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Groovemasters Vol. 2 - Crop Circles $15.00 $10.00

   A collection of twelve original instrumental compositions that were recorded while the two composer-performers were on the road as part of Elton John’s band.
 
“…an acoustic outing that shows just how inventive and intuitive these guys can be with just two guitars at their disposal. Recorded on the Sony Mini-Disc system, the 12 track album sounds as clear as a bell. You’d be hard pressed to find a record as likeable and as listenable as Crop Circles.”
~ ~ 20th Century Guitar
 

DAVEY JOHNSTONE & JOHN JORGENSON

1999 By James Jensen


What do the guitarists in Elton John's band do between gigs when they are traveling the world playing to sold out stadiums of screaming fans? In the case of longtime bandleader and sometimes songwriter (I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues) Davey Johnstone, and more recent additional axe master extraordinaire (three time winner of CMA's guitarist of the year with The Desert Rose Band, and accolades too many to mention with The Hellecasters) John Jorgenson, you borrow a minidisc recorder from Sony Electronics and write and record an all acoustic instrumental guitar duo CD called   "Groovemasters Vol. 2...Crop Circles." 

Aside from his well noted work with Elton John, Johnstone has made anexceptional name for himself as a player who can add that special something to a song, and he has been called on to do that by artists as diverse as Stevie Nicks, Bob Seger, Alice Cooper, Meat Loaf and Jimmy Webb. Jorgenson's talent for creating something a little fresh and different in the studio can be found on records from folks as diverse as Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, John Prine, and Bonnie Raitt.

Written on world tour with Elton John, produced and recorded by Elton's keyboard ace Guy Babylon, "Crop Circles" finds these two artists known for adding that special color to others work attacking their own blank canvas with everything from delicate brush strokes to paint bombs. We caught up with them between American and European tours at a photo shoot, and chatted with them individually and then together.

 

AM: Was your first guitar an acoustic?

Davey Johnstone: Definitely , my sister got me one when I was eleven years old. I had been playing viola at school since I was seven and I had begun playing it like it was a guitar so my sister thought she might as well get me one. It wasn't very good, and year later I got a brilliant little electric guitar with one pickup called a Broadway, and I loved it. Like all the guitar loving kids I had been drooling over the powder pink strat in the window at the music shop but that wasn't in the budget. I had a band at school called The Trolls and we played Beatles and Stones stuff. When I was about 14 or 15, I decided the acoustic guitar was where it was at and got deeper into it. 

AM: What were you playing at that point?

Davey: I got a Harmony acoustic and very shortly after was into really traditional music and players like Bert Jansch and Davey Graham. I was also really hooked by Irish Music like The Dubliners and Chieftans, and got a tenor banjo and mandolin. One of my mentors was an Scottish singer-songwriter named Archie Fisher who had a big influence on most of the players from my era. Archie also played sitar, so I had to order one from Bombay and it arrived a year later in a Dracula sized coffin at the docks.  It seemed like every couple of months I was adding some other stringed instrument to my collection. I didn't really get back into the electric guitar until I was asked to join a group called Magna Carta when I was about eighteen. They were being produced by Gus Dudgeon , who was also producing a guy named Elton John. Even though I was very much into folk , I was always a frustrated Rocker. Gus asked me to play on a poetry album which Bernie Taupin was doing, an all acoustic production that Bernie would speak his lyrics over. It seems that Bernie had mentioned me to Elton and I was asked to play on one of their sessions on a song called "Madman Across The Water". 

AM: That song was the start of your relationship with Elton and you ended up playing acoustic on that track didn't you?

Davey: Yes, they had tried the track with Michael Chapman, and Mick Ronson, and it never came off for some reason. Elton was telling Gus what he was going for and I was mentioned. I instantly got on very well with Elton and came up with a different part for the song which Elton loved, and they had me work on "Tiny Dancer" , "Levon" as well as playing mandolin and sitar on "Holiday Inn". 

AM: Your acoustic playing on "Hercules" from the "Honkey Chateau" album was very cool, and I could never quite figure it out...

Davey: (Laughing) That's because it is in open G tuning, and I have just been teaching it to John as Elton wants to add it to the next tour. It has been about fifteen years since we have done it live so it will be great fun.

AM: Did your use of open tunings come from your experience in the folk days?

Davey: Definitely, and players like John Martyn who was a friend of mine as well as The Incredible String Band. John actually taught me that tuning as it was used on the song "The First Girl I Loved" by the Incredible String band. It isn't the standard open G (DGDGBD) or like Keith Richards does (removing the sixth string altogether) I also lower the 6th string to G. With both strings tuned to G you get this really modal, droning thing happening which is really cool. On "Rocket Man" I used an open Bb Tuning which is really effective. Lenny Kravitz was picking my brain last week about it and wondering how I got it so ringing in that strange key, and I told him I cheated by using an open tuning. I should say it isn't quite cheating because you have to come up with all the new chord shapes that can be a bit bizarre and different.

AM: Did you always flatpick? because many of the players mentioned were fabulous fingerpickers.

Davey: Absolutely, I was fingerpicking "Angie" and Bert Jansch's "Needle Of Death". There was a fabulous Ep by Bert Jansch with those tunes and a brilliant little piece called "Running From Home" and I was really into it.  Now I mainly use my pick and second and third finger to get more of a bottom end happening. For a while I was using fingerpicks but you would get one caught in the strings and it was extremely embarrassing.

AM: Around the time of "Captain Fantastic" you got to play more acoustic instruments.

Davey: Yeah, that's true.

AM: Was it Elton , the producer, or you, who would choose the type of direction for your parts and whether it would be acoustic or electric?

Davey: 99% of the time it would be myself, because being the only guitar player in the group I would be listening to Elton writing the songs and thinking about what to play that would be good for it. It would usually be left up to me, sometimes if I played electric Gus might suggest a couple of distant acoustic bits in the background or something. 

AM: So Elton writes most of his songs in the studio?

Davey: Absolutely..... all of it. He comes in with the lyrics, and if he doesn't have it in twenty minutes he throws it out and tries another one.  I have seen him literally sit down and run through a lyric one time and write the song! He did that with a song we wrote together called "Cajun Songbird" from the Blue Moves album. I played him this little fingerpicking acoustic piece and he went "that's beautiful ...wait a minute" and he pulled out a sheet of lyrics and said "play it again" which I did, he sang the lyrics,
and literary that was it! It is a wonderful little song about Edith Piaf.  That is very much the way he writes...very quickly.

AM: What makes you pick up an acoustic or electric guitar, or mandolin when he is writing?

Davey: I tend to go with my first instincts, and sometimes your wrong, but usually your first instincts are the best ones. That is also why I prefer when we record in the studio as a band, which we usually get in a couple of takes, instead of playing the take twenty times by myself in a booth and losing the feel. 

AM: So many players write riffs disguised as songs which are totally forgettable, and you have made a career augmenting the songs of Elton John, and in the process come up with some unforgettably classic riffs.

Davey: It's funny, the nice thing was being the only guitar player in that situation, Elton would sometimes say to me "I really hear this as being a guitar song..can you come up with something?". For "The Bitch Is Back" he said play something like "diga diga diga diga diga diga diga diga bam bam bam bam" ... which is what I did! 

AM: So in many cases your expressing, or translating what he hears in his head?

Davey: Oh yeah, he is a big guitar fan, he just has no clue. I have tried teaching him a few chords and it is really funny because he is such a brilliant piano player and actually played acoustic guitar on stage one tour about ten years ago and it was really hilarious. The giant Mohawk wig, sparkly jacket, and Ovation guitar just didn't make it.

AM: Have their been many times when you felt the best thing you could do for a track was to lay out?

Davey: Yes, definitely. I don't believe that because you have a certain band formation that everyone has to play on every track. Sometime I just don't hear anything , and especially with Elton it is nice to hear simply piano and voice..maybe a bit of strings, on at least one song. 

{ Davey's turn in front of the camera came and we were joined by John Jorgenson }

AM: You have a reputation for ..as Elton John says "Playing everything but the Kitchen sink" I would imagine the guitar wasn't your first instrument.

John Jorgenson: I started on the piano when I was five. My mom was a piano teacher and kids came over to the house everyday to learn piano so I figured that everyone does it. My sister was a couple years older and I listened to her practice and I started copying her lessons by ear, so my mom started me out of a different book so I would learn to read music. When my sister joined band later, I felt like if she got to play two instruments I should get to play two instruments , and I chose the clarinet because I liked the sound of it in Peter And The Wolf. When I was about ten or eleven I got interested in The Beatles and Pop music and that kind of got me interested in the guitar. I also remember a kid in school who just sang "This Land Is Your
Land " accompanying himself on the Ukelele, and I thought it was cool that he didn't need the whole band or a conductor like I was used to. I fooled around with a Ukelele we had around the house and began begging for a guitarfor a couple of years.

AM: Did you maintain your piano lessons?

John: Yes, that was the deal if I wanted a guitar. I also started on other instruments like the saxophone and string bass because I would get bored and wanted to do other stuff. Whatever I hear that I like, I want to play.

AM: Did you play guitar at Disneyland?

John: The first job I had there was playing electric guitar in a show band with twelve singers and an eight piece band, as kind of a work experience thing when I was in high school. I also played keyboards and electric guitar in a rock band at Tomorrowland. After that I played in a childrens education show five times a day. I also played bluegrass mandolin and Dixieland clarinet ,or at least I told them I did to get the job because I wanted to learn the mandolin, so it was kind of earn as you learn situation. We were a four piece band that played Bluegrass in Frontierland and Dixieland music on Main St., and we became very popular learning to play on the job.  We started a third incarnation playing thirties swing music like Daveyango Reinhardt Hot Club style as well. So these same four guys changed clothes, instruments, and locations three times a day! It was great because we didn't get bored and we got extra break time to change clothes.

AM: Is that what got you into Daveyango or was that your excuse to practice it more?

John: When I was first working there and learning Dixieland and Bluegrass I was learning about twenties banjo playing and the banjo players in Dixieland were reverent about Daveyango and that caused me to want to check him out. It was definitely earn as you learn, and I also learned how to keep people interested when they would rather be riding the Matterhorn. You have to be a pretty strong entertainer to hold peoples attention in a place like that. 

AM: I remember you on the cover of Frets Magazine years ago in a special edition on session players, were you going on dates then?

John: Not really, I was kind of just a cover-boy, I knew the people at Frets and they were very supportive and they used a photo of me playing my forties Selmer guitar and as I was working at Disneyland I had very short hair. 

AM: When did the session work evolve?

John: In 1985 I started the Desert Rose Band with Chris Hillman. My desire was to combine all the elements of music which I had been working in from rock to Rockabilly and harmonic pop into a country rock band kind of thing. I started a band called the Cheatin Hearts which was very similar to The Desert Rose Band except we had a girl singer. I met Chris Hillman at a NAMM show while I was jamming with David Grisman, and we also worked together backing Dan Fogelberg on his "High Country Snows" tour. I heard the songs Chris was working on and really had the idea to combine the sound of Bluegrass with that of The Pretenders, and nobody was really doing country-rock in the country field at that time. You had things like the new traditionalists led by Ricky Skaggs and Dwight Yoakum starting to happen then. I was using a lot of vintage British equipment like Vox amps, Danelectro and Rickenbacker guitars which were very unusual in country music and fresh and caught the ears of producers like Paul Worthy and Ed Seay so I started being called to play on other records. That was really how the session work started , and I played some live things with Don Was so he ended up using me on Bonnie Raitt's "Nick Of Time" album. For sessions I would usually be called to play electric and sometimes mandolin. 

AM: So you were the player brought in to bring a little different flavor or spice to a record?

John: Exactly, because I wasn't part of the Nashville scene at all. I was from LA and I had a completely different outlook and I knew Country Music well, but I had a different slant on it. I ended up playing with Pam Tillis, Willie Nelson, Hank Williams jr, Travis Tritt, Emmylou Harris, Marty Stuart, a lot of great artists.

AM: The Desert Rose Band had quite a run of hits didn't they?

John: We were embraced by radio and other musicians, so we had five number one singles on country radio, in a row. Personality wise we didn't have the thing to compete with George Strait and Alabama and the other straight down the middle things happening at the time. Eventually the format changed to the more traditional and songs had to talk about pickup trucks to get played, and we were moving farther away from that. I started working freelance and was the musical director for a Delta Burke sitcom and was also working with The Hellecasters (an instrumental group led by three well known axe-masters Jerry Donohue, Will Ray, and John).

AM: How did you get invited to join the Elton John band?

John: Back in 1988 The Desert Rose band was playing The Roxy , debuting our second lp "Running" with Lyle Lovett as an opener. In the audience was David Crosby, Bruce Hornsby, Stephen Stills, Dave Edmunds, Bernie Taupin and Elton John. It was fun to be playing there because I had been their so many times as a kid watching shows. After the gig Elton came up to the dressing room shook my hand and said "brilliant guitar, brilliant!" . After that when I would see him backstage after his shows he would always remember my name and ask me what I was doing musically. I kind of had the thought I would do a session with him one day. I also had met Davey and we became friends, but we lost touch and I forgot about it. Six or seven years later the phone rang and it was "hello John this is Elton" and I was pretty shocked to hear him say that he and Davey wanted to add a second guitarist to the band because the album that they were going to tour behind had a lot of guitar parts, and they also wanted a player who could add harmony vocals and I was the first person he thought of and Davey liked the idea. I was pleased but I had Hellecasters projects and a solo effort in the works and didn't really want to drop everything, but when I heard the" Made In England" album I thought again because I really liked the music. After a week of thought I found myself excited about telling my friends about it, and realizing that if I couldn't do something I liked then why was I in the business?  It was just a tough question of giving up some other things I was working on.

{ Davey joins us.....  }

Davey: And he calls me up two weeks before the first gig and says he's got some bad news, and I figure oh no he's changed his mind , but he says he has broke his shoulder! But he still wants to do the gig! So he plays a tele with the end sawn off and wearing a cast.

AM: John was brought in because "Made In England " was a return to the rock band kind of sound..but there is a healthy amount of acoustic work in the current show.

John: It has kind of developed ..

Davey: We have the banjo on "Honky Cat " and the Mandolins on "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters". Elton is also talking about playing some very different gigs in smaller venues and rumors are around about three piece acoustic formats, so you never know.

John: Elton likes to mix it up so he doesn't get bored

AM: Lets talk about Groovemasters Vol. 2 "Crop Circles", these are all duets with acoustic guitars..

Davey: except I play a Mandola on "Reel It In".

AM: How did these songs evolve?

Davey: We would literally go into each others rooms and write until we felt like stopping

John: Some things would be pretty fully executed ideas that we would show each other, and some would be half way done , and others would be

Davey: Nothing!

John: and we would come up with something on the spot! So all the songs were written together in every different kind of way really.

Davey: and either of us would embellish the others parts...it came together very easily, in the first week we had five or six things we felt were very strong.

AM: It sounds like everything went pretty smooth?

John: (laughing) there was a problem with the gear being sent to the wrong place on a boat! We did a lot of the recording at the Ritz Carlton in Atlanta as we were there for several days, but it was written and recorded in Tokyo, Europe..and all over America!

Davey: We tried rehearsing on the Bullet Train and we got told to shut up!

John: We also made tapes backstage so we wouldn't forget stuff...we have a killer sounding tape of almost all the songs that became the final album.

AM: What is the story behind "She's Gonna Cry Soon"

Davey: Exactly what you would imagine (laughing)!

John: Well we were in Atlanta and we were visiting with Jim Moret from CNN in a bar with one of our friends who always gets teary when she mentions an artist she used to work with. You can kind of tell when it is going that way in a conversation and Davey wrote on a napkin "She's Gonna Cry Soon" and slid the napkin over to me. When she left to go to the bathroom I told Davey that it would make a great title for a song. The next morning when we got together to write, Davey said he woke up with the melody for the song, and that's how it came about.

AM: "Fat Slag Rag" sounds like an example of one of you perhaps bringing in half a tune and the other one embellishing it later?

John: Yeah , pretty much it was kind of Davey's melody and structure and when he showed it to me I thought lets try this!
Davey: The whole Gypsy / Daveyango part that John comes in with takes it off into another direction! It is still a ragtime kind of thing but a great showcase for John's playing as well, and that is what we enjoyed about this record. We got to do a lot of different stuff and not all of it was planned. "Reel It In" came about by screwing around with a riff which eventually became the start and finish of it.

John: The fun thing for me was that there weren't any limits as to what you could do. If either person had an idea we would support it to the limit.

Davey: We didn't mind the extra buzzes or extra weird stuff which could inadvertently happen here or there when a finger hit a string and made a zing..we kept all them in..

John: We were almost searching for buzz!

AM: There is a good title.

John: Searching for buzz (laughing)

AM: It sounds like you also used some unusual tunings?

John: "LaVoya" has a Gm Modal tuning...DGDGBbC which is kind of odd, on the long neck twelve string I would drop the 6th string to C. I used capos quite a bit.

Davey: I used DADGAD on one and another really bizarre one I call awestruckminor on "3rd Neck From Now".  I play the double neck (six and twelve string Ovation/Adamas acoustic) and go back and forth from the two on "3rd Neck From Now", "Sacred Path", and "Bernadettes Rose", so your brain has to be split up in several parts.

John: He's playing a double neck with different tunings on the same guitar!

Davey: Why bother with a double neck if you can't do something like that on it?   That is the fun part about it...actually finishing the line on a differentneck.

John: Initially I thought we were going to play different instruments like Mandocello and Mandolins ..but the guitars themselves ended up being so colorful and varied that it didn't feel necessary to bring in other instruments.

Davey: Certainly a lot of people wanted to perform on this album..."sure you don't want some drum pads on this, some lyrics, a background vocal"...and it was all no, no , no..piss off it's our own little album and that's it.

John: No overdubs.

AM: "Scarabride" seems to feel like Led Zeppelin unplugged

John: That one came about with us just sitting around playing really.

Davey: And that is another phenomenal thing that happens when you work with somebody and you have ideas at the same time, and before you know it you have played the same thing, and that kind of thing happens a lot with John and I. Even during Elton's gigs we will go for something different and find that we have played the same thing.

John: And that was one of the reasons for doing this record

Davey: Getting back to "Scarabride" we didn't have an A , B and C section , we'd have an A, B and Z section because we both love Zep and their acoustic stuff.

John: We could be a little "Beatly" or "folky" are whatever.

AM: "Exercise In Fertility" sounds like it took a long time to work out?

Davey: Actually it came together very quickly, I just sat down and wrote it.  Now John's counterpart is very complicated because he is doing the exact opposite.

John: That was a mind damaging thing to do. Davey is doing mostly hammer-ons that go in an up direction and I am doing pull-offs in a down direction , so it is odd.

AM: Is that a difficult one to perform live?

Davey: Only the fast part.

John: Not particularly if you get the groove of it and the flow.

Davey: If you forget to concentrate you lose...If you snooze you lose with our stuff, it is quite demanding and if your mind wanders your gone.

John: The first time we performed the album live we had been off for a few weeks and had a really great audience that was primed for it, and it was a magical gig. We played great and the vibe was good. The hardest thing is to recreate our mind set vibe, and it is hard to turn it on. 

Davey: You just have to have the time to get back into it again, we just did an in store gig back in New York which was fantastic but we had to sit down and really shed in a room for a half hour before the show to get into it.

John: It would be really fun to just go out and play for a couple of weeks, because we would get really wild, as we both stretch it live pretty radically.

Davey: It is not in our makeup to play it safe.

John: To be honest we vary it to entertain ourselves, because if we're entertained the audience will be entertained. If we get bored with ourselves or the music it will be horrible for the audience.

Davey: I think that is the thing that is missing from many live bands who don't look like they are having a blast. A lot of people tell John and I that we look like we are having fun on stage with Elton, and we are!

 

Artist: Davey Johnstone & John Jorgenson
Product Type: AMR CDs
Item #: SACD909-7
Price: $15.00 $10.00
Groovemasters Vol. 2 - Crop Circles
This product was added to our catalog on Thursday 29 September, 2005.

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