Cactus emerged in 1969, following the break up of Vanilla Fudge, featuring Carmine Appice and Tim Bogert, along with Jim McCarty and (singer) Rusty Day. both from Detroit. The original line-up made 3 albums before splintering, with a few members carrying on with various line-ups and adjustments to the name. Cactus was not a huge commercial success at the time, but earned the title ‘the American Led Zeppelin’. In 2006 Appice, Bogert, and McCarty reformed the band with Jimmy Kunes on vocals (Day had been murdered in ’82), and added Randy Pratt on harmonica. Bogert retired in 2008, and sadly passed away in January of this year. After 2016’s Black Dawn, McCarty would retire, and in 2017 guitarist Paul Warren joined. Now, prior to hearing the new album Tightrope I knew very little of Warren (knowing in most recent years he played with the late Brian Howe and before then Rod Stewart). So doing a little research on him I was amazed to see just how long Warren’s career goes back (a quick check on Discogs!) and some of the other legendary acts and recordings he’s been a part of. From Motown acts like The Temptations, Rare Earth, to Funkadelic, Ray Manzarek (Doors), Tina Turner, Richard Marx, Joe Cocker, and Rod Stewart…. Frankly there was so much of interest, I wound up having to skip a few things with my questions.
His work on the new Cactus album as guitarist / co-writer / co-producer is another great step, as he helps the band put together their best album in decades.
You joined Cactus following the band’s Black Dawn album, how did that come about and were you familiar with the band or guys prior to?
I’m from Detroit, so I was familiar with Jimmy McCarty – from Mitch Ryder And The Detroit Wheels. And I was familiar with Carmine and Bogart because I bought the first Vanilla Fudge album when I would’ve been 13 or something. And Rusty Day I knew because he’d been singing with Ted Nugent, another Detroit act. And I’d seen them play at my local high school or something, so. I was patiently waiting, I was anxiously waiting Cactus when I heard about it. So I’d bought the first 2 albums, I saw them live in concert, and I actually introduced myself to to McCarty and Rusty Day the night my band opened for them at a place called ‘ The Eastown’. I was in a band called Justice at the time, I was 15 at the time and Charlie Bosssalini (who guy who got me that Funkadelic session and Rare Earth years later), was the manager of that band. And I introduced myself to McCarty and Rusty that night, they were both very nice. I was a huge fan, but I didn’t pay any attention after the 2nd album, I kinda lost interest or maybe radio wasn’t playing them much. I really didn’t know what was going on with them. But when they broke up Rusty got ahold of me and I was the guitar player in the first band he put together after Cactus broke up. So I’d already had a musical brush with them long before I joined. And then Cactus were playing in Detroit, I was in Detroit, and they were playing a place called ‘The Magic Bag‘, and Doug Podell – a program director / big shot DJ, a sweet guy in the Detroit area, asked me to join him to go see Cactus, so I went. I was really impressed by everything. And I went and introduced myself to Jimmy Kunes that night at the merch table, and he remembers this very well. And I spoke to McCarty a little bit. And I’d forgot all about it. And Carmine had asked me to do another project with him when I was still with the Mod, and it wasn’t the right fit for me, and I passed. And he called me back a few years later and asked me to do that project again , and I agreed to do one show just because I wanted to play with Carmine so bad. And we hit it off like a house on fire, playing together, I mean at the very first rehearsal we were both grinning from ear to ear. So when Jimmy decided health-wise that he didn’t want to tour any more, I get a call from Carmine, I hadn’t spoke to him, maybe in a year, and he said ‘Look McCarty’s going to have to be replaced, he doesn’t want to do this any more.’ And as I recall he said ‘if you don’t do it I’m going to break the band up, because you’re the only guy I can think of that would be the perfect fit.’ And he liked the fact that I also was from Detroit, as McCarty was. And I think not only as a hook, but I think musically too Detroit has a certain thing going on about it, very aggressive the rock players. And I hadn’t really been playing rock in a long time . With Rod I did “Hot Legs” and things like that, but most things were really kind of pop, and I certainly hadn’t been playing Hard-rock for decades, so. But being familiar with Cactus I knew exactly what they were about. So I learned the material and we did some gigs, and so after a period of time they decided they wanted to make an album, and I had a lot of riffs, some had been around – one in particular -“Preaching Woman Man’s Blues “, I wrote that in 1979, it had been sitting around for a long time. “Tightrope” – I kind of rearranged those, there’s 2 main licks in that song that I borrowed from a song I’d done on my last solo album, actually it’s from 2 different songs, so if you listen to those 2 songs you’d go ‘Oh, Ok, there’s Tightrope’. And then, of course, I wrote a bunch of stuff from scratch, as well. I brought in the riffs, Carmine made suggestions, we changed things around, we got an arrangement going, we gave them to Jimmy Kunes once they were done, and he put lyrics, melody and eventually sang the vocals to them.
Is it fair to assume you brought up the idea of covering “Papa Was A Rolling Stone”? Did you have a vision of how you wanted it to sound?
It was not. We were doing a gig in Chicago, a year or so before we actually made the album. We were at sound-check, and I started messing around with it, and you know Cactus does a jamming, and we were, I don’t even remember what song it was, we were jamming and I just started playing “Papa”, and I went up and started singing for the Hell of it, and Carmine went nuts – he loved it. So we actually put that in the show, that one time only, somewhere in the middle of it we did a little bit of “Papa”. And when we went in to record the first song was “Primitive Touch”, which as I recall, we all wrote that collectively in the studio together. And once we got that down, I think Carmine said ‘let’s do Papa’, I can’t remember if just started playing and I just started making shit up, as we went along. But I do know that we all played through it all, one time – with no arrangements, just absolutely flying by the seat of our pants. And we all got kind of excited about how it sounded, so we said ‘Hey – let’s record it!’ So that arrangement, that was no arrangement, I’ll have to learn that again to play it live, if live gigs ever start again. And we just ad-libbed that. And I’m singing half the vocals on it, that’s because Jimmy Kunes wasn’t wasn’t familiar with it, and I said ‘I’ll lay down a work vocal and you can take it home and learn the song from the work vocal.’ So that was a one pass, there was no way we were going to keep it. And everybody, including Jimmy, Carmine, Randy Pratt – they all loved my voice on it. As a matter of fact Randy was pushing really hard for leaving my vocal throughout the whole thing. Out of respect to Jimmy, and the fact that I didn’t want to have to sing it live because it’s a lot more work [laughs], I refused, I said ‘no, I’ll do it as a duet with Jimmy.’ So, my singing on that was a work vocal, no fixes, a one pass, just rough, and we went with it. And I muted myself to make room for Jimmy, and he went in and did his vocals on a separate day.
How did the Tightrope album come together – was much of it done through sharing files and info through email / online? Or was there any band collectively [in whole or part] in the studio together?
Almost all of it was cut live as a band, which was something I hadn’t done in years. It reminded me of Motown – all these guys went in the room, started bashing it out, got it together and hit ‘record’. And I might overdub a lead part or double a part, or something, but it was collective. Then Co-vid hit, and almost everything was 100 per cent done, except for – there was a few keyboard thing I wanted to hear on say “Suite 1 And 2”, and clavinet on “Primitive Touch”, and also I hadn’t laid down the solos yet before Co-vid for the song “Elevation”, which by the way was based on a riff Carmine had around for quite some time, he told me. So I hired a studio hear in Nashville, that’s run by a keyboard friend of mine – Michael Whittaker. And I went in there and laid down the keyboards, just he and I, and then I laid down the solos for “Elevation”. But, other than that everything was done in New York, at Randy’s studio. And when it came time to mix, it went around and around, because it was Co-vid time. There was the engineer – who had files, and myself and Carmine co-producing . Carmine, he was generous, I mean it’s his band – he’s Carmine, he owns the name and he’s been around a long time, but he trusted my instincts. But, like me and the engineer would discuss things and he’d send me something to listen to, and then I’d play it for Carmine and he’d say Yay or Nay. And of course, he made lots more suggestions than that, especially about his drums, his sound. Yeah, so the 3 of us mixed that, basically with files and over the phone.
You co-wrote the tracks – “Tightope” and “All Shook Up”. What can you tell me about these songs. You also wrote “Suite 1 And 2: Everlong, All The Madmen”, Can you tell me a bit about this song? What inspired lyrically, musically?
Well, I didn’t write any of the lyrics on the songs – that was all Jimmy Kunes. “Tightrope”, as I explained – there’s 2 main riffs in that song, one came from a song of mine called “Made To Be Loved” and the other one was a song of mine called “Back Where I Belong”, both from my previous solo album The Paul Warren Project, 2011. So I rehashed those riffs, and then we did an arrangement, and then Jimmy took it and wrote the melody and the lyrics. As far as “All Shook Up”, that was made up in the studio. Carmine had a beat, he wanted to use a certain feel – the drum part, and I just wrote a riff around it in the studio, and wrote some chord changes . We laid it down, and it was a bit long here and there, and I remember we cut a few little pieces out , just to make a bit more tidy , and again we gave it to Jimmy and he went home and wrote the lyrics and melody.
As far as “Suite 1 And 2”, that’s a song I had completely done, minus the lyrics. I had written it for a group here I Nashville I was producing called The Cunning, and we never got around to recording that one. So I had that sitting around, the melody, everything but a lyric. And there was a little discussion up front about that one, because Jimmy wasn’t used to singing someone else’s melodies, but I held firm on that and said ‘no, it’s got to be my melody, but go home and write a great lyric.’ – which he did! I did have some words floating around, but what he wrote was so much better, it fit the song and the mood and the style to melancholy [??]. And then his vocal performance! I must’ve told him probably ten times – It’s my favorite vocal on the record. His interpretation of the melody and the lyrics he added, I was just flabbergasted with his work on it. That’s my favorite collaboration between Jimmy and I. And Carmine had “Elevation”, he came in with the main riff, I know I added a couple of chords here and there, but that was basically his baby, but again Jimmy wrote the lyrics and the melody. So I’m a co-writer on everything but the bonus tracks. And I would say the initial ideas in, maybe 50 percent of the cases in those 10 songs came from me. But then Carmine’s a genius with arranging, he can come up with how to change things around, put them in different orders, and drop a beat and add things, you know – he’s very musical for a drummer. I’ve never met a drummer so musical. He’s not just about grooves and tempos and percussion, he’s got a great ear. Yeah, so I mean it was a collaboration musically between Carmine and I to get the tracks together, and then Jimmy put the icing on the cake.
Any insight to any of your favorite moments for you on the album – songs, performances, solos?
Well “Tightrope” attacks, right out. There’s a reason that’s the first song. Carmine and I through out ideas for running order, but ultimately I presented him with the running order that they’re in, and he agreed with it. And I know I did it a little different than him, he was looking at it from tempo-wise, you know – fast song, slow song, shuffle, straight, but I also wanted to look at it from keys, because rock riffs are often written in the same key, so a lot of the songs were in E and A, so I wanted to do it based on Carmine’s tempos and things like that, but I also looked at keys, and flipped it around. So, ultimately it just seemed that “Tightrope” was so good and so impactful that it was a no-brainer to start with that one. I’m really pleased wth the whole thing. “Suite 1 And 2” I’m partial to, and it’s the only thing that really stands out as being completely different to anything Cactus has ever done, and I was actually not sure how it was going to be received, because it was so different. But everybody was enthusiastic about it and I think everyone’s really happy with it. We spent more time mixing that than any of the others, I know that. I really love “Primitive Touch”, I just think that jumps out of the speakers as well, very aggressive and well performed, everybody killed on that one. I really like “All Shook Up”, but that riff I wrote for that I was kind of thinking of “Paperback Writer” by The Beatles, so It brought a little bit of pop sensibility there; that song’s a little poppier in general. But it’s still done the way Cactus plays, which is very aggressive. So yeah, I think stylistically that one and “Suite” are my favorites, only because they’re just so different than all the rest, but I love it all. I can tell you of the tunes I didn’t quite get finished mixing, I would’ve liked to have had a little more time, but we ran out time, the label had to have the record out, was “Preaching Woman Man Blues” and “Third Time Gone”, I wish had maybe a couple more hours for each of those, to tidy them up. But I’m still pleased with them, they still sound great. Randy Pratt plays his ass off on this record, by the way. it’s by far the best I’ve ever heard him. And we spoke last night, and he feels the same way, this is a big step up for him.
[“Shake That Thing”, I felt was such a great song]
Nobody else could make it that day, except me and Carmine; it was just he and I in the studio and he had a beat that he wanted to use. So he just started playing the beat, and I sat down and started making up the riffs and the chord changes as we were going . And we ran through it maybe once, and I said ‘Yeah, it’s all there’, so we hit ‘record’. And again, there was no arrangement , we didn’t bother, we were just jamming. We only played it twice, and the first time I made up all the changes and the riff, and we got excited, then hit record and just made up and arrangement I made up in my head, as we were going. So that was flying by the seat of our pants as much as “Papa” or “Primitive Touch”. That came from nothing, there was nothing there to be cut when we went in , and when we left that day that track was virtually done.
The last track [“Wear It Out”] features Jim McCarty on guitar and Phil Naro on vocals, who also wrote the lyrics. Were you on this track with Jim? And do you know how Phil got involved?
No, I did help mix it though. They cut the vocals. I wasn’t a party to any of the actual recording, but Josh the engineer had mixed it and sent it to Carmine, and Carmine sent it to me and asked me what I thought. And the only thing that I requested as a change was that that Jim’s solo should be louder. And I think something to do with the effects on the vocal or lack there of, or EQ or something . Primarily I just know for sure that I said ‘turn the solo up’. And then Carmine, from that mix asked me to work with the engineer to try and get a better kick-drum sound; it might’ve just been the volume. I think he asked for more volume, and it was hard to get with the way it was recorded, so I think we may have changed the EQ or something there. I never even met Phil, I wasn’t familiar with him prior to that either. I know Jimmy, for some reason didn’t end up finish writing that or singing it, and I know Carmine went with Phil.
(Bruce Pilato – I managed The Platinum Rock All Stars, which Carmine was in, along with Rudy Sarzo, and Gene Cornish of The Rascals, and Geoff Downes of Asia and Yes, and Bumblefoot on guitar. And there was one point where Jimmy wasn’t sure about his commitment to Cactus because he was doing this Humble Pie thing, that version of Humble Pie. So he didn’t want to cut this track, so Carmine said have Phil sing it, and Phil sang it…….But I’m really glad Jimmy decided to make the commitment back to Cactus, because I think that album is incredible, and I think he realizes now that Cactus is the band where he needs to be.)
(Paul continues) – I think so too. Jimmy from the get has befriended me, which was nice. I mean everyone was nice, and Carmine – I’m there because of Carmine, my respect for him couldn’t be greater, but Jimmy – when I first went out on the road he wanted to hang every night; he’d call me and we’d have a couple of beers together or something. So, we’ve been in communication a lot, last night for example we were texting back and forth for a couple of hours. But he’s in to it. There was a little tension in the mixing, you know what it’s like – the bass player thinks there should be a little more bass, the singer thinks there should be more vocal, the drummer thinks there should be more kick or something, everybody’s got there opinion, which is a difficult way to work when there’s too many opinions, but Carmine ultimately threw it in my lap and let me make the call. So Jimmy and I, there was some issues there about his vocal volume, and / or maybe the sound of it. But then about a month ago, he apparently went and listened to the whole record on a different system than he been listening to, and he contacted me that night just freaking out, and he apologized profusely for stirring anything up, just saying what a great record. He’s very excited about the record, as he should be. It’s a great record and everyone I played it for loves it. It way harder rock, I would not normally put something like that on my stereo. I listen to more song melody type of stuff – Beatles, Burt Bacharach , I’m a big Burt Bacharach fan as writer.
Recollections From Paul Warren’s Career back to his early days….
Joni Mitchell’s one of my all-time favorite artists. I mean when I was 18, on the road, I used to carry a little record player around with me, and all I listened to was For The Roses and Blue. I took those on the road with me everywhere. I set up the little stereo and listened to them on days off . She’s one of the greatest writers that ever lived.
Early influences as a writer, guitar player – favorite players, albums…
The first thing that really stands out, I mean I listened to some stuff when I was younger, rock n roll – ’50s rock, I had older sisters who bought those records, but I think it was around “Louie Louie” by The Kingsmen that I just went crazy. I guess that’s considered garage rock now, and that was the first album I bought – Louis Louis by The Kingsmen. I got a guitar when I was 12. I’ve been listening to music almost constantly since I was about 5. And I’d gone through my Elvis phase when I was quite a bit younger. My first guitar influence would’ve been Chuck Berry, and The Ventures, until Hendrix and Cream came out around ’67 and everything changed. I almost had to learn how to play all over again. As far as writers, I really got interested in songs around the British invasion time – The Beatles, obviously, but my favorite band – it’s funny in that era of the British Invasion from ’64 forward there was the standard question ‘are you a Beatles or a Stones fan?’ , and my response always was ‘I’m a Kinks fan.’ It was the Kinks for me. When I heard “You Really Got Me” I literally just about passed out – I was so excited. It just flew out of my speakers and that record has since been the clam to how that sort of guitar sound started, that distorted slap chord – power chord style of rock. Some people say they invented heavy metal, I wouldn’t go that far. And the interesting thing about that is that I’ve since read that Ray Davies when writing that song was trying to write something like “Louie Loue” . So the first song I wrote, I still didn’t have a guitar, but I wrote it in my head was kind of a Kinks rip-off, style wise. And then I got more interested in The Beatles, so I started listening to them closer – as writers. And started really writing pretty regularly around the time I was 15. Favorite guitar players to this day would be Hendrix, early Clapton, all the blues guys – BB King, Albert King, Freddie King. Peter Green from the original Fleetwood Mac was a big influence on me as well.
Working with Motown, recordings with the Temptations…
I was out playing Top 40 in a little dive bar called Jimmy’s Lounge in the Detroit area, and the bass player on that was the one that got me the gig. He was 5 years older than me and he went on to become Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band’s bass player throughout that entire era. And he and Bob both tried to get me to join the Silver Bullet Band a couple of times, and the last time was when I was 20, and I moved to LA instead with Motown. But I was 17, playing underage in clubs, and had been doing for 2 years at that point. At Jimmy’s Lounge, with Little Reuben And The Second Floor. Other than the bass player, it was a pretty lousy band, but we worked 6 nights a week, 4 sets a night. And I made a tidy 200 bucks a week at that time, which wasn’t too bad for a 17 year old. And one night on a break there was 3 guys sitting at a table and they asked me to join them, which I did. And one guy Bob Babbitt, who was a Motown bass player – there was only really 2 guys that did all the hits – Babbitt and James Jamerson. And then there was a drummer, relatively new to the Motown scene at that time, but real good friends with Babbit, Andrew White, and there was a guy named Mike Campbell (who later changed his name to Michael Champion), and he was one of the only white artists ever signed to Motown at that point. And they said ‘Look, we love your playing .’ And Babbit and Andrew White had been in a band with Dennis Coffey prior to this meeting with me, called Scorpio, and they were doing kinda like a ‘rock’ thing . And they said ‘we really want to put a band together and Mike can sing, and they said ‘do you write?’, and I said ‘yeah, of course I write’. So Babbitt arranged for some studio time , free studio time – including an engineer at Motown, late at night, I think we started around 11 at night, and I tossed in one of my songs and we cut that instrumental. And Michael Campbell had a song, and he showed me how that went, and we cut that instrumental, and at 3am, I think, we finished up with all the overdubs and everything. The engineer was tired and wanted to go home, and we never did get around to putting down the vocals on that stuff, but we did a rough mix that night, went our ways, and I got a call from [I can’t remember his name], the guy that ran Motown 9?)… Berry Gordy was the CEO – The Godfather, so to speak. And they had an office downtown and a lot of the day to day record business was run out of that office. And the head guy’s secretary called me, and he said ‘look, I’ve heard this tape, it’s surfacing around and people are handing it around at Motown, and it’s interesting – do you have more songs with lyrics and melodies?’ and I said ‘Sure’. And he asked me to come down to the office with an acoustic guitar to play him some of my material . So I showed up. And my material, the 2 songs (the one and a half I got through) – the one was called “I Wanna Die High”, which was very influenced by Hendrix -lyrics, the material like “If 6 Was 9”, all about ‘freaks flashing by, and no woman could control me’, that sort of stuff. So, I got through that one, and I’d written both of these songs when I was 16, even though I was 17 at the time, so the lyrics were pretty, let’s just say – young . And the next one was called “I Turn To Goo”, which was about having an orgasm [laughs], and I think I was half way through that one and he stopped me and said ‘I have no idea what you’re doing, I have no idea what these words mean – you’re definitely not right for this label!’. So I packed up my shit and went home. But as it turned out that tape found it’s way in to the hands of Norman Whitfield – the producer, who you know, Norman wrote and produced for everybody at Motown – The Temps being probably his biggest act. He co-wrote “Heard It Through The Grapevine” and some absolutely legendary stuff – “Just My Imagination” and “I Wish It Would Rain”. And Norman had just been trying to blend psychedelic with soul music and was calling it ‘Psychedelic Soul’, like a new concept he had come up with. So he had done that with The Temps on Cloud 9, and Psychedelic Shack. And I played rock, and the guy that played the rock for Motown at that time was Dennis Coffey, but Dennis Coffey was literally just a jazz guy with a fuzz box and a wah-wah trying to simulate rock, and Norman could hear by my playing that that’s who I was and that’s what I did. So I got home from Jimmy’s Lounge one night, at my girlfriend’s, I was living with at the time , I received a call from a lady named Asari Graham, who was Norman Whitfield’s assistant and to call her as soon as I got in and don’t worry about waking her up, so I called Asari probably around 3 or 4 in the morning and she said ‘Can you be at Motown tomorrow morning at 10am to do a session for Norman Whitfield?’, and I said ‘Of course – no problem!’ And in the meantime I didn’t have a car or a driver’s license, but I arranged for a friend to drive me down, I got there at 9am, after a couple of hours of sleep and I’d never done a session, I’d only been in the studio one time and that was with a self-contained band when I was 15, so I didn’t really know how it really all worked. But time since dictated that I be there early and ready to go, so when the guys started falling in, I was all set up and tuned up and ready to play. Looking back, it must’ve been funny then because I was looking like ‘I’m going to make a record, I’m going to be a rock star’, so I showed up in platform shoes and a green velvet suit, and my hair spiked up in the back like Rod Stewart, and they all blew in in t-shirts and jeans and whatever. And that session… you know I did a lot of recording for Motown over the years, and sessions go so fast, and Motown was doing it like an assembly line, and Barry’s since even admitted they styled their way after Henry Ford’s car factories. So we cut 3 songs in 3 hours, and as soon as you’re done with one – you’re on to the next, so you don’t often remember what you just finished. And by the time you walk out of there you might not remember any of it.
I was driving, once again, back to Jimmy’s Lounge a couple of months later, and I heard a something on the radio, and I was like ‘man – that’s familiar!’, then I recognized my own playing, and it was “Papa Was A Rolling Stone”, but not by the Temptations, it was by a group Norman had signed called The Undisputed Truth; they had a number One with a song called “Smiling Faces Sometimes”, a great song, another Whitfield song. So I heard that once on the radio, and I never heard it again. The record was a flop, and I continued doing sessions for Norman and a couple of other producers, and a session was a union day of 3 hours , and sometimes I’d work for 2 producers in one session. You’d get a flat fee for 3 hours, and another producer might come in and I’d cut something for someone else. I did a couple of albums worth of material for ‘The Undisputed Truth’. I continued recording for The Temps, as a matter of fact I was in Palm Springs about ten years ago doing a benefit concert with Vince Gill and Richard Marx, and I went in to a pawn shop and saw box set of The Temps. I picked up and went through this box set, and I’m on 7 tracks, and some I didn’t remember at all! So I bought the CD, went home and listened to it once, and was like ‘I don’t remember that song, but that’s not me’, but my name’s on there and I know my playing. But in the midst of all this, some how one of the tracks was “Papa Was A Rolling Stone”, Norman had re-written it for The Temps – the bass line was completely different , the riff was different. And I cut it with a band. Everybody knows the great thing about Motown everybody’s set up in one room, pretty much. The percussionist, and maybe the B3 (? this is a long time ago), No, it was the percussionist, he’d be in an isolated booth, and in the main room would be the drummer, the piano, the organ, bass player, and sometimes up to 3 or 4 guitar players. So I cut the track with the normal ensemble of musicians there, and then Whitfield had me come back and do overdubs, just he and I , some lead fills around the vocals, and some other stuff. Yeah the vocals weren’t on there yet, but Norman wrote and knew exactly, he dictated exactly what The Temptations sang. So he sang to me and I played around his vocals. And I did one more overdub, a rhythm overdub on it. And I had no idea at the time how monumental that recording was and how eventful it was going to be for my career. I do remember at the time I was playing at another club in the Detroit area called King Arthur’s, and the Grammies were on that night, and “Papa” won 3 Grammies that night, and between sets I would call my same girlfriend, and say ‘what’s happening?’ and she said ‘oh, it just won Best Instrumental track.. or it just won Best song..’, I don’t remember what the Grammies were for, but it won 3 of them that night. And the doors flew open. And at that point I started doing every session in Michigan, not just for Motown, but for Gladys Night And The Pips, for their producer down in New York, and every jingle, I was on pizza commercials – you name it, practically every session going down in Detroit at that time. And then Motown moved to LA, and Whitfield asked me to join him, and they put me up in a hotel, and paid my fare out there, put me on a small salary, and kept me busy with sessions to pay the bills.
Familiar with other Motown players such as Dennis Coffey and Joe Gutc?
I knew Joe Gutc before I ever worked in Motown, I only met him once – I bought a guitar off of him. He advertised it in the Detroit Free Press, and I went and bought a 1959 335 off of him for 225. bucks. So that was the first time I’d heard that name, and I didn’t hear that name again until I got to LA. I never did a session with Joe Gutc, I never saw him in the studio. Dennis Coffey, sure I did a lot of sessions, he was on a lot of them, as were Robert White and Joe Messina, and of course bass players – Bob Babbitt and James Jamerson, and Pistol Allen, Earl Van Dyke, and Johnny Griffith, Eddie Bongo (or Eddie Brown) were all the main guys, they played on everything. And Joe Gutc I never heard his name or saw Joe until I got to LA, and that was not associated with Motown.
The story behind playing on Funkadelic’s “Get Off Your Ass And Jam”.
When I was 15 in Detroit, I was managed by a guy named Charlie Bossalini, and his partner Robert Middleman. and when I got to LA in ’74, Charlie was managing Rare Earth and Parliament / Funkadelic, along with another guy. And he called me up one night in LA and said ‘Grab your guitar’, the main guitar player for Funkadelic had been arrested that night for heroin possession, and George Clinton wanted to carry on with the session, so I showed up with a guitar, they had an amp. They gave me $50 under the table, no union deal, and a big pile of white powder was on the consul, I was welcome to help myself to it, too. And they said ‘just go in and play’. The track was all cut, the last thing they added was my lead guitar. They said ‘just go in and go wild’, throughout ? the track, so that’s what I did. I got my 50 bucks, I jumped in a cab, and I went back to my apartment.
Was George Clinton happy with it?
Well yeah, he loves it. But there’s a whole mystique around that track. On line there’s been amazingly long threads about who the guitar was, and this was partially George’s fault because he wrote a book and in his book he said they were in the studio and some guy off the street walked in, a junkie, and George gave him 50 bucks to play the solo, and when he was done he left the building and he never heard from him again, he tried to find him to hire him. So I know that makes for a much better copy than the true story, but if you look my name’s on the album. And I injected into this thread arguing who it was, and fans attributed it to numerous other guitarists that worked for Funkadelic, and Bossalini the guy that hired me, actually piped in to it and said ‘No, I’m the guy that hired him – I was there’. I’ve seen George once, but I didn’t have a chance to speak to him.
A short stint with Rare Earth making the Back To Earth album –
Rare Earth had split up at that point, and a guy named Gil Bridges had retained the name. Gil was one of the original members, and primarily played a little sax and tambourine, so he had the rights to the name. And they had just hired Jerry Lacroix from Edgar Winter’s White Trash to sing, and Frosty from Lee Michael’s to drum, I was a big fan of both of those guys, and Reggie McBride from Stevie Wonder to play bass. And Charlie Bossalini, going back to Funkadelic, he was also managing Rare Earth. And I kept calling, when I got to LA, I was trying to hustle up a gig , because what had happened by this time was Norman Whitfield decided to start his own label, and he wanted to sign me as a solo artist to Whitfield Records, distributed by Motown. And he presented me with a contract, which I took to an attorney who told me I’d be insane to sign that contract. He said ‘they’re even joking about it, it’s Delirium Productions, and that’s anyone that signs them to us would have to be delirious.’ So I had to tell Whitfield that after all he had done for me that I wasn’t going to sign with him. And that ended our working relationship. So when I called Charlie, hustling for work he said Rare Earth might be looking for a new guitar player. I was actually living on the fly at that point, I didn’t have a permanent home. And I went to that audition on an RTD bus, I loaded my amp and guitar on to a bus and went to the SIR – the very first SIR in Santa Monica. I got there an hour before them, was all set, knew their material inside and out and aced the gig. And yet they were short on material and so I started writing and presenting songs and they loved them, so that was the first time I ever had any of my material on a record. The first single was one of my co-writes. And I went up to ASCAP, I was so broke, I mean God, they later told me they had no idea I’d ridden the bus and how broke I was, they said ‘you seemed to have your shit so together that we just thought we were lucky to get you’. And I ended up going to ASCAP and making a deal. I said to the guy ‘look you can have me right now for a thousand bucks’. and he said ‘I’ll give you a cheque right now for 500 bucks and I said ‘Done!’ So I signed with ASCAP. And then I got screwed because the album was in the can and then the guys in Rare Earth, the producer Stewart Levine and the leader said ‘look, we got to go back and cut 3 more tracks.’, and I was like Why?’, and they said ‘Just to add them in the can’. So we went back and cut 3 songs I wasn’t familiar with. And just before the record was record to come out and be finalized I got a call from Motown to go down to Jobete Publishing Company , and I went down and they said ‘Ok, we’re going to publish your songs’, and I was green but I had spoken to enough people who said keep your publishing that’s where the money is. And I said ‘No, I’m going to keep my publishing.’ and they said ‘we just happen to have 3 songs in the can that we do publish, and if you don’t sign with us we’re going to put those songs on the record instead of yours’. So it was obvious what I was going to do. So they set me up for that one…. We recorded them and they had them in the can because they owned the publishing on them. So it was all sneakily done. They had us record those so they could threaten me to get my publishing for those songs.
Highlights for you as a player / contributor, working with the likes of Tina Turner, Richard Marx…
Well, Tina – I cut a lot of songs with her that helped get her her record deal. And her producer, a staff producer at Capitol was a huge fan of mine and he got me in on that. So it was all me and other studio guuys, and Tina would come down and we did pre-production rehearsals for a week or 2. And I was singing background with her. Anyway, once we went and cut the tracks, and then when it came time for vocals Carter called me up and said ‘Tina really wants you to be there when she’s doing her vocals.’ So I went down to the studio and it was amazing – I’m watching Tina Turner record vocals, and between you and me, she never sang a bad vocal in her life. At one point I remember Carter asked her to do one more and when she got off the talk-back I said ‘Why?’, and he said ‘I just want to hear her sing!’ [laughs]. You know, because every one was a take. And we were down there and there was a song we’d been rehearsing and I was singing the high part on, and she said ‘I want Paul to come in and sing with me, I need his energy, it’s not the same without him. So Carter said ‘let me hook up another mic’ , and she said ‘no, I want him to sing on the same mic as me.’ So I got to go in and sing, standing right next to Tina with the headphones on, on the same mic, which was a highlight. I remember thinking ‘wow, a kid from the farms of Michigan never thought this would happen.’ Because I admired Tina’s talent so much.
Richard Marx – it’s a long story of how I got on that. I really didn’t want to do the gig, but I did it as a favor for the head of his label and his manager, because he had never done live performances. So I was hired as MD, and this was the first substantial gig I was hired as Musical Director on. So I got to hire all the musicians, I put the shows together, Richard would show up. He was there for all the first tour rehearsals, but by the 2nd tour, by that point he trusted me so much I would just go in and I’d put the show together and I’d rehearse the band, and help the lighting director put together the whole package, and then Richard would come in and I’d teach him the show. He’d signal to the band – ‘we added a solo here, blah blah blah…’ So that was exciting.
Joe Cocker – playing Woodstock. It wasn’t what I’d hoped, but it was somewhat monumental. It was a lot of fucking people there! That was Woodstock ’94. And it was Joe – and to my knowledge he was the only guy that had been there in ’69 and came back for the 2nd one. So there was a bit of history involved and I got to be a part of that.
Highlights of recording and touring with Rod Stewart
I’ll start with the highlights of the live shows. Glastonbury – my nickname for that is ‘Limeystock’ , it’s a 3 day festival every year in Glastonbury, England. And we performed there, and it was a live broadcast all through the UK , and mixed by Bob Clearmountain for TV, as it was going down live. And I had a specially good night that night. That was 115 thousand people out there holding up lighters or whatever, before cellphones became the thing…oh maybe it was cellphones – it 2001 or 2002. But just looking at that sea of light, and fortunately I was On that night, and it was broadcast live and everybody was raving about my performance the next day. And then re-showed that on Boxing Day in England, as well. I’m real proud of that night, that was a magical moment. Also we did Rock In Rio, for what that’s worth. And we did the 10th Anniversary of Princess Di’s death, at Wembley Stadium. And looking out seeing the royal kids playing air-guitar to my solos was kind of a laugh, I got a kick out of that. And with Rod wanting a Knight-hood we played for the Queen, and he was doing a lot of favors for the royal family – we played for Prince Charles – we played there for his birthday, and we stayed at one of his guest houses. Those are moments that you kind of go ‘How the fuck did I end up here?’
And I was also working for 10 years, on and off, for this very famous singer in Europe -Eros Ramazzotti , an Italian singer, and we did Pavarotti And Friends in Modena , at Pavarotti’s house, that he’d do it every year. It was us and The Spice Girls, and Celine Dion, and Stevie Wonder, and Pavarotti would always do a duet with these big stars. And Eros brought me and the piano player to play along with, using the house band. So I’m standing there on stage playing guitar while Pavarotti was singing, and looking out at an open air audience, under the stars in Italy was a moment of ‘Holy crap! How did I get here?’, ya know. It was a real moment of ‘Wake up Paul. Don’t forget this Paul, this is never going to happen again.’
As far as recording, shortly before I left him, Rod was going to do a blues album with Jeff Beck and invariably they had another falling out, so that didn’t happen. So he decided to record a blues album with his touring band, and that morphed in to anybody who had any songs, so of course, I presented some songs. And he was using Chuck his keyboard player to kind of co-produce that. And one song we cut was a cover of “Here Comes The Night” by Van Morrison And Them. Which had a great chorus, but the verses were really wordy. I said ‘How did that go?’ and he said ‘There’s too many words, I can’t sing it, I ran out of breath.’. I said ‘Well, you know you could re-arrange the phrasing on that.’ and he goes ‘What do you mean?’, and I said ‘Well, I can fix that, I can fix that in 10-15 minutes.’ So he said ‘Ok, show me what you’ve got.’ So while they were working on something else, I sat down with a piece of paper and pen, and re-qrote the lyrics, went in and did a work vocal for Rod to learn from, and he said ‘Dude, you’re a genius, you’re fucking brilliant! If you ever done work as a producer?’, and I said ‘Of course I have.’ . And he said ‘Do you want to produce my vocals for this album?’, and I said ‘Absolutely!’ So that album was called Time, it came out in 2013, and it was #1 throughout the UK, it Top 40 for something like 6 months, top 10 for over a month, and the single was #1 – and I produced the vocals on that record. So that was my recording highlight. I played on it, just not on every track, I played on a couple of tracks because he used a variety of musicians.
Working with the late Brian Howe [ex of Bad Company] –
By the time I joined Brian he was no longer in Bad Company, we were touring under the moniker ‘Brian Howe – Former Lead Singer of Bad Company’, because he didn’t get to walk with the name. He’d been out gigging under his own name ‘former lead singer’ logo for some years already. I came in and we were talking, and before I even played a note he told me I was his new musical director, just from the conversation. So I really had a good time with that, and I enjoyed the songs. I was already a huge Brian Howe fan. in the ’80s while on tour with Richard i remember hearing the song “Holy Water” on the radio, and I was ‘Holy shit, this sounds good. The singer’s insane!’ So I bought that on cassette, at a truck stop on the road, and Richard and I used to listen to it every night, the Holy Water album with Brian singing and writing, every night in the back of the tour bus. So, a friend of mine was playing bass for Brian, and he said ‘I’m going to want to get you on this gig. You’re the perfect guy.’ So I was really excited about it; I had a lot of admiration for his talent, and he was still singing his ass off. We became very best friends, we spoke every single day. And then he passed away last May, 2020. And that was that. I lost that gig, but more importantly I lost one of the best friends I’ve ever had.
*Cactus live photos courtesy of Marty Rickard, from Token Lounge, Westland, MI, April 2018.
*Special thanks to Bruce Pilato
KJJ / 05/’21