This interview is a product of chance. One of those happy / lucky coincidences.
I`d been bouncing emails back and forth with the dude that is Quinn Luke, since we met in Tokyo around three years ago. Mainly about music, and in particular the books of Barney Hoskyns. When we met, Quinn had just moved to Woodstock and I`d just finished reading Hoskyns` Small Town Talk – a history of the area focussed around the fallout from Dylan and The Band moving there. Quinn picked up a copy. Which led to us talking about putting together some “Woodstock” mixes, and me subsequently recommending Hoskyns` previous book, Hotel California. A brilliant history and appraisal of the Laurel Canyon musical scene of the late 1960s and early 1970s. My copy, re-read, re-read, re-read, and dog-eared.
“Oh man, it`s even better.”
The next thing I knew, it was,
“Rob, Quinn here. I`m sitting with Ned Doheny. Do you want to ask him a few questions?”
The cliche is that Ned Doheny “should need no introduction”. Singer, songwriter, L.A. / Laurel Canyon original / survivor. A contemporary of the likes of Jackson Browne, Crosby, Stills & Nash, The Eagles, Joni Mitchell, Gram Parsons, Linda Ronstadt, and Judee Sil. Creator of complex, yet catchy, songs that took on R&B, with jazzy arrangements, and a thesaurus. Smart Blue-eyed Soul in the vein of Boz Scaggs.
Ned signed to David Geffen`s Asylum (alongside Jackson, Joni, Judee, and The Eagles), and then Columbia, but mainstream US success seemed to elude him. Ned was / is, however, huge in Japan. And perhaps as a consequence – since DJs “must” have tunes that no one else has — songs from his import-only releases, such as To Prove My Love, became underground dance floor hits in the UK. My own introduction to Ned`s music was DJ Harvey playing Get It Up For Love. A tune that`s been covered by everyone from Teenage Pop idols to Disco divas. When I moved to Tokyo, friends gave me “Wants” lists, at the top of which were Ned`s albums Hard Candy and Prone.
Quinn`s message arrived pretty much the same day as Paul “Mudd” Murphy`s reworks of Ned`s Think Like A Lover. The latest release in Rob Butler`s Be With Records`campaign to get Ned`s music out to that deserved wider audience. Reissuing, and occasionally remixing, his back catalogue.
Behind the scenes, Ned was also instrumental in setting up my recent interview with his Be With Records label-mate, Kimiko Kasai. So I jumped at that chance of a “few questions”. At the very least, to say Thank You!
Where are you based?
I`m currently living In Malibu.
Where are you from?
I was born in Los Angeles.
What made you pick up a guitar and start writing songs? How old were you?
I was given a guitar for Christmas. I guess I was about seven or eight years old. Like many of my generation, I found my inspiration in a darkened movie theatre, watching the first Beatles movie. I`d already been playing for eight years and that changed everything. I was also a fan of the Ozzie & Harriet show on TV and Ricky Nelson was an inspiration as well.
Which singers, songwriters did you / do you admire?
For writers: Chuck Berry, Irving Berlin, Hoagy Carmichael, Burt Bacharach, Bob Dylan, Cole Porter, Lennon & McCartney, Tom Waits, Paul Simon, Mose Allison, to name a few.
For singers: Levon Helm, Luther Vandross, Billie Holliday, Chaka Khan, Aretha Franklin – of course, Howlin Wolf, Jimmy Reed. Too many to mention.
What would you have liked to have been if you hadn`t followed the career of singer / songwriter?
Did your family ever try to get you to change career? Or join the family business?
No, but they were really worried.
A lot`s been written about the music made in and around the Laurel Canyon of the 1970s. You yourself contributed to Barney Hoskyns` brilliant Hotel California. From the outside it looks like an amazing place and time to be alive, and I guess the obvious and hugely open-ended question is, what was it like to actually be there?
I think when you`re in the middle of a cultural shift, the ability to be objective becomes the province of hindsight. We were just a bunch of kids beguiled by the lure of possibility. Thanks to the sacrifices of our parent’s generation, we were free to pursue our creative impulses as far as they would take us. We were innocent and we imagined that we could make a difference. In my case, I started playing guitar in 1954 when I was still in Grammar School. Suddenly, fresh out of High School, I had the skills to be welcomed into the fraternity of artists. Barriers were falling all around us – sexual mores were morphing into out and out hedonism. Drugs helped still our internal critics and fuel the creative process. We stayed up late and slept till noon. All we had to do was write the next great song.
Was that creative community a supportive one? With everyone competing to write the “better” song, but still encouraging each other`s career / success?
The wonderful thing about music is that it is the great equalizer. It can transcend racial animus, make you fall in love, bind your wounds and set you free. We were always in awe of the next great song no matter who wrote it. We all knew that a creative epiphany was a mystical event that lifted us all. We didn’t begrudge anyone their success as long as they earned it.
Did you ever find yourself sharing guitar tunings with Joni Mitchell in Mama Cass` kitchen? Trading couplets with Gram Parsons in a “dime-a-dance saloon”?
I first met Gram Parsons when I was living at the Chateau Marmont. I`d just returned from England where I was invited to join a group with Dave Mason and Cass Elliot. Our vocal blend was quite surreal, but as is often the case, disagreements with management scuttled the project. Gram was also living at the Chateau and Dave’s managers thought that Gram and I would be a good fit musically. His beautiful wife Gretchen ushered us into his room and there he sat on the couch unable to focus his eyes, spittle drying on his chin, too high to be of any interest to an arrogant young turk like myself. I muttered my apologies and made my escape.
I was playing at the Riverboat in Toronto. My first solo album had just been released and my set consisted of those ten songs, the first songs I had ever written. I`d always thought that my skills would be best served in a band and I felt awkward and out of place as a solo act. I was told by my label, Asylum Records, that Joni Mitchell was staying at the same hotel. We were label-mates and so we made contact and adjourned to her room to share a few tunes. She liked Postcards From Hollywood, but being in the presence of such a talent made me unsure of my own. We started talking and it occurred to me that given her penchant for odd tunings, her most sympathetic accompanists would likely be found in the Jazz community. I guess she listened.
Your lyrics are quite unique – never settling for an easy cliched rhyme. I was wondering did you / do you read a lot, and if particular books, or authors, impacted on your song-writing?
I am besotted with words. I duelled with my parents at the dinner table for most of my at-home-life and by the time I set out on my own I was an accomplished smart ass. The spoken word comes much more easily to me than the written. While I have never considered myself a poet, I do on occasion write decent lyrics. I use everything I come in contact with – things I’ve read, heard in conversation, seen. I can’t really pinpoint a particular book or author, but I will say that Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell changed my life.
How did you get invited along to the infamous Paxton Logde sessions? Were they inspired by The Band`s sessions at Big Pink? Who else was out there? Did you actually write any songs while there? Are you still in contact with the friends you made back then?
I answered an ad in the Free Press. Barry Friedman a.k.a Frazier Mohawk, was looking for a guitar player to play with some guy named Jackson Browne. That audition led me to Paxton Lodge. I wrote one tune while I was there, but I never finished it. Strangely enough, I am friends on Facebook with Rolf Kempf, Jack Wilce and Peter Hodgson. All were part of the Paxton experience. I still see Jackson once in a while. Sandy Konikoff is still a friend. I think the Band influenced all of us in one way or another, but you can’t imitate the kind of ensemble instinct that comes from playing together for that long.
What was it like to work with Steve Cropper?
Steve was a sweetheart, a true southern gentleman, and a hero of mine. I have always favoured rhythm players, and he is one of the best. He was also a hell of a writer. We never quarrelled; he was always supportive, and he introduced me to a number of the best players in town: a young David Foster, Victor Feldman, Sid Sharp, Jeff Porcaro, Ed Green, John Guerin, so many. I had the best time.
Did Get It Up For Love ever get any radio air play?
Colombia didn’t really know what to do with me. They already had Boz (Scaggs) and Walter Egan, and my brand of casual vulgarity had not yet found a place in the culture. Much to my delight, Get It Up For Love was banned in Boston. It was clearly the single, but radio was afraid of it for the most part.
Get It Up For Love has gone on to be covered by a number of artists. Do you have a favourite?
I thought that Tata Vega’s version was the best. I had to convince her that the tune was more wry than salacious, but in the end she got it, and saw that there was a timeless aspect to it. She sang it beautifully.
Is there any one you would like to / would have liked to work with?
I would like to have worked with Arif Mardin, Tom Dowd and Jerry Wexler. I would love to have made an album with Glynn Johns or George Martin.
You were friends with Carlos Castaneda. Did you take part in any Tensegrity workshops? In your opinion were his books fictions?
The Tensegrity era happened after we lost track of each other. I met Carlos through my then Chinese Boxing teacher, Howard Lee. It never mattered to me whether the books were about real events or not. Although, I did see things that led me to believe that the stories were based in truth.
Do you have any idea how, or why, you developed such a huge following in Japan? Did you tour the country often? Do you still visit Japan?
No idea whatsoever. Just lucky I guess. I go there whenever I can. It’s my second home.
Can you tell me more about your radio show on Yokohama FM? How did the show come about? How often did you broadcast? How long did the show run for?
I’m a little fuzzy on the origins of the Yokohama AM show. I was signed to Polystar at the time, and I was approached to do a radio show which ran for a year, more or less. I recorded the shows in advance direct to DAT and then Fedexed them to Japan. That way, I could insure a steady flow of episodes. It was great fun while it lasted.
Can you tell me what you were doing between 1993`s Between Two Worlds and 2010`s The Darkness Beyond The Fire?
I was going through a separation and divorce at the time – living alone on a ranch in Northern Malibu. I finished Between Two Worlds, but I was really just trying to get through it all. Eventually, I moved back to Los Angeles and wound up being asked to join the Jay Graydon All Stars for a tour of Japan and Sweden. I met my future wife in Tokyo on that tour. When I got back, I taught myself to run a music platform called, Logic, and began recording. I surfed, I practiced Chinese boxing, and went camping in the Mojave. Eventually, I finished The Darkness Beyond The Fire – a distillation of my experience recording for the Japanese. The music business was in shambles at that point, and I was unsure of how to make my presence known. Little did I know that with considerable help from the DJ community, my music would eventually be discovered by another generation, and that the adventure would continue.
How did it feel to have both Numero and Be With contact you about reissuing your back catalogue?
Blessings come in many forms. You never really know what the Universe has in store for you. Their interest seemed to coincide with a growing awareness of my work within the DJ community. A new door has opened, and with it a new life.
You visited the UK and played some gigs to promote the Be With reissues? Had it been a while since you`d performed? How did the shows go? Are there plans for any more?
It had been a while since I`d performed. I played at a record party for the Separate Oceans release (on Numero), and there were a few solo gigs around town (L.A.), but that was about it. England was a revelation. The shows were tremendously well received and I made some great friends.
The gig at The Greenwich Yacht Club was recorded, and there was talk of releasing it as a record. Do you know if this will happen?
I rather doubt it. If your going to record a show then you have to do so with an eye for detail. The sound was a bit dodgy, and I made a number of mistakes. However, the audience was amazing, and it was probably the best show of the tour. I would love to go back.
Be With have just put out a second remix of one of your songs. How do you feel about the process of having your work remixed?
I quite like it. I want to reach as many people as I can. Plus, the remixes were well made and I’m all for that.
Are there plans to reissue any more of your albums?
I don’t know. Numero wants a new record. I also think a live record would be great fun.
Are you still writing songs?
Ned Doheny`s first three LPs, plus remix 12s by Kenny Dickenson and Paul “Mudd” Murphy, can be purchased from Be With Records.
A big big “Thank You” to Quinn Luke for the connection.