TR: You have said you liked jazz but how would you categorize yourself musically? I know that on the web they categorize you as an adult contemporary artist.
RG: Well I have written an awful lot of those kinds of songs and they are some of my biggest hits. As a songwriter you could categorize me there. But also I’m also in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and I’ve written a bunch of country hits. I’ve had rock hits. I try all kind of different things. I’m doing a project now with my friend songwriter Jay Graydon called JaR, which is more like a Steely Dan kind of group.
So I can function in a lot of different genres.
Part of the reason I am so diverse I think is because of where I grew up. I’m from Arkansas and that area is really the birthplace of lots of American music. I mean if you think about it you have got blues, rock n roll, jazz, country, rhythm and blues and all of this stuff which basically started in that region and when you were in a band you had to play it all. You couldn’t say “Oh I’m just going to play acid rock tonight”. You had to be able to play it all. So that was kind of a blessing for me. When I played on the road with Chet he played everything. I mean he could play old standards, jazz, appalachian things and all kinds of stuff. You just had to be able to play all of it, and do it authentically.
TR: I think his audience really appreciated that diversity too.
Chet is one of a few people who would call me to do a gig and I wouldn’t know exactly why I was supposed to be there, but I’d go anyway. So I go to the Hollywood Palace and about half way into show he stops and says “We have a very special guest in the audience tonight – Ms. Sarah Vaughan! – Sarah come on up and sing a song”.
So he looks around at me and says “You stay!” Then he told the rest of the band to leave. So Sarah comes up on the stage and she was in a questionable state, well let’s just say she was tired. And so she comes up and turns to me and says: “I Got it Bad and that Ain’t Good”.
Then I suddenly realized why he called me to be there, it was because I knew that song. So I played the intro and Sarah sang and after she was done, Chet’s manager at the time, Fred Kewley came up to me and says “That was just about the coolest thing I’ve ever seen”. And I said “For a jazzer it’s a day-at-the-beach!”
Having me do that was like going up to a banjo player and saying do you know “Foggy Mountain Breakdown”? (laughing)
Another time, when I was in Nashville Chet called me one morning at about 7AM as I was just about to leave the house for a workout and said “Hey let’s meet for breakfast at the Loveless Café”. And I said “well I still have my work out clothes on, what time you want to meet?” and he said “Come at 8 o’clock and don’t worry about what you have on.”
TR: Of course you wrote “So Soft Your Goodbye” which Chet and Mark did together and it won a Grammy. Why do you think Chet wanted you to meet Mark?
RG: He just wanted me to meet Mark; there was no business or anything.
TR: Maybe he thought you guys were compatible or he thought there was something similar about the two of you.
RG: There were no expectations or assumptions that it would lead to something, I think he just knew it would work. It was a Chet thing to do something like that. He was a free, unencumbered spirit.
TR: I saw a video of where you were at the Bluebird Café talking about your days as a young songwriter shopping your songs around and being turned away, etc. What was that process like?
RG: I used to do a lot of songwriting seminars and once at a seminar in San Francisco I asked the crowd “How many of you have been writing for a year or less?”, and a majority of hands went up. Then I asked how many had been writing 5 years and finally how many had been writing 10 years.
By then only 3 hands were up and I told them, “That’s how long I had been at it before I had anything cut. A lot of you folks are going to get your feelings hurt, get discouraged and give up, and that’s okay.”
What you have to develop is a sense of deciding whether a person rejected your song because it wasn’t good or because it is not the right day to play for them, or if they just have bad taste, whatever. It’s like a golfer who hits a bad shot and you just don’t know why it went bad. If you figure out your body was shifted the wrong way and that’s why the shot went bad then you can adjust.
I CAN take no for an answer. It’s like when I took them “You Needed Me” and they told me it wouldn’t work, that it needed a chorus. And I said “No it doesn’t.” I had been writing a really long time at that point and I knew there were a lot of songs that were hits that did not have a chorus, like “When Sunny Gets Blue” for example. Now a less experienced writer might go back home and write a chorus and end up with a seven minute piece of garbage.
But there is no easy one sentence answer to shopping a song, it’s kind of like democracy, it’s always evolving.
TR: Is there something about Chet that folks may not know?
RG: I think he was a very generous, loyal, sensitive man, and as I said a renaissance man. A great guitar player no doubt about it but he was always looking at the bigger picture, the whole universe.
He was my boss, but I would also say we were good friends. I was always welcome to come over and his wife Leona would sometimes call me and ask me to come fix the TV or something. I felt like extended family.
But one time in particular sticks in my mind. In 1976 when my dad died I was sitting at home a few weeks later and I heard a knock at the door, and Chet was standing there and he said “Hey Randy, you like video games don’t you?” and I said yeah and he said “let’s go play some” and so we went to this place he had found and I played a couple of games and he was just watching and finally I asked him, “What are you gonna play?” And he said, “Nothing - I just thought you might like to do this and get your mind off of things.”
And that’s the kind of person he was.
TR: Well thank you for talking with me today Randy.
RG: My pleasure.