Thursday, May 3, 2012

Pheaturing Paul Myers

Hello, kids, welcome to the Phile for a Thursday, where you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy... oh, wait, that's just me. LOL. All through the month of May here on the Phile it's Star Wars Month to celebrate the movies, my one year working at the Star Wars ride Star Tours and Star Wars Weekends at Disney's Hollywood Studios.  I had a few people email me asking and commenting on the new logo's lettering. No, it's not Russian. It's called Aurebesh was a writing system commonly used to represent the Basic language. The name came from a combination of the first two letters, Aurek and Besh.  There, now you know. Anyway, today's Phile is sponsored by...

Alright, let's talk about what is happening in the real world, and then we'll get back to some Star Wars stuff.  The Secret Service announced that agents will now be assigned chaperones on certain trips. What is that? I thought the Secret Service WAS the chaperone. Did you see who President Obama brought along with him to keep an eye on the Secret Service on his latest trip? Tim Tebow.   German authorities report they have discovered digital files hidden in a porn movie that outline al-Qaida's plans for more terrorist attacks. I believe this is the first time that a porn film has ever contained a plot.  Rupert Murdoch got some bad news. British lawmakers said Murdoch is unfit to run a company. Is that news? He's 160 years old. Of course he's unfit to run a company. But perfect to run a Hollywood studio, or Congress. The report from British lawmakers was officially issued Monday. Murdoch knew about it months ago... because he hacked into their phones.   Occupy Wall Street is back. There were protests everywhere. They marched all the way to the White House. It's not easy to get all the way to the White House. Just ask Newt Gingrich.   Okay, back to Star Wars... you know I love inspirational posters, right? Did you see this one?

Well, most Star Wars fans know about the whole Han shot first, Greedo shot first debate. But when the Special Editions of the films came out, no one noticed another change Lucas made to that scene. I have a screen shot of it here, kids. 

Now there's a ton of Star Wars themed merchandise out there. It's like George Lucas will let anybody license his characters and stuff. So, through the month I will be showing you some Star Wars merch that is real, but you might not know about. Like the Zombie Wars posters which I showed you yesterday, these bobbleheads combine an awesome sci-fi movie with some classically awesome movie monsters. Yoda is a zombie, Chewbacca is a werewolf and Darth is Frankenstein. Here's the Darth one.

Alright, now from the home office on Coruscant, here is the...

Han Solo's Top Ten Pet Peeves
10. Having to live with the name "Han".
9. People always walk up to him and say, "Hey, you look just like Indiana Jones!"
8. Chewbacca won't shut the hell up! "Argghhh" this and "Arrggghhh" that.
7. Leia's finally wearing a skimpy slave girl outfit, and Han's blind!
6. Ben Kenobi's ghost always appears in his room every night saying, "Crazy old wizard, huh?!"
5. Never got money for rescuing Leia.
4. When in Mos Eisley, gay guys try to pick him up.
3. C3-PO....who the hell doesn't?
2. People who borrow things they promise not to damage and then fly them into a superweapon trying to save the galaxy (talk about inconsiderate).
And the number one Han Solo pet peeve is...
1. That damn hyperdrive never works!

Okay, everybody, brace yourselves. I have a special guest here on the Phile. He has performed all over the galaxy, from the Outer Rim to the Inner Rim, from Tatooine to Endor. Please welcome to the Phile, the Galactic Stand-Up Comedian, the one and only...

Luke and Obi-Wan are in a Chinise restaurant and Luke's having trouble. Finally, Obi-Wan says, "Use the forks, Luke."   Darth Vader and Luke. Suddenly in the middle of the fight, Darth Vader pulls Luke to him, and whispers, "I know what you're getting for Christmas!" Luke exclaims "But how??!?" "It's true Luke, *breath* I know what you're getting for Christmas." Luke tries to ignore this, but tears himself free, screaming "How could you know this?!" Vader replies, "I felt your presents."   What's the difference between a lightsaber and a Wookiee? You'd be a fine one to send after my lightsaber.   Yoda and Obi-Wan walked into a bar and bought a 5 dollar drink. Yoda, seeing that he only had 4 dollars asked Obi-Wan, "Have a dollar do you? A little short I am."   Two droids were talking. One says to the other, "Did you beat the Wookiee at Dejarikk?" And the other answers, "Yes, but it cost me an arm and a leg." Don't eat the Bantha, I'm out.

Today's guest is a Canadian indie rock singer-songwriter broadcaster and author whose latest book "A Wizard A True Star: Todd Rundgren In The Studio" is the 19th book to be pheatured in the Peverett Phile Book Club. Please welcome to the Phile... Paul Myers.

Me: Hello, Paul, welcome to the Phile. So, how are you?

Paul: Great, sorry it took so long for me to sit down with you!

Me: That's okay. So, I have a dilemma with you, sir. I wanted to feature your book "Barenaked Ladies: Public Stunts Private Stories" which is about one of my favorite bands ever, but I decided to put your most recent book "A Wizard, A True Star: Todd Rundgren in the Studio" in the Peverett Phile Book Club instead. Anyway, I still have to talk about your Barenaked Ladies book. Did they approach you, or did you approach them, Paul?

Paul: In 1998, I was living in San Francisco when I got a call from Tyler Stewart of the BNL. We said that the guys had been reading my writing in newspapers and magazines, like Electronic Musician and Mix, and wondered if I would write their biography. I thought they meant a "one-page" bio to send out with a single, but when I went to meet them, at a Warner Bros event at Alcatraz Island actually, they said they wanted me to be the point man to tell their official story, and they wanted me to be a character in the story, since we all went back to the old days in Toronto when I was primarily a musician and bandleader there.

Me: When did you first meet those guys?

Paul: I met Barenaked Ladies in Toronto in the late 80s and 90s, when my old band, The Gravelberrys (spelled just like that), was assigned them as an opening act. It was probably one of their earliest gigs in the clubs. We liked their sense of humour and adventurousness on stage. They made us laugh a bit and then they played a few serious numbers that were head and shoulders above a lot of the songs that other local bands were writing. Keep in mind that the Toronto scene had high standards for this sort of thing, Ron Sexsmith was one of our peers too, and he's considered a master.

Me: Did you do a lot of traveling with them for the book?

Paul: I actually only toured with BNL for one week (no pun intended) and even then, it was only a few interviews during that week. I was there to soak up the vibe as they enjoyed their biggest hit single "One Week". I saw them in San Francisco, at the Warfield and then two nights later, I was flying to Burbank to join the tour at the (then) Universal Amphitheater. Then I got on the tour bus with them and we drove to Tempe Arizona, then we flew to Dallas where we drove again to Austin and Houston. Kevin wasn't on this tour, he was about to deal with his cancer, so a keyboardist friend from Toronto by the name of Chris Brown (not the woman beating soul guy), filled in on those dates. We were all very concerned about Kevin's recovery, as you can imagine. I did the rest of the interviews over the phone and in emails (to fill in the blanks). It was my first book and I was very worried that I wouldn't be able to get it done on time. My editor, Cathryn France, was awesome though and would send me quotes from famous authors about finishing and deadlines. It was funny! Now, I've written three published books, and worked on two unreleased projects that I finished and got paid for. I still have to thank the BNL and Tyler for calling me that day in 1998.

Me: A few years later after it came out you updated the book, right? What was in the updated version?

Paul: What happened there was that the original, Canadian, edition came out with Madrigal Press in 2001, weeks before 9/11. I was actually in Toronto the following week trying against the odds to fulfill my interview schedule and talk about BNL in the light of the worst U.S. terrorist attack since Pearl Harbor. Surprisingly, we talked about music and healing on a few radio shows. Anyway, a few years went by, and Simon & Schuster were about to give the book its first U.S. edition so we all thought maybe it would be good to add a bit about the following albums (my book had stopped at the "Maroon" sessions) and to include some of the events of 9/11 and how they affected the band, who have probably got more U.S. fans than Canadian ones, given the size of the U.S.A. It was fun to update it, and again Tyler was key to enabling me as far as access to the group.

Me: Did you think of updating the book again? A lot has happened since that second revised book came out... I am talking about Steven Page leaving the band. That could be a whole book itself.

Paul: I guess if everyone wanted to hire me and if they felt like it was a good idea to update the book, I'd be game. I believe Steven has already begun his own memoir so maybe that will have the stuff that my book doesn't, the stuff after his departure. Maybe it will facilitate a book by the rest of the guys to answer, or augment, Steven's book.

Me: Do you still keep in touch with those guys?

Paul: Well, I talk to Tyler from time to time, and seem to consistently have email or twitter conversations with Steven. Ed is a Facebook friend too. I am friendly with all of them though, and since their producer Michael Phillip Wojewoda is my long-time best friend, I was able to drop in on them when BNL 4 (I jokingly called them the Barenak-ED Ladies) recorded "All In Good Time". They sounded great, and I guess what's happened is that Jim and Kevin are playing a greater role now in the sound, which is cool. Nice that they aren't just trying to imitate Steve's parts, and also great that Steven is writing his own kind of songs now, his "Page One" CD was very strong.

Me: You are from Canada yourself, right? What part of Canada are you from, Paul?

Paul: I was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario and lived there until my thirties.

Me: Let's talk about your band you were in that you just mentioned, The Gravelberrys. Where did that name come from?

Paul: The band name was originally The Paul Myers Band, but we weren't a blues band and people seemed to expect that from the name (ha!). So one day I talked to the band and they were thrilled that I wanted to call it a name. I'm a big fan of "The Flintstones" and there was an episode where Wilma made this Gravelberry pie, which Fred went into business selling, unsuccessfully as it happened. I love power pop bands, like the Raspberries say, and our band had rough edges and sweet harmonies, gravel = rough, berry = sweet, thus The Gravelberrys, which we spelled that way because, hey it's rock and roll, you can spell it anyway you want. I wrote the band's newsletter, the Gravelberry Pie, and as a result of that I ended up becoming a writer in earnest a few years later. So there's that.

Me: The band not together anymore, right? Any plans for a reunion? What happened to the band?

Paul: There were several entire versions of the band. I was the only constant. I wrote and co-produced it, but I didn't want to call it Paul Myers. I wanted the concept a band to be important to it. My friend Moe Berg had a band called The Pursuit Of Happiness, and I remember being impressed that it could have been the Moe Berg Band, but he wanted the band experience so he stayed with the band name.

Me: Do you still play and record with other people, Paul?

Paul: I always joke that I have too much talent, passion and experience to be able to successfully kill off the songwriting gene. So over the years, I have kept a toe in the water. Over the last few years, I've been collaborating with a similarly experienced songwriter, and former leader of his own bands, John Moremen, here in San Francisco. We write 100% 50-50, only songs which are both of us get in the final song list. Our debut album is almost done, it's called "Inner Sunset" after the San Francisco district in which we wrote most of the songs. We're working with a guy in Sunnyvale, California called Allen Clapp who is a producer genius and the main songwriter behind a fantastic band here called The Orange Peels. He's got a neat little "scene" around his label, Mystery Lawn. It's fun to be part of a scene again.

Me: When did you first become a writer? Did you go to school to be a writer?

Paul: I think, after the band newsletter, I got the bug to see my thoughts in print. I started contributing to magazines and newspapers in Toronto, and one of my first pieces was the first national interview with Ron Sexsmith for the Globe & Mail. I have no training in writing as such, but my wife is in the publishing business and I've read a million issues of Mojo Magazine!

Me: I studied journalism in my last year in school and it paid off well... having a free blog on the internet. LOL. Did you always write about music?

Paul: Music is the first thing I got paid to write about, but there's always been this nagging side that wants to move into memoir and social observation. One of my other earliest published pieces was a big op-ed about how disasters bring communities together in a unique way. That's something that I enjoyed, it had nothing to do with bands and songs, it was a societal thing. And lately, I've been doing monologues and telling stories on stage about my memories of childhood and stuff. Music is obviously a part of that, but the focus is more on humanity than historical data.

Me: Your second book was "It Ain't Easy: Long John Baldry and the Birth of the British Blues". How did this project come about?

Paul: We were living in Vancouver when Long John Baldry, who had been living there for years, died in the hospital. He was like the local rock star emeritus there, but nobody seemed to really know his story. I had pitched a book, about something else, to a publisher there and while he didn't think my pitch was for him, he turned and asked me what I knew about Long John. I told him that I knew that John had discovered and mentored Rod Stewart and Elton John, and that he had been a publicly gay man in a time when it was still illegal in Britain. The publisher said that I knew more than he did and asked me would I like to do a biography of Long John.

Me: Baldry is a big step from BNL. What made you wanna write a book on him?

Paul: The deciding factor for me was that I knew it would be way to tie together the largely untold story of the UK blues movement, specifically the part just before the Stones and Yardbirds made waves back here in the U.S. Also, I thought the social history angle was neat; this man was a six-foot-seven, white, gay, Englishman who was the unsung father of the British blues. How could I resist that story? Also I knew I'd get to talk to some cool people.

Me: You did interview some very cool people for this book, Paul. Was it hard to put together?

Paul: It was a year of seeking out contacts and then hoping against hope that people would remember John enough to want to help me tell his story. His family was helpful, after I made it clear that I wasn't trying to do a tabloid thing exploiting his privacy. Rod and Elton were the big "gets" and I was happy to see that they gave it up for John, and gave me the time with phone interviews, out of respect for their fallen mentor.

Me: How do you get in touch with these people?

Paul: Tracking down people is the great secret skill that I have. I find out who their contacts are, and also ask myself "Why would this person talk to me about this?" That helps me to approach the subjects with an idea of what they'll probably want to do. Rod and Elton, for example, wanted to pay tribute to Long John's unsung legacy. Didn't we all?

Me: The book is also about the British Blues scene which I am a huge fan of. I have interviewed a few British blues legends myself, Paul. Did you ever get to meet Baldry?

Paul: I only met Long John once. I was doing a TV show in Vancouver, Canada, and John was a fellow guest. He sang an acoustic guitar song and he seemed a lot older than his age. After the broadcast, LJB was heading for the door with his case and I just caught him and said, "That was great man, it's an honour to meet you." He was his typically charming self and thanked me, then went off into the daytime heat. I never saw him again. It was weird two years later when I was staring at these DVDs of him talking about the days on Wardour Street in swinging 60's London.

Me: What is the one main thing you learned about him in researching your book on him? I didn't know he did the voice of Doctor Robotnik in the "Sonic" cartoon.

Paul: Well, yes, I didn't know about his cartoon work, but his voice was distinctive that I'm glad he did that too. The big thing I learned was that five years prior to his "It Ain't Easy" album with Rod & Elton, Long John had had a number one hit in the UK with a light pop ballad called "Let The Heartaches Begin", written by the great Tony Macaulay. The song really confused his old fans and probably ruined his credibility in Britain. At least in the U.S.A., the Rod and Elton sessions in 1972 placed him back in the R&B sound.

Me: So, what music are you into, Paul, and who is your favorite band?

Paul: I am an incurable Beatlemaniac and that is the template for my favorite music. The songwriter craft, the pop rock with harmonies, is the DNA present in my other faves like Elvis Costello, XTC and even bands like Talking Heads. I also love singer songwriters, too numerous to mention.

Me: As the Baldry book was about the British blues scene did you mention Savoy Brown and Foghat in it?

Paul: Savoy Brown was on the scene when Baldry was going pop, and in many ways they took the torch when he split. I think John knew that if he'd done it the way Savoy did it; he'd have a different legacy. They toured together a lot in the 70's I believe, when John was moving back into the blues rock sound. I imagine they all knew each other. But I never got to interview anyone from Savoy, like Kim Simmonds or your dad.

Me: After the book came out, you needed up writing a 'script' for a Baldry documentary. How did that come about?

Paul: Nick Orchard had shot hours of interviews with John a year before John died. Nick was kind enough to make me a DVD of those so I could get John's "voice" into the text. Then Nick hired me to write his Baldry documentary that came out later. I also appeared on camera in it, as an expert.

Me: You won a Gemini for the documentary as well. Congrats. What is the Gemini award?

Paul: I was nominated for a Gemini, but I didn't win one. It's the equivalent in Canada of an Emmy.

Me: As well as writing books on music, and a documentary, you also were a judge on a Canadian TV show called "Popstars: The One". Is that like an "American Idol" show?

Paul: I was the "songwriter" judge, and since I've also produced bands, I was kind of like a non-famous Randy Jackson, the expert on the panel, dispensing advice. I was kind to the kids, I thought.

Me: How did you get to be on the show? Was it fun?

Paul: I had just moved to Vancouver and I got a call from the show's producers asking me if I could do a two week shoot, with a followup a few weeks later. They were going to fly us all across the country (Canada) for the auditions in various bigger towns. Then there was this national final show in Toronto. It was a fun thing to do and I enjoyed the cast and crew and getting an insight into the younger kids music ideas. It seemed like an experience that I'd never have again, and I have found that most such experiences are valuable even if you don't see why initially.

Me: Alright, let's focus on your new book, "A Wizard, A True Star: Todd Rundgren in the Studio". I have been trying to get Rundgren on the Phile for years, and you wrote a book on him. How and when did you first meet Todd?

Paul: I had been introduced to Todd several years earlier, in the 90's, and then again later that decade I had ended up at a party for Todd in San Francisco. Actually, when I was doing the BNL book and flying to Burbank that time, Todd was assigned the seat next to me and he and he assistant gave me a ride to the Universal Amphitheater. I have to think there was some fate involved there.

Me: Was it your idea for him to be the next book subject?

Paul: Yes, I had always wanted to discuss Todd's career as a producer and artist. I pitched a UK publisher who also thought it would be a good idea. I never do anything without getting a contract and an advance, so if they'd said no I would have done something else. Luckily they said yes.

Me: Tell the readers basically what the book is about, Paul.

Paul: My concept for the Todd book was exactly what it ended up being. I wanted to do an "anecdotal history" of Todd's production career, including his own albums as an artist, and get him to talk about all of them in order, then go to the other artists and associates and get their anecdotes to create a running "thread" in the story. Some of the stories are in their own chapters, because it was such a blast to get exclusive new interviews with Patti Smith (and the other PSG members), XTC, Daryl Hall & John Oates, Meat Loaf, Jim Steinman, New York Dolls, Cheap Trick, Grand Funk and The Psychedelic Furs. We even got Russell Mael and Earl Mankey, plus Howard Kaylan of Flo & Eddie, because Todd brought them in on "The Furs Forever Now" album. Todd let me stay at his guesthouse in Kauai, and we did interviews every day for a week in his new house in paradise. I'll never forget that. Also, the Patti Smith interview was great because I got to sit with her for an hour in Greenwich Village. Or Dave Gregory from XTC who emailed me the entire gear list for the "Skylarking" album, and told me every minute detail of their journeys to the States to do the record.

Me: How long did it take to put this together?

Paul: Overall, from research to final manuscript was just under two years. I'm still kind of amazed that this concept I had is now sitting on my shelf. And to this day musicians, engineers and music nerds (I am one) have told me that the loved my book. It's very gratifying to be "king nerd" for once.

Me: Okay, I have to mention this, Paul... recently Demon Records in the UK released the first 13 Foghat albums on CD with extensive liner notes written by you. How did you get that gig?

Paul: After the book was done, I got a call from someone at Demon Records who loved the Todd book and wanted me to do liner notes for their Todd Rundgren reissues. It was the album's he did with Bearsville Records, so after I finished, Edsel asked me if I could do more Bearsville product reissues. I said sure. One of these was Foghat. Then I had to track down whomever was still around to talk about the sessions. I really wished Lonesome Dave and Rod Price were still here, as I'm sure you are.

Me: Did you know a lot about Foghat before you were given that job?

Paul: I confess that my sum total of Foghat knowledge was the "Fool For The City" album and then "Foghat Live", which was used by the stoners in my suburbs to roll joints, not a diss to the music, the vinyl was playing on the record players! I think "Slow Ride" is a magic record. But I didn't know much about their career. So researching that was a treat and as a result I now know tons about Foghat and even feel like some of them are friends now.

Me: You did a great job, and your facts were correct. In the liner notes Foghat's drummer Roger Earl and Nick Jameson were interviewed, Paul. Did you do the interviewing?

Paul: First I want to say thank you for telling me that! I think that, much like the Baldry book, I was very conscious of getting the legacy right and it's gratifying to hear that I did. I interviewed Roger and Nick on the phone, separately, and then folded it together (as I had done in the Todd book). Those guys are still in love with the music so it was nice to get their voices into the text. I also found some quotes by Dave and Rod to cut into the text so they're there as much as possible.

Me: Were you a fan of Foghat before this?

Paul: I really only knew the two albums that I had heard, maybe some of "Night Shift" too. This was a great example of what I said earlier about taking on experiences to see where they take me.

Me: Okay, I have to ask, what is your favorite Foghat album?

Paul: I discovered the debut album, produced by Dave Edmunds who is another hero of mine. That album is pure rock and roll and very authentic, which I now know was very important to Lonesome Dave (and the others). After that, I still think "Fool For The City" is a special album. There are great nuggets on even their least popular albums. Glad I got the chance to show their legacy. Roger's still out there with a version of Foghat and I know he's very concerned about keeping the faith for the memory of Dave and Rod.

Me: So, what's next for you, Paul? Any other books planned?

Paul: There's always another book in planning, but right now I'm in a development curve, actually the story telling is a big part of my writing and I think the memoir is in my future. Not a memoir as though anyone would care about me, like a famous person, but just some first-person life stuff that may resonate with other human beings. Which is all you can hope for. Also, got to finish that Paul & John album. The songs are bigger than both of us so we have to get it out there.

Me: Thanks so much for being on the Phile and I hope you'll come back soon in the future. Next time you talk to Todd or especially any of BNL tell them I wanna interview them here on the Phile. All the best.

Paul: Thanks Jason, I will say hello for you.

There, that about does it for this extra entry this week. Thanks to Paul for a great interview. I hope I get to interview him again when his album comes out, or his next book. The Phile will be back on Sunday with Ed Valauskas, the bass player for Jenny Dee & The Deelinquents. Then on Monday it's singer-songwriter Justin Levinson and next Wednesday singer-songwriter Gayle Skidmore. Spread the word, not the turd. Don't let snakes and alligators bite you. Bye, love you, bye. And may the Force be with you.

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