Rock Around The World October 1977   27

Picture

A

Picture Picture

smokin' up the charts by Dustt Rhodes

What's it like to be catapulted from the brink of obscurity to the top of the charts--to become an "overnight success?" The story is best told by Ed Sanford and John Townsend, whose "Smoke From A Distant Fire"is burning up the charts, after having smoldered silently for over a year:

JT: It all started rather crazily, several months back . we had cut this album that had been out for a year and three months–our first album–and as we were in the studio trying to salvage our careers and cut a real good second album, something started happening with the first one ... so Warner's said, "Hey, we've gotta have a band out on the road helping the record along." Management says okay; we get the agency and they book a million gigs ... we started out on August first with Dave Mason and Heart, opening the show, and we're just finishing a string of Fleetood Mac dates ... we're very fortunate to have the gigs that we got, for a brand new act ... there are thousands of acts that would pay to get on a Fleetwood Mac date, and all of a sudden, here we are ... it's good, but at the same time it's also very frightening–intimidating .

ES: (laughing) They're so goddamn great, it's hard to get their audience off ... they don't know who the hell we are!

IT: The intimidation factor is involved, but we're overcoming it to a large extent ... it's hard bein' under that kind of pressure, 'cause our job is to go out there and warm up the audience for Fleetwood ... to get 'em standing up by the time Fleetwood walks on stage ... DR: Is your road band the same musicians you used on the album?

JT: Some of the guys were in the original band we recorded the first album with, but we had to make a few personnel changes .. .

ES: The musicians are all friends of ours, and they vary at times ...it's just who's available and that kind of thing ...

JT: We were all part of 'a late Sixties, early Seventies migration of Southern musicians, which includes anybody from Duane and Greg Allman to Bobby Keyes and on down through this barrage of people ... we assembled this band out of a lot of those people who happened to be here the same time as us ...

ES: When we came out here we were in a band, and we went through so many bands, like everybody else does ... you know, come out here and starve for eight years ... we built up a reputation as song writers in the last four years that enabled us to get a record deal as artists ...

IT: We pulled back out of that band thing at one point and started concentrating on writing ... after a while we landed a deal as staff writers with Chappel Music ... they allowed us to cut the kind of demos we needed to one, get our songs placed and, two, get a record deal.... that was part of "Plan A," and all of a sudden we realized, "Hey–it's working!"

DR: You mentioned earlier that "Smoke" had been out for over a year before it really started to take off–how do you account for its "sudden" success?

ES: It was the second single released— the first one was "Shake It To The Right," which didn't really break .. . and "Smoke" was the song everybody really believed in

.. when we put it out, it started breaking in the South ... a lot of people started workin' real hard on it; John and I got on the phones and kept in touch with it daily; and it just inched its way up ...

DR: What was involved in your choice of Jerry Wexler and Barry Beckett to produce the first album?

JT: Wexler was a good choice for our first album cause we had never really developed ourselves as recording artists ... we needed someone that could give us some strong direction–to whip us into shape ... out of Jerry, we got years and years of experience of working with some of tile most incredible artists ever . • . then out of Barry we got very strong musical identity–we could communicate our ideas to Barry, cause he is a musician ... also, we cut the album in Muscle Shoals, which is kind of like goin' home . . . it was comfortable and helped us get a

perspective on where we were and why we were cutting an album ... With the second album, we departed a little from that ... We wanted to do the second album in Hollywood, in a fancy studio with all the gadgets and a really good sound and engineer   we just finished it up at Sunset Sound with John Haney ...

ES: John was great because at this point, we don't need a producer who gives us strong direction: we just need a producer who got the most out of us–and John's incredible in that sense ... it's a pretty logical step . DR: Having concentrated on writing for so long, do you find the studio is a difficult environment to work in?

JT: It's all the same in intensity ... live, you're under the gun; in the studio you're under the gun–you've got a clock that you're working against ... it's a different kind of pressure in the studio ... you're trying to get things really exact, and you're allowed many passes at it tO get it right--to look at the basic structural elements and add color with overdubs ... then live, you have to take what you've created in the studio and reproduce it as well as you can, plus entertain people, and you only get one shot at it ... if the conversation keeps going back to that, it's because that's what we're most concerned with at this point ...

ES: To be very truthful, we're rookies at big-time concert rock and roll ... I could do a club in my sleep, but doin' big halls is new to us ...

JT: There are different things you have to do to the music ... live, you have to be very crisp ... the subtleties you use on record don't go over as well ...

ES: And we have to learn that the hard way!

IT: Plus, we go on 95% of the time totally cold, without a sound check, not even knowing if our equipment's working or not ... we go out and take about 30 seconds to see if everything's working, then start playin' our first song.. .

ES: We're not bitchin' about it–that's just the way it is ... if we were a band with two electric guitars, bass and drums, it wouldn't be that hard ... but we use seven

keyboards, two guitars, saxaphone plus bass and drums .. it's simple music structurally, but it's complex musically–a lot of changes and a lot of instruments ... when you go on stage cold, with that many instruments in a hall you've never played before, it's kind of frightening ... but I think we'll have it down in about two weeks!

DR: Getting back to the new album–how would you compare it to your first one?

ES: It's still all our tunes ... there's old stuff, new stuff–one tune on there is ten years old, and there's one that we finished the day before we went in ... there's a lot of variety ... also, there's a lot more two-part harmony; the tunes are approached a bit differently in that they were built from tracks; and we used real strings–I6 pieces ...

JT: We try to appeal to different intellects, different levels, with a variety of tunes ... there's one thing on the second album that's almost a theatre piece–very Gershwin-esque or Aaron Copland type of Americana piece--called "Eights and Aces" about a dead-man's hand in poker ...

ES: Our country things are not Nashville at all, but get real Americana ... and our rock things get real Southern ... we can't get heavy metal, even if we try ... JT: Ed and I would eventually like to get into some kind of legitimate theatre stuff ...

ES: We'd like to write contemporary songs to a legitimate stage play ...

DR: Could that take the form of a concept album at some point?

JT: That's a pretty scary thing, when you start saying "concept" to a record company ... we have a string of four tunes that work into a little "sea chanty" ... maybe on a fourth or fifth album .. .

ES: We have this whole "going West" theme that's very attractive to us ... we write a lot of songs that allude to that ... there's another song on the second album called

continued on page 31

Photos by Andy Kent/Mirage

Picture