East Coast Time
an interview with
written and conducted by Robert Silverstein
Back in 2003, singer songwriter and guitarist Warren Zanes released
his Memory Girls CD to great acclaim. In the same veinand
with that Zombies / Kinks pop edge still in mindWarrens
2006 People That Im Wrong For is an even more amazing
album of 21st century pop-rock. Following
his 03 CD, Zanes went on to work with the Rock And Roll Hall
Of Fame and now in 2009 hes embarking on a new music education
project with Little Steven that should be worth watching. In between
both of his amazing pop albums, Zanes wrote a book about Warner Bros.
Records called Revolutions In Sound, then editing a Tom Petty
book called Runnin Down A Dream and is current release
with his editing a collection about Jimmie Rodgers, set for release
in 2009. With this kind of career, plus two young kids and his marriage
to gifted pop chanteuse / genius animator April March, Zanes is on
the fast track toward artistic nirvana. I must admit, after having
a dreadful year in 2006, I somehow had missed People That Im
Wrong For. However, upon hearing the CD for the first time in
July 2009, Im quickly making up for lost time. I describe Warrens
music on People That Im Wrong For almost like a cross
between Lou Reed and Brian Wilson. He clearly has Reeds sense
of downtown introspective drama and gut level guitar philosophy and
yet he also has an amazing sense of the pop hook in the
same way Brian Wilson has crafted some of his post 88 pop works.
Several tracks here, including the lead off track Jr.s
Book Of Tricks, East Coast Time and Everyone
Here Is Made Of Thunder are among the great songs of the millenniumfrom
any pen. An excellent band kicks the delivery into overdriveincluding
guitarist Daniel Tashian, Brad Jones (bass), Gabe Dixon (keys) and
drummer Brian Owings. Luckily, how this interview all came about is
that it turns out Warren recently penned the liner notes for the 2009
George Harrison compilation on Capitol, a solo years best of on the
Beatles guitar icon called Let It Roll. And in his essay Warren
mentions a Harrison influenceJohnny Farina of Santo And Johnny
fame. After telling Johnny personally that Warren wrote about him
in the George CD liner notes, I hooked up with Warren and thats
when he sent me People That Im Wrong For, and I got caught
up! Fortunately, reconnecting with a great artist who impressed me
six years back, I spoke with Warren Zanes, tellingly enough, mostly
about our shared affinity of George Harrison and The Beatles, the
upcoming George Harrison movie from Martin Scorsese, a bit (but not
enough!) about his amazing People That Im Wrong For CD,
upcoming work with Little Steven and more. We even forgot to talk
about what a fantastic guitarist Warren is, having honed his chops
as far back as his recordings in his 80s band The Del Fuegos.
Another interview for another day! The following interview was conducted
and recorded to tape on July 8th, 2009.
WZ: Where are you? Are you in New York?
MWE3: Yeah Im out on Long Island in Little Neck. Its a
real honor to speak to you. Im a big fan.
WZ: Oh thank you. I dont hear that every day, so Ill take
it wherever I can get it! (laughter)
MWE3: I had a rough year in 2006. I must have missed your album, the
People That Im Wrong For album. That must have come out
in early or mid 2006...
WZ: I think so... Im terrible with this type of thing. I was
so busy when it came out that I played like four shows and I really
couldnt do anything for it so...which wasnt fair to my
record company. I mean, they couldnt do much if I couldnt
do much. But honestly, it was one of those things where making it
was reward enough for me. Just to get to see songs completed and produced.
But ideally, youd go out on the road and support the thing and
its not so quiet...
MWE3: I read your excellent liner notes for the George Harrison Let
It Roll album...
WZ: Right, right well thank you.
MWE3: How did you get involved with writing the liner notes for Georges
WZ: That was an extension of doing work on the upcoming Scorsese documentary.
I was helping out with the project and Olivia asked me to write a
bio for the record company because their bio was outdated. And she
read the bio and said, Oh, lets turn it into liner notes.
So really it was one thing came out of another. But I grew up in a
home where we had a great record collection. My mothers record
She had records by The Band, she had the Stones, Dylan, Woody Guthrie,
Pete Seeger, Ian & Sylvia, some early rock and roll. And of course,
at the center of it all was the Beatles catalog. And so when
The Beatles started making solo records we were all over it. And George
had a special place. And I remember my mother taking us to Manchester,
New Hampshire. We were in Concord, New Hampshire. So like twenty miles
away in Manchester was where they screened The Concert For Bangla
Desh. So, Im the youngest of three, and she took us there
to Manchester. There were maybe five other people in the theater.
We were so excited that we were absolutely convinced that we were
actually at the show. (laughter) We thought we were in Madison Square
Garden as opposed to Manchester, New Hampshire. We loved this stuff.
And we got the soundtrack. And we listened to those records a lot.
We had All Things Must Pass. We followed this stuff. So, to
grow up with George Harrison and then, in the middle of my life, to
be writing liner notes for such a fine collection, its very
meaningful for me.
MWE3: I was really impressed. Its kind of difficult to put Georges
whole thing into a single disc but I thought it was pretty good as
a compilation. Were you involved with the track selection or anything
beyond the liner notes?
WZ: No, I was just doing the notes. So I was as curious about the
sequence as anybody was. One did that they did that I think was very
smart is they didnt just go for a chronological sequencing.
They went more for a feel and they sequenced it like you would sequence
a recording that somebody just did in a studio. You dont think
about which track was cut first, you just think about the unfolding
emotional drama thats contained in the songs. That makes for
more of a real listening experience to me. And thats still fairly
old...for a historical collection that covers such a wide span of
time, to start with a later track. People dont typically do
it. So I think it was bold and I think it was the right choice in
how they were going to sequence it. But from what I understand from
Olivia that the actual track selection, prior to the sequencing, was
Georges friends. Olivia led the charge but his friends weighed
in and I think on some level you can hear that too. Its not
a straight up greatest hits collection. And I think greatest hits
collections can get kind of boring. This one feels to me like its
got a little more of a soul to it.
MWE3: Every song George did was such a masterpiece. I cant think
of one bad song George ever wrote. Extra Texture didnt
come out yet as a remaster...
WZ: Hes such an interesting guy. Doing some work with this film
project, it took me to a deeper appreciation for who he was and how
he operated in the world. Its easy to say someone is spiritual,
but in his case, theres all kinds of evidence as to what exactly
that meant. You can hear it in the songs, you know its there
in what he said. But, in his actions in life, is very rare amongst
that class of super elite rock stars. I had one encounter with him
in my life, so I can hardly claim to know him. It was a funny encounter
where I was at a Christmas party. This like was twenty years ago or
something. I was basically a kid and I was at Tom Pettys Christmas
party. There were Hollywood types there and stuff. (laughter) It was
a Beverly Hills party. But Tom Petty had given me a Beatles magazine
from 1965 as a Christmas present! And I was born in 1965, so I thought,
Wow thats so cool. And then I heard murmuring that
George Harrison had arrived at the party. And Im not the autograph
seeking type but I mentioned to Tom Pettys then wife that, Geez,
I got this thing. George Harrisons somewhere on the grounds
here. I should probably get it signed. And she took me down
this hallway and kind of pushed me into this room and closed the door
behind me. It looked like I ran in. The band behind the desk was George
Harrison playing guitar, and on one side was Jeff Lynne with a guitar
and on the other was Tom Petty with a guitar. And then Mike Campbell,
Pettys guitar player. And they were all singing and playing.
And when I kind of tumbled into the room they stopped playing because
they didnt know what to make of it. And George Harrison looked
at me and said, Its Brian Jones, back from the dead!
(laughter) And then he started playing a song, making fun of me as
being a dandy! (laughter) And Im standing there with a Beatles
magazine in my hand! (laughter) I had no idea what room I was going
to be thrown in when Jane Petty just pushed me in. There I was! So
I was speechless. He played the song and at the end he just takes
the magazine out of my hands and signs it for every single Beatle.
Then I just got out of there as quick as I could because it was just
too much to bear. (laughter) But even in that fleeting experience...
Heres a guy who had, he was all about the humor. It was an edgy
humor but there was kindness even that was operating simultaneous
with that edgy humor. That he could see the kid who wanted his magazine
signed. And to walk out of the room with it signed for every Beatle.
(laughter) Its like amazing. Ive got my signed magazine
to give to my own boys. Theyre already big George Harrison fans
MWE3: Like you say George was renowned for his humanitarian stuff,
and his amazing friendships with Dylan and all these people. Maybe
George has been overlooked as a real guitar innovator? The Beatles
were such great songwriters that people didnt realize what great
musicians they were. They sort of transcended musicianship. They made
it look too easy.
WZ: For a band that has been talked about so much...theres only
one Beatles. Ive dont think weve been all that sophisticated
in how we talk about them, so yes Im in agreement. Hold on one
second...Sorry, my son, my four year old just came in the room...so
Im going to bring him down stairs. Sorry about that. Yeah...looking
at what he did with slide guitar alone... I mean his commitment to
slide guitar... Theres not too many guys who used it so much
and, within the idiom, he really came up with his own style. Primarily
like really smooth single string kind of sounds. George loved Ry Cooder.
Its very different from Ry Cooder and I think he made it work
in a pop context like other slide players havent. You see slide
a lot in blues playing or in the case of Ry Cooder, in deep folk and
ethnic traditions. But in the pop context, you dont see anybody
using so much slide. And behind that, another thing that interests
me about his song writing, is just chord progressions. And I think
all of the Beatles grew up on this music hall tradition. The chord
progressions were so far beyond the I-IV-V of elemental rock and roll.
And people talk about that in terms of McCartneys writing but
I dont think people have talked about it that much in reference
to Georges output. But he was writing some music that sounded
simple, like a good pop song should, but was anything but simple.
MWE3: Beatles songs were so strong that people almost didnt
pay attention to the technique and how effortless they made everything
sound. It was just like, how does it happen?
WZ: Its so common place to get into the Stones versus The Beatles
thing. But, I think that The Beatles could groove as a rock and roll
band more consistently then the Stones could. The Stones had amazing
moments and they were, they are obviously a great, great rock and
roll band. But when The Beatles locked in there was a kind of groove
that was so deep...its one of these things, its hard to
give it a name but, its the sound these particular four players,
playing together and finding a groove and just dropping down into
it. They were unbeatable as a rock and roll band.
MWE3: You mentioned the upcoming Scorsese film. Thats being
planned now right?
WZ: Yeah, and this is where Ive got to be careful about what
I can say and what I cant. So heres what Im going
to do. Im going to go online right now. Like, heres an
article from Variety (Warren reads)...Martin Scorsese has committed
to direct an untitled documentary about the life of George Harrison.
They tell you who produces it. So I cant tell you too much
about it, but it is being made.
MWE3: So its like a documentary with real footage and new interviews?
WZ: Yes. If you just put in Scorsese / Harrison and look at the Variety
article. They did a release and then they stopped talking about it.
But they did do one release so its out there.
MWE3: I think its a long time coming, a good documentary on
WZ: I think its going to be an amazing film. I havent
see cuts. I just know something about the content. Hes just
a perfect figure for this kind of thing because hes so much
his own man that he defies stereotypes of the rock star at every turn.
MWE3: I grew up in a period when they sort of meant more to me than
anything. I didnt learn too much in school but I learned about
The Beatles on my own.
WZ: I would never understate what they meant at a particular moment
in time. Im working on a project with Steven Van Zandt to bring
a history of rock and roll to middle and high school students. And
one of the reasons Steven wants to do this is that, like you, he grew
up in that moment where the Beatles came along and changed his life.
And he looks at kids today... And yes, culture is more diffuse and
theres a lot more to the niche marketing but he still believes
that young people can have that experience. But growing up when the
Beatles first came around, is the best case scenario. They opened
doors in peoples minds and then the way they evolved as a band
so quickly but so confidently. Its stunning! In retrospect.
I listened to the group records and the solo records over and over
with my four and six year old and every time, Im just like...How
does this music stay so fresh? Under the pressure of repeated
listening? Thousands of repeated listenings and its still interesting.
MWE3: I think the sociological impact of the Beatles arriving in America
in early 64 is the ultimate example of instant karma. What happened
to me...I was nine years old, Kennedy had just been killed, the whole
world was like collapsing around. And the next thing I know, Im
at my grandparents house in Brooklyn, in early February, two
months later, and the next day after the Ed Sullivan show, the whole
country is wearing Beatles wigs! It was like beyond music.
WZ: It was...music won the day.
MWE3: They gave us hope. Cause it was beyond music. It was a
sociological phenomenon. So I totally hear what Steven is saying.
One more thing about Georges CD? I was totally impressed with
George Martins sons mastering on that.
WZ: I was fortunate enough to be at the Abbey Road to watch George
and his son listening to multi-tracks together. I sensed that they
had a language between them that could be transmitted without too
many actual words passing. It was an intense scene to see. Giles has
the best possible teacher to understand The Beatles, their sound and
their beat. And you can hear it.
MWE3: I know theres two new Beatles box sets planned, including
all the mono masters of the U.K. releases. Are you going to be involved
WZ: I dont know anything to speak of there. The Beatles have
their inner sanctum. I stand on the outside as a fan. (laughter) But
MWE3: Im a huge Beatles collector so I already have all the
mono mixes, including a killer mono mix of Abbey Road. Have
you heard that?
WZ: No, I havent. If you start Little Steven on this topic,
he will just rant about how you need to listen to it in mono. I agree,
I love the passion of the fan.
MWE3: Theyre different mixes with different fades. The greatest
song ever made in mono, in my opinion is the single version of Revolution.
They sound great on my vintage CD players from Japan. I collect the
vintage early 90s ES series.
WZ: Youre the only person I actually know who does vintage CD
MWE3: Its a big market on ebay for the ES players. Anyway, Im
glad you mentioned Santo And Johnny in the George Harrison liner notes.
When I told Johnny that you mentioned him and his brother in the liner
notes he was really thrilled.
WZ: He must have heard George raving about Santo And Johnny before
MWE3: This is what Johnny emailed me about it: Please
let Warren Zanes know that I felt so honored that a great artist like
George Harrison was so touched by Santo & Johnny's music. That
will live with me forever.
WZ: Oh, thats cool. I just assumed that he would have known...
MWE3: He didnt know he was in the liner notes.
WZ: Send me his email. Ill send him a note back. On another
subject area, back in the 80s, we did a lot of shows with Los
Lobos....and David Hidalgo, in that band, is one of the best musicians
out there. And I remember them playing at various sound checks, he
would break out his lap steel. It was just a standard lap steel, not
a pedal steel. And would do Sleep Walk. Hes just
one of these god given talents. And he could play it with so much
feel that you really got the emotional character of that song when
its done right. I think that was the thing that made me really
see the beauty of Sleep Walk and go back to Santo And
Johnnys stuff and fall in love with it again. But David is just
a great interpreter of the stuff.
MWE3: Al lot of people were influenced by that instrumental. Its
got a timeless and very nostalgic kind of element to it. So tell me,
why did you go from working at the rock hall of fame to working now
with Little Steven?
WZ: Ive been very lucky in my work. I was playing in rock bands
and left music to go to school. I have my Ph.D. And then suddenly
what I found was that two things were coming together. I made my first
solo record and I wrote a little book. And I was teaching at the same
time. And I was writing about rock and roll more for scholarly journals.
It all started coming together, so that the rock and roll was coming,
the academic work, and they were blending...and thats what attracted
the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame. And after that, Little Steven was
one of the interviews that I did while I was at the hall of fame.
I did a whole lot of interivews. Amazing people, from Hal Blaine to
Little Milton to Robbie Robertson. Its not that I need to be
convinced of the validity of popular musics culture. I really
saw that these stories are undertold! We know the music but we dont
know a lot about the people who made it, where it came from, the people
who helped to make it but didnt get their names on the record.
And that just sucked me in more and more. I just got interested in
this culture of popular music that is under discussed. And I was lucky
enough to be tapped for the vice president job at the hall of fame.
And they were saying, Hey we want you to keep writing, we want
you to keep recording. Come in here and you can be a professor at
Case Western and work at the museum. I just got lucky. I feel
like I gotta be grateful for the fact that my interests came together
in a job up here that allows them to stay together. Just lucky stuff.
So I keep crossing my fingers and things keep coming my way.
Like the work on the George Harrison stuff. Ive been doing work
with Tom Petty. And then Ive got an edited collection of writings
on Jimmie Rogers coming out. So its running the range, all music
focused. Its just a matter of me doing what no career counselor
would advise, which was holding two seemingly incompatible interests
together. Rock And Roll and the class room. Despite the fact that
no one would have advised that I pursue both tracks, they kept coming
together in productive ways, so I feel like the latest work with Little
Steven is really a culmination of everything Ive been working
on. To keep things fresh I keep writing songs. I want to carve out
a little more time so that I can make another recording. And I always
keep writing. And so Im looking in to a big Tom Petty project
over the next couple of years. Its all the music I grew up with.
Getting to write about it or listen to it, teach it. Best case scenario.
MWE3: Tell me about the Warner Bros. Records book you did, the Revolutions
In Sound book.
WZ: Yeah, well there was one about the film studios that came out
and this was...I wrote the book. It was 50 years of Warner Bros. Records.
I did a book and then there was a ten CD box set that came out. And
I did extensive notes for that. Back in the 80s, my old band
was on Warner Brothers so there was a personal interest in wanting
to do that project. But I also think its a fascinating history.
I love the stories about the labels. I mean, if you think the bands
are filled with kooks, you oughta look at the labels! (laughter) And
thats what I love! I love the fact that when rock and roll came
along there was no model of how to record it and release it and promote
it. It had to be invented. And the majors, because they passed on
it initially, it went out to the indies. And there, youre talking
about the wild west! So suddenly you have a lot of Jewish American
entrepreneurs who were otherwise marginalized. Theyre creating
something brand new! An amazing music that is in itself brand new,
emerges. And the Warners story, despite the fact that it unfolds
on a major movie studio lot, is a very odd story. How it happens...
But I feel, what you learn about in the Warner Bros. story is how
the spirit of the indies finally migrated into this major label territory
and you had the wild west happening in the mainstream. So youve
got Frank Sinatras
label with The Fugs and Frank Zappa happening at the same time. Thats
MWE3: So that was...
WZ: All the subsidiaries...Capricorn, Bearsville...the whole family
MWE3: With Little Steven...being rock and roll is only 54+ plus years...
The guitar isnt new. Where does the curriculum begin...?
WZ: We go back to the roots, so it definitely goes back further. But
a big part of the mission is to recognize the connection between rock
and roll and the social, cultural, political world that is the backdrop
to its birth. So when we look at 1954 and Elvis first
single, were also looking at 1954 as the moment of Brown Vs.
Board Of Education and exploring what we can learn about the connections
between the two moments. Cause Brown Vs. Board of Education
of course, is about desegregation of the schools. Elvis first
single, one side of it comes out of black tradition, one side of it
comes out of white tradition. As everybody knows, with Elvis there
was this white guy singing in a black style. So somethings happening
with race in the United States in the mid 50s. In popular music,
in politics, in the schools that prefigures the civil rights movement.
And in our view, you cant understand what happens with race
in this country if you dont study popular music. Because in
a lot of ways, the music broke down the emotional barriers that needed
to be broke down before civil rights could really unfold as it did.
MWE3: You touch on some interesting thing with that race relations
thing. And I think music really helped, more than anything, break
those barriers down.
WZ: But also let's look at post World War II youth culture. You cant
really grasp what happens in terms of the demographic upheaval of
that period if you dont look at what music was doing. The role
that music played. The way in which music in that moment was the megaphone
used by this new powerful group. These teenagers from the 50s
suddenly...there they are! They can vote, theyve got their own
views very distinct from the parent generation. Theyre rejecting
a lot of the values that are handed down to them. And how do they
speak about these changes? More often then not, they do it through
the music. So, study the music and you get the culture, you get the
politics, you get the societal shifts. So thats what were
doing with Little Steven. Its really using music as an inroad.
Social studies, language arts... We can even take it up to science
and look at the evolution of the electric guitar. So were using...
A lot of music programs are being cut in this day and age. Were
bringing music across the curriculum so that students see that its
much more than entertainment. Its a way to talk about culture
as a whole.
MWE3: Is that coming via books with actual teachers...
WZ: Its going to be a huge web based project. So itll
be the curriculum that teachers can access through the web. But were
working with Scholastic to get it out to teachers. Right now were
developing the material and then next year well do some pilot
phases and then the year after that well start really delivering
it. Not a lot of people know the story and youve got plenty
of kids growing up now. They really cant even reach back into
the last century. The musical turnover happens so frequently. Theres
a lot of a-historical thinking, put it that way. So tracing the roots
of what theyre listening to today is counter intuitive, even
thought the artists theyre listening to today can do it. Really
its like, if theres artist with a substantial career,
they know where their music comes from. Part of Stevens project
is harnessing those voices, getting the artists of today to talk about
the roots of their music will take us back to Ray Charles. Use the
power of the contemporary artist in order to help get the stems connected
to what came before. And in the process youre helping them to
learn to think historically which, if you can teach a young person
that its a tremendous gift.
Thanks to Dr. Warren Zanes, Jennifer @ Capitol Records and Dualtone