All Articles: Copyright 2011 Jason Spraggins

Friday, August 27, 2010

Interview: John Mahon- Sir Elton John's Percussionist

Interview: John Mahon- Sir Elton John's Percussionist
The musician talks about his time with the EJ band, his side projects as a session player and songwriter, and the hobbies he enjoys when not on the road.
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Near the age of twelve, John Mahon picked up a pair of drum sticks with the aspiration of becoming a drummer. As an adult, John has not only realized his dream by becoming a professional musician, but he has built a stellar performance resume that is filled with A-List names in the music industry.

Mahon, a percussionist and vocalist, has worked with artists such as Brian Adams, Sting, Phil Collins, Mary J. Blige, Ray Charles, Cher, Tina Turner, Bonnie Rait, and many, many more. For the last several years, John has accompanied music icon Sir Elton John on his journey down the Yellow Brick of Road of Rock and Roll, serving as a percussionist and background vocalist for the Rocket Man's legendary stage and studio band.

John was kind enough to take some time while on vacation from his heavy tour schedule with the EJ Band to talk with me about his life as a musician, his experience with Elton John and his band, his side projects as a songwriter and session musician, and the hobbies he enjoys when off the road.

INTERVIEW:

I understand that you chose to become a drummer at around age twelve when your father took you to Canton Ohio Police Boys Club and you signed up for the Drum and Bugle Corp. I also understand that, throughout your young years, you were extremely active in the performing ensembles offered by your schools. How did these experiences shape you as a music fan and as a performer?

Participation in the school music programs broadened my musical experiences. I was exposed to many different genres of music that I would never have heard or played if not for the school bands. Of course, we played marches but there were classical pieces and even some contemporary compositions. Another part is the choir which was a good way to learn pitch and ensemble singing.



These programs teach a musician to play with an ensemble, take constructive criticism, and be motivated by your fellow band members.

Do you come from a musical family? If so, please tell us about it.

My father was the musical side. He sang and played trumpet. My Uncle was a big band singer, and my grandfather played guitar. Everyone in my family played an instrument of some sort, and most of us sing. That said, my younger brother was unexpectedly asked to leave a McCartney concert recently - it's likely they heard him singing!

When and how did you make the transition from amateur to professional musician?

When I was still in high school, a friend asked me to play with his band and perform at parties. That was the start of getting paid to play. I always worked a day job and did gigs at night until I was about 23. Then it was full on music- -although I had to get a part time job for a while when I moved to LA to pay the bills- - driving a delivery truck! Back in the late 70s and 80s, bands were playing everywhere every night. It was easier to make a living as a musician then. Clubs and Hotels had dance bands 5-6 days a week. It was a great time - no DJs!!!

Who is your biggest influence as a drummer? A vocalist? A songwriter?

I love funk and jazz drumming, so there are so many. I'd have to say, Tony Williams, David Garibaldi, Billy Cobham, Steve Gadd, Clyde Stubblefield, Peter Erskine, Danny Seraphine, Lenny White - just to name a few.



Vocalists - Larry Williams of Tower of Power, Marvin Gaye, Steve Perry, Stevie Wonder, Sinatra, Bennet, Otis Redding.



Songwriters - Steely Dan, Elton John, The Beatles, Led Zep, Pat Metheny, Chick Corea. Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones, James Taylor. But I love new bands as well-- U2, Radiohead. So many!!

How did you come to be part of the acclaimed Elton John Band?

I met Davey Johnstone after he heard a recording I was working on with Bob Birch whom I have known and played with for many years since moving to LA. I did some recording for Davey and Guy Babylon, and not long after that session, Davey asked me to audition for Elton's band.

I've read on your personal website that you spend some of your free time writing and recording your own original songs. Can you describe how you approach the mysterious task of songwriting and tell us a bit about your original music?

My music, I suppose, is pop based with a soul/jazz influence. I like to write lyrics first most of the time. Sometimes I will just come up with a musical motif or loop that I like writing around. I write all kinds of music - soundtrack, electronic, organic - even some kid's music. I think all these influences have put me in the musical blender!! Of course I love drums and percussion based music - who doesn't?

Several years ago, your band mate and fellow singing drummer, Nigel Olsson, released a solo project that was quite good. When can we expect a solo project from John Mahon, and what sort of a project will it be?

I might be asked to come up with some ideas and then Elton, or whoever is producing the session, will pick what they like. Maybe they will change it a little or even suggest something completely different. I would not call it freedom because every note you play will be scrutinized and criticized so you better be ready to play anything and understand how to take direction. It can be really fun or it can be very challenging. Most of the time when you hit on something it will just work - that's the magic part.

Do you play any instruments aside from drums? If so what?

I play the keyboards some and strum the guitar. Drummer/Percussionists need to know another instrument so we can talk with the really smart musicians!!

Of all your many accomplishments as a musician, of what are you the most proud?

I come from a very humble upbringing in a small town. Playing and recording with an icon like Elton John is quite an accomplishment. Not many musicians, or people for that matter, get to experience what I have. The travel, the concerts, the amazing audiences.... I am very fortunate indeed.

Aside from music, what other interests and hobbies do you have that might surprise us?

I love mountain biking and cycling in general. I've also been playing a bit of tennis. I just like being outside. I don't mind some home improvement projects — which I'm not bad at, and I guess I like photography but that has just come out of my travels. I really love recording too. When there is no pressure it is like painting... adding colors and creating freely - It is very rewarding to me.

Do you have a favorite city or venue to play in?

New York City is amazing. Rio was great. Anywhere in Ireland has the best audiences. I have to say American audiences are the most fun overall — they love to rock out. Playing Hyde Park was great as well as Rome in front of the Coliseum — and lately the Mayan pyramids of Chichen Itza, Mexico.

What do you like most about your current touring job? The least?

I enjoy the camaraderie of the crew and band. We are a big family and it's fun to be around them all. I do enjoy going to some great cities and getting a little sightseeing in. Then, of course, there is the music part- - playing the shows is always the highlight of the day. I loath airports, airport security, airport food, and the smell of airports. Did I say I hate airports? Finding a consistent meal and cup of coffee are the most challenging thing to me on the road. Oh yes, I need good water pressure!!

Now a few questions for John, the fan...What is your favorite Elton John song? Album?

My favorite song might be "Levon" - mainly because I used to play it as a kid. I love Madman Across the Water, Captain Fantastic, and the Made In England album.

(Aside from those from your boss) What are your three favorite albums of all time?

That's not fair! Steely Dan Gauchos. Herbie Hancock, VSOP, Chicago II.

What future musical projects are on the calender for John Mahon?

Elton is touring almost constantly. I plan to continue writing lyrics and songs. I just played drums and percussion on some smooth jazz tracks for a new artist "Ja Nya Sol". I'm producing and playing some music with a friend in Ohio, David Marchione who is extremely talented. We are doing experimental soundtrack music right now. As always, listening, learning, and keeping the darn computer working!!

Visit John Mahon's website:  http://www.johnmahon.com/



Article first published as Interview: John Mahon: Sir Elton John's Percussionist on Blogcritics.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Sharon Robinson Releases Remixed Live Track from 2009 Cohen Tour

Sharon Robinson Releases Remixed Live Track from 2009 Cohen Tour
Mrs. Robinson has recently remixed a live recording from 2009 and made it available for free download to her fans via her website.
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Article first published as http://blogcritics.org/music/article/sharon-robinson-releases-remixed-live-track/>on Blogcritics.org

Friday, February 19, 2010

Interview: Actor Robert Englund- the Original Freddy Krueger

Interview: Actor Robert Englund- the Original Freddy Krueger
With Robert Englund busy promoting his memoir and horror fans anxiously awaiting the new Nightmare installment, an interview with the original Freddy Krueger seemed appropriate.
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With a remake of the horror classic A Nightmare on Elm Street in post-production and scheduled for theatrical release in late April of this year, Freddy Krueger, the infamous villain of the franchise, is poised to once again terrorize the dreams of movie goers. In this new re-imaging of the original Nightmare movie, Krueger’s trademark hat and razor-clawed glove will be worn by a new actor (Jackie Earle Haley) for the first time. However, it is impossible to forget Robert Englund — the man who first brought the sinister character of Krueger to life and who helped to establish the fictional serial killer as a permanent part of pop culture.

Mr. Englund, a classically trained actor, first portrayed Krueger in the 1984 original installment and continued to play the role in eight subsequent slasher films, as well as in various TV appearances. In fact, Englund and Doug Bradley (Pinhead from the Hellraiser series) are the only actors to have played a horror character eight consecutive times. He last portrayed Freddy in the 2003 movie Freddy vs. Jason.

Outside of his famous work with the Nightmare franchise, Englund has also starred in numerous other film and TV roles and has worked as a director on films such as 976-EVIL and Killer Pad. Most recently, Englund has written a memoir entitled Hollywood Monster: A Walk Down Elm Street with the Man of Your Dreams with co-author Alan Goldsher. The book was released last fall and is an account of his life in the movie business.

With Robert Englund busy promoting his memoir and horror fans anxiously awaiting the new Nightmare installment, an interview with the original Freddy Krueger seemed appropriate.
I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to pose questions to Mr. Englund about his experiences portraying Freddy Krueger, his other projects as an actor and a director, his favorite horror movies, his thoughts on the possibly participating in the new incarnation of the Nightmare movies, and his future in movie business.

You are an established icon of the horror genre. Were you always a fan of horror movies, or did your involvement in them come by chance?

I remember watching Frankenstein on TV as a kid and being very scared. Back then, movies were shown largely uncut to fill time. It freaked me out.

My involvement came by chance. I was starring in V as Willie, the good alien and thought I would be forever typecast as the lovable sidekick. My agent called me to go on an interview for Wes Craven, whom I'd heard of. It sounded interesting and a nice change from Willie so I went. The rest is history.

As I understand, you are a classically trained actor. How, if at all, did that background influence your performance as Freddy Krueger?

Freddy's physicality, his gunslinger swagger, is influenced by stage acting and my classical training. Most straight acting is really reacting. So Freddy gives me a chance to be more broad.

When creating the role of Freddy in the original Nightmare movies, were you given a great deal of freedom by director Wes Craven, or was he very specific about how he wanted the character to be portrayed? Also, if you were given freedom with the role, what were your inspirations as you created it?

Wes created the character and had many ideas. I brought his vanity (he hides his bald head under a hat) and in later movies his humor and sexual threat. I was influenced by Klaus Kinski in Nosferatu and a pocket book cover for The Shadow with a man in a fedora.

Your role as Freddy opened the door for you to star in and/or be involved with a number of other horror films outside of the Nightmare franchise. Which is your favorite of those films and why?

Because horror is international, Freddy really opened the door for me to star in movies internationally. Il Rittorno Di Cagliostro, directed by Cipri and Maresco was an amazing experience to film. We shot in studios and villas around Palermo in southern Italy. The film received a ten-minute standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival.
Of the Nightmare films, which is your favorite and why?

New Nightmare really holds up. It is so clever — a deconstructed horror movie, a wink to the fans of the genre. Wes is a smart guy. Plus it was fun to be reunited with actors from the original cast.

During the years that you portrayed Freddy Krueger, the character gradually took on a bit of a jokester personality that wasn’t as prominent in the original two films. Was this by your choice, or did the idea come from the writers and directors? Also, what is your response to those who have criticized that change in the character?

I blame the editors. Often when filming a scene I would give the editor the choice of a dark moment or a laugh. For better or worse, most of the laughs stayed in. Also, it is easier to scare the audience if you catch them off guard. Humor and horror go hand in hand for that reason. Critics are always going to criticize something, right?

What is the most frightening horror film that you have seen? What makes it so terrifying?

When I was eight or nine I went with some friends to a movie for a birthday party. The mom dropped us off. We were supposed to see some kid's matinee but instead saw the grown-up WWII movie The Naked and the Dead. In it there is a scene where a GI gets bit by a lime green snake and dies horribly, writhing in pain and foaming at the mouth. I have had an abiding fear of snakes ever since.

Aside from acting, you are also a talented director. What has influenced you the most as a director and why?

My classical training taught me to respect the word. I read the script and try my best to tell that story.

The Nightmare franchise is being revived with a new team, and I’ve read of your excitement about the project. If this new revival produces sequels, would directing a future Nightmare movie (and the new Freddy, Jackie Early Haley) interest you at all?
Not particularly. I would prefer to direct small stories about people rather than big budget FX extravaganzas.

You have finished your autobiography. Was writing it an enjoyable experience?

I am pleased that it is finished. I worked with a ghost writer who helped shape it. It will be coming out in Spanish soon.
What projects does the future hold for Robert Englund as an actor and/or a director?

I have a few projects lined up that are shooting in Spain. I don't want to jinx them by saying more.
Robert Englund's new memoir, Hollywood Monster: A Walk Down Elm Street with the Man of Your Dreams, can be purchased wherever books are sold. You may visit his website to learn more.Read more: http://blogcritics.org/video/article/actor-robert-englund-talks-about-horror/page-3/#ixzz0l0XzMq4p

Monday, February 15, 2010

Interview: Grammy Award Winning Singer/Songwriter Sharon Robinson

Interview: GRAMMY Award Winning Singer/Songwriter Sharon Robinson
Leonard Cohen's critically acclaimed producer and collaborator discusses her career and debut album as a solo artist.



 For more than thirty years, GRAMMY winner Sharon Robinson has been a part of the musical journey of the legendary singer/songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen. During this time, she has taken on many roles in the music industry, serving as a background singer, a songwriter, an arranger, and a producer.

Aside from Cohen, Robinson has worked with a plethora of artists, including Stevie Nicks, Aaron Neville, Morris Day, Robbie Kreiger, Thelma Houston, Brenda Russell, Jennifer Warnes, Randy Crawford, Hamish Stuart and Matthew Wilder. She co-wrote Patti LaBelle's hit song, “New Attitude,” winning the GRAMMY for Best Soundtrack Album (Beverly Hills Cop) in 1985. Her music has also been featured in films like Wonder Boys, Natural Born Killers, Pump Up The Volume, Stakeout, and Wim Wenders’ The Land of Plenty.

Most recently, Robinson has turned the spotlight on herself by releasing her first album as a solo artist. The recording, Everybody Knows (named after the song she co-wrote with Cohen in the late 1980’s) includes ten soft, introspective and soulful tunes that keep the backing soft, placing Robinson’s sensual and rich alto voice at the forefront. In addition to singing lead and backing vocals on the album, Robinson also played most of the instruments, provided the computer programming, and created the arrangements.

Serving as a writer on all of the tracks (having written a few of them with Cohen over the years), she was able to explore a creative voice that she has developed during her many years as a “behind the scenes” player in the business. The result is phenomenal.

Everybody Knows is a classy, mature, and seductive recording that is far more artistic than what you will find on today’s Top 40 radio and that, despite it’s gentle, contemplative vibe, resonates with emotive power. It combines the feel of new-age ambiance with the lyrical and melodic prowess of a refined and inspired singer/songwriter. The effect is intoxicating.

Recently on break from performing on Leonard Cohen's extensive world tour, Sharon Robinson was kind enough to discuss her background as a musician as well as her long-time collaboration with Cohen, the process of songwriting, her new solo album, and her plans for the future. In this interview we gain insight into the creative life of an extraordinary talent.

Has music been a large part of your life since childhood, and can you tell us about your earliest experiences with music?

I started taking classical piano lessons at a very young age, something I went after myself, and from that point on I was always either in the school choir or doing piano recitals. I started writing songs early, complete with arrangements and multi-tracked parts. I guess without really thinking about it, I always wanted to be a singer and songwriter and record producer.

Who are your greatest influences and inspirations as a vocalist? A producer? A songwriter?

I was at an event recently at USC here in LA at which Lamont Dozier spoke, and I was reminded of all the great R&B hits he wrote and how I grew up knowing every word and every note of those songs. I also recently met Roberta Flack, who I listened to so much growing up. And I listened to tons of Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye, Chaka, Stevie, Joni Mitchell, Getz/Gilberto to name only a few. There was so much great music, and I lived on it.

At what point in life did you make the decision to pursue music as a career, and what brought on that decision?

I don’t think I ever made a conscious decision to pursue music as a career. It’s something that kind of happened by default. And I’m really glad it did. When I had to start making a living, it was music, because that was what I could always do. And in my heart of hearts, it’s what I very much wanted to do.

Over the years, you have played many roles in the business: back-up singer, writer, producer, and now solo artist. Of these different roles, which do you find the most challenging? Which is the most fun?

Producer is probably a bit more challenging than the others, but it’s hard to say what’s the most fun. I love singing harmonies. Plucking an idea out of thin air and writing a song is great. And having total freedom to express myself as an artist by doing all of the above is about as good as it gets.

A major aspect of your musical life is your long-time collaboration with the famed songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen. How did this friendship come about, and why has it remained intact and productive for so many years in a business that can be so fickle and challenging?

I first met Leonard when I auditioned for the Field Commander Cohen tour in 1979. It felt like a friendship from the start. When we started writing, it was uncomplicated and easy. I guess that’s been the overriding tone of things since, no matter what kind of work we’re involved in. I think that’s partly what sustains it. I was lucky to have had the opportunity to show Leonard my work in the first place, and that he liked it enough to want to work with me.

As a musician, I know that the process of songwriting is a very mysterious thing—even to the writer. I wonder if you could shed some light on how the process most often works for you? Also, how is writing alone different from your collaborations with Mr. Cohen?

You’re right. It’s mysterious. Sometimes if I haven’t written for a while I wonder if I can ever do it again! But usually the application of some discipline works. Set aside the time. Put yourself in front of the dreaded blank page. For my album, Everybody Knows, I decided to approach it the way Leonard and I usually write, by starting with the lyrics and breaking with the pop songwriting convention of starting with the music. I liked that approach a lot for my own stuff and will probably use it again. Of course when I’m working with Leonard, he writes the lyrics, so I’m focused on the melody, the chords, the structure, and the arrangement that best suits the words and his voice.

In 2001, you gained a great deal of professional prestige when you were given such a prominent role in the creation of the critically acclaimed Cohen album, Ten New Songs, sharing writing credits on all of the songs, serving as producer, and even being featured with Mr. Cohen on the cover. Can you briefly tell us how this album (the first from Cohen in nearly a decade) came to be and how you came to play such an influential role in the creative process?

I was with Leonard at a family occasion in 1999 after he had recently left the monastery. Out of nowhere that day, he asked me to work on a record with him. At that point the extent of my role in the record was not clearly defined, but over time Leonard just really liked what I was coming up with, both in terms of the writing and the arranging. So my job description expanded as we went along. Of course we had already written some songs together, a couple of which were among his best-known songs, like "Everybody Knows," so I guess it all made some kind of sense.

With the album, Everybody Knows, you have stepped out from behind the scenes and Mr. Cohen to become a full-fledged solo artist. What made you decide to take this step? Has it been frightening, even for such a seasoned performer as yourself?



After we made Ten New Songs, Leonard encouraged me to make my own record, as did my lawyer and friend, Gary Gilbert. It was clear I could make a record without depending on a record deal or a huge budget. I had my own studio and could do a lot of it myself. So really, it just seemed like the right time to do something I had always wanted to do. There was a certain apprehension at first, but I tested the record out on a few friends and got some very encouraging feedback. Gary turned me on to manager Seth Keller, who was well versed in Internet marketing and new business models, and whom I knew would be able to get it heard. So I was able to have some confidence in it, release it, and let the rest take care of itself.

When choosing the songs for Everybody Knows, how did you approach the task and make the decisions? Also, the album has a vibe that is similar to Ten New Songs. Was this purposeful?

I tried to choose songs that were honest and from the heart, knowing that we all are dealing with many of the same things at those depths. The vibe was definitely intentional. I wanted it to have an edge and a mysteriousness to it. I did use my work on TNS as a model for my album, especially in terms of how it was produced. As a songwriter in the pop marketplace, I had been trying to serve many masters before Ten New Songs, so that period during and after TNS was an extremely welcome change and one that deeply informed me as an artist in my own right.

Since the release of your solo album, you have been on an extended comeback tour with Mr. Cohen and his band. Has it been difficult being part of this live show and working to promote your own release at the same time?

I see the concurrence of the tour and my album as an extremely fortunate set of circumstances. I’m getting a lot of exposure with the tour, and Leonard has been generous and gracious in his introduction of me to his audiences. The tour naturally gets a lot of press. And that, combined with great reviews and support my album is getting from bloggers and DJs, my fan base is continually growing. So when the time comes, I’ll be able to do some live shows.

The Live In London album you recorded with Mr. Cohen and his band last year is truly remarkable, and your influence on the music is very evident in the arrangements. Are you enjoying being on tour again? And are the crowds responding well to a show headlined by a 70-plus-year-old man who has been out of the spotlight for so many years?

The show is doing amazingly well and I’m thrilled to be part of it. Leonard’s persona, his songs, voice and delivery—together with the band and the whole production—are pretty magical. The best part is when people tell us their personal stories of how the music and the concerts affect them. To be part of something that touches so many people in that way is the experience of a lifetime. And I’m very proud to have contributed to it as a writer and arranger.

In your line of work, you have always been fair game for music critics. If you are given a chance to look back on your own work, with what single song, album, performance, or tour are you the most pleased? With what are you most disappointed?

It’s hard to pick one of anything, because I really try not to put something out unless I really like it. As far as the disappointments, in light of the above statement, most of them are still on my shelf.

What does the future hold for Sharon Robinson? Any new projects? Will you continue to work as a producer, writer and solo artist? Or just focus on one role?


I’m very excited about the future right now. I plan to write and record another album, do more stuff with Leonard Cohen and, when time permits, get into a couple of projects I’ve got on the back burner. I can’t separate the different roles now. It’s all part of the same thing. This is the balancing act that is my life. And I’m definitely not complaining!

In one sentence, why should music fans rush out and buy or download Everybody Knows?


I tried to do something really honest and from the heart.

Sharon's album is available here -
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B001BKNABO?tag ... amp=211189

Article first published as http://blogcritics.org/music/article/interview-grammy-award-winning-singersongwriter-sharon/ on blogcritics.org