MUSIC WRITER IN JAPAN
25th February 2013
Q: That’s a hell of a beard, how long have you had it?
LD: Oh I got tired of shaving! I don’t know…a couple of years. I just let it go and I haven’t been able to shave it yet. It feels so good not to shave.
Q: Is this your first time in Japan?
LD: Yes it is.
Q: It took you a long time to get here.
LD: I sure did! Not by my design I can tell you. If it were left up to me I’d tour the world every year but it’s hard to do.
Q: You having a good time here?
LD: Oh yeah. There’s a weird thing with the language barrier sometimes when you want to do simple things like washing your clothes for instance. I’m having a hard time with the washer/dryer here. They are still locked in the washer – I can’t figure out how to open the door. I washed ‘em last night and was trying to get them to dry and I called the reception and they told me I had to do the whole (wash/dry) cycle. So I washed them again and dried them but they still didn’t dry and nobody can figure how to just make it go to dryer. It’s been one of those kind of nights: I’ve been up all night with it but it’ll get solved.
Early days (1966 – 1971)
Q: What was the music scene like in Florida in the latter half of the sixties around the time you were playing with your early bands?
LD: Especially for me at that age, it was mostly playing teen-centres and stuff. There is a new Gram Parsons book out – Gram grew up five miles from me – that depicts that era and what was going on. It was a kind of a laid-back scene because in Florida there wasn’t a whole lot to do except go to the beach. For the most part, Florida was pine trees and orange groves so there was always a reason to play because there was nothing else to do except go to a drive-in movie or ride motorcycles. I used to play the pier in Daytona beach and Duane (Allman) would be doing the same kind of thing and because of our youth, the places to play were teen-centres because we couldn’t get into bars because you had to be 21. Nowadays when you see a child prodigy and they make thing about it, well when I was playing in bars when I was 14 or 15 they would have to sneak me in and out of the place. It was more hush-hush. Sometimes I would hide in the kitchen and then come out on stage during a break. There was also the fraternity parties where we would play a lot of R&B stuff like James Brown, Sam and Dave and some Blues things as well as the songs of the era like Wooly Bully and Mustang Sally. You know that film Animal House?
Q: Yes, the one with John Belushi.
LD: Yeah well when I see that film it reminds me of that era when I was growing up. We were doing that. We would have the same suits on and all that. I had one band called The Stepping Stones and another called The United Sounds; they were in the earlier part of the sixties. Then there was another called Blue Truth which was moving more towards the Blues and then a band called Power which was just heavy Rock ‘n’ Roll. That was probably the late 60’s to ’70/’71 and I hooked up with the Allman Brothers after that.
Q: Did you know Tom Petty from that time?
LD: Absolutely. I knew Tom when he was in a band called Mudcrutch. He was from near Gainsville in Florida and he was doing the same thing. We would criss-cross and meet each other playing all the different the frat houses.
Q: In your biography you mention that your big influence as a kid was The Beatles but when and how did the slide playing come from?
LD: That was mostly from Ry Cooder and all the Blues stuff and of course Duane was a good influence on me but even Duane was into Ry Cooder. He would take a simple Ry Cooder lick that was on a Dobro (guitar) for instance and make it electric. Duane had a certain tone about him that was different to, say, Johnny Winter. Johnny would play with finger picks like a steel player so you could hear that metallic sound whereas Duane always just used his fingers which made the tone more like singing and it didn’t have so much of a ‘tic’ to it. There are a few other Blues artists as well like Robert Johnson. Allman Brothers
Q: Jessica - No overdubs right?
LD: None. We did that song in six days and recorded it every day but in the middle of the week, Dickey and Gregg got in almost a fist-fight and stormed out of the studio mad at each other and then they’d come back and we’d hit it again. I have outtakes with the two drummers Jaimoe and Butch, Chuck Leavell, Lamar Williams and myself doing some other things as well as a really cool song that Chuck had that we were jamming on. It was an incredible groove and it was just because Dickey and Gregg left the studio. It was tension, tension madness. When you’re trying to get the song done, it happens sometimes and when it happened this time we ran down Chuck’s song and told Johnnie Sandlin (Producer) ‘Hit the red man!’ and he recorded it. I call it my Allman Brothers Archive of Jessica outtakes. Nobody has ever heard it.
Q: You have to do an anthology. Do you have the demo tapes that you did with Power and True Blue?
LD: There was one session we did in Richmond, Virginia, right at the time Duane died that we did with Power. I don’t even know where those tapes are, I’d have to look for them. I’ve got a trunk of stuff and they’re in there somewhere.
Q: Did you ever play live with the Allman Brothers?
LD: Once. It was at the Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh in front of about 70,000 people. It was kind of a strange night and a frustrating night because I had opened the show playing with Boz Scaggs…well we didn’t open, there were other bands on. I’m guessing it was ’74, the year after Brothers & Sisters came out and Gregg and Dickey asked me if I wanted to come up and play Ramblin’ Man with them and that was the only time that the same band played live as on the record – minus Berry Oakley of course who had died by then. So we did it and people freaked out because it was the only time we ever did it and I’m leaving the stage after the one song and Gregg grabbed me and said ‘Stick around and play another one with us’ so I said ok, stayed up there and Dickey got really mad. He literally got steaming mad at me and I said ‘Well Gregg asked me to play another song. I’m sorry man but it is called the Allman Brothers and he is Gregg Allman and he asked me to play another song.’ I thought nothing of it but Dickey got furious and I felt bad and my high of playing that song for the only time got shattered by Dickey whereas Steve Miller used to ask me to get up and play a song and it used to get to the point where I’d be saying ‘Steve, I’ve got to go now!’ He’d keep saying ‘Play another one’ and I’d end up playing half the show which I actually did a few years ago when Norton Buffalo was still alive. Steve invited me up and after eight or nine songs I jokingly said ‘Steve, you’re going to end up owing me some money after this show!’ but I’m glad he did keep me up there because it was the last time I played with and saw Norton. He died shortly after that.
Q: Would you have taken the offer from Phil Walden to join the Allman Brothers full time if you hadn’t already been playing with Boz Scaggs?
LD: Well here is the irony of that question. I was at a Santana/Allman Brothers show in Macon and I hadn’t started playing with Boz yet. Boz flew into town and was looking for me to play in his band. He was already on the road and wasn’t happy with his guitar player so he fired him and was desperately looking for another guitar player and flew into town to find me. I saw him backstage at the show but nobody introduced us and Walden pulled me into the bathroom and told me ‘Les, I’m going to make you a star’. I asked him how and he said ‘I’m going to put you in the Allman Brothers.’ So, when I think back on it, Walden didn’t really think about me too much until somebody else wanted me to play in their band. I didn’t meet Boz until a few days later. I was going to go out with Bobby Womack on the road because there was always a kind of friction between Dickey and I with regards to me being in the band. He actually said it to me once, he said ‘Now that Duane has passed, it’s my band.’ And I thought ‘Oooohh…ok’ because it was always Duane’s band: he created it and had all the experience of the things he had done prior to creating the Allman Brothers so maybe in his mind, Dickey always considered himself as the second guitar player, the lesser of the two whereas in reality, as a fan, I respected them both. I felt it was an orchestration of guitar work and that was their sound so I think even Dickey misread his own value and when Duane died he felt that opportunity to step up. There really was no leader after Duane because Gregg wasn’t that type of guy and when Duane was there, he was calling all the shots and knew all the right things to do so maybe Dickey thought me stepping in would take his light away and they went for a second keyboard player after that. The only reason I say that is because of what was said to me and that is that when Berry was still alive, we recorded Ramblin’ Man the traditional way with the two guitars and then when we were doing Jessica, rather than let me do the harmony parts, Dickey actually told me he didn’t want me to play those parts because he didn’t want the critics to think that I was going to be in the band and he wanted me to play the acoustic part.
Q: You mentioned at the show last night that you co-wrote Jessica with Dickey. What’s the story?
LD: I co-wrote that song, I was responsible for the bridge section so he felt obligated to have me play on it but he never gave me a credit and robbed me of my heritage and a lot of money too because nobody ever gave me a dime for it. The last time I saw him is when they kicked him out in 2000 and we went to Joe Dan Petty’s funeral who was a mutual friend and the bass player from Grinderswitch. We started talking, he had moved back to Florida and I suggested we hang out together so we played some golf and he was the one to bring it up, I wasn’t going to bring it up. He said ‘I really feel bad about that Jessica issue.’ and I said ‘Well you don’t have to feel bad about it anymore, just cut me a check and make it right! Call ASCAP and tell them I’m a co-writer on that song.’ They basically just jilted me out of my royalties and credit.You see, back in the day, Dickey marched me into Phil Walden’s office and told him that I had co-wrote the song and that I should get a credit but then in 2000 Dickey told me that me that they - meaning Phil Walden and Frank Fenter – said that they told him he didn’t have to pay anything because there was nothing written down that says I co-wrote the song. At that time, I wasn’t doing anything and I had been there long enough and told them that if they were not going to put me in the Allman Brothers, let me do a solo album, be solo artist or something. The Marshall Tucker Band wanted me who were great friends but they were a bit too country for me so when the Steve Miller opportunity came up I said I wanted a release from their contract which Walden finally did. I think he was a little bit pissed off about it because he wanted me to do what he wanted me to do but he’s driving around in a Rolls-Royce and I’m eating pork and beans trying to pay my rent. I had already been playing with Boz but then the opportunity came up to play with Steve so I jumped on it. Boz Scaggs, Steve Miller and Journey
Q: You were in Boz Scagg’s band, touring with Steve Miller and at the end of the night you were often invited on stage by Steve, along with James Cotton, to end the show.
LD: That was in ‘74 on his Joker tour. We did a few weeks with the Allman Brothers and then Boz was asked to come on the tour along with James Cotton. Steve would always get his segment of the show done and then for his encore he would invite us up. He’s got some great photos of all of us. We would play seven to nine more songs for an encore! He made that into a happening and that’s the kind of guy Miller is. He’s tuned in that way to make it pleasant for the audience and something extra for the audience.
Q: There was a mad week for you when you were the most in-demand player on the West Coast; You had to choose between Capitol Records with Steve Miller producing you, joining Journey and Columbia Records with Boz Scaggs producing you; Tough decision?
LD: It really was. First of all, I had just left Georgia. It was after that Joker tour and Miller asked me to go up to Seattle and cut some tracks with him and some guys from Boz’s band and James Cotton. We did a bunch of stuff that ended up on Fly Like An Eagle, Book Of Dreams and Living In The 20th Century and then I was going to go back to Georgia but he said ‘Why don’t you come out and play with my band?’ So then Boz finds out I’m playing with Steve now and me and Steve are having a cup of coffee at his house, the phone rings and Steve says ‘It’s Boz, he wants to talk to you.’ and I found out that Boz had another short tour he needed me to play on. Prior to that, Miller had the idea of an acoustic tour of just him and I which we were gearing up for but when Boz needed me he said ‘Go ahead and do the Boz thing, I’m going to take a year off and maybe we’ll hook up later.’ So I did the Boz thing and now I’m just sitting around doing nothing because I just moved. Now what do I do? Steve has taken a year off, Boz has done with his touring so I ended up doing a couple of demos. Herbie Herbert who later became the manager of Journey ran it to Warner Bros for me but they turned me down but some time later Herbie calls me and said he was thinking about putting a band together and he wanted the two guitar heroes of the area – me and Neal Schon who was playing with Santana and I always admired his playing. So I was invited to the first Journey rehearsal and the same week I was invited to a meeting across the street from the rehearsal hall which was on Folsom in San Francisco and I went from having nothing to having three offers in one day. Journey would have been great but they didn’t have Steve Perry yet so they were in this jazz fusion vibe which was great but I didn’t hear any hits or any strong commercial value to it and I had more loyalty with Boz so I ended up doing my solo album with Boz where I could do what I wanted. First four solo albums
Q: City Magic – was that collection of songs you had written over a couple of years or did you compose them once you had the record deal? LD: Some yes, some no. Sacrifice for instance was written by me and James Curley Cooke who was playing rhythm guitar for Steve on that tour. We actually wrote that on the tour. Then I had another one…ooooh….you feeling something? (At this point we are interrupted by an earthquake)
Q: Did you do any solo tours around this time?
LD: That’s probably the one thing I didn’t do enough of. It was mostly with Bob Weir from the Grateful Dead who had a band called Kingfish. We toured for a couple of weeks together and then some dates with Nils Lofgren but I should have been out there more. The second album was the same sort of thing. It was mostly a promotional tour and I did some shows with Boz who let me do Old Judge Jones during his set, which was right around the time that Silk Degrees came out.
Q: Do you still have the Les Paul that is on the cover of City Magic?
LD: Yes. That’s the one I used on Ramblin’ Man. The second one on the cover of Say No More was stolen: I still get sick over it because that and a 1961 Cherry Red SG were stolen. They didn’t take my 768 which is the one on the first album which my Mom and Dad gave me which I play on my new Delta Breeze album. I use it to record but I don’t take it on the road. When I do go on the road, I put it in a vault because it just has too much sentimental value. That’s the guitar that’s been with me since I was fifteen years old. I have a guy in Connecticut that’s building me a new guitar which is incredible looking. It sort of has a Les Paul body and has my name all the way down the neck in mother of pearl and he’s doing the varnish the old way like Gibson used to do it, a tiger stripped, deep cherry sunburst so that will probably be one of my favourites to take on the road.
Q: Was that your first parrot on the neck?
LD: Yes. I called him Zoro because the feathers looked like a mask. That bird was a great friend for a long time but then I got married and had a kid and he went after my son so I had to get rid of the bird but for a long time it was kind of like my trademark.
Q: What bikes and parrots do you have now?
LD: No birds or pets at all. Stray cats find me somehow. I never was a cat person but I find that a stray cat is like a dog, they are so appreciative. In the last ten years I’ve had four or five stray cats that have wandered into my life and wandered right back out. I can whistle and they will come, like a dog, to let them know I have food for them. I’m on the road so much I don’t feel right about having a pet and having to board them. I used to have to do that to my bird and it affected him. As far as motorcycles, I have a Screaming Eagle Dyna Wide Glide which is a Harley Davidson and I call her my naughty little girl: She’s bad to the bone. She’s been in a biker magazine – American Iron I think it was called – and she looks stock but there’s nothing stock about the engine at all. I bought it used from a friend of mine that I used to ride with back in the ‘60s. In those days I had an old Panhead that I built with a veteran Harley mechanic. Duane was into Harleys, Gregg too: we all were. This one, I knew how my friend was with his bikes, very meticulous. He bought it brand new and before he even took it out of the shop, he put it in to have the engine rebuilt by the Harley racing drag team so it is scary fast. I have to remind myself sometimes to not to give it too much because I can go from nothing to 100mph at the bat of an eye. The speedometer reads 120 mph and I’ve had it where it’s just bouncing off the stop. I only do that on straight roads and in Florida you have to be careful because alligators will cross the road at night and if you hit one of those it’s like hitting a tree. Dudek, Finegan and Kruegar.
Q: There was a never a follow-up album – why not?
LD: We broke up, that was it. The whole way that came to be, it was probably one of the best bands I’ve ever been in but we did it wrong. When we toured with Kansas in ‘78, we were promoting our own solo albums. The manager I had at the time, who was also their manager, had the idea of a super-group to promote our three solo albums which confused everybody because we were going out as DFK and there was no album. We spent all this money, came off the road and then decided to do an album and that ended up being way too costly. Between the tour and the album we spent over a million dollars on a project that we should have done in reverse and as a result of that we got pissed off with the management and left. Of course we had to pay them off so the band just fizzled out. It also shattered my solo career with Columbia so it was the best band I was ever in and the worst thing I ever did (laughs). Black Rose
Q: What’s your take on that album now?
LD: I was in a bar one night with Richard T. Bear and he said ‘Hey, Cher is down at this rehearsal room looking for players for a new project, let’s go on down and check it out.’ So this was at the tail-end of DFK and I was still trying to figure what was going on with that but anyway, we go down ther and as it turns out, Mike Finnegan shows up with Stephen Stills and it just turned into one big jam session. Cher is saying ‘Stop! Everybody stop! I’m trying to do a project here and you guys are turning it into a jam session!’ So, we ended up calling it and then she said ‘Anybody interested in being in my band, meet me down at Nick’s Fish Market’ which was a place to eat so we all go down there and have some dinner and I guess Cher had already been scoping me out and knew stuff that I had done.
Q: I hope you’ll forgive me for asking this but surely you dating Cher must have ruffled a few feathers in the Allman Brothers camp? (Gregg Allman was married to Cher from 1975 to 1979)
LD: Not from me but from Gregg, yeah. We don’t talk anymore. Not my fault, he just doesn’t want to talk to me.
Q: Please carry on.
LD: Cher asked me if I was interested in helping her with the project and DFK was weird so I thought ‘Why not?’ As a matter of fact, Finnegan was originally going to be the keyboard player because she heard the DFK album and wanted us to be in the band. As a result of that, it pissed off Columbia which I didn’t understand because I wasn’t doing anything. Maybe it was her image or something.
Q: Sounds like sour grapes to me.
LD: Whatever it was, it didn’t make sense to me. I was just doing it innocently, helping her out and it was Cher so why not and especially because of what she wanted to do. She wanted to be in a rock and roll bandand she didn’t lend her name to it – it was Black Rose and so I thought ok, if it’s going to be like that, it’s ok. Of course it pissed her managers off too because she had been doing her Vegas thing and they didn’t want to take her away from her Vegas money. The only person who was really backing it was Neil Bogart from Casablanca Records. He was the one who had the backing from the record company but her managers wanted it to fail so Neil had no help from anybody else. We opened for Hall & Oates in Central Park and when we started playing, there were people coming in and wandering around and then when she started singing, because she has such a recognisable voice, it was a whole big thing because suddenly Cher is in Central park. I told her it may have been better if she said ‘Cher’s Black Rose’ because we had the whole, we had some good songs. We did Midnight Special of which Burt Sugarman said it was one of the highest rating that he did. Of course we had some other good artists on there with us, The Rolling Stones and Everly Brothers and some others but we hosted the show but anyway, even though we got some good reviews, it turned into this thing which was like ‘a big failure’ and people tried to sweep it under the rug whereas in reality, it had great potential; it had some great players in it and live we went over real well. Deeper Shades of the Blues / Free Style
Q: These have a more refined/polished sound since your first album.
LD: How do you mean refined?
Q: A more polished production.
LD: Yes, probably so. The new one I have, Delta Breeze, is completely opposite to that. Present Day
Q: When’s the new album out?
LD: It’s not out yet. I was trying to see if there was any major labels that might want to jump on it but when I talked to an attorney last night he told me the majors don’t know what to do with it anymore.
Q: The majors don’t know what to do with anything anymore.
LD: Yeah so now I’m thinking that the person who bought me here, Doug from Buffalo Records, has been really patient with me and maybe he would want to put this out. After thirty-something years of me not being able to come to Japan because nobody had the insight to bring me here, Doug did so why not give it to Doug and let him run with it.
Q: Doug is a good guy and he knows how and where to sell it. Nobody is selling tens of thousands of records anymore anywhere in the world.
LD: Exactly and that’s the only thing any major can do except for maybe some tour support. That’s the only other thing I was thinking of. If I could get something major worldwide that would offer me tour support because the big front-monies are not there anymore and anyway I don’t really want that. I want promotion and tour support and if that’s not available anymore then the only other thing I can consider is going through people like Doug that have a feel and a love for it.
Q: A labour of love these days means far more.
LD: it carries its weight in gold and after talking to the attorney last night, that’s what I found out but I had to hear that.
Q: It’s amazing how it’s changed isn’t it? Black Rose was considered a flop because it only sold 400,000 which would now be a major hit.
LD: Yes it has. Herbie told me that if you put out your own solo record and it only sells 100,000, you’re making more money than the bigger companies because you get a better cut, so that’s where I’m at with it.
Q: I’m looking forward to hearing it.
LD: When you hear this one, it’s like having a band sit right up in front of you playing. Except for a little effect on the track Chaos, there are no effects on it. Just guitar bass and drums
Q: Les Dudek, thank you very much.
LD: Thank you, it’s been a pleasure.