“Jazz Monthly Feature Interview” Chuck Loeb
Smitty: It’s certainly a real treasure to have joining JazzMonthly.com today a great instrumentalist, one of the most complete instrumentalists out there today. He’s just released a fascinating new project, it’s called Presence, and I am so excited to talk with this cat. He is a great producer, a marvelous arranger; he has worked with some of the best in the business, and here to talk about this great new record and his career, please welcome the amazing Mr. Chuck Loeb. Hey Chuck, how are you?
Chuck Loeb (CL): Well, I’m doing a lot better after that introduction, Smitty.
CL: Yeah, I’m doing great, thank you. Things are going real well. Everything is good and I’m happy with the new CD that’s out and I’m glad to be here talking with you.
Smitty: Oh, man, thanks. The same here. And, hey, you’ve hooked up with a new label, with Heads Up. How ‘bout that? You’ve got some exciting stuff happening. You’re starting the year off right.
CL: Yeah, it’s…you know, change is good sometimes, I think, and it feels good to be with Heads Up, with a company with the roster that they have and with the people they have working for them. I was with Shanachie Entertainment for ten solid years and it was a great time for me. It was awesome. But sometimes it’s good for change to happen, both for me and for everyone involved, and it feels good, feels right.
Smitty: Yeah, and it kinda gives you a fresh approach to some things and some new things happening with music, and it’s always a beautiful thing when you’ve got something fresh out there and creates just another creative vibe, you know?
CL: Yeah, absolutely. That’s exactly what it is. It’s a fresh take on things.
Smitty: Yeah, I must tell you that I am loving this new record. Wow. And the title is Presence and I always get intrigued by those one-word titles so please talk to me about Presence.
CL: Yeah, I haven’t had a one-word title in a while….I’ve had a few of ‘em. I had Listen and Balance. Those are going back a few years.
CL: But I think I had a few titles that were really long. I had The Moon, The Stars and the Setting Sun. Some people gave me a lotta grief about that.
CL: So I just wanted to be concise on this one, you know?
Smitty: Yeah, absolutely.
CL: To me it’s all about the human presence in music and in life, and how each of us impacts on each other and nothing happens in a vacuum, and each person that contributes the human element to a project just brings so much to it. It widens and deepens the project, and that’s what, to me, what the title is about.
Smitty: Yeah, and it’s dedicated to Anastasio Cuesta.
CL: Yeah, Cuesta. Yeah, that’s Carmen Cuesta, who is my wife of almost 28 years, believe it or not.
Smitty: Wow! Congratulations, man.
CL: (Laughs.) Thanks, she’s from Madrid, Spain, and when we met, you know, sometimes people click with their in-laws and sometimes they don’t. For me I was in a great relationship with my father-in-law and, in fact, my mother-in-law is with us now for the holidays. She’ll be with us for a few months. But we lost her father about two years ago now, and it was a very impactful experience for me. I never was actually in the same room and house with someone as they left this earth and I was with him. And as I saw his presence leave us and go to, you know, the next place, it was an impactful experience and I wanted to dedicate it to him.
Smitty: You know, I think you’re right on there. Two of the most impactful experiences we can ever have are the birth of a new life, to be there and see that actually happen, and when someone leaves us. Those two things, they’re so opposite of each other, but yet they can have a very profound effect on us.
CL: You’re exactly right and I remember when my daughters came into the world, it was so surprising to me how much of their unique personality was there immediately.
CL: And again, the same thing as someone leaves, you see that their presence is sorely missed.
Smitty: Yes indeed. Well, that was a beautiful thing to dedicate the record to him. That’s very cool. Well, talk to me a little bit about this first track, man. You started this record off in such great fashion with “Good To Go” because it’s just got that upbeat funky vibe, and I must tell you, Wolfgang (Haffner) has got it going on with the drums, doesn’t he?
CL: (Laughs.) He does, yeah.
Smitty: Wow! Man, I….
CL: You know, Wolfgang brought the funk all the way from Germany, you know? He really did. He’s quite a guy. (Both laugh.) This guy….he’s from a little town…it’s funny the way music spreads out, right?
CL: He’s from a little town called Altdorf, Germany, outside of Nuremberg and I don’t know how the music made its way there, but boy did it find him, I’ll tell you!
Smitty: (Laughs.) Yeah, he has got a seriously funky vibe.
CL: Yeah, he does.
Smitty: I love that. And then you did the Steely Dan number “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number.” Wow, did you guys put a nice spin on that track. Man!
CL: Thank you, thank you. You know, the thing is, I mean, it’s not a medley but it almost is because what I did was….myself and Michael Colina, who helped produce it with me….was we took this older Steely Dan song, “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” and I always loved the groove on a song called “Babylon Sisters” from a much later CD, from the Gaucho CD, so we took the groove from “Babylon Sisters” with the great Bernard Purdie and put that twist on the old “Don’t Lose That Number.” “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” and Gaucho were probably 20 years apart, but I liked the groove that Bernard Purdie did on “Babylon Sisters” so I took…you know, the older song had kind of a more straight rock groove to it and we turned it into a shuffle, and I’m really happy with the way that came out. I’d also like to mention the great job that Dave Mann did on the saxophones on that.
Smitty: Yes indeed. I was gonna say that. Man, he’s still got the chops, doesn’t he?
CL: Oh, man. Talent is all over the place in that guy.
Smitty: Wow, and it was so nice to see and hear my good friend, Mr. Mike Ricchiuti.
CL: Oh yeah, I forgot that you guys knew each other. Yeah, he’s awesome.
Smitty: Yeah, man, I tell ya, he has got such a groove and he really did a very nice job on this project.
CL: Yes, he did, yeah. He’s a classy musician and always brings a special touch to things.
Smitty: Yeah, the track “Shed a Little Light,” man, I tell ya, he shines with even the organ too!
CL: Yeah, he really does. To me he’s the perfect accompanist because he just knows exactly what to play at the right time to push the music along and support the soloist, and he’s unique in that way ‘cause sometimes people can lose sight of the art of accompaniment and he’s got it down to a fine art, he really does.
Smitty: Yes indeed. And I love the title “The Music Outside” as opposed to the music inside. (Both laugh.)
CL: Yeah, ten years later, you know?
Smitty: Oh, I had to chuckle when I saw that.
CL: You know, it’s funny ‘cause so many people mention that song, “The Music Inside.” I guess it was my first really, really big hit.
CL: And so I decided to try to make a little commentary on it. (Both laugh.)
Smitty: Yeah, it’s a nice track too, man, and once again Mike was there with the piano and the Rhodes.
Smitty: He’s got the skills to bring it, that’s for sure.
CL: Yeah, absolutely.
Smitty: Absolutely. Walk with me for a minute. Now, you showcased some great guitars on this record and sometimes I ask some of the artists about their particular instrument that they love so much and it’s purely a perspective thing, but does the guitar lead you often or do you lead the guitar often? How does that work?
CL: Hmm, that’s a good question. You know, I would say that each instrumentalist, we struggle with the dual aspect of creativity and in the inspirational sense where you’re trying to grab these melodies that are in the air or bring them to life and the physical aspect of just here’s this hunk of wood with metal strings and you’re trying to tame the thing. Sometimes it seems like it’s got a life of its own. But I would say that the process is kind of mutual.
CL: Because to compose melodies and music is “guitaristic” in a way.
CL: You know what I mean?
CL: But sometimes you have to take whatever music you hear in your head and make it happen on the guitar whether or not it’s perfect for the instrument, you know what I mean by that?
Smitty: Yeah, absolutely.
CL: Sometimes melodies are inherently “guitaristic” or songs are inherently “guitaristic,” so I’m trying to think of an example. Let’s say the beginning of that Rolling Stones song “Satisfaction.” That’s like a real guitar riff, you know what I mean?
Smitty: Yeah. Great song too!
CL: Whereas sometimes if you’re trying to play something that kinda is coming out of, let’s say, John Coltrane or Charlie Parker or something like that, it’s more like a saxophone thing, but you gotta try to make it happen on guitar anyway.
Smitty: Absolutely, yeah.
CL: It’s always a balance.
Smitty: Yeah, I totally get it because sometimes instrumentalists will say “Well, I’m in control of my guitar or my instrument all the time,” but you also hear where they say “Sometimes the instrument just takes me to a certain place and I let it happen.”
CL: Yeah, yeah, I know what you mean.
Smitty: So it goes both ways, I guess, but I often wonder about that sometimes, especially with guitarists because you’ve got such a melody-driven aspect of the music and….
CL: I do. I do try to do that. (Both laugh.)
Smitty: And you’re leading, you know what I mean? So sometimes in that whole leading arena, you often wonder within that, who’s leading who….
CL: Yeah, right.
Smitty: .…and how that works and how that happens, you know what I mean?
CL: I think I know what you mean. There’s a song on the new CD called “The Western Sky.”
Smitty: Yeah. Nice track.
CL: And I think in a sense there’s a couple of parts of that song where the guitar took me by the hand and led me where I had to go, you know? (Laughs.)
CL: But, yeah, I see what you mean.
Smitty: But isn’t that a beautiful experience to have that interplay with the instrument?
CL: Oh yeah.
Smitty: Because it’s a given that we have that interplay with the artists, with the whole camaraderie of the band, but when you’re having that experience within the instrument itself, it’s a beautiful thing.
CL: Yeah, that’s true.
Smitty: Absolutely. So, now, the record comes out when?
CL: We’re speaking on the 4th of January. It will be out in 19 days on the 23rd and that’s when it’s released commercially to the retail stores and to iTunes and the Internet and all that. However, it’s been released at radio since late October.
Smitty: Yeah, all right.
CL: That was one of the things that I was happy about with Heads Up is that they understood that sometimes there’s a lapse between radio and when the album’s actually available. In other words, the thing comes out and it’s there, but maybe people aren’t quite as aware of it because it hasn’t been on the radio yet.
CL: And that’s happened to me several times, so this time we decided to get it out to radio so that people had plenty of time to get used to the idea that there was a new product of mine in the air, and by the time the word was out, you know, we’re in this case six, seven, eight weeks, when it actually does show up in the marketplace people are already talking about it or know about it or have heard a little bit about it.
Smitty: I think that’s a great strategy, absolutely, that’s very cool.
CL: I hope so. It’s hard in this, you know, the music business is struggling, as probably everyone knows.
CL: So you have to do every little bit that you can to, you know, to let people know, “Hey, here I am, pay attention to me.”
Smitty: Yes indeed. Well, you’re with a great group of guys over there at Heads Up because they’re always on the cutting edge and they’re always out in front with new technology and new strategies, and so Dave Love and those guys, I’ve always got my hat…it’s permanently tipped to those guys all the time, so…. (Both laugh.)
CL: Yeah, I’m with you.
Smitty: That’s very cool. Well, man, I am really loving this record, you’ve got some great cats on here with you, and I just love those guitars you’re playing, man. Wow. And they not only sound good, but they look good too! (Both laugh.)
CL: Yeah, well, it’s a new line of guitars for me in the last few years. I switched over. I was with Yamaha. We were talking about change before from one record company to the other, so I changed over from Yamaha to Sadowsky guitars and they do look good.
CL: I like the way they look. They’re sexy looking guitars.
Smitty: Yeah, man.
CL: And, you know, they play good and they sound real good. They’re very high quality instruments.
Smitty: Absolutely. Well, I wanna ask you about something that I think is really cool; You’re gonna be doing something kinda cool at Berks. “String Training”. You’re gonna be doing sort of like a master class?
CL: Yeah, it’s called String Training. Like a play on words….Like spring training in baseball or String Training, and it’s basically….Gerald Veasley has been doing the Gerald Veasley Bass Bootcamp for many years there and I always thought it was such a great thing ‘cause when Berks is going on there’s a lotta folks around and it’s an opportunity for people to….for kids to take part as well, and I wanted to do it for guitar and I kinda talked to John Ernesto, the great promoter from Berks, and he thought it was a good idea, so we’re putting it together, it’s the first year we’re doing it, and hopefully it’ll become a tradition.
Smitty: Oh wow, that sounds pretty cool because I haven’t seen anything like that. In fact, I talked with John a little bit about it and he was kinda describing it a little bit and I said “Hey, that sounds pretty cool. I’ll have to ask Chuck about that when I talk to him.” (Laughs.)
CL: Yeah, I’m glad you did.
Smitty: Yeah, that’s very cool.
CL: Get people to know about it.
CL: Because it is a brand new thing. I’ve never done it before.
Smitty: Yeah, and let’s see, are you gonna be with Pat Martino?
CL: Yeah, so far it’s myself, Pat Martino, and I think we’re gonna have Jimmy Bruno, who was part of the Wes (Montgomery) tribute that we were talking about earlier. And we’re not sure who else, probably one other. This year we’ll keep it to probably three or four people, but we’ve got room to grow. We’re gonna see how it goes and probably add and augment it as we go.
Smitty: Oh, man, that’s very nice. Well, much success to you with that.
CL: Thank you.
Smitty: And John’s a great guy to work with, isn’t he?
CL: The best. He really is to me. He’s the best.
Smitty: Yeah, he’s just a great guy and has such knowledge of what’s happening and I think that’s valuable in this business right now.
CL: Well, also I think he….the thing that I find with John is that he’s willing to go out on a limb sometimes. To try something new like this, for example, or to bring seven guitar players together to do a tribute for Wes Montgomery or to take on an artist like Ivan Lins like he did with Jason Miles. I think that kind of going out on a limb and introducing people to stuff is admirable in a promoter because sometimes promoters are more like “We just gotta put fannies in the seat,” you know, and…
Smitty: Yeah, keep it safe.
CL: And be safe. And John’s willing to try out different things and I think that’s how the music grows.
Smitty: Yeah, and look at that festival (Berks). Speaking of growth, wow!
CL: Yeah, how ‘bout that?
Smitty: Yeah, and I’m sure that innovative spirit is a very major part of that.
CL: In my mind it is, yeah.
Smitty: Chuck, I must thank you and everybody at Heads Up for this great record and I can’t leave out Phil Magnotti. Man, every time I hear something he’s a part of, it’s always fantastic. Man, he’s a great guy.
CL: You know what? Thank you very much for mentioning that. Actually, it’s Phil and there’s also a guy named Dennis Wall. Both of those guys, engineers that I’ve worked with now for 20 years.
CL: And it’s true. When Phil puts his cuts on a project….I’m just finishing now something that I produced for a young bass player from Europe….everybody says the same thing. “God, who gets those sounds?” And it’s him, it’s Phil, he’s quite a talent.
Smitty: Yeah, he certainly is, and please pass along my thanks and congratulations to him and Dennis as well.
CL: I’ll do that, yeah.
Smitty: All right. Chuck, my friend, I am really looking forward to seeing this out there in the public and I really anticipate some great things with this record.
CL: Well, thanks, Smitty. I appreciate it, man. I really do.
Smitty: Yes indeed. We have been talking with the fantastic guitarist Heads Up recording artist Mr. Chuck Loeb. He has a great new record out, it is called Presence. You have got to hear this one. It is just a fantastic collection of great songs, great sounds with a group of extraordinary musicians. Chuck, thanks again, my friend, and I look forward to seeing you at Berks.
CL: Hey, me too and I’ll take this opportunity to say all the best to everybody in the New Year….Health, happiness and peace.
Baldwin “Smitty” Smith
For More Information Visit www.chuckloeb.com and www.headsup.com and www.sadowsky.com.
© February 2007 Jazz Monthly LLC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED