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Archives: Anita Bloom Interviewing America

Mohegan Sun Casino, 3 July 2004

Prologue: I had the pleasure of interviewing Gerry and Dewey at the Mohegan Sun Casino on July 3, 2004. Not only are they consummate professionals, but they are warm, witty and sincere as well. The closeness of their 35+ year friendship was evident, as they joked and finished each other's sentences. I hope you can share those feelings as you read the interview, and that you'll find some information you might not have heard before.

Anita Bloom

Anita: What is the best thing about performing onstage and how would you say that it's different from when you were starting out?

Dewey: Well, you know, it's one of those things that's grown, as the years have gone on you take it a little more seriously. I think we went through a period where it was like, "Let's just get this show over with and get on with the parties," and things like that, and I think we've, at least I have, I can say it for me, I've taken it more seriously as we've tried to go along you know and you realize how important that music is, and you're trying to make it . . . to do the best job you can every night. So, in that sense it's changed a bit. But it's very satisfying, you know, to have that reaction and have people that haven't seen you before, and they're, you know, they're real receptive and they're surprised at some of the songs that they didn't realize we've done, but that's the best thing, I think, is kind of turning on new people and seeing new faces out there.

Gerry: Well, a show is just like a song, in that it takes a lot of work to develop it, a song doesn't just appear, you know, even if it's three minutes, whatever, you've gotta write it, you've gotta get creative and you know, a show is the same way, and for many years we didn't really have a show, we had like 15 or 20 minutes that we used to play in England when we got started and we were an opening act, and all of a sudden, because of immediate success, we were a headline act, and we didn't really have a show, we added more songs and we made a 20 minute act, all of a sudden now we're doing an hour, an hour 20, but it certainly wasn't a show, it was just more music. And somebody dug out of the vault the other day for me to have a listen to, the Hollywood Bowl, the first time we played the Hollywood Bowl, and I was just amazed, at the amount of tuning that went on after every song. It was like, we'd end a song and then there'd be <makes noise of guitar tuning> you know. Just inexcusable. . .

D: Unprofessional . . .

G: Like nowadays, what we consider to be normal, just the kind of rapport, and what other people observing might say, just effortless, kind of "Gee, they seem so casual," but it's taken years to get to that point you know and we don't think about it cause we've taken it in small steps over decades, to get to this point. And it is casual, because we've done it, as you well know, night after night, for centuries, it seems like. But when you leap back 20 some years, and you listen, boy it's amazing how un-together . We didn't even have anybody to tune. You know, now if you watch the show, Pete is running back and forth. Obviously a valuable asset is to have somebody grab the guitar and continually tuning it. Because you spend three minutes of every song bashing it out a tune. We didn't have . . .

D: And there's electronic tuners now too which we didn't have. It was all by ear kind of . . .

A: Can you tell us a funny or memorable incident from a particular show?

D: We were performing on The Bob Hope Show, he had done a series of shows from campuses around the country, college tour whatever, and we were billed, we were put on the bill with the likes of John Wayne, and Aretha Franklin, Flip Wilson. Anyway, it was to . . . you know, we were lip synching, it was at UCLA, it was a lip synch thing. Everybody knows on TV, many, many times, you rarely perform live, many times, you're just doing it to tape. Well, lo and behold, they filled the Pauley Pavilion, was it, at UCLA, with college students for the show, and they'd run it down all day long, it was a skit, there were skits and stuff and John Wayne and Bob Hope doing little bits. Our turn comes to sing. Sister Golden Hair was number one at the time. I think it was '75, and . . .

G: Well they sold out Pauley Pavilion by saying "America . . .

D: Yeah!

G: at Pauley Pavilion on the Bob Hope," you know, so that's how they got all of these kids in there.

D: So, the students are all there thinking they're seeing a live America concert and basically they're seeing just three songs if that, two songs, whatever the hell we did, whatever the heck we did. And the tape, there's a malfunction, we always said the tape broke, but I'm sure it was something else, some kind of electronic problem. . . and slow clapping and booing, and "Hey, this is a ripoff," you know, scary moment. I remember feeling my knees start to give way. I thought "Oh my gosh, this was. . . "

G: Well, they asked us to do two songs on the TV show. And then when that they realized they had all these people coming and we were only going to do two songs they said "Well can you add more songs?" And we said "Well we're only lip synching, it's not a real show," "Well, can you lip synch to a bunch more songs?" So we added, purely for the audience in theory, remember we added a bunch more songs. And it's during those songs that it happened so it really wasn't part of the eventual show, but we were trying to be accommodating, and of course . . .

D: The outcome though was we did then, we told, we said something over the mike like "Hey this is a TV show, folks. You know, we may have to redo this again anyway." You reshoot and you do things. This is, you're kind of just witnessing the filming of a TV show. But we did go back and do a real concert, to kind of make up for it, a true, real show. And hopefully we closed the book on that one.

A: Besides the obvious answer of being away from your families, what is the most difficult aspect of being on the road for you and what activities do you enjoy when you're off the road?

G: The hardest part of the travel now, and it's become harder and harder, is the actual travel. Now I think that after years and years it would have become inevitable that it would become more of a pain, regardless, but because of security concerns and things, it's just become a nightmare, so it's just kind of played out that way, that it's just . . . It's not impossible, but the hour and a half of a show has become so much more of a relief of everybody's day than it ever used to be because the remainder of the day has just been this . . . we have to get to airports so much earlier than we used to have to and Pete and everybody's got to get all this gear x-rayed. The kind of stuff that we have to go through is just triple from what it used to be, so that's the hardest part.

D: And it goes without saying that time zone changes, and early mornings and wakeup calls, you know, at the crack of dawn, fishing trips we call them, those get real old real fast. I mean, it was exciting in the old days, to know "But at least we're going to New York, or we're going to New Orleans or we're going to London," you know, which is still great to travel to all those places. But that part, like Gerry said, is the absolute worst. And time zones are weird, your body doesn't hold up as well as you get older, I don't think. And crummy hotels now and then.

G: Rarely, though, we try and spot that ahead of time. And then, the second part, what do you enjoy when you're off the road . . . Well believe it or not it's as simple as to relax, which is a rarity, you know, for us; it's very hard to relax in small time sections of an hour or 40 minutes and that's how the majority of our life is. If you say that we do 150 shows, that's really 200 or more days of that kind of a life and those days are cut into little bits of, "Right, you've got 40 minutes," or "Right, you've got an hour and a half," and there's so much to get accomplished in those little bits of time, and trying to maintain all of these other parts of a well-balanced, you know, family life and stuff, so that when you get time off, it's very rare, to just do very little, is a pleasure.

A: What is the origin of the nickname Dewey?

D: OK, Dewey, was . . . it's, there was a famous surfer, named Dewey Weber, in the early sixties. I think they still have the line of his surfboards, Dewey Weber Surfboards. And I, you know Gerry and I are both from Air Force families, our dads were Air Force, so we were stationed all over the place and we were stationed , my family in California, and it was the early 60s and surfing was the big deal and all the kids at school were surfers and things. So, sometimes you go to school on the base, in which case you're with kids that are, moved around, but a lot of times you're in a just regular old school. So anyway it was more of joke name and I adopted it really. Someone probably said "Oh, here comes Dewey," as in, if you're a baseball player, "Here comes Mickey, Mickey Mantle," or something like almost a put-down, but I liked it right away, and I kind of . . . You know, it's funny, it's like an alter identity. I just grabbed it and went with it. Lee is a family name, my dad's father was named Lee and it's been around a long time. But it just seemed like such a short little name, "Lee." <Gerry chuckles> And so that's it. Psychologically I'm short so I didn't like a short name. I don't know. But it's, well, my mother didn't like it, she's gone now, bless her heart, but she, and my folks always called me Lee, you know. A handful of people still only call me Lee. But Dewey is, is kind of my professional name, I like that. There you go, Dewey Weber, look it up . . .

A: Many people wait til their 60's or 70's to write their autobiographies. How does it feel to know that you've already written a great part of your legacy to the world via your songs?

G: I feel that, to a certain extent our lives, since we got started so early, has been documented, it's kind of an open book, and so there's not a lot of extra to tell. The music stands as one part of that story, you know, and people who wanted to look into that, could read you know, between the lines, although I think that's a little risky, because when you write pop songs, it's such a vague form, you know.

D: Yeah, there's a lot of just, you know, characters, in songs that have nothing to do with real people and things. Ah, people do write books though and we just talked to Rusty Young of Poco, the other day, he's writing one, and Jimmy Greenspoon of Three Dog Night has written one, Chuck Negron wrote his, of course . . .

G: I always envisioned, if I was to write something, I think I would write anecdotal chapters because I have so many snippets of memories where I'll just chuckle to myself "Oh, man, remember that time . . ." And I would rather write that as a paragraph or a chapter and just kind of shuffle them all up and say that, in no particular order because the tedium of chronology,

D: Yeah, going back. . .

G: and stuff like that, and what happened in '70, I would hate that. But I would love to write down my memories of George Martin at the Hollywood Bowl, or something, you know what I mean, like snippets, things like that. That would appeal to me.

D: That was a funny episode, too, the fireworks, the burning of strings and stuff.

D: There was an orchestra there, George Martin had organized, you know . . .

G: It was the LA Philharmonic and fireworks over the bowl for the big finale number, the sparks came down and caught the lady playing the harp,

A: Oh my G-d!

G: Caught her on fire, so she ran off the stage all behind us while we weren't watching and I happened to know her, a lady named Gail, a lovely lady, lived in the same apartment building that we were in and I said "Wasn't that great?" not knowing that she had run off the stage in flames.

A: In your songwriting these days, what inspires you most and how do you keep coming up with material that sounds fresh?

D: It's not easy as time goes on. We're writing some stuff right now and I've been trying to woodshed on the road a little more than I . . . It's difficult to write on the road even too; we never did, but . . . . But, you know, you find yourself being a little repetitive, I don't want to really do that, and we . . . So, it's hard to explain anymore, you know, fresh new ideas are kind of hard to come up with as you get older. That's probably a copout. But everything seems to be, I've already, you know . . .

G: I've written that one.

D: Yeah, I've written that one.

G: Why don't you write another one about a horse?

D: About a horse, somewhere, yeah. Why don't you, and another blonde woman song?

A: Yeah!

G: I'll write down titles a lot and I won't get the whole song written you know in an afternoon on the road.. I won't even have a guitar in my room. I'll get a title, or I'll say "That's pretty good" and I can sing it in my head kinda, and when I get home, or next time I get to a piano or something I'll work on that.

D: Yeah, and now I'm getting a little too structured too. Remember I was telling you: Well, you do the who, what, where, when, why, how, to tell a little three-minute story. But that gets too analytical. I mean, the great songs have come out somehow. And there's that little magic. Something happens, you find a couple of chords you like and the melody suddenly pops in your head and the words seem to come out easy and, and a lot of the best songs that I've ever written happened that way. So to sit down and go OK now, paper, pen, guitar . . .

G: I think you have to, I always call it you have to, you have to "mine" those emotions if you can't dig down into that area in general, I think.you end up with something lacking emotion, because you haven't dug into that area. It doesn't mean negative emotions, it can be the deepest of positive emotions but I think the real genius of anybody's songs when you hear them, you'll find have come from the . . . the deepest meanings, it might not sound deep meanings, it might not sound like a deep meaning, but it has come from a real, like you've said it can be an instant.and you can write it. I remember Robert Palmer saying, Addicted to Love, in a dream, but it was an emotional dream, I'm sure, and I'm sure he leapt out of bed and he couldn't believe it and he just, he couldn't stop his hand from scribbling that fast, you know what I mean? It was like, it was just unbelievable.

D: I wish I'd have another one those flashes. Because you can be very passionate about something, a topic, a subject, a current event, let's say the war in Iraq, or something you've got real definitive opinions, thoughts, feelings, but then to convert that energy into a song is not as easy as it sounds either. So it's just a, it's a very haphazard deal, writing songs, I guess creating anything, it just has to be the moment, in the moment.

A: Gerry, tell us about these five songs that you've written that appear to have never have been recorded: Connected To You (with Bill Mumy), No Future, Old Fashioned Boy, Self Image and To Tell The Truth.

G: Connected To You, as I see I would've forgotten all of these, but now seeing them, 'cause I have tons of songs. Connected to You I seem to think is pretty good; I'd have to dig that up and have a listen to that and see.

G: I don't really remember No Future; I'd have to listen to it. This happened the other day, stuff was showing up on the Internet, credited to America, and what it was, was things that I had cut when I was 15 and 16 at Morgan Studios,

D: Oh that's right!

G: As demos when I was just getting started and we were looking for studio time I would go play on people's records and I would play bass, or piano, usually bass, but sometimes keyboards or guitar and they would pay me in studio time. And very often it would be, you know, well "You could have Sunday from eight on or something" or "We can give you from midnight" and I would go in and cut something that I was writing and that's how they would pay me. And these songs would show up on these British compilations. And of course, now they'll call them America tunes, of course. But I think the liner notes are quite honest about where they've come from. But, if you'd have given me that title I'd have said "Not a chance," you know, but then when I hear it, 30 years flashes, 40, almost 40 years flashes by, and I think "Oh my G-d listen to that." So, you know some of these I can kind of remember. Self Image, I thin I did that at home in Human Nature Studio, and I'll go get real inspired and do a track for a week or two, and get really keen as I say, on it and then put it away and forget about it and then ten years later I'll dig it out and go "eh . . . it wasn't so good." I can't remember To Tell The Truth.

A: Dewey, what is it with the color purple?

D: Um, nothing specific. .I remember writing a poem in high school, that didn't get published in the high school book or whatever we had, that we put out some kind of thing.. And it was all about purple, and I . . . I don't know, I try and put colors in certain songs, I use other colors but purple itself is nothing. . . that really. . . Purple Rain of course is the one that people mention.

D: and it predated Prince!

G: Ahead of his time!

D: See, see inspired Prince!

D: But nothing specific, it's a nice color, I guess they call it the royal color or something don't they. And I like green a lot, <laughs> Green Monkey, Greenhouse; see?

A: There you go, there you go.

D: There's some greens too! I'm not preferential.

G: But green, you haven't succeeded as much with green.

D: Yeah!

G: You should use purple more.

D: So I need a purple horse, then we'll really . . . combine the two that. That'll be a huge record, huge!

A: Gerry - Are there any aspects of the music business that you'd like to try your hand at?

G: I used to produce on occasion when I had some time, and I used to like to produce, it's an incredible, time-consuming thing because I hate to do it without, cause now you're involving somebody else's life and it's really unfair to that artist if you can't give it your all, so I just don't have the time.

D: Matt, you've given Matt a few pointers.

G: Well I do, my son is getting very good that. Matthew, is producing a lot of people now at the studio.

A: Yes, we've been keeping track of that.

G: So he's doing really good with that. But, well something that I would like to do a bit more is score, I, my wife often thinks that that's something that I haven't pursued but the business, I know quite lot of people who score films, and it's a helluva business, that in itself, you've gotta go and just, you know, just to get in that gang or that clique of people is very, very tough but . . .

D: Yeah, you'd be good at that!

G: But I really am avid about that and listen as much in films, I listen as much to what's not there as what is there and I'm fascinated and I go way back and follow people's entire careers, and how they've developed and I have my favorites of composers and stuff, so I'm interested in that. Maybe in a parallel life sometime I would do some more of that.

A: From your experience, what would you tell a young musician about the music business?

G: The music business is in real turmoil, it is at a time that it has never been like this before, where labels are just in complete chaos, they're consolidating, they're collapsing but what I would say is, within reason, research is your best tool. Because kids nowadays they hear catch phrases like "Don't sell your publishing," you know, and they walk around with that in this in their back "Don't sell your publishing," they don't really understand what that means. And nothing can replace the knowledge of understanding what those things are. And I've met people from our era that are just so knowledgeable and I think "Boy, I just wish I had that base." And they are really so knowledgeable.

D: Mark Volman . . .

G: Mark Volman comes to mind . . . That teaches at Loyola and teaches at a variety of colleges. And I think it's just really valuable for these kids to understand so they're not being yanked around by people and are more in control of these major decisions that will affect their lives.

D: Writing music, writing your own songs is, original material is always a key too. No matter how great a singer you are, a guitar player, you look good, you've got the right clothes. It always helps to have some material of your own, because then you've got a commodity, then you've got walking around with . . . it always helps to have material of your own. A classic line, it took Jimmy Page, you know . . .

G: Yeah, Jimmy Page . . . I could play Stairway To Heaven when I was 16, he didn't even write it til he was 21 . . .

D: Yeah, duh! Anyway, so write songs, that's always good. Good or bad you've got something that you own and you can shop it around. And you can play it and get a base.

A: How do you feel the recording industry is going to change with the ability of consumers to purchase music online and download single songs to their computers?

D: That for me has been a great thing, I mean. I really, I had fallen out of the world of new music. I don't go to the CD stores much, I don't listen to radio much, so I'm kind of trapped in my old classic rock world, which I still really love, I was inspired by all the old bands from the 60's and 70's. But now with the downloadability quickly, the iPod thing, I'm suddenly listening to Fountains of Wayne. And today I was listening to some John Mayer stuff. We saw John Mayer there in Atlantic City. And it's great, the availability part is really cool. I don't know how that's going to affect, you know, the livelihood you know of those of us that are used to selling our stuff. And now it's . . .

G: I think it makes a challenge to create an album again, because the album used to be the art form when we were growing up and now it's just been kind of wiped off the top, you know. Because it's harder now to get a kid to buy, commit to buying all 10 or 15 tracks, and now, the challenge to an artist is to make an album worth buying. Because otherwise a kid's gonna click one song, he's not gonna buy all ten. I think a playlist is the new art form. Kids are creating playlists. Look at my playlist, I've made this playlist of these ten . . .You know what I mean? They're making their own albums. It's very creative.

D: Yeah, it's probably a good thing, it certainly makes it available to everybody and you don't have to buy a whole, you know $18.99, whatever.

G: .99 a song, ten bucks an album, I'm all for it.

D: That'll probably even come down, down along the road somehow, but . . .

A: Are there any collaborative projects with other artists coming up in the near future?

G: Well, we've been trying to, in this process of putting some new material together, trying to write with a few people, and I'm off to New York in this next break and I'm really looking forward to meet with Adam Schlesinger who's the writer in Fountains of Wayne, we're big fans of theirs and he's invited me over to the studio, so I'm looking forward to that we're both huge fans of that last album .

Last Revised: 15 December 2004