Since starting my career as a music journalist back in 1983, I’ve had the pleasure of personally interviewing some of the most famous and influential music artists and groups of all time. Among the hundreds of interviews I’ve done over the years, there are personal favorites, a few disappointments, and many, many unforgettable moments.
Every interview I’ve ever done was recorded and transcribed – a method that can be time-consuming, but one that also ensures accuracy. Below is just a sampling of some of the memorable quotes told to me on record over the past 30 years.
The late Kirsty MacColl was an English singer-songwriter best known for songs like “They Don’t Know” and “Walking Down Madison” and as the female voice on the Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York.” Her father was the late Ewan MacColl, the folk revivalist best remembered for penning the Roberta Flack hit, “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.”
“A lot of people pick up on the fact that my dad was a songwriter and assume he was a big influence,” MacColl said. “But pop music was something that my dad frowned on. He was a very political animal. Anything that wasn’t political he tended to look down on, which is why he thought pop music was a waste of time. My mom was the one who said to me ‘Don’t limit yourself to other people’s expectations of what you can achieve. Live up to your own expectations; don’t live down to other peoples.'”
– Kirsty MacColl, October 1993
When the Orlando, Florida-based rock band Matchbox 20 burst upon the scene in 1996, the group’s arrival was not without controversy. The band’s debut hit single was “Push,” the lyrics of which some interpreted as condoning violence against women. Guitarist Adam Gaynor (who left the band in 2005 after performing on the group’s first three studio albums) clarified the meaning of the song.
“We’re not the kind of guys that would ever abuse our girlfriends,” said Gaynor. “It’s a song about mental manipulation in a relationship, it’s not about physical abuse. People remember the chorus ‘I wanna push you down, I wanna take you for granted,’ but they don’t pay attention to the verses. Those lines are coming from the female in the song.”
– Adam Gaynor of Matchbox 20, August 1997
Since the mid-1960s, music legend Tom Jones has lent his distinctive, powerful voice to nearly every form of popular music – pop, rock, R&B, show tunes, country, dance, soul and gospel. He has sold over 100 million records.
“I’ve been influenced by a lot of singers, but I’ve never tried to copy anybody,” Jones said. “When ‘It’s Not Unusual’ first came out, it was being played in this country on black radio stations, because they thought I was black. I wasn’t trying to sound like any of the great blues or soul singers. I was doing it in my own way. Over the years a lot of my black fans have said I sound black, which is a big complement to me, because I’ve always been a big fan of blues, soul, and R&B.”
– Tom Jones, November 2005
The husband-and-wife duo Captain & Tennille (“Captain” Daryl Dragon and Cathryn Antoinette “Toni” Tennille) remain best known for a string of hit albums and singles recorded in the 1970s and early 1980s. Their radio-friendly pop tunes include “Love Will Keep Us Together,” “Do That to Me One More Time,” and “Muskrat Love.” Despite their Top-40 image, the duo had done some out-of-character touring and session work.
Tennille also played keyboards and sang backing vocals in the Beach Boys, becoming the one and only “Beach Girl.” Her friendship with the band led to a number of other notable backing vocal jobs. That’s Tennille, along with Beach Boys Carl Wilson and Bruce Johnston singing behind Elton John on “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me.” Even more unlikely, but adding substantially to their hipness quotient, the trio contributed vocals to Pink Floyd’s landmark 1979 album, “The Wall.”
“It was early Sunday afternoon and I walked into the studio and Dave Gilmour greeted me with, ‘Oh, I just saw you on television.'” Tennille recalled. “I thought, ‘What the hell was he watching on Sunday morning? I figured they’d all be lying around smoking dope. But he said, ‘Yeah, I saw you on “Kids Are People Too,” I was watching it with my children.’ So I guess that proves you should never make any assumptions about what rock stars are like.
“So we went in and did the work, and people always ask me what cuts am I on. Honestly I don’t know, because they didn’t have names yet. They would just have us do blocks of things – ‘ooohs’ here and ‘ahhhs’ there. But I thought the music was fascinating, and they were very professional the way the session was conducted. I just enjoyed the heck out of it.”
– Toni Tennille, February 1997
Forging a successful career as a professional musician is a difficult task for even the most gifted talents. If your father happens to be Bob Dylan, one of rock music’s greatest songwriters of all time, the inevitable comparisons might prove to be overwhelming. Jakob Dylan beat the odds, however, enjoying considerable success on his own terms with his band, the Wallflowers.
He graciously fielded a few indirect questions about his famous dad. Jakob has always had a close relationship with his father; and while the two talk regularly, the conversation is rarely about music. It’s been that way since the Wallflowers began. Bob Dylan may be one of the greatest songwriters of the rock era, but even early in his career Jakob says he never sought songwriting advice from his father.
“I’ve never done that with anybody,” he said. “All the lessons any of us are ever going to need are already on his recordings. Of course I’m able to ask questions, but it’s part of the nature of doing this that you’re stubborn, and you don’t think anybody else can help you out anyway. You want to do it yourself.”
– Jakob Dylan, May 2005
Soul legend Al Green is known among music fans for classic songs like “I’m Still In Love With You,” “Love and Happiness,” and “Let’s Stay Together.” Back in the 1970s, Green received a higher calling, and became an ordained pastor with the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Memphis, Tennessee. A 2008 interview previewing a show at Atlantic City’s House of Blues proved that you can take Al Green out of the church, but you can’t take the church out of Al Green.
“The House of Blues is one of my favorite places to play, because we can get down in the House of Blues,” Green said. “There’s like 14 or 15 of us up there [on stage]. We’ve been together like six or seven years. So we know each other. Every time I twitch my foot they know what I’m doing.
“We can really have a good time. And when you come up on our hotel floor, you don’t hear no noise, no parties, no women, no hollering and tearing up the room and trashing the hotel…. We don’t have that kind of junk. You get a $5,000 fine if you do that junk in my band. I’ll fine your ass.”
– Al Green, July 2008
Lindsey Buckingham is a singer, songwriter, guitarist, and driving force behind Fleetwood Mac. In a 2006 interview, he talked about how a listener’s perception of a song can be very different from – but just as valid as – the songwriter’s original intent.
“Sometimes I think that the songwriters are the last to know how subjective the songs are,” Buckingham said. “I can remember when we were recording ‘Rumors,’ I don’t think anyone really thought that we were addressing things specifically. Once that observation got attached to the songs as a whole, we as writers began to realize that that was probably more true than we had thought.
“The thing about lyrics is, you may have an interpretation that works for you and the set of images that you have that go along with that are completely valid. That’s the beautiful thing about poetry or lyrics – they are not really prose, they are things that can be applied to anyone else’s set of images as well. If someone were ever to have an interpretation of my lyrics, which surprised me, I would never take it as incorrect. I think that everybody’s application and understanding, and the meaning that they apply to lyrics is as valid as your own. That’s part of what’s nice about lyrics. There’s kind of a Rorschach element to the whole thing.”
– Lindsey Buckingham, October 2006
Singer-songwriter Alicia Keys has touched millions of fans with her candid songwriting. In a 2008 interview, Keys talked about the personal nature of her songs.
“Yes, the majority of my songs are definitely a — they have to be like a reflection of my life, of my experience — because that’s what drives me to write,” Keys said. “It has to be something that I understand personally, because then I can give it the truth that I understand.
“On occasion, there have been times when another person’s experience has affected me to the point where I can understand how they feel and make me write in their perspective or as an observer.”
– Alicia Keys, May 2008