YALL KNOW THE VOICE. THE SMOOTH, CALM AND COOL VOICE THAT SETS THE SOUNDTRACK TO MOST OF OUR DAZE, AT LEAST SOME PART. THIS GUY JUST SUPERCEDED OUR EXPECTATIONS. HE IS IN FACT, THE VOICE WE HEAR EVERYDAZE. WHAT I MEAN IS THIS GUY IS THE REAL DEAL. I KIND OF EXPECTED HIM TO BE COCKY, BUT HE WAS NOT THAT AT ALL. HE IS A GUY THAT CARES ABOUT THE MUSIC IN THIS TOWN. WE MET WITH HIM AT HIS OFFICE AND HE JUST OPENED UP TO US. WE KIND OF HAVE THAT EFFECT ON PEOPLE. OUR CONVERSATION WENT OVER THE TIME ALLOTTED AND I KNOW THAT I COULD HAVE TALKED WITH HIM FOR MUCH LONGER. HE IS A MUSIC AFFICIONADO AND ON MY BETTER DAZE, I AM ALSO. JODY IS ANOTHER ONE OF US OUT THERE KEEPING THE SOUL AND SPIRIT ALIVE IN OUR OASIS, NAMED AUSTIN. ENJOY THESE WORDS THAT WE SHARED:
INT BY R&W
TRANSCRIBED BY W&LACRETUA&JBLUNT
AD: When you do interviews do you wing it or do you write up your own questions or does somebody else?
JD: There are two kinds of interviews that I do. One is for the radio station and I also produce interview CDs. I’ve done about thirty of those in the last 6 or 7 years. So, those require a great deal more preparation. You know, if I am going in with Paul McCartney or Steely Dan or whatever. So, if I’m doing those discs I do a great deal of preparation. If I’m going to talk with Joni Mitchell, I’ll listen to everything she has ever done, check every website, every biography. But on the air, like yesterday with the Neville Brothers, I’m familiar with the band enough that I just make some bullet points. It’s going to be a brief interview anyway and it’s five or ten minutes and it’s mostly performance. Like tomorrow with Steve Earle, I’ve interviewed Steve so many times and I know his music so well. I just make some bullet points.
AD: You have interviewed many famous people. Which one has been your favorite and why?
JD: Well, you know, I am like a total Beatles fanatic. Getting to really sit down with Paul McCartney on two separate occasions in 2002 meant a lot to me, but it’s hard to say. I liked them all for different reasons. Going to Joan Baez’s home and sitting down with her was very meaningful because she entrusted me enough and knew me enough, at that point, that she said “let’s do it at my home”. Going to the Dakota to be with Yoko just takes my breath away and talking with Brian Wilson. That was a very difficult interview because he is not always that forthcoming. Over the last year or two he has become more expansive with his answers and stuff but for awhile there it was like pulling teeth especially if it was on the phone… it’s really tough but I thought I got some good communication going with Brian. It’s all a thrill and a blessing and an honor and a privilege.
AD: You have seen many changes here in the last 20 years. What do you anticipate in the next 20 years?
JD: Wow, well I’ve lived in Austin since 1977, so I guess that’s 27 plus years. Because of the national political situation it lends one to having a bit of a pessimism about our lives as far as health care goes and job security and social security and things of that nature so that’s scary, but I feel like at a local level we can still affect positive change. I read the interview with Will Wynn in the last issue of the Austin DAZE and you know he seems to be a guy with some good ideas and some positivity as do some members of our City Council. Like Jackie Goodman or our representatives Elliot Naishtat giving you hope about the future of Austin and that’s a very general answer.
AD: Do you think that this city should do more for its musicians? We interviewed Will Wynn and he seemed to be thinking about all the right things. What is the most important issue you think needs to be addressed for musicians?
JD: On a local level, the issue that needs to be addressed still stems from the national issue of a lack of health care and mental health care and you know the fact that no one is getting rich from playing smaller clubs. That’s the music business, you know. Musicians forever have had to have day jobs and go to their gigs and some will ascend and some won’t. But for our citizens at large as well as our musicians, you know access to quality affordable health care, I think is the biggest issue because if you are not making a great deal of money as a musician and you are spending your day waiting tables or doing your day job that doesn’t afford you health care then there has to be a way for people who are giving us so much joy with their art to able to take care of themselves.And that is one reason why, and this is not a plug, but why I’m so committed to the SIMS Foundation. The SIMS Foundation currently focuses on low cost mental health care access for musicians. The folks in charge of the SIMS are trying to broaden that agenda to low cost access to health care in general, dental care, health care. And I’ve expressed this to them and I’m pleased with what they say and I don’t want their focus to become too broad to where nothing gets done right and I am confident that the current people at SIMS are going to make sure that if a musician suffers from depression or substance abuse problems or any mental health care issues that they are able to get access to that at a low cost. So bottom line: The number one issue facing our musicians as well as our population is health care.
AD: We are actually doing an interview with SIMS this issue so it will fit right in…
JD: Well, yes, I know that the broadcast CDs have earned in excess of a million dollars, including the current one which they haven’t received that donation yet cause we do that at the Music Awards show. But yeah I think that overlaps nicely. God Bless Sims Ellison and God bless the SIMS foundation.
AD: How long have you been on the radio?
JD: Well my first show was at KLBJ FM in 1981 so this next month, March; it will be 24 years that I’m on the radio. I started with a Sunday show, which I still do a Sunday show. Sunday nights from 8-10. Its two hours of new music. It’s the Sunday night Muse. It’s essentially the same show that I was doing on KLBJ FM when I left there in 1990 but I had to kind of change the name cause I was going to another station so I’ve been on the air just about 24 years split between KLBJ FM , 81 to 90, and KGSR starting 1992 to present.
AD: Are you from Austin?
JD:No, I’m a New Yorker.
AD: What brought you here and I mean obviously I know why your still here but what attracted you to Austin?
JD: Family issues made me move from New York to El Paso where I finished High School. I did my first year of college in El Paso. People that were a year older than me that were my friends had already moved to Austin to go to college. So, I came here and visited in 76’ and went to the Armadillo and saw this progressive rock band called Nektar. Anyway, it was so much fun that I thought why do I want to finish school in El Paso when you know in Austin there was this vibrant music scene? I was very active musically in New York growing up. I went to concerts in Madison Square Garden when I was twelve. I saw Jeff Beck when I was 14 or 15, I saw John Lennon play with Elton John. So, I was a music guy just as a kid and I’ve always been a music person. So visiting here from El Paso I thought “that’s where I need to be” like so many others of us.
AD: This is a two part question. What do you think of the build up of Austin and do you think we have lost or gained more as a town?
JD: You know, there was a while when the build up was really intense during the dot com boom that I became a little disenchanted with my favorite city on the planet like many others and although the dot com bust hurt a lot of people financially. It was still kind of nice cause I felt like everyone had to breath. O.K. you’ve got your empty building where Liberty Lunch used to be, you know now what are you going to do? Just breath for a minute although like many people who lived here for a very long time, I’ve watched it get less funky but it’s still the greatest city. If you leave town for a little bit and you come back and you go “Oh yeah, Austin is my home”. So, you know, people have to have jobs and I’m not just one of those people that would say that all development is bad and all growth is bad. I don’t feel that way. I think what we were talking about issues that face musicians, it use to be that housing was affordable. Americans can’t afford housing with the minimum wage.
AD:Yeah, the people who need assisted living but they don’t have any social security because they haven’t had time to put into it cause they are too young so they get Medicaid like not even enough to pay their rent…
JD: Yeah, So that’s been disenchanting because with the boom has come the increase of rent and that makes the place less affordable for people to live and, of course, if they can’t afford places it gives them less disposable income. That’s something that made it disenchanting where you just saw rents going up, up, up. I was lucky enough to be able to buy a house way back then, but what about my friends who haven’t gotten there yet? How are they going to get into homes these days? Well, I must have watched the news last night or something to be getting off on that. But I know the tone of the paper and I know that you address these issues and I know that even though there are entertainment things in the paper as well you talk about politics and things like that so I guess that’s also become part of my mindset for the conversation.
AD: Yeah, we try to keep the paper like Austin, well-rounded. There’s politics, there’s art, there’s humor. Speaking of politics, SXSW is coming and I want to know what you think of that but also maybe you can expand on what you think of the sound ordinance?
JD: Well, I respect people that want to live in their houses and not be invaded with overwhelming noise but also sometimes the ordinances do seem too stringent and strict . You know, KGSR does a series called Unplugged at the Grove. I think this is coming on the 11th or 12th year and we had complaints from people who live on the other side of Barton Springs but the music is over by 10 o’clock and I don’t really feel… We try to go out of our way to make everything to physically shield the sound from going up on that hill but nevertheless those people continue to complain. You know, one or two people, it’s like with the FCC, one or two complaints can cause a furor over events. It appears to me that the sound ordinances are too strict. At the same time I am certainly empathetic to people that don’t want their homes invaded by loud music when they get home from work, it should be their sanctuary. So it’s a double edged sword. It seems to me that decibel levels are a little bit strict.
AD;What do you think about SXSW?
JD:What do I think of SXSW? Well, I started, I have a journalism degree, I worked for the Daily Texan in 1978. My co-writers at The Daily Texan were Louis Black and Nick Barbaro, we all worked together back then and I read Louis’ interview in the paper and really enjoyed it. So you know they went to start the Chronicle and I wrote for the Chronicle for the first many years but I went into radio more and then those folks started SXSW. I remember it was the new music seminar guides that came in from New York that were trying to spread it. Then Nick, Louis and Roland just ran with the ball and stuff but anything that brings that much money into the local economy is just a total blessing. You know sometimes I think I just want to run when it comes into town because it so intense. But then I always wind up having the greatest time and having the most wonderful guest like going “gosh Ray Davies just walked out and Lucinda Williams is walking in. O.K. this is great”. Bottom line, on SXSW is for me, is what a great regional local economy tool and what a wonderful thing that truly solidifies Austin’s place as a music center in the eyes of the world.
AD: Do you think the sound ordinance belongs in the Live Music Capital of the World and how do you think it could be enforced better? Because of what happened last year with Ozomatli.
JD: Well, the Ozomatli (THING) was an isolated incident that just went wrong. I wouldn’t use that as symbolic of the whole issue of the sound ordinance because I think that was just a mistake. I think the city admitted as much by inviting the band to play at the city council afterwards, but maybe I can just answer the sound ordinance question in a more succinct way than I did before. Yeah, there is a place for a sound ordinance in the Live Music Capital of the World because however many citizens there are in Austin not every single one, you know were all caught up in SXSW, but these people with families and homes and they deserve to have peace in their own homes. So, sure there is a place for a sound ordinance in theLive Music Capital, but I just think that the decibel level that they are enforcing appears to be too stringent and that should be reexamined and perhaps recalibrated to be sure to be empathetic to the citizens that are worried about loud music but also to be empathetic to the businesses and the citizens who are enjoying the loud music.
AD: – One of our staff members heard you sing with Alejandro Escovedo. Why don’t you sing more?
JD: – I sing a fair amount but I don’t want to be one of those media people that uses their position to get on stage. At the same time you know I sang in Ronny Lane’s band this year. I sang in a band called Seven Samurai that was in the 80’s with Alejandro, John Dee Graham and Bruce Hughes from Poi dog and Lonely Land and Dickie Lee Erwin and so many other people so we had a band. Bruce and Susan left to join (Poi dog), this is like 86, 87. But I played with Ronny Lane and his band and I ‘m on the “Live in Austin” album with Ronnie and I’ve sung on stage here with Steve Forbert and Loudon Wainwright III, and Shawn Colvin, Alejandro, Doug Sahm, and Ian McClagan but it’s a novelty thing.The DJ gets up and sings and we’ll indulge him for a moment it’s more like the thrill of being able to do that with those people that I love, like Loudon Wainwright has been a friend of mine since 82, and getting to get up with him and Richard Rethington. Shawn Colvin follows us with Loudon and says, ” I get to come after the feel good guy bonding session.” So I sing with my friends.
AD: – What do you love most about Austin?
JD: – The open mindset of the people. The open mindedness of the people. Like when you go to Boulder, Colorado. Have you ever been there?
AD: – Yep
JD: – So you know there’s another sort of oasis of sanity and thought. And although certainly Austin isn’t the liberal town that it use to be. I see plenty of W 04 stickers everywhere. I still like to think that maybe even those people are more open minded. It just seems like people are more open minded and friendly and loving and caring about their community.
AD: There are still a lot of people here like us, like you, fighting for the local way .The old way, the cool way of Austin.
JD: We’re just fighting for the spirit within, to be outside not even the spirit of old Austin. The spirit of you know god, love whatever. Just projecting positivism through art and culture whether its Kinky Freidman running for governor. The Kinkster, I mean that’s amazing to me that’s so Austin. This guy, you know, was a country singer and became friends with Bob Dylan and then went on to write all these books that are amazing and then runs his Utopia animal rescue ranch and now he wants to run for governor. To me symbolizes that free spirited nature of Austin and that’s what I want to project. The spirit transcends political boundaries and partisan affiliations. The spirit is love. The spirit and it’s anywhere you find it. Waking into the Continental Club and Toni Price is onstage signing and going to a local business and its funky and you know they are doing everything they can to pay rent and survive and make it happen right. That’s why Waterloo Records is another example of a place that is Austin seeded and Austin grown. Yes, it’s gotten bigger but they still have the spirit. You go in there and you’re buying a record and feel in touch with the community.
AD: The vibe when you meet someone who is a celebrity here in Austin is different than other towns. Here you bump into people like Toni Price, Clifford Antone and …….
JD: and Lance, and Sheryl, and Willie. Although Willie is in a different situation cause he really can’t go out because he’s swarmed. He was up here performing in December and when it was over I said, ‘We can leave out through this side door because there’s a crowd of 70-75 people out there I can get you out of here.’ He looked at me and said “Oh No”. He stayed and talked to every single person that wanted to speak to him, that wanted to ask him a question, wanted to take a photograph, or autograph. Spoke with them all. The spirit comes down from the top. For me, Willie is up at the top. My favorite Willie album is called Spirit.
AD: Do you ever get tired of the same stuff on KGSR? The reason I am asking this is more about the Van Morrison that you play it seems that the station chooses a selective. Never seem to touch the album Veeden Fleece, which is my personal favorite. “Moon Dance” and “Brown Eyed Girl” is played repeatedly.
JD: I can call up my list right here and see what songs are active. But let me answer the first part of the question then we’ll move on to the Van Morrison album.
Yes. I get tired of the music that KGSR plays sometimes simply because I am on the air 20 hours a week and so the average listener of KGSR will listen to 7 hours a week. So I hear us 3 times more than just about anyone else. So I do get a little tired of some of it, but then I go away on vacation for a week or two and it all sounds fresh to me again. And because about 40 or 50 percent is new music even though there is a library song I’m getting tired of or whatever, but like “Moon Dance” I will never like get tired of hearing it. For example; there are songs I get tired of. Then I know the next song is going to be something like the Shins or Bright Eyes or Ani DiFranco or something that is new. There’s so many different people who make up the constituency of the KGSR listenership, there’s approximately 100,000 people over the age of 25 that listen to KGSR, so you have to try to reach the people that think ‘Oh the new Shins or the new Ani DiFranco, the new Bright Eyes, the new Buddy Miller that’s all so great.’ But you also have to reach the people who are not really sitting there waiting for the new music. They’re in their cars driving home and they want to hear a comfortable song that they know and love, so what you try to do is pick the right song for the know and love songs and then pick the right song for the people who are hungry for something they haven’t heard before. So you really have to strike a balance. Playing an album track from Veeden Fleece would be a nice thing but it would seem somewhat indulgent at the expense of, if I had just played something totally unfamiliar by Ani DiFranco or Tony Joe White or Madeleine Peyroux or Alison Krauss or Nate Alvin or Ray LaMontagne, The Sadies, Ray Wylie Hubbard…………. you know there has to be sort of a familiarity quotient as well to balance it out. There’s listeners that are way on the left like perhaps yourself or myself and then there are listeners that are way on the right conservative that are probably also listening to Classic Rock and other familiar formats and then the ones in the middle and how do you strike that balance?
AD: So are you allowed to play any song you want by anybody?
JD: Well I’m the boss so, yeah but there are rules for the DJ’s. They have a log when they go in because another thing we try to achieve is balance of genres. Because when you play folk, blues, reggae, alternative, I don’t want someone going in there and playing a sleepy, beautiful Patty Griffin song and then another sleepy beautiful Ray LaMontagne song and then another sleepy beautiful Shawn Colvin song and then your kind of sittin’ there goin’…………there needs to be a way to say OK if we’re going to play a sleepy beautiful new Ray LaMontagne song lets come back with a really rockin’ familiar Neville Brothers song or something like that. But Van Morrison for instance, all these songs (he points to his computer screen) have been active in our library at one time or another and we try to like move some in and move some out so as you’re getting tired of some we can play a different one. So like right now (he lists 20-30 Van Morrison songs) all of those songs are active right now, so all of those songs are on our airwaves at all times so its not album tracks from Veeden Fleece but its not just (a couple) of Van Morrison songs either. Your perception (of our programming) is your reality but it may be based on how much you’re listening. And not all of these songs are active. Some are sleeping, they’re resting but like on a Deep Down Thursday then we just throw the doors wide open and say play a different song every hour. Or there’ll be times like on Overnights, Kerry will play “St. Dominick’s Preview” or “Madame George” or whatever. Hopefully a song like “Moondance” is going to please……you’ve got to try and reach 100,000 people.
AD: You’ve got to think about the masses.
JD: Yeah, and I’ve got to think about the left and the right too. So what I’m saying is if I just play the new Ani DiFranco song “Studying Stones.” I can’t just be way out there because we’ve been doing it for, now were on our 15th year and when we first started we were WAY OUT THERE and we didn’t succeed enough in revenue and ratings to make our station profitable in order to get the ownership want to let us keep doing it, so we had to reach a certain level of ratings and revenue to make them say “OK what you’re doing is great, keep doing it” and have a place where you can hear the Flatlanders and have a place where you can hear Toni…..and it can’t be KOOP radio or like KVRS or even KUT. It’s a different animal, it’s a commercial radio station so it’s a balancing act, and it’s a tightrope act.
AD: What do local bands have to do to get your attention, to get played?
JD: We listen to everything that’s pitched to us that’s sent to us. I mean, in just strict terms, music decisions are made primarily by me and our Music Director Susan Castle. We meet every week and she takes phone calls for three hours on Monday’s from 3:15pm to 6:15pm central @ 512-908-4986. Then she comes into a meeting with a list of everyone who’s called her and every song that’s being pitched be it major labels or local bands, Spencer Gibb from 54 Seconds or Columbia Records, (it) doesn’t matter. And we sit here and listen to them all. And as much as we champion local music you know, and we’re happy to play the new John Dee Graham album or something from 54 Seconds, it has to be as good as what’s going to be next to it which could be Bob Dylan or it could be anybody. So, we don’t put local music on just because its local, it has to be just as great as everything else. It has to be great. I mean there’s so many records that are thrown our way all the time that when were in that meeting going OK tonight we’ve got the new Jesse Dayton ,” Country Soul Brother.” OK that’s a really cool song, lets hear it again next week ’cause we’re not really sure if we want to bring that to the masses(yet). Or we’ve got the new Solomon Burke, King of Soul or we’ve got the new Jimmy LaFave in advance, that’s really good, we love LaFave. We’ve got this band called Aqualung that had a hit record in England ’cause they did a car commercial and we have the new Beck. So we go in there, and that’s not to mention all the others that are being pitched to us and on the list, and we go in there and we listen to them and we don’t discriminate, like well let’s hear the local songs, we go “Solomon Burke, wow that guy’s the King of Soul; he’s amazing, that song was great. Jimmy LaFave, ah that’s one of Jimmy’s best records and stands here with the other songs by him that we play. So, to answer the question on how local bands get our attention they just follow the rules like everybody else who tries to bring music to our attention. Call our Music Director during her 3 hours of calls; make sure the CD gets here. She comes into the meeting, we go through the list and listen to as many as we can until our ears get numb and we just pick songs that we think are great from the heart, and that’s a lost art in radio. It’s not how it works in most places on commercial radio. There’s consultants and bosses and people telling you how to do it all. With us it just goes back to the spirit going “that’s a great song, let’s put it on!” Like Ray LaMontagne who is a guy we heard ………who sounds a little like “Astral Weeks” ” Caravan” he has that song called “Trouble” and we’re just like…this is crazy great, lets put it on there, because it’s from the heart. The best for me personally is, I take emails its email@example.com so local music submissions come to me and Susan deals with the community at large without discriminating between local and national. So when you send in a CD send me an email about where you’re playing because I start my show by playing the Daily Demo which stretches the limit because it could just be a self released CD. So when I get these emails I just write on my calendar who’s playing when and where. Jesse Dayton sent me a blanket email that said I’m playing Thursday at the blah, blah, blah and I hadn’t listened to that CD yet so I pulled it out and played it on the Daily Demo and when I came into work Monday I told Susan about it and it was added to the rotation.
AD: What do you think of the Austin DAZE newspaper?
JD: I’m happy it exists! I think Russ was kind enough to start sending it to me right off the bat. As someone who came from Journalism and came from the Chronicle and I wrote for Texas Monthly for 4 or 5 years with a column and worked with Rolling Stone, I’m just glad it exists because it helps to keep Austin funky and its given a voice to other people that might not have it and point of view that might not otherwise exist. I read every issue cover to cover especially because of the Dylan quote.
AD: Which musicians bring you out to a club?
JD: Well you know I’m 45, I moved here when I was 18, so when I first got here and in the earlier days I was part of the whole “new sincerity” crowd, so I’d go out and see the True Believers and before that Rank and File, the Wild Seeds, Zeitgeist and Glass Eye. And also the other guards like Doug Sahm and Marcia Ball and Alvin Crow and all those other people. Now, I don’t go out as often because I work 50-60 hours a week with this project and all my CD’s ‘n stuff. But I’ll always go out to see Alejandro or Shawn Colvin or John Dee.Graham or you know, people who are my friends, the kind of play it safe thing, I know what I’m going to get. I want to see 54 Seconds because I really think Spencer’s talented. Everything he’s sent my way I have really been just blown away by. I’ll always go see Eliza. I’ll always go see LaFave. I’ll always go see anything at the Cactus because I can’t stand cigarette smoke and I like to be in an environment where people are just listening. All those people I’ve mentioned I’ve gone to see as opposed to them coming here and of course I was on the guest list (we all laugh). It’s all about timing for me where I am in my life. On Saturday you know what I do? I grab the books that are on my night stand and I grab the CD’s that are for me and I grab my easy chair and I have Jodi time.
AD: What do you like to listen to?
· JD: I love what we play on KGSR but at home I like to hear a classical Frank Zappa piece or Yoko Ono scream. I listen to Brian Eno music and “Music For Airports” and things like that. I listen to Frank Zappa, I like to listen to some really long jam band stuff. We do play Widespread and the Dead but I’ll put on an old “DARK STAR” from years ago. Or listen to one of the Widespread jams that are really long that are hard to accommodate in the middle of the day of commercial radio, people in their cars with a 3 minute attention span. I play a lot of Miles Davis; thankfully it’s been later in my life that I have discovered jazz for myself. I’m being turned on to new musics that I didn’t know. Like Jay Trachtenberg who works here and at KUT, I’ll ask him, “Man I got the whole Miles Davis catalog out flip’n out, but now where do I go? He’ll say, “You have to have John Coltrane.” He turned me on to Thelonious Monk So I’ve been exploring those things. There’s always farther to go. There’s people who listen to KGSR and go “Madeleine Peyroux,wow! She’s cool, where have I been?” We can turn you on to a lot of things, but you know when we started we tried to do everything. We tried to have everything from Pat Metheny to the Gang Of Four and it didn’t work. We weren’t getting enough listeners. It’s like having a restaurant that serves pizza, Chinese, Mexican, and when you think of where am I going to go eat pizza you don’t think of a place that serves a million different kinds of food. So we really have to narrow our focus to be more on rootsier music. I think that’s who we are. Were branded a triple AAA station by the industry but we certainly lean very much Americana as triple AAA. We play 1/3 of what’s on their charts. We play mostly what’s in our hearts.