“Jazz Monthly Feature Interview” Bobby Lyle
Smitty: I’m very happy to have one of the great piano players here at Jazz Monthly When it comes to making great music, he has the hands of a skilled surgeon and the heart of the bravest innovator. His virtuosity is beyond compare. He’s just produced a wonderful new album. It’s called Hands On and, trust me, you can feel his hands all over this one. Please welcome Heads Up recording artist, my man, Mr. Bobby Lyle. Bobby, how ya doin’?
Bobby Lyle (BL): Great. Thank you so much, Smitty. I appreciate you having me, man.
Smitty: It’s always a pleasure to talk with you. It’s great to bump into you sometimes at different shows and to see the respect that you have earned of your peers because I think you get more shout-outs than anyone when you’re in the audience at home.
BL: Well, a lot of times when I’m not performing, that’s what I like to do. I like to go out and support my friends and get a chance to listen to them play because we all kinda came up through the ranks together, so it’s just great to see everybody doing well.
Smitty: Absolutely, my friend. I remember one of your great projects, The Journey, that was a hit album, what, back in 1990? That’s an album that no one will ever forget, and I know how you feel about that project, it’s very special to you. But how are you feeling about this one? Do you have that similar feeling coming out of this one as you did when you came out of that project?
BL: Well, The Journey was a very deep and heartfelt project, mostly from the standpoint because that was about a year after I’d lost my first wife, and so a lot of what was going on inside of me ended up coming out in that music. I can’t really say that I’ve had that kind of deep emotional feeling since then, but I do have a very special feeling about Hands On because of the way I was able to work on it and also being with a new and fabulous record company who I feel very strongly is going to really give me the push with this record to give it a good chance in the marketplace.
Smitty: Yes indeed, man. You certainly are with a great label. You’ve got some great cats over there. I can’t say enough about Dave Love.
BL: It really is and I have to thank Mr. Marion Meadows for helping to steer me over there.
Smitty: (Laughs.) Oh yeah, Marion. What a cool cat, huh?
BL: Yeah, he’s very cool. He gave me Dave’s number and he said “If you’re looking for a label, this is the guy you should call.”
Smitty: (Laughs.) Well, Dave comes highly recommended, that’s for sure.
Smitty: So, now, with this new record, I also had thoughts of another record that you and I talked about yesterday and that’s Straight and Smooth and what a unique concept that record was and what you did with that record was something that created something truly unique. I mean, you were, what, at Billboard as a smooth jazz and traditional jazz artist simultaneously. Everything that happened to that record was truly breakthrough in so many ways.
BL: That’s true. From what I understand, that had never happened before.
Smitty: You once said that you were just a musician trying to keep real playing alive.
Smitty: And you always want that sense of live energy. Can you talk a little bit about that and what that means to you?
BL: Well, part of the appeal of jazz in the first place is really based on that live energy and the interplay that people see when they go and witness music live, and I think it’s very necessary to take that whole thing beyond what you do in the studio because in the studio you’re thinking more about the perfection of the arrangement and the sound and how everything ties together melodically. But live and in person you can have a much larger sense of freedom and just kinda take off from those studio arrangements and give people some real energy, real live energy, and musicians feed off of that. So that’s why there’s no substitute for that whole phenomenon.
Smitty: I must say, with this latest album, you captured that because the energy’s there and you can feel the compositions, you can feel the studio, and just feel that whole interplay between the musicians, and I think it takes a special musician to pull that together and to be able to communicate that to the audience through a recording. I think you did that very well.
BL: Well, thank you so much. I’ve always assumed the role of wearing those different hats when I do go in the studio as an artist and also as a producer, which puts you in a situation of being like a traffic cop. (Both laughing.) You have to coordinate everybody and give them a sense of direction. I guess it’s like being a director on a movie set where you have to explain everybody’s role to them and what their relation to that particular track is going to be. And you call various people because you feel they can give you what you need for that particular song.
Smitty: Yeah, absolutely.
BL: Because this was such a “hands on” project (both laughing) literally, I did a lotta stuff myself from drum programming to word playing to vocal background arranging. I mean, I did a lot of stuff on this, so from that standpoint it’s very personal.
Smitty: Was that sort of an eye-opening experience for you to do some of those things that you hadn’t done before and working with equipment, perhaps, that you haven’t worked with before?
BL: Yeah, the whole thing of Pro Tools, which has kinda become the weapon of choice for people making music these days. I actually hired a gentleman here in Houston to come out and give me tutoring on how to use it because I’ve never been known as a really technical type musician. (Laughs.)
BL: So that was money well spent because I really get it to the point where I can work without an engineer being here. From talking to several other musicians, that inspirational song or idea can come at any time. You have to be able to begin and tap in to it when it’s there, even if it is two or three o’clock in the morning.
Smitty: Yeah, absolutely, and you wanna seize that moment.
BL: Yeah, because you don’t wanna wake up in the morning and say “What the heck was that brilliant thing I was thinking about?” (Both laughing.) By that time it’s usually too late.
Smitty: Yes indeed. This record, it’s called Hands On, and when I first got it I said “You know, this is true Bobby Lyle.” I said to myself “He’s got the threads on and he’s styling, I know this is gonna be good.” When I looked at some of the key players on this record, I just couldn’t wait to kick it in the changer and get it on. You’ve got some home cookin’ with Brennen Nase and Dave Caseras and that’s a beautiful thing.
BL: Oh yeah, had to get some of my Houston posse in there.
Smitty: And Larry Kimpel, I mean, this is great music. I really like the opening track. I think it was so fitting to do “Passion Drive” because it really displayed your great skills on the piano and keyboards and all of that, and it’s a great song to open the record because it just sets the tone.
BL: Oh, well, thank you. That’s the one that Heads Up has chosen, I guess, to be the first single that they send out as well.
BL: So hopefully we’ll hear it start to show up on some of these Smooth Jazz stations around the country.
Smitty: Oh, I’m sure, I’m totally sure because it’s a kickin’ record and I love Dave Caseras’ sax work on this one. He’s a great sax player to start with.
BL: Yeah, he did some really nice playing. His solo on the tune called “Fancy Pants” is just a classic solo.
Smitty: Yes indeed.
BL: And he actually tried to do it again and I said “No, man, you got it that first time,” but I always let guys do as many takes as they want, but I can usually feel the one that’s gonna work and he definitely had it on his first pass.
Smitty: Yeah, isn’t it something about that first pass because I think that there’s a subconsciousness that is just….it is in its own zone.
BL: Yeah, a lot of that is like instinctual. Instinctual before you have a chance to really start getting too cerebral with it.
Smitty: Yes, absolutely. It’s sort of an unrehearsed reaction.
BL: To what’s happening in the track. That’s true.
Smitty: I love that and I’m hearing that more and more from cats coming out of the studio. “The first take was it,” “We hit it, we nailed it, and we said ‘Let’s go have a drink.’” (Both laughing.)
BL: That’s right, go celebrate that one.
Smitty: Yeah, you know? And this is a celebration for you, this record, I’m sure, because you can feel that whole celebratory vibe with this record, and I’m sure you have reasons to celebrate. You have a new record deal and this was sort of like a coming out once again for doing a Contemporary Jazz record.
BL: Well, thank you. I was feeling that as well as the other more tender moments. I like to call this a celebration of life, love and rhythm because it seems to cover those three spaces.
Smitty: Yeah, absolutely. And talk to me about “Take A Step.” You’ve got Joe Vincelli on there, man. (Laughs.)
BL: Oh, you know Joe?
Smitty: Yes, Joe is such a cool cat.
BL: Yeah, yeah, he did some nice work on that as well. I was just very fortunate because I don’t record away from L.A. a lot, but I was fortunate to be able to find guys between here and Dallas that could really give me what I needed.
Smitty: And, you know, Joe is an icon in Dallas.
BL: Yeah, that’s what I hear, man.
Smitty: (Laughs.) Yes, sir, and rightly so. What a sax cat.
BL: Yeah, he’s just really great, man, and in fact, I think I heard him on a Pieces of a Dream record.
Smitty: Really? Joe gets around.
BL: I just had my engineer playing me different people that he knew and I said “That guy right there. I want that one.”
Smitty: And what great work by Wayne DeLano on “Minute By Minute.” You’ve got some Texas heat on this record.
BL: Yeah, yeah, since my normal Texas guys are all kinda dispersed. Kirk is in Nashville and Everette Harp’s in L.A. and I just used the Texas ones that I could still find here.
Smitty: Yeah, it’s very convenient and these cats have a lot of class, they’re great players with some serious skills and it complements your record very well.
BL: Well, thank you very much, man. I was proud of everybody’s energy and commitment to the project.
Smitty: Yes, and let’s not forget Todd Parsnow, he’s great. What a guitarist.
BL: Yeah, he was a real surprise for me. His ability to just go from track to track and give it the right feel. I love what he did on the closing tune (“Beth”).
Smitty: Yeah, yep, and that’s a nice song too.
BL: It’s a tribute to my lady, Beth.
Smitty: Oh yeah. (Laughs.)
BL: And wow, he laid that out. His acoustic work was incredible.
Smitty: Yes, and I can’t forget another fellow Texan, Mr. John Adams.
BL: Oh yeah, bass player, right?
Smitty: Yeah, absolutely, man. What a great cat. Been knowing John for a long time.
BL: Yeah. Are you originally from Dallas?
Smitty: No, I’m originally from St. Louis, but I keep up with my Texas musicians. (Laughs.)
BL: Oh, okay. Did you spend any time over there?
Smitty: I’ve spent a lotta time in Dallas. (Laughs.) I get in there whenever I get an opportunity.
BL: Okay, because you seem very well versed with the local talent there, so that’s why I was asking.
Smitty: Yeah. Well, Joe McBride and I used to hang out a lot when he lived in Dallas. I also have some close friends and relatives there. Say, I want to mention how much I love the artwork on this album as well. I see you’ve got your Sunday best on and then you kinda broke it down a little bit, and I recognize this scene with you at the piano, the acoustic piano. Where were you?
BL: This was taken in Dallas, it was in the lobby of one of the concert halls there, I believe.
Smitty: It looks a lot like the Bass Hall?
BL: It could be. You could be right. I just can’t remember.
Smitty: Great photography work too.
BL: The photographer’s name was Mike Itashiki. He did a very nice job, though. I said “Thank you for making an old man look good.” (Both laughing.)
Smitty: Absolutely, but it’s great photography work. Now, is the acoustic piano your first love of instruments?
BL: Oh, absolutely.
Smitty: I thought so. (Laughs.)
BL: Oh yeah.
Smitty: Well, you’ve mastered it quite well, my friend.
BL: Well, I’ll tell ya, that’s an ongoing process and I tell my piano students you never really stop. You have to keep trying to refine it and make it better.
BL: Stand up and look at those 88 keys, you know, don’t touch ‘em, just look at ‘em.
BL: It registers in your mind, “Wow, they will always know more than I’ll ever think about knowing.”
BL: So your lifetime of work is dedicated to getting as much as you can out for the time that you are allowed on this planet, on this earth.
Smitty: I totally agree.
BL: And that’s pretty much all you can do, and hopefully leave a nice body of work for the people that are coming behind you.
Smitty: Yes, and I must congratulate you on this great project. It has some great tracks, and I see more than one track going to radio, I see more than one on the charts, so you are certainly in line with being proud of this record, and congratulations on the great new record deal with Heads Up as well.
BL: Well, thank you, Smitty, and I guess the proof is in the marketplace. I’ll see how the people respond and hopefully they’ll get wind of it and go out and purchase it and see for themselves.
BL: This music that comes out of me, I make it to share with people, whether it is through a CD or through a live performance, and I’m happy when they respond in both arenas.
Smitty: Yes indeed, my friend. Well, I’m looking forward to seeing you on the road and I’m sure the fans are looking forward to seeing you out there playing some of this great music and expressing yourself from the stage, my friend.
BL: Well, thank you very much and hopefully we’ll see you at one of our shows soon.
Smitty: It’s on my list for sure (Laughs.)
BL: All right! Excellent!
Smitty: Very cool. We have been talking with the fantastic Mr. Bobby Lyle. He has a wonderful new project out. It’s called Hands On. You must take a listen to this record. Catch him live because his live shows are simple electric! Bobby thanks again, my friend, and it’s great to hear this great new record. All the very best and I will see you soon, my friend.
BL: Thank you so much, Smitty, and I’m looking forward to it, man.
Baldwin “Smitty” Smith
For More Information Visit www.bobbylyle.com or www.headsup.com
© August 2006 Jazz Monthly LLC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED