Just when you thought you’d heard everything, new (well, actually old) music can find its way into your world. This was the case when I was listening to Deep Tracks on Sirius XM Radio in a rental car, and a song by the duo Batdorf & Rodney came on. I remembered the name of the artists behind this acoustic rock gem, but was disappointed to learn that CDs of their 1970s albums were out of print and used copies were going for beaucoup bucks.
This has thankfully been remedied by the recent release of the compilation called Portfolio. Click here for the compilation. But, even better, we have a chance to hear some of these songs, plus Batdorf’s more recent material, when he performs at Live Oak Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 820 N. Fairview Ave. in Goleta, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 8. Click here for more information on the concert, which is part of the Song Tree series.
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Jeff Moehlis: What can we look forward to at the upcoming show?
John Batdorf: You can look forward to hearing 40 years of original songs from the early ’70s Batdorf & Rodney days all the way up to the more recent records I have done. Since 2004, I have recorded and released four solo projects, two All Wood And Stones CDs with James Lee Stanley, and Live At XM Radio CD with Mark Rodney and my newest project with Michael McLean, Soundtrax 2 Recovery.
JM: Going way back, can you tell us about your audition for Ahmet Ertegun, which broke you and Mark Rodney into the music business?
JB: I met Ahmet Ertegun when I first auditioned with a band I came to California with in 1967 when I was 15. We signed a deal with Atlantic but the album never got made. I kept in touch with Ahmet through the years and he would listen to my various bands but was encouraging but we never got a deal. I moved to Las Vegas the spring of 1970 and met Mark Rodney at a coffee house on the UNLV campus. We really clicked and decided to take our act back to L.A. and give it a shot. When we got to L.A., I picked up the phone and called the Beverly Hills Hotel where Ahmet stayed when he was in L.A. and he picked up. I excitedly told him about our act and he invited us over to play for him. We started with “Oh My Surprise” and Ahmet stood up and said, “I want to sign you.” Two days later, in December of 1970, we were signed to Atlantic Records and that spring, we went to Muscle Shoals Sound and recorded Off The Shelf. Pretty storybook-like stuff!!
JM: It’s great that you re-released the old Batdorf & Rodney material late last year, which has held up very well. For you, what were some of the highlights from the original run of Batdorf & Rodney?
JB: Making the record in Muscle Shoals with that rhythm section was awesome. Working with the legendary Bill Halverson on the second album was killer. He got the best acoustic guitar sound on the planet. Playing Carnegie Hall with The Youngbloods in 1972 was a great memory. Ahmet was in the audience and we got an encore!!
We loved playing the East Coast and the Midwest. Those two markets plus Hawaii were our biggest markets. We were fortunate enough to tour with some of the big acts of our era, including Bread, Chicago, Dave Mason, Hall & Oates, Doobie Brothers, James Gang, Canned Heat, America, Poco, Carly Simon and on and on. Fabulous memories for a kid barely in his 20s.
JM: Your career arc moved into writing and singing music for commercials. Are there any that we might still remember?
JB: I did so many commercials and records in the ’80s up through the mid-’90s. The commercial that bought my house was for Nissan. “We
make you feel like drivin’.” Datsun was changing their name and I sang on a demo that eventually went to air as-is. They cut commercial after commercial using that jingle and it was fantastic! There were Budweiser spots, GMC, and on and on. I sang on some great records from Mötley Crüe to Rod Stewart’s the “Rhythm of My Heart” smash that made it into the movie, The Perfect Storm. I was the lead singer on the cartoon theme songs for Tom & Jerry Kids, Garfield and Friends, Doctor Doctor, and the original voice on the Disney Darkwing Duck cartoon. I was also one of the voices in Disney’s Newsies musical. Every day was a new adventure.
JM: You also wrote songs for other artists and music for television shows. What inspired the return to recording material under your own name?
JB: Even though my “record career” pretty much was over in the early ’80s, I never stopped writing. I was a staff songwriter for two years and continued writing songs as I continued to sing on sessions. I got a chance to try out for a Touched by an Angel spinoff Promised Land. They were looking for a composer so I worked all summer in 1997 and eventually, although I had no experience, got the gig because they liked my work. Go figure! That gig lasted three seasons but the producers liked me so much, they asked me to stay on and supply the majority of the “source music” for Angel. So for the next four years I wrote country songs, rock songs, lounge music, elevator music, grunge, jazz and an occasional acoustic song. I really loved that gig and was hoping it would last forever!
JM: One thing that jumped out at me from your musical résumé is that you sang background vocals for Mötley Crüe on their album Theatre of Pain, which included their hit “Home Sweet Home.” What was that experience like?
JB: Again, another cool gig. I had met producer Tom Werman singing background vocals for Boy Meets Girl. He liked my voice and was producing Mötley Crüe’s new album. They didn’t want their fans to know, but Max Gronenthal and I sang background vocals on all the songs. They put us in the “Special Thanks” section of the credits. That was us singing “Smokin’ In The Boys Room” and every other BG vocal. They were fun to hang around with, and Tom Werman was a really great producer to work with.
JM: What are your plans, musical or otherwise, for the near future?
JB: My focus this year will be mainly promoting the Soundtrax 2 Recovery CD. I just got a great review yesterday that really hits it on the head. (Click here for more information.) At this point in my life, it is very rewarding to do a project that deals with such an important issue. Music is a very powerful thing.
— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.