|Musician, May 1994|
The Guitar Virtuoso Meets the Producer Who Lays on The Ground
by Fred Schruers
JONES: I'm not sure that my decision was the right decision ultimately, musically. Leo had it in a more south of the border kind of thing. His guitar was ringing out really beautifully, and I didn't want that to happen. I wanted it to be weirder. I have a tendency to dig out the things in my records that make them palatable [laughing] to large numbers of people. Like it's necessary for me to make it a little off-center. I wish I didn't do that. But that's what I need to do, I guess.
MUSICIAN: But it rewards the people who get across those couple of obstacles. You know you've earned the emotion.
JONES: Those few, those brave people.
MUSICIAN: Did you ever consider working with jazz players?
JONES: Oh no. I think jazz is hideously boring. I hate jazz. With only a few exceptions, only the really outstanding spirits in jazz. I think it's the most boring thing. So I would never invite -- especially traditional players, because they'll play only the one thing that they can play. I actually don't come out of jazz roots at all. I come out of pure complete Beatles pop music. 45s, AM radio. My father played jazz, so I've always heard it. I didn't play it. I knew it.
MUSICIAN: So virtuosos don't necessarily interest you in their own right. It's more a feel.
JONES: You know, it's just whether or not they sing. And the only music I can't relate to at all, and I haven't found any -- oh now, actually Hank Williams I like, but country western music has nothing -- I have no interest in country music, and what they call jazz is so repetitive and so uninspired. I think that the form was okay for truly inspired players, but that form has been regurgitated over and over by really mediocre people who continue to bask in the glory of it, as if they're doing something creative, and they are not. I know jazz is a cool word, but I actually don't like being associated with it at all. I think what I do with jazz standards is completely unique. I think it's really excellent. I tip my hat to influences, but I don't think it in any way -- and they've clearly let me know-- relates to traditional jazz.
MUSICIAN: Is that why you called you previous album Pop Pop?
JONES: Yeah, and that was probably not a great title. If I called that A Girl at Rue St. Denis or something, it would have evoked a spirit and people could have gone, oh, I know where we're going, but I just detest being so blatant, so obvious. So if I gave it a title that evoked nothing but bewilderment, then people would have to listen and create their own thing with it, which of course could be a big mistake. But that's why I don't do that. I think there's a weird phenomenon in the '90s of people insisting that it not be the authentic article. It has to be something they've already seen and heard. They'll accept it as authentic if they recognize it. And of course, if you recognize it, it's not authentic.
It started, for me, when Madonna imitated Marilyn Monroe. Where a few years earlier such a blatant grasp at things -- "Well, I'm floundering now, I'll use this, I'll do this" -- people would have snubbed their noses. But the media accepted it, and she rose, and in fact, somehow adopted the credibility of Marilyn Monroe. "I'll dress like her," and somehow, for some reason she was given the power. So it continues to happen, to bring it back to Pop Pop, over and over. People imitate something, and they're given the credibility of that thing, and when you do something new, good or bad, you have no credibility. Not even for the authenticity of doing something new. It just doesn't matter at all. My frustration is seeing people do really terrible work, really uninspired, repetitive work that isn't even sincere from their heart, blatantly taking from another star to sell a record. And getting the credibility of that star. It just confuses and bewilders me. And it's happened with every pop singer who has sanitized records. They've purposely copied a style that had nothing to do with anything they did before. That had nothing to do with their voice, the way that they can sing. And received kudos from an uninformed or careless public.
MUSICIAN: Linda Ronstadt's What's New bothered you in that regard.
JONES: But even worse, Natalie Cole. The result of Linda Ronstadt was Natalie Cole.
MUSICIAN: Both you and Leo seem to have homes at your labels. You both are lucky, are you not, to be credentialed "artistes" as far as your labels are concerned.
JONES: I wouldn't assume anything if I were you. [laughter]
KOTTKE: If you mean, is it a worry that I haven't generated hits and my career is built on something other than record sales, I don't worry about it because if I did worry about it, I probably wouldn't stop. I agree with you that I have a kind of a home as a player. And I'm really happy with it. Everybody knows there's a lot of trouble that comes with hits. You can have the wrong hit. One of my favorite performers, favorite song writers, is Loudon Wainright. I mean, he's one in a billion. And his hit is "Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road." So I don't worry about it. I do wonder sometimes why a label would want me there. Because it's supposed to be, especially these days, that nobody is around unless they really generate sales. And I make a little money for everybody, which sounds rational and sane to me, but from what I hear, that's not the way people are thinking.
JONES [borrowing a jacket]: I shake like a poodle when I do interviews. When I get excited I start shaking. I hate that. Maybe I'm always doing interviews in cold rooms. [Leo rises to shut the window]
JONES [fondly]: He's a gentleman.
MUSICIAN: Leo, you told the Pasadena crowd a good story about Muskogee -- playing trombone above a big vat of steaming sausages?
KOTTKE: Yeah. The annual Aunt Jemima pancake breakfast.
MUSICIAN: It occured to you that the guitarist was better off because he didn't have to inhale as frequently.
JONES: Did you ever tell how you became a guitar player at the end of your career as a trombone player? Is it too personal?
KOTTKE: Actually, I think it translates may maybe a little smarmy.
MUSICIAN: Weren't you given a guitar by your parents as some crisis point in your boyhood?
KOTTKE: I had been sick for a long time. My little sister had died and I was doing some thing that siblings sometimes do, which is get very sympathetic and die as well. I was on that route. Whether I would have done that or not, who knows?
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