
With this being the reality, what do you think the equipment manufacturers and dealers need to know about women in this industry?
Well, that's an interesting question. I think that women in the industry side -- the production, engineering, technical side -- that whole part of the industry is in it's infancy. There are women who are brilliant programmers and fine engineers. Women have bought the notion that they can't run a computer or that they can't program, you know? But this stuff is as technical as it is -- you can paint it pink, but it's still gonna be really hard (laughs). I work every day with some extraordinarily bright men, and our stuff crashes, and everybody's reading manuals, it's no different. It's just are we ready to have Roland start taking ads out with women running the gear? It wouldn't hurt. It really wouldn't hurt.
And I think my guess is that it's an inevitability that we're going to see more and more women getting into it. The younger generation of women I don't think have some of the stigma that my generation has. We haven't seen a lot of it yet, but we'll be seeing more and more of young girls just going, "Well, I'm gonna do it myself." And once you say that, you've launched yourself on a tremendous journey. You're going to school.
What you said about women having bought into this for so long when all it takes is doing it... I mean a manual's a manual, right?
Yes. And all it takes to do it is patience. Because it's a really long road to overcoming your own fear of taking charge. To overcoming your fear of technology. To gaining the kind of strength within yourself to require a certain standard of performance from the people around you. And to give yourself permission to be the standard setter. So what you're looking at is, "I'm going to transform myself ultimately into the person with whom the buck stops." The buck stops with the producer, whether it's a man or a woman. And women have not, generally -- although there are many exceptions -- been raised to have the buck stop with them and to be comfortable taking that role. You have to understand that sometimes you're going to have to stake what you think is right on something that may not work out. You're looking at a combination of confidence in your instinct and flexibility, and how to balance those. And the tremendous risk of being the person that says, "Well, here's how it really should go." And if it fails, it'll definitely be your fault (laughs). No doubt about it. And if it succeeds it'll be the credit of the label and the artist. But that's life. That's what it is to be a producer.
You've taken a pretty active role in the marketing and artist development of John Cowan, whose album you just produced. That seems like something that's become more and more neglected in the music industry as a whole.
Well, I've sort of backed into this. This is a new learning curve for me. I'm an active musician, and I love to play with my buddies and record with my buddies. And obviously, like everybody else, by the mid-'80s I was extraordinarily frustrated with the fact that a majority of artists were not able to find recording outlets. If you fit into a certain few categories and you had all the right stuff you could get a major label deal. But one thing missing off that checklist and you literally had no place to play your music, which to me was agonizing.
I came to terms with it by the late-'80s when I began to see some movement -- I signed to Cypress, Karla [Bonoff] signed to Gold Castle, and John Prine and Al Bunetta opened Oh Boy Records. And my friends and I were all talking about how it's not right that many wonderful artists who do have audiences out there can't reach them because the labels have gone in a different direction. They're doing a different kind of business. And fortunately for us all, I guess every action brings a reaction. The more corporate the majors have become, nature's solution has been to begin to provide us other outlets. And because of the nature of the artists who seem to come to me, I've had to learn about those outlets. So today, my feeling is -- very strongly -- that if an artist comes to me and wants to work with me, they have to be willing to do what it's going to take to go out and work that record.
Things are, ironically, more like they were in the early '60s where if an artist was good on stage, the audience liked it, and they'd go buy the artist's records. And then, after that, things became where if the audience liked the record, then they'd go hear the artist, because the records were hit-driven and radio-driven. But now we have a huge segment of the artist population that isn't going to be radio-driven. Many artists are not going to get radio.
They're not going to get it. So we have to learn to re-align our thinking. For everybody to think that all music must go through the eye of the radio needle... it ain't gonna happen. The real new thinking is, "What are my ways to the audience."
It sounds like it all comes down to just readjusting your expectations.
It's very much that. I came from a generation where if you didn't have a gold record and if you weren't signed to a major label, you might as well go live in Shanty Town (laughs). You were so embarrassed to hold your head up around town (laughs) because you were "between deals." And I remember when I went to Nashville in '83, saying to myself the real challenge is that I want to see if I can live without a record deal. I want to know what it's like. I want to see if I'm strong enough as a musician to just survive without the dang record deal. And it's been an interesting journey.
The Internet is certainly a gift of a tool.
I think that the Internet is the greatest gift to all of us. It's just incredible because for all these years corporate labels have stood between the artist and the audience. And we finally have a vehicle where if the artist has the structure, and has the inclination, you can go right to your audience. It's not easy, but it's not impossible (laughs), which is what it was. It was impossible. There were reasons why for a long long time you didn't hear records from some of your favorite singer-songwriters. It wasn't because they were all dead, it was because there literally was no way they could figure out how to get out there.
But it doesn't seem to me that you can stop the Internet. And therefore, if you're an artist and you understand that it's a holistic approach, you've got a shot. You have to make a decent-sounding record, your production values have to be good, and it's got to be a well-thought-out piece of work with good content and good performance. If you're willing to have a web site, if you're willing to put your ass out there on the street and play music for people and reach out to people and thus see your career as a two-pronged deal, then you've got a shot. But it's only going to work according to how good you are. You're really going back to the audience and saying, "Well, fundamentally it's up to you. If you like what I do, I'm an artist. If you don't, I'm a shoe salesman." (Laughs)
With all of that in mind, what do you see the role of the major labels becoming in five years?
Well, I think, render unto the majors that which is the majors'. I love every kind of music under the sun. And although I don't like the quality of a lot of the songs I hear on today's pop radio, the production values are just terrific. And, like a major motion picture studio, if you want to make blockbusters it takes a huge amount of money to reach around the globe that quickly.
And there are so many rules that will be accompanying the signing of those artists, identical, really, to the rules that make a Leonardo DiCaprio. You've gotta have the look, you've gotta have the energy, and right now it's important to be able to dance. And so there are going to be those people who qualify and those companies that are really doing good global business. They want it now, and that's how they sustain themselves and they're part of a much, much larger corporate portfolio.
And I think along with it, they'll probably wise up and try to distribute more of the independent labels and grab a piece of that, too. But I think that they will not be able to service what may actually turn out to be -- though not in dollars -- the majority of artists out there working. You can't do both unless you're willing to really restructure your corporation and say, "It's two halves." You know, like a film company saying, "We're doing blockbusters but we're also reserving this much for independent films, and we understand that we're probably going to have to see how we finance these independents differently."
I was talking to somebody yesterday who said, "Man, don't kid yourself. A friend of mine at a major label has artists beating down the door." And I think that for many years to come, for all of us, the most dangerous model that we still will carry in our heads that we have to constantly be vigilant about, is this notion that if I'm not on the radio -- if I can't go through the eye of that needle -- I have no career. This is something that has been the model since the '30s. And it doesn't matter what you think about it. It's the truth. The truth is you're not getting on the radio. We'll be lucky if one of the Americana stations plays one-tenth of the Americana artists out there. But most of us are not going to get on radio, no matter what we want to say or do about it. Radio is that way, even Triple A, even Americana. So your choice then becomes if I can't have radio, should I sell shoes? Or, if I can't have radio, does that mean I can't have an audience? And I think that is a really, really serious issue to look at.
I think, too, that most artists -- if they're really honest with themselves -- want what a major can give them. And it seems like the ones who've gone through it and see that it doesn't always happen like they'd hoped are the ones who can readjust their thinking. But until they've had that taste of the majors, it's hard to imagine them giving up the idea.
You know, I hadn't thought about it in those terms, but of course. You're so right. If you're a younger artist or if you're an artist who's never had that brass ring, it's a tough one to let go of. Because you see it, and you maybe have friends that get it. And I know it hurts.
What was the writing process of "Save The Best For Last"?
Phil Galdston and John Lind wrote the music and they had a title, which was "Save The Best For Last." They had a lyric in mind with which I disagreed (laughs). And so, when Phil came to me and said, here's the tune, here's the way it goes, and here's the title we were thinking of, if you've got anything better throw it at us, and here's kind of some lines that we were thinking of. And they were just dark, and I couldn't see it. I just went, "Why? Why is this dark? Why is this not happy?" And Phil went, "Oh, okay. Let's try that." Then I got in and did whatever it is they tell me I do (laughs). And I love writing with those guys. We've had the follow up -- we had "The Sweetest Days," and we've had some other things, too. They write such elegant music, and John is such a great phrase-eologist.
How did it get to Vanessa Williams?
It actually made the rounds. One of our publishers got it to [Mercury Records'] Ed Eckstine, and he came to us and said he wanted to put this on hold for Vanessa Williams, and everybody kind of said, "who." And he said, "Trust me, it's really going to work." They recorded it and it sat for I think a year and a half while they finished the record, and you know, at this point you're really nervous, you're going "It's gonna come out, right, and I'm a long-legged blonde." And it did. He was true to his word. And it was a pretty amazing experience (laughs).
I saw Bryndle play a few years back in Nashville for a W.O. Smith School of Music benefit. I remember you saying from the stage that it was so important for songwriters who have achieved any level of success to reach behind them and help pull another songwriter up. Why do you feel like that is so important?
Because that's what happened to me. That's how L.A. was. And when L.A. became corporatized, and when the press grew tired of L.A., and when the Eagles and Ronstadt and everybody had sold so many records that there was a backlash against California music, there was a migration to Nashville at that time. And ironically, Nashville opened its arms -- widely -- and was very generous to many people, myself included.
And if you win the jackpot as an artist or a songwriter and you take your little pile of gold, and you go up into the hills, and you spend it and you put up your walls, how then do we ensure the vitality of the ground of the community? It's like farming, you know? You have to create a fertile soil for everybody to grow. Otherwise, eventually, you're going to run out of your little pot of gold. It's going to effect you, too. If the music community as a whole is not healthy, then nobody will be healthy. I think that it's so hard for musicians and artists to be heard and to learn and to reach out to each other -- especially in the highly corporate days that we're living in -- that it's imperative that the grass roots be supported with all our might. Because that's where it happens.
What message would you most like to get across to our readers?
I would like to encourage songwriters to keep their ears open to every kind of music. And to search out things they might even think they don't like. And to avail themselves of the vast cross section of music that's out there. And I would like songwriters to be fearless and to lose the sense of intimidation that many of them have had put on them by the circumstances of radio and the record companies. I applaud songwriter artists, and I would really like to see them expand and be fearless and be very sure that the world that they're building is going to work. And that the better and harder you work at your music, and the harder core you are about your convictions, and the more fearless you are about the end result, it's going to work. And we need to do that because we really need great music. Not just okay music. We're getting that on pop radio. We need great music.
Restless In Mind - October 29, 2012
by Bob Lefsetz
I'd like to tell you I'm the kind of guy who fits in. Who's been on an endless winning streak. Well-adjusted and happy.
But that would be untrue. My life is about spectacular peaks and long stretches of valley. And what's got me through, what's carried me to the next peak, has been music.
And I like some of the big hits. Who doesn't smile when they hear "Sweet Home Alabama"? Who doesn't crank it and sing along?
Then there are other songs, less famous, that mean even more to me, because they're mine. Never played on the radio, never discussed in the paper, but part of my own personal pantheon.
Like "Restless In Mind."
I love Wendy Waldman's music. I bought her initial album upon the recommendation of "Rolling Stone" and I was not disappointed. I still play it forty years on.
But Wendy never broke through. She had a few hits, sung by others, but stop people on the street and they're clueless.
But a few years back, not that many, in this century, Wendy released an album of loose ends entitled "Seeds and Orphans" and there's this cut on there entitled "Restless In Mind." I play it at least twice a week. When nothing is going right, when I need to feel in the pocket, I pull it up on my iPod. It never disappoints.
So I'm sitting in an art gallery in Thousand Oaks, literally a whole 'nother area code, and Wendy sits down at the piano and her fingers start to move while she's still talking and my heart starts to palpitate, SHE'S PLAYING RESTLESS IN MIND!
It's obscure. It wasn't on one of her Warner Brothers albums. I truly believed I'd die without ever hearing it performed live. But now she's whipping it off, effortlessly, and my heart starts to soar, tears come to my eyes, I feel like my whole life is complete.
You can go to Staples Center, Madison Square Garden, you can sit with twenty thousand other people hearing the flavor of the moment, the has-been legend, but that's a completely different experience from seeing your favorite only feet away. This is the moment you've been waiting for, not to tell other people, but to feel fully alive.
I'm not even sure how I got here. Escaping Middlebury College and moving to L.A. It's hard to leave the past for the unknown. But I was never ever comfortable there. L.A. is truly home. And the fact that I convinced my sister to move here first, for graduate school, paved the way for me.
And thereafter came so many blind alleys, so many losses, that if I didn't have an iron constitution, not only would I not be writing this, I wouldn't be here at all.
And I'm one of those guys who's never satisfied with good enough. All I care about is excellence. I get satisfaction from those reaching for the stars and grabbing a few.
And that's what Wendy Waldman has done.
And to hear her perform my songs not only allows me to look back without anger, but to see everything in proper perspective, it gives me the power to march forward, it convinces me my life was worth living.