"Contrary Cocktail" interview

Richard Bennett interview : Contrary Cocktail ,release 2015

Interview Richard Bennett new album April 2015: Contrary Cocktail

Richard Bennett
Contrary Cocktail
Release April 2015

Tracklist :
The Girl Was Northern / Segue To Sundown / Tresero / Tawny / Our Summer Last / A Lovely Day to Cry / In a Cozy Blue Lanai / But Once in Love / Between Goodbyes / Forbearance / Walk A Humble Road / Can You Be Ready At The Unbidden Call?

Richard Bennett’s first studio appearance was in 1968, sitting next to Al Casey. Since that moment he is a professional musician, that’s 47 years. In all these years he was record producer, sideman for Neil Diamond and Mark Knopfler, studio musician on hundreds of records and now, April 2015, he releases his fifth studio album “Contrary Cocktail”. The songs are instrumentals but probably paintings from people and places, Richard’s goal is always to make a passionate record, with integrity. A good reason to ask him a few questions about his new record and the music industry in general.

Q. Richard, your career in music is almost 5 decades long. Probably many nice memories and experiences are your part. An almost impossible question but if you could relive one year from your career, just to be back at that point, what year would it be and for what special reason would you go for that year ?
A : 1976. It was the year Neil Diamond toured Australia for the first time. It was estimated that one in every three people on the continent owned a copy of Hot August Night that we’d recorded in 1972. It was a real rock and roll tour and the Australian people treated us like royalty. It was in Melbourne on that trip that I met my wife to be and we’re still married. It was also a year of playing on some big hit records back in LA for me. Let Your Love Flow by The Bellamy Bros. was one of them.

Q. Your new album Contrary Cocktail is recorded in Alex The Great studio, can you tell us about the studio and his facilities ? For you there’s of course the need for a good studio console and a 24-track tape machine.
A : I’ll let the Alex website do the talking. My primary concern for a recording facility is that it is a creative/workshop feel and has a little size to it. Something comfortable feeling. I seem to be much more flexible when I’m playing on other peoples records, any place will do, but where my own things are concerned, I need a safe place to fail. You can find the website here

Recording to tape
picture credit Pieta Brown

Q. Alex The Great is run by Brad Jones as engineer, can you tell us what exactly he is doing on your album ?
A : Brad is a tremendous musician and a recording engineer with great ears. Brad co-produced this record with me and always had a good suggestion whenever I’d paint myself into a corner. He played some piano, organ, guitar, vibes and also mixed the album. Most important, he knows where all the good places to eat are.

Q. Did you record Contrary Cocktail, in one way or another, different than your previous records ?
A : I went about recording the same way as always most often with a rhythm section although some of the songs have a different feel to them, they go in directions I’ve not been before. Having Brad Jones involved also took it to some different places. There’s noticeably more steel guitar and a few acoustic guitar solos on the record as well.

Q. You often record without doing much overdubs, you like also other people to play on your album, is this again the case with Contrary Cocktail ? It’s probably depending on how the song is in your head ?
A : Most of Contrary Cocktail was recorded with other people. A couple of the songs I had in my head a certain way with some very specific guitar accompaniment. Rather than impose that on another player, I simply built those up myself… adding the bass and drums later.

Q. While listening I enjoyed really the details and the warm sounds from the songs, how do you create that ?
A : I don’t really know myself. It’s simply how I imagine the finished record and try to make that a reality.

Q. The intro and the whole sound from “Tresero” is very special. Is it possible that it reminds me of a South – American dance rhythm ?
A : The instrument that opens the song is a small Cuban guitar called a Tres. It’s called that because it has three (tres) sets of strings, each doubled, totalling six. In Cuba a musician who plays the tres is known as a ‘tresero’. As for the feel of the song it is my impression of a Cuban rock thing.

RB in the dark behind the recording console at Alex The Great
picture credit Pieta Brown

Q. How do you come up with a song title like “A Lovely Day To Cry” ?
A : I try to title the tunes with a line that might be sung within a part of the song (if it had lyrics). It doesn’t always work out that way but this one did.

Q. The arrangement “Walk The Humble Road” reminds me a little of the song Fields of Plenty//Finlandia that you played for Amy Grant or is it just me ?
A : Good ears. Yes, it’s very much of the same fabric as Plenty. A great deal of that has to do with the wide spreads within the chord voicings. I suppose they are both somewhat hymn-like although I never purposely set out to compose them as religious pieces.

Q. The instruments on “Can You Be Ready At The Unbidden Call” are sounding fabulous, what can you tell us about that song?
A : This is another one that has a gospel thing to it, like the old guitar-evangelists of the 1920s and ‘30s. Again I never set out to write it as a religious piece and it came about very quickly. I was playing around with my son-in-law’s Weissenborn acoustic steel guitar at his house and the song simply came to me. When I began recording I asked Tyler Thompson (my son-in-law) if I could borrow the guitar as I didn’t have one like it in my collection. These instruments were made in the 1920s and have a very distinctive sound…. an acoustic Hawaiian steel guitar with a hollow neck that makes them very responsive and resonant. I’ve since purchased one for myself but the guitar on this cut belongs to Tyler. I recorded the piece by myself, just playing it alone and it’s the first take. I did a second one but it wasn’t as good so we used the first. Then I played an old pump organ that is there at the studio. That is the sound that opens the song and comes back later. Brad played some very atmospheric B-3 organ as well as textural guitar feedback. The final touch was a children’s toy piano that’s heard faintly in the “B” section toward the end of the song. It’s all kind of haunting and slightly frightening. As for the title, Can You Be Ready At The Unbidden Call… I wanted it to be dark, gothic and with a healthy dose of finger pointing thrown in for good measure as many of those songs used to be. I think it’s a pretty good judgemental title.

Hard at work at Alex The Great
picture credit Pieta Brown

Q. Is your son Nick somewhere on Contrary Cocktail ?
A : Nick’s playing rhythm guitar on The Girl Was Northern, Between Goodbyes and Our Summer Last.

Q. Do you find this album melodic in the same way like your previous albums ?
A :Yes. For me it’s always about melody, in the writing of the song itself and also in the improvisational sections.

Q. Are there songs which are influenced by someone special or by other songs on this record ?
A : Not specifically although just like everyone else I’m inspired by so much music and so many different musicians.

Q. “Between Goodbyes” has a wonderful harmonica, who plays that, it’s almost like Toots Thielemans and who did the strings?
A : Jim Hoke played that beautiful harmonica and he also arranged the string section. Jim can be heard playing vibes and ukulele on the record as well. He’s one of the most versatile and talented musicians I’ve ever come across. I’m always in good hands when Jim Hoke is in the studio. We’ve played on lots of records together other than my own.
the bedroom at Alex... great wall paper
picture credit Pieta Brown

Q. A personal favorite instrument of me is the pedal steel, did you use one of yours for Contrary Cocktail ? I think I hear something like that for example in “In A Cozy Blue Lanai” which is a very fresh and playful tune.
A : Segue To Sundown is a Fender Pedal 400 steel that I bought in 1967 and still use. Tawny is an earlier Fender pedal steel from 1958. They both sound very different from one another. Cozy Blue Lanai is a 1930 National ti-cone Hawaiian steel guitar and as mentioned earlier, the Weissenborn Hawaiian on Unbidden Call.

Q . You learned to know these pedal steels from your friends Forrest Skaggs and Al Casey, back in the old days, is it difficult to learn or to progress on it ?
A . I learned how to play pedal steel by myself and found it very easy. Having listened to so much 50’s country music, I had the basic sound and approach already stamped in my mind. Once I got an instrument I quickly learned how to make those sounds. As for the Hawaiian style on non-pedal steel, it was Skaggs who opened me up to that and I emulated the way he played along with Dick McIntire, Sol Hoopii, Jerry Byrd and others.
looking through the studio toward the control room
picture credit Pieta Brown

Q. Your previous albums had some really nice covers, who made the cover this time ?
A : The same graphic artist who has done the previous two records, Lucy Kane. She’s very talented, has a great eye for layout and saves me from making terrible decisions about what things should look like.

Q. Later this year an intensive tour with Mark Knopfler is your part, first Europe and after the Summer North America. You are already longer in Knopfler's band than in Neil Diamond's band. I suppose you are looking forward to the tour, it’s a bit like living a musician’s dream ? It’s an ace band.
A : Great artist, songs, musicians, friends, food, drink, travel. There is no down side.

Q. Of course very different from your first “gigs”, at a very young age where your parents had to bring you and pick you up, also maybe in obscure places ?
A : Knowing what I know now, I’d never let one of my children be alone in some of the joints I worked. By the way, that Fender Pedal 400 I was talking about earlier was with me on stage in a lot of those beer joints. I really learned how to play it then.

Q. In these days you played country, do you still love countrystyle like James Burton, it’s a perfect style to step in music ?
A : I love the older country musics from the 20s through about the mid-60s… particularly the decade of the 1950s when I was growing up. Great songs and singers, wonderful melodies and brilliant musicianship on the records. It was a good way for me to begin playing music.

Q. Mark’s band has people from different backgrounds and countries, also musically, but still everything works very fine on stage and beside the stage. Very good to be part of, I suppose ?
A : There’s so much to learn from such brilliant musicians as I get to play with in Mark’s band. You find out that you’re all really the same and that it’s all about playing good music.

Q. Some of your previous songs are sounding like Barney Kessel, what can you tell us about him ?
A : Barney was one of jazz guitar’s gods… a giant. He came from the swing era of the 40s, recorded with pretty much every important jazz musician but also did pop and rock record dates in Hollywood in the 50s and 60s like Sonny and Cher and Phil Spector’s things. Too much to tell here but anyone interested should Google him then go buy some of Barney’s records.

Q. In many cases you can already hear after a few seconds if a musician is totally one with his instrument. How did you reach that level and how many time did you spend before you came on that level ?
A : Honestly, I don’t feel I am at that level. Most musicians don’t. That’s the beauty and frustration of any creative endeavour… it is the journey but you never really get to the bottom of it. Along the way though, hopefully you keep getting a little better at things.

Q. But you are also on Neil Diamond's latest record, Melody Road. Being again with him in the studio was a bit nostalgic probably ?
A : It was wonderful sharing a studio floor and playing music again with Neil. It was as comfortable as it always had been and such a pleasure to spend some time with him. I owe him a lot. Just like Forrest Skaggs and Al Casey, Neil was a teacher of many things to me and I’ll always be very grateful to him.

Mandolin-Guitarophone used on "Our Summer Last" at Alex The Great
picture credit Pieta Brown

Q. The music industry is, sadly enough, also affected by the worldwide crisis and by illegal downloads. Is there also in Nashville a slowing down for recording sessions ?
A : I was talking with an engineer friend of mine about that the other day. We figured conservatively more than half the professional recording studios that were in business 15 years ago are no longer. While so many home studios have sprung up, no old style facilities have taken their place. It’s affected the session work, the writers and publishers and of course the recording engineers. I don’t see it going back to the glory days of the record business again. It’s changed and one has to find your own way in and around it now.

Q. Which advice can you give young people to make it as band or musician, since it's all very difficult in these hard times ?
A : There will always be people who are talented, want to make music and write songs. There will always be people who want to see and listen to this music being played. It’s important for a musician to listen to as many different types of music you can get your hands on and wrap you head around it. Then practise like crazy.

Richard , many thanks for your time and to learn us some things about “Contrary Cocktail”,
this album is already a music highlight from this year,


Published March 2015

Approved by Richard Bennett

You can order “Tall Tale Tunes” (2022) at Bandcamp here
You can order “Ballads In Otherness” (2018) at Bandcamp here
You can order “Contrary Cocktail” (2015) at Bandcamp here
You can order “For The Newly Blue” (2013) at Bandcamp here
You can order “Valley Of The Sun” (2010) at Bandcamp here
You can order “Code Red Cloud Nine” (2008) at Bandcamp here
You can order “Theme From A Rainy Decade” (2004) at Bandcamp here

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Interesting questions, informative answers. Looking forward to hearing these new tunes.