Garry Tallent: full interview

See the April 19 Roots Report for details on Garry Tallent’s appearance on Thursday, May 4, at the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River, Mass.

Garry Tallent: Hi, John. I’m sorry I didn’t get the first call, I had my ringer on so low that an old man can’t hear it!

Motif (John Fuzek): You’re not that old. You’re only 68.

GT: Don’t push it, I’m only 67 [laughs]. I will be 68 this year though. It’s all good though, I don’t feel a day over 65.

JF: Well, you can collect Social Security soon.

GT: Well, I guess in a couple of years I have to. At 70 they make you take it.


JF: So, you are in Nashville, Tennessee, now? I looked at your tour and it doesn’t start until next week.

GT: Right!

JF: You’ve got quite an ambitious tour going on.

GT: Well, it’s really just sticking my toe in the water, but then, when I get to England, the agent there really got carried away. I’ve got, like, six in a row. That’s going to be interesting, traveling then playing. It’s going to be like the old days when I was 26.

JF: Well, you’ve been doing it with Springsteen all along.

GT: Yeah, but that’s a little different than everyone in a van, driving, lugging your own equipment. I have to admit I’ve been a little bit spoiled – this is not that kind of tour, trust me – but I look forward to it. It’s kind of like starting over. There’s something very exciting about it.

JF: So you started all this solo stuff when?

GT: I don’t think there is any beginning date. It’s something I’ve been thinking about doing for twenty years, but I got busy producing other people and got busy raising a family, and then I got busy on the road, and you know finally I got a break – “Break Time” – and I had a chance to actually go through songs that I have written and co-written, and figured out which ones would make a good album in 1959 and then kind of cut it as if it were 1959. That was the motivation behind it, really trying to recreate what made me fall in love with rock ‘n’ roll in the first place.


JF: Are you playing guitar or bass on this tour?

GT: Guitar.

JF: Did you start on bass or guitar? Or tuba?

GT: [laughs] I think I started in school on the flute? Clarinet? In fourth grade they put an instrument in your hand and say, “Okay, try this.” I went through a bunch of them and some how wound up a tuba player.

JF: Is your tuba going on the road with you?

GT: Not a chance!

JF: I did read that you play it occasionally? Did you play it during the Seeger Sessions with Bruce?

GT: No, I wasn’t on that tour, that was a completely different band. They did have a tuba player, I think. I didn’t see that tour. When we had the horn section on the previous tour, and Clark Gayton would play trombone and also played tuba, I tried to get him to take over “Wild Billy’s Circus Story” but Bruce wouldn’t have it. I had to play – that is something that you have to practice, you just can’t pick up a tuba after not playing for two years – the lips need to be maintained, horn players have to practice every day for hours at a time, and I was never that conscientious of a tuba player. I was very happy to switch to electric bass.

JF: What kind of bass is it that you play?

GT: That is a Paul Reed Smith bass. I’ve known Paul since back in the ‘70s and he built a bass for me, back in the ‘70s, and it was very heavy – like a Les Paul – so I got him to build one to my specifications and it makes for a very nice instrument. It sounds good, it plays good, and, to be honest with you, it’s like a glorified Danelectro Long Horn: the neck is modeled after it, the scale length and everything else.

JF: What is the guitar that you have in the promo photo?

GT: That’s a Kaye from late ‘50s, early ‘60s.

JF: Is that the guitar you will be playing on the road?

GT: No, I am afraid to take it on the road. I have never seen another one. so if something happened to it I don’t know how I would replace it, and that’s the problem with traveling. even with the bass. I stopped bringing the Danelectro on the road because I didn’t want something to happen to it, and I had a bass custom built and then something happened to that. What am i going to do? It doesn’t make any sense. So, meanwhile while the Danelectro is in storage and being kept and taken care of, Nashville gets flooded and the bass is in the flood. You can’t win. It was in the 2010 flood here in Nashville. A lot of instruments were destroyed. Nobody expected that kind of flood here. It’s never happened before.


JF: So this is your debut project and it’s has a 1959 kind of feel like you said. I only heard one song, “Promise To My Heart.” Is everything in the feel of that song, or is it rockabilly, or–?

GT: Well, that’s a 1950s kind of ballad, but most everything is upbeat: rockabilly, some Cajun influence. I always loved New Orleans and Cajun music and a little bit of country – that’s how I would describe it – all the influences, Chuck Berry. All original songs, but all kind of borrowed from the classic records that I always loved.

JF: What is the instrumentation for the band that you will have at the Narrows on May 4th?

GT: Piano, which is Kevin Mckendree, a local friend here, he also tours with Brian Setzer; Mark Winchester, who plays stand up bass, also with Brian Setzer; Eddie Angel, of Los Straitjackets, on guitar; and Jimmy Lester, also from Los Straitjackets, he plays drums; and then Fats Kaplin and Kristi Rose. Fats Kaplin, he kind of plays everything – banjo, fiddle, mandolin, guitar, steel guitar – he’s kind of our utility guy; and he’s married to Kristi Rhodes, who does a duet on the record with me. She’s with us doing vocals and actually she will be singing “Promise To My Heart” because she sings it so great, and that way I get to do the Duane Eddy guitar part on it so that’s a win-win. That’s the one we’re going to change up live.

JF: Cool, not many folks would give up their lead on a song.

GT: Well, like I said, I get to do my Duane Eddy impression so it’s not completely selfless. I always get to have fun, don’t worry.

JF: Los Straitjackets are the band who play in the wrestling masks, right?

GT: Yes, you’re gonna see them without the masks [laughs]. Oh, I don’t know, maybe I’ll let them wear the masks.


JF: So I read that you’ve always been a stay-in-the-background kind of person?

GT: That’s me. I’ve had the best job in the world for the last forty-something years.

JF: What made you want to step out from the background to do this?

GT: Sometimes it’s good to force yourself out of your comfort zone, and I’ve done a lot of things to do that and this is one of the last ones really. I played in bands when I was a kid and we all took turns. I’ve played with Bruce since 1971 and, you know, the thing that’s always worked there is that Bruce and Clarence and Steve and everyone – my job was just keeping the rhythm section going – and I found that I liked it, and it’s really good in that I can go anywhere and do anything and I’m not recognized, and still I get to enjoy being in a band that plays to 80 thousand, 100 thousand people at a time. It’s a kick. During the ‘90s I mostly just worked in the studio and I loved that bit, too. I love it all, I want to experience it all. So this is really my last ‘glass ceiling’ to break, I guess, and really get out there and perform my own songs. So I’m going for it, and part of the reason was raising kids. You know you tell them they gotta take chances – if you start something you gotta follow through and all these things – and once in a while they come back at you and say, “Well, Dad, you started this thing, when are you going to finish it?” And I go, “Well, okay, you got me.” And so, there you go.

JF: So are your kids musicians?

GT: I hope not [laughs]. They play but – well, my son would like to be a rapper – I don’t know. I don’t discourage him, but also he knows that it’s not the easiest thing to pull off. Now that he sees me starting all over again – he wasn’t born until the Reunion Tour, he missed the Born to Run tour – so he never really saw me work.


JF: I heard that you kicked off the Born to Run Tour in Providence. A friend of mine who used to write for a Newport paper said that he saw that show and met you all afterwards, July of 1975, and said that you had just finished the album that morning.

GT: That’s very cool. I don’t remember that, but I do remember that up until a few years ago I still had my Lupo’s T-shirt and my daughter discovered it and she stole it from me. She loves that shirt. You remember that place: T-shirt has a picture of Elvis on the front.

JF: Yes, I do. I know Rich Lupo, too. I will ask him to see if he has another one.

GT: My daughter loves it. She says, “It’s the best shirt that I have ever seen.” Lupo’s has been gone a long time, hasn’t it?

JF: No, he has a new place.

GT: Is that right? I want to play there someday!

JF: So, will you be you be doing a four-hour show?

GT: You won’t see me doing a four-hour show, but we do have a warm-up act that is really great. Everybody will be entertained, but, no, back when we only had one album out we were doing half-hour shows. I think this show will be clocking in at about an hour and a half, which is about my attention span. I don’t know about anybody else. I wouldn’t imagine anybody would be jumping up and down for four hours. Even when we were out last time we shortened it to three hours.

JF: The show I saw last January was about three hours and twenty minutes.

GT: It got to the point where people were holding up signs wanting more than four hours and we realized that people were after quantity not quality, so we figured: we’re not here to set time records, we are here to entertain.


JF: Why were you dubbed the “Tennessee Terror?”

GT: I don’t know. It sounded good: you know, good alliteration.

JF: No story behind it?

GT: Not that I know of. I moved to Tennessee in ’89 so, by the time the Reunion Tour came around, I had been in Tennessee for quite a while. Well, even before, the guys made fun of me because I liked country music, and I worked with people like Steve Earle and had Roseanne Cash come in as a guest at a show. So I was basically the “hillbilly” among all the “Jersey-ites.” So, I don’t know, you would have to ask Bruce. He just likes alliteration, and “Tennessee Terror” sounded good.

JF: Bruce gave it to you?

GT: Yes, he was just introducing the band one night. It didn’t really stick but people remember it. I mean, I have been called the “Thunder from Down Under” and everybody thought I was from Australia all of a sudden. He just likes to make up things on the fly. Usually you can tell how long someone has known you by which nickname they know you by.

JF: OK, this may seem strange but sometimes you go by “Garry Tallent” and sometimes by “Garry W. Tallent.” Why is that? The reason I ask is because I used to use my middle initial, “W,” all the time but dropped it.

GT: The only thing that I can come up with on that, is that Bruce started calling me “Garry W. Tallent” because in the mid ‘70s when we earned a gold record for Born to Run and they were doing the plaques – and everyone was known by nicknames and they were going to put “Miami Steve” and “Mad Dog Lopez” and “The Professor” – and I said I want my name on it, “Garry W. Tallent.” I want this to not be a joke I want this to be a big thing. I think that Bruce just picked up on that and said this is Garry W. Tallent. I am guessing that is where it came from. I just didn’t want my first gold record to have some silly nickname that would be forgotten.

JF: What does the “W” stand for?

GT: “Wayne,” just like all serial killers [laughs]. I was born in Wayne County, Michigan, and I think my mother realized that she needed a middle name and realized that she was in Wayne County General Hospital and thought, “‘Wayne,’ that sounds good” [laughs].


JF: Do you still have a studio in Nashville?

GT: No. I mean, I still have my own studio, but I don’t have a commercial studio anymore. That became a rich man’s hobby. The studios in this town are just folly for people who have way too much money who want to hang around with the musicians. I hang around with enough musicians, I don’t need any more of that [laughs]. There was a time when it was a good commercial enterprise but those days are gone. You don’t need a $200,000 budget to make a record anymore. I like to say it’s my label and not only am I a client but I am the president as well [laughs].


JF: When I do these interviews, I always post questions to my Facebook page and I get questions from them. You kind of answered this already, but someone asked if you still play a Guild bass?

GT: I still have my Guild bass. That’s the one that I use. I pulled the frets out of it, so that’s my fretless.

JF: Was that Guild made in Rhode Island?

GT: No, actually it was before Rhode Island. It was in Hoboken, New Jersey, so mine is a Hoboken Guild.


JF: Someone asked about a Global Jam for Peace and mentioned that you are playing that? I don’t know what that is.

GT: I don’t know anything about that. I did a charity record back in ‘86. It was called “J.A.M.” – Jersey Artists for Mankind. I don’t know if that’s what they are talking about, but that was 30 years ago. That was kind of, like, when they were doing all the charity records, and ours was probably the one that broke the camel’s back and none were done after that.


JF: Okay, this one is from a bass player and I will read it verbatim because he was specific: “How did he feel about moving from the funkier, rubbery, more free-spirited playing of his on the first couple of Springsteen albums as compared to the later, seemingly more regimented, oriented-toward-arena-performance recordings?”

GT: I think it is as simple as you play with people that you are playing with. Vini [Lopez] – who I played with since high school, we went to high school together – and Vini had a certain style that you play a certain way together. And then we changed to Boom Carter for a while and he’s more jazzy, and we played a lot together. And now Max and I have played together for forty years. You play differently in different situations, and it was just a different situation. And you adapt and, hopefully, when you are playing with a band you play something that fits. That’s how I see it.


JF: Someone asked about when people hold up signs at a Springsteen show asking to play a certain song. Has anyone ever held up a sign and you hoped that you wouldn’t have to play that song because you haven’t played it in a long time, and you hope that Springsteen doesn’t decide to honor that request? Is there any song that you would dread playing because it’s been so long since you have played it?

GT: Um, yes [laughs]. Let’s just say, yes. Well, there are certain songs that I just didn’t play on. I see people holding up signs for “Maria’s Bed.” I don’t even know if I have ever heard the song. I don’t know what song they are talking about so apparently it’s something they did on Devils and Dust or something. I don’t even know. So, luckily, Bruce knows. He picks the songs that he wants to do: you can hold up whatever sign you want but he’s always going to pick “Louie, Louie” before he picks “Maria’s Bed” [laughs].

JF: Okay, well, is there anything that you would like to add that would encourage people to come out and see your show?

GT: I am just hoping that people do come out. I’d love for them to listen to the record. I’m not saying buy it – it’s on YouTube, it’s on Spotify. If you wanted to buy it, hopefully it’s around – if not we’ll be selling them at the show – but mainly come out and it should be a fun night. I hate to say that they are great songs because I wrote them, but, I mean, they hearken back to when rock ‘n’ roll music was just more fun than anything else. There may not be a big message but there’s going to be a good beat.

JF: Did anyone from the E Street Band play on this record with you?

GT: Nils Lofgren, harmony on one song. Because Phil Everly had moved back to Tennessee and he was going to do it and then he passed away, and I was really upset about that but Nils filled in for him and he sings on the opening cut. But, no, it’s pretty much all of my Nashville pals.

JF: Will you be approachable after the show? Can people stop and say “Hi” to you after the show?

GT: Absolutely, I will be at the merch table signing anything that I played on. I won’t sign sign certain things, but the best thing they could do is buy the CD and I will be glad to sign it. And look forward to talking to and meeting people.

JF: Great! Well, thanks for talking and hope to see you at the show.

GT: Thanks for helping to get the word out! Bye, now.

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