Monday, October 31, 2011

Exclusive Interview: TODD RUNDGREN talks about UTOPIA reunion with Ray Shasho

 By Ray Shasho

The melodious ingenuity of Todd Rundgren will be evident when he reunites the progressive rock multi-instrumentalist ensemble Utopia for a Capitol Theatre appearance on Saturday November 5th in Downtown Clearwater.  After 35 years most of the original members of Todd Rundgren’s Utopia will be joining together on stage once more, a truly amazing feat in itself.
The tour kicks off in Hollywood, Florida on November 2nd at Hard Rock Live Seminole Casino followed by performances in Ft. Pierce, Clearwater and Jacksonville before heading north.

Todd Rundgren was inspired by virtuoso trendsetters Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Michael Bloomfield and Harvey Mandel. The Philadelphia native directed his creativities into launching the bands Money and Woody’s Truck Stop achieving regional success.

Rundgren then organized the nationally recognized Nazz in 1967. Initially formed as a psychedelic-blues rock band it discovered an array of eclectic musical styles. Todd Rundgren’s huge hit single “Hello It’s Me” was originally recorded with the Nazz in 1968. The Nazz became successful with the psychedelic tune “Open My Eyes” while opening shows for Jim Morrison and The Doors.

After Nazz broke up Rundgren recorded several solo albums under the name Runt and Todd scored commercially with his first big solo hit “We Gotta Get You a Woman” in 1971.

The genius of Rundgren became even clearer with the release of his certified gold double album masterpiece Something/Anything? The album spawned the huge Top 40 singles “I Saw The Light” (#16 Billboard) and Nazz original composition “Hello It’s Me” (#5 Billboard).

Utopia was formed in 1973 but the band’s foundation was established in 1974. Rundgren magnified his musical inventiveness by fusing progressive, pop, psychedelic and hard rock into euphonious orchestrations. The band featured Todd Rundgren on guitars and vocals, Kevin Ellman on percussions, Moogy Klingman on keyboards, Ralph Schuckett on keyboards and John Siegler on bass and cello. After 1975 the band had numerous personnel changes. Kasim Sulton bassist/keyboardist joined the band in 1976. The 2011 Utopia lineup has added guitarist Jesse Gress (Tony Levin Band). Original Synthesist Jean-Yves “M. Frog” Labat was later replaced by Roger Powell in 1975. (These members will not be joining the 2011 tour)

Utopia’s signature anthem “Just One Victory” from the 1973 release A Wizard, A True Star is usually played at the end of every concert. Rundgren’s penned “Love Is The Answer” from Utopia’s Oops! Wrong Planet album in 1977 became a huge hit for England Dan & John Ford Coley in 1979 reaching number #10 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts.

Todd Rundgren maintained a highly successful solo career while recording and performing with Utopia. In 1978 Todd Rundgren released the sentimental “Can We Still Be Friends” becoming #29 on Billboard’s Hot 100.
Throughout the 70’s and 80’s Todd Rundgren established himself as an industrious musical genius in the recording studio producing and engineering for legendary artists including classic albums Straight Up by Badfinger, Stage Fright by The Band, The New York Dolls, We’re An American Band and Shinin’ On by Grand Funk Railroad, Bat Out Of Hell by Meatloaf and Skylarking by XTC. A full list of Todd’s credits are listed here on allmusic. Rundgren also contributed his extraordinary skills as a first rate musician and composer to a legion of legendary artists.

Utopia’s progressive rock improvisations landed the group cult status throughout its tenure. The groups lone Top 40 hit was “Set Me Free” from their most commercially successful album Adventures in Utopia in 1980. However the band held numerous AOR (album orientated rock) successes including “Caravan,” “Love In Action” and “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” a proverbial favorite on MTV.

In 1983 Todd Rundgren wrote “Bang The Drum All Day” All the instruments on the song were performed by Rundgren. The tune is widely heard at professional sporting events around the country and used on TV commercials and movie trailers.

Utopia split up in 1986 and reunited briefly in 1992. But now in 2011 Utopia is back!

Last week I had the rare privilege of speaking with Todd Rundgren from his home in Kauai Hawaii.

Here’s my interview with legendary musical innovator/ musician/singer/ composer/ multi-instrumentalist/ record producer/ recording engineer/computer programmer/ and just a cool guy Todd Rundgren.

Mahalo Todd!


I spent my honeymoon on Waikiki Beach and I’m assuming that Kauai is nothing like Oahu?

“Yea Waikiki is the big city it’s pretty rural in the outlying islands and nice and quiet.”

When I visited Honolulu, it was a much bigger city than I had imagined.

“It gets busy down there and they have some of the world’s finest (Laughing) street women, the ladies of the night. It’s all a Waikiki phenomenon.”

You’ll be performing the first four dates of the tour in Florida including a stop at the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater on November 5th. For some reason Florida is usually last on the totem pole when it comes to concert tours but that’s not the case with a Todd Rundgren tour.

“I’ve had a degree of work in Florida for reasons that I can’t fully explain. There’s a whole gap of states that I barely ever get to Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina and places like that and for me the south is like Richmond Virginia and Atlanta and it’s kind of an outpost and we don’t always get to it because the routing doesn’t always work out but fortunately we’re kicking off this tour in Florida.”

I understand your son Rex has been trying to make a career in baseball, does he still play ball?

“Yea he still plays but is in an Independent League now. He’s actually on a Canadian team this year. It’s a league that kind of spans borders I guess they merged together a bunch of Independent leagues and they’ve got teams in Canada and other teams on the west coast a team or two in Mexico and they even go as far west as Hawaii.”

What position does he play?

“Shortstop he’s always been a middle infielder. He handles it well he’s good at it and that’s why he’s still playing.”

Did you help coach him while he was growing up?

“No I can’t say that. (Laughing) I was never much of a baseball fan so I didn’t even know what to look for it was his high school coach that discovered his talent and lead us into it.”

How many children do you have?

“I have five and they’re all pretty much grown now the youngest is nineteen.”

Are you a Grandpa now?

“Yes I am and have been for quite a while now.

Many of the original Utopia members will be reuniting for the first time in 35 years or so?

“I don’t know if we’re celebrating an actual date when the band came together it was kind of an organic thing anyway we don’t even remember what the first date was I do recall many of the band members played on a gig that we did in Central Park that was mostly around my material we had yet to record an actual Utopia record. As I recall I did have most of the members that would actually end up in the band. A lot of the guys were playing on my records and doing gigs with me so Utopia kind of came together as a process I guess rather than declaring that we were a band.”

It’s quite an accomplishment just getting everyone back together again.

“Yea it is remarkable that everyone is still playing. And I don’t want to say it’s remarkable that everyone is still alive but most of us are up in our 60’s. But the fact that everyone is still doing gigs and is ready to play this music again like it’s suppose to be played that’s probably the most remarkable thing.”

You know it’s a real shame that there is so much bitterness that still exists between members of those legendary bands. A group that comes to mind is Grand Funk Railroad all the original members are still  playing and touring yet I spoke with Mark Farner recently and the vibes that I got were they’ll never get back together again and it’s a shame because the impact would be huge. 

“Yea I wonder baggage I guess for some acts and sometimes people don’t see the musical necessity they might be doing other things and I could understand that. This version of Utopia certainly hasn’t worked together for more than thirty years and it wasn’t like I was sitting around wishing the band would reform it was a series of circumstance that made it possible. Most likely this will be the only time that we ever do this it’s not going to turn into an endless string of touring.”

Were there intense rehearsing and preparations for this tour?

“We have yet to do our rehearsing. Well we played together for over two nights in January last year it was a benefit for one of the guys in the band who is having some medical issues and particularly the audience response that’s what spurred the idea of possibly doing more and it’s taken this long to find the circumstance to do that and one of the objectives was to play at better than we did over the two nights."

"Essentially because of me having flights cancelled on consecutive days we were supposed to get like three days of rehearsal in and instead only got a couple hours of rehearsals in. So as much as everyone was sort of enjoying the performance I know I spent the whole time just trying to grab fragments out of the air and not really feeling that confidant in what I was playing. So that was kind of the number one thing for me if we were going to do this again we would get some serious rehearsal in and that starts next weekend. So we’re going to get hopefully at least three solid days of rehearsal in before we do that first gig in Florida.”

Progressive Rock Music is so convoluted I compare it to working complicated mathematics problems.

“Part of Progressive Rock is the challenge of playing it physically but the other significant aspect is remembering. (Laughing) There’s lots of little details often and for me the biggest challenge is what comes next and making sure that I’ve got my head in the right space.”

That’s got to be a huge challenge after all these years to be putting all the pieces back together again right?

"Yea, as I said fortunately the other guys in the band they don’t tour as much as I do but they do get together with some regularity in a club in New York City and play this music so they’re pretty well familiar with it if I’m not."

Is the show going to be all Utopia material or will there will some of your solo material as well?

“Well we did do other material other sort of non Utopia material when we did the gig in New York. We have essentially two albums worth which where if you add them together it’s about a two hour show. So we’re going to try and learn everything that we use to know. (Laughing) And play that as well as we can and that of course includes certain oddments like our version of The Move’s “Do Ya” and “Something’s Coming” things that aren’t necessarily Utopia originals but we enjoyed playing live.”

It’s got to be great fun playing Progressive Rock Music because there’s plenty of room for improvisation.

“Well that was kind of the issue with our shows back in the day our shows use to go on for four and half hours sometimes because we had a guitar player and three keyboard players and everybody would take a ten minute solo on every song. The thing that’s different nowadays is that in all likelihood most of the audience won’t be on acid. (All Laughing) So they will notice how much time is going by compared to the old days when nobody noticed when five hours went by.”

Like earlier Pink Floyd concerts. I witnessed the heaviest intake of drug at Floyd shows, more than any other event. 

“And Grateful Dead shows were notorious for the combination of both the consumption of the contraband and the shows that go on forever.”

“But I think part of the appeal of this is the music of people’s youth and it’s an opportunity for them to go out and relive that youth in a way.”

Veteran musicians like Tony Levin continue to push the envelope with new Progressive Rock styles and collaborations. Do you hear Progressive Rock in today’s youth? 

“I guess there’s some contemporary bands that you could say qualify as Progressive Rock like Coheed & Cambria and some that aren’t actually Progressive Rock but base themselves on Progressive Rock bands of the past. It all depends on what the kids are into. Music is driven pretty much on what a younger audience wants to hear. So if they get bored with their Lady Gaga’s and such maybe they’ll see Progressive Rock is hip.”

I’ve enjoyed the way technology has evolved and I know that you have as well. Of course it’s much easier now to record and view the music that we love so much and the sound is incredible. But there are other aspects of the music industry that should probably go back to the basics.

“It’s hard to get like a traditional sort of record deal like multimillion dollar seven album deals don’t exist anymore. It’s also an era where there’s a lot more opportunities to promote yourself that didn’t exist during the heyday of the record labels. There’s YouTube now and people build entire careers on one video phenomenon or something like that. So while it’s kind of sad that it isn’t the way we remember it it’s really kind of what the record industry decided to do and I guess the evidence now is what they decided to do was not a good thing for them I mean the music will survive even the music industry.”

“But I think the biggest difference is there are eras in which music is kind of a center of life especially for younger audiences formative and developing an image of themselves but most important have the disposable income so fashion and music and film and everything tries to appeal to them and when we were growing up music was like the most important thing and there have been occasional eras where the music might have been the most important thing for a segment of the youth population like when Punk Rock was out and everybody wanted to put glue in their hair that’s youth and rebellion.”

“I guess the bigger problem is that youth actually runs things now. Everyone’s come to realize in a relatively wealthy society in which children are kind of doted upon and they don’t get a dollar for an allowance they get a hundred dollars for allowance and when kids have that much disposable income everything is kind of designed to appeal to them. When we were growing up it was like you young hippy kids don’t know anything blah-blah-blah so that created a polarization with the older generation and made music take on a greater significance. It’s like the South Park episode where Stan’s dad insists that he is going to like the kid’s music because that keeps him young even though listening to it makes him puke. So he likes it anyway. If you like what the kids like you’re automatically young.”

You’re right it doesn’t seem like the music is important today as it was with us. To me most of the popular music played today resembles dance music and just a variation of Disco.

“Yea that’s because there’s no sort of real fad like Grunge or Gangster Rap or whatever it is. We’re kind of in like a space in between and dance music is always there. It goes and like hides in Europe. Mostly it hides until there’s a barren space for it to come back again and that’s what’s been happening recently there’s no real kind of movement in music.”

Every time I have this discussion I always blame radio’s lack of effort for promoting good music.

“Well there is satellite radio which does really well for me. I get played a lot on satellite radio probably way more than terrestrial radio. But the part of the reason why the whole musical milieu is the way it is -is because of decisions that radio and record labels made in collusion with each other that they thought it was a great way to make money but all those decisions weren’t based on musical merit they were only based on advertising models and things like that. How do we coax money out of these kid’s pockets even if the music that we’re playing is really horrible. And ultimately what they did was engineered their own demise. At the same time they were refusing to adapt to new ways of listening to and acquiring music that have become the daily habits of listeners nowadays and that’s why people don’t listen to albums anymore because its impractical to download an entire album into your phone. So people are going back to just downloading songs. But I don’t think things are going to get stuck in that rut forever.”

The entertainment value of Radio and Television has also suffered because of the excessive advertising. I know the original idea for creating Radio and Television was to sell advertising but the entertainment side of it is all but vanished. 

“Radio threw itself whole heartedly into that when they started doing things like applying market analysis for the radio listening audience. Every time a potential single was going to get released the very first thing that they would do was to send it to Arbitron to get rated and if it didn’t get a high enough number then the single wouldn’t come out. I lived through that. I lived through the excuse of while we paid them five thousand dollars that people with little dials listen to the music and tell us whether they liked it or not. So everything is a product of a so called representative audience and nothing unusual ever finds its way onto the airwaves.”

I always questioned the validity of the Arbitron and Nielson rating system anyway. We were selected to be a Nielson family once and it was kind of an antiquated way to truly rate the programming.

“And they don’t really care if you like the shows or not they just want to know if you’re watching. So they figure if people are watching then we keep doing this and if people aren’t watching then we change what we’re doing. It’s been proven time and time again that it doesn’t necessarily always recognize things that are going to appeal if not to the entire audience to a very intensely devoted audience. It’s like what happened to Family Guy they got dropped from Fox and built an entire new audience from the ground up on The Cartoon Network. And nobody realized that they could have the potential of this incredibly devoted fan following. That’s more important than numbers of people it’s really important to have really- really devoted people because those are the ones who can be counted on to watch the show every time it comes on and be subject to all the advertising.”

I talked with Tommy James (Shondells) recently and he believes that we’ll see some kind of music subscription on your television one day soon where you can download all types of music from your TV remote.

“I think he’s substantially right in one regard and that is that in the long run people will prefer to have a subscription kind of model to music as opposed to this song at a time model which is kind of what killed the music business in the first place. How did the music business wind up so on the ropes and yet Television keeps expanding and adding more programming and stuff like that. Of course TV is based on a subscription model you pay a monthly fee and you watch as much or as little as you want and what that does is guarantee income to all the producers of Television just by virtue of the fact that somebody is paying a monthly cable bill and music needs the same kind of thing. What a subscription based model does is exposes more unusual things to a broader audience because people aren’t thinking this is going to cost me money to listen to they can listen to anything they want all they have to do is pay their ten dollars a month. I have a Rhapsody subscription and it’s the only place that I go to get music and I never have to think do I want to listen to this or download this or download that I can download all of it. I can just forget it and it will still be there if I want to go find it again later.”

“But the whole idea of being able to instantaneously purchase stuff is not simple but you can easily sort of do that they’ve got APS like SoundDogs where you hear something in a restaurant and you say hmm I like that I wonder what it is and you just hold up your cell phone and it identifies the music that’s playing. And then usually the next step is okay now that you know what it is there’s a button there that’ll take you to Amazon or the Apple store or something like that then to complete that transaction. So that’s becoming a more common place thing. The underlying model though is the one that I’ve always been concerned with which is whether it’s a subscription based thing or a commoditized thing and I’ve always felt that the commoditized model was the ultimate downfall of the music business.”

Napster comes to mind when you speak about the demise of the music business.

“Napster was the first service to sort of demonstrate that delivery was possible and that there was audience demand. And the music business did what it always done and they’re incredibly stupid in this regard. What they’ve always done is try to impede progress rather than try to understand the audience dynamic. How is this going to change the audience is the audience going to adapt to this. There’s always some unruly thing that they’ve been trying to control. And they just completely misread it or decided no we’re going to not allow the system to change and therefore no one will have any of these choices and that’s when somebody like Napster steps in and says hey anybody with a computer you can now download music regardless of what your freakin’ record company say. And suddenly the audience once they realize they can do this takes to it so avidly that the record companies are caught so completely flatfooted they have no idea how to exploit it because their only strategy was to try to prevent it from ever happening. And there it is it’s happened already. You can’t put it back in the bottle. And unfortunately instead of adapting to it and trying to figure out how to use it by the time they got hip to what was going on their lunch was already eaten and they were out of business.”

Is there any way to get that excitement back in music again the way it was back in the 60’s and 70’s, is it even possible?

“Like I said I think a lot has changed so nothing is going to be exactly like we remember it. It’s going to be potentially some variation like I said about The Beatles when they came out it was more than simply a new musical phenomenon they had their hair long and suddenly everybody wanted to grow their hair and this came up against a whole cultural means about what you were allowed to look like in public. People don’t recall but everybody pretty much was striving to be identical up until The Beatles appeared and then everybody was striving to grow their hair. But there’s something that goes completely counter to the current means and that is driven by a musical subculture. It isn’t necessarily musicians but a subculture that makes music.”

“The Viet Nam war and essentially what characterized youth attitudes and things like that were old people sending young people off to die and that’s enough to get your dander up.”

I’ve always admired Producers like you who are brought in to work on an album and then it becomes a classic. Very few people can do that and you seem to have a knack for it. 

“Well I can’t always do it. It’s just that sometimes you have all the necessary pieces. Sometimes you do have the necessary pieces but it just doesn’t work out. I’ve had some great albums come out by various artists and they don’t for some reason connect with either with the audience or the people who have to expose it to the audience that’s always disappointing but it is a phenomenon. There are lots of superior products that fail in the marketplace for whatever reason like the DeLorean.”

Who were some of the Producers that you admired?

“Well of course no one knew who a Producer was until George Martin so you would have to like start there. Nobody thought about what goes into making a great record even Producers historically especially in the U.S. had a different kind of function they were mostly in the studio to see that the recordings did not go over long and over budget. And I know that the very first Producer that I worked with I had high expectations of what his role was and finally discovered once we got into the studio that he was this old school Bean Counter and really contributed nothing. So I think in the long run becoming a record Producer and that whole definition changed as time went on and plus what the role of a Producer is -is completely different depending on the context. I know Producers who know very little about music per se but know how to get it out of people. They know how to get people to perform in the studio and that’s as important as anything.”

“A lot of Producers who’s works I’ve appreciated and maybe even gone to some lengths to incorporate Steve Lillywhite was a great Producer he had a characteristic sound at the time that he was at his height of Producer nobody else was able to recreate. And plus more importantly I think an ear for talent I guess knowing what a good song is knowing what it takes to make a good song I’ve always felt the material was the most important aspect that the Producers ear has to first of all focus on the material and then second of all worry about how it sounds.”

I’ve watched a lot of Beatles documentaries and had the rare privilege of attending a live lecture by Sir George Martin and it is truly amazing when he demonstrates the before and after on a Beatles album in the studio. He was definitely the fifth Beatle.

“Also the records that he was not involved always seemed to have less of certain things that you were expecting like The White Album as opposed to Abbey Road. The White Album what it seemed like was a disorganized jumble of ideas and when you learned later how they actually did the record you realize it was a disorganized jumble of ideas. I mean they would come in one at a time maybe two at a time and play something on one of the tracks probably half the tracks on the record involved one Beatle only doing everything himself and maybe asking just for a little bit of help on something or sing some background vocals on my song so it still sounds like The Beatles.”

“Then you take a record like Abbey Road which everyone thinks is maybe the height of The Beatles skills in the studio and that was when they decided to get back together again with George Martin.”

Todd you’re somewhat of an enigma because you compose and can play all the instruments on your recording and then produce it.

“I grew up in an era where you could. The costs for recording equipment was going continuously down and so I was able to relatively early part of my career build a studio of my own and to do sort of like experimental things that weren’t possible or encouraged at other studios and learned a lot that way because it was such a hands on experience.”

How did you first learn how to work in the studio was it basically just diving in and then trial and error?

“Pretty much you’ve got to put your hands on the console. I recall when we were first doing demos and things like that trying to get signed as the Nazz we’d be in a lot of union studios where nobody was even allowed to touch anything on the console or they would call union breaks every two and a half hours. You’d just starting to get hot and then they’d say we’ve got to call a session here that sort of thing. So the idea of having free reign in the studio total Carte Blanche that was relatively new I guess and I took some of the first money that I ever made and reinvested and built a studio for myself and it made a big difference.”

Didn’t you do a cover album recently devoted to Robert Johnson tunes?

“Essentially I did an album called Arena when we found a distributor for it they said okay we’ll put this record out but we want you to record an album of Robert Johnson songs because we’re administering the publishing and that’s a way for us to make some money and also we could possibly get master licenses so I said okay I’ll do that and then for like two years I promoted the record on the road and they kept pushing the release date back. So finally I gave up promoting on the road then they released the record last spring and since then I’ve been doing other things. Yea I did my stint as a blues man for awhile. So now I’m back to less bluesy concerns. I actually had another album come out this year and I’m not promoting that one either.” (Laughing)

Is that the [re]Production album?

“Yea it’s mostly dance versions. I wanted to make a contemporary sounding record so it’s kind of like a study in production and that also was a record that was done under a more or less unusual mandate it was a recording camp so the record also includes performances by campers who showed up and auditioned on various parts of the record. The problem is that it is a dance record and I have no idea how to promote it. (Laughing) It’s just out there and we’ll see if anything happens if it does happen I’ll figure out a way to turn it into a show.”

The album is essentially covering the music of the bands you produced in the studio, artist like Grand Funk Railroad, Meatloaf and you do a remake of XTC’s “Dear God,” I was on a huge Dukes of Stratosphear kick back when they were releasing albums and most people never realized that they were actually XTC.   

“They had no touring life. Andy had this debilitating stage fright so the band members never went out on the road they only made records. When they put out an XTC record and it’s not time for another one then they just changed the name of the band.”

One last comment, I really enjoyed the segment you did on Live from Daryl’s House with Daryl Hall.

“And that’s going to be on the air now on the actual Television. I’ve done the show twice and the latest one was at my house. The first one was from Daryl’s house in Connecticut and more recently from my house here in Kauai.”

It was cool to watch you singin’ and chillin’ at your home in Kauai.

“The reality of it is I can’t get any work out here so I’ve got to hit the road.” (Laughing)

Todd thank you so much for chatting with me today it was a great pleasure.  I’ll see you in Clearwater Florida on November 5th.

“Thanks Ray I’ll see you when we get there.”

Special Thanks goes out to Lynn Robnett of Panacea Entertainment, Mary Lou Arnold and Billy James.

Todd Rundgren’s Utopia will be performing at the historic Capitol Theatre on Cleveland Street in Downtown Clearwater on Saturday November 5th. I have been advised that Todd Rundgren's performance at the Capitol Theatre is SOLD OUT!
More Utopia Florida dates
November 2nd Hollywood, Fl -Seminole Casino- Hard Rock Live
November 3rd Ft. Pierce, Fl -Sunrise Theater
November 6th Jacksonville, Fl -Florida Theater

Order Todd Rundgren’s latest album [Re] Production at

Todd Rundgren official website-

Order columnist/author Ray Shasho’s great new book Check the Gs -The True Story of an Eclectic American Family and Their Wacky Family Business at,,, or Great holiday gift!

“I found Check the Gs to be pure entertainment, fantastic fun and a catalyst to igniting so many memories of my own life, as I too am within a few years of Ray.  So to all, I say if you have a bit of grey hair (or no hair), buy this book!  It’s a great gift for your “over-the-hill” friends, or for their kids, if they are the history buffs of younger generations trying to figure out why we are the way we are.”~~Pacific Book Review

Contact Ray Shasho at

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Todd Rundgren and Utopia at the Capitol Theatre Clearwater 11/5/2011


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Kim Wilson interview: 'We played straight blues and we were militant about it'

By Ray Shasho

This Friday, October 28th, The Fabulous Thunderbirds will be performing a free concert on Cleveland Street just outside the doors of the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater highlighting the Blast Friday festival. The event is held every fourth Friday of the month. The street fair kicks off at 5:30 pm with entertainment ending at 10:00 pm. Blast Friday is a production of Ruth Eckerd Hall.

Don’t miss this rare opportunity to witness one of the greatest blues harp (harmonica) players in the world. Legendary bluesman Muddy Waters said Kim Wilson was “The greatest harmonica player to come along since Little Walter.” Wilson says, “Muddy Waters was my biggest mentor. He really made my reputation for me, and that was a fantastic time of my life, being associated with that man.”

The Fabulous Thunderbirds began as a straight blues band over thirty years ago in Austin Texas. The original lineup spotlighted Kim Wilson’s blue-eyed soul vocals and proficient harp playing accompanied by the great Jimmie Vaughan (Stevie Ray Vaughan’s brother) on guitar.

Kim Wilson’s soulful vocal styles were prominent on the Fabulous Thunderbirds most commercially successful release Tuff Enuff in 1986. Produced by Welsh rocker Dave Edmonds the album conceived Wilson’s penned “Tuff Enuff” (#10 hit on Billboard’s Hot100) and Sam and Dave’s “Wrap It Up.” The T-Birds undeniably brought the blues back to contemporary radio.

“Tuff Enuff” was featured in the film Tough Guys starring Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. It was also spotlighted on the Ron Howard comedy film Gung Ho starring Michael Keaton and numerous occasions on the TV sitcom Married with Children.

Co-Founder and guitarist Jimmie Vaughan exited the band in 1989. Vaughan’s brother guitar virtuoso Stevie Ray was killed in a helicopter crash in 1990.
Throughout the 80’s and 90’s the T-Birds toured extensively supporting bands like The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton.

The soulful crooning of Kim Wilson and the amazing players of The Fabulous Thunderbirds continue to astound its audiences worldwide. The T-Birds frequent blues festivals and perform over 300 dates consistently year round. Wilson also tours with Kim Wilson’s Blues All-Stars.
The T-Birds played the Sarasota Blues Fest in 1997 with the Bobby “Blue” Bland and the Tampa Bay Blues Fest in 2009.

I recently chatted with Kim Wilson while he made breakfast at his home in Southern California.

Good morning Kim thanks for being on the call today.

“It’s my pleasure Ray.”

The T-Birds are currently on a mini-tour and you’ve recently played a bunch of casino dates. It seems a lot of artists these days enjoy playing those venues. What’s your take on playing casinos?   

“Well they pay good and it’s really just a great situation. I mean the room is usually really nice and all you have to do is walk down from your room to play. And usually it’s a real nice dressing room you know it’s a great situation and people are very comfortable there. They can go out and gamble or do whatever they want. They can get in the day of the show and play some golf or whatever and I love doing them. Those are great gigs it’s basically a form of playing clubs on steroids. The facilities are always great and of course there’s always free food and you get a sort of suite and perks on the golf course.”

The T-Birds are going to be touring Australia in April of 2012.

“I went down to Argentina a few months ago and that was awesome. The harmonica down there is kind of a classical instrument. I mean they have actual Masters that teach the young people how to play. People that are taking lessons actually study the harmonica. It was very interesting they play chromatic down there. I heard about it from my friend Rick Estrin who plays for the Nightcats.”

“But Australia is going to be really nice I haven’t been there for awhile. The Byron Bay Blues Fest is a great festival in a great area it’s just beautiful. You know one nice thing you get to go all over the world and see some great places it’s a pretty good life in that way.”

You’ve got a separate band of musicians that your touring with called Kim Wilson’s Blues All-Stars. How does that band contribute to your musical repertoire?

“It’s real traditional but it rocks out too. It’s a really interesting thing. I would call it less of a hybrid and then the T-Birds. It’s really more straight ahead blues. Although when the T-Birds play blues it’s straight ahead and then can really do it. The Thunderbirds can do a lot of things a lot of different kinds of music they’re very good musicians. You know younger guys and most of the guys in the All-Stars are mostly older guys but don’t tell anybody. (All Laughing) They all had that Cadillac Records movie a few years ago and we all did really well on that and a couple of them got Grammy’s out of it and we all got nominated and that was great. It’s just a very-very good band.”

You’re a pretty athletic guy aren’t you?

 “I’m injured man I hurt myself.”

What did you do?

“I injured myself swinging a golf club believe it or not. I play basketball with these young guys you know and I don’t get injured. I go out swinging a golf club and I get injured.

So you play basketball with the younger guys, man that can be brutal.

“I can run with them and that’s hard to do at my age. They have no idea how old I am. They think I’m way younger than what I am.

Did you play a lot of basketball when you were a kid?

“I played football when I was a kid. Yea I played football out here in Southern California. Captain of my high school team and played all three years. I played every play of every game. Yea I played both ways I played offense and defense and I was a punt returner kick returner. The only team I didn’t play on was the field goal and kickoff team. I had scholarships to play ball but you know the writing was on the wall for me and I just started playing music. I mean if I was the size that I am now back in high school I would have been on the line. (All laughing) But I had a lot of fun and it taught me a lot of things. I was an athlete my whole life and I was also a musician and an artist and started playing music when I was about nine years old in Detroit. We had mandatory music a couple times a week in Michigan at that time and a guy would come in and tell you to play your little Tonette and play a little “Sweet Potato.” Can you imagine thirty kids playing that all at once? I can’t even imagine right now.”

“One day the music teacher comes in and he brings in a couple of horns and gets me and this other kid out of the class and hands me a baritone horn and says play it. So I played it. I played it the first time I touched it. I ended up on the trombone and I was successful for a kid. When we moved to California I played for awhile and then I stopped because I wanted to play sports you know. I was a kid!”

“Then I’m in high school and out here in California in the early 60’s and it was incredible what was going on out here. It was nuts! There was nothing like it anywhere people were coming through constantly all the blues guys so many of them and so I just became a pest. I picked up the harmonica and that was another thing that I had an affinity for and I could already sing so basically without practicing very much or at all I’m in a band. I’m the singer in the band and the harmonica player.”

So did you play blues in your first band?

“Yea we played straight blues. We didn’t have a rock and roll background. We played straight blues and we were militant about it. It was 1968. I played with the three Silva brothers. Rob on drums Marcial on bass and George on the alto saxophone. I had this kid named George Reilly on guitar he was sixteen years old and I heard he’s not alive anymore but he was an incredible talent. If he’s alive and playing he’s got to be unbelievable but I don’t think he is according to what I’ve heard. Back then he was a wino when he was sixteen. He had a serious wine abuse problem. Smack was the drug of choice and a lot of people were on it. But there was just so much stuff like that going on it was just incredible.”

What were some of the bands you emulated growing up in Southern California?

“Musselwhite use to come into town all the time he must have been just a kid back then. He was just a kid back then for sure. We’d go down to see Paul Butterfield also and then George “Harmonica” Smith started coming around and all these other people. Within a year after I started playing I was playing with Eddie Taylor, I was playing with Furry Lewis, Johnny Shines, I mean I was playing with all these guys just a year after I started. And then after that I got to know Albert Collins and Pee Wee Crayton. I met John Lee Hooker back then people like Luther Tucker there was a guy named Hi Tide Harris and of course George

“Harmonica” Smith and then there were people like Phillip Walker who just passed away recently.”
“There was this guy named Harmonica Frank you remember him? He was a white guy with a crew-cut that played the harmonica in his mouth and sang with the harmonica in his mouth. He had big race record hits and they thought he was black back in the 50’s. Look him up Harmonica Frank Floyd. His race records were blues and “Howlin Tomcat” was one of them and the way he sounded with the harmonica in his mouth he sounded like an old dude from the plantation and he probably was from the plantation actually. Harmonica Frank I don’t know what he did but he was probably a migrant worker. I think he could have been. I knew about this guy because my buddy was his pen pal and he would communicate with this guy like back in the 60’s and he communicated with this guy and his wife would write the letter for him because he couldn’t read or write. But he would sign his name and I’ll never forget it because Frank Floyd the n was backwards. But this guy was incredible he would get up there and do animal calls he was like a vaudevillian guy. In your career when you meet people like that it’s pretty Far Out!”

“So you meet all these people in your career and then you come along and later on in life people start recognizing you and start getting sessions with really cool people like Clapton like Kid Rock and I did Raphael Saadiq that just came out off Austin City Limits and I’m in a couple of those songs. And I’ve got Mark Knopfler coming up at the end of November I had to fly over to England to do it. And of course I’ve been on a couple two or three records with Bonnie Raitt and people like Paul Simon just a lot of different stuff.”

I’m originally from the Washington DC area. Bonnie Raitt was already legendary in DC before she made it big nationally so I’m naturally going to be partial to collaborations with Bonnie. I’d love to see the both of you take it on the road together. 

“I’d love to do it. Maybe once she gets her record out I can do it. It would be great to do that because she’s really a dear friend of mine and I don’t see her very often. And she’s so talented and personable. She’s able to get so connected with people and that’s awesome so many entertainers don’t have that.”

The Fabulous Thunderbirds went through a commercially successful period in the 80’s and cranked out the hits “Tuff Enuff,”“Wrap it Up” and “Look at That.” What made that period so successful for the band?

“Well really when you think about it… it was the times for sure. But people were just ready for it. And there were a lot of key things that happened.  Dave Edmonds producing for one and then the song Tuff Enuff being in a few movies it had a long shelf life. The song was still going a year later after it started going. Just a lot of work putting your face in front of a lot of people which is what we do now. Back then that was like the tail end of the record business and I think the first record or two that we had with them with Columbia Epic Sony became Sony they had a real record savvy staff a bunch of veterans real record people. It was very interesting and no matter what you think of the business you really have to respect them because they really were on top of it. They pushed and knew a lot of people and had personal relationships all over the country and they were salespeople is what they were. They say business is business no business is personal. You could go out and have dinner and a few drinks with everybody it was a pretty cool deal to watch. Then that was done and those people left the business and the record industry painted themselves in a corner musically to where no wonder they’re not in business that’s too bad. I think the Independent label now is the way to go. A friendly relationship and actually hang out a little bit with and that’s how you do it.”

The artists aren’t being promoted at all and I think we need to go back to radio basics.

“They need to be opening up the airwaves to everyone and get deejays back get the personality’s back in radio. You listened in for the personality as much as you did for the music.”
“I just got a feeling that this country is going to go back to the basics because we have no choice. This whole country has been pumped up on nothing but a bunch of air and now it’s all deflated and we’re back down to reality. No sense on being greedy you’ve got nothing to be greedy with. And don’t depend on the politicians to do anything it’s really up to you. You’re in control. I’ve got a song coming out called “Do you know who I am?” and it’s all about that.”

When will it be released?

“Something should be coming out in the beginning of next year sometime. I haven’t signed a deal yet but I am signing with a new label and it’s an Independent label and I like the people over there. You know we’ve been in the studio for a couple of years now in and out and we have a lot of different tracks that we can go with.”

You know when “Tuff Enuff” first hit the airwaves I really thought it was Tom Jones.

“Hey I tell you what that’s high praise. Tom Jones is a great singer.”

That song would have been a great cover song for him.

“You know what you’re right and he could do the s**t out of that song.”

 Who are some artists you would collaborate with today?

“The Black Keys… I would love to get involved with those guys and do something with them that would be a fun thing.”

Mick Jagger didn’t call you to work on his new SuperHeavy band?

“He plays harmonica in that anyway… probably.”  But The Stones were my favorite band when I was a kid.”

Is Mick a good harp player?

“He’s got his style and I would say he’s recognizable. Robert Plant also and he’s been very generous with me and I’ve heard people say he’s talking about me and stuff. He’s a really nice guy and just a really- really cool guy. Robert Plant is one of those guys he knows how to make himself and make his music timeless. Him and Clapton too you’ve got to hand it to Clapton he knows how to legitimize what he’s doing in modern times and pushing the envelope as far as musical styles and stuff in that same way. But it’s all based on the blues though and that’s a cool thing.”

Final thoughts Kim?

“Go see Raphael Saadiq with myself on Austin City Limits on PBS. Raphael Saadiq and Black Joe Louis is the show. We’ll have the latest Fabulous Thunderbirds at the show on Friday and then look for something around springtime maybe look for us to be breaking out.”

Additional collaborations with Bonnie Raitt and Robert Plant maybe?

“Have gun will travel.”

Kim, I’ll see you on Cleveland Street in Clearwater for Blast Friday on October 28th.

“Thanks Ray see you there brother.”

FREE concert this Friday October 28th Starring Kim Wilson and The Fabulous Thunderbirds!
It’s Blast Friday on Cleveland Street outside the doors of the Capitol Theatre.   
The Street Fair begins at 5:30 pm.

COMING NEXT Ray’s interview with Todd Rundgren and the Utopia reunion.

Special thanks to Anne Leighton Media for this interview.
The Fabulous Thunderbirds official website
Ruth Eckerd Hall official website
Anne Leighton Media

Don’t forget to order columnist and author Ray Shasho’s great new book Check the GsThe True Story of an Eclectic American Family and Their Wacky Family Business available now at,, and

“Normalcy is a myth and anyone who tells you differently isn't very normal. "Check the Gs" is a memoir from Ray Shasho who tells of his own offbeat upbringing working in the family business art gallery, from a young age. Of Cuban and Syrian descent, he tells a very American story of coming from everything, seeing everything, walking the line of the law and much more. A fun and fast paced memoir, "Check the Gs" is a worthwhile addition to many a memoir collection.” ~~ MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW

Contact Ray Shasho at

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Review: MONTROSE Masterful and Powerful at Largo Cultural Center

By Ray Shasho

Thursday night’s Montrose concert was superlative. The Largo Cultural Center arranged the seating cabaret style and once inside the venue allowed to sit anywhere you pleased. The ambience was intimate without a substandard seat in the house. A bar was conveniently placed at the back of the hall and you could meander up at any time during the show. The Largo Cultural Center staff was benevolent. Snapping photos during the show was never an issue.
When Ronnie transposed into his first guitar solo an exhilarated audience scrambled their chairs up against the stage to catch an impassioned glimpse of the legendary guitar virtuoso. Montrose genuinely had fun with the audience while playing their setlist to its perfection.

The show began at 7:30 with the amazing Michael Lee Firkins. The Nebraskan guitar slinger animated the audience by using his impressive hybrid picking techniques. Firkins also plays slide while using his whammy bar. His slide rendition of Black Sabbath’s classic “War Pigs” frenzied the Cultural Center gathering. The guitar wizardry of Michael Lee Firkins was a momentous start to a perfect evening.

At 8:30 right before Showtime I greeted Ronnie and Leighsa Montrose backstage. Leighsa is an incredible lady. She handles the day to day management duties for the band and also owns a floral and event design business in San Francisco.
There were still remnants of Michael Lee Firkins fog machine drifting through the air and Montrose lead singer Keith St John became a bit concerned that it would affect his singing voice. Amazingly moments later it all vanished. Backstage technician’s tweaked last minute preparations while shouts of “Ronnie! Ronnie!” echoed throughout the packed hall.
Then a pumped and elated Ronnie Montrose nonchalantly struts on stage to cheers of accolade and emotion from the Montrose faithful. It was like watching a boxer entering the ring for a championship bout. And witnessing the anticipation from behind the scenes was an incredible milestone.

Once onstage and in full crowd view it was time to “Tear it up!” Montrose immediately erupted into “Rock the Nation” the first track from his self titled debut album of 1973.

The evening symbolized back to hard core rock and roll basics and the audience ate it up.

Ronnie showcased his elaborate guitar wizardry next on the tune “I Got the Fire” from his second album Paper Money.  At one point during the show someone yelled out “You look good Ronnie!” perhaps referring to his absence from the music scene for several years due to a bout with Cancer. Ronnie immediately replied “I feel even better!” The Largo audience responded with cheers.

The hard-driven pace slowed a bit with “Make it Last” another tune from the Montrose debut album of 1973. A period which witnessed Ronnie Montrose exit a commercially successful Edgar Winter Group with huge hits like “Frankenstein” and “Free Ride” still looming on the airwaves.

“Twenty Flight Rock” originally performed by 50’s rock and roll pioneer Eddie Cochran was next on the playlist followed by “Space Age Sacrifice” and it was apparent that Keith St John's voice was not disturbed by remnants of  Michael Lee Firkins drifting fog. Keith St John is an impeccable rock and roll singer. His range and energy are incredible. St John constantly prances around the stage and incites his audience. And let’s face it, if you’re carrying on a tradition that began with legendary voice Sammy Hagar than you’d better be a great singer. And Keith St John is an exceptional vocalist.

The entire band was tight and flawless. Dan McNay’s awesome reverberation on bass and Steve Brown’s rigor thunder on drums rounded out a mind-blowing rock and roll machine.

In 1978 Ronnie Montrose formed the band Gamma with Davey Pattison (current lead singer with Robin Trower) at the helm. Ronnie featured his electrified mastery on the Gamma classic “Voyager.” A surreal tune with incredible guitar licks that borders on fusion and progressive rock. There were earlier cries of “Gamma!” from the audience so after the tune was played to its perfection everyone arose to their feet.

The following four tunes played were all from the illustrious Montrose debut album. So it was back to the hard rockin’ basics with “I Don’t Want It” followed by the biggest crowd pleaser of the evening, the hard, sweet and sticky signature composition “Rock Candy” bringing the crowd to its feet once again.
The evening concluded with St John's proficient wailing and Ronnie’s electrified brilliance on Space Station #5 and Sammy Hagar penned Montrose classic “Bad Motor Scooter.” Michael Lee Firkins joined Ronnie on stage for the explosive conclusion to a flawless event.

The band took its final bow and then off to a meet and greet with their fans in the lobby.

Photographer Mark Weaver has collaborated with me on numerous gigs. Mark arrived earlier on Thursday for the bands Soundcheck. When he climbed out of his car at the Largo Cultural Center parking lot he ran into an old friend Raven Mitchell who is a technician and just so happened to be working the Montrose show. Once inside Weaver introduced himself to Ronnie and Leighsa Montrose and then observed Mitchell changing the strings on Ronnie’s guitar. Ronnie Montrose had forgotten to bring his slide from the hotel room. He asked to try several of Michael Lee Firkins slides but none had the right feel.

Weaver who is also a guitarist told Ronnie that he had several brass slides at home and offered to bring them to the Soundcheck. When he returned back to the venue Ronnie Montrose decided to use one of Mark’s slides because it was polished and created for a better tone. Long story short, Mark Weaver’s slide was featured on the Montrose classic “Bad Motor Scooter” on Thursday night. Pretty cool stuff!

MONTROSE is a great band that provided plenty of sheer rock energy on stage in Largo on Thursday night. Welcome back Ronnie we missed you!

Ronnie Montrose Official Website
Largo Cultural Center Official Website
Leighsa Montrose Official Website
Michael Lee Firkins Official Website

Special thanks to Ronnie and Leighsa Montrose
Rob Mondora and the entire staff of the Largo Cultural Center
Don’t miss The Pat Travers Band on New Years Eve at the Largo Cultural Center.

And don’t forget to order author and columnist Ray Shasho’s great new book Check the Gs –The True Story of an Eclectic American Family and Their Wacky Family Business.  If you love rock and roll you’ll love the story. Order today at,, or

“Ray Shasho has quite a memory, especially when it comes to what songs played on the radio during important times throughout his youth. Combining his nostalgic recant of Billboard’s Top 100, like some infomercial for a Time-Life Oldies CD collector’s set, along with his detailed whimsical recollections while growing up, and you have the “soundtrack” for a truly enjoyable story called  “Check the Gs~~Pacific Book Review

Contact Ray Shasho at

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Review: Frampton Comes Alive!35 Interview:Bassist Stanley Sheldon

By Ray Shasho

REVIEW: Prodigious Classic Rock artist Peter Frampton and his top-notch band performed the entire Frampton Comes Alive! masterpiece on Saturday night at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater. The event celebrated an amazing 35th anniversary of his multi-platinum double album that still remains as one of the best-selling live albums of all-time.

The three hour performance was interrupted only once by a twenty minute intermission. And if you ventured out of the Hall during the show you had to wait until after the song was over to return to your seat. The rule was set in place because the show was recorded and a live CD of the concert was made available to purchase after the show had ended.

I was a junior in high school when Frampton Comes Alive! was first released and just about every house party during that time melded the album into its ambience. Saturday night’s Ruth Eckerd Frampton Comes Alive alumni were at yet another house party to relive the good times when the album was first spun.

The first set of the evening included most of Frampton’s big hits and the packed Ruth Eckerd house was unyielding. Throughout the show there were outcries of enthusiasm perhaps to eclipse the audiences from the original concert recordings of 1975. Even during Frampton’s solo acoustic segments as in “All I Want To Be (Is By Your Side)” there were bursts of exuberance initiated from every direction of the Hall.
Peter Frampton is 61 now and although he makes fun of losing his symbolic rock star head of locks, Saturday’s show proves that his performances stand the test of time. I’ve witnessed Peter Frampton concerts since 1974 and he’s never disappointed devout fans or concert goers who are there simply as advocates for rock and roll.

The most memorable moments of the first set were an electrified shootout between Sheriff Peter Frampton and Guitar Slinger Adam Lester during “I’ll Give You Money” that blew its audience away.

Frampton’s trademark anthem “Do You Feel Like We Do” followed and generated an ovation of epic proportions. In all the year’s I’ve watched Frampton’s concerts it always appeared like he wore a painted smile on his face. I never witnessed Frampton not smiling. But during a thunderous ovation from an appreciative and galvanized Ruth Eckerd audience, that painted smile metamorphosed into sheer elation.

The eclectic second set enhanced the range of talents in the band. Many of the songs featured muti-instrumentalist Bob Arthur who captured his own fans on Saturday night. Then of course Adam Lester’s mastery on guitar, remarkable bass licks generated by veteran rocker Stanley Sheldon, and the impressive drumming of Dan Wojciechowski completed Frampton’s proficient line-up.

The second set was tight and performed brilliantly with every song accompanied by an awesome screen and light show. An unexpected surprise was a Humble Pie classic called “Four Day Creep.” The tune performed with footage of Frampton’s old bandmates projected on a screen behind him. Vocal efforts although noble could never mirror Humble Pie’s legendary frontman Steve Marriott.

The evening wound down with Frampton’s rendition of Soundgarden’s “Black Whole Sun” followed by a huge ovation and encore of friend George Harrison’s tune “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

Undoubtedly Peter Frampton will be back, especially after receiving a response like the one he received at Ruth Eckerd Hall on Saturday night.

“The Clearwater crowd was the best I’ve seen on this tour,” says bassist Stanley Sheldon. I chatted with Stanley after the show and interviewed him prior to the Ruth Eckerd engagement.

Prior to the concert at Ruth Eckerd Hall I had the pleasure of chatting with Stanley Sheldon the original bassist of Frampton Comes Alive! since its fruition in1976. Sheldon also played on the album’s “I’m In You,”  “Where I Should Be” and contributed his extraordinary talents as co-writer and bassist on the Grammy award winning instrumental album Fingerprints.

Sheldon is an early advocate for the fretless bass.

The Kansas native spent most of the 90’s devoted to Latin American Studies at the University of Kansas and traveled extensively throughout Latin America with studies focused on slave society of the nineteenth century and how its influence on past music continues to affect the transformation and hybridization of world music today. Sheldon often played Salsa and Son music with various players to huge dance crowds during his journeys.

Sheldon shared an amazing relationship with close friend and guitar virtuoso Tommy Bolin. Bolin played guitar on Billy Cobham’s renowned Spectrum album before joining legendary Classic Rock Bands -The James Gang and Deep Purple. Tommy Bolin died of a drug overdose in Miami, Florida in 1976.
Before his untimely death Sheldon played on Tommy Bolin’s critically acclaimed debut album Teaser. Sheldon also appears on varied Bolin archival appearances.

Stanley Sheldon has also recorded with Lou Gramm (Foreigner’s original vocalist) and has toured as bassist with Warren Zevon and the Delbert McClinton band.

Here’s my Chat with Bassist/Songwriter/Musician/Scholar /Stanley Sheldon.

Stanley, thank you very much for joining me this afternoon. My mother was born and raised in Cuba so naturally I’m fascinated about your studies of Latin American culture.

“That’s very interesting because it was the Cuban song the music from Cuba that really enticed me because that’s what later on became Salsa. I was playing at the University of Kansas with some Venezuelans who I’d met there while I worked on my undergrad degree that same decade and I was doing environmental studies for that degree and when it was time to select a Masters program I had been playing Salsa with these Latinos and I just fell in love with the Cuban rhythms especially Cuba and Puerto Rico. So it was that great love of the rhythms that brought me to Latin American studies.”

I grew up in an eclectic household and half of my parents listened to Celia Cruz.

“Celia is one of my idols too and also like Hector Lavoeand all of the great ones Willie Colon and Reuben Blades all the Salsa stuff the Venezuelans that I was playing with they really gave me a crash course on Salsa 101 man I learned from experts of who to listen to it was great.”

Do you have Latino blood?

“You know I do not but my Uncle my dad’s brother went down to Cuba right before the revolution because he had a heart condition and my dad traveled there and they were only in their early 20’s my dad was even younger and my uncle Frank married a Cuban and brought her home right after the revolution so I’ve always felt kind of close to Cuba.”

Did you learn the language?

“My Spanish is getting pretty good I was teaching classes to Spanish speakers for the EPA and now I have my lady interest who is a Mexican National so I’ve been there four times this year to Mexico. I’m in love with a Mexican. So my language skills are pretty good. And she’s very beautiful.”

You know it’s funny we find out much later in her career that Linda Ronstadt had Mexican roots.

“Man she really sang that Mariachi stuff so beautifully. Well you know I kind of knew about her roots because I had done some tours with her when I was in a band called Ronin and playing with Warren Zevon you know she was connected with. So I kind of knew about her Hispanic heritage but not very many other people did.”

After the show on Saturday in Clearwater, a live CD set recording of the show will be available to purchase?

“That is correct it’s a three CD set and it takes three CD’s to fit the entire three and half hour show. What happens is during the show as they’re recording it the first CD get’s finished and they start packaging it and it looks just like the CD you buy at the store wrapped and everything. But the third CD the fans will   line up and wait ten minutes only after the show and they can purchase the whole three CD set.”

That’s really cool; it’s like being part of rock and roll history.

“Yea and a lot of fans are really appreciative you know because it’s another Frampton Comes Alive! And the quality of the recordings is getting better and better throughout the tour and the most recent ones just sound spectacular. I think Peter’s among the first to be doing this. We have a staff out on the road with us from Abbey Road that’s recording each night and then packaging it up for us.”

You joined Peter Frampton at the onset of Frampton Comes Alive! I guess that would be in 1975?

“I joined in 1975 right before the live album was recorded and I was kind of the last piece of the puzzle. He was looking for a bass player and my timing could not have been better.”

You played with the great Tommy Bolin prior to joining Frampton?

“It was the fact that I was playing with Tommy that got me to LA and where I needed to be positioned to capitalize on the Frampton thing. If I had never known Tommy I wouldn’t have been there. He was such a great player and my best friend and he went on to play with Deep Purple about the same time that I got the gig with Frampton. And we were out there together looking for a singer for our own band and we were struggling and times got tough so we both had to take gigs and we could’ve picked worst gigs I guess." (Laughing)

Yea, I saw Tommy play with both The James Gang and Deep Purple. He was just such a great guitarist.

“You know he was in Florida the night he died.”

I believe at the Newport Hotel in Miami.

“Jeff Beck who I just recently met told me the story. About two or three month ago I went to see Jeff because the great Narada Michael Walden is playing drums with Jeff Beck now and he was also Tommy’s drummer so there was a connection there. Jeff was a huge fan of Tommy and the Tommy Bolin band was opening for Jeff Beck when they were playing in Miami that night. So Jeff Beck is standing there and this was just back in May I went to see him play and he was telling me the story of how he and Jan Hammer walked in and found out that Tommy was dead. Just imagine that I’m standing there and talking with Jeff Beck and he’s telling me how he found my best friend dead in a hotel room.”

Everyone I’ve ever talked too about Tommy Bolin always said he was just such a nice, sweet man.

“You couldn’t meet a nicer and friendlier guy he’d make anybody smile and laugh. So if it hadn’t been for him I would have never met Peter. We were in LA together and Tommy’s earlier bass player Kenny Passarelli who I came in and replaced because Kenny had started playing with Joe Walsh. We all lived in Boulder Colorado right before all of this happened. So all these musicians are living in Boulder. Joe Walsh had moved there and had put his band together Barnstorm and Kenny Passarelli was the bass player in that band and Peter was a fan of Joe’s and Kenny’s playing and Kenny played a fretless bass like I did. Peter wanted someone that could play fretless bass so when he found out Kenny couldn’t do the job because he was too busy and I think Elton John was about to hire him but he said you should try this guy Stanley.  So I was in LA with Tommy at that time and I got Peter’s number and called him up.”

And the rest is history as they say. Did you have any idea after completing Frampton Comes Alive! that it may turn out to be a commercially successful giant?

“Come on how could anybody know that. I tell the story that my advice to Peter was not to do a live album that he should get in the studio and make a highly polished studio record. And that’s the joke and my advice to Peter.”

Well I’m glad that he didn’t take your advice on that one.

“Yea me too.”

You played on the critically acclaimed Teaser Album with Tommy Bolin.

“Yea I played on just about every track. Yea I love that record and that’s how I met Narada Michael Walden who is Jeff Beck’s drummer now and Narada went on to produce Whitney Houston and kind of sculpted her career and he stepped back from playing drums after Mahavishnu to start producing and so a lot of people don’t really know about his playing ability and he’s just an unbelievable and unparalleled drummer. It’s incredible to see him with Jeff Beck now.”

Have you picked up any session work recently?

“No I have not been doing a lot I spent a decade working on my scholastic stuff you know and I took a lot of time off. I didn’t stop playing I was doing the Latin thing you know so I feel as a player I grew more then -then I would playing Coke commercials and jingles and stuff like that. But I don’t do a lot of sessions I never did but I wouldn’t mind at this late date getting a few more calls to do different types of music. I’m starting to get my feelers into the Nashville scene because Peter’s  base of operations is Nashville and two of the guys are from Nashville that are in the band. And I went on the road with Delbert McClinton two years ago and he’s in Nashville too. I’m starting to feel a kind of closeness with Nashville and yea there probably is some work there if I could get there and move there or something.”

I just got to ask you about working on the soundtrack of Cheech and Chong’s Up In Smoke.

“That’s going to be something to talk about till the day I die because everybody loved the movie so much. It was a lot of fun to do that. That’s when I was played with Waddy Wachtel Warren Zevon and those guys. We did most of the soundtrack I mean they used songs from other artist but all the background music was what we recorded for that movie. When they’re driving around in the van you hear the music in the background could be a reggae song or a rock song. I don’t think the songs we did really had names or anything we were just providing music for the background.”

So back to Frampton any plans for a new album once the tour is over?

“I think Peter is formulating what he wants to do and hopefully I can make some contributions on whatever they might be I’m planning on that we’ll see what happens. I hope to be touring with Peter for a long time.”

“Some other things The Tommy Bolin Foundation they’re always looking for someone who can step in and try and represent Tommy's skill as a player maybe as a tribute band we talked about putting something on the road to commemorate Tommy’s music. You know we do a thing in Sioux City Iowa every summer I mean I don’t always go every year but it’s like a tribute performance for Tommy and they get different players each year. But I know some people involved who would really like to see something go out on the road and play some major cities and put a really great band together so I’ve been talking with some people about that. So that could happen.”

“But other than that we’re going to continue on this 35th Anniversary tour even through 2012 and we’re going to come back and do more U.S. dates and we’re going to Europe in November and I imagine South America. I think in 2012 we’ll be playing but not quite as much as we did this year but certainly quite a bit.”

“Peter’s work ethic is really impressive and we’re all just in awe that he can get up there every night and play three-three and a half hour shows we’re all being inspired to follow suit. When he’s on stage man it’s a sight to behold.”

Stanley, thank you so much for taking time out from your busy tour schedule to speak with me. Good luck with the rest of the tour and I will be seeing you in Clearwater on Saturday night.

“Thanks Ray I look forward to meeting you at the show.”

Something’s Happening
Doobie Wah
Line On My Face
Show Me The Way
It’s A Plain Shame
Wind Of Change
Penny For Your Thoughts
All I Want To Be (Is By Your Side)
Baby I love Your Way
I Wanna Go To The Sun
I’ll Give You Money
Do You Feel Like We Do
Shine On (Humble Pie Song)
Jumpin’ Jack Flash (Rolling Stones Cover)
Asleep At The Wheel
Boot It Up
Double Nickles
Vaudeville Nanna and the Banjolele
All I Want To Be (Is By Your Side)
Four Day Creep (Humble Pie song)
Off The Hook
Black Whole Sun (Soundgarden Cover)
While My Guitar Gently Weeps (Beatles Cover)

Stanley Sheldon official website
Peter Frampton official website
Tommy Bolin Archives
Ruth Eckerd Hall official website

Special thanks to Cami Opere for arranging this interview and some great tickets.
And as always the entire Ruth Eckerd Hall staff. Especially Katie Pedretty.
Bobby Rossi you the man!

Order Ray Shasho’s new book Check the GsThe True Story of an Eclectic American Family and Their Wacky Family Business at,, or

“I found Check the Gs to be pure entertainment, fantastic fun and a catalyst to igniting so many memories of my own life, as I too am within a few years of Ray.  So to all, I say if you have a bit of grey hair (or no hair), buy this book!  It’s a great gift for your “over-the-hill” friends, or for their kids, if they are the history buffs of younger generations trying to figure out why we are the way we are.”~~Pacific Book Review

Contact Ray Shasho at

Ray Shasho with Frampton Bassist Stanley Sheldon
Stanley Sheldon on stage