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Catch A Cloud: An Interview With Edward Rogers

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I confess to knowing zilch about Edward Rogers when I tuned in to his weekly internet show, Atlantic Tunnel on WFMU’s Rock ‘n’ Soul Radio a few months ago. I was there to hear an interview with Martin Newell of Cleaners from Venus, having recently interviewed him myself for Stereo Embers. Afterwards, Ed played a variety of things from Bridget St. John to Teenage Fanclub. I tuned in the next week and his playlist was even more interesting. Now I wanted to find out more about this dj. Turns out he makes his own records. I’d forgotten that my old friend, singer song-writer John Dunbar had written co-written a song with Ed a few years back on an album called Glass Marbles (which was reviewed in this magazine). Got the album, found it fascinating, and wanted to hear more. And there was plenty more. Ed’s been making critically acclaimed albums since 2004. I hunted them all down and found things to love on each.

What you need to know about this guy is that he was born in Britain and brought to America as a teen. He’s lived in New York City ever since. That background informs his singing style and his writing and it’s one of the things that make his songs so unique. He graciously sent his latest (his eighth solo album) and that’s when I knew we had to have a chat. It turned out to be a rather lengthy one…

Stereo Embers Magazine: Let’s get right into your latest album, Catch A Cloud, and go back from there.  Did you feel this album is a little bit of a departure for you?

Edward Rogers:  Oh, it’s absolutely a departure. It was intended for me to do more of me and less of a group situation. The first thing I did was work on the songs on Logic and really work out the songs as opposed to having another member interpret them.  I also spent a lot of time on the lyrics because I wanted them to have certain effects on specific songs.  If you look at “Imaginary Man”, it was my attempt to get a Syd Barrett kind of vibe. I’m looking at the sequence of the record…

“What Happened to Us” – after I finished that song – I thought to myself, “This really is me, personally.  Did I write this?”  I felt so good about it.

The third song, “Button Box”– I originally came up with some poetry. There’s a Kinks fanatic who’s a mate of mine who kept talking to me about all the Kinks buttons he had, and I came up with the lyrics as a poem. I first read it in a poetry setting and then I decided to put it to music.

“Cost of Love” just came to me.  I don’t really write love songs, per se, but I thought, “let’s give it a try.”

“Too Far From the Candle” was about being burned a couple of times.

“This Bird Has Flown” is about getting free.

“Catch A Cloud”: If I was to give a song to Colin Blunstone to record, I think this is a song he could take and make magic with.  That wasn’t my intention, but that’s kind of how it ended up. It’s so simple. Just a guitar, a flute and one piano note. The basic tone of the album is sparse.

“I’m Leaving Redhill” is about my last trip to see my favorite aunt before she passed away. I’d never been to Redhill. It’s outside of London. It’s not known for anything, really. My aunt had a house there and I saw her about two months before she passed away.  The song was my way of paying tribute to her.  At the time, I didn’t want to send it to the family because I wanted to work on it more.  I finished it in time so that I could have sent it before she passed away, but it felt a little selfish and a little ‘promo-ish’.  I told the immediate family about it, and I sent it to two of her children who were touched by it.  And that was the kind of satisfaction I wanted.  But then I thought I should include it on the album.

“Last of The Summer Wine” was written about Fire Island.  I’ve only been there once but I think it happens every year. People are out at the Hamptons or out of the city and there comes a point in mid-September where they’re getting ready to go back to their everyday lives.  All the summer affairs end and it’s, “What do you want to do?”  This person has to make a decision.  Are you gonna move, are you gonna stay, are you gonna leave this person behind?  The gender is not defined, it’s kind of open. But it happens every year around the same time.  Are people going to move back to the city and still see each other?  At the end of the day, I thought to myself, “It’s an open love song.”

SEM:  That brings to mind a Kinks song called, “End of the Season”.

ER: You know what? Probably somewhere deep in the back of my brain, that was going on.  But that’s an English song whereas this one was very defined, as I was writing it, as Fire Island and the Hamptons.  A slightly upper-class type of person. The vibe is that they have their fancy wine all year and it’s the last of that wine that they’re gonna have out in the Hamptons.

“Hayley”– good story about that:  Last night we did our first show in a year and a half, and I did that song in this tiny club in Philadelphia.  I figured that nobody in Philadelphia would have the slightest idea who the hell I’m talking about.  I asked the crowd, “Anybody know Hayley Mills?”  And this guy comes up to me and says, “I was an extra in Trouble with Angels.”  And the guy was wearing a Be Bop Deluxe t-shirt.  I said, “You’re the type of person I want to talk to.  I asked the crowd, “How many of the rest of you know?”  Six or seven people knew who she was.  I sang the song and sold a whole bunch of copies of the album because people knew who Hayley Mills was. When I was a kid, 6 years old living in Birmingham (UK), she was the face. I wasn’t even a teenager but that was the first girl who got my attention, the first girl who was cool.

The last song, “Head of the Nail”… I wanted an abstract feel with a Robert Wyatt influence, but because he is so gentle and abstract within his work, I ended up doing it like a Nine Inch Nails song where it’s like a hammer on steel, but still has a Robert Wyatt vibe. I wanted the name check, but I wanted it to be harsh. The rest of the song is so soft, but I wanted to leave you with a hammering of the head of the nail as you listen to the end of the album.

SEM: Tell us a little more about the second song on the new album, “What Happened to Us?”

ER: I couldn’t believe I wrote that particular song.  We did that one live last night and it went over really well.  When I was a kid — a stupid kid actually– of five or six, I thought, in my own brain, that I would forever be that age.  And I thought my parents would forever be their age and my grandparents would forever be their age.  I was the lucky one thinking I would stay that age forever, not knowing that life would take its toll on us, and we’d all grow up and assume responsibilities.  One day you look at life and you flip that coin and the next thing you know your grandparents are gone and your parents are gone, and you’ve lost some friends and…”What happened to us? Did it happen to you?”.  Basically, a call/message type of situation.  Honestly, when I finished writing it, I thought, “Did Ian Hunter write this? Did Bowie write this?  Who wrote this?”  I hate to sound like a McCartney/Scrambled Eggs thing, but it was a little bit like that for me. Like, am I stealing this from somebody?  But apparently not.

SEM: Do you mean lyrically or musically?

ER: I think, lyrically first but melodically as well. Mainly lyrically. When I looked at the lyrics to that song, I was pretty stunned.  I’m not patting myself on the back. I have no ego for this. I think I’m probably the least known person with the most albums out there.  And that’s okay. As long as I do the work that I do and enjoy it, that’s the reason I continue to do it.

SEM: Did the lyrics for “What Happened to Us” come quickly?

ER: Oh yeah.

SEM: When songs come quickly, songwriters often wonder where they come from.  Donovan said that the first line, or the chorus or whatever, comes from God.  And then it’s up to you to come up with the rest.  And often it’s not quite as good.

ER: It’s interesting because I’ve heard that theory from a number of artists.  They say, “The angels gave me a line, or God gave me a line and he drops those lines on artists that are waiting for them and it’s up to you then to take that.” If you’re receiving that message at that time, you flow right through. Last night was my first gig in a year and half and I’m nervous and I’ve still got an hour or two sitting around. All of a sudden this whole matrix came down– tons of ideas.  I knocked off lyrics for a song in literally two minutes. The whole lyric was outlined. And then I said, “I’m not gonna work on this til Monday. I now have to re-focus.” I was open to it. Maybe because I was nervous, I was more receptive to it.  You know, you’re waiting around.  You’ve got to be in that vulnerable state to receive that message and get it.

SEM: Do you generally hear a tune in your head along with the words?

ER:  Sometimes I do have an idea for a melody as well as a lyric for a song, but I normally find that the better way for me to write is to get the lyrics down first and then go back and do the music. And because I use Logic, I find that I’ve got to find the right sample– the right guitar sample– and I’ve got to get the feel.  Normally I find the right sample–guitar or piano–and then I can sing the whole song.  It will automatically come out.  I’ll know what the bridge and the choruses are.  Then I go back and figure out what the timing is, and I start to bring in strange instruments. That’s how this album was made. Very much a sample album.

SEM:  In previous interviews when asked about influences, you’ve mentioned Ray Davies, the Zombies, Syd Barrett, The Move and Kevin Ayers.  What about Donovan?  In some ways you seem like a cross between Donovan and Lou Reed. You come from Britain, but you’ve lived in New York City almost your whole life, so there’s that.

ER: I think that’s a valid remark.  Especially with Catch a Cloud. I didn’t think of Donovan as being an influence, or a major influence. But honestly, I sat on Catch a Cloud for year because we had the Rogers & Butler record out and I took it out of sequence because it was so sparse. When I listen back to it, I say, “Wow, it does have a Donovan vibe to it.” You really picked a good influence there. Lou Reed is not a conscious effort, but I think it’s a result of seeing the early Velvet Underground gigs. Melani [Edward’s wife] worked with Lou Reed for a while, so maybe some of that rubbed off.  I always say this: I’m a fan first.  I’m embedded with all these years of listening to this great music so some of it’s definitely rubbed off.  But I hope there’s some originality there at the same time.

SEM: There definitely is. One reason you remind me of Lou Reed sometimes, besides the New York accent you’ve picked up, is that some of your lines are spoken rather than sung, as Lou did.  How do you decide when to do that?

 ER: I absolutely have no idea. You know what?  It’s a natural feel and flow.  It’s just, “as opposed to a bridge, maybe I’ll do a spoken part here.” Or, as opposed to the chorus, I’ll do a spoken verse. I love that phrasing that Lou had in the Velvet Underground and I love Ian Hunter’s phrasing. I’ve also toured with Ian Hunter. He’s been a major influence. And Bowie is a huge influence. And T. Rex. I can’t try to sing like Marc because Marc had that unique voice, but I try for that feel. “Catch a Cloud” is one where I think of Marc Bolan and “I’m Leaving Redhill” could be seen as getting something from Tyrannosaurus Rex.

SEM: The Beatles said they would often think of people as they sang. John said he would sometimes think of Gene Vincent as he sang, and Paul would think of Fats Domino or Little Richard.  Do you envision people when you’re singing?

ER: To answer your question objectively and honestly, yes. Sometimes I’m looking for a style.  A phrasing. I know in my head there’s a way that somebody says something. I do use other people’s songwriting styles or phrasing. Ray Davies comes to mind.  If I’m going for a harder edge, Ian Hunter. Which comes across as you said, like Lou Reed. I don’t consciously sit with a Lou Reed vibe, although I wrote a song about two weeks ago with an old songwriting partner of mine, Amanda Thorpe, and it’s so Lou Reed–so Velvet Underground.  It’s kind of like Lou Reed and Nico singing on a track.  Look, everybody borrows whether they want to say it, or they don’t.  In my case, being a fan, I don’t want to be snobby and say I’m totally original.  Nobody’s original.  We all have our heroes, and we take the best ideas or bits and pieces of songs.  If you want to go back to the ’50s, that’s when those guys were inventing that stuff.  These days, songwriting — the lyrical end of it– has become more sophisticated.  A lot of people are more educated, I think, so maybe that’s why you have to raise the bar for yourself all the time.

SEM: The first song on the new album, “Imaginary Man” didn’t seem early Floyd-ish to me at first but now that you say it was written with Syd Barrett in mind…now I can hear that, with the slide guitar going thru an echo.

ER: It’s more the solo Syd.  It’s not full production. The way I envisioned it is that I’m inside Syd’s head and I’m the one who’s causing all the damage:  I’m your imaginary man / I live inside your head cause I can.  If you think of it from that viewpoint: I’m inside your head and you treated mankind so badly by leaving Pink Floyd and leaving this musical wonderland.  It’s about the destruction of Syd Barrett inside his brain. Where he’s going more insane.

SEM: The video for that song is such a contrast. It’s in color with beautiful flowers blooming but you’ve got this dark lyric.

ER: Yep.  Because in his brain, with all the LSD he’s taking, he’s still thinking everything is those flowers that he sees with his eyes.  But in his mind, he’s self-destructing.

SEM: Speaking of contrast, from there we go to a lovely mandolin intro on “What Happened to Us?”   Was that your idea?

ER: It was my idea to have a mandolin part. James Mastro, who you might know from the Bongos, is a phenomenal guitar player. I asked James to come down and play a couple of songs for me and I told him I wanted the mandolin part. He works with Ian Hunter. “I Wish I Was Your Mother”, that song by Mott The Hoople… I said to James, “I want that feel.” And he just came in and laid down that mandolin part.  He got the Rod Stewart, Every Picture Tells a Story thing, and Mott– perfectly. The mandolin was the missing instrument that needed to be put in there. A stroke of genius– not from me but from James.  He instantly knew what parts fit, and not to overplay. It’s that little chord in the beginning that hooks you.

SEM:  And how about Sal Maida? Do you write his bass parts, or does he come up with his own stuff?

ER:  What I do with Sal is I send him the tracks and I say, “Here’s the bass lines that I did on my demos. Do ’em better. Do whatever you want on ’em.”  And he’ll come in and, especially if I’m using Dennis Diken [on drums], they sit down for five minutes before each song. Then in two or three takes it’s done.  On this particular album, where there aren’t drums on all of the songs, I used Konrad Meissner who’s an amazing drummer as well, to achieve a lighter sound. I also used a lot of drum loops so that when I got a hold of Sal, we had an opportunity to use this studio for a day, and he cut all the bass parts in that one day–perfect. For “Imaginary Man”, I asked him to play like Pink Floyd’s early singles. Like “Arnold Layne.” He got it, instantly.

SEM:  So, this album wasn’t done remotely?  But wasn’t it done during the lockdown?

ER: No, this album was finished before the lockdown.  It was held back because right after I finished it, we were also finishing the Rogers & Butler album [Poets and Sinners].  So, when the label got a hold of it — and remember there’s no pandemic at this point — they said, “Could you put the Rogers & Butler album out first?  Because you guys are going to be touring and we think this is a more commercial album.”  And I said, “Sure”.  Honestly, I wasn’t 100 percent sure of Catch A Cloud because it was a more sparse sound and I knew it was a drastic change from the style of my other albums. But now I’m sitting here going, “Wow, the reaction has been really positive, and people are listening to the lyrics and are asking me questions that are much more in depth.” So, what do I know? And what did the label know, because the Rogers & Butler album came out right in the middle of the pandemic and we couldn’t get out to promote it!  Last night was the first night where we played a Rogers & Butler set, and I included a couple of songs from Catch A Cloud and Steve Butler did a couple of his songs from Smash Palace.  We did it in a tiny little place down in Philly. A two-hour set – 20 songs.  The strange thing is, we put one cover in there. And since you’ve brought him up, I’ll tell you what it was:  “Sunshine Superman” by Donovan.

SEM: There you go.

ER:  You kinda knew. I also associate Marc Bolan– Marc Bolan and Donovan are kind of similar in some ways. They were originally both folk virtuosos and then they went rock. And both had huge success. I spent considerable time around Donovan. Melani worked on one of his Best Of compilations, so I got to work a little with him. It was a very interesting couple of days. I love his early work. “Epistle to Dippy” and that alternate string arrangement that comes in there.  What great stuff!

SEM: Well, let’s talk about Rogers & Butler.  It seems to be a return to the work you did with George Usher.

ER: Absolutely. You nailed it. You just put the nail to my head and put it through. Yes.

SEM: Why did you stop working with George Usher?  

ER: George and I spent years working together. George is an amazing, gifted songwriter. He taught me so much. He took me under his wing. He had just broken up with his band and I think he was searching for something, and I was a like-minded soul.  We bumped into each other at a bar and started talking and he said, “Why don’t we do a session together and see how it goes?” And we did a session and finished off two bottles of gin or vodka and I woke up the next morning with this terrible headache and I had to go to work, and I cursed him out, but we’d written a song.  We kept on working and after we’d worked up all these songs, George says, “Let’s make a record.” So, we made the record and when it was finished, I asked, “What are we gonna do with this thing?” And Not Lame picked it up. That was in 2004. We had 13 songs and we enjoyed each other’s company.  George is a solid man to his word, always has been and always will be. We did a second record together and that was equal.

But at the same time, Amanda Thorpe and I, who I had been introduced to by a friend of mine, started writing English folk songs. I’m not a good harmony singer but she brought out the best harmonies in me. Amanda and I click because we’re both British and get each other’s sense of humor. I can be really sarcastic. When George and I worked, it was more structured: Don’t say too much… let’s put the songs across. I needed that at the time. With Amanda and I it was more loose. People paid as much to see us arguing onstage as they did listening to the songs.  But what happened was, we got a pretty good record deal from Bongo Beat. They thought we were a Canadian band so, all of a sudden, we have this radio hit in Canada.  And George said, “Okay, you’re going in a different direction. I need to do another solo album.” And George and I were both fine with that. We still write songs together. He lives down the block. In fact, I’m doing a record release — Catch A Cloud is coming out on vinyl sometime in late August – and George and I will do one of our songs at that show. The show is with John Ford from the Strawbs and Hudson and Ford, who I’ve also written some songs with. I’m performing with a full band: James Mastro, Sal Maida, Konrad Meissner and Don Piper, of course.  The opening band is going to be an acoustic Smash Palace.

SEM:  What was the Canadian radio hit?

ER:  “The Summer That Changed Our Lives.”  It was the Bedsit Poets.  2005.

SEM: So that was done in between the two albums you did with George Usher?

ER:  Yeah. The problem with me is that I meet with so many people and I work with so many people that both these projects were finished at the same time, and it was, “Which one do you put out first?”  What ended up happening was Bedsit Poets got picked up by Bongo Beat. They were fronting the bill for us. We got this radio hit–a Canadian radio hit–because they thought we were Canadian. On Canadian radio every six or seven songs played has to be a Canadian song. That’s their industry standard.  So, they’re playing Bedsit Poets on the radio, and they don’t realize we’re actually both from England living in New York. Which was nice. So, we were paid to go up there and play and do some touring there and then they sent us to Spain. And then we played some shows in England.

SEM: You only did the one album with Bedsit Poets?

ER:  We did a second one, actually [Rendezvous]. We had a gentleman by the name of Mac Randall, who is now the editor of Jazz Times, join us for the second album on electric guitar.

SEM:  Did Amanda Thorpe sing on your records with George Usher as well?

ER: No, we had Nancy Sinatra’s daughter, A.J. Lambert.  And we also got Marty Willson-Piper, who at that time was still in The Church, to play on “What Happened to Jane?” We got Pete Kennedy from The Kennedys to play on some of the other tracks and it was mixed by Mitch Easter. We also managed to get Roger McGuinn! We had the nerve to ask him to use his original tube amp and guitar. He said, “Well, I gotta tune that all the time.” We told him that was the sound we were looking for.  He said, “Well that’s gonna take some time, Ed. Send me a copy of the record. I’ll need a month to do it.”  A month to the day, we got the file.  And then he played banjo, because that’s one of his favorite instruments, on a second track. He asked if we minded if he played banjo.

SEM:  That’s wild because when I heard the first song you’re talking about, “Blind Man’s Blue,” I thought, “Wow, whoever played guitar on this really nailed the McGuinn sound.  And now you tell me it was McGuinn!

ER: It sure was. I pushed George on that album [You Haven’t Been Where I’ve Been] because I wanted to do a 13-minute outro. “What Happened to Manfred, What Happened to Jane?” is basically–and this is how crazy and how fan bizarre I go– what happened to Manfred is what happened to Manfred Mann after he lost Paul Jones and Mike D’Abo. What happened to Jane is what happened to Jane Asher after she left Paul McCartney. The song makes no sense whatsoever, but I’ll tell you where I got the idea for the intro and the outro of that. There’s an Easybeats song called “Hello, How Are You?” I took the piano part and said, “I want this type of feel for the intro and outro of the song. If you listen to the Easybeats’, “Hello How Are You?” — that kind of fits into this craziness that I was getting into.

SEM: It’s a suite. 

ER: Yep. I just wanted to see if we could do it.  And we did.

SEM: “Commodore Hotel” is a beautiful song off that album.

ER: When I do this record release show where George is gonna join me, that’s the song we’re gonna do.  It’s a beautiful song.  George and I just sat down, and he started tinkering on the piano and I said, “I feel like we’re listening to something that should be in The Shining. We knocked it off in one session.

SEM: “Far Reflection” is another gorgeous song off that album, and it has a beautiful modulation in it.

ER: It does. There’s a feel on that album with some of those songs that is just of its time. “Far Reflection” had an acoustic kind of feel. I think sometimes, and this is where George’s magic came in, the spacing is great.  It’s really important to have that spacing where it applies, you know?

SEM: Yes, and you’ve kind of gotten back to that with Rogers & Butler.

ER: Yeah, absolutely. And I’ll tell you how Rogers & Butler came together.  Bedsit Poets did a show with Smash Palace in Philadelphia and Steve Rogers and I were introduced. We were both on the same label, Zip Records, and so we’re just talking and I go, “So what are you listening to?”  And he says, “Ah, you wouldn’t know anything I’m listening to. I’m classical minded. The only person I listen to is Duncan Browne”. And I went, “Oh, I could talk to you about Duncan Browne.” We connected over Duncan Browne and we wrote a song together. We were very complimentary. The difference between Steve and myself is that I can be writing for tomorrow. I listen to a lot of current artists as well as old artists. Steve prefers music from the 1968 period. Because I’ve got the radio show, I just think that it’s my responsibility to play new music too. You may not like that segment we do– the new segment– but there are people out there like Martin Newell that many people don’t know about.

SEM: How did you get turned on to Martin Newell? 

ER: I read a review of the very first Cleaners from Venus album and my parents happened to be in England, and I asked them to pick it up. They went to Rough Trade and got it for me.  It reminded me of The Move. That’s what turned me on to him. I’ve been facebooking Martin for years. I’ve interviewed him two or three times at this point.

SEM:  For Atlantic Tunnel, the WFMU streaming show that you do?

ER:  Yes, I interviewed him for WFMU Rock ‘N’ Soul recently.

SEM:  Your partner on the Atlantic Tunnel show, Gaz — does he go back a ways with you?

ER: Oh yeah. Gaz and I have the same English roots, but I met him in New York, and we formed a band called Primrose Hill. We covered our favorite obscure artists. We did the Zombies’ “Let Me Be” and we did some Francoise Hardy songs.  He was the guitarist in that band, and I was the drummer. We’ve been mates for probably 25-30 years.

SEM: Besides Martin Newell, you’ve had Vince Melouney from the Bee Gees and Cyril Jordan of the Flamin’ Groovies on recently.  Do you like doing interviews? 

ER: Yes, if it’s the right person and I have the right questions and I’m prepared. Normally I have all my questions written down but if I connect with the artist then I don’t need to really use them. I just let the interview flow. There have been artists that I really had to push and prod but I get a lot of enjoyment out of it because I get an insight from the person. I don’t know if you heard the interview we did with Tot Taylor.

SEM: No.

ER:  He’s an obscure guy but it was a fascinating interview.  He talked about his time curating with Yoko Ono and he’s a part owner of RAK studios, so we were talking about Mickie Most. Taylor was an ’80’s guy.  I’m equally as open to hearing people from the ’80’s, ’90’s and current. I’d love to interview Paddy McAloon from Prefab Sprout. Are you familiar with their music?

SEM: No. Heard of them, but don’t know their stuff.

ER: Pretty amazing stuff to check out. Especially you — you’re such a melody guy. Paddy McAloon is really one of the great composers from that period. How about The Divine Comedy?

SEM: Yeah, you turned me on to that guy. 

ER: I’m looking right now at 25 double cd’s of Neil Hannon’s work.

SEM: Wow. Let me go back to your catalog. In 2016, you released an album called Glass Marbles. Is that Ringo’s street you’re standing in on the cover?

ER: It is, indeed, sir.  Good observation.

SEM: On my first trip to Liverpool, I took the Beatles tour, and they took us to George’s house and John’s house and Paul’s house but when we got to Ringo’s house they only stopped and pointed to the street and wouldn’t let anyone get out.  They said the neighborhood was too rough. I remember seeing kids walking barefoot.

ER: Alright, so I’ll follow that up with a story. What year was that?

SEM: That was in 2001.

ER: Okay, so Glass Marbles was 2016. Let me tell you what happened in between. That area got condemned. They moved all the people out within a five-block radius, and they were gonna knock it all down. The Liverpool Council were going to knock all those houses down, that’s why if you look at the cover of the album, all the houses have shutters up. There’s no one living in that five-block area. Then what happened is some film producers wanted to do a sci-fi film there. So, they painted all the houses black. We went over and found Ringo’s house and we took those photos. It was so spooky. There was no one around. The Liverpudlian community got up in arms. They passed a bill that they can’t knock any of those houses down.  So now they have to improve all of them. That’s why you see they’ve got all the shutters up and there’s no one on the street. I think right down the street is the pub that’s on the cover of Ringo’s album, Sentimental Journey.

SEM:  Right. That’s where the tour bus stopped, and it was instantly recognizable.

ER: We spent a day walking up and down the street taking photos and we went around Liverpool.  We played the Cavern Pub one night and then the other Cavern Club another night and it was really fun and the next we played a festival.  It was a really good tour. The picture was just a natural.  Kind of like: wow, is that cool or is that cool?

SEM: You learn so much about the Beatles when you go to Liverpool, don’t you?  One thing I realized is how the Beatles charmed the New York Press on that first visit because Liverpudlians are a lot like New Yorkers.

ER: They have a sense of humor. And they have a “make fun of you or you make fun of me.” And plus, they have that Scouse accent. It’s not like anything else we saw here. And I remember, as a kid living in Birmingham, when the Beatles made it, it was like, “wow, it’s somebody from up North that’s made it!”  In the beginning, the first time you saw A Hard Day’s Night, you probably didn’t understand when Ringo goes, “Southerner.” There was a big divide between the northerners and the southerners in England. Also, they had the shipping and so American records were coming in. To the mainstream, rock n’ roll was dead. Even George Martin said when they first came up, he liked their charisma. Their personalities are what sold him, not the music.  McCartney had the looks, Lennon the sharp tongue, George was quiet but could give you a good line and Ringo was loveable. Perfect combination of four guys together who could conquer the world, which is what they did. Which gives hope to everybody and anybody out there.

SEM: You were a kid in England at the time. Was “She Loves You” the first thing you heard by them?

ER: I heard “Love Me Do”.

SEM: And then the mania started with, “She Loves You”?

ER: Yes.

SEM: Was there a moment in England like we had in the US with the Ed Sullivan Show, where everyone saw them and the band just became massive overnight?

ER:  Two stories to that. They were on the London Palladium; and one of the famous appearances is the one where John said, “You in the cheap seats clap your hands and the rest, rattle your jewelry” — saying that to royalty at that time was absolutely like, no fucking way — you just broke down the culture of civilization with that, in England. It was so stifled. So conservative. For some guys from up North to go down the London Palladium and say that in front of royalty was like, whoa. It just blew things wide open. The other thing, which was pure luck, they were booked on a national tv show but it was right after the news and normally nobody watched it. But on that particular Tuesday there was the biggest snowfall England had ever had and so it forced people to watch television. A show that might’ve gotten— let’s say 50,000 people– had 6 million viewers.  All of a sudden millions of people were exposed to the Beatles instead of maybe 50,000.

SEM: Getting back to Glass Marbles, it was a double album’s worth.  Did you consider saving half for another album?

ER: No. There were all these songs, and I had the band and I just said, “Let’s cut right through it.” And at the end of it, I didn’t want to cut any of the tracks. I just thought, maybe it’s the White Album in disguise. People have said it’s a double album and I go, “Huh?” And then I look at it and it really is, or it’s almost up there. But when you get the core band in the studio — James and Sal and Dennis and Don and myself — we just knocked out all the tracks in two or three days.  Then to add the fairy dust, we got Geoff Blythe and we got John Ford from the Strawbs and we got Ivan Julian to come down and play some parts. And Joe McGinty from the Psychedelic Furs, Dave Schramn, and you notice, Gaz is in there, too. Tish and Snooky, who you probably know. And J.F. Vergel, who is a good mate of mine. He was in a band called Joe Hurley & Rogue’s March and he also played with Walter Lure.

SEM:  And John Dunbar, who now fronts The John Sally Ride, co-wrote a song on the album with you.

ER:  Yeah!  We actually wrote two, but “Blackpool Nights” was so natural. I had it finished but when we got together, he just brought a melodic feel to it and a sense of discipline that I’m not used to. It ended up being a really great song. I hope it’s motivated him to move forward. That’s a song that I do to this day– it’s a great song.  And thanks to him for making it happen.

SEM:  He’s very prolific and he’s made a lot of albums. 

ER: Oh yes. He’s always a mystery man to me. We get together and we can always talk music but the convo you and I are having… I’ve never had that convo with him.  He’s definitely a poet and he’s definitely an artist because he has the temperament that goes with it.  I find him to be very gentle and quiet. And I’m not that way at all. I’m very loud and show-offy.  But bless his soul, man, we came up with a great song.

SEM: You once said in an interview that you don’t like yes men. How is it working with Don Piper?

ER:  Don Piper is totally objective. When he says something negative, he says it gently. He doesn’t rip into you. There are some people that you feel rip into you more than they need to. That, I don’t need. I need somebody who thinks enough of me to say something about a song and say something that is legit. Too many of us get a little egoed out when we get records out. I have several records but it’s the general public who buys them and form their opinions. Each one of these records is gonna mean something totally different to what I had in mind when the songs. “Imaginary Man”, I wrote about Syd Barrett but to somebody else it might be the brain living inside Hitler.  I could just as well picture that.  It’s this madman trying to decide whether or not he’s gonna commit suicide.

SEM:  Let’s keep going back.  The next album going backwards is Kaye, which at least in part was inspired by Kevin Ayers. 

ER:  “After the Show” is a cover of a Kevin Ayers song.  “Street Fashion” is about street people wearing things that lead the way, or should lead the way, as opposed to the designers.  “Copper Coin” was about copper coins going away in England and a lot of people seemed to like that. “My Street” was all about where I grew up in Birmingham.

SEM: My fave song on that album is “Borrowed and Blue”.

ER: Yeah, that came out nice.  People like that one as well, you’re right. And that probably sold the most downloads.

SEM:  Sounds like you used a different voice on that one.  

ER: Maybe that’s the secret.  Come up with thirteen new voices for the next album. On that one we used a different mic. I think it was a different studio. I remember doing a couple of those songs in Pete Kennedy’s studio. You picked up on that. That’s a really good observation.

SEM: Thank you.  Let’s go to the next one back: Sparkle Lane.

ER: That was a fun record to make. It was a heavily English-style album because a song about “Guy Fawkes Night” was in there; also “Boys in Grey” which was about me being schooled in England.

SEM: It looks like you’re in Greenwich Village on the cover, though.

ER: It is, you’re right!  (laughs)

SEM: I remember a street called Washington Mews.

ER: That’s where it is. You got it.

SEM: I went to school there. NYU.

ER: I can’t believe you got that one.  That looked as close as you could get to a London street at the time. We kinda faked it but you caught me out. (laughs)

SEM:  What inspired the song, “Passing the Sunshine” from that album?

ER: Oh, good question. There’s a show in NYC called Loser’s Lounge which is a tribute to a different artist or band about every 3-6 months. A friend of mine, Joe McGinty, who was in the Psychedelic Furs, started this series over 25 years ago and he still does it to this day. When it first started out, no one really remembered who artists like Randy Newman or Jimmy Webb were, or even Burt Bacharach. They were all considered to be has beens.  I would help Joe put these together and eventually I got up the nerve to start singing at the show. I’m waiting at rehearsal– you got one rehearsal where you ran thru the song twice and that was it.  And you did two shows, or three shows and you had to run through the song with the whole band in front of maybe 300 people. So, I was going to do a Fleetwood Mac song as a duet with Amanda Thorpe and she was late. I’m not very tolerant of people who are late. Especially if you’re persistently late– it wears thin on me very quickly. She calls me up and says, “Don’t scream at me, I’m passing the Sunshine movie theater right now.” And I’m like, “You’re fucking late. Get here.”  So, I stared writing the lyrics and I let the next person go ahead of me because I was waiting for my singing partner.  By the time she walked in the door, the lyrics were done.  I personally adore that song because it’s another one of those where I think, “how could I have written this?” It’s all about New York when everybody was being priced out of the lower east side.  At the end of it, I thought, and this happens every once in a while — you understand, being a musician yourself– I thought the song meant a lot to me.  It’s really a love song to old New York.

SEM: That was the very first song I ever heard by you. Loved it right off the bat.

ER: Thank you.

SEM: Where is Sparkle Lane? Is it a place?

ER: It’s a place in my mind.

SEM: “Little Angel” is a very pretty song.  

ER: That was probably about my wife.

SEM: And there’s “Guy Fawkes Nite” which was meant to be the title cut.

ER:  I was gonna call the album Guy Fawkes, but a pretty influential singer who I will not mention came up and said that it was not a good title for America and might have a negative connotation. I thought, “Sparkle Lane” sounds even better. Guy Fawkes in England would have been considered an American taking an English title and I think here people wouldn’t understand it because Guy Fawkes is not even a common holiday. So, from that perspective is really what made me think, “Sparkle Lane” says it all. As you know — you called me out on it — Sparkle Lane is not where I took that photo.  But in my mind, it is. It could be anybody’s street. John Sebastian grew up on that street.

SEM: There’s a guy you should have on your radio show. Let’s move on to the Porcelain album.  “Diamonds Amour” should have been a hit.

ER: In my mind it should have been a hit too.  I like that one. My personal favorite on that album is “Biba Crowd”. I went to see Mott the Hoople when they re-formed at the Hammersmith Odeon, and it was a magical night. All the original members were there. First person I run into is Mick Jones, then Chrissie Hynde. Madness was there. Mott influenced so many people. I got into the after-party and I was thinking, “When I was a kid I used to go to this place, and now I’m actually in the back room with all the artists.” I started thinking “These are all the people that used to go to the clothing store, Biba.”  Sal Maida was with me and we’re sitting there talking, and of course Sal knew a lot of people because he was the bass player in Sparks and Roxy Music. We left the party, got in a cab and within five minutes, I’d finished the lyrics. It’s a song about excitement and how the music moved us in its time. The first couple of lines have a reference to Elton John, David Essex and Stardust.  All these little references came out because I was around all these people, and I was writing down lines.

SEM:  How about your album TV Generation?  People our age were brought up on television, weren’t we?

ER: Yes. As a kid in England, we only had three channels, but I remember coming over here and being amazed that you guys had 11 channels or something like that. I thought “I never want to leave this country again.”  My parents used to listen to the radio, but we had television.  My dad was the manager of a store that used to rent and repair tv’s – big business in those days – so we had a tv very early in our lives. I remember the first time I saw color tv: I watched the Ed Sullivan show at friends of my parents’ (in America). The Stones were on doing, “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and “Ruby Tuesday”. Seeing the Stones in color totally flipped me out. The way the Stones looked in that particular period of time was incredible; they had Brian Jones with them, and it totally blew my mind.  It stayed in the back of my brain.  So that’s where that comes from.  “20th Century Heroes” [from the album, TV Generation] …we’re all getting older and everybody from that period is dying as we go along.

SEM:  “Gossip and Lies” has great 12 string in it and great harmonies.

ER: Yeah, that’s a good one. I gotta ask you this:  I put my heart and soul into a song called “No Words”–

SEM: That was the very next one I was going to ask you about. 

ER: Wow, okay. That was written the morning I found out that David Bowie had passed away.  I keep that wording for whenever I hear something terrible. That’s my first response: no words.  Because no words can make you feel any relief from the pain or the shock.  So, I wrote the words and then I put strings to it on Logic. I needed an arranger who would really get it and approach it with the same sensibility. I could’ve given it to a lot of string players but there was only one I knew who could do it justice: Jane Scarpantoni.  Who, by the way, had worked with Lou Reed over the years, which is ironic now that you’ve brought him up.  I sent her the track and I said, “This is what I want”.  And she said I had to come up to Woodstock. So upstate we went. Got there at 10 o’clock in the morning at this little recording cabin. She had these other two players and we spent 15 hours in the studio, and she must have done a hundred takes of the song. Then we pressed the play button and there was the musical arrangement finished. That was stunning to me because there was nothing I could contribute to the song other than the mood, the feeling and the words.  For all the classical writing out of the charts, I had to rely on Jane. Who could I trust who would see my vision? That was Jane. It never really got that much acclaim. When it came out, I thought people were really going to gravitate towards that song.  Maybe there’s too much space between the words. I don’t know. To me, I did a valid piece of work that I like.  But that’s how you have to approach every record. You gotta like it yourself. You sometimes expect that something you think is so magical, someone else will appreciate.  But I think that one got by.

SEM: Didn’t get by me.  It was the first title I wrote down after hearing the album.

ER: Wow, see?  You and I are in the same boat there.  We’re both sailing down the same sea, basically. On that one it came as such a shock, that I needed to release my sadness, I guess.  I remember writing the lyrics to that song and that night — do you remember Brownie’s down on Avenue A?

SEM: No.

ER:  It was a club that opened maybe after you left. It actually became Hi-Fi. I went down to the club that night and I read it as a poetry piece. I got such a positive response because everybody was feeling so upset.  Syd Straw got up after that and she and I did “Rebel Rebel” as a tribute to David.

SEM: Musically, the TV Generation album seems to be made up of different styles.  “Wounded Conversations” sounds almost like an Al Green song.

ER: Whoa! That’s interesting. And quite a compliment.

SEM: And then you go to “Sturdy Man’s Shout” which is totally Stones.

ER:  I remember turning around to James Mastro and saying, “On this particular track, mate, we gotta catch that ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ vibe. And I think we did.

SEM:  “The Player” has a Kinks feel to it.

ER: Oh yeah. (laughs)

SEM: That album has a lot of different styles.

ER: It does. Not intentionally. It was kinda like: I’ve got all these songs. Let’s experiment a little bit.  On each one of them, I knew the direction we were going to take, and I think it came out really well.

SEM: That leads me to a question.  When I hear those songs and I hear the influences, I don’t see it as a bad thing.  You call yourself a fan. Do fans make good artists?  I think they do.

ER: Well, take the case of Chrissie Hynde.  Where did she get her version of “Stop Your Sobbing”?  It wasn’t Ray Davies, it was actually Cher.  She was a huge Cher fan. If you look at the way she used to dress back then, it was obvious she was a total fan. She was such a music fanatic that, as soon as she could, she went to England. She was obviously also a Kinks fan. She ended up living with Ray and having a child with him. I think her body of work is pretty strong.  Mick Jones from the Clash was the biggest Mott the Hoople fan you could ever imagine.  He used to follow them.  Elvis Costello was the biggest Brinsley Schwartz fan. Who were the Beatles listening to? Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry. I’m reading a book right now on the Hollies and they were so in awe of Buddy Holly. Graham Nash and Alan Clarke stood outside his hotel all night until they met him.  Where do our roots start?  They start from having the passion for music.

One thing I will say, though, is that I try not to lock myself into any particular period of music.  I listen to current music, and I absorb all kinds of influences. Gaz and I have a radio show once a month on a London station and we mostly play neo jazz meets old English jazz. We also play artists like Floating Points, Arlo Parks and Dean Blunt.  All these names are new to most people, but we like to mix all that stuff up. We try to give people what they want, but not lecture or be a teacher. I also think you can give people something new. Today’s music is relevant.  It may not be as relevant as the golden period you and I grew up in.  But there’s still some brill new music out there.

There’s a cycle to music. In the ‘80s, we had the REM world, then we had the Nirvana world. In the ‘90s, we had Brit Pop, which was really fun because it was bands trying to sound like the bands that I loved in the ‘60s. I also loved the fighting between the two Gallagher brothers and Blur. Now there’s been, at least in Europe, an upswing in what I would say is ‘new Mod-style Jazz music’. Another fact about our radio show, which is on Totally Wired Radio in the UK, is that it’s run by Eddie Piller who is one of ‘the’ faces in England. We get to do the show once a month, with a totally different format from what you might expect of Atlantic Tunnel.

SEM:  Before we let you go; I want to ask a little bit about how you got to America.  Where in New York did your family move to when they first came?

ER: We moved to University Avenue and 186th Street in the Bronx.  When we first came here, it was either going to be the U.S. or Australia. My mom wanted to come here for a vacation and my dad said, “Why don’t we just emigrate?”  To this day, I can’t believe my dad made such an adventurous move.  It just didn’t seem like my dad.  We came here and went directly to Providence, Rhode Island.  I’d never felt sun like that. We were from Birmingham, England and in those days, it was a lot foggier and drearier and all that. I remember going to the beach and I thought, “Wow this is insane”. It was just like an early Beach Boys’ song. It was the American Dream until I got back that night and had 3rd degree burns all over my shoulders.  Now I knew better. The sun may shine, but you’d better learn what it does to you.

We moved back and forth three or four times before my parents decided they really wanted to live here. They settled in the Bronx and then my dad got a job at 50th Street and 3rd Avenue which included an apartment, so then we moved to Manhattan. After that my dad got a better job opportunity, and we moved to 12th Street and 6th avenue.  The first day I’m there my dad, who was the building manager, introduced me to “Mr. Bernstein”.  It was Sid Bernstein, who booked The Beatles and managed The Young Rascals!  He lived in the penthouse.  On the third day there, I got in the elevator and who gets in but Al Kooper!  He lived on the second floor.  He had just left The Blues Project, and was forming Blood, Sweat and Tears at the time.

SEM:  What was it like for you coming from England?  What age were you?

ER:  I was thirteen.

SEM: Must have been a big culture shock.

ER: Oh my God, it was insane.  There was American sports, which I didn’t get at all. We went from living in Birmingham with five acres of land behind us, because it used to be a farm, to a Bronx apartment with really small accommodations.  We also weren’t used to the extreme heat of summer and equally unprepared for minus-zero weather. We were miserable for a while. I actually don’t know why we stuck it out.  We did go back to England that summer.  I have vivid memories of going to Carnaby Street, Kings Road and Portobello Road. “Eric Clapton is God” was written everywhere.  That was a pretty memorable summer.  I also went to my first concert.  Check this out for a bill:  P.P. Arnold with The Nice backing her up — that was the opening act.  Simon Dupree and the Big Sound were the next band.  The third band was the Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood. Aynsley Dunbar on drums. I was with my dad and my uncle.  Jeff Beck is playing these great guitar licks and I’m thinking Ronnie Wood is Jeff Beck the whole time, not knowing the difference. Jeff sang “Tallyman” and “Hi Ho Silver Lining” and I’m thinking, “Why is that guy singing the songs?”  Some guy next to me says, “That’s Jeff Beck”, and I’m like, “Oh!” The headlining act was Manfred Mann with Mike D’Abo and they were insanely great.  Insanely great.  It was in the afternoon at Winston Churchill’s palace grounds in Oxford.

SEM: You must miss England a bit.  

ER: My wife, Melani, has been dying to go back.  We’ve had a couple of offers for next year to do touring over there. Let’s see what happens!

SEM: Will you be working with Steve Butler again soon?

ER: Yes. Steve and I have eighteen songs, twelve of which we’ve picked for the next Rogers & Butler album. I also have demos completed for a new solo album, but I’m hoping Steve wants to do the next R&B album first; that would be my priority. Steve has the new Smash Palace album out now. I’m also writing songs again with Amanda Thorpe.  During this year and a half break, I’ve done a lot of songwriting.  Although I don’t ‘have’ to write every day, I’m always afraid I’ll lose the skill and motivation.

SEM:  That’s not going to happen. Hey man, thanks for the chat.  

ER: Thank you, sir!  Thank you for doing all the research and for all the questions.

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