Musician, May 1994

The Guitar Virtuoso Meets the Producer Who Lays on The Ground

by Fred Schruers

Page 2

JONES:  Sometimes Leo would go, "Listen to this."  And he would tell you a whole tune for 10 minutes or some wonderful performance, and the minute that he would be recording he'd make a mistake.

KOTTKE:  Yeah. My internal school marm walks in and stands behind me with a big rubber ruler.

JONES:  I think everybody does that.

KOTTKE:  But some more than others.  With these [Guitar Summit] guys, when we know we're being taped, we all feel the choke happen.  I don't think it hits you that way, that it's time to choke.

JONES:  If there's nobody in there, it doesn't, 'cause it's my thing, but once there's a listener, like a producer, I become aware that I am performing for somebody.  If everybody has a job, I'm not performing for them.  But anybody who's just listening will make me stiffen, too.  I don't let anybody in there to listen.

MUSICIAN:  Did you ever have any voice problems?

JONES:  Well, not since I learned how to sing, no.  When I was about 20 I worked at the Great American Beverage Company, where you had to be able to sing really loud to keep your job.  We were singing waiters and waitresses.

KOTTKE:  Oh, I thought you were canning Sprite or something.

JONES:  Katey Segal  [of TV's Married with Children, and a singer] worked there too.  And she could sing really loud.  She was a big hit there.  But I couldn't.  My boyfriend at the time had a singing book and I read about moving the sound from your throat to your chest.  [Rickie Lee studiously places three fingers by her breastbone as she speaks].  I have it down there.  I practice breathing, and also I don't over-sing.  I sing with the same voice I talk with.

KOTTKE:  That's what you told me that I really try to remember.

JONES:  It works for me. I don't ever get hoarse.

MUSICIAN:  They say the closer a prose writer's voice is to his speaking style, the more you are going to be in the pocket and doing your best work.  Do you find that writing songs?

JONES:  I write differently than I talk.  I write rhythmically.  And when I speak I have odd hesitations that I don't have when I write.  I think I'm more articulate on a piece of paper.

MUSICIAN:  When you're onstage, do you have utter confidence in your vocal instrument?.

JONES:  Of course. Why would I not?

MUSICIAN:  I guess we'll ask Leo.  Do you?

KOTTKE:  Yeah.  Although in the beginning I didn't.  Now it's home for me.  Once I'm through maybe the first piece.  You know, I sit down and I'm about an inch off the chair for a little bit.  But it's not nerves.  It's just getting there.  And once you're there,  it's a very secure place to be.  It's really good for ya.

MUSICIAN:  Rickie, I saw you remark somewhere that you used to feel responsible for doing a lot more onstage, really barraging the audience with all your weapons every song.

JONES:  I think I learned that earlier than later.  I think that one of the horrible things most new singers or most singers who will never truly be great do is, they over-sing.  They feel that they have to prove to you in every song how good they can sing and they sacrifice the entire thing.  The greatest singer to me is Frank Sinatra.  There aren't any tricks or antics.  For me, it's a conversation, it's a story.  I don't Like hearing Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston.  When I listen to them, I don't believe them.  I don't care about what they're saying.  And most important, I'm not transported to their point of view.  I always remain the voyeur, the listener.  To transport someone I think you can't get in the way of the lyrics and the story.  I think a great singer is a really quiet singer.  Not necessarily volume, but a quiet, quiet spirit.  And there they overwhelm you.

MUSICIAN:  Sal Bernardi wrote "Beat Angels," yet you sing it so feelingly.

JONES:  Yeah.  He and I are kind of fused.  It's kind of hard to tell the difference between his songs and my songs.  

MUSICIAN [to Kottke]:  Do we hear you on that one?

KOTTKE:  There's a couple of notes from me.

JONES:  Leo was there for the recording of that and what he played really set it in.  But then I put David Hidalgo on it, and it became the battle of the guitarists. So I pulled Leo out.   Leo let me have it one day.

KOTTKE [with a demurring gesture]:  I'd never been able to see that happen, where a piece begins here, takes a shape and then it's deconstructed in a way and comes out elsewhere.

JONES:  It's a shaky thing.

KOTTKE:  I didn't know where the tune was going, and I -- I was amazed.

JONES:  It did change a lot. The way Leo played it, it was more in the pocket, it kind of centered around him, and by the time I was done taking out his guitar, I could see that he  was "whoa-ohhhh, what's gonna possibly happen if you take me out?"  But it made it a quirkier, more Rickie kind of thing than a thing reflective of someone else.

KOTTKE:  I got to the point where I was raving so much to Rickie about how she did this that I had raved too much.  I was just being a pest.  You can't turn around every time you do something and hear some guy saying, God, that was fantastic.

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