Entertainment is the label home for rock renaissance man Les Fradkin
and in 2015 Les leaves us with what is looking like his final
musical statement. Not officially available on CD, the 30 track Rehearsals
For Retirement is a digital only download release, so far,
with a CD cover art. Les actually supplied mwe3.com with 19 tracks
of lyricsthese songs being the subject matter of the following
interview. This writer first became aware of Les during his early
2000's comeback following a period of relative inactivity. Back then,
Les came back as a kind of instrumental surf-rock guitar hero and
this writer wrote the liner notes for both Get Wet albums, which did
come out on CD not just CDR. In the ensuing years, Les of course has
recorded a number of very cool rock vocal albums, many of which serve
as tribute albums to his musical heroesThe Beatles and The Byrds.
On the 30 track Rehearsals For Retirement, (Les says the first
album has 17 tracks), the subject matter revolves around songs written
and sung by Les in his inimitable one man band stylesome dating
back to songs goin' back to the 1970s that really captures Les Fradkins
incredible experiences from that era, some of which he remembered
for us in this interview. Some guests appear on Rehearsals For
Retirement, including a rare guitar solo performance by the late
great Mick Ronson as well as an appearance by Hal Blaine,
Carol Kaye and the Wrecking Crew. Although Les
made his name as an instrumental guitarist over the past 15 years
or so, his vocal performances here, mixed in with his guitar and studio
productions, are really ear-opening. Of course, like so many of the
genius musicians and record company guys who were living in New York
City duing the 1960s and '70, Les is iconic and the 30 track Rehearsals
For Retirement is a fascinating overview of an often overlooked
yet completely essential artist who has earned a loyal following during
his life and times. www.LesFradkin.com
mwe3.com presents an interview
You were talking about a career overview back in 2013 after the Suite
For Ztar album. Do you think Rehearsals For Retirement
truly encapsulates your career? Seems like you missed a lot by just
including 30 tracks. What were your parameters in putting together
Rehearsals For Retirement and why did you choose to use that
title? Its one of your great songs, true but it seems so finite
I dont think youre quite ready for retirement.
Les Fradkin: This best of anthology encapsulates the very best
of my vocal music song writing. It also highlights my 12 string electric
guitar playing which has always been well received in jangle pop circles
and has always been present in all my recordings since 1970, even
on the Ztar tracks. There might be a separate anthology coming for
my instrumental work. And yes, I am retiring. Actually, the
title also serves to illustrate that everything we do in life prepares
us for when we stop doing the things weve always done.
mwe3: Do you look back on at least some of these tracks and
think how success eluded you back then? Maybe some of your songs should
or could have been recorded by major artists? Yet, its really
special to hear how you present them now, mixing original tracks with
new parts, 45 years later!
Les Fradkin: Well, perhaps, I could have been much more successful.
But a), I never sold out and b) I observed the pain that others endured
who were further up the success ladder than Iloss
of family life, loss of wives, girlfriends, sanityand I thought,
that meal is not for me! Several well known artists have recorded
my songs in the past. Some of these tunes, probably would have been
hits had they been released at the time. Some were hits at the time.
Ive been very fortunate to maintain a career in the music business
for 45 years. But I prefer not to look back. No regrets,
to quote Tom Rush.
mwe3: Did you mean to focus on your vocal music as the core
for Rehearsals For Retirement and if you did then that leaves
out a couple hundred of instrumental tracks, from surf-rock to the
Ztar album. But I guess thats another time, another place.
Les Fradkin: As I said, the focus of Rehearsals For Retirement
is on my vocal work.
mwe3: What were some of the technical challenges in putting
the Rehearsals For Retirement collection together?
Les Fradkin: Matching the sound of tracks that were recorded
in different studios, in different eras, on vastly different machines.
Also, matching the levels track to track. The 2006 tracks were lowered
by a couple of dbs to solve this. I think they sound far better
this way. And besides, the loudness wars of the last decade seem to
When did you get the idea to do it and start choosing the material?
Les Fradkin: As you know, Ive wanted to do a Best
of Anthology for awhile. In fact, you gave me the idea! I started
narrowing the choice material a couple of months ago.
mwe3: How about the mastering issues in including music that
went back to the 1970s?
Les Fradkin: That was finally solved to my satisfaction with
the Mastering Suite in a program called Propellerhead Reason. The
tools in that program allowed me to work in wide stereo, with multi
band compressors, limiting, broad band eq, etc. And the emulation
of an SSL mixing desk is really remarkable. The issues with matching
these tracks were considerable and quite a challenge. I think the
results speak for themselves.
mwe3: How far back does the Rehearsals For Retirement
Les Fradkin: Some of the songs date back to the 1970s
but some of them were written as far back as 1965-67. Christophers
Sorrow, for example, dates from 1966 as a song but the recording
is from 1971. Song Of A Thousand Voices is from the late
60s but this version dates from 2006. You Can Cry If You
Want To is the third song I ever wrote.
mwe3: What was the earliest music you chose and what was the
Les Fradkin: The earliest music, when written, was You
Can Cry If You Want To The most recent is the updated lyric
rewrite for Where Have All The Heroes Gone? which dates
to 2010. All the mastering was done in 2015.
mwe3: Is Jangleholic autobiographical?
Les Fradkin: Yes! It takes you thru decades of my life, doesnt
mwe3: So your musical upbringing really started with The Beatles
and The Byrds?
Les Fradkin: My original inspirations, musically were classical
and baroque music, from my Mother, plus The Ventures and folk music.
The Beatles and The Byrds, The Searchers, The Beach Boys and other
groups, sealed it for me as far as the 12 string guitar and the appeal
mwe3: You seem to bring to bring everything up to date with
that Jangleholic track. You recorded it back in 2006?
Seems like 2006 was just yesterday!
Les Fradkin: Yes, it dates from 2006. My intention with my
2006 albums, Goin Back and Jangleholic and Under
The Covers was to include a mix of oldies that influenced me,
done my way, with Original material, written to sound as if it was
back in the 60s and 70s. I always thought that baby boomer
fans would enjoy hearing new songs done this way.
Song Of A Thousand Voices takes you back to the early
1970s. Do you still have the original version that you wrote and recorded?
Les Fradkin: Yes, I still have it, but the original tracks,
belong to Universal, who merged with MGM Records very long ago. Executives
at Universal wanted a ridiculous amount of money in advance for a
license to use those tracks. I told them I was perfectly capable of
recreating the entire record without their involvement. And so, I
did a new version, which, pretty much encapsulates the original, while
adding a few ideas that had been a part of the original demos such
as the vocal scat at the coda.
mwe3: I was interested in knowing how that song became a hit
for French singer Mireille Mathieu back in 1971?
Les Fradkin: Evidently, she passed thru my publishers
offices back then, heard the song, and loved it. Im very grateful
for her fabulous performance of this tune. Actually, I also rather
like Roberto Jordans version, in Spanish, called Donde?
Its on his 3 CD greatest hits.
mwe3: This version is from your album Under The Covers
from 2006. Why did you decide to add the Ztar sounds on this updated
Les Fradkin: I thought the expressiveness of the strings and
brass could be improved.
mwe3: Is your 1971 version of God Bless California
the earliest track on the Rehearsals For Retirement CD set?
Les Fradkin: Its the earliest recording.
mwe3: Wow you sound like Roy Wood and Robin Gibb.
Les Fradkin: Well, thats interesting. Both were influences
on me, thats for sure.
mwe3: You wrote this track way back in 1968 during your MGM
Les Fradkin: I wrote it around 1967-68. I didnt get to
MGM until 1970. It was one of the songs I felt sure would land me
a recording deal.
mwe3: What can you tell us about your times at MGM, you were
working alongside Mike Curb back then? I know he fired a lot of the
great bands of the time. Then, MGM was one of the biggest labels in
the world, what happened with Curb and why did you leave MGM?
Thats quite a question! My time at MGM, at first, was very creative
and enjoyable. I had a lot of support from Eddie Deane and Wally Schuster,
my publishers, and had great creative support from Steve Katz, my
recording engineer. Steve remains, to this day, a close friend. I
really had almost no interaction from Mr. Curb. My label support team
was Mack David (songwriter) and Danny Kessler, owners of Sunflower
Records and Sol Handwerger, MGM promo man. Evidently, Mr. Curb went
on to successes with Together Records (with Gary Usher) and Curb Records,
in Country Music. I left MGM because I wasnt getting paid. Typical
for those days, really.
mwe3: Is this the definitive version of this very early track
God Bless California (1971 Version) and what did you add
or subtract to the original mix for the new CD?
Les Fradkin: This version includes Rickenbacker 12 string overdubs,
not present in the original version. It adds a sonic punch that resonates
today, but might have been considered a bit out of fashion back then.
Definitive? Ill let the public decide.
mwe3: Black Gypsy is another early 70s track.
You sounded very disillusioned by it all! You mentioned you played
it to John Hammond up at Columbia Records back then. Can you remember
recording that track? Where was Columbia located then? Were they in
the black rock yet? Were you still with MGM or had you moved to Laurie
Record already? Did you decide to remix it just for Rehearsals
For Retirement? I cant believe Hammond passed on this track!
Did you use the original track to remix or did you use acetates etc?
Les Fradkin: So many questions! I was disillusioned by the
frustration of my generation with the Vietnam War. I liked the alliteration
of Broken this
John Hammond didnt
pass on the song. He loved it. And demoed it in 1969. That demo, which
I have a copy of, remains in Columbia archives. I can remember recording
the track. It has the same musicians as on God Bless California.
Columbia was in Black Rock then, on 52nd Street. I was with MGM from
August 1970 to February 1972. I hooked up with Laurie Records in 1973.
No acetates were used. The influence on the song was the open G guitar
tuning of Robert Johnson and Blind Willie McTell. I fooled around
with the chords until this chord structure appeared.
mwe3: Who was the "Black Gypsy"?
Les Fradkin: Cant exactly recall who it was. But I was
probably referring to blues musicians like McTell or Robert Johnson,
who was an inveterate wanderer. Actually, Blind Willie McTell was
an influence on my 12 string playing as well.
mwe3: Christophers Sorrow is unusual, as
you said. This track dates back to 1970 as well? Who was Richard Davis,
the bass player on the track and tell us about the string arrangement
too. Can you remember recording the track at Sound Exchange? Where
was that studio? 1970 does seem like a hundred years ago! Okay maybe
just nearly a half a century. Tell us about the added parts you put
on the track in 2015.
The original ideas date from 1970. The melody is loosely based on
Gregorian chant. Richard Davis is a famous jazz upright bassist who
played with Eric Dolphy, Elvin Jones and Van Morrison. He was overdubbed
by Steve Katz back then while I was away at college. I thought his
contribution to the track was magnificent and right in keeping with
the mood. I can remember recording the basic guitar and vocal at Sound
Exchange with Steve Katz. It was done live. Mickey Leonard did a beautiful
string arrangement on the original. I added Mellotron in 2015 to darken
mwe3: Did you really write Sometimes A Girl Must Carry
On for Mary Hopkin back in 1970?
Les Fradkin: Yes. It was intended to follow up her Paul McCartney
penned hit Goodbye.
mwe3: You said you met Allen Klein around this time and he
gave you a hard time. What was that like?
Les Fradkin: I knew Allen from Riverdale N.Y. where I grew
up. He didnt give me a hard time. He just wanted the publishing
for Apple and it was already taken by MGM. That was the reason for
mwe3: You demoed Sometimes A Girl Must Carry On
for your unreleased Fearless Fradkin album. Was that album
planned for the Sunflower label?
Les Fradkin: Yes, it was.
mwe3: What was the story on that label?
Les Fradkin: It was founded and owned by Mack David, a famous
songwriter and Danny Kessler, an ace promo guy. They brought me in
thru Robbins Productions, my publisher, as the first Sunflower Artist.
They had chart hits with two Grateful Dead albums and a big pop hit
with Daddy Dewdrops Chick-A-Boom (Dont Ya Just Love
mwe3: You were involved with many labels back in the 1970s.
Yes. MGM, Sunflower, Laurie, RCA, ESP-Disk, Bell and Arista
for the Beatlemania Cast LP.
mwe3: You recorded this version of Sometimes A Girl Must
Carry On in 2006. Is the original track still around?
Les Fradkin: Yes, but it's just the demo I did for Mary Hopkin.
I showed it to her again last year and she still likes it. But I don't
think she records anymore.
mwe3: Lonely Together goes back to 1980. What else
is involved in the history of that track? Is that a remake?
Les Fradkin: Lonely Together is one of dozens of
songs I wrote with Diana Haig. High Time is another. Lonely
Together was written with McGuinn, Clark and Hillman in mind.
It has a kind of country rock feel. I knew their manager, Al Hersh,
very well. In fact, for awhile, Al managed me as well. This track
is the original demo recording, done on a Tascam 4-Track tape recorder.
The Mellotron was played by John Hawken of The Strawbs and Renaissance.
The drums were dubbed by Greg Diamond. The bass was played by Jim
Gregory (Jobriath, Ian Lloyd Band). My 12 string is the old reliable
Rickenbacker. I had discovered the use of multi compressors, which
helped that part sound with much more sustain.
mwe3: How did you meet Diana Reid Haig and how did you write
that track with her?
Les Fradkin: I met her at a T-Shirt store in NYC in 1975. We
started writing together, pretty much straight away. The words came
first on this one.
mwe3: Was that another track you wrote in NYC? It has a kind
of Byrds like guitar chime to it.
Les Fradkin: Yes, it was written in NYC. The Byrds guitar sound
is deliberate, since the song was intended for McGuinn, Clark &
Hillmans City album.
mwe3: You Program Me goes back to 1980 as well.
Is that really a track that you predicted the rise of the internet
and computers? You were 15 years ahead of it!
Les Fradkin: Yes, it does.
Is that an original track or did you do some recent added production?
Are all the string sounds from the mellotron? Do you remember the
tron you used way back when?
Les Fradkin: This is the original 4 track demo recorded on
the Tascam 4-Track. The speech insert occurred live as I hit the record
button. Its an ambulance call which sounds kind of like a Siri
voice on a Mac iPhone. All the string sounds are the Mellotron 400
that I owned at that time. I traded my Mellotron MkII for that M400
with half a dozen tape frames. I always thought that song should have
been a hit for somebody.
mwe3: Memories Of Love was recorded in your home
studio in 1982 with the late great Mick Ronson? In the city or upstate?
How did you meet Mick Ronson and can you remember recording the track
with him? Is that the original and/or did you do any recent post-production
for Rehearsals? Any other memories of Mick?
Les Fradkin: Memories Of Love was recorded in my
home studio in NYC with Mick Ronson on lead guitar. I was originally
alerted to his talent by Roger McGuinn who worked with Mick on Bob
Dylans Rolling Thunder Revue and on Cardiff Rose. I met
Mick thru Hilly Michaels, a great drummer and a great friend. I remember
this recording quite well. Mick cranked out that solo in a very spontaneous
manner on his Fender Telecaster. This is the actual original track/demo
we did. Some vocals were improved for this release.
mwe3: Spare Change sounds like a track youd
write up at Laurie Records. It even sounds a bit Michael Brown inspired.
Les Fradkin: Actually, it was inspired by Tom Scholz and Boston.
This was to be the single from the band I had with Mick and Hilly.
As for the Michael Brown inspiration, that, admittedly, is always
floating about in my music.
The second version of God Bless California sounds more
modern. It sounds like a Beach Boys song! And you have Hal Blaine
on drums too! How did that happen that you used some of the wrecking
crew on that track? Where was it recorded and written?
Les Fradkin: It was intended to sound like The Beach Boys.
I had a production client who wanted this song for that musical purpose.
I told him that we had to hire Phil Spectors guys, The Wrecking
Crew, to achieve that sound. Hal Blaine, Carol Kaye, Don Randi and
Mitch Holder all appear on this recording. So does Eddie Bertrand
on 2nd rhythm guitar. I play the Rickenbacker 12 string and the MIDI
Brass and vibes. This was recorded and written in California in 1996.
I added my final lead vocal shortly thereafter.
mwe3: I Will sounds McCartney-esque. Plus you use
the same title! Tell us about the Godzology anthology and how that
track fit on that?
Les Fradkin: This is a very pretty acoustic piece. The title
is coincidental and the song was influenced by McCartney and also
by Henry Gross. Its the same track as released on Godzology.
mwe3: Down On My Luck sounds like Dylan or Harry
Chapin or even Arlo Guthrie. Truly Jangle-Folk. What about that 12
string? Did you ever record a track like that before? Tell us about
recording that track on Digital Performer with the other
players. When was that one made?
Les Fradkin: This was a response to events happening in my
life in the mid 1990s. I love the lyrics. The starting point
for inspiration was Dylans Desolation Row. The 12
string is the Rickenbacker. The other players were wonderful musicians,
Paul Harris, and Dave Santos, among them. Recorded in NYC on my Synclavier
3200 and Digital Performer 4 track in 1994. I had never really written
anything like "Down On My Luck" before. So it was news.
Then youre also featuring several tracks from your 2004 album
Reality. Do you feel that album remains the highlight of your
early 2000 career?
Les Fradkin: It definitely remains, some of my finest song
mwe3: I remember being so jolted by it after youd done
the surf instro albums.
Les Fradkin: That was my intent.
mwe3: I guess the message of Reality is even starker
today. In 2004, life was still pretty good!
Les Fradkin: No, it wasnt. Its just that Main Street
America was still asleep then. Some folks are still snoozing.
mwe3: Did you choose your favorite Reality tracks for
Les Fradkin: Yes, I did. These hold important messages and
should be heard. Hopefully, this anthology will bring that about.
mwe3: The anthology title track, Rehearsals For Retirement
originally from Reality. I guess its still a caustic
track, plus now were ten years older too. Its still rates
among your best vocal tracks. So it turns out to be the theme of your
Les Fradkin: I didnt mean it to be caustic. Im
trying to express how I think everybody may feel. Whos gonna
take care of you?
mwe3: Your wife Loretta wrote Reality with you. How
is she doing these days? Tell us about life with Loretta in Colorado?
Les Fradkin: Loretta is fine and now, and she is retired. So
we have much more time for other things than just work.
mwe3: What did you add in sweetening to the Reality
inclusions on the Rehearsals compilation? I see the Ztar was
added recently to these tracks? What ever you did it sounds great.
I just tightened up some of the orchestrations. Also remixed things
for better low and mid clarity and transparency. At the time, those
were problems associated with Logic as a production environment. Reason
corrects those problems.
mwe3: Heroes is a recent song? But then you say
it was written in 1973, so its a remake? Its about the
fatality of life? Anyway, its timeless and timely!
Les Fradkin: Heroes is a song written in 1973 with
Barry Butler for my debut with Laurie Records. Its original
lyrics were a bit dated, what with references to Harry Truman, World
War II and other things. The original demo was done by Barry and myself
at A-1 Sound Studios in NYC. The first released recording was sung
by Tom Selden. Recently, I thought the song had potential for these
modern times, and requested the publisher that I be allowed to update
the lyrics. They generously said yes. Its not about the fatality
of life. Its about finding ones own sense of courage,
in desperate times. Sort of similar to the approach of the lyric of
System Crash, if you like.
mwe3: Under The Covers is from 2006. Wow, that
was a great year for you! I think you made 3 albums at least.
Les Fradkin: That was a very busy year. I recorded six days
a week for months. Actually, I made more than three: Goin
Back, Jangleholic, Under The Covers, If Your Memory Serves You Well
(Dylan tribute), Under The Covers and Spirit Of Christmas.
Plus I produced Napoleons Ghost and Venus In Bluejeans.
And Pepper Front To Back and 12 in 2007. Exhausted
after that? You bet!
mwe3: Is Under The Covers like a tribute to your
fans? Well all meet at that great LP cover in the sky.
Les Fradkin: Yes, sort of. But it also uses the allegory of
a love affair to get the point across. A very good song, I think.
Inspired by Gary Puckett and The Union Gap and The Byrds.
So why did you so far only release Rehearsals For Retirement
on digital? You had done such a great job with your Suite For Ztar
CD pressing in 2013 I guess its harder to make an actual
CD of a project this vast.
Les Fradkin: Yes, its prohibitively expensive to press
a double CD these days. And vinyl is even more expensive.
mwe3: Tell us something about Michael Brown and the last music
you made with him.
Les Fradkin: Well, Ive known Michael for over 4 decades
and we were friends. He guested on I Could Make It Last Forever
on this anthology which dates from late 1972. Id always wanted
to do a project with him and he always wanted to do an instrumental
album. And in 2014, that opportunity presented itself. We completed
4 songs before his untimely death. That is now released as an EP called
mwe3: Whats next for you Les? I remember you were talking
about a 4 CD box set. Is that still in the cards or another instrumental
Ztar album perhaps? Or is this really pretirement?
Les Fradkin: As for the Ztar, the company is out of business
so that is no longer, a featured instrument. I'm in discussions with
the Hallmark Guitar company for a Les Fradkin Limited Edition Signature
Guitar. Ive been doing music for 45 straight years. I plan on
enjoying retirement in good health.