Greetings, Heraldonians and welcome to the Autumn of our lives – well, my life, anyway! I survived another birthday and had a great gig with New Rising Sons (newly christened 7th Sons) in Sausalito on August 27. This, on the heels on moving my 86 year-old mother Doris “Bergie” Goldberg into a new assisted living facility and a whole bunch of other life schtuff presenting, including another audition for the NBC reality singing competition The Voice on August 23! This time they were held right down the street from me in South San Francisco (I live in San Bruno) so I figured, what the hell, I’d give it another go. My buddy who works on the show encouraged me to go for something more current - last time I rocked some old school Gladys Knight’s “Gotta Use My Imagination” and the baby boy judges did NOT get it - so I kicked some serious ass on Lady Gaga’s “Edge Of Glory” – which is not for the meek or timid, yo! I did Gaga proud! The 20-ish blonde cheerleader judge seemed to enjoy it but alas, didn’t put any of our group through, including your Lady Gold Gold…again! Still, I’m glad I went for it – can’t keep a good woman down, y’all! I’ll keep findin’ good reasons to keep on keepin’ on like my girl Gladys taught me!
So here are a few highlights of MY Spring into Summer into Fall of Love 2011…
Vonda Shepard – Yoshi’s SF - 4/14/11
Back in the early ‘80s, I worked at a performing restaurant in LA called The Great American Food & Beverage Company. There were three of them: one in Santa Monica, one in West Hollywood (the one I worked at) and one in the San Fernando Valley called Poppy’s Star. Everybody from the managers to the busboys had to audition to get a job there - you had to play an instrument and/or sing and do it well. Whenever you weren’t doing your actual “job”, you would be called upon to perform for the patrons. A lot of famous people would come in to be entertained – one afternoon I sang for Diana Ross and Gene Simmons, who were out on a date with her kids! She clapped her hands and cried out in that little girl voice, “I want somebody to sing for me!!” Awesome.
And a lot of folks who worked there went on to become very successful themselves: Rickie Lee Jones (before my time), Eric Lowen and Dan Navarro (my manager and one of the waiters who co-wrote “We Belong” for Pat Benatar and became the “Simon & Garfunkel of the ‘90s” Lowen & Navarro), Robert Romanus ( bad boy “Mike Damone” from the teen hit flick Fast Times At Ridgemont High), and even Peter Tork from The Monkees (actually he came there after The Monkees and wasn’t too thrilled about that – poor Peter), and many other extremely talented peeps.
One of the most gifted crowd pleasers was also one of the youngest: a 19 year-old blonde beauty who could tickle the ivories and belt out a soulful song like no other named Vonda Shepard. I used to go to the Santa Monica one on my nights off just to hear her and you could hear a pin drop. It was the same a few years later at a club a few doors down called At My Place where she used to play (as did I). One night I saw my Neighborhood Playhouse West acting class fellow student Michelle Pfeiffer (seriously – Jeff Goldblum was and Katey Segal’s twin sisters were in our class too!) in the audience with her then-husband actor/director Peter Horton (“Gary” from the TV show Thirtysomething). If you read my very first “Almost Famous” column from early 2001 (see “Archives 1998-2005”) you will see this is noteworthy because….
A decade later, now-bona-fide movie star Ms. Pfeiffer married uber-TV producer David E. Kelley - and who did the hit series kingpin hire to be the musical conscience of his soon-to-be next smash hit-out-of-the-park Ally McBeal? None other than our gal Vonda Shepard, who had already sung a duet with Dan Hill (“Can’t We Try”) in 1987, and aced herself a fine little indie artist career while supporting herself with consecutive stints backing up such iconic music makers like Rickie Lee Jones and Al Jarreau! She put out a stellar gem of a CD called It’s Good Eve that became the musical backdrop for Ally McBeal, and he even used her song “Searching My Soul Tonight” as the theme song! And if that wasn’t enough, the visionary Mr. Kelley included a bar scene in every episode that the cast would end up in at the end of their “lawyers-in-love” work day, and who was the chanteuse who played the cover songs that made the whole world sing? You guessed it again – Vonda Shepard – arguably the luckiest girl in the whole U.S.A. – at least in entertainment biz terms. From 1997-2002, Vonda ruled the TV airwaves and Billboard charts, thanks to talent meeting opportunity in all the right places. Rise-to-the-top stories just don’t get much brighter than this…
I ran into Vonda a couple times over the years when I would venture out to LA from across the country ( I moved to NY, then Nashville) to play at my favorite music venue Genghis Cohen, a mainstay of hers as well. So it was with misty nostalgia and great anticipation that I ventured out to my fave SF live music venue Yoshi's all these years later to reconnect with my former GAFB “co-worker”.
She did not disappoint.
Looking like a million ageless bucks in a flowing top and black stretch pants tucked into cool boots, Vonda sat down at her trusty piano and delivered a combo platter of her best songs from all five solo albums mixed with those tasty R&B covers she rocked back at GAFB and all through her run on Ally. She talked to the middle-aged crowd of faithful fans like we were all old friends in her living room – a trait after my own performing heart. Each song was a different shade from Vonda’s emotion-filled romantic angst crayon box and it was easy to get swept away. There is still something about the tone of Vonda’s voice that takes me to a place of bittersweet memories, of longing laced with hope, like no other. Stand-outs included “The Wildest Times In The World”, which the crowd went ga-ga for the “La la la la la la la” part and sang along, “Baby, Don’t You Break My Heart Slow” (which young-un Taylor Swift made her some moolah covering) and her new single “I Know Better”, showing us Vonda still owns major real estate on romance and regret in equal measure. And of course, we all joined in on Ally’s theme song “Searching My Soul Tonight”, reminding us what a common thread it still represents for anyone with a heart that’s been broken a time or two and still has a pulse. Her fine band included long-time member and former Tina Turner guitar player James Ralston, and Vonda had some her best moments stepping away from the piano and rockin’ the mic on some classic R&B with “Sweet Inspiration” and “Chain Of Fools”. Her rousing encore of The Supreme’s “Someday We’ll Be Together” was a promise that we would always have this unique and special bond only a gifted artist and her fans share. I know it from both sides and it is a gift to be cherished either way.
After the show, Vonda sold and signed CDs and we exchanged warm hugs (and I gave her my CD Sycamore Street, natch’!). When I got home, she had posted on her Facebook page how much she enjoyed playing at Yoshi’s and gave me a personal shout-out saying how great it was to see me after all these years and what a history we share. Ya gotta love Facebook – connecting the dots of our lives!
Ray Of Light Theatre’s Assassins – Eureka Theatre SF – 6/3/11
Now all you faithful Herald “Almost Famous” fans know what a fan I am of Ray of Light Theatre’s shows. I have lavished heaps of praise over their past efforts like Tommy, Baby, and Jerry Springer The Opera – and been rewarded with “most favorite review” as many times by the Ray Of Light peeps – a mutual love fest! So it is with a heavy heart that I cannot jump as high for joy over their latest effort – although be assured it is in no way a diss at the incredibly talented cast and crew, who once again rallied to deliver spot-on performances. Hard for me admit, after playing “Marta” not once but twice over the years in two theatre company productions of one of my all-time favorite shows Company – but my problem lies with the creators of the show itself: John Weidman and my beloved Stephen Sondheim. Although it is an ambitious and original premise: gathering together nine famous would-be or actual assassins of American Presidents and going back and forth through history to connect them – the execution of it felt heavy-handed and pretentious to me, although it did make me want to get on Wikipedia and look some of these more unknown figures up. But my main problem – and the only genuine criticism that ultimately matters when reviewing a musical – is there are no memorable songs. I couldn’t recall a note from the moment the lights came up and for me, if you can’t hum it going out of the theatre, it ain’t a hit. Now many respected critics have written favorable reviews that do not share my view, and kudos to Ray Of Light and Mr. Weidman and Mr. Sondheim for garnering them. But unfortunately, that killed Assassins for me. Looking forward to the next Ray Of Light show to wave my “Bravo!” flag at next time…
34th Annual Haight Ashbury Street Fair – 6/12/11
I had the honor of opening the Main Stage of the 34th Annual Haight Ashbury Street Fair this year – setting the stage for 11 year old hard rockers Haunted By Heroes, eclectic Morph Dwarf, old pals and killer theatrical Fans of Jimmy Century (formerly Simon Stinger), big fun hip-hop band Vokabcompany from San Diego, and those still rockin’ dinosaurs Commander Cody. Promoter /MC Ace from Reality Check TV put together an incredible line-up of talent and held down the musical fort all day long!
Here are a couple highlights from my set:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F9Qd661uKrs – “What Are We Runnin’ From Now”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DAATwb2fqK4 – “Don’t Maybe Me”
Opening the 34th Annual Haight Ashbury Street Fair – MC Ace introducing me!
The Tubes – Yoshi’s SF – 6/30/11
Okay – all you “Almost Famous” die-hards know I have an illustrious history (at least in my mind) with The Tubes and their colorful frontman Fee Waybill dating back to 1981 (see first “Almost Famous” article and my interview with Fee in “Archives 1998-2005” – a surreal side note considering how much their former choreographer Kenny Ortega was in the news lately with the Dr. Conrad Murray trial and Michael Jackson’s death). I’ve been singing their praises since the first time I saw them at the Old Waldorf in 1979 and what a long, strange trip it’s been from “White Punks On Dope” to “She’s a Beauty” and beyond…
One thing that never changes - no matter who fills the other original band member shoes from show to show - is as long as Fee takes center stage, the show must go on and it WILL rock like no other in music history. Getting to see an always arena-worthy, iconic and theatrical band like The Tubes in an intimate setting like Yoshi’s was pure hog-heaven for the not-quite full house (for shame, Tubes fans!) I was a happy camper member of – and we couldn’t wait to see and hear what was in store for us. Would they play it straight or go for broke?
One thing the un-initiated usually don’t realize is what musical prowess The Tubes possess as a band – which is why they begin the show with an musical overture that clears this up immediately: these guys can play their faces off. Original guitarist Roger Steen was in tow, along with bassist Rick Anderson, a new keyboard player, and a drummer that while extremely competent, was not Prairie Prince. There is no other Tubes drummer for me – but this guy did a fine job. But we all knew when the real show would begin…
Fee took the stage in a suit with a drink in one hand and a cigarette in another and sang a smoky tune about wanting the world to grow…which is what ours did from that moment on. He surprised us with a soulful version of the Godfather of Soul’s “This Is A Man’s World” – and then the larger-than-life frontman proceeded to do what most of that crowd laid their money down for: he took on his infamous personas from each of The Tubes albums and eras and changed into one outrageous costume after another and another and another - and took off more and more, as we expected he would! We got the game-show host for “What Do You Want From Life”, the guy with the TV on his head in a wild Roman get-up for the Remote Control songs like “Turn Me On”. Another thing that hasn’t changed: Fee still loves to show his ass! At 61 years old, this guy is still in incredible shape and has the energy and exuberance of someone more than half his age – although sitting front row center where almost every look had the butt cut out it and not much else left to the imagination was almost a T.M.I. experience – ha! The band played merrily on while he disappeared backstage and came back as everyone from the S&M “Mondo Bondage” guy to everyone’s favorite 12 inch platform wearing glam-rocker Quaalude for “White Punks On Dope”. The songs all still held up as mini-masterpieces and Fee seemed to be having a great time and enjoying the hell out of himself – wise-cracking with the audience and sipping some Johnnie Walker Black, apparently.
One thing I’ve been preaching to the masses for years is that Fee Waybill is one of the most underrated male rock singers in music history – the guy can blow – and I’m talking about his vocal cords, all you dirty-minded readers! Because of his wild stage antics, this fact has been sadly overlooked. This still holds true decades after the fact – although Fee seemed to be reaching for the very top notes a bit by the end of the set. Who wouldn’t be after changing costumes 20 times and jumping around half naked for 90 minutes?
At the very end of the night after encores of “She’s A Beauty” and “Talk To Ya Later”, Fee invited the audience to join him in the lobby for CD signing and said “Hi Kimberlye!” on the mic to me. Ya gotta love that Fee. Said hello to him at the table outside and exchanged more hugs and once more planted the bee in his bonnet to give me a sequel to our interview from 2001 that garnered so much buzz back then…talk to ya later, Fee!
The many sides of Fee…
Jeff Bridges and the Abiders– Mountain Winery, Saratoga – 8/26/11
You more recent “Almost Famous” fans may recall my sky-high praise for the movie Crazy Heart back in 2010 and how over the moon I was by Jeff Bridge’s Oscar-winning performance of washed-up country singer Bad Blake. My greatest joy came from the authentic musical soundtrack conjured up by producer/songwriter T-Bone Burnett and one of my Austin cult favorites, the late, great guitarist/songwriter Stephen Bruton. So it was no surprise that I eagerly awaited a new solo album from The Dude himself. Most fans of Mr. Bridges aren’t even aware of the fact he began his musical endeavors in high school - long before his famous pop offered his hand to he and bro Beau to follow in Daddy Lloyd’s legendary acting footsteps. Even fewer know Jeff started a record company (and made a record) with Doobie Bro Michael McDonald in 2000. Hell, I didn’t…
But after Bad Blake surfaced, everybody knew Bridges could pull off the real McCoy to the tune of an Oscar, a Golden Globe, a SAG award among others and the soundtrack rocked – but could The Dude embark upon a genuine 2nd career as a musical artist? And could he pull it off live?
Well, it depends who you ask. Many music critics have been less than kind to Bridges about his latest self-titled solo album on Blue Note Records but I for one am not among them. I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of this record – both in songwriting and execution. The style is authentic Americana, and the guest appearances by well-known artists like Roseanne Cash and Sam Phillips lend even more credibility and fun. Bridges’ delivery is spot-on and has the feel of a seasoned artist who’s been doing this all his life and has something to say about regret and redemption, not unlike Bad himself.
An unexpected “Almost Famous” connection came in the form of a fellow up-and-coming songwriter I knew from the trenches in Nashville, John Goodwin. John was this quirky guy I used to always see around town and we even talked about writing together, but it never happened. John and Jeff have played music together since high school, apparently and the loyal Mr. Bridges used several of John’s fine songs on this record, my favorite being the introspective “Maybe I Missed The Point” and has mentioned him in every interview and live performance. What a mensch (Yiddish for “cool dude”)!
So it was with genuine enthusiasm mixed with curiosity and some good old fashioned Hollywood celebrity-sighting that I made the trek down to Mountain Winery to see what The Dude could bring to the concert stage. I had seen him musically guest on a couple TV shows like Regis & Kelly and The View and found him a tad stiff, but I am pleased to report that what this artist needed was a stage and an audience and his wonderful band The Abiders to bring the real deal Jeff Bridges to musical life.
Bridges’ easy-going, laid-back charm was the perfect window-dressing to the satisfying musical journey he took us on – segueing seamlessly between songs from Crazy Heart like “I Don’t Know” and “Fallin and Flyin’” to songs off his new album like the infectious single “What A Little Bit Of Love Can Do” and the afore-mentioned “Maybe I Missed The Point” which contains the lyric “My whole life has been a joke/I’m the master of mirrors and smoke”. Damn good stuff and he credited his pal Johnny Goodwin again!
Stand-out moments from the band were shared by all the players but particularly from his fetching fiddle player Carrie Rodriguez. Dark-haired and waif-like with silent-movie star allure, Rodriguez had all the right moves and hit all the right notes, which Bridges was wise to accommodate. Bridges also brought out his daughter Jessie to sing background on a couple tunes, a sweet touch from the “Dude-pa”, which Bridges christened himself to the delight of the audience. Best obscure reference moment: an audience member yelled out “Sea Hunt!!” – a TV series from the late ‘50s/early ‘60s starring Lloyd Bridges that the brothers Beau and Jeff both guest-starred on as young whippersnappers. Hilarious!
Bridges saved the ever-lovely Ryan Bingham/T-Bone Burnett penned “The Weary Kind” from Crazy Heart for his encore, proving up close and personal why it deserved the Oscar for Best Song. In the fairy tale setting of the Mountain Winery, it was the perfect bedtime story to tuck us in and say good night.
The Dude bringin’ it to the concert stage!
Def Leppard/Heart – Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View – 9/9/11
Some of you faithful “Almost Famous” readers might remember one of other the hats I wore for a few years was the one as talent booker for iconic SF radio personality Paul “The Lobster” Wells for his syndicated radio show Lobster’s Rock Box. Once a month he would interview an iconic classic rock artist/band and I was the conduit to connect the two (one of them was our pal Fee Waybill of The Tubes).
I recently helped him out in his home office and he invited me to accompany him and assist a meet ‘n greet for some contest winners of his latest gig Lobster’s Sunday Brunch on 99.7 The River http://www.977theriver.com/. The concert was a double bill of ‘80s rock hitmakers Def Leppard – that was the who the contest winners got to meet ‘n greet - but make no mistake: the reason I was excited like a kid the night before Christmas was to see the “opener”, one of my most influential, beloved mentors from the ‘70s to this very day: HEART! I used to sit in my backyard in Daly City, CA and listen to the cassette of Dog ‘n Butterfly and sing and strum along with my heroes Ann and Nancy over and over and over…there was no one else like them that I identified with – girls who could sing and rock their asses off like the guys and still be feminine and soft and I bought every record of the sisters Wilson I could get my hands on. I hadn’t seen them live since I was in the audience at a Letterman show when Heart was the musical guest back in the early ‘90s so I was psyched!
When I fell in love with Heart in the ‘70s…
Heart in the ‘80s…
Fun fact: back in 1998, one of my favorite Halloweens ever was at The Sutler in Nashville for my roommate and Sutler booker Kim Webber's “Come As Your Favorite Rock Band" night: Twisted Gypsy leader Michelle Yules (now Lehman) and I came as HEART!! We didn’t have time to rehearse a full band, so I played acoustic guitar (and had blond hair) like Nancy, we shared Ann's lead vocals on "Crazy On You" and "Magic Man" - and used a hand-held tape recorder for the guitar solos - priceless!
Michelle Yules & moi’ as HEART at The Sutler in Nashville on Halloween 1998
We now return you to our regularly scheduled programming…
So The Lobster and I headed down to Shoreline Amphitheatre, me buzzing with anticipation and poor Paul with a nasty flu/cold virus that caused him to arm himself with an arsenal of remedies in every pocket. I hadn’t been to Shoreline in years and as you old faithful readers know, I used to make that pilgrimage regularly back in the Herald heyday (see SF Herald Archives 1998-2005). We arrived and headed in to meet the contest winners and take them back to meet and have their pictures taken with Def Leppard. Once again, the majority of folks here to relive their ‘80s rock glory days were still wearing the fashions that made MTV a household name – teased, big hair, micro-mini skirts, ripped-up, acid-washed jeans, off-the-shoulder sparkly tops, the works! And these contest winner chicks from Windsor, Jonni and Deanna, were a riot: not really groupie types but hardcore pro radio contest winners who knew what they wanted and how to get it. Jonni was clearly the ringleader of this dynamic duo, snapping orders like “Where are our T-shirts?” “Where are the drinks?” Paul had his hands full attempting to rein them in and keep them from taking matters into their own hands.
The liaison who was responsible for getting us backstage was Aaron Siuda from BGP (Bill Graham Presents), now Live Nation, someone I’d e-mailed a gazillion times over the years for press tix who always took great care of me but never met before. “Kimberlye, it is SO nice to finally meet you!” he exclaimed and it really was like connecting with an old pal from summer camp. He led us backstage and we waited in line with the contest winners from other radio stations. “Aaron, take our picture, now!” Jonni barked. I was in charge of shooting the action with The Lobster’s Flip video camera, while trying not to laugh at loud at our winners’ antics. The band members, drummer Rick Allen and guitar player Phil Collen were amicably meeting and greeting and posing for pictures with the winners. Our gals smiled for the camera with their mates, and then were off to find their seats.
99.7 The River contest winners Deanna and Jonni with Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen and guitar player Phil Collen
Soon we were off to find our amazing seats just a few rows from the stage. There is really no better place to be on a perfect evening to see your favorite band of all time than Shoreline Amphitheatre. The excitement was palpable as the crowd rose to their feet when the music began and I was right up there with them – I honestly felt like a kid more so than I had in years. And what did Heart open the show with?...Led Zeppelin’s “Rock ‘n Roll” right out of the gate!! Who the !@#$ has the balls to open with “Rock ‘n Roll”?? Ann Wilson, that’s who, and she nailed it as if she and Robert Plant morphed into one black-clad gender-defying force of nature better than I heard it back in the day! Nancy (now a redhead like me), as lithe and lovely as ever, jumped up and down and kicked her long legs high like an aerobics instructor while wailing on her guitar for the entire set. They began with the hit songs from my favorite era: “Magic Man”, “Heartless”, and “Comin’ Straight On For You”: Ann stepping out front ‘n center and hitting notes above and beyond the ones she made famous, just because she could and she wanted us to know it, and Nancy pushing pause on her jump/kick guitar routine long enough to introduce Ann as “My sister, the best singer in the Universe!”
The back-up band of young newbies played everything well and rocked it hard, as the sisters Wilson led us into the ‘80s MTV hits, not my favorite era for Heart, but honestly, Ann could sing the phone book with those “only-sisters-can-blend-like-this” harmonies from Nancy and I’d sign up for a lifetime subscription. Ann nailed “What About Love” like the record and Nancy took center stage and delivered a pitch-perfect “These Dreams” while Ann played flute, which was a nice touch. When Ann stepped way out front to sing “Alone” with just Nancy on acoustic guitar backing her, she took the song beyond its’ radio home and hit some notes that hit me in a place where I began to weep – this is what music is for. And then it was back to the ‘70s with Nancy’s signature solo beginning “Crazy On You” with Ann riffing her head off and a kickASS “Barracuda”, with both gals defying age and gravity with every note and kick.
The Wilson gals then did a sister act of kids’ songs they knew from childhood, which mellowed things out for a stretch and I could catch my breath…whew!
For their encore, they chose The Who’s “Love Reign O’er Me”, which I’d never heard them do before, and it was electrifying. The Lobster tapped me on the shoulder and pointed upward. It was pouring rain. “How cool!” I said. “Great special effects!” But there were no electronics involved. The sky really did open up and lightning and thunder and buckets of rain came down right as Ann was lifting her voice to beseech it. Other-worldly and majestic. Mother Nature expressing her approval.
Unfortunately, my boss’ ailments were not cooperating as well. The poor guy was really suffering at this point, the entire contents of one of his cold remedies had opened up in his pocket and seeped all over him, so alas, there would be no sugar poured on us by the Def Leppard lads. It was time to go. The Lobster, ever looking out for his fan base, left his contest winners a voice mail inviting them to take our seats. What a mensch, that Lobster. What a night, thanks to those sisters. May they reign o’er me forever…
The Wilson sisters rockin’ today!
Return Home Book Concert with Alex Call, author of “867-5309 Jenny The Song That Saved Me” – The Playhouse, San Anselmo 10/15/11
Who in God’s green earth doesn’t remember the ‘80s song “867-5309 Jenny”? You’d have to have been living under a rock – or you were Mormon and radio and MTV were banned from your house and car – not to still have that one-hit-wonder Tommy Tutone song still pulsating through your head if you’re creeping toward middle age like so many of us rock ‘n rollers. But betcha don’t know who wrote the darned thing – HINT: it wasn’t Tommy Heath, lead singer of Tommy Tutone, as many assumed and Mr. Heath fibbed about in countless interviews. And no one would want you to be made aware of that fact more than the actual songwriter himself, Alex Call.
Which is why he wrote a book about it. And why he came back to the scene of the crime after years of living in exile in Nashville to celebrate it.
Ahhhhh…do I feel an “Almost Famous” story coming on and who better to end my column and this issue but with the illustrious Mr. Alex Call. Let me count the ways….
Alex Call is a Marin County/Mill Valley native son with a history and past that eerily echoes my coming-of-age years so gloriously captured in my very first “Almost Famous” column back in 2001 (See SF Herald Archives 1998-2005). When I was teenager living in Daly City, CA listening to Top 40 AM radio stations KYA, KFRC, and the soul station KDIA, so was Alex, 10 years before me, both of us inundating ourselves and gearing up to become the songwriters we became as adults, which would take us to LA, Nashville, and back and forth to our beloved Marin County.
But I never had an “867-5309 Jenny” and Alex did and has written a book about his life before and after. So let’s talk about him, shall we? (And of course, interspersing it with more “Almost Famous” connections!)
Showing up at The Playhouse, a lovely little theatre in San Anselmo I’d never been to before, was like going to a family reunion, surprising the host and hoping he was glad to see me. The last time I saw Alex was in Nashville sometime between 2008 and 2009, where he and I had both migrated to pursue our songwriting careers – but it could have been longer. I did my time in Nashvegas from 1995-2000, came back home (to care for my late dad Art), and then returned to Nashville from ’08-’09 – not quite certain of Alex’s exact timeline, so read the book! I used to run into Alex around town at coffee joints and at his shows at the famous Bluebird Café, where of course “867-5309 Jenny” was included, because you always had to play your “hit” if you were lucky enough to have one. In Nashville, you learn to become a storyteller when you participate in “songwriter in-the-round” shows, which is the mainstay of entertainment in Music City. You tell “the story behind the song”. And while there, Alex discovered his ability to write books as well as songs, and combined all of these skills into a nifty homecoming show that I’m (finally!) about to describe…
The place was filled with old friends and fans, mostly of a little-known but historic band called Clover. Now you may not have heard of Clover – but you certainly have heard of a couple of the members, particularly a guitar player named John McFee who ended up in a band called the Doobie Brothers and a harmonica player named Huey Lewis. Yup, that Huey Lewis. Just keep referring to the SF Herald Archives 1997-2005 and that first “Almost Famous” column, folks, it’s all in there…
Alex put together a band of stellar musicians, including guitarist Gary Vogensen and original Clover drummer Mitch Howie behind him for this book signing/concert/homecoming, who backed Alex up on the musical selections that supported the many stories he told about growing up in Mill Valley and how each era began and unfolded. Alex began the show with a fascinating and fun slide show of his journey, told in a folksy, family-gathering manner, beginning with his quirky childhood and adolescence in Mill Valley, through the many years of Clover and oodles of funny stories about Huey and all his colorful Clover bandmates, who ended up backing up Elvis Costello on his debut record My Aim Is True in England in 1977. Alex and the band played a few selections from that era which delighted the familiar audience.
Clover – (betcha can’t guess which one is Huey Lewis!)
The next phase is where my journey paralleled Alex’s – Clover finally broke up, Alex went solo, and Huey Lewis started his own band American Express which became The News. I was in a rock ‘n roll musical called Breakfast In Marin when I was a teenager in 1979/80, and Huey and the boys would come see our show in SF, and then we would go out to a club in Corte Madera called Uncle Charlie’s to see them (yeah, I had a fake ID, who didn’t?). They would invite us to see Alex Call’s shows, which is where I first was introduced to Alex’s music, mostly because Huey’s Scottish road manager J.B. was chasing me around and he loved them too. Alex’s “Book Show” band played a few of the songs from this era like “New Romeo” and “Annie Don’t Lie”, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t remember these songs immediately like it was yesterday and could sing along! Now that’s the power of a hit song. Even if they didn’t become hits. Which leads me to the next phase, which is when some DID in a big, big way…
Alex told hard luck stories about writing bad checks in Safeway with his son in his arms and working construction digging underground with wolf spiders crawling all over him all the way up to when he got a little song called “867-5309 Jenny” cut by a new band called Tommy Tutone. (I was working as a waitress at Houlihan’s in Sausalito with a girl who was dating Tommy Heath two years before this occurred.) Alex told the story of how he lived on a street with the first few numbers as his address, and the rest just came out of him as he was writing, mostly from his imagination. Apparently, Tommy Heath made up a whole story about a real girl named Jenny that he wrote about, and how Alex was just brought in to “finish it”, which Alex claimed was a bold-faced lie. It’s all in the book, people!
As the song climbed the charts and became a bonafide #1 Billboard hit in 1982, Alex told the story of his years as an up ‘n coming songwriter in LA, getting cuts for artists like Pat Benatar, and being courted by Clive Davis and groomed for a solo career that never happened. “It was supposed to be me ‘n Richard Marx”, Alex lamented. “I never met the guy.” (I did. Richard Marx opened for me at my very first Kimberlye & The Band of Gold gig in LA – see “Archives 1998-2005!). He recounted many of the highest highs/lowest low horror stories that I experienced at that same time in ‘80s LA – and have recounted in so many of my “Almost Famous” columns – which will eventually be in MY book. BUT – another theme that seems to carry through so many of my “Almost Famous” tales of other people’s success stories: loyalty and support coming from the people in power to make those dreams come true. Yes, I said, power. As in “The Power Of Love”, which our pal Huey Lewis covered and became their first #1 Billboard single and the Oscar-nominated theme song for the blockbuster hit film Back To The Future. And Huey covered another of Alex’s songs “Perfect World” in 1988. Talk about loyalty and friendship and being in the right place at the right time! So sorry, Alex, your stories about disappointments and drugs and alcohol and gaining weight and lost solo artist deals are fallin’ on deaf ears over here, dude. Your buddy came through for YOU to the max, man! You made major bank! A place in history! Rejoice! The “Book Show” band backed Alex up on all these songs and some folks got up and started rockin’ out with ‘em and it was a big party to the end. Poor Alex was suffering from allergies and unfortunately was losing his voice toward the end but no one seemed to mind. Alex proclaimed many times throughout the night “I want to come home! Can I come back home?” to a resounding “Yes!” from his friends and fans.
After the show, Alex signed books and I reconnected with some old friends like hit songwriter Andre Pessis (Mr. Big/Huey Lewis/Bonnie Raitt) and former The Edge frontman Jimmy Dillon. It was definitely a trip down memory lane for all of us who showed up to welcome Alex Call back to the Marin County fold. Hurry home, indeed. Your Marin County family awaits with open arms.
ZOOtoberfest – SF Zoo – 10/9/11
And last but not least, I want to leave you with one of the high points of my year: headlining the Terrace Café Stage at the SF Zoo for their first annual ZOOtoberfest, a members-only affair spearheaded by Zoo manager Tom “T.K.” Kelly. T.K. found me on Facebook and came to an acoustic show of mine at a Pacifica wine bar called A Grape In The Fog. T.K. hired me to do my full rock band thang backed by the Third Thursday band with members of Iggy Pop’s and the Dead Kennedys bands (same one from the Haight Ashbury Street Fair). There were eight bands on two stages, including Shadow Canyon and Marcus Hummel and The Blues Survivors. Here are a few great shots of an unforgettable event…and like my mentor Ann Wilson and Heart, I closed with the song they opened with, “Rock ‘N Roll”!!
Playing at ZOOtoberfest!
Anybody got and comments, questions or just wanna say hi? I’ve got a brand new e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay tuned for my new website currently under construction www.kimberlyegold.com!
Till next time, faithful Heraldonians! Happy holidays!! ###