Marc Jordan interview, January, 2006
By Georg Forchhammer.
He became a part of the west coast music world with the albums Mannequin & Blue Desert, and many other great albums has been released since then. Marc Jordan has written many songs and he continues to deliver fantastic material, not only to himself, but to many other artists also. Georg Forchhammer from Blue Desert took a moment with Marc Jordan to catch up on the career and much more.
You recorded your first album,”Mannequin”, in 1978. How did you get signed up with not only Warner Bros., but also the legendary producer Gary Katz and a lot of the musicians who worked with Steely Dan?
I did some recordings for CBC radio in Canada and used them as demos for LA. Gary Katz heard them and signed me right away. I went down to LA and Gary had lined up the usual guys he used on Steely Dan and they were the best players in town also Donald Fagan came in and worked on a few of the songs and that was a thrill for me
How was it working with those guys?
They were wonderful to work with and made me feel right at home.
You had 2 minor hits with “Survival” and “Living in Marina del Rey”. What were your expectations for a musical career after your first album?
The first record did OK but not great everywhere and Warner’s sent me back to do another record, this time with Jay Graydon.
On your first albums, you wrote all the songs yourself. When did you start writing songs?
I started writing when I was about 15 after I heard Bob Dylan
When you grew up, your father, who was a singer himself, introduced you to all kinds of music. Is there any artist in particular who inspired you to start writing songs?
Bob Dylan and the Beatles.
Already one year after “Mannequin” your recorded “Blue Desert”, produced by Jay Graydon (who actually plays guitar on “Mannequin” even though he isn’t mentioned in the cover notes). This album is considered to be one of the finest west coast albums from that time.
What surprises me is that there is only one year between your to first albums, because the melodies are very much different. To me, the songs on “Mannequin” sound like guitar based compositions, where as the songs on “Blue Desert” sound much more as if they written on the piano, with much jazzier harmonies. (This is becoming quite a long question…)
Did you write the “Blue Desert” songs after having recorded “Mannequin”, or were these songs just lying in another pile of songs?
I wrote Blue Desert right after Mannequin. I had been studying some jazz Guitar in Toronto and I think the songs reflect that, also Jay comes from a bee bop background and is very much a smooth Jazz artist.
In an interview from 1997, I read that you were never quite satisfied with your 3rd studio album, “Hole in the walls”, because it was the first time you wrote song together with other songwriters. However, almost all of your songs since then have been co-written with other songwriters.
Talking about co-writers, you started writing songs with John Capek, whom you met back in the 70ies, for your 1987 album, “Talking through pictures”. As a songwriter, John Capek describes you as one who takes many risks and follows and unorthodox path, especially with your lyrics. He also says that your collaboration is based on creative trust meaning that you stretch and experiment without fear of being criticized. Do you agree in that description?
It took a while to learn how to co write. I was not used to it and it took some time to find the right partners, John Capek and I had a lot of success together, I think we brought out the best in each other. Also John was not afraid to take risks. He would try anything that felt right and that inner voice is what separates good writers from great writers
Another great songwriter and guitarist, Bruce Gaitsch, simply describes you as a genius, and working with you is based on exchanging musical ideas until a song is ready. As I se it, it seems that co-writing is essential for you in the making of new songs.
I love co writing now because I like to concentrate on words and melody. Bruce Gaitsch and I wrote some wonder songs because we trusted each other and he was very spontaneous and knew when a song was done just right and not over cooked.
The biggest musical change in your career came after the 2 albums “Talking through pictures” (’87) and “C.O.W.” (’90). 3 years later, you recorded “Reckless Valentine”, a totally new jazzy, folk inspired and much more acoustic album, which has defined your musical since then. What caused this change of style?
I went to a party north of LA and an old Broadway writer was there named Sammy Fain, they asked him to play some of his Broadway hits and he sat at the Piano and played for an hour or more, lots of songs that we all knew. Sammy was 86 then and I realized that night that my records where becoming way over produced and that I needed to get back to simple song writing that did not rely on production for its life and meaning, that’s why I wrote Reckless Valentine and all the CD’s since. It was a great lesson.
The next album,”Cool jam black earth”, from 1996, follows the musical line from “Reckless Valentine”, though not so jazzy. The album title song is a kind of poem accompanied by this kind of spooky, laid back jazz tune. How did you get the idea for that song?
I like doing poetry and I had written cool jam black earth and vibe-wise it felt like it wanted to cross fade in to a song and that song seemed to fit.
You co-wrote the song “Beautiful disguise” with Cliff Magness. Actually, you recorded a whole album together with him a few years earlier. How come it was never released?
Not sure why the record was not released, my recollection is that it was not totally finished, Cliff is one of my favourite people to write with, his talent is incredible, and he’s a wonderful person.
You recorded the song “Catch the moon” that originally was on your album “Talking through picture” from 1987. The new version is very much different from the original. What motivated you to do this song again?
I always got asked to do catch the moon on TV shows here in Canada, on one show I just played it on guitar and it sounded cool and it got people asking why I didn’t do a version like that, very simple. And so I did.
On your album “This is how men cry” you also re-recorded the song “I must have left my heart, originally from “Reckless Valentine”, in a version more jazzy and laid back but still blending perfectly with Toots Tielemans’ fantastic harmonica solo that also was on the first version. You couldn’t possibly have been unsatisfied with the first version of the song?
I liked both versions of the song but I wanted to cut it live with the band and so I tried it and it worked. Toots gave me lots of different solos on reckless valentine, so I used a slightly different take for the new version.
Already a year after “Cool jam..”, the album “Live – now & then” is released. For a period of almost 15 years, you didn’t perform live, so what expectations did you have when you returned to the live scene again?
It was fun to play live again, the whole time I was in L.A. I didn’t do any concerts, so it was great to play but it was harder in some ways then I remembered, the good thing was in the 15 years the sound systems had improved dramatically and that was cool.
In 1997 you performed at the west coast music festival in Paris. Was it a different experience to play in front of a European audience compared to back home?
Europeans listen much harder to music, they are more educated about pop and jazz and they take it more seriously than Americans do
Have you ever thought of touring in Europe? (Please say ‘yes’ :-)).
I’d love to come to Europe and play. I just don’t know the right promoters to talk to, if anyone knows one let me know.
A few years ago, you and 3 of Canada’s finest singer / songwriters, Ian Thomas, Murray Mclauchan and Cindy Church, came together live in “Lunch at Allen’s”. One of the results of that is a wonderful DVD concert with great songs from all of you. How is it performing with 3 other songwriters when you are used to just playing your own songs?
It’s fantastic, the most fun I’ve ever had gigging, they are great friends great writers and I enjoy being a side man for part of the night, we are just about to go into the studio and cut a cd, which should be out by spring.
You also wrote a song together, “Perfect world”. A great song with a chorus that has – in my ears – a kind of Eric Clapton / Paul McCartney thing about it. Have you written more songs together, or maybe planned to do so (subsequently releasing an album together)?
It may happen.
Talking about song writing; on the interview on the “Lunch at Allen’s” DVD you say that song writing to you is pretty much a “9 to 5” work – not in the sense that it’s like working in a factory, of course, but that must mean that you have a huge pile of songs lying around, or what?
Oh yes I have lots of songs. I try to write every day or do something related to writing, it’s my life
Somewhere on the internet I’ve read a description of you saying: A great songwriter with a minor recording career. How do you feel about that?
It’s true to an extent, although my songs have been on about 40.000.000 cd’s my own Marc Jordan cd’s have a modest fan base of more serious listeners who are very important to me.
For the last 20 years or so you have released an album approximately every 3rd year. Statistically that means that we might expect a new album from you within a year or two. Can you reveal anything about your (hopefully) next album?
You’re right. I’m starting to write another cd and I’ll get started recording this year.
Just one last thing: A comment on our website and the fact that we named it after your legendary album.
Great site and I’m flattered you used Blue Desert as the title. I thought of the name when I lived in Malibu and the ocean reminded me of the desert where we shot the cover for that record.