THE NARADA MICHAEL WALDEN INTERVIEW
by Art Connor
This interview appeared originally in Issue #11 of The Private Times newsletter, January 2001.
The story of Narada Michael Walden's career almost seems to have a charmed life. Starting in the hazy days of 1974, at the tender age of twenty-one, Narada (pronounced Nar'da, the middle 'a' is silent) finds himself taking over the drum duties of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, filling the shoes of the recently vacated and very formidable Billy Cobham.
No small feat indeed, when you consider not only are you taking over the chair once occupied by Cobham, but your fellow band mates now are Jean-Luc Ponty on violin, Ralph Armstrong on bass guitar, Gayle Moran on keyboards, and guitarist extraordinaire, Mahavishnu John McLaughlin! Talk about pressure!
Narada met the challenge head on. He left his own mark with this band which ultimately set the stage and is now regarded as one of the principal architects of fusion music as we now know it. Narada and his drum kit were suddenly in great demand, as he found himself keeping the beat with the likes of Joe Zawinul and Weather Report, and the great Carlos Santana. He was the primary force behind Jeff Beck's historic album, Wired, forever cementing together the worlds of jazz and rock music.
Narada had an ear and feel for rhythm, which found him right in the center of the Disco music explosion of the late seventies. Bringing with him the fusion sounds he had helped to trail blaze and incorporating them into the dance beat of the day, this gave him his first taste of the “mirrored balled” stardom that was only to explode even more in the next two decades to come.
All of this he was able to do very publicly, while privately he was adhering to the teachings of Guru Sri Chinmoy, something of a personal paradox given the crazy times of the day.
Fast-forward ten years to the mid-eighties. Having perfected his song-writing skills, Narada branches out into producing and cultivating other artists. Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Diana Ross, and Mariah Carey are suddenly in his charge. Then came the kudos; Grammy Awards, Academy Awards, Emmy Awards, he is named Billboard's “Producer of the Year.” Narada is now involved in producing and writing for trans-Atlantic artists, more hit songs come, more accolades.
Even with all of this fame and fortune, he still finds time to be involved with numerous charitable causes such as UNICEF, the Breast Cancer Society of America, and the Leukemia Society of America, for which he was named “Man of the Year” in 1998.
And the great music is still being made. Narada has now involved himself with newer, younger artists, such as Tatyana Ali, the great gospel group, the Winans, and re-establishing the Temptations as serious recording artists, by writing and producing “Stay,” their first number one hit in twenty-five years! Yes, most definitely a career to be proud of.
But back in the hungry days of December 1974, Narada befriended a young guitarist named Tommy Bolin. He played on Tommy’s first solo album, Teaser and hung out with him in New York. Narada even went so far as to join his band in the spring of 1976. Now cynics might scoff and say in the grand scheme of Narada's great thirty-plus year career, that the time he spent with Tommy Bolin was insignificant. A mere one night stand in a career that has truly gone on to become multi platinum many times over.
I didn't see it that way, and neither did Narada Michael Walden.
This project began right after the Tommy Bolin Music Festival of last year. Still groovin' with the good vibes of that weekend, the idea of interviewing Narada came to me on the flight home from Sioux City.
I contacted his management team at his Tarpan Studio offices outside of San Francisco. After my initial phone calls and emails, I was put in contact with Lulu Holmgren, who pretty much runs the business side of Tarpan Studios. After explaining what I was I up to, and with her realizing I wasn't some sort of lunatic, we began a great email and phone exchange. She thought the idea was great, only problem was Narada was in Japan for an extended promotional tour for the Music Of Love project, and wouldn't be home till Thanksgiving Weekend. Not a problem, we kept in touch once a month via emails.
The original idea was to have it be an email interview, when I suddenly received a phone call from Narada's office that he was ready, but wanted to do it via the phone, since he really liked my questions, but felt he could better answer them live. That suddenly changed things around, but all for the better.
When the actual interview finally took place, Narada made me feel so at ease, like we knew each other for years. He was excited to talk about his new Christmas album, Music Of Love, and was just as excited to talk about his days playing with Tommy, Jeff Beck, Mahavishnu Orchestra and anything else I came up with. He was that loving and open.
However, there was a point during the interview I thought I detected a bit of sadness on his part when talking about his time during the spring 1976 Tommy Bolin Band Tour. But he rallied, and even went on to give a great insight of those troubled days.
As you read on, I've tried the best I could to relay the energy and good vibes that Narada put forth during the interview. He made me feel so comfortable. It was indeed a wonderful Christmas present for me.
So, here is the exclusive, and I do mean “exclusive” Tommy Bolin Foundation interview with Narada Michael Walden. Enjoy!
Tuesday afternoon, December 19, 2000. First Union Bank Building, Philadelphia Headquarters, 12th floor, Conference Room B.
It's just about 4:00 p.m., and I look out the window, and notice a light snow is falling over Center City. I smile to myself, and think when we started this project, it was late summer, and it was still 90 degrees. Mimi Perrier from Tarpan Studios answers the phone. “Hi Mimi, it's Art.” “Hello Art! You're right on time, Narada's waiting, let me put you through…”
AC: Hello Narada, this is Art Connor from Philadelphia, for The Tommy Bolin Foundation, how are you?
NMW: Oh really good thank you, you're in Philadelphia?
AC: Yes, right in downtown Philly. A belated welcome home from Japan from everyone at the Foundation.
NMW: Oh, God bless you, thank you so much man. I also very spontaneously just flew to the White House, and did the TNT Christmas show for Special Olympics, which will be airing tonight on TNT. (Show aired on December 19th, and again on Christmas Eve) I'm on one song with Stevie Wonder, and I'm on the closing song with everybody.
AC: You were there for quite along time working on the Christmas album, Music Of Love. Can you tell us briefly how the project all came together, and how you were able to get artists like Sting, and Stevie Wonder to participate?
NMW: Sure, I'll talk about anything. We released this album for the holidays called Music Of Love. It has Stevie on there and this beautiful girl named Kimberly Brewers, doing a great duet called “I Love You More.” And Sting and Yolanda Adams are together on a duet, “Where Will You Be For Christmas?” And En Vogue is on there.
AC: You did this all for UNICEF?
NMW: Yeah, all proceeds go to children at Christmas time, so we're really happy about it.
AC: How did you get all these artists together?
NMW: It was kind of hard, I had my girl Lulu who works for my studio here, (Lulu Holmgren is actually the manager of Tarpan Studios) just call like crazy, myself calling like crazy, Ron Weisner, another manager, pulling in his contacts, kind of like a grass roots thing, and making it happen you know. But people all have a heart for children so that made me feel good. But it was very hard. One of the hardest things I've ever done. Challenging, just wore us out!
AC: How did you approach producing the various artists? Did you already have a set of ideas of what you wanted from each of them, or did you encourage collaboration and sharing of ideas from everyone concerned?
NMW: Well, I would have an idea, which I would share with them, but if they wanted to do something else, I was always open to that. Like in Stevie's case, he wanted to compose his own song, and that took almost the final hour to get it composed, written and produced. Sting, I sent him a song and he loved it! So that made our life easier, so I had to get it recorded, get it prepared for him, he came out and I had Yolanda come to the studio. He had three hours to sing, so we just got it out of him the best we could. You know, that was a piece of cake.
AC: It sounds like you are very pleased how it came out.
NMW: Yeah, I am very pleased.
AC: Why was Japan chosen to record the album?
NMW: I didn't record it in Japan, I recorded here in my studio and also in LA, but it comes out in Japan this year, because that was the deal. I was given the funding from a company in Japan to actually put the album out, so they said they wanted to have it first one year on their own, and then next year I'll try and release it everywhere.
AC: You spent a lot of time there. Japan is a country rich in their own culture and art dating back hundreds of years. Why do you think the Japanese, especially the younger generation, are so drawn to our Western culture and music?
NMW: Well, because they are so disciplined and so polite, I think you always like the opposite. There's an affection for the opposite. Plus, there's a great love for America. I think since World War II, with all the soldiers being there, and bringing cigarettes, gum, candy, music, jazz, and blues, all of that really actually became a part of their culture.
I had a ball there, they just treat me like a god, and I love it! I'm so happy to have that kind of love and respect you know? Because America kind of goes on these waves where they think their elders are disposable, and I don't like that. So I like to go where people love me and are kind to me.
AC: Well, a lot of us old Tommy fans and music fans know who you are, and we love you! Are you ready to walk down Rock and Roll memory lane?
NMW: Of course!
AC: Now for our younger fans and readers eager to hear about your time many years ago playing and recording with Tommy, can you tell us how the two of you originally met?
NMW: I remember being outside Electric Lady Studios, down in the Village. I was leaving from a session with Mahavishnu Orchestra working on the Visions Of The Emerald Beyond and he was just coming in as I was leaving, that's when we very first met. He was signed to the same management company as we were signed to, Nat Weis Entertainment. He was also on Nat's label at the time, Nemperor Records.
AC: Which had a very direct Beatles connection at the time.
NMW: Nat was tight with the Beatles' management, mainly Brian Epstein.
AC: Brian had some interest in Nemperor early on when it was being set up.
NMW: Yes! And Brian and Nat were very, very dear friends, that's the Beatles connection you're talking about. So, that was the first time I met him, and we started talking about he was making an album on Nemperor, with Nat Weis, and of course I knew Nat Weis, because he was managing John McLaughlin. That was our first connection.
AC: So then you ended up actually playing on Teaser on the track “Marching Powder.” There are some heavy duty hitters on that track — Jan Hammer, yourself, David Sanborn, and of course Tommy.
NMW: Yeah that's right. The thing that people have to know about that song is that it's all live! Because we would be ready to over dub stuff, you know we're very sophisticated in our recordings but that particular song was extremely spontaneous. I enjoyed it so much, because we learned it on the spot, and recorded it on the spot, and every note you're hearing is done live. And it was my first time actually recording live with Jan Hammer.
AC: I don't think a lot of people know that, I'm sure they think it's a studio track with the usual layers of dubbing.
NMW: No, it was not. You're hearing note for note what Tommy wanted us to play, or to hear and to do or whatever came out, and that's what it is, and BAM! There it was.
AC: Was that the only thing that came out of those sessions?
NMW: Yeah, I think we did another jam, which I don't really know what it was anymore. But, I recall us doing a few others and learning that song and maybe doing one more jam or something, but that was the primary song. There was a lot of buzz in the room you know, cause David Sanborn alone is a killer, everyone was just at their prime.
AC: That's right, we were all in our early or late twenties.
NMW: In my case I was in my early twenties, I was like twenty-three or twenty-four.
AC: Has it really been that long ago?
NMW: What year was it?
AC: The Teaser tracks you are on were probably done early on in 1975.
NMW: I was then twenty-two.
AC: How about that! Twenty-two years old, playing in Electric Lady Studios with all of those great musicians, exciting times they must have been!
NMW: We didn't think about it like that, we were just making music we loved. You see the reason I was comfortable playing on that track, I had just finished Visions Of The Emerald Beyond with the Mahavishnu Orchestra in that same room, produced by Ken Scott. So when I brought my drums back down there, they set them up right back up in the same spot where I had been for about a month during those sessions.
AC: Which brings us to a year later, 1976 when he invited you to join the band.
NMW: Yeah, that's true, but as we were recording “Marching Powder” we went out on the street and hung out, and I told him, “When you go on the road, let me know, maybe I'll join you.” And that was us, like you know, just us talking shit basically.
AC: But he took you up on it.
NMW: Yeah… that he did.
AC: From a fan base the first Tommy Bolin Band, TBB1, has always been considered the best line up, because it was yourself, Tommy, Norma Jean Bell on saxophone, Mark Stein on keyboards, and Reggie McBride on bass guitar. It was never duplicated, and obviously never will be. Were there plans to record a proper group album with that lineup?
NMW: Not necessarily, no… we just played live and… (Narada pauses here to collect his thoughts). You know I left the band before it ever became materialized to actually record anything as a group. Because by that time, it kind of got just too far out.
(For a brief moment, I got the feeling Narada suddenly may have felt a bit sad talking about this, having not thought or talked about the TBB1 situation in years)
AC: Right, well there are about four or five different recordings of the band live with you on the skins. I know we're going way back, and if it's uncomfortable to bring all of this up, we can go onto something else.
NMW: No, it's not really, it's okay, I remember everything, ask me anything.
AC: Tommy just came off of Deep Purple, which was another whole line of music, and there were other things involved, what was he listening to, or what did he want the band to be listening to before you went out on the road? Was he tired of the metal and hard rock?
NMW: No, no, it was very simple. We rehearsed at SIR in LA and Hollywood, and I asked Tommy to give me one week to get ready. Because I wanted to have a good week to learn the new material and to get my chops back up, because I wanted to be dazzling for that road tour. So we rehearsed like seven days before that. And it was a lot of fun because, Reggie McBride, it was my first time playing with him. He had been Stevie Wonder's bass player, so he was a really funky cat.
Norma Jean Bell, I had actually brought in from Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Tommy also knew of her, so I was used to playing with her. And then Mark Stein from the Vanilla Fudge, and I was a big VF fan, he did all of those great arrangements, “You Keep Me Hanging On” and all of that stuff he had done with Carmine Appice, and Tim Bogart on bass, so he was really a hot shot. So we got together at SIR and really just started learning Tommy's stuff, and as we learned it, we blew our own life into it, and it just took off and went straight through the roof. People would come in, because they knew we were there, and just sit and crowd the room just to listen to the rehearsals.
AC: You can't go back in time, and hindsight is dangerous, but TBB1 probably would have been a super group, but you left after three, four months into the tour.
NMW: I had left… (Narada pauses again to think about what he is about to say). We had a done a good majority of the California dates, and Denver we had done, and then we were in New York City. By the time NYC came around, we played the Bottom Line, which is my hometown, I lived in NYC at the time… and I could just see that Tommy's dependency or whatever the drug thing he got into was not getting better. And I didn't like it! Because we had spent a lot of time talking about it in my dressing room, or my hotel room, or in his room, because we were really friends, we shared everything, we talked about everything, and we talked about how hard it was for him. We just talked about it, but when I saw it wasn't really making a big difference. By the time we got to the Bottom Line in NYC, where he had to lean up against the pole just to stand up straight, I didn't like it and I decided after that concert I would leave.
AC: It was probably meant to be. We all know he had his demons and there was probably not much more you could have done, especially if he wasn't going to listen to you of all people.
NMW: Well, I thought maybe I'd shock him by leaving.
AC: That bring us up to your first solo album, the Garden Of Love Light.
NMW: Well there is a song I did with Tommy called “Delightful” and he wanted to record on his next album. But I was going to make my solo album, and I wanted to keep it for my album. But “Delightful” I actually wrote during that seven-day period when he said, “Do you want to do a song during the show?” I said “Yeah.” And he said, “Well, what do you want to do?” And I said, “Well give me about ten minutes.” I just went to the piano in the other room and wrote “Delightful,” it happened just that fast.
AC: The song has become such a mystique amongst us old time Bolin fans. The actual track on your album, you have Ray Gomez on guitar, Norma Jean on saxophone, Dennis MacKay was your engineer. Was Tommy supposed to play on your album?
NMW: Yeah, and I would have loved to have had Tommy, and I don't quite know how that worked out that way. I love Ray. I loved Tommy and I knew I would have asked Tommy, unless I felt there was something not right there still. And quite frankly, I'm sure I would have used him, because I loved him. There was never anything weird between us, only that I was going through a different phase of my life, trying to meditate, be pure, not drink and not smoke, nothing. I was with Sri Chinmoy, and I was really trying be like… you know I had just left John McLaughlin and Mahavishnu Orchestra which was so intense and pure in a way… that Tommy's lifestyle, although I could dig it, but when it went too far out there, well that became difficult. It was like we weren't standing for the same things anymore.
AC: There are now three different versions of “Delightful” with TBB1 that the Archives have released, including the most recent release of the band's very first show in California, entitled First Time Live. Have you heard any of them?
NMW: You know what? No, I don't think I have heard “Delightful” from that night. Is it great? These are for sale?
AC: Yes it is! You sound wonderful, the band sounds wonderful, sounds as exciting as it did that night all those years ago. Through the Archives fans can purchase them.
(Narada pauses here, as if to reflect on the information I just told him, then jumps right back into to our conversation.)
NMW: Oh, I see. Ok, sounds fantastic!
AC: Do you hear or have contact from any of your former band mates from TBB1?
NMW: No, I don't unfortunately. I know Norma Jean is living around the Detroit area. I'd like to say that I love her.
AC: I'd like to ask you about your relationship with Sri Chinmoy if I may?
NMW: Absolutely! Ask me anything you want.
AC: You have been a supporter and follower of the teachings of Sri Chinmoy for many years. He has had a profound influence on your life and your work. Now in the new millennium, do you feel his core concepts of Love, Devotion, and Surrender are still valid?
NMW: Yes, because Guru's concepts are very simple. They're like John Lennon, you know to love and be loved, to love God, to love the good spirit, to love people, and to see the good in people, and to try and bring it out. It's all the same concept that all the great people that come to the planet try and instill and teach us, So yes, love is never outdated. And also when I'm around Guru, he has such a shot of energy about him that I always enjoy being around him. So from that stand point it is always inspiring to be around him.
So the Guru's love never gets old to me. You can say that Guru is a very strict type of person, no drinking, no this, no that, and me I'll have my wine and my champagne. I mean I'm not like a strict disciple, do you understand what I'm saying? I'll eat steak, especially when I was in Japan. I love Kobe beef, I'm not strict like that. I just find the balance of what Guru tries to put out there, like Jesus put out there, and Buddha put out there, like all the good people who come to the planet try to say.
AC: Do you see Guru much?
NMW: Yeah, I do. I saw him this past August for his birthday, and I'll probably see him this coming April.
AC: Now, that brings up to today, and I want to talk about the ladies now. You have written and produced for and played with, so many great artists and musicians over the years including the likes and awesome talents of Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, and Diana Ross. Out of all the divas you worked with, who was the most easiest and fun to work with?
NMW: Well, I gotta start with the first one, which would be Aretha, cause that was the first platinum album I ever had, her first platinum album, my first Grammy for the album called Who's Zooming Who, with the single “Freeway of Love.” And that album exploded, I was so happy to be playing drums, writing songs, working with her. I mean when she first walked in the studio, it's just… I was extremely nervous, not because of the music, but because of her presence! Aretha Franklin… like I'm sure you would be in awe of Tommy in a way. If Tommy walked into the room right now you would be full of awe. I was like that with Aretha. When she walked into the room, the way that she looked at you, the intensity that burns in her eyes will frighten you if you are not ready for it.
AC: Was it like, “I'm ready to work, what do you have for me?”
NMW: She won't say that, her thing is very cool, like she'll stand there with a cigarette and fur coat and her jeans, and she'll go “Yeah, so how ya doing?” She's very cool about it, but you can look at her, and see that she is ready. She's just ready and until we hit the button play, which brought the music on, and I heard the music, then I was fine, but up until that time I was kind of little intimidated, because she is really that great. You're looking at someone that has changed music.
AC: That collaboration took you and Aretha to further things.
NMW: Yeah it did, most definitely. Well, you know Clive Davis also pushed that record tremendously. He was big part of bringing Aretha and myself together, so I really have to thank Clive Davis, because he was really a big, big, part of it. And at the same time, Clive was going to be producing this brand new girl named Whitney Houston, so I was asked to do a song for Whitney, but I said “Whitney, I couldn't do it, because I'm right in the middle of doing Aretha's album.”
But I made time, and we did a song called “How Will I Know,” and then that became a big hit for Whitney. So everything kind of jumped out at that time, almost like the stars were all aligned and everything was set up, and I just kind of put the same spirit that I had with Mahavishnu Orchestra, with Weather Report, with Tommy, into these pop records you know?
AC: And it worked.
NMW: Yeah, it did work.
AC: Is there anybody you would like to work with that you haven't done so?
NMW: Prince… the Artist, Michael Jackson, TLC.
AC: And do they know this? (Surprised at his answer)
NMW: Tell 'em! (laughing). And there are a bunch of rock folks out there, you know I would like to do something really positive with a band like Creed, their song “With Arms Wide Open.” Like how they can really do some rock ballads like that, and they can be on the scene strong.
AC: I can see you working with Creed. You mentioned a few months ago a possible collaboration with Stevie Wonder, is that going to come off?
NMW: Well, we are working now, he's composing the songs, getting things prepared, and I would like very much to be co-producing his next record, or at least working on some things with him, that's what we're talking about.
AC: I think with both of you having a rhythmic percussive feel that would be an interesting album.
NMW: I would like that very much. You know, we'll see what's in the stars, because you know he is very much a man who does things on his on. He doesn't need anybody to do anything for him. He can play drums with the best of them, he can play everything, you know what I mean? And I have immense respect for him.
AC: Now when you write songs, does the rhythm come to you first, being that you are a drummer, or is it the melody and words that come first, or is it a combination of all three flowing at once?
NMW: If I'm playing piano, rhythm and melody come simultaneously to me. Then I have to work on the lyric. The lyrics are like the last thing. But I try to pick out at least the title of the song, so I know what direction I'm going in lyrically. But the melody and how it comes to me on the piano, is usually the rhythm and melody at the same time. You see, I sing so I'll sing Tommy's part… (Narada actually starts singing the melody of “Delightful”) I'll sing that part to him, that's how he learned it. I'm not writing it out, I'm singing it to him. Like on Jeff Beck's album Wired, I'm singing Jeff's parts to him… (singing again), that's how he learned it.
AC: That is amazing, no written notes at all?
NMW: Yep! My left hand, which is playing bass on the piano, becomes the bass player, my right hand becomes the rhythm guitar part or the Rhodes part, and then when I'm singing, that's the lead part. So that's how I do it.
AC: A couple of years back, when you were working with the Temptations on Phoenix Rising, which I thought was a fantastic album by the way. I still play “Stay,” when I DJ, because I'm a big Smokey Robinson fan as well.
NMW: Oh, me too! Smokey is the best! You are a DJ too? That's cool!
AC: When you wrote “Stay,” with the root being their great song “My Girl,” it was such a fantastic blend of old and new, were you ever worried that he may have gotten ticked off?
NMW: No, because he got half the song! (laughing) They love money! It keeps them alive, it keeps that song in people's consciousness. From an artistic stand point, the only thing I could think of how could I bring the Temptations back, was a dash of the old and a dash of the new and mix it together. And it worked. On the new album that we did, Otis Williams didn't want to do that again, and I think the album kind of suffered because of it.
There wasn't something that people could grab onto to that was again, some kind of staple Temptations, the people didn't know what to do with it. And so, I think if I work with them again, I'm going to definitely go back and take a song like “Just My Imagination” or something and recreate it.
AC: Where do you see music going, or where would you like to see it head?
NMW: Music on the black side, on the R&B side is always pioneering. Like a rocket ship. It's almost getting to the point it's gotten so sophisticated in a way, sophisticated in rhythms that the white young kids can get to it because they dig hip hoppers . The white young kids out on the East Coast and the West Coast really dig what the black kids are doing, like Destiny's Child, and all of the rap that DMX is doing.
Those rhythms, that progressive beat, and I think that is going to spill over to rock, where rock is going to become even more advanced, where people are going to want hear more of the hip rhythms in rock. You're already getting a taste of that with bands like Barenaked Ladies, from Canada, doing all that progressive reggae vibe into pop music, and busy rapisms into pop music. You're going to be seeing a lot more rhythm on the pop side.
And on the R&B side, I hope that we have more melody, getting back melodically, that's my hope. For example, like that record, the number one R&B record that's out now it's really unique, it's kind of a Japanese melody. (Narada starts singing Ja Rule's “Everything Little Thing We Do”) That's really interesting, because it has the incredible rhythms and that very unique melody. I like that kind of thing.
AC: A question from our gear heads and kit freaks. What's your drum set up like these days?
NMW: I'm endorsed by Pearl Drums now, back in the day I had Gretch, but Gretch would never give me anything for free! (laughing) And Pearl will, so I use free things and I make them mine. I make them sound like I want them to sound. So Pearl has been very kind to endorse me and give me things I like. I also use Paiste cymbals. I used to use Zildjian's but they never gave me any free cymbals either, so I stopped using their stuff (laughing). Finally I found the ones I really liked that gave me the right timbre and the tone.
AC: I remember seeing the brief interview you did for the TBA video from a few years back, where you were saying you were knocking the paint off the drums playing with Tommy.
NMW: Well, you know what happened was Billy Cobham told me that! Billy Cobham and George Duke were looking down from the balcony at the Roxy. And I was so frightened, because that's Billy Cobham up there with George Duke! So we play our entire show and all of that, and George and Billy came back stage afterwards, and Billy, it was one of my first times really meeting him again after Mahavishnu Orchestra, and he said to me, “You were banging the paint off them drums!”
AC: I'd like to close with just a few more questions about Tommy if I may. Would you ever consider supervising or producing a Tommy Bolin tribute album? Fans would love to hear Stevie Wonder take on a song like “People, People,” or perhaps a strong voiced woman like Whitney or Mariah tackle “Dreamer” with Jeff Beck doing the guitar solo. Someone of your stature could make this work.
NMW: Of course! I am the director head Indian chief! (laughing) I will play drums on a couple of jams and do my own tribute to him. The problem is these type of artists are very hard to get to do anything besides their own projects, they're just tough. Whitney, Mariah, Stevie, those that you just named, are the hardest on the damn planet.
I couldn't get Whitney or Mariah on my Christmas album! Mariah, because she is signed to Columbia, they won't let their artists do other projects that don't come out on a Columbia label. Very difficult, extremely difficult. But I think you can get other people without quite as big a name to do tributes. People that would have a heart for Tommy, maybe more on the rock side.
AC: I think a lot of people would be glad to hear that you would be interested in a project like this.
NMW: Have the cats find a budget, and I'll help in anyway I can.
AC: Narada, here's where we are going to get to the nitty gritty. You knew Tommy as a musician and as a friend. Of all the great guitarists that you have worked with over the years, John McLaughlin, Jeff Beck, Carlos Santana, where you would you place Tommy in that hierarchy?
NMW: Well it's like stars in the sky. You got Venus, you got Mars, and you got the Sun and the Moon, these beautiful star clusters that I love, like the cluster where the Japanese souls come from. Anyway, you need all the planets in the sky, you need all the other stars that are there to help the universe stay in balance, and that's how I look at the great ones. The great ones that make a beautiful light in the sky that lights our hearts that lights our spirit when we hear them. And that's how I look at Tommy, John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix, the great ones who have given so much a part of their lives to music, a part of their soul and heart, that they are eternally with us, their gift is their music for us.
I don't rate them against the other, they could never compete with each other, because each one brings such a special way of doing something. Like no one can do what Jeff Beck does, you see what I'm saying to you? Jeff has his own touch, his own artistry that only he does. And the same with Jimi Hendrix. No one, I don't care who, I loved Stevie Ray Vaughan, but he wasn't Hendrix. See what I mean? Only Jimi's Jimi. Only Steve Ray is Stevie Ray.
Tommy Bolin is Tommy Bolin. I would have liked to have seen him live longer, so he could have even done more if he was here, what he would have loved to have done. But given his short life, he was so beautiful, so profound and so loving. He was very cosmic in his thinking, he loved to take time to build his solos.
AC: Where do you think he would be musically if he were here today, would he be in a new vein, or maybe just on an island somewhere?
NMW: That would be his choice, if he wanted to keep playing music. I mean he was the kind of cat that would keep that rock/ funk thing alive, because he was very strong in that world. He could do the rock, like Deep Purple, he understood rhythm, he also understood melody. He would be the kind of guy that would have further advanced the rock world. Like what Sting does. Sting advanced the rock world. That's what I think.
AC: In the New Year, what projects are coming, are you planning a vacation or anything?
NMW: I'm not going to take a vacation right now. I'm building new artists, new people and keeping it alive, my heart is to write new songs for the new age coming, and I want to do many, many, great things. So just always stay tuned. One thing up front, I'm going to be mixing the album recorded at Carnegie Hall this year for the Rain Forest Concert, with Sting, Elton John, Billy Joel, James Taylor, Ricky Martin. The show we did last April, I'll be mixing and producing that, it should be out this April coming.
AC: I really appreciate the time you took to spend with us to do this, and to talk about all of your great music and of course Tommy Bolin. On behalf of the Tommy Bolin Foundation, I would like to wish you, your family, and your staff at Tarpan Studios, a very happy holiday season, and all the best that God can bestow in the New Year. We look forward to all of your new projects and seeing you soon in the New Year.
NMW: God bless you to! And I want to leave a message to all of the fans: Tommy's spirit looms large at this holiday season, bright like the brightest star in the sky. To remind us… get all of the bull shit out of your life! And as Tommy would always say, “If they can't take a joke, Fuck 'Em!” (Laughing)
AC: (Laughing) Thank you so much!
NMW: Love to all of you, Peace!
Early on during the interview I explained to Narada what the Tommy Bolin Foundation was all about, how Johnnie Bolin was involved and how on the board of directors include a doctor, a lawyer, but no Indian chief. Narada proceeds to tell me how he's part Indian, he'll be the “Head Indian Chief Director!” Which is why later on in the interview when talking about the Tribute album, he said it again. Although he was kidding around, he did express an interest in becoming actively involved with TBF. Stay tuned for future developments on this possibility.
For more information on Narada Michael Walden, visit his web site here.
To read more about Brian Epstein's relationship with Nat Weis and his early involvement with Nemperor, check out the great book, The Man Who Made The Beatles, written by Ray Coleman
Special thanks go out once again to Scott McIntosh, Sal Serio, Jim Sheridan and Jim Wilson of the Tommy Bolin Foundation, and Simon Robinson of the Deep Purple Appreciation Society whose invaluable ideas and creative input contributed greatly to this interview with Narada Michael Walden.
A very special thank you and a long distance hug to Lulu Holmgren of Tarpan Studios, who was the main person that actually put all the pieces in place for this great project and who put up with all of my emails. Lulu, I owe you quite a few glasses of wine! Thank you so much again ! : )
And to the man Narada Michael Walden… You were so nice and so generous to take the time to do this, words really can't express the feelings that I have. But since you have spent so much time in Japan recently, I would like to leave you with this: Goshinsetsu ni arigato gozaimasu Narada-san, Gokigen yo! Thank you for your kindness Narada, stay well!
©2001 by Art Connor RTC907@aol.com