Tuesday

EVIE SANDS INTERVIEW


IT'S THIS I AM: In December 2016, Blitz Magazine Editor/Publisher Michael McDowell joined forces with (above, left to right) journalist/author Domenic Priore, Balancing Act/Thee Holy Brothers co-founder Willie Aron and legendary composer, vocalist and musical visionary Evie Sands at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles for a profession of solidarity with Major League Baseball's premier franchise. In April of 2017, Sands released the acclaimed Shine For Me album on the R-Spot label, arguably one of the highlights of her extraordinary and extensive legacy. In the following exchange, Sands discussed this latest project with Blitz Magazine, as well as her plans for a promising and productive future (Click on above image to enlarge) (Photo by Michael McDowell).


I AIN'T DONE YET:
EVIE SANDS
SHINES FOR EVERYONE
By Michael McDowell

In the creative process, for an artist to grow, it is almost invariably incumbent upon that artist to think outside of the box.

For composer, vocalist, visionary and Brooklyn, New York native Evie Sands, that approach has been an integral component of her mission statement from the onset. As such, a bit of background is in order.

Although her interest in music began at an early age, it came with a caveat of sorts. Having been reluctant to showcase her musical aspirations in a public setting during her formative years, Sands ultimately undertook the recording process with a modicum of reservation via the release of the Teddy Vann-penned and produced The Roll single for ABC Paramount in 1963.

All things considered, she nonetheless demonstrated her flair for genre diversity as well as impassioned delivery within that ambitious single. For while the A-side served as a clarion call for celebration by name checking various locations across the North American continent, the flip side, the country, R&B and Gospel-flavored hybrid, My Dog spoke of baring one's soul with a candor rarely seen in even those most ingenuous of genres.

Sands' flair for the dramatic increased exponentially in 1964 with a move to the Gold label. That year, her unique Northern Soul-flavored take on Ernestine Schumann-Heink's Danny Boy was coupled with the percussive-heavy, lavishly orchestrated, high drama masterpiece, I Was Moved. Both tracks sublimely showcased her vocal versatility, raising her profile to the point that other labels took notice.

Red Bird's affiliate Blue Cat label eventually won the bid for her services. Co-owned by veteran songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and Rama, Gee, Roulette, End and Gone labels co-founder George Goldner, Red Bird and Blue Cat were on a major roll in 1965, with successes by the Shangri-Las, the Ad Libs, Jimmy Justice, the Jelly Beans, Bessie Banks, the Dixie Cups, Alvin Robinson, Sam Hawkins, the Fenways and the Goodies to their credit. Impressed with her mastery of a wide variety of genres, Blue Cat paired Sands with the prolific and influential composer and vocalist Trade Martin In September 1965 for her first release with the label, Take Me For A Little While.

Sadly, it was with that release that Sands got her first taste of some of the downside of the record business. As legend would have it, an early pressing of her rendition of Take Me For A Little While found its was to Chicago's Chess label, where Jackie Ross cut a nearly identical version, unaware of the duplicity. Litigation ensued, but Sands' momentum was momentarily derailed.

"Nice lady, distinctive vocalist", Martin said recently.

"(But) shabby record promotion. As you must know, promotion is more than a decent recording".

Indeed it is. To that effect, producers Chip Taylor and Al Gorgoni provided for Sands a world class excursion in attitude-laden first generation garage rock with the flip side, Run Home To Your Mama. Once again, Sands rose to the occasion magnificently. Ultimately, while Sands was responsible for the premier and definitive rendition of Take Me For A Little While, numerous other artists from Vanilla Fudge and Cher to Patti Labelle and Dave Edmunds subsequently tried their hand at it.

Blue Cat attempted to recoup the momentum in November1965 with another Gorgoni and Taylor production and composition, the mid-tempo high drama masterpiece, I Can't Let Go.

"Mine was the original master, not a demo, that I performed the lead on for one of our G-M-T album cuts when the song was first written", said Martin.

"I recorded it first. But my version was never released as a single. My Motown influence caused them to write in that style. Around that time, I produced a cut by Timi Yuro with Chip that he and I wrote together, titled Spoil Me".

Gorgoni, Martin and Taylor set a great precedent with their rendition of I Can't Let Go, highlighted by some inventive keyboard work and Martin's spot on vocals. True to form, Sands gave the piece her all, and was featured performing the song on various television programs (including an appearance on Hollywood A Go-Go in January 1966). Once again, the single was paired with an exceptionally strong B-side, Gorgoni and Taylor's decidedly R&B flavored You've Got Me Uptight (which she showcased on Gene Weed's Shivaree program upon its release).

However, unbeknownst to many of its artists, the Red Bird and Blue Cat labels were facing increasing financial problems. Leiber and Stoller sold their interest in the company to Goldner in 1966, who in turn sold off the catalog to pay off his mounting debts. As a result, the label's world class roster was scattered to the winds, with Sam Hawkins signing with Epic, the Shangri-Las enjoying a brief stay at Mercury, the Dixie Cups cutting an album for ABC Paramount and recent signing Andy Kim eventually making a major impact at Dot's affiliate Steed label.

As for Evie Sands, it seemed at first that the transition would be supremely beneficial for her. By mid-1966, she had become a most welcome addition to the vaunted roster of the legendary Philadelphia-based Cameo-Parkway family of labels. The label was benefitting from a major resurgence that year, with such astute behind the scenes movers and shakers as Neil Bogart on board as head of A&R.

In the process, Cameo-Parkway had in short order established an artist roster that was second to none, with the signings of the Rationals (from Jeep Holland's A-Square label), Bob Seger and the Last Heard (from Punch Andrews' ambitious Hideout Records), Terry Knight and the Pack (led by former WJBK disc jockey Knight, who were already the flagship act of the established Lucky Eleven roster), Question Mark and the Mysterians (whose debut single for Lily Gonzales' Pa Go Go label, 96 Tears was reissued by Cameo to major success in mid-1966), the New Colony Six (via a distribution arrangement with the band's Sentar label), Jamie Coe and the Gigolos (whose releases continued to appear on their parent Enterprise Records) and rock and roll pioneers Billie and Lillie.

Gorgoni, Martin and Taylor accompanied Sands in the transition to Cameo, where they hit the ground running with the ambitious mid-tempo Picture Me Gone. With Trade Martin as arranger, Sands sustained her momentum with the Burt Bacharach and Hal David-penned The Love Of A Boy. Dionne Warwick had cut the track for the flip side of Anyone Who Had A Heart in 1963. Even so, Martin's sympathetic arrangement and Sands' commanding vamp at the fade gave her rendition the decisive edge.

And in 1967, it seemed as though the breakthrough that had to date eluded Sands was at last at hand. Produced by Gorgoni and Taylor and composed by Taylor, the haunting ballad, Angel Of The Morning had all of the makings of a monster classic: high drama, sympathetic charts and Sands' world class delivery. The initial reaction suggested as much. First pressings sold out in short order, and the demand was high.

But to paraphrase Buddy Starcher, history repeated itself. Despite strong showings made by new releases from the New Colony Six, the Hardly Worthit Players, Bob Seger and the Last Heard, the Fabulous Pack (who had parted ways with Knight earlier that year), the Rationals, the Bossmen, the Ohio Express, Chris Bartley, the Olympics, Bunny Sigler and Question Mark and the Mysterians, Cameo-Parkway found itself in dire financial straits by late 1967. A proposed merger with MGM never came to pass. By early 1968, the label was in the hands of Allan Klein, who changed the name to ABKCO in the process. As such, Evie Sands had the dubious distinction of cutting Cameo's farewell single, the utterly stupendous Billy Sunshine (for which at least a superb video promo clip has thankfully survived).

But once again, a world class artist roster was scattered to the winds. The Rationals, Bob Seger and the Last Heard (who then became the Bob Seger System), Question Mark and the Mysterians, the Pack and Terry Knight (each of whom continued to record independently of one another) rebounded at Capitol. The Ohio Express and Chubby Checker went on to great acclaim at Bogart's new Buddah label. The New Colony Six reinvented themselves extraordinarily at Mercury, and Jamie Coe (who by 1967 had reverted to his earlier affiliation with Enterprise Records) tried his hand at a self-makeover with releases for Dunhill under the name Citizen Kane.

Meanwhile, Sands had joined forces with Herb Alpert's flourishing Hollywood-based A&M Records. Already a commanding force among labels for not only Alpert's numerous releases with the Tijuana Brass, but via various acclaimed offerings from the Baja Marimba Band, Chris Montez, Lucille Starr (on the affiliate Almo label), Claudine Longet, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, the Wanted, the Parade, Wes Montgomery, the Merry-Go-Round and Waylon Jennings, A&M could provide both the stability and the support that had eluded Sands in her previous label affiliations.

In 1968, she again rose to the occasion with an impassioned rendition of Until It's Time For You To Go. Monkees lead guitarist Michael Nesmith had recorded the Buffy Sainte Marie composition as Michael Blessing for Colpix Records, and Nancy Sinatra also tried her hand at it as the flip side of Lightning's Girl for Reprise in 1967. But since neither rendition had caught on in the way that all concerned had envisioned, Sands made a valiant and successful attempt at it. She quickly followed suit with I'll Hold Out My Hand, which the Clique had also cut for White Whale in 1969.

Before year's end, she had finally found her niche with A&M via Any Way That You Want Me, which the American Breed (for Acta) and the Troggs (on Fontana) had both attempted in recent months. Her upward momentum was sustained at year's end with her interpretation of the Quincy Jones-penned Maybe Tomorrow, which was included in the soundtrack of the Peter Yates-directed film, John And Mary.

Despite the overall aesthetic slump in which mainstream music increasingly found itself in the early months of the 1970s, Sands' independent and visionary thinking continued to serve her well. An album followed in 1970 for A&M, as did a competent interpretation of But You Know I Love You, which had likewise been done justice via interpretations by the First Edition and Bill Anderson.

That year, Sands also guested on the Everly Brothers' television show. The episode ended with a summit meeting, as Sands, Don and Phil Everly, the Statler Brothers and Neil Diamond joined forces for a stirring rendition of the Selah Jubilee Singers' 1941 Gospel raver, I'll Fly Away.

In 1971, Neil Bogart, who had been with Cameo-Parkway during Sands' tenure with the label, expressed interest in having Sands come on board at Buddah. However, a proposed Val Garay-produced album for the label that year never came to pass.

Sands then embarked upon a sabbatical from recording, finally re-emerging in 1974 with the ambitious You Brought The Woman Out In Me and I Love Makin' Love To You singles for Capitol's affiliate Haven label, followed by the acclaimed Estate Of Mind album in 1975. She followed suit with a cover of the Temptations' The Way You Do The Things You Do, which coincidentally the Newbeats cut for Buddah around that same time. She rounded out the 1970s with a brief yet memorable affiliation with RCA Victor.

The ensuing years were a transitional time for Sands. She co-produced the Speed Of Light album for vocalist and composer Holly Near in 1982, yet overall was not as active in the recording process as she had been for the previous two decades.

Thankfully, all of that changed in 1996 during a live club performance by one time colleague Chip Taylor. He invited Sands on stage to sing with him, and their professional partnership was reborn. Al Gorgoni was soon back in the picture, and Sands, Taylor and Gorgoni became a songwriting team. Sands' Women In Prison album followed on Taylor's Train Wreck label in 1999, which included a duet with the beloved roots rocker, Lucinda Williams, Cool Blues Story.

Sands continued to think well outside of the box into the twenty-first century, joining forces as lead guitarist with Karma Frog label president and current Mod Hippie front man, Adam Marsland in his Adam Marsland's Chaos Band. Among other things, the group released a tribute album to the Beach Boys' Dennis and Carl Wilson, with Sands taking the lead vocal on several of the tracks.

As time progressed, her collaborations with Marsland became even more interesting.

"Evie is very game", said Marsland.

"She thrives on a challenge and is ready for anything you might throw at her.

"My favorite story about Evie is when we were first playing together, and I did not know her very well. One of the first things we were putting together was a tribute to John Cale.

"I didn't want to offend her or put her off. So I deliberately avoided most of his edgier stuff when I made a mix tape of songs to select.

But even as one who does not follow the beaten path, Marsland nonetheless underestimated his vaunted colleague.

"At the very end, I risked adding a song called Gun, which was this long, semi-psychotic rant", said Marsland.

"At the next rehearsal, Evie walked in and announced firmly, 'I want to do THIS song', and played back Gun. She even worked out the form and the main guitar parts, and proceeded to completely shred the room. I was standing there with my jaw on the floor!"

In a "jaw on the floor" position is how many colleagues and observers alike continue to find themselves while watching Sands in action. It is a reaction shared by Balancing Act guitarist, composer, multi-instrumentalist, Donna Loren orchestra leader/arranger and Thee Holy Brothers co-founder (with one time Lone Justice bassist Marvin Etzioni), Willie Aron. In April 2017, Thee Holy Brothers and Sands shared a bill at McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica that has been hailed by many as the live performance of the year.

"Evie Sands is one of my favorite artists and people in the world", said Aron.

"Like the lady herself, her music radiates warmth and soul. She is a consummate singer, songwriter and musician.

"Evie is a timeless talent who inspires everyone she works with. She and I played together briefly with Fleetwood Mac guitarist Jeremy Spencer for an aborted tour, and our musical alchemy was apparent from the start.

"And as you well know, Evie and I share a deep passion for the Los Angeles Dodgers. We text each other throughout each baseball season, exulting and despairing over the team's successes and failures. There simply aren't enough superlatives for Evie".

Aron's reference to Major League Baseball's premier franchise is in part a reference to an informal yet impassioned project that brings the story full circle. In recent months, Sands, Aron, renowned music historian and journalist Domenic Priore and Blitz Magazine Editor/Publisher Michael McDowell have formed an ad hoc quartet of music industry Dodgers enthusiasts, who strive to bring an uplifting musical interlude and profession of solidarity with the team. To that effect, Sands, Aron, Priore and McDowell spent an afternoon in late December 2016 at Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine to profess their ongoing support for the now first place team.

In turn, 2017 seems to be on track as being the best year to date of Sands' storied career. In addition to the aforementioned McCabe's showcase with Thee Holy Brothers, Sands on Record Store Day in April released the highly anticipated and much acclaimed all new album, Shine For Me on the R-Spot label. With percussion support from her husband, Eric Vesper, Sands has produced what is arguably her finest album to date. Diverse and introspective originals such as Full Dose Of Love, the ambitious Like A Rock, and the utterly stupendous and thoroughly engaging Rodeo combine to make Shine For Me a solid contender for album of the year.

Interestingly enough, the photo montage on the inside cover of Shine For Me features as its centerpiece an edited shot from last December's Dodger Stadium print. For the hardcore enthusiast, the complete photo (including Domenic Priore and Willie Aron) accompanies this article.

As live performances, radio interviews and general follow up have been occupying much of her post-release itinerary, focusing on the new project at hand has been the general priority. With that in mind, Evie Sands shared her thoughts on Shine For Me and the road ahead in the following exchange with Blitz Magazine's Michael McDowell:

BLITZ: After being affiliated with a wide variety of labels throughout your career, including ABC Paramount, Blue Cat, Cameo, A&M, Haven and RCA Victor, with the release of Shine For Me, you opted for the independent route with R-Spot Records. To what degree has that transition impacted either your artistic mission statement or your involvement in the hands on process of seeing a new release through to fruition?

SANDS:  Having my own label is creatively rewarding as well as challenging. It’s great being in a position to have the final decision about my work.

The flip side is, being hands-on and fully involved in every aspect of running the label takes up time. I’ve been learning how to juggle being an artist and running a label at the same time. That said, sleep has mostly been a luxury the last few months, LOL. 

BLITZ: In recent years, you have collaborated to varying degrees with Thee Holy Brothers' Willie Aron and Mod Hippie's Adam Marsland. Each of your individual works seem to nonetheless have common ground in some respects, and all seem to draw inspiration from one another. This is borne out to an extent in Shine For Me. Of course you have your own well defined and impeccably executed mission statement. But did their work and/or feedback provide any moments of inspiration for the current project?

SANDS: I enjoy collaborating. Some people just click and have a natural creative chemistry. I love learning, growing, and being inspired by people I work with, as well as from afar. I greatly admire and am inspired by both Willie and Adam’s many talents and skills.

Shine For Me though, is very much my own project - writing, arranging, playing, engineering, producing - and it was something I needed to do. There are beautiful contributions from Teresa Cowles (bass), Eric Vesper (drums), Kurt Medlin (drums), Steve Refling (last phase of recording, percussion, and mixing), Steve Stanley (art direction and design).

Just prior to mixing, I asked Adam to work on some backing vocals with me. Adam is a brilliant vocal arranger and I love what he did. It was perfect! The three of us -- Adam, Teresa, and me -- have done a ton of singing together, and along with Eric, had a great time getting it done. After Shine For Me was mastered, it was lovely to get very positive feedback from Willie and from Adam.  
 
BLITZ: The album's opener, Rodeo is an instant classic. In your work, there has been a recurring theme of vulnerability, which can be found as early as your You've Got Me Uptight single on Blue Cat and Billy Sunshine on Cameo. But while those earlier efforts find the protagonist at a seeming impasse, Rodeo seems to bring the concept full circle. As was the case with Barry Manilow in I Made It Through The Rain, in Rodeo, you provide a clarion call to those who may have been impacted by adversity, and encourage them to follow their dreams and strive for excellence. Is there an element of the autobiographical in there?

SANDS: I can’t really speak about themes of the earlier songs you mentioned from a writer’s point-of-view, since they were written by others. I never really knew what all the Billy Sunshine lyrics meant until quite a bit later on, LOL.

When I wrote Rodeo, I wasn’t really thinking. It was just a feeling that came through me as I played the music. I suppose in retrospect, it does have an autobiographical element to it. I’m encouraging myself just as much as encouraging others.  

BLITZ: The Rodeo video is in part a brilliant outreach to the musicologists and record collectors who continue to comprise a significant percentage of your audience. As you travel through the record pressing plant while singing, the joy you express therein grows exponentially. Was this in part directed towards that often disenfranchised demographic as a means of encouragement? And was that Eric on drums with you in the video?

SANDS:  It was Sam Epstein’s idea and concept to do the video in the plant while my EP was being pressed and it turned out to be a fun shoot. He and Mike Schnee did the editing. Yes, that’s Eric playing drums in the video.

The whole process of manufacturing vinyl is complex and fascinating. I love the vinyl resurgence that’s happened these last few years. It has a great sound that’s a little different from digital. By the way, my favorite part of the vinyl process is the squish - when the gooey hockey puck gets flattened!  

BLITZ: But It Did has a curious, almost dreamscape atmosphere to it, a la Tony Perkins' Moon-Light Swim filtered through the otherworldliness of Tranquility's euphoric, high drama masterpiece, Silver. And lyrically, it draws from the joy of discovery articulated in the Monkees' I'm A Believer. In other words, it combines the best of several worlds in its seeming attempt to convey a blissful state of mind. Your thoughts?

SANDS: The main idea of But It Did is a song I wanted to write for a long time, and finally it happened. It’s about how a seemingly perfect love relationship goes wrong, doesn’t work out and ends with a broken heart and sadness. However, the broken-hearted person doesn’t see they were meant to be with someone else and in fact, wind up with a happy ending. So they thought it didn’t work out, but it did!

Sometimes life leads us on a path that seems wrong or unhappy, or not what we think we want. But we can’t see the whole picture in that moment. We don’t see something else that’s good or better awaits and is where we should be. It may take a while to happen, but it will.

BLITZ: The title track of Shine For Me has a regal, almost Gospel feel to it, highlighted impeccably by its magnificent keyboard chart. While of course there is a prevalent theme of calling upon another individual to rise to the professed challenges expressed therein, the references to the likes of the Promised Land and sanctity (as well as the gradual crescendo) suggest a higher calling. To what degree did that perspective impact the outcome?

SANDS: Shine For Me is really a song I channeled. I sat down at the piano intending to write a completely different idea and next thing I knew this whole other song started to come through. I was driven to finish it. Not sure where it came from, but there it was. So I didn’t have the kind of perspective you suggest as the song was being written. 

Stepping back, it’s about not achieving one’s own full potential, falling for false ideals, our fears and alibis, seeking but having our way clouded, the loneliness it can bring, and wondering if someone will break through and truly shine.

BLITZ: Conversely, Like A Rock is classic mid-tempo blues. You are of course no stranger to the genre. But in previous attempts, you have generally not opted for the straight ahead 4/4 swagger that characterizes this particular arrangement. To that effect, in previous like minded endeavors, such as You Brought The Woman Out Of Me, there was less of an emphasis in execution on the two and the four, which can impact the outcome significantly. Was that intentional? 

SANDS: No. I don’t write or produce that way. My goal is always to serve the song and try to make a record that sounds like what I'm hearing in my head.

Like A Rock sounded rowdy and raucous to me and even the guitar solo has two guitars playing against each other. I like that it has a few different elements that are not exactly what might be expected. 

BLITZ: The album's closer, Without You, almost seems to bring the proceedings to a happy and relatively more subtle conclusion, with a slight caveat. To wit, you articulate ideal circumstances, while concurrently contemplating a hypothetical situation where such bliss is brought to an abrupt end through tragedy. Indeed, those who have experienced the latter can readily attest to the conclusion therein that, "Without You, life just wouldn't be worthwhile". Did that perspective factor into the creative process for this track?

SANDS: Though I understand how it can be taken that way, it wasn't the perspective intended. It’s meant as a 'life together is so wonderful’ scenario, that life without that person would absolutely pale and seem like not much of anything in comparison. Again, also true if tragedy brought about the end, but creatively, that wasn’t my meaning.  

BLITZ: You have made a concerted effort to tie in the release of Shine For Me with the annual Record Store Day celebration, which fell on the twenty-second of April this year. To what degree does the musicologist and record collector perspective fuel your own mission statement?

SANDS:  My decision to coincide the release of Shine For Me with this year's Record Store Day was based on a couple of things. As mentioned before, I love the renewed interest in vinyl and hope it continues. It sounds great and the whole tactile experience of the physical record and jacket and turntable is special.

Indie stores need our support. There’s nothing like browsing through a bunch of records, reading info on the jackets, seeing the artwork in a larger form-factor, and discovering music as we browse.

Also, with the current state of the music biz and especially for DIY-ers, Record Store Day provides a focused opportunity to highlight a release across the U.S. and in many countries worldwide. So it’s a perfect combination for music, medium, and marketing.  

BLITZ: The show at McCabe's in Santa Monica with Thee Holy Brothers represented for many an ideal pairing of musical kindred spirits. As such, would you be amenable to working with Thee Holy Brothers' Marvin Etzioni and Willie Aron in either similar live collaborations or perhaps a studio project in the near future?

SANDS:  Yes, absolutely. About three years ago, Willie and I got to do some work together briefly, prepping and rehearsing with Fleetwood Mac original member and guitar great, Jeremy Spencer for a tour. We also worked/rehearsed a few songs of mine (I was going to open some of the dates). The tour was canceled at the last minute. We also did some work on a session together and had a blast.

We’re definitely kindred spirits. I think Willie and Marvin are great. We’ve already talked about doing more live dates together and about some collaborations, including studio work. Would be an absolute pleasure! Plus, Willie is a very dear friend, and my L.A. Dodgers brother!