Volume 2-2012



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Learning from Jimmy Iovine

Interscope Records CEO Jimmy Iovine was featured in a recent piece in Rolling Stone, and it was one of those rare celebrity interviews that actually yield insight and useful information for people interested in music production and engineering. READ MORE...

On Selling Songs Through TAXI

Occasionally, as an amateur songwriter, I will open the account I have with TAXI, the Web-based Artists & Repertoire service, check out the listings, usually for those calling for Film & TV soundtrack music, and if I have something that seems like a possible match I will upload an MP3 mix and submit it for consideration. I never get anywhere with this past-time... READ MORE...



(Click here)

New Releases on RARadio: "Last Call" by Jay; "Darkness" by Leonard Cohen; "Sweetbread" by Simian Mobile Disco and "Keep You" from Actress off the Chronicle movie soundtrack; "Goodbye to Love" from October Dawn; Trouble in Mind 2011 label sampler; Black Box Revelation Live on Minnesota Public Radio; Apteka "Striking Violet"; Mikal Cronin's "Apathy" and "Get Along"; Dana deChaby's progressive rock




"The Musical Meccas of the World"









Original Musical Compositions and Select Covers

Fiction and Non-Fiction

Special Projects





This edition we spotlight  singer/songwriter RICK ROBERTS, who is a guy you hear all the time on classic rock stations, particularly those referencing the 1970s country rock period when Roberts and the band Firefall were having hits with "You Are the Woman" and "Just Remember I Love You". Rick Roberts' band previous to Firefall was the foundation country-rock band The Flying Burrito Brothers, which he was recruited into to replace the foundering Gram Parsons, who was well on his way to a storied end. Roberts, who had dropped out of college at 19 and become a street singer, hitch-hiked from the east to the west coast on a Candide journey that made his life, and sometimes made it hard. In this long interview, the articulate Roberts talks about his life in music, and his relationship with changing times and technologies.  RAR




Yesterday, Tomorrow and Today...



With Rick Roberts







Back in the 1970s I was living in Boulder, Colorado at a time when that college town, home to the University of Colorado, was unusually rich with local celebrities. Jim Guercio's Caribou Ranch recording studio was in operation, which attracted a string of international talent. Boulder had Northstar and Mountain Ears recording studios, both of which were attractive recording options. Stephen Stills and the guys from Manassas were around. Dan Fogelberg was there, and Richie Furay. I would occasionally socialize with Michael Clarke, who had been the drummer for The Byrds, and was then drummer for the Boulder band Firefall, which had initially been called Rick Roberts and Firefall, and was a top-flight band assembled by the former Flying Burrito Brother, who had been the Burrito Brothers' replacement for Gram Parsons1. Firefall  included  former Gram Parsons and Zephyr guitarist Jock Bartley, Mark Andes, the bassist who was known from the bands Spirit and Jo Jo Gunne, and David Muse, now with the Marshall Tucker Band. That only scratched the surface, actually, because there was a constant parade of notable players with pedigrees from name acts who came and went, and there was a lively club scene that attracted a rich cadre of "lifers", i.e., club musicians who were highly advanced players and were going to be playing in nightclubs the rest of their lives. It was a musically sophisticated, somewhat high end, and certainly a fast-living crowd. It was professionally competitive in terms of musical standards, which gave it kind of a helpful edge, but it was also extraordinarily collegial on a social level.

On a social level, I was hanging out with a musical group of friends that would occasionally put me in the company of Rick Roberts, who I was always impressed with in that he was a big deal rock star and I was me, and yet he was always very pleasant and polite, somewhat reserved. I sensed that he was a sensitive dude and tended to like him, though I never really knew him. He was a part of an ethos that swirled around his band Firefall, which had launched to fame on the strength of some very catchy Rick Roberts tunes, excellent musicianship (with a particular nod to the guitar work of Jock Bartley and the multi-instrumental talents of David Muse), sweet harmony vocals, and right-on-time arrival in terms of the gestalt of the place and time. Firefall caught a wave that was certainly related to the aforementioned energy around Boulder having to do with the country rock revolution. (In fact, in the Archives of this site there is an extraordinary table that draws linkages between Firefall and all of the related acts of the era.)

The Firefall wave was interesting in that this was a band of musicians with previous experiences on the national stage, and in the Firefall breakout was another chance for them to enjoy this high level of success with the benefit of hindsight and perspective.

Michael Clarke, who passed away in 1989 and who was notable for his excesses, was emblematic of this Firefall ethos, this understanding that permeated the band. (This, after all, was a bunch of dudes who thought in terms of "Elan", which was the name of one of their albums.) Michael used to repeat this line he had heard from another wisened soul, "Just remember that all the people you are going to meet on your way up are all the same people you are going to meet on your way down."

Let that sink in for a second and you start to get a sense of who Roberts, Bartley, Clarke, Andes, Muse and Larry Burnett were, at least in my experience.

Just as a side note, I contrast that to a vibe I picked up from another Colorado notable of the time, ex-Byrd, ex-Flying Burrito Brother Chris Hillman, who produced Rick Roberts' second solo album. I would occasionally run into Chris Hillman, as well, and I always got the feeling he was going to sucker punch me. No idea why, he just seemed threatening, and to this day he is the only person ever to decline an invitation to be a associated with (Well, that's not quite true. Elizabeth Cook's manager doesn't like the site either, which probably leaves some of you wondering, Who is Elizabeth Cook? Well, there you go...)

Anyway, I recently had the pleasure of re-introducing myself to Rick Roberts, via Facebook (just for full disclosure), and the creative guy I first met 30 years ago is still very much the same, though he has been there and back, including a crippling accident that has become a slow and arduous recovery, including rehabilitation of his vocal cords and guitar playing muscles.

Rick Roberts wrote about that and a tremendously wide range of subjects that are provided in chapter form starting with this edition. These are arranged by general descriptions of topics that hyperlink to Rick's responses. The questions provided to Rick Roberts are provided in full below, as well as on the response pages.

The Questions: Click on the links for the responses

Early Exposure: Q1: To put changes in the music industry over the years into perspective, let's talk about how you got your start. I seem to recall hearing a story once, that might have come from Producer Jim Mason, that you were "discovered" during a period when you were "busking" as a street performer? Is that accurate, or how did you initially break in as a music pro? As a follow-up, if the "busking" story is true, do you have any thoughts on how "getting out there" in that way might have been helpful to your development as a performer? Merchandiser?

Music Now: Q2: Leaping forward now some 40 years... As a guy who has already lived the type of rock star experience that 99.9 percent of all aspirants never do more than dream about, does music represent something to you now other than what it once did before all the successes?

New Recordings: Q3: Let's talk about the process of recording music, which in your lifetime has evolved from audio tape to digital technology. You have four new songs available on iTunes. How were they recorded?

Digital Technology: Q4: The first album I can recall that was recorded entirely with digital technology was Ry Cooder's Bop 'Til You Drop (1979), and I recall a lot being made out of the "clarity" of the recording, though soon enough people like Neil Young were criticizing digital sound quality. Were you open to the changes taking place back in that period? And could you sense the magnitude of what the digital age would mean to the music industry?

Music Industry Changes: Q5: Following that train of thought, how do you feel the music industry has been changed by the digital age?

Computer Literacy: Q6: Are you "computer literate" and comfortable with digital production? To what extent have you personally embraced the evolution of digital recording technologies?

Digital Impacts on Artists: Q7: The digital revolution that has occurred since you released your first album with the Flying Burrito Brothers in 1971 has had huge impacts on how music is produced, recorded, marketed and distributed. What impacts have you felt as an artist from these technological developments?

Digital Audience: Q8: I often feel that the natural ease with which young people integrate digital communications technologies into their everyday lives has a profound influence on the type of music they relate to. It seemed to me that this became most apparent in the New Wave period of the '80s with people like Thomas Dolby, the Thompson Twins, and a personal favorite, Nina Hagen, and that techno sound is still apparent today in Lady Gaga, Ke$ha, and a thousand other similar artists. Tools like the T-Pain voice changer can be downloaded for anyone's use. My long-winded question is this: What can a guy who came up in the analog age do to be relevant in a digital world so influenced by the latest gadget?

DIY Ethos: Q9: Our friend Chris Daniels has written about the "Do It Yourself" ethos that now exists among young musicians who use the tools provided for the Internet and digital communications to manage their careers in ways that have only been possible for a relatively short time. Back before you broke through with the Burrito Brothers, were you thinking a lot about career development, marketing and promotions the way kids do today? What did you do to promote yourself back in 1970?

Communications Technology: Q10: Comparing your present sense of the music industry with how it must have felt to you at the beginning of your career, do you find it a bit overwhelming that communications technology today make so apparent how large the group of people competing for public attention is? Have you devised any particular strategy for breaking through?

New Audience: Q11: Who do you perceive your audience to be for the new music you are releasing?

Songwriting: Q12: How do your songwriting skills match up these days against those you exhibited in the 1970s with chart-topping hits? Are you a different writer now?

Musicianship: Q13: I am always interested in the relationship between a songwriter and his or her instrument(s). How much of your focus do you apply to your musicianship? How does it impact the way you write? And has this changed over time?

Historical Constraints: Q14: As a guy who was there at the birth of "Country Rock", and by virtue of repeated airplay on classic rock stations is forever associated with that sound, do you feel constrained by your history? Are you able to stretch out into other types of music, or is that of interest to you? What would you like to do as a songwriter that perhaps you haven't to date?

Songwriting: Q15: How often do you write songs?

How Do You Write?: Q16: Do you write songs in a calculated way, developing them with any particular sense of airplay in mind, or do you just write as it you are moved to?

Holy Grail of Airplay: Q17: Is "airplay" the Holy Grail these days, or have changes in the industry reset the target in some way?

File Sharing Music: Q18: It has always been pretty easy to copy recorded music for replay and circumvention of payment, but digital technology has undermined traditional music industry business practices. This has given rise to whole new models of commerce that often begin with provision of free service or product leading to follow-on revenues. Where do you stand on music downloading and sharing? In an ocean of singer/songwriters, does a guy have any choice but to have his music "ripped off" in hopes it will lead to a commercial following?

Current Radio: Q19: Do you listen to music and, if so, who are you liking these days?

Best Songwriter: Q20: Who, to Rick Roberts, is the penultimate songwriter, the person(s) you most admire?

Favorite Composition - Building A Great Song: Q21: Do you have a song that you have written that you are particularly proud of? And why? I ask because in listening to your music one of the things that I am struck by is the elegance of the constructions. On "You Are the Woman", for instance, which must be a case study in song structure at some university somewhere, you open with an instrumental hook (David playing the flute), go to a single short verse, and then build right into a catchy chorus section. It all happens very fast, to the listener's "mind", though it isn't a tempo thing so much as it is a rapid narrative development. Do you know what I mean by this and would you care to respond?




   Click Here - To Go to the Next Question and Answer
   Click Here - To Go to Rick Roberts Website

1 The genesis of Firefall has become somewhat obscured over the years as the band has carried on through numerous lineup changes but under the direction of Jock Bartley, who has been a proud protector of the Firefall brand. Rick Roberts, coming out of his Flying Burrito Brothers period, was recognized as a legitimate songwriter and front man and he seemed to be heading toward a career as a solo artist. He brought his childhood friend David Muse from Florida to join him in the Firefall band. He bought an airline ticket to fly Larry Burnett out to Colorado from Washington D..C. Michael Clarke was lured out of a Hawaiian retirement and Jock Bartley, who shared the Gram Parsons connection with Roberts, was recruited to play guitar. It was a killer unit and when Rick Roberts' solo deal fell through he just melded into the band and Firefall was whole.

The Roberts-Bartley connection is intriguing in a couple ways. For one, they shared the Gram Parsons connection, Bartley directly as a Parsons sideman, and Roberts as a guy who had the unusual honor of living in the shadow of the cult hero Parsons, even singing the Parsons oeuvre. That had to be tough, though the Burrito Brothers did roughly half of their short 3-year run with Roberts front and center.

The parallel regarding Jock Bartley is that he is the last remaining member of Firefall and he has contributed tremendously to the legacy of the band, and yet Bartley, too, is left playing a big part of the oeuvre of the band's primary songwriter, Rick Roberts, sometimes as many as 15 Roberts songs in a single Firefall set list.




©Rick Alan Rice (RAR), May, 2012