You Can't Keep THESE Dogs on the Porch!
An Interview with Bernie Taupoin of Farm Dogs
Though their recent appearance at Boston's Paradise Rock Club (the site of New England Patriot Quarterback Drew Bledsoe's 'stage dive') was painfully under-attended, Bernie Taupin seems determined to make his new project, "The Farm Dogs," a success. However, he is also set on making it big as a member of the band while keeping promotion of his participation in the group to a minimum. Unfortunately, unlike a highly-visible David Bowie "hiding" amid Tin Machine, Taupin has most often been an in-the-shadows participant to begin with, especially when compared to his flamboyant musical partner Elton John. Though Taupin's goal is to "eradicate the 'Bernie Taupin' tag" and "to get rid of that advertisement that says 'Farm Dogs featuring Bernie Taupin' or 'Bernie Taupin and Farm Dogs'," the lack of such publicity has thus far effected a lack of knowledge and a lack of concert-goers. Fortunately, Farm Dog fans are extremely devoted and dedicated and the band responds with full-force performances worthy of much larger crowds.
In 1996, Bernie Taupin was offered the opportunity to produce what would have been his fourth solo album. Unfortunately for the managers of Taupin's label, Sire Records, Taupin "didn't want to make another solo record."
"At this point in my life," he explained, "I think I really need to be given the opportunity to make the record I want to make and [to] make the kind of music I want to make."
Realizing the possibilities, Sire allowed Bernie the opportunity and, with the help of long-time friends Jim Cregan and Robin LeMesurier (both alumni of Rod Stewart's touring band), "The Farm Dogs" were born.
Having recorded their first album, Last Stand In Open Country, in a live, round-the-campfire setting, Bernie, Jim and Robin enlisted the assistance of Sheryl Crow bassist Tad Wadhams and a third Rod Stewart alum, ex-Baby drummer Tony Brock to record their latest release Immigrant Sons.
For most of the band members, the ties between them are long-standing and strong. As a member of Family, Cregan used to open for Bernie and Elton on their American tours in the 1970's. Taupin has long considered LeMesurier "one of the most underrated guitarists in the world" and was overjoyed to add his dear friend to the line-up. As for Brock, Taupin considers him (along with Kenny Aronoff and Charlie Watts) one of his "three favorite drummers." Though Taupin has only known bassist Tad Wadhams for a year-and-a-half or so, he claims that he feels as if he had known Tad for years. "It's like an old glove," he says (in as complementary a tone as he can). "There's tremendous camaraderie here. We have a lot of fun together and we're very good friends and our friendship holds it together and I think makes us a better band!...It's not a Pearl Jam angst-driven kind of situation....We have a lot of fun on stage!"
And they do! Prowling the stage like a cloned set of Glimmer Twins, Taupin and LeMesurier poke fun at each other and their band mates (especially the rhythm section!). Though persistent, the good-naturedness of this inter-band joshing is undeniable and makes for comic relief between sometimes weighty songs.
According to Taupin, The Farm Dogs have been called "a mix between The Band and The Faces (or The Band with Faces attitude!)." With their Rod Stewart band line-up, inclusion of the latter in comparison is of little surprise. However, many might not expect a group of true immigrant sons to be put in the same sentence (let alone the same musical genre) as one of America's rootsiest rock bands. Somehow, Taupin and The Dogs pull it off!
"English players have always played American music," Taupin explains, "back to The Beatles and The [Rolling] Stones. That's all they used to play. So it's not really that unusual." Unlike many of his fellow British invaders, however, Taupin claims that he and his band-mates "are creating our own American music rather than copying it."
A long-time resident and citizen of the United States, Taupin has had a good while to view and form opinions about America. With the help of his talented continental friends, Taupin is speaking his mind about his adopted homeland by way of the palette of traditional American roots music.
"This is roots rock and roll," Taupin explains. "And the closest I've ever come to doing that with other people was probably on the Tumbleweed Connection album with Elton [John] back in the early 70's."
But not that he's complaining...
"I don't know if it's old-fashioned, but I'm pretty much of a traditionalist when it comes to the kind of music I like. I like roots rock and roll. I like Springsteen and Tom Petty and at the same time I love people like Tom Waits and John Hiatt." Taupin says, "I have always preferred this kind of...Americana music- Roots music, but it's also fun to work in other areas. That's why I love doing what I do with Elton. Yes, it's more 'mainstream,' but it's also a challenge and challenges are what keeps us all going. I like being challenged. It's fun and it keeps you on your toes!"
In addition to Springsteen, Petty, Waits and Hiatt, Taupin claims Brownie McGhee, Sonny Terry, Johnny Cash, and Marty Robbins as influences. With these American masters in mind, it is easy to see how Taupin concocted his authentic front-porch sound. When asked where he gets his lyrical ideas from, Taupin cites his stimulating studio setting in California's Ynez Valley.
"I've always been inspired by California," Taupin explains. "Where I live is probably one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen in my life! And it's great because where we record it's not like your constrictive city studio where you seem confined to darkness and daylight is never seen. I don't think that would work for our music and I think that's why our music comes across the way it does because when we record, all we see is rolling hills and wildlife and horses and dogs, so it's a much more free-form situation to be in."
Not only is the setting relaxing and productive, but the self-scheduling enhances the end result as well. "We make our time and we make our own hours," Taupin says. "We're not dictated to by the clock, so I think that allows us to get more laid-back. We're very diligent in our work and we work long and hard, but we also have the luxury of a beautiful surrounding to inject us with the passion within to create."
"This is a dream come true for me," Taupin exclaims, "to be able to create this music with musicians that I respect and love as people!"
Known for his lyrical collaborations with the likes of Elton John, Taupin also had a hand in the musical composition of Immigrant Sons. "I still write the lyrics beforehand," Taupin admits, "but we all sit around and work on them together and I interject with melodic ideas. I can sing a line. I can help to dictate how I feel the song should be going- what direction it should be going. But also, I make sure that the guys read through everything and that they understand the songs and they agree with the sentiments in the songs. So it's a much more democratic situation like that."
"It's fun writing with these guys," Taupin says, "because I can give them my melodic ideas and we just work along those lines." The results, he claims, are "a million miles away from anything I've ever done with anybody else. "
When asked why he chose this point in his career to express these musical messages, Taupin simply claims that "there's a time and place for everything and this seemed to be the right time and place." In fact, he claims, "it was the perfect opportunity [and] the perfect time!" going on to add that, more than a good opportunity, "This is my own particular dream achieved!"
In comparing this chapter of his illustrious career to earlier ones, Taupin is hard-pressed to define one as "more satisfying" than another.
"I find the stuff I do with Elton extremely satisfying," Taupin emphatically asserts. "[Elton] has an extraordinary knack of sort of subconsciously knowing what I'm thinking as far as how I feel about the musical content. So," Taupin reasons, "it's different but it' still satisfying," concluding, "I wouldn't do something if it wasn't (sic) satisfying to me."
Though he finds his own music very enjoyable and worth while, Taupin is not so pleased with the way it is being distributed and disseminated. In fact, he considers modern radio to be constrictive and perhaps even counter-productive.
"I think the sad thing about radio," he says, "is that it's so restricted to formats. I think formats are too short. Everything is put in boxes. I think that the whole format of playing the same record over and over again is a little distressing. I think that radio could use a little kick in the ass. There's no doubt about that!"
When asked for a solution, Taupin explains, "Radio definitely needs to get more adventurous and inventive. It's become stagnant. Especially the play lists. The play lists have become so constricted, it's sort-of depressing. There's a lot of great music out there and there's a lot of great music that's not getting the opportunity to be heard because of formats. It's unfortunate that so many great artists and great songs are going by the wayside. That's a shame because the music is out there."
Despite his strong feelings about the sad state of the music industry, Taupin is not convinced that all is lost.
"The great thing," Taupin says, "is that there seems to be something for everybody. And that's good! At the same time," he adds, "there seems to be a lot of overflow and--I don't know if it's 'one-hit wonders'-- but there isn't a lot of character in the new bands at the moment. They all seem to blend into one and all sound the same."
When asked what he would like to do next, Taupin declares his desire to "keep going with Farm Dogs as long as people will let us make records and will listen to us. I love this band with a passion. But I also want to do lots of other things too. You have to take little vacations from each other every once in a while, so there's always room to do other things. And hopefully," Taupin concludes, "I'll be doing them for a long time to come."