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Songwriters

 August 4, 2022 at 10:00 PM PDT

S1: Welcome to the KPBS Summer Music Series.
S2: I'm Jim Rogers. Take her. Home.
S3: Home. Okay.
S1: He's written songs for Eric Clapton , Leonard Skynyrd and Tom Petty. We hear from J.J. Cale about his passion for music , not the spotlight. Plus. Western.
UU: Western. Went into the day to to.
S1: Songwriter Alfred Howard and his mother Marion , share their ambitious 100 song project that includes a painting for each song. That's next. Amen , brother. Welcome to the KPBS summer music series. San Diego's own Music Discovery podcast that features encore presentations of our best in-studio performances and interviews , celebrating our diverse music scene and beyond. I'm your host , Kirkconnel. In these tumultuous times of protesting racial inequality , living through a global pandemic , and the growing economic hardships , the arts have kept us sane with entertainment that helps us escape this current reality. Songwriter Alfred Howard and painter Marion Howard. His mother joined Alison Saint John to talk about their new multimedia project and how to stay inspired through hard times. We begin with their first song from the project. We All Breathe the same air by Al Howard , performed by Nathan Moore.
S2: And notion of two. You can't undo the embers of a moment in amber who we all will remember when the wind blew in the heat , tempest of tempers.
S3: And the truth.
S2: Was exposed to the light.
UU: Three in the same. Here.
S2: Only love. The dog. If Swan. Is.
UU: Is. One son and. They made it.
S2: To my break in half.
S4: That was Al Howard Song We All Breathe the Same Air. Performed by Nathan Moore. It's part of Al and his mother , Marion's new multimedia project , Alfred Howard Wright's Marian and Al Howard. Welcome to Midday Edition.
S3: Thank you for having us.
S4: Now , the song that we just heard , we all breathe the same Air is the first song released for this project. I got to say , I love some of the lines like 2020 vision is a blinding affliction. And I want to read part of the chorus again. We all breathe the same air. Only love can pull us through the dark. And if it's one , it's everyone , someone's daughter and someone's son.
S3: And seeing that happen live in the streets in America. And one of the important things about this project to me is like , I've been in bands for years and you'll write a song and sometimes it'll take two years to get the album out. But this platform and creating music this way allows you to be very reactionary. So something like that can happen. And , you know , we were just in shock and awe and also just numb to it too , at the same time , because there's been so much of this kind of violence on it , on blacks in America.
S4: Marion , can you describe your painting for this song ? We'll breathe the same air.
S3: That was a hard one for me because as a mother to a son who is a young black man living here in America , it was very heartfelt. If you can understand what I'm saying , I just it was it was heavy for me. Very , very heavy. It was very emotional. I cried a lot when I heard it. When I heard this , the words , because it just it just just came to my heart , you know ? Because all I could imagine is my own son doing the right thing. And. This had been taken from me just like that.
S4: So all of you're writing two songs a week. That means that you can respond to what's going on in the news quite in real time.
S3: You know , being able to react to it instantaneously , create a song , have it out as a response one week later is a different kind of creativity that I'm used to. But I feel like for me , it's the way forward. You know , our art is always reactionary at its best , you know , and there's there's a lot to be inspired from right now , whether it's , like , adversely inspired or positively inspired. You know , I always try to find hope in these dark situations.
S4: So , Al , you've been working as a musician for decades , and you're one of San Diego's most prolific musicians. But you were close to quitting music altogether before this project began.
S3: And it started to feel like work. And then during the downtime of Pandemic , I sort of got a passion for writing again. And I was trying to figure out a way to involve myself in music without the gigs , but , you know , work some new people. And then I kind of came up with this idea.
S4: Let's listen to another song from your project now then. This one is called Peace.
S3: Veterans of Civil War. Before. To force. The enemy. Is that the case ? During fight. Get.
S4: That was piece performed by Shelby Bennett vocals. Ian Owen Guitar. Daniel Schreier Keyboard with lyrics by Alfred Howard.
S3: My son came to the West Coast after he graduated from college. So. This gives me a chance to really know the person as a young adult , not a child. Also to involve myself with him creatively has been really interesting because a lot of times Alfred and I will sit or we'll talk about something , have a discussion , and we'll say the same thing at the same time , or we'll be thinking about the same thing at the same time. And it just boggles my mind. Just not working with Alfred , but as a mother. And very , very proud mother. I am so glad that my son is back to writing because as a creative person , I can't imagine never doing my art. It's just unimaginable. And for me to see Alfred not picking up a pen and putting it to paper to write it broke my heart. So with this epidemic that we have going on and that have been closed in for months and me being closed and I was always going to be able to paint. But when he picked up his pen and start writing and working with this project and shared it with me , I was blown away and I was like , Yes , you really want me to be part of this ? Of course I will , you know. No pay. No pay. I'm not going to have to pay for PPE , you know. So this has been very challenging , but very rewarding for me as a mother to see my son create again and such a nice and a big way and also a very giving kind of way. Because Alfred is not selfish and he's not thinking about himself. He's thinking about all the musicians that can't work right now. And how can I enhance their life ? How can I help them ? And so , yes , I'm I'm just in awe of what what I'm able to do with my son right now.
S4: So I'll. Anything to add. Yeah.
S3: Yeah. You know , especially during the pandemic , like my mom and I , we would get together a few times a week. Sometimes we'd watch a movie or , you know , we'd go for walks. And , you know , we've both been very careful during the the pandemic , and we don't get too to share in the same things that we did. But there's different ways to communicate. And getting to communicate via this project , I think , has been important for both of us. You know , so we're still sharing something that's really significant. And that's that's been a great and important and needed thing for me in my life. And I hope so for her , too.
S4: Well , Marion and Al Howard , thank you so much for joining us on Midday Edition.
S3: Thank you for having us.
S4: To hear the full interview , see a video and learn more about Al and Marian Howard's project , go to KPBS Dawgs Summer Music Series. We're going out on a song sung by Jen Grinnell's the lyrics by Al Howard. It's called Always On the Run. Cobblestones and Empty Streets. Virginia is a memory tree devised straight out of trees.
UU: Home care to see ? To believe. However Western. Went into the day to day. In the sky to brighten them by. Someone. I'm. David knows the shape.
S3: He calls me by name.
UU: Mercury is on the. It's raging for us. Open skies. Searching for. Right. Right. Rounded. I've got the keys. Shadow.
S1: Next up , songwriting legend J.J. Cale talks about enjoying music and avoiding the spotlight. Welcome back to the KPBS Summer Music Series. There are musicians who are world famous rock stars , pop stars. Everybody knows them. They're legends. But then there are the musicians who are more famous with other musicians than they are with the general public. They're usually called musicians , musicians , the artists who the legends in the stars listen to and admire every once in a while. One of these musicians musicians breaks through to become a musical legend in his own right. And that just about describes the story of singer songwriter J.J. Cale. He gained fame in the 1970s because superstar Eric Clapton recorded two of his songs After Midnight and Cocaine and made them rock classics after midnight. Now.
S5: You got to take her down. Okay.
S1: But it wasn't only Clapton who caught Kael's Tulsa Sound Fever. Artists like Neil Young , Bryan Ferry and Leonard Skynyrd all covered J.J. Cale.
UU: Songs like Oh Man , Free I Keep. Now.
S1: Eric Clapton and J.J. Cale collaborated again on their 2006 album , Road to Escondido. A reference describing Valley Center Road , which at the time connected Clapton's Escondido home with J.J. Cale's Valley Center Studio. In 2009 , J.J. Cale released his album Roll On and was gracious enough to sit down with Maureen CAVANAUGH to talk about his life and career in music. J.J. Cale died in 2013 at age 74 , but his music lives on and his life continues to inspire musicians. Here's Maureen CAVANAUGH talking with the late , great J.J. Cale.
S6: I want to start off by talking about your new album , Roll On , and it's your 16th album , 12 new songs , including some jazz scatting. Now , that's a new one for J.J. Cale. That's a song called Who Knew ? Did you have fun with that ? Yes.
S2: And there are generally , you know , I don't I don't really scared. I'm basically a songwriter. So you need little lyrics and rhyme and stuff. And I got into that and said that I that's something kind of semi new from me. It's not new. Ella Fitzgerald was probably the most famous scat singer. Louis Armstrong and a lot of other people. But yeah , I went , Oh , that's that's kind of fun to do. And I can scat and I don't have to sit around and write , you know , poems and stuff. And so , yeah , it made me laugh when I got three blank stares everywhere.
S5: Tough love , man. Who told him that ? Right. But when they gave me my name , the things they changed , though they came to me.
S6:
S2: This was , you know , number 16. The management was was , you know , hey , John , want to make another another record and going , nobody wants to hear , you know , I've already did. I have a hard time with not trying to imitate myself. After you've made so many records or you wrote so many songs , pretty soon , you know , you get to use your songs. I'll start jamming and you start sounding like song you already written ten years ago or 15 years ago. That's kind of what's rough about making a new album at my age , and as long as I've been in the business or the music kind of a thing is is to keep from imitating myself. So I had to listen to it and go , you know , that sounds like a song. I was on my third album , you know , and that's kind of rough. And I guess I seem people that I think probably best me on a couple of songs , but there was no particular inspiration. I'm always writing songs , just entertain myself.
S6:
S2: Written ? That's wrong way to say that. Three fourths of the songs that that I've made has been done in a recording studio environment with the recording studio techniques , but with recording studio tricks that you can do. Everybody does that now. So and then I still write some songs , just pick up the old acoustic guitar and , you know , mumble something into the microphone. I play a little more piano on than I used to , but basically I'm just , you know , play the guitar and sing. And and sometimes most of the time , nothing comes out. And then every once in a while it does. And that's generally the ones I put in and stick on an album and and try to get other people to like it.
S6: But , you know , it's been said that you kind of craft your own J.J. Cale style. I mean , you engineer and produce a lot of your music.
S2: I generally now write songs with just the guitar because it's much simpler than , you know , minute manipulating all these things and playing a half a dozen instruments and stuff. But basically I've really enjoyed I always had a passion for the recording studio. I made my living as an engineer for a long time , so I love all the new gizmos that they have to make your voice sound weird or your guitar sound funny or whatever. And I enjoyed manipulating the knobs and that kind of stuff. So a lot of the songs I've written were probably I would probably not have wrote if I was not in a recording studio. So that was probably my main tool of choice. My main instrument was recording studio and then then , you know , just writing with acoustic guitar and , and getting people to play along with you and overdubbing and adding the tricks is kind of the way I've done it basically for the last 30 , 40 years. And.
S6: And.
S2: Yeah.
S6: Tell us about that.
S2: Well , it's just , you know , it's just this takes up a lot of the room in the living room and it's boy , you have a big hi fi. You know what people say. And of course that's how I make my living is recording studio stuff and yeah , have and everywhere I live , I live in trailers up in Anaheim , around Disneyland for ten years older. In the eighties I had a recording studio in my trailer and and I've had various and sundry houses. I had a house in Nashville , had a recording studio there. I also rent real respectable , big time recording studios. I don't always make all the stuff at home , but I do do that. Everybody kind of has a studio now because you can now buy a little bitty recording studio holds about as big as a big book for , you know , $250.
S6: That's true.
S2: I miss the old. And I come up with those great big old analog tape machines and I learned how to work on them. I spent most of my time not making music , but keeping those old recorders running. You know , I love the old analog sound. The new digital sound doesn't sound quite like the old analog , even though it's better in a whole lot of respects. And so I had to train myself. In the digital revolution come along from launch from the old analog recorders. The thing about the business , about the digital recorders , I didn't have to spend a lot of time on maintenance on the old analog stuff. I was console , I spent at least three or 4 hours a day maintaining the equipment. Where , when ? When we did play , it sounded good. The new digital stuff either sounds it is or works it down. If it don't work , you just kind of throw it all.
S6: Away , right ? I was speaking with legendary singer songwriter , musician , producer J.J. Cale. And I want to spend just a minute or two talking about your musical influences , if I can.
S2: I was , you know , 17 years old at that time. I was a teenager. And that was , you know , the music of all its teenagers. So those were the early influences. Then I started playing , I would start playing music. So I backed up singers and I just played the guitar , didn't say or anything. So I'd have to learn the guitar parts and all that stuff. And those were the the guitar players in that era were influence on my guitar lately. On like lately it's I'm a big fan of Mose Allison , a big fan of Clarence Gatemouth Brown , which are not top 40 kind of guy. But I really enjoyed those two people and some of the early rock and roll people and then some of the young kids that are doing it now are they're not an influence on me. But I mean , they've they've taken music to a whole nother level.
S6: Now you're from Tulsa , Oklahoma. You would imagine that maybe you'd gravitate towards country music , but you gravitated toward rock and roll. I'm wondering why.
S2: Well , because I was a teenager and the old people liked country music. You know , ironically , I'm an old people now. But , you know , when you're 17 years old and rock and roll come in , I mean , they're adults really didn't care anything that rock and roll not really and that so I'm a victim of my generation on on on how I played music that influenced me a lot. And I can actually do that. You know , pop music was , you know , a whole nother thing that and I was a guitar player and guitar has been very prominent in the evolution of rock and roll. Even today , every other person on the planet plays the guitar. So rock and roll was , you know , a big , big influence on me. And it's because of my age. I was a young teenager and rock and roll was that's what that's what that music was about.
S6: And for now , your musical friendship with Eric Clapton is legendary. It started with Clapton recording your song After Midnight and then Cocaine.
S2: And I liked their you know , my my songs were kind of demo ish. And Eric kind of made them a little more accessible to a much larger audience. We really didn't get to hang out together till we made this Escondido album. We had seen each other off and on a couple of times through through the last 30 years or so , but really hadn't didn't hang out too much together on the Escondido album. I think it took us a month to make that album. We move around each other everyday. We got to actually know each other real well. I mean , come close friends. Years slower. No. No.
S5: No. Real love. Well. All my worries for being. Last night. Leave old memories with. Yes , they do. Slowly they hold my life. We understand.
S6: And your first Grammy is for From the Road to Escovedo album that you made with Clapton.
S2: You can blame that on Eric. You know , I didn't I didn't I didn't really want any more notoriety. I just wanted , you know , the songwriting kind of thing. And , you know , I mean , he's so talented. Everything he he's around or touches and stuff gets gets into that either large sales or awards and that kind of thing. And it was really nice after doing it for years , but moved by that on him.
S6: Oh , okay. Well , blame it on him. I have to mention another really large song. Another song everybody knows Call Me the Breeze. It's been recorded by many artists over the years. I think Leonard Skinner's version is really the most famous.
S2: That's rare , is when you're a songwriter. Yeah. I mean , you basically first write songs to entertain yourself and then second , you help , somebody else will hear it and like it. And when somebody else because you're I've got I've recorded a lot of songs that nobody cut. I like my own song. Nobody care anything about it. The thing that's really knocked you out is when somebody actually takes enough time to record your song and and make it , you know that that , number one , they had to listen to it. Number one , that's to get hard to get somebody to listen to your own , somebody else's music. And then they recorded it. That's really a feather , as they say. A feather in your cap or your ego that's worth worth more than the actual money.
S6: Are there any particular artists that you've heard your songs recorded by ? And you said , Wow , I really like what they did with that.
S2: One of my favorite cuts was a lady named Randy Crawford. She cut a song I wrote called Cajun Moon. I think she , uh , the first person to cut that after I'd recorded it was Cissy Houston , which is Whitney's mother. Which Cissy was ? It was a background singing for Elvis Presley. And some guy , Herbie Mann , I think , recorded an album and he got Cissy to sing on it. And Cissy sang on the thing , and that was quite a few years ago. Then the next person that cut that same song , a song called Cajun Moon , was Maria muldaur. She had a real nice version of it. And then I was sitting in a movie theater one day , and in between the movies they played music in to the speakers where people were walking in , and now they are her version , come on. And I went , Oh , that's my son. Who is that a fan ? That was Andrew Garfield for the mass version.
S6: Cause Cajun took him.
S3: From you kids. A movie that doesn't know how alive. As you move across the sky. He took my baby , which was.
S6:
S2:
S6:
S2: I lived in L.A. in the sixties and in the seventies , I moved to Nashville. My records in Nashville and I lived in Nashville all during the seventies. And then I got tired of Nashville and said , I'd like to come back out to the West Coast like , you know. Well , I really like it when it was the sixties. So I come back out here in 1980. Loaded up all the things on my house and moved back to and I decided to just live in trailers and I bought me a trailer. And so I lived in L.A. all during the eighties , mainly in Anaheim. In a trailer. And then about 1989 , I decided that I'd had it with L.A. , you know , all the traveling and things. So I started looking for a house and I was starting to come down. I'd get down in the blower center in Orange County and and eventually got on and on down in here and discovered that house that I bought , uh , that's all , about ten miles north of Escondido. And , and I bought my house there , and that's first house I'd lived in. I've been living in trailers up in Anaheim , first house , you know , got a lawn and a lawn mower and a weeding and paying rent. I mean , pay my bills and all that stuff and living in a trailer , you know , doing that kind of stuff. So I was really nice. I could have all my recording equipment , I could spread it out that I shouldn't have to have it in a little trailer. So I moved down here and then the weather's nice down here. Weather's about the same in L.A. too , but L.A. is totally different , kind of a vibe. And I'm out in the boonies , you know , the nearest house is way over there , and it's kind of nice. It's kind of boring sometimes. I miss the Neon. I'm an old nightclub guitar player , so I miss the neon , but , uh , not so much that I moved back back into the city. So I'm in Southern California , north west Canada , and , and I've been down there I think I've about that has 1989. So what's is 29 right. So it's 20 years.
S6: You know , you are amazing people all over the listening area with that with that recantation of you've been living in trailers and so forth , we hear about rock and roll stars living in mansions , multiple houses around the world , buying their own island. And here's J.J. Cale , living in a series of trailers.
S2: I've been on I've always been a motorhome trailer life kind of guy. I'm Gypsy. I'm not now. I'm too old to move very far , but I've always been kind of a musician , kind of has to keep on the go. You can't just stay in one place you can. But if you do , you stay here. And I was always , you know , going to Nashville or and touring , you know , is , is a very mobile kind of a thing. And I was always in trailers and motorhomes and that kind of thing. I just like that lifestyle I was just in. Most people get into it after they retire in their old I got into before I retired. I'm kind of at the age now. Ironically , I'm not living in a motor home or a trailer or doing that kind of thing that the retirees do. I was doing it for I retired , so I kind of had it back bass ackwards and but I enjoyed that. And there's a I love having no phone , you know , people because people call me , want me to work , to play gigs , make another record , write another song. And some days it didn't feel like doing that. So I didn't have that problem. There's no bills. You just pay the trailer people a certain amount of money or you stay in , you know , um , parks and that kind of stuff. And I love that. Still do. It's , I don't do that anymore , but I really like to do that.
S6: Like a lot of your contemporaries , you know , are rock and roll superstars and live the lifestyle. And you've already already managed to keep off that mainstream radar. In fact , you don't even like to have your pictures on your albums. I mean , they're.
S2: On there now. For years we didn't I've kind of let I've kind of let the hype kind of kind of get a little bigger than it is.
S6: When I stick it out. There's not a whole.
S2: Thing , you know. Yeah , but yeah , you're right. Well , I was just , you know , I'm basically a songwriter. I make my living writing songs and , you know , I'm not I'm not a show biz kind of a guy. And , uh , so that , that worked out really good. You don't really need a lot of hype and be famous to sell songs now you do to sell music. So , but I was always trying to get other people to record my songs and that way I could stay home and they could do the tours and make the records and do the interviews and be on TV and all that kind of stuff. I was always considered myself a background type of person. It's kind of gotten out of hand here too , lately. I'm , you know , kind of a little more well known than I used to be. But , uh , that's it. I like that. I was. I wanted to be part of the part of the thing , you know , I didn't really want to beat the thing. And , and , and I've I've done that. I'm a little now going to go play my gigs and it's J.J. Cale and I'm , you know , almost somebody who's kind of uncomfortable with that. You know , I loved the hey , one part of them , you know , I'm part of the group. And when I go play out and play gigs and I don't play that many gigs , um.
S6: I'm it well , you have done some touring around this new album , Roll On. And I'm wondering , is this for you or is it for. For the fans.
S2: Uh , it's probably my mainly for the record company. The record company likes you when you put out a record. If nobody knows that you've put out a record , of course the record. Don't say , Oh , well , if I spend all that time making the record , then I go , Well , it would be it. It doesn't change my life or make any difference to me really , because I make my living mainly off other people singing my songs. But I had a , uh , they want you to do a little bit of promotion , you know ? And so I've done that. Uh , I'm not real crazy about that. I do like to get out and play every once in a while , but as the years go by , that becomes less and less. This last year I did was the West Coast tour. I played from San Diego all the way up to Vancouver and all the towns in between to promote the album. 16 I played 16 one nighters and took a band with me and a roadie and a bus driver and you know , we stayed in Holiday Inns and the whole deal. Um. That's it's it's fun for about three days , you know , for the reason it's fun because it's fresh. Then after about the fourth or fifth day , you're doing the same songs again. And you know , you you've already told all the jokes on the bus. All the guys all have already did all that , you know , and and then it becomes a day job. I mean , you know , and that's kind of what all us musicians get into music for. So we don't have to have a day job. But if you become successful , ironically , you end up with the day job. Now , if you're not successful , it'll always stay fine. But if you're successful , there's some there's some business to take care of. And that because.
S6: It's still fun , though. J.J. Cale , thank you so much for talking with us. I really , really appreciate it.
S2: Thank you.
S3: Good people. Just keep going. On.
UU: On. The Big Red. Give people the. Labor. So. You. Think over.
S3: Is this film ? Go.
S1: People. Thanks for listening to the KPBS Summer Music Series. To catch a new episode every two weeks , subscribe wherever you get podcasts and for performance videos and more great artists visit KPBS Jorge's Summer Music Series. John Decker is Interim Associate General Manager of content. Lisa Jane Morris , the operations manager. And Megan Burke , the senior producer. I'm Kurt CONAN. Romo. People.

In these tumultuous times of protesting racial inequality, living through a global pandemic, and economic hardships, the arts have kept us sane with entertainment that helps us escape the current reality. Song writer Alfred Howard and painter Marian Howard, his mother, join Alison St. John to talk about their multimedia project and what inspires them.

Then, the late singer/songwriter JJ Cale gained fame in the 1970s because superstar Eric Clapton recorded two of his songs, "After Midnight" and "Cocaine," and made them rock classics. Artists like Neil Young, Bryan Ferry and Lynyrd Skynyrd also covered Cale’s songs. Clapton and Cale collaborated on the 2006 album "Road to Escondido," a title describing Valley Center Road, which at the time connected Clapton’s Escondido home with Cale’s Valley Center studio. In 2009, Cale released his album "Roll On." He sat down with Maureen Cavanaugh to talk about his life and career in music. Cale died in 2013 at age 74.

Credits: Produced and hosted by Kurt Kohnen, Maureen Cavanaugh, and Alison St John. Megan Burke is senior producer.