Jackie De Shannon

At long last, after a twenty year hiatus, Jackie De Shannon is back! And with her, she brings a new album “You Know Me” containing thirteen freshly penned songs and a very nicely done version of Carl Wilson’s “Trader”.  After one minute into the first track “Steal The Thunder” the first thought that came to mind was that Jackie is writing and sounding better than ever! Does this lady know how to write a hook! The whole feeling you get from this album is that, much like John Lennon’s “Double Fantasy”,  here is an artist who has taken a break for awhile and has not come back merely because she had nothing else to do.  While listening to the album you hear a flood of contained creativity that Jackie has ripped the damn down from and unleashed on us all.  That’s why I believe this record sounds so fresh. I had the honor to speak with Jackie about her life, her career, and the new album.

SE: There’s so much to ask you.

JD: (Laughs). I know, I was just at the Whisky A Go Go today and I was so nostalgic because I spent a lot of hours there. (laughs) Oh boy!

SE: So where have you been the last twenty years?

JD: I can tell you a little bit about… a little… I could tell you a lot about the thing that sort of brought me out.  Well, here’s how it went down. It’s hysterical. My dad was listening to the radio, okay? He calls me up and says that there’s this DJ on the radio that’s playing “Don’t Turn Your Back On Me Babe” and that was a song I had recorded in England with Jimmy Page playing the acoustic guitar when he was in art school. He was just, you know, playing sessions at the time, but this is sort of what’s running through my head because “Don’t turn your back on me babe” is a very specific song, it’s not what they play on KRTH so I said to him, I said, ” Well dad,  I don’t think so.”  He’s not well and I said,” I think you’ve had too much medication.” (laughs) And so I asked my brother Randy Myers, who I wrote “Put A Little Love In Your Heart” with, and we’ve written a lot together… I said, “Please listen to the radio. Listen to this guy, Hal Lifson I think is his name. See what that’s like.” So he listened. He said “Not only does he play your music, he plays great music like, you know, all the things that we like… the classics from the 60’s.” And I said, “Really?!”  So next time I listened to him and he was using my name in his promotion for the radio show. He was playing “I Wonder Should I Cry” that Jack Nitzsche and I wrote together and just lots of different things that are not being played on the radio today obviously… and so I called him up and I said, “It’s Jackie DeShannon.”  At first he did not believe it and we talked on the radio and he asked me if I would come down and do an interview, which I did, and he said “ You know you’ve gotta get in there and start recording again!” I’m going, ” Uuhh, yeah, sure, sure.”  And he was very, very encouraging, and after hearing his show I started listening to my records again and I’m going, “Gee, this isn’t bad!” (laughs)… And so I wrote thirteen new songs for the album, and there’s one on there that’s called “Trader” written by Carl Wilson, and that’s from the “Holland” album…

SE: Right.

JD: And I loved it and in fact Steve  Porcaro is playing on that.  And that’s it! And here we are a year later. This is all pretty overwhelming for me.  I don’t even believe that I’m doing it. I was standing at the Whisky and I’m standing on stage and I’m going, “Oh my God! This looks familiar.” (laughs) And the band is starting to rehearse.  I was like a duck in water. It’s been such a long time.

SE: Are you kind of blown away by so many twenty something people stuck in 1965?

JD: It’s very interesting, I think it’s so great.  I think the music from that era especially really holds it’s own.  I think that there are a lot of groups that copy it today and they try and copy that energy and I think it’s great because it is a passionate music and it’s very emotional and there’s a lot of not only energy, but a lot of passion and that’s right up my alley….. because the things that I wrote for this album I worked so hard on and for the first time in my whole career I was able to have complete control of my artistic endeavor. I wrote the songs.  I was involved in co-producing it.  I was there every minute.  Nothing happened without me. It was just a wonderful marriage.  We served the music basically… It starts with the songs as you well know and I’ve been trying to write some of these songs for a very long time and they finally came out.

SE: You know, you were born in Kentucky, but you don’t have a hint of that accent anymore.

JD: Well,  just put me on the phone with someone from Kentucky ( laughs)… and I go right back there. In fact my dad’s there now, and I talked with my ninety year old aunt and I found myself going into the drawl.  (laughs) But, I don’t know, I’ve been in California so long I feel like a real California girl.  Cause I came out here in the very early sixties…

SE: Yeah, what brought you to Smogville?

JD: Well, I was working with Eddie Cochran in Chicago and we were talking about where he was going next and what I was doing and my record was just breaking there and he said, “You know, I’m going back to California and you should really come out here because that’s your town!” And I came out not too long after that. And I started writing and producing, and was the first woman out here to do production and write their songs and… It’s commonplace now,  but in my day it wasn’t.

SE: Yeah, I’d say that you were the first woman on the west coast…

JD: Absolutely.

SE: And the east coast had what?… Carole King…

JD: That’s correct.

SE: And Ellie Greenwich… and that’s it.

JD: That’s correct, yep. And I was here.

SE: I understand that you were also scheduled to appear on the bill of the show that Buddy Holly was flying to the night that he died.

JD: Yes… it happened this way.  I was promoting a record that I had out at the time and I was visiting all the radio stations and we were driving across the country and they often used local talent, or talent in the area to open the show for the headliners, and I was on my way to… of course he was one of my big idol’s, and I was on my way to do the stage show with him, so…It was pretty heartbreaking.

SE: The show still went on though?

JD: (Sigh) Uh yeah, I’m sorry to say, with of course what was left of it. We didn’t know until halfway through the show that he wasn’t coming.  Everybody was pretty hysterical.

SE: So, you did that single session in England with Jimmy Page?

JD: Yeah, and on that session was “Don’t Turn Your Back On Me Babe”, “Be Good Baby”, uuhh, there were a couple more.  I was looking for a really good acoustic player because I was so spoiled in California. I had everybody. And I said that I had to have somebody really, really great… “Who’s the best guy?” And they said “Well, this is a new kid who’s been playing around a lot, but he’s in art school and he won’t be able to make it until he gets out.” And I said, “Well, send him over.”  Here he was with paint on his jeans and I just played him this thing.. my little riff which I was very picky about how exact I wanted it, of course Glen Campbell and these guys could knock it out, and I had Hal Blaine, and Leon Russell, all the great guys, so I was pretty spoiled. And he played it back to me of course ten times better!(laughs) And it was perfect. It was great!

SE: I think it’s time for a book!

JD: You know, I have so many things to remember it’s really hard. I packed a lot in. (laughs) But maybe someday.  Actually I am doing a book. It’s going to have all the lyrics to the songs and I’m gonna write about how the record was made, and my feelings and how, you know, after not recording for so many years what it was like, how we picked the material, the band rehearsals, right up until today. So I think it will be interesting and I’m going to call it obviously, “You Know Me”.

SE: So when you hooked up with Jack Nitzsche, did you also hook up with the Phil Spector group …?

JD: Yes. Jack Nitzsche was actually a fan of my work. He wanted to come to some of my sessions.  His wife was singing background for me on some demos and I met him there. We became instant friends.. very, very close friends for all these years, and when I was looking to get something going I wanted him to write a song for me.. he and Sonny Bono… We were all hanging out and so they wrote “Needles and Pins” for me and the record company did not want me to do it and I said,  “If you don’t do it then I’m not recording!” It was so much fun.  We used to drop in on each other’s sessions. I remember Brian Wilson skateboarding through one of my sessions. We all just used to drop by. We thought nothing about dropping by a Rolling stones session or Beach Boys…whoever was recording. If it was a fellow artist, it was cool. Unfortunately we lost Jack Nitzsche recently. That was pretty hard and  I was devastated at the loss of my dear friend.

SE: What a wealth of information you have!  I’m tellin’ ya’, you need to get this down on paper.

JD: I know, but I’m such a private person.. I don’t know if I could work up the courage to do it.

SE: Oh, just carry around one of those mini tape recorders…

JD: (Laughs).  I’m basically very shy.  I know you don’t believe that, but..

SE: Oh I do. That’s why I keep bugging you to do a book.

JD: (Laughs)

SE: So, what was it like touring with the Beatles?

JD: Well,  it was great for a couple of reasons. I was, like everyone else,  a very big fan, but it was something that had not been done merchandising wise since Elvis. And it was the first time I really saw mass marketing and everywhere, every record store, everywhere you went  there were four bobbing head dolls in the windows and everything was just done to the nines! And it was really something to be on that very first tour.  We did six weeks of one nighters practically. I mean we really burned across the country ! And we played from baseball parks to auditoriums. It was pretty much out of hand for the opening acts. I ended up closing the show because I was doing a lot of up tempo songs. Obviously I did my hits, but I closed with “Shout”, and I got the audience up as much as anyone could.  But Paul used to say that when they were first working in Europe and Roy Orbison and Gene Vincent, and all these people that they were opening for… they would boo them (laughs) and say, “We want Gene Vincent! We want Roy Orbison! blah, blah.”

SE: We want Trini Lopez!

JD: Exactly, yeah! But I think that a lot of the acts were pretty discouraged because… I always knew that they came to see the Beatles. It never bothered me and I tried to cater to the excitement and put a set together, so Brian Epstein ended up putting me at the very end of the show. We had lots of other acts before they came on, but I sort of structured my show around what I thought would be something that the audience could live with for the moment. But for the people who didn’t … it was really, really difficult.

SE: Everyone came out and did two or three songs?

JD: Hmmm, I’m not sure. Yeah, yeah, but they were all too many… (laughs)… whatever they did because nobody wanted to hear them.

SE: Well,  they had to fill up all that space…

JD: Exactly! They had to fill up the space. Right.

SE: Because the Beatles only did a twenty two minute show.

JD: Exactly. yep! And Paul would look at his watch, make no mistake!

SE: So could you hear yourself?

JD: No…  (laughs).. Not really, not really. But as I said, it didn’t bother me because I was grateful for the opportunity to have that kind of exposure.

SE: Did any of that ever get recorded or filmed?

JD: You know I would love to know the answer to that question myself.  I’m sure there is.  I don’t know where and I don’t have it. But it would be really cool to… I don’t know, I think probably so.  I don’t know how much is available, but I would think that something is.

SE: I would think that even some fans brought their home movie cameras along…

JD: I think something could be available.

SE: You were somewhat responsible for or very connected to Barry White.

JD: Yes.  Barry White was doing… I don’t know , I mean, I don’t really recall how we got together except that I hooked up with him right in the beginning of his career and he was one of my background singers. In fact, we did a show in Texas together. He did leave me out of his book however. I think his book starts from the top of his career (laughs), but he did the “Laurel Canyon” album, and that’s Barry singing on “The Weight,” and all through that album, he’s on it. And Dr. John, Mac Rebenack is on piano. Russ Titleman is on acoustic guitar…

SE: Jeez.

JD: Yeah. (laughs)  I always had good people and as I said, we took the show to Texas and a few places. The “Laurel Canyon” album was ahead of it’s time and that sort of goes around for me because I recorded “Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right” first and then the record company wouldn’t put it out, so Peter Paul & Mary put it out. We were all runnin’ around the same places and I saw Bob Dylan at Town Hall in New York. That was his first concert and I came back and asked the record company I was with to let me do a whole album of Bob Dylan songs.  I said, “He’s going to be the James Dean of rock. He’s it!” And they just didn’t see it.  And I’ve said this many times, if I had been with John Hammond at Columbia, had I been fortunate enough to be with the person who, you know, signed Bruce Springsteen, and actually signed Dylan and developed him, had I been with a visionary, I think that my career would’ve been very different. And I know for sure why this album is so special to me… because it is the first real Jackie DeShannon album. The young women take artistic freedom for granted today. I never had it, and now I do. I was always subject to what a producer wanted including songs that I recorded. I didn’t have any input at all. It just wasn’t heard of. And the songs that I did have input on, and insisted on doing, most of them made the charts. The arrangements basically were just copied from previous demos I’d already done. This time it all came together.  All those tears and all that came out on this record. And I’m extremely proud of it and I don’t mind saying so. I think that what this album represents is all of Jackie in one album! As you listen to the songs, as you listen to the lyrics, it’s a book and a movie in itself. I think they’ll be surprised.

SE: That’s great. Especially after all these years of suppression and…

JD: Yeah… (laughs) Exactly!

SE: And after having to deal with all these forty something year old guys at Liberty in their white shirts and their pocket protectors running the Rock and Roll division…

JD: (Laughs) I’m so happy about this. The lyrics are inside the booklet and I hope you get a chance, a few minutes to take a look at them. I think you’ll see a lot of the tracks of my tears as they say.

SE: Did you use any of the veteran musicians from the sixties on the album?

JD: No.  I wanted a band that would work with me and that would really be emotionally into the material, and if it took two days to get a song.. it took two days. I mean, we didn’t put a time limit on it, nor was there anyone pressuring the band.. and no one was around. It was a very tight little group. I wanted it to be a unit.. not just singer and a band. I wanted them to be a crucial part of the music and understand it on that level so that we served the song

SE: So you kind of gave them as much freedom as…

JD: Exactly!  All the freedom I always wanted and never had. And it’s so special because of that, and they would come in and say, “Gee, you know, how much time do we have?” and “We’re spending a long time…” I said, “Don’t worry about it. We‘re gonna do it until we get it right. It‘s not important. What’s important is what you think. Are you doing your best? Is that your contribution to the record, to the song?” Wow! they were just totally stunned. I had it set up almost like shooting a movie in the sense that there was no one allowed on the set. And they’d come in and they’d listen and they’d make their corrections and I’d make mine, and it was just a very closed set.

SE: Well I’m glad that you’re back with us again.

JD: Well, it’s so sweet of you and thank you for asking such caring and sensitive questions. I really appreciate that.

SE: Well, I’m sure that there’s about three hundred and forty two more questions I could ask you…

JD: (Laughs) Well, I’m hoping to be coming up to your area soon. We’re working on that really hard, but I have to look at the big picture, and the big picture is that I haven’t been out there in a long time.

SE: There is though a whole new generation that knows who you are now.

JD: You think so?

SE: I know so.

JD: Ohh, well you’ve made my evening, and my day! That makes me feel so good you don’t know! But I’m pretty sure that we’re going to get up there one way or the other!

SE: Well, I hope so.

JD: Yeah, definitely! Definitely.

SE: Well, thanks for your time…

JD: Well thank you, you’ve just been a doll to talk to. I’ve enjoyed it very, very much.

SE: Thank you.

JD: And it’s kind of overwhelming. It’s so nice to hear such positive feedback and excitement about the record, and that I am doing something… and it’s just wonderful! And I’ll be looking forward to seeing you when we come up.

Check out Jackie’s website at www.jackiedeshannon.com.