Interview with Jim Reeder
Singer/Songwriter/Actor Finds Successful Niche
Jim Reeder, singer/songwriter/actor talks about his transition from actor to one of the leading "oldies style" singers today, and his recent foray into the world of film/tv music. Jim also talks about his acting career, from stints on the soap operas "The Young & The Restless", "Days of Our Lives," and "General Hospital" to his work in film and the theatre. Jim has been one of the most successful artists on such internet sites as mp3.com, earning numerous #1 songs. A gifted musician and singer equally comfortable with hard rock and easy listening, Jim has found a unique niche with a dedicated audience.
[Fred Wheeler] Jim, you record in a variety of styles from soft pop to hard rock. How did you get into the "oldies" thing?
Jim Reeder Hey Fred - My personal tastes run a lot wider than oldies. But I learned as an actor it's good to create a niche for yourself. You actually want to be type cast. That way, if particular part comes up, then they think of you first.
Mp3.com helped me with this. I couldn't get very far in folk rock or classic rock or crooners/vocals, but boom, the minute I uploaded a couple of tunes into the newly created oldies genre, they started featuring me and I stayed in the top forty of those charts.
Personally, I think Rock and Roll Oldies sounds a lot cooler than being a crooner, so I'd rather be there and I just love that style of music anyhow. I think it fits my voice too.
[Fred Wheeler] Have you found a market for that style of music?
Jim Reeder Well, yes, to a certain degree. The boomers who have the income for music purchases like that style. There has been a growing list of Oldies format stations in the US and Europe in the last couple of years. I just found that Clear Channel owns 95 alone. By joining the online doowop groups I have a found a nice group of fans that look forward to the new releases.
[Fred Wheeler] Have you been getting some airplay with these "oldies?"
Jim Reeder In the glory days at Mp3.com, they had an agreement with Citadel, which is the second largest radio group next to Clear Channel. Mp3 would provide them with prepackaged radio shows, much as we hope to do with FAP someday. And what was really great was that Citadel has maybe 40 or 50 Oldies format stations and they were all playing my songs in a weekly show. Unfortunately this program ended. This was a situation where syndication across the country really worked for the artists rather than against them.
[Fred Wheeler] Where do you get your inspiration for writing that style of music?
Jim Reeder Boy, that comes easy for me, because I like the music to begin with, and I'm really comfortable with basic diatonic chords. Complex chords don't sound right to my ears. I also think my musical theatre background gives me an appreciation for melody.
[Fred Wheeler] Are your songs based on personal experiences and observations?
Jim Reeder Absolutely, Fred. Not always my own exact experience, but often the experiences of close friends. I like to write about dreams and supernatural events and I love to hear people's personal stories and insights in that arena. I think we all relate to these archetypes. Who hasn't had a dream about flying? Wasn't it exhilarating? Think of the universal metaphoric and symbolic content of that. A flying dream often symbolizes freedom or a new adventure in our lives.
[Fred Wheeler] What is your writing process like?
Jim Reeder Midnight, with a guitar and a tape recorder. Singing melodies in to the recorder. I think I write best at emotional times. The emotion doesn't have to relate to the song at all, but it helps me bypass the blocks and restraints of my practical, critical conscious mind and let the subconscious just flow. Late at night is the best.
[Fred Wheeler] Where do you do your recording?
Jim Reeder I used to do most of my recording with my friend Tom Manche in his studio. Sometimes we would do some prep work and basic tracks here at my house. Tom just moved to Nashville, so I am working hard at developing a system on my own. I also hope we will be able to work via Mp3 files in the future.
[Fred Wheeler] Are you using a computer-based recording system or something different?
Jim Reeder I've used everything from Sony two inch 24 track tape to ADATs and computer recording. Tom and I primarily used Digital Performer, running through a Mac G3.
At this time of course, I'm in a time of transition. I have been sequencing with a Yamaha QY100 and recording on ProTools with an Mbox through a Mac G4 tower.
[Fred Wheeler] Who do you work with in recording?
Jim Reeder Tom, and often my son Chris will come in to do drum kit or Latin percussion.
[Fred Wheeler] What instruments do you play?
Jim Reeder I play acoustic and electric guitar, bass, and the occasional string pad.
[Fred Wheeler] So are you playing most of the instruments on your recordings?
Jim Reeder Anything challenging, out front, and spectacular was played by Tom. He is a brilliant guitarist. I believe when recording, if possible, it's good to bring people in if you are not really great on an instrument. In LA the barter system is alive and well. I have paid people for their tracks by giving them swimming lessons and singing on their recordings.
That said and done, I do a surprising amount of rhythm guitar tracks and bass tracks. I felt it was good to push myself so I would improve in those areas. Songs like "Angel" and "Black Dancer" have a lot of Jim guitar in them, believe it or not.
[Fred Wheeler] Are you performing live?
Jim Reeder Only in my singing workshop at Theatre West with Betty Garrett moderating. She's got a great eye and ear and has been very helpful. You would remember her from playing Frank Sinatra's love interest in the MGM movie musicals "On the Town" and "Take Me Out To the Ballgame." Also, her ongoing roles on "All in the Family" and "Laverne & Shirley." Betty recorded for RCA in the forties and even though the technology is different, recording is recording and she has a lot to offer in that regard.
[Fred Wheeler] Any plans or interest in performing yours songs in clubs or other venues?
Jim Reeder I don't have any plans right now, Fred. I did the coffeehouse scene for a while, but there was no money there in LA, at least. I spent a summer singing in an Italian restaurant, but that was more for the experience of developing a solo act of 45 minutes of material. I will say they fed us a lot of great food.
[Fred Wheeler] You have had your music on the net for several years now. Has it helped your music career?
Jim Reeder Well, certainly I've reached a much wider audience than I expected. In terms of fame, sure it's helped, in a moderate way. In terms of money no, not really.
[Fred Wheeler] Do you see a positive future for the internet as a tool in promoting independent artists?
Jim Reeder Sure. Forget the dot.com meltdown. The Internet is still the future. And I think it's a great promotional tool. I think it's possible to get well known on the Internet, using a big site like Mp3.com and reach an audience comparable to being on a good indie label. Will we make money on the Internet? That's a different question. I don't think anyone's figured out how to do that in the music realm yet. But then do you make much money on an indie label?
[Fred Wheeler] What's the best thing that has happened as a result of having your music on the net?
Jim Reeder Many high points, Fred. Working with Nina and Zap and getting our song on the Billboard compilation CD was a high point. The concept of the freeaudioplayer community is very important to me as well. It's a place where I can hang with great quality musicians and learn and exchange ideas and support.
[Fred Wheeler] What was it like working with Nina and Zap? You have a completely different style of music. What interested you in combining such diverse styles?
Jim Reeder Working with Nina and Zap has been terrific. When they first reworked "Angel" I was floored. I thought it was the catchiest thing I'd ever heard. Our styles are completely different and yet they're not. We both write poppy, melodic stuff. The oldies songs work well for dance and trance because they have a lot of big melody and climactic moments. We felt a little vindicated when Elvis had that big dance remix hit this summer. I don't know how I got so lucky as to work with them, but it's been a blast. I see big things in the future for them. Nina is the best promoter I know, and has achieved a startling level of fame on the Internet. She is frequently in the press and on the radio on Sweden as well. I can't think of anyone who has used the Internet better to further her music career and she's successfully making the transition to the real world right now. Watch out!
I've also collaborated with DJLight which has been very enjoyable as well.
[Fred Wheeler] You are also an actor. How did you get into acting?
Jim Reeder Coming out of high school, I started having those close calls in the industry. I did a lot of theatre in high school and then through college and started showing up on small roles in the soaps while at UCLA.
[Fred Wheeler] What roles have you had on the soaps?
Jim Reeder First off, I was mainly a day player for most of my career. Still, you have to be pretty good to get called continuously at that level. As far as the more noticeable stuff, I had a recurring role as Brendan Welles on "General Hospital" and worked as Nico, Victor Kiriakis' bodyguard on "Days of Our Lives." Victor was played by Jennifer Aniston's dad, which is fun. I was up for three starring contract roles on the soaps, but never grabbed the brass ring. Still, there's always the future.
[Fred Wheeler] What have you done in the movies?
Jim Reeder I had a starring role in an indie comedy called "One Dozen" with a lot of fun actors such as Teresa Ganzel and Ted Lange from the "Love Boat." I did play guitar and sing a solo country western song in that movie. It was produced by Lloyd Schwartz who produced "Gilligan's Island" and the "Brady Bunch." Interestingly enough, we had one of the "Star Wars" producers on the show and it was the first movie to be shot entirely in the digital realm. Sony donated all the tape. The bad news is that it still sits on the shelf, and hasn't been released. Hollywood can be kind of frustrating.
[Fred Wheeler] What has been your favorite role?
Jim Reeder I did a couple of musical melodramas, one at Ford's Theatre in Washington D.C. and one here in LA, playing the good guy hero. Lots of fun and the audiences loved them. Ford's was interesting. We did over 100 shows there. Every night I would make my entrance right next to the door where Booth escaped to his horse in the alley. At each performance I would have to run underneath the theatre through a museum to make another entrance from the back of the house. Every time I would dash by a showcase that contained Lincoln's top hat with his blood still on it and the derringer that shot him.
[Fred Wheeler] Was this a singing role?
Jim Reeder Sure was, Fred. Some very nice songs too. One interesting challenge was that Ford's is a national landmark, so it has been restored to it's original condition. Meaning hand pulled ropes for flying scenery instead of electric motors, the original uncomfortable wicker chairs and no microphones. That was an unmiked show and we really had to project to fill the theatre, just like the old days.
[Fred Wheeler] Do you prefer theatre or film/tv work from an actor's perspective?
Jim Reeder I liked them both equally. I like being able to create a continuous character on stage, but the soaps shoot in a very theatrical style anyhow. You cover an hours worth of material every single day. When I first started on the "Young & the Restless" in 1979 (in a scene with Rick Springfield), it was shot like a live show, in real time. No second takes unless there was a huge train wreck. In other words, a half hour show was shot in a half hour.
[Fred Wheeler] Who was your favorite actor to work with?
Jim Reeder Will Smith on "Fresh Prince of Belair" went out of his way to make me feel welcome. I worked with Betty at Drury Lane in a benefit in London. Jim Reynolds on "Days of Our Lives" was always great to work with. One time I was doing a musical with Gordon MacRae and he heard me noodling on a prop guitar and told the pit orchestra to cut out and just have me accompany him for the intro to "Maria" in "Paint Your Wagon." Lots of great memories.
I had the opportunity to do a radio musical with Tyne Daly and Ed Asner. We worked on it for a week and they were both delightful to work with. I had a nice solo song where I also played guitar. It was called "Guns."
[Fred Wheeler] Are you still involved in acting?
Jim Reeder Not right now, but I don't rule out jumping back in someday. Now that I'm a gray haired guy, I'd be going for different roles and it might be fun.
[Fred Wheeler] What kind of music are you working on now?
Jim Reeder At this moment I've been enjoying working on some instrumental pieces to submit to film and TV. I sense another interesting collaboration coming on.
[Fred Wheeler] Are these instrumental pieces for film and tv?
Jim Reeder Yes, I think of TV and Film music as well as songwriting as the two best places for a musician in our age group to work. I'd love to get some credits there. Again I have a sense for melody and I think it fits well here. Lyrics were always difficult for me.
[Fred Wheeler] Is it tough to break into the film/tv music arena?
Jim Reeder Undoubtably. There is no area in show business that doesn't take determined effort over a period of years to break in.
[Fred Wheeler] What music do you prefer to listen to?
Jim Reeder Right now in my CD changer I have AQUA, Dwight Yoakum, the Brothers Cazimero (Hawaiian), the Righteous Brothers, and Suzy Boggus. I really do listen to a lot of oldies compilations. I just love them. DooWop, which was my passion this year, and just plain vocal harmony.
[Fred Wheeler] Did Neil Armstrong really walk on the moon, or was it a government plot shot in a Hollywood back lot?
Jim Reeder Neil really walked on the moon. We've done too much since then with the technology. I mean, look at Tang. Remember Tang? Developed for astronauts? And umm what, mylar? Seriously, if we can do GPS and space stations then we walked on the moon.
[Fred Wheeler] Outside of music, who or what has had the biggest influence on your life?
Jim Reeder My Dad, who passed away in 1981, my son Chris, who is now happily up at UC Berkeley, and my surrogate dad, Jim Wheaton, who just passed this summer. Jim guided me through life the last 8 or so years, patiently attended all my shows, and was a great shoulder to lean on. He was 78 this year. Jim had a great performing career. More than likely you would have seen his beautiful smile in commercials, including an AT&T one that aired during the Super Bowl recently. He had a great voice and was the voice of God in George Lucas' "THX 1138," the precursor to "Star Wars." Lucas apparently had selected his voice for Darth Vador, but Paramount stepped in and of course James Earl Jones did a wonderful job. My Dad, Chris, and Jim are always in my thoughts.
[Fred Wheeler] What is your favorite movie of all time?
Jim Reeder I really loved "Ghost."
[Fred Wheeler] You mentioned Frank Sinatra earlier. Are you a fan of his work?
Jim Reeder Yes and no. I'm not a fan of the lounge/Vegas style of music. I like the rock era much better, and greatly prefer Elvis, Roy Orbison and that style. However, I am a huge fan of his acting! If you look at his work now, it has aged very well. He was way ahead of his time as a natural actor. I've talked to Betty about working with him, and she said at the time he seemed very restrained. But he knew what he was doing and stuck to his guns and his work looks great on the screen. A fine instinctive actor.
[Fred Wheeler] Did you catch the tram?
Jim Reeder I most certainly did. With you, Jimmy, Doc (and his resonator guitar), Remo, and Joey in Las Vegas. I think I've caught the tram of life as well.