Gary James' Interview With
He's a singer, a songwriter, an actor and a radio show host. In 1982, his song "Someday Someway" made it into Billboard's Top 40 list. We are speaking of course about Marshall Crenshaw.
Marshall Crenshaw talked with us about his career in music, what he's done, what he's doing and what he thinks about today's music business.
Q - You have your own record label - 429 Records? Is that just for your material?
A - No. 429 Records is an actual record company of sorts, but it's got nothing to do with me. I did one record for them. The last record I did was called "Jagged Land". It came out in June of 2009. 429 (Records) just put out a Robbie Robertson record. They have a Steve Cropper record. They had a Gin Blossoms record. But I have no connection with the label.
Q - Did they do a good job for you in terms of promotion?
A - No. They suck.
Q - That's too bad.
A - But no, that's not my label.
Q - Is it true that you host your own radio show The Bottomless Pit on WFUV in New York?
A - That is correct.
Q - How long does this radio show last?
A - An hour every Saturday night. I play stuff from my own personal record collection. Not records I've made myself, but records that I've bought myself. So, I play these and talk. I love doing it and it's really an interesting show. It's a good time for everybody, including me.
Q - What kind of material will you spin on your radio show?
A - Oh, stuff that I just bought the day before. It's like a specially show, like a vanity thing. It's everything from like the '20s all the way to right now. I have really vast, wide-range interests. I'm just a life-long music lover. I have a lot of knowledge about the stuff.
Q - Are you playing just vinyl on the show or is it a mix of CDs and cassette tapes and records?
A - Yeah, it's everything. I don't have any wax cylinders, but I have every other kind of record. I have some 78s and obviously 45s and 33s and CDs and just the whole gamut. So, as far as that goes, it covers everything. I might play records back in the '20s or I might play Bootsy Collins' new record or Thurston Moore's new record. It's not just sort of a random thing, there's always some sort of agenda behind all the shows. It's never just purely random.
Q - Where is the market for your radio show? Who are you trying to reach?
A - It's just anybody. WFUV in New York City is a really good station. They've been on board with me from the beginning. People that listen to the station are just music lovers with open minds. So, that's really who I'm trying to appeal to.
Q - You grew up in a time when the music business served up the very best. How does what's around today compare?
A - I did grow up in some really good eras of music, but I also missed a lot of good ones too. I think the Swing era was great era of music, my parent's music. That stuff has just as much merit or more than anything I grew up with. I'm old and cranky now, so I really think a lot of what's out there in mass culture today is garbage. I also think a lot of what was around when I was a kid was garbage too. But things have changed. In some ways they've kind of evolved. I'm not sure what to make of it really. I'm sort of into my own stage as far as that goes. I find interesting stuff that's new and old as a lot of stuff that I just don't want any part of it.
Q - Music used to be all about songs. Now, thanks in part to shows like American Idol, it's more about divas and what your vocal range is. Do you agree with that?
A - I agree. I don't have any interest in any of that stuff. I don't even really know about it. I've never even seen that show once. I don't want to see it. I don't care to.
Q - Why would that be? Why wouldn't you want to see the number one show on television in the United States that caters to finding musical talent of the future?
A - That's a good question. From the very first when I heard about it, I just thought that's not for me. That's brain candy. That's not something I want to waste my time on. Actually I caught a split second of it earlier this season. My family watched it. So I did walk in the room when it was on. I saw Steven Tyler, who was one of the judges. They gave a quick shout out to Todd Rundgren, who was sitting out in the audience. I thought that was pretty cool for Todd. It probably made him feel good. But that's about it as far as I go with it. I know it's not gonna teach me anything about music, at least anything I need to know or anything positive. So, I'm just not interested in that stuff. My daughter is 13, and she really likes Adele. And I really like Adele too. I think she's great. There's some good stuff out there, some stuff I like. But I'm an older person. Mass culture is mostly for kids and I'm not a kid. So, I don't give a damn about it really. (laughs) I do care about music. I've got my radar up like always. It's just not pointed at American Idol.
Q - Now, you started your first band when you were 15?
A - Yeah.
Q - What kind of music did you play and what was the music scene like in Berkley, Michigan?
A - Well, Berkley, Michigan is in the Detroit area. The Detroit area in a great breeding ground for music and always has been. There were all kinds of Rock bands around in the Detroit area. Probably every high school had five or six at least. We would just play where ever we could play. We'd play at people's parties in their backyards. At public gatherings like school dances. And then we got a little older and we could play at bars 'cause they always had Rock bands in the bars. So just whatever there was. We played where we could play.
Q - How much time went by between the time you started out playing music and the time you signed with Shake Records? Five years?
A - No. I was about 27 or 28 when I made that record for Shake Records. I left the Detroit area when I was 22 or 23. Just sort of went out on the road with no game plan of any kind or any road map. I just went out and kind of threw myself on the mercy of fate. At least I was doing something. I eventually found my way to New York. Actually there was, at this point in time when I was at this crossroads where I could either go and work in Beatlemania or I could go to Los Angeles and go to a music school where I got accepted into. I was faced with that choice. It was like right or left. I wound up going to New York because the offer in New York was a paying gig. So I thought, well, I just got married, let's see what that's like. We went to New York and that's where I wound up starting my career.
Q - You would consider that your first "big break"?
A - I think when I got in Beatlemania, that was my first "big break". That was really a big thing. It really sort of took me right out of my comfort area of my backyard, so to speak. I had already been traveling all over the country before I got in Beatlemania. It was really funny 'cause when I left the Detroit area I headed west and then I wound up on the east coast. That's how I was. I was really determined to somehow get my life started and get my career started. I didn't really know how I was gonna do it, but I just went out and basically hustled and grabbed whatever there was to grab, and then I wound up in New York. Things went really well once I got the ball rolling in New York.
Q - How long did you end up playing John Lennon in Beatlemania?
A - It was just under two years.
Q - Did you enjoy that?
A - I did at first. I got sick of the show, the regimentation of it. But it was just full of valuable life lessons as far as just meeting lots of people. Just being in brand new situations constantly. It was really a valuable experience.
Q - Were you playing John Lennon at a time when John Lennon was alive in New York City?
A - Yes.
Q - Did he ever come to the show that you're aware of?
A - No. If any of 'em ever went to the show, we were unaware of it. They went like incognito? I doubt if they went. They probably despised the whole thing. I wouldn't blame them if they did. In fact, Apple Corp. was constantly trying to sue the producers of Beatlemania and put them out of business. I think eventually they were able to do that. If I had been doing Beatlemania and John Lennon would've appeared, I would've quit immediately. I don't know why. I remember thinking that thought when he was shot. I'd been out of the show for about ten months when he was killed. I was so horrified of course. But he was alive when I was doing the show. When I was in the show, I actually wrote John Lennon a fan letter when I was drunk, but I never mailed it.
Q - Did you ever cross paths with John Lennon?
A - No, but the funny thing was, exactly one year to the day of him being gunned down, I was at The Record Plant studios in New York. That's where he had been on the last day of his life. I was there exactly twelve months later to the day. I was working on my first album. I just sat around all day long. We didn't do any work that day. All the people that were there knew him and had worked with him, just sat around talking about him. It dawned on me then if he had been alive, I probably would've crossed paths with him at some point. But I never did. I never got the chance. I would have loved to have been in the same room with him. He was such a hero to me when I was a kid. He was like maybe the main hero to me as far as famous people went.
Q - The first and only time I saw Beatlemania was in October, 1980. I liked it!
A - Yeah, the first few times I saw it, I really liked it too.
Q - How long did it take you to write "Someday Someway"?
A - Not very long. Maybe thirty minutes tops. I wrote the music one night really quickly and wrote the words the next morning just while I was walking around Boston. I was in Boston at the time with Beatlemania. So altogether, it certainly was less than an hour.
Q - After putting it together, did you think it was a pretty catchy tune?
A - I did. I was really on a roll, on a big high at the time. Suddenly I had this sense of a path forward as far as coming up with a personal style and a way to express myself. It was personal. I was really thrilled about it. Again, I was really like on a high during that time.
Q - I was rather surprised to read that "Someday Someway" didn't get to a higher position on the Top 40 charts.
A - As a single on Top 40 radio, it got to number 32 or number 36, something like that.
Q - It should've gone higher. You would agree with me on that, wouldn't you?
A - Oh, of course. It should've been number one.
Q - So why didn't it occupy a higher position? Didn't Warner Brothers put enough promotion behind it?
A - That's possibly part of it. I don't know. It's hard to say at this point. You just have to say it happened because that's what happened.
Q - You did tour behind it, didn't you?
A - Oh, yeah. We were on the road constantly for many years. Just the fact that it got to where it got on the charts is one thing, but the song has had a really long life. It's been a successful song I would say over the years. I think it's a really good record. It gets in movie soundtracks too, and TV soundtracks. It's still got some kind of momentum. People really like it and that's good. I still like it myself.
Q - Was there a follow up to that song?
A - I think there were three singles altogether from my first album.
Q - Did they chart into the Top 40?
A - No. That was the only one I had that did as an artist. But had a couple of other hits as songwriter.
Q - Did you appear in any films after La Bamba?
A - I was in Peggy Sue Got Married.
Q - Your songs have been covered by people like Bette Midler and Robert Gordon. So, the songwriting royalties must be good?
A - Yeah, they're pretty good. Sometimes they're sort of like peaks and valleys, but they're steady. I know during the last couple of years, all the various movies that I had songs on the soundtrack, it seems like during the last year and the year before, those movies were just constantly on TV over and over again. That gives the song some currentsy. It keeps the ASCAP checks rolling in. I've managed to sustain a career for a long time and I'm really happy about that.
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