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Jeff Moehlis: Danny Kortchmar to Weave Musical Tapestry at Maverick Saloon

Guitarist Danny Kortchmar played on some of the most beloved albums from the 1970s — Carole King’s Tapestry, James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James and Jackson Browne’s Running on Empty — to name the most obvious.

But that's just scratching the surface of his phenomenal career in music, which also included six months with The Fugs; some great fusion albums with The Section and a fruitful collaboration with Don Henley that yielded “Dirty Laundry,” “All She Wants to Do is Dance” and “Sunset Grill.”

He also produced a Neil Young album and played on the Harry Nilsson album Pussy Cats, which was produced by John Lennon.

You've no doubt heard the musical contributions of Kortchmar on the radio. Now you have a chance to hear them in person when he visits the Maverick Saloon in Santa Ynez with Steve Postell and Dan Navarro Wednesday, March 9, 2016, as part of the Tales From the Tavern concert series (tickets are available here).  

Kortchmar talked to Noozhawk about the upcoming concert and his amazing musical journey. The full interview is available here.

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Jeff Moehlis: What can people look forward to at the upcoming concert?

Danny Kortchmar: Well, you know there’s three of us. It’s myself, Steve Postell and Dan Navarro. All of us have a lot of original tunes.

We’ll be talking about how the tunes came about, telling stories about how the songs came to be written and who we collaborated with and how they came to be recorded.

We're going to... I would say pass the mike around, but of course we'll be sitting around playing acoustic guitars, so we’ll go around in a circle and we’ll each sing a tune, then we’ll go around again.

There's a lot of tunes. Dan Nararro’s a fantastic songwriter and singer. He’s played there before. Steve Postell’s the same. And then I have my songs. I've never done anything like this before, but I’m really looking forward to it.

JM: You played on Carole King’s album Tapestry, her big breakthrough album. What are your reflections on that album, looking back forty something years later?

DK: Well, we had already made two albums with Carole. We had done an album called The City — myself, Charles Larkey and Carole. She wanted to be in a band situation.

She was uncomfortable about being strictly a solo artist by herself, so that was the first real album I played on, in fact, although The Fugs came before that.

I consider Now That Everything’s Been Said by The City to be the first actual album that I played on all the way through. Lou Adler produced it. He was absolutely brilliant. I learned so much.  It was an incredible experience.

The next one was called Writer, by Carole King. That one James [Taylor] was on and Joel O’Brien and Ralph Schuckett, Charley [Larkey]. John Fischbach produced that one. 

It was also just a brilliant thing. I thought both those albums were great, and was shocked when they didn’t do extremely well.

So by the time we got to Tapestry, I didn’t have any big hopes for it. Not because it wasn’t great, but because the first two, which I thought were great, hadn’t gone anywhere.  

I had no idea it was going to be as big as it was, but Lou Adler saw it, saw that it was going to be a big beautiful thing.

We went in there — it happened very quickly. Carole’s a brilliant, brilliant arranger, producer as well as composer. She would go around and talk to each of us individually and just say a few things, and then we’d start playing.  

The whole thing was done in three weeks. Everything. Those solos that I played on that album were off the floor, played live.  

I’m really glad I didn’t know how big the album was going to be because I would’ve pissed my pants. I didn’t know that many people were going to buy it [laughs].  

You know, “You’d better play this solo right.” But I didn’t feel any pressure because I didn’t know if anyone was going to hear it or not.

That’s the way you made records back then. We got in a room together, we had a producer, we had great songs — boom, we hit it. Basically all of it was played off the floor, with a couple of overdubs here and there. Three weeks later the whole thing is done, and out it goes.

Danny Kortchmar will perform with Steve Postell and Dan Navarro Wednesday, March 9, at the Maverick Saloon in Santa Ynez. (Danny Kortchmar photo)

JM: You mentioned James Taylor, another person who you’re very strongly associated with. When you were recording the early albums with him, how did you approach that

DK: James and I had been playing together for a long time. We kind of grew up together. We met when were both teenagers, 13 or 14 years old.  

We had been playing together for several years, and we’d also been playing in The Flying Machine, so we had a pretty good idea of how to play together. It just naturally evolved.

Basically when I was playing with James, I try to do what he isn’t doing. I try to weave — what Keith Richards calls “the ancient art of weaving,” where the guitar parts weave together and mesh in a beautiful way, and that’s really what I was going for, to find something that went with what James is doing.

JM: I wanted to ask you about the tour when Jackson Browne recorded Running on Empty. What are some of your favorite memories of that tour?

DK: Well, the whole thing [laughs]. It was an incredible experience, you know.

Leave it to Jackson to come up with this wild concept, which I wouldn’t say no one had done before, but he wanted to make an album live with new material that no one had heard, recorded at soundchecks, recorded at hotel rooms, recorded live onstage.  

He had written a bunch of songs just for that purpose, and away we went.

It actually was very ambitious at that time. He really wanted to capture the feeling of being on the road, with the songs and with the way the songs were recorded, so it was really a challenge.  

It was just a great band — a phenomenal band — The Section, plus David Lindley and Rosemary and Doug Haywood.  

We just had a great, great time, all of us. It was really an adventure.

— 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.

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