Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Magical evening with John Mellencamp at the Grammy Museum
Photo credit: Courtesy of The GRAMMY Museum®
Photograph by Maury Phillips/WireImage ©2010
An Evening with John Mellencamp
Where: The Grammy Museum at L.A. Live
When: Aug. 17, 2010
Singer-songwriter John Mellencamp is not one to sing his own praises.
“I had to learn to write songs while I was making records,” Mellencamp said during the special “American Express presents An Evening with John Mellencamp” program at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles on Tuesday night, Aug. 17. The special discussion and mini-concert was held on the release date of No Better Than This, the celebrated Hoosier’s latest album.
Mellencamp, 58, noted that when he got signed to his first record deal in the 1970s, he was emerging at the same time as talented artists such as Tom Petty and Steve Forbert.
“I was the low hanging fruit,” he mused.
Much has changed since Mellencamp was forced to go by the moniker John Cougar with the release of his commercial debut Chestnut Street Incident in 1976. He has gone on to release discs such as Scarecrow (1985), Whenever We Wanted (1991), Human Wheels (1993), and Life, Death, Love and Freedom (2008), recognized as some of the best albums of the modern rock era. His just-issued No Better Than This marks another high mark in Mellencamp’s continuing journey to document his own life and that of the world around him – particularly those hit hardest by economic hardship, isolation and racial discrimination.
“I’m 58 – almost 59. I am not the guy who wrote ‘Hurts So Good’ (off of 1982’s American Fool album). It would be folly for me to do that (song now),” he told interviewer Robert Santelli, executive director of the Grammy Museum.
Like Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen, Mellencamp has been able to mature through life and make music that reflects that passage.
No Better Than This is truly another leap forward for Mellencamp. The new disc, produced by T Bone Burnett, was recorded in three historic locations in the South: Savannah’s First African Baptist Church, Sun Studio in Memphis (used by Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley in the 1950s) and Room 414 of San Antonio’s Gunter Hotel where Robert Johnson recorded seminal blues tracks in the 1930s.
The Burnett-produced sessions were recorded using a single vintage microphone and a 55-year-old AMPEX 601 mono tape recorder. No Better Than This explodes with Mellencamp’s original songs incorporating country-styled blues, early folk and tinges of rockabilly and gospel. This isn’t music for the masses, but it is truly music that matters.
“The problem with music today is there is no moment to capture anymore,” Mellencamp said of the retro-approach to recording his new album, noting this was a project on the opposite side of the “fix it in the mix” mentality.
“Everybody was in the moment…it was a real joy to create the music.”
Musicians joining Mellencamp on the recording include Michael Wanchic (guitar), Miriam Sturm (violin), John Gunnell (bass), Dane Clark (drums), Troye Kinnett (accordion, keyboards) and Andy York (the guitarist who joined Mellencamp on stage at the Grammy Museum).
“It was fun to be a musician playing music once again,” Mellencamp said of the 13 songs recorded in a mere 13 days.
After more than an hour of discussion, and taking a few questions from the 200-person audience seated inside the intimate Clive Davis Theater, Mellencamp went through an acoustic-styled set of original material.
Opening with the first track on his new disc, the uplifting “Save Some Time to Dream,” he was cheered on when he briefly struggled to find the right chords on his acoustic guitar. But the rest of his brief set was flawless, including a stirring acappella version of “Cherry Bomb” boasting his authentic vocals and the tender acoustic ballad “Thinking About You” (one of the highlights on his new album).
He closed with a reflective “Small Town,” a song that showcases Mellencamp’s life-long love of his native rural Indiana.
He also promised those coming to see him open for Bob Dylan on Aug. 19 in nearby Ontario would see a performance stretching more than an hour.
Set list: Save Some Time to Dream / Cherry Bomb / Don’t Need This Body / Thinking About You / Small Town
John Mellencamp setlist:
1. Save Some Time to Dream
2. Cherry Bomb
3. Don't Need This Body
4. Thinking About You
5. Small Town