The fact that you didn’t have big hits but kept making records could have only happened in the ‘70s. Nowadays, a label would have pulled the plug after one album.
“That’s true. When I came up, if they happened to like you, they gave you more than one shot. That’s certainly not the case anymore; it’s very disposable. I was lucky to work with some great executives, in particular Clive Davis, who signed us Spindizzy/Columbia first. I worked David Briggs, Neil Young’s producer. And then, of course, I spent many years at A&M with Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss, who were both great, Jerry in particular. But you’re right: I started at a time where I was able to make a lot of music without that massive hit that’s required these days for it to kick into that second or third album.”
Were your old tapes in good shape? Did you have to bake any of them or do any kind of restoration?
“Billy Wolf from Wolf Productions in Arlington, Virginia, is mastering the whole thing. He’s worked with me for 20 years or more. He had to bake some stuff. Of the old tapes, some of them were useable, some weren’t. But Billy has a lot of tricks up his sleeve, and he’s got great ears. Some of the things were on basement cassettes, but rather than not use them, baked or heated or treated somehow, we got them to where they had to be. To me, we had to share certain things no matter what.”
Were there any songs or performances that surprised you? Were you ever like, “Oh, I forgot we did that.”?
“Yeah, there was a lot of stuff. I got very thorough in digging through tapes; I went on a lot of fishing expeditions for things that I felt needed to be included. Billy Wolf and I would spend hours and hours pouring over tapes; some of them were useless, but there were some real gems, too. I was desperately trying to find a cassette tape of Keith Don’t Go that I did with Grin and Neil Young – he played piano and sang on it. I went through thousands of cassettes in my home in Arizona and back in Maryland – I’ve got a place out here to tour the East. But we struck gold when we discovered the actual 16-track master. We got to remix it in the same studio and with the same engineer who worked with Briggs and Grin, but obviously we made it what it should have been, not just a primitive rough mix.”
It’s interesting that you recorded that song in ’73 with Neil on it, but you recorded it again and put it on your debut solo record two years later.
“On the ‘Fat Man Album,’ right. I had written it on the Tonight’s The Night tour. I was with Neil Young in England and was meeting a lot of people who claimed to be Keith’s best friend. I took that with a grain of salt. The recurring theme with everybody was how worried they were about Keith’s health. I thought anybody who had just done Exile On Main St. couldn’t be that bad off – I was naïve and young. But I had this dark, ominous piece of music, and I put the two concepts together. The idea was to write giant thank-you note on behalf of all the fans, like, ‘Take care of yourself, Keith, for our sake and for yours.’”