CJ invited me to his Los Angeles area studio, The Treehouse the where this CD was recorded and a lot of Toto "XIV" was also recorded. .
Reggie: Thanks for inviting me here and taking the time for this. I'm here mostly to talk about "Smalls Change" which you were a huge part of. You produced, recorded, wrote, co-wrote, played and sang on this album.
Reggie: Did I miss anything?
CJ: "Wrote orchestrations for the orchestra........Janitor (laughing)".
Reggie: How did this project come about?
CJ: "It was going to be a Spinal Tap Anniversary year. The other guys were busy doing other stuff. Derek said 'screw it. I'm going to make a solo record'. I said 'great. I'm in. Let's do it'! I've been wanting to do it for a while with him".
Reggie: Luke played on 'Rock 'n' Roll Transplant' that you co-wrote. Talk about Luke and that track.
CJ: "One of the interesting things about that is there are two drummers on that. The song is about “you need an infusion of Rock.” So I had Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers) and Jim Keltner (Session Ace, Ringo, George Harrison, Traveling Wilburys) drum on it. Luke and Derek on bass were the only other musicians besides me on the that track. It just seemed to be a good band to put together. Chad played on (Luke's solo release) 'Transition' and was great on that. He played on the track 'Right The Wrong'. He's a fellow Michigan boy. I've always loved Jim. Steve's been chomping at the bit to come in and play on this stuff. I love that about Steve. He's like 'tell me what you got man. I want to play on it'. So he came in and it was like the old days. He sits behind me like we're riding a motorcycle. He sits on a bar stool, behind me (CJ points to the exact spot where the recording took place in his studio) and hits either shoulder like he's driving a tank. It was great. He played his ass off as usual."
Derek, Luke & CJ (Photo by Timothy Fielding)
Reggie: What is the writing process between you and Derek like?
CJ: "He came in with a lot of these demos in very rough form. So we didn't really write together per say as much as me adding a bridge or me adding a solo section, an intro or a chorus. I did extensively work on the song 'MRI'. That one I wrote a lot of lyrics on. A lot of give and take. He's a brilliant writer. I mean listen to some of these changes. You wouldn't guess that with Derek Smalls".
Reggie: What was it like working with Derek in the studio?
CJ: "Derek in the studio was very surprising, because I've known Derek for 27 years now. He considers himself a part time philosopher. I don't know if that's true. He came in super prepared. He really has been working on his chops and I think the years have been good to him. He's very dedicated. He wrote some surprisingly complex stuff. I think some of the lyrics were unintentionally funny and some were unintentionally deep."
CJ & Derek (Photo by Rob Shanahan)
Reggie: You guys are doing some live shows. You did a full orchestra gig in New Orleans. How did that go and do you have more shows planned?
CJ: "It was incredible. The show looks like a Pink Floyd date. Giant backdrop screen, a lot of story telling on the screen, a 60 piece orchestra. That was amazing. The sound was unbelievable. Our crew was amazing. I went out in front when they were doing sound check with the orchestra and it blew me away. Every instrument was miched up. This was the total pro way to do it. Great monitor mix. All in ears and a GREAT band! Toss is in the band. Toss is the drummer and Marc Bonilla is the guitar player. We're going to do more dates with Derek. Some more Orchestra dates. At the Kennedy Center (Washington D.C.), we're going to RECORD making a live DVD.
Reggie: Wow! That's some deep shit!
CJ: "No shit"!
Reggie: "Memo to Willie" is an ode to Steely Dan with Donald Fagen, Larry Carlton and Skunk Baxter. Talk about this track and the cool Steely Dan vibe.
CJ: "The song is called 'Memo to Willie'. It's a 70 year old guy singing to his dick basically singing “get it up, get it up, get it up.” I put kind of a slick Steely Dan feel on it. In the bridge, the last line of the bridge he says just 'give me that lumber'. The name of the song is 'Memo to Willie' so it goes to this instrumental section so I came up with this........I don't know why but I grabbed a microphone and sang 'Willie don't lose that number, Willie don't lose that number' (CJ singing in a 'Rikki Don't lose That Number' vibe). Derek heard it and just loved it! He laughed his ass off. Then Derek goes....'Fagen is going to sue us'! I said then let's send it to him! So I wrote this horn chart. A very Steely Dan horn chart and sent it to him and he wrote back 'who did this arrangement? This is something I would have done.' He wanted to know who played drums on it. It was my drum programming. That's one of those things that on my deathbed will be.......Donald Fagen dug my arrangement! He said some things to the effect of and I am going to sue you if you don't let me sing on this. Not only did he sing that lick he sang that whole bridge with the stacked harmonies. You've heard it. It's incredible! That's one of those pinch me moments"
Reggie: You have Luke's Ringo band mate Gregg Bissonette playing on '"Memo to Wille" too. How cool is it to have all these guys who are not only great musicians, they are great guys and a lot of them truly real friends. Tell us about working in the studio with Gregg.
CJ: "Ya a buddy, somebody like Gregg who knows my vibe so intimately and I know his vibe intimately, nothing like it. Gregg's ears are amazing. He listens to everything. It makes my job so much easier. I don't have to stop and say 'by the way there's a horn hit that there you can catch.' He knows it right away. Great rapport. We can dispense with all the bullshit and just start telling jokes right away. Whenever people are telling jokes and having fun that's when people are playing well because if people are sucking in the studio I don't see humor. When everyone is getting way too serious we know something is smelly."
Reggie: Luke's Nerve Bundle band mate, drummer Toss Panos also plays on this release. Talk to us about Toss.
CJ: "I first heard Toss with Steve when he was working on "Transition". Luke played at the 'Spud' (Baked Potato) with his band Nerve Bundle and this drummer completely floored me. I just couldn't take my eyes off of. So after the gig I said 'Luke, your drummer is unbelievable'. Luke said 'ya, he's really good'. I said 'No,no. Do you know how much that guy's listening to you and how much that guy's got your back?' I think Steve he knew how great Toss was but I don't think he thought about it in that perspective. That's when we brought Toss in to play on a couple of tracks on "Transition". Toss is just one of my favorite drummers on this planet. He's so creative. He's a monster. He's scary. He's a scary drummer. I always said he looks like the skinny guy that nobody fucks with in prison. He's just a bad ass. He's wonderful, the whole package. I love him like a brother."
Reggie: You have a ton of great guitar players on this record. We've mentioned Luke, Larry and Skunk. You also have Waddy Watchel, Phil X, Dweezil Zappa, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Danny Kortchmar and Richard Thompson. Talk to us about this amazing collection of such great players on one record.
CJ: "Ya, you think? Well, the first thing is, I've always gotten along with guitar players. Because that's the one thing I really can't do. A lot of my song writing tracks I did everything on the tracks but brought in a great guitar player. The same thing with these solo albums with Luke, the demos, basically it's just the two of us. He's singing lead, I'm doing backgrounds. I’d do the basic demo track and track he's playing all the guitars. I've always had a symbiotic relationship with guitar players. Even on sessions where I was the arranger where we were trading chord voicings back and forth. I knew these guys by working with them on other stuff before. I don't know what to say other than everyone hit it out of the park. Out of the park. There was some incredible guitar playing on this record. They were really into it. There is deep respect for the band Spinal Tap in this industry."
Reggie: Let's talk about Spinal Tap itself. It's such an iconic band. I ran into Record Producer and musician Rhys Fulber and told him I was interviewing you and he said "If you don't like or get Spinal Tap, you can't be my friend". I went to the Tonight Show with Vince Gill and he made a reference to Spinal Tap on the show. There are references to Spinal Tap across all genres of music.
CJ: "Ya! That band touched a nerve, didn't it? Everyone saw themselves. I think there's a little bit of Spinal Tap in every one of us. Fuckin' things up and making the wrong decisions. They were the poster boys on how not to do things."
Reggie: I've known Vince Gill for 35 years and he's told me multiple times that his biggest and most important instrument are his ears. It appears to me and I've heard from other people that is one of your best qualities are your ears. Talk about the importance of being a good listener as a tool, especially in the studio.
CJ: "I wish I would have known about Vince. We would have asked him to play on this. My ears are my best tool. I think it's more important than me as a musician or arranger or anything......You know the other day I was doing a play list thing, sitting on my porch.....it was a Blood, Sweat and Tears song that came up. This part came up and I knew that he sang it out of tune. That the notes out of tune and I remembered where I was when I heard it for the first time. I was eight years old when I heard this out of tune. I'm waiting for it and it comes up. He was so barely out of tune! That's where my ears were when I was eight years old."
Reggie: WOW! You knew then?
CJ: "Ya. I had super sonic ears then and I do now too. I was blessed with golden ears. You know another thing with the ears is, is what you listen to. That's another thing that Luke and I talk about, and actually the whole Toto band. I did my Al Pacino speech in this room. I said 'you know why we're all so fucking good at what we do? Look at what we grew up listening to. We started naming bands. Jethro Tull, Gentle Giant, Zeppelin, Bill Withers, Cat Stevens. We just kept going.....then Gino Vannelli came up. The ones you forget about. Then the Guess Who. CRAZY....... I think part of the ears thing is what you listen to. But it's definitely a gift to have been given good ears."
Reggie: I talked to Jimmy Johnson today from Vince Gill's band for a decade and from Roy Orbison and he asked me to ask you how big is Derek's bottom on this record? He was referring to the cover of Bass Player Magazine with Derek on the cover.
CJ: "We used this pre-amp made by this company called Jule Amps. It's called a Monique tube pre-amp that he went into. I even used a special cable with him. It's designed by a company in the Netherlands, it's called the ‘Love Cable.’ They sent me one and I just laughed at that. Really? A cable's going to make a difference? UNBELIEVABLE difference! Unbelievable. These cables are the best. Special cable, Schecter bass specially built for him into the Jule cable preamp. Then I take him into my BA compressor pre amp and THEN I have a plug in that I've worked up for him that has a sub sonic frequency in it. So every chance to reach for more bottom. There's TONS of bottom on this record. Actually, the bottom goes past your own hearing. There's stuff in there that they'll probably discover a couple of centuries from now."
Reggie: Do you have anything else going on?
CJ: "I'm gearing up to do my own solo album one of these days. It's just when I get time off this other stuff to be able to take time for myself. I've got a documentary film I'm scoring. I'm doing some song writing with some new artists, I had kind of stopped doing that the last three or four years. I've just been so busy. But I've been wanting to get back into it. So I'm looking forward to that. Towards the end of the year I'll be ramping up a Podcast, a Video Blog.
Reggie: Are you catching any live stuff?
CJ: "I saw a band called 'Kid Bloom' over at Hi Hat in Echo Park. And then I went and saw the guitar player again who has a solo project and his name is Zach Tabori. This kid is 22 years old and he gets it all. He knows all the influences and history. The young artist I work with today, with a lot of young artists I meet these days, I’m blown away by their complete lack of knowledge of music history. It floors me. I busted one of them on it and he said ‘you're just saying that because your old.’ I said 'let me tell you something. When I was your age I knew the history of music back to the 1700's. I knew Frankie Valli , Rudy Valle, Fats Domino, Fats Waller. I knew the difference between these people. I knew ALL that stuff. And I didn't have my iPhone to look everything up. The fact that you don't know who Steely Dan is but you can tell me what Kanye said on Twitter yesterday is sad to me. I would have killed to have an iPhone to do research. I had to ride my bike to the frickin' Library and transcribe Charlie Parker records at 17and 7/8. Now these kids have an app that can change pitch and tempo separately so they can learn from the greats. Know the shoulders you're standing on, kids!
Reggie: I did meet a kid, actually he's from Chicago, Dylan Torres at the Baked Potato. He's 23 and totally gets it, and he's a great kid. He blew me away with his musical knowledge.
CJ: "Ya, I know him. I love that guy. He's been keeping in touch with me."
Reggie: He knows it because it's from his heart, his head and his soul. Not from an iPhone.
CJ: "It's because you have to know it. That's why I learned it. That's why ALL of us learned it.”
I had the chance to speak with Luke for a second and he told me "Always an honor to work with those guys as a fan and also as friends".
If you want to purchase this CD check this: Smalls-Change-Meditations-Upon-Ageing