Neville`s LA Blog 2008
February 1st. Friday. The palm trees in the quiet Los Angeles street where Al lives sway to and fro as ( remarkably for me ) I manage to parallel park first time and press his front door buzzer. Two minutes later, Al comes bounding down the front steps, guitar in hand and we head down to the Sound check at McCabes, a few miles across town. Since we last met up just before Christmas Al has written ( he informs me with delight ) so many new songs that compositions once seemed certain contenders for the new album have been all but forgotten in a burst of song writing that has evidently caught both him and Laurence somewhat off guard.
“ We now have too many songs therefore…” I am told as we proceed down Santa Monica Blvd, “ And we may not be done yet. I wrote something new yesterday afternoon in fact”
While this may, on the surface, seem to be very good news ( in so far as inspiration is never something to be taken lightly ) my mind immediately spins back to Coldest Winter In Memory and how that song remained unheard by almost everyone for 15 years due to the fact that by the time Al got around to recording his next album ( Famous Last Words ) he had enough brand new songs for the album and Coldest Winter got passed over. So, being Friday’s designated driver and therefore occupying a position of some importance in the day’s proceedings, I point out that I thought the every one of the original compositions written since 2005 were pretty damn fine and that it would be a shame to lose pieces like Four Leaved Clover for instance. Al agrees regarding that particular song and is at pains to point out that this latest crop of originals would work very well with the Cello. And therein lies a theme. Last Summer, a couple of days before Peter White and Al played that amazing one off show in Topanga, a young girl by the name of Hope Easton had come backstage at the show in San Diego and had proceeded to amaze and delight everyone with her mastery of the said Cello. It not being everyday that a graduate of the New England Conservatory appears on your doorstep, Al made sure that they kept in touch and lo and behold it looks like we now have a Cello player. And a Cello player with a My Space page too.
Al tells me that they have even been rehearsing and it is this piece of information that suggest to me that this is something pretty special.
We are the first to arrive at McCabes but within almost at once Laurence arrives with his wife Hope ( yes this will get confusing but stick with it ) and he and Al perform a short medley of songs from the new album to an empty room in the back of a guitar shop.
But what a guitar shop! Specifically chosen for both it’s heritage and acoustics to try out the new material, McCabes is simply one of the best listening rooms in America.
Definitely a place to check out a show at if you are ever in Los Angeles. Wonderfully positioned between Hollywood and the beach, Al had played a number of amazing gigs here over the years.
Hope the Cellist comes breezing in to the front of the store soon after this and within what seems to be only seconds, she has unpacked her instrument from it’s case and is ready to play the intro to another new song, Shah of Shah’s.
I had heard Shah in a number of guises up until that moment but am totally unprepared for what the strategic positioning of the Cello on the introduction to the song, brings to the piece. It somehow manages to underpin the tragedy of the story with a true sense of time and place that allows Al’s measured and understated vocal nail you dead in your seat. Once the dust has settled on the album and the Tour is done I believe that this song will sit very well in Al’s set list for a very long time to come.
By now people are starting to line up in the short passage way outside the room and it is time for Al to join some friends for dinner a few blocks down the street and as we walk outside I realize that it is dark and that we have been there for well over an hour. It had seemed more like twenty minutes to me.
At the restaurant I spend the time with Laurence, who talks at some length about the timetable for making the album that is now set before them and he confirms that the plan remains to have it finished and mastered by the following Tuesday afternoon. I made that last bit up but to all intents and purposes it may as well have been that soon because the date itself , mid April, seems crazy beyond belief to me. But Laurence exudes calm about all things and tells me that he believes they stand a good chance of having the album completed by then. A very good chance. This despite the fact that much of the album quite possibly remains to be written and that both of them have gigs to perform all over the place in between now and then. Laurence is very, very quick at making albums, as Al tells everyone all of the time. This will include a member of the Eagles a couple of days later. I kid you not.
A short while later we all convene in the dressing room at McCabes and are joined by Steve Chapman, Al’s manager, who talks to Laurence about the album as Al picks up a Sharpie and starts to make adjustments to the Set List. But this is not a Solo gig and the presence of the Sharpie does not go exactly un noticed by either Hope ( who up until then thought that she knew what the set list was going to be ) or Laurence , who having known Al for 13 years now probably had an inkling that this would happen. As it happens , Al is only re positioning Dark and Rolling Sea, a song much beloved by all of us but particularly so by Luke O’Reilly, who is sat downstairs with Al’s Tour Manager from the 70’s, Bill Ashton, waiting for the show to begin. Luke , as most of you will be aware, was Al’s Manager between 1973 and 1982 and having not been to an Al show in twenty five years is about to see his second in eighteen months and has put in a request for the Modern Times masterpiece.
The set list includes five brand new songs. In order these are “ A Child’s View of the Eisenhower Years”, “Shah of Shah’s”, “Frisson”, “Sleepwalking” and “ Hanno The Navigator”.
Then, as soon as I have snapped a picture of this wonderful piece of paper , Al scoops it up and is off out the door. “Time to do a show I think…. ” he announces to those assembled and is at once off down the hallway , guitar and set list in hand.
Stood at the top of the short flight of stairs that leads down to McCabes tiny stage, Al waits for his cue humming what is clearly a Reggae version of “Hanno”.
I swear that he skipped down the steps for a show that was going to take all of his powers of concentration, still humming that song…….
The show itself was a total success and I don’t intend to spoil things for any of you lucky enough to be about to see Al by going through it in too much detail here now. The new songs were highlights though. Definitely. Just as successful as “Somewhere in England” and “Katherine of Oregon” were on their debut gigs and as the first gig by a trio that had never played together before it was completely amazing.
The next day Al is somewhat relieved that it went so well and over a Mexican lunch talks about Laurence, Cellists and how Dave has been doing his regular stand out job with the new material that they have played together.
Los Angeles clearly inspires him and he is writing more songs now than at any time in the past 25 years he tells me. I suggest a triple album in that case , an idea Al is happy to consider if I am offering to pay for the extra studio time.
At which point the chocolate pudding arrives and I am off the hook.
After lunch I drive ( still the designated driver you notice ) us both down the coast to San Diego.
The show is amazing. It is exactly what you would want. Al and Dave, playing half old songs and half either brand new or obscure things that you had half forgotten they knew.
Completely different to the show the day before but a revelation none the less.
There is something about San Diego. Al always manages to pull out something special.
Back in Los Angeles a couple of days later Al has a morning straight out of Spinal Tap.
The telephone goes in his apartment and it is Donovan ( yes, that Donovan ) who is ringing to say how much he is looking forward to working with Al at their shows in Santa Fe that weekend. Al has barely put the phone down when it rings again. This time it is Albert Hammond, who he knows a bit better than Donovan. Albert has just called for a chat and the conversation turns to Biographies and specifically the fact that Mr Hammond is thinking of writing his. During the conversation Al has a brainwave that is both so perfect and pushy that I write it down on a pad of paer on the dining room table. He tells Albert -
“ Look, why don't you make a CD of it. Just let me have the story and I'll turn it into lyrics. It’s what I do after all ! ”
As the Guinness television commercial quite clearly states…..“ Brilliant ! ”
But the morning was not over yet and there was a third telephone conversation coming up that was in many ways the most bizarre of the bunch.
Via a mutual friend of them both, Al had recently met Don Felder, ex Eagle and the person that wrote the music to Hotel California which , as Al pointed out , had done rather well.
There had been some talk about them perhaps working together and Al called up Mr Felder in order to continue this conversation, which had only been a vague notion up until that morning.
It wasn’t until I heard Al repeating directions down the phone of how to get to the ex Eagles house across town that I realized that things had just moved on a bit.
Eventually Al hangs up and stands, dead still, looking at the receiver.
“So you’ve just joined The Eagles then” I say to him.
“ It would appear so………” Al replies, quickly adding, “ Well ex Eagles really.”
At which point Life In The Fast Lane replaced Hanno as the song Al would hum as he went here and there around LA.
Mit freundlicher Genehmigung von Neville Judd