Bob and Hilary James – They are “Flesh and Blood”

{When the current international crisis began, I was speaking to a friend of a mine. I expressed that I was finding my role as head of a faith community and leader of a project helping the homeless quite a burden and was wondering what else I could do that would make a contribution and that would add a little variety to my own situation.

It was suggested that I put on my wordsmith’s hat on and open up my list of contacts and approach some people who were also struggling in their own ways and who might be willing to submit to an interview. This, in turn, would give their audience something to read, to offer entertainment and perhaps make them think.

One of the first people to say “yes” to this prospect was the jazz keyboardist, Bob James who is perhaps best known for “Angela” which became the theme to the TV show, “Taxi”.

The process so far has taught me two things:

  1. Things never quite go according to your first notion
  2. Getting a spoken interview transcribed is not what it once was. Twenty years ago, if I did an interview, the newspaper or magazine I was freelancing for would simply pass it to a professional transcriber with a headset and it would be done very exactly and very quickly. These days, most transcription is done by computer software (a lot of which I have found is very inaccurate) and takes forever to fix or can be offered to a freelance transcriber who charge extortionate rates. After several attempts that I was dissatisfied with, I hit upon Happy Scribe (who I am happy to recommend: https://www.happyscribe.co/) The whole process has been painful but a little less than three weeks later here we are.

My initial idea for an interview with Mr James was to look at different periods of his lengthy career. This didn’t come together so well but then he said something about he had been glad of my positive comments in the past about his projects with his daughter, jazz and pop vocalist, Hilary James. I mentioned something about this to Hilary and we agreed that we would do an interview about the album she did with her father, “Flesh and Blood”. That seemed like a great idea and within the hour, Bob was on board to take part in the interview too.

With my apologies for this lengthy preamble, here are the (even lengthier) highlights of my interview with Bob James and Hilary James about that album.}

(Logically, it follows that comments marked Bob J are from Bob James, Hilary J from Hilary James and DH is your humble scribe…

DH: So, I was thinking about this album… I’ve been listening to it again recently, and I didn’t want start with something that is negative but I have to say that one thing is that I don’t find vocal tracks on contemporary jazz albums very appealing and I expect them to be there to seek out crossover possibilities and radioplay. And then this album, Flesh and Blood came along and just absolutely blew me away because it seemed to me that here was an album of songs that maintained a consistent jazz and funk sensibility and really worked…

Bob J: Maybe when you were listening to Flesh and Blood, you were hoping there wouldn’t be an instrumental track to the free flow?

DH: Well, it certainly worked as a complete album, which some of those other albums didn’t. And secondly, it had a singer who was capable of inhabiting and owning these songs on a level that perhaps went way beyond being sounding like a guest vocalist on the better-known artist’s record. And the fact that the singer and the musician, the primary musician, were from the same family to me was just amazing…

So, having finished rambling on about my perspective, here’s my first question…

Whose idea was it to make this record?

Hilary J:  It was my dad

Bob J. What came to my mind was, I think, it was Nick Nicholas which is pretty obscure name. But we had a family friend – this man’s wife was one of Hilary’s mother’s social friends. And he rose up in the business world to eventually become the CEO of Time Warner. So, OK, he was a big business guy. And in that role, he was a businessman. But he also was the big boss of Warner Brothers. He was watching my career that I was doing pretty well at that time with Warner Brothers. And one of our conversations, as I recall, was about Hilary. Please do correct me if I’ve got a timeline wrong. But he said, “well, when are you going to do something with Hilary?” And I didn’t have a good reason not to. She was pursuing more of a career in theatre at that time. But in New York. But Nick just kind of put it flatly to me. “Come on, Bob. You know what? You’ve got to do something”. I think that was sure the right way of it.

Hilary J: Yeah, I got I had forgotten the part about Nick Nicholas prodding you to do it. I do remember that I was doing absolutely nothing to do with singing, recorded music or jazz or anything like that. I was 100 percent at that point in New York living and doing making my way in the theatre. And I had just done a production of The Fantasticks (a theatre show written by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt) that took me to Japan with I was playing the lead role of Luisa. And that was a really exciting experience. That’s all I had ever done, was do theatre. That’s what I went to college for. And when I came back, they offered me the national tour in the U.S. of that show with Robert Goulet playing the male lead role. And I was kind of back and forth and undecided about it. I had just gotten married at the time. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go out on a bus and truck tour, heading to different cities every night and all that.

And at that point, we had a conversation. I remember that and I remember it was on the phone. I was in the kitchen of my apartment and you said, I think it’s time we do something together. And it was kind of the thing that made me go, oh, okay, I think I want to go a different direction. I will try something different. And it’s funny to hear you say, Darren, that, you know, there was this confidence about something like “Flesh and Blood” and something so right that it was a jazz album with a singer. Because I really was such a fish out of water at the time that we did that, I mean, I had nothing at that point in my life that had prepared me at all for the experience of going in the recording studio and making a record and it was a struggle. My sound at that time was very much a theatrical type of sound. I was very nervous, and I heard my voice on recordings that it was too loud or too theatrical for a better sense of the word. And really that album was me getting my feet wet in the world of recorded music and certainly in the world of jazz, even I grew up with it all my life with my father in the house. I really had never done anything like that.  It’s great to hear that it came off as well as it did for you.

DH: Do you think that the reason that I found that kind of freshness might be because you didn’t have any kind of presuppositions about how it should be done and therefore you were coming at it without being over-loaded by your own expectations?

Hilary J: Well, perhaps but more than that I think there was a real wonderful gathering of human beings on that album, and I was just looking back through it and comparing it to the experiences that we have more recently with making records. And I happen to be married to a man now who is quite gifted at using synths and synthesized, sampled instruments to make music that sounds like an orchestra. But at the time, we had real musicians – a lot of really great ones. We recorded a lot of this in our home, the vocals, and the piano almost entirely at home, and my Dad and I were performing at the same time. You know, I was in a closet that we had fashioned into a vocal booth. And my dad would be out at the real piano and we would be listening to each other… and we were really synced into each other and the family connection. And I think there was just something magical about that, that connection between the two of us that that to me, more than anything else, is what makes the record have a cohesive feel to it.

DH: One of my favourite musicians who is on the record is the bass player. Pino Paladino, who I first came across in a very different genre of music back in 1982. He was working with Gary Numan, who is an English electronica star. You may not be aware of him as he has had only a little success in the U.S.  But Pino Paladino worked with him on an album called I, Assassin and for my money he is one of the greatest bassists of the modern era. He plays on almost every track of this. And I don’t think he’s worked on anything else with Bob. How did he come to be involved?

Bob J: I know this. It was from Michael Colina. It was his idea to bring him in, I believe.

Hilary J: He was our producer or more correctly one of our co-producers at the time. And I believe Pino at that point was playing with Elton John on and off. My dog is having a meltdown. And (dog bounds into room!) I’m sorry. I have a very furry house, Darren. I have several animals that live with me here, not including my including my immediate family. But I think that’s right. you weren’t familiar with Pino’s work, were you Dad?

Bob J: No, it was very definitely Michael Colina’s suggestion and I was not familiar with him because I had my New York guys that I was working with all the time. And primarily the first thing that came back to my mind when you brought up this name was that I think I was the one that had to tell him to go out on our balcony to smoke because he was a pretty heavy smoker at that time. And I didn’t want him smoking in my house. I’m sorry, Pino, to say that. and for that to be what I remembered first. But I also remember his amazing playing very much, very different, coming from a different place as a musician than the guys that I was working with in New York at that time. In my memory, he didn’t have that much, if at all, of a jazz reputation, and his reputation was much more as one of the top pop guys…

Hilary J: Yeah, he had a certain sound, it wasn’t a funk sound of style, which is why he wasn’t on, in my memory some, of the more funk orientated tracks on the album. But I think he’s a huge part of why “Storm Warning” was as magical as it was, because he could just get this bendy, sexy warm sound- he makes his bass really talk almost. It sounds like it’s talking.

Yeah, it’s funny when we do Storm Morning together, which we do a lot when we perform together, because it’s sort of the song that people associate most with me and my dad together. And the bass players always want to get that first line exactly as Pino played it in on the album. And it’s always the thing we spend the most time on. And it is important to that song to get that that sound that Pino has. And when it’s there, it’s just so magical.

Bob J: He’s playing in the cracks, too. He’s not right on the beat. exactly. He’s somewhere in this magic land that’s almost impossible to duplicate, I remember when we went on our tour with just the two of us. We didn’t have a band trying to recreate that intro. Just playing it on the piano was always very awkward for me because the piano can’t sing that same way as Pino did.

DH: Pino has gone on to do much more rock orientated things. He’s worked with all kinds of people – recently, I think with The Who. I think he is an amazing bass player. And I wish he would have also pursued more jazz-flavoured things It would have been really interesting to see where he would have gone with that.

Hilary J: It was so fun. It was like a fantasy in a way in terms of the people that we got to play on it. And looking at the credits again today, this morning before we began  because I think that Michael Colina was very conscious of wanting to honour the traditions that my dad had already established with the musicians that he used and his sound, but also bring me into the picture and create a new sound and begin to launch for me. what might become my career. And because I was a little bit more pop – interested in pop, he wanted to bring in some different sounds as well. And we would just pick people that we thought we’d heard on another album, a pop album and say, well, maybe we could get them. I was a big Shawn Colvin fan at the time. And John Leventhal played guitar for us – I think he was her boyfriend at the time but anyways, he was playing on all her tracks. And we just said it would be a dream if we could get him. And somehow it just came together, and we got him.

Bob J: Those were very much your suggestions. I hadn’t met any of those people or heard their work. I didn’t know any of those people.

Hilary J: And then there was Manu Katche, who was a drummer who both Michael and I really loved. Well, what if we could get him? And then he said, yes, I’ll do it. So, it was kind of this exciting experiment and going back to Pino – he was one of those people that we thought, well, he doesn’t even live in the US. – he’s not even here all the time, so that’s going to be impossible. And then the situation worked out. He happened to be in New York, I believe, at the time, and Marion (Orr) I think got a hold of him. And he said, sure, I’ll do it. He come up to Ardsley, where my parents lived at the time. And it was just kind of a lot of things happen with that album that were sort of wonderful looking back on it now

DH: Going on to the songwriting side of things, I guess it’s one of the few albums that Bob has recorded where most of the songwriting is done by other people. How did that choice come about?

Hilary J: I could take that

Bob J: you take it.

Hilary J: Well, again, going back to the idea that it was going to be a vocal album. That was not necessarily the majority of the work that my dad was known for at that time, although he did have associations with Kenny Loggins and some other vocalists. But we were hoping, like anybody at that point, to maybe have, you know, a hit or maybe something that would crossover. So, we went to Warner Chappell at the time just shopping for songs, Michael (Colina) and ourselves – and you have to bear in mind that I was not a songwriter at that time at all. In fact, although I’d attempted a few things I was very insecure about my writing. I just never felt good about it. It wasn’t my world. And actually, my dad, the two songs I believe on there that we co-wrote together were very much him prodding me. “You have to get some songs on this album”. “You are a good writer”. “We can do this; we’ll do it together”. He really nurtured me along as a very, very young, inexperienced songwriter at the time.

And I should I guess tell the Storm Warning story, which is kind of the most interesting songwriting story of the project. We were shopped that song by Warner Chappell Publishing Company. And we fell in love with the song and we knew this was going to be, you know, a great song for us for this album. We recorded it. We absolutely loved it. We were so excited. It was gonna be our single, and we got a call from Warner Chappell after we’d recorded what was already gonna be on the album, and they said that Bonnie Raitt had decided to cut it. And apparently, they had shopped the song to her for her previous album. And she didn’t record it. She didn’t end up recording it, but she still had the song, the demo of it in her collection of demos. And so, she decided to record it on her next album that was coming out without going back and telling Warner Chappell. So, they had released it to us. We recorded it. So, now Bonnie Raitt who at time was huge – she had just won Grammys for her “I Can’t Make You Love Me” song. And this was her follow up album to that. So, we were just heartbroken. What are we going to do? What are we going to do? How can we compete with that and this genius (Bob) stepped in and said because he had an album, the Restless album, his own album. that was about to come out before ours and before Bonnie’s. And he said, let’s mix it, let’s master it, let’s put it on the Restless album and we’ll put it out first. And that way we can always say we had the first version of it out before Bonnie Raitt did. And then we also opposite also came out on our album about six months later. But, yeah, the songs, we had an interesting assortment of people that we pulled material from.

Bob J: Could I chime in to say that the Storm Warning aspect of it that was the most frustrating to me, is that given that I’m Hilary’s father, I can’t ever say that I’m objective but when I was getting ready to listen to Bonnie Raitt’s recording of that song for the first time, I was extremely nervous because Bonnie Raitt was huge and we all loved her. She’s just an amazing artist. And we all thought that that song would be great for her, too. But when I listen to it. I’m sorry, Bonnie, but it just wasn’t all that special. And it proved not to be that special on her album either because, yes, she’s Bonnie Raitt and she’s good but Hilary nailed it. It was really her song. And every time I would talk about it, I would refer to that that that essentially trying to say it tactfully or whatever, that Hilary blew Bonnie away on that song. And there was no contest. But I did sometimes get the reply that well, Bob, of course you think so, because you’re her dad. Well, Darren. I’m telling you right now and again, however many years later, I was right. I know I’m so right.  And I am objective about it.

Hilary J: Thanks, Dad.

Bob J; You’re welcome.

DH: Thinking about Storm Warning. The songwriting credit is partially to a guy whose surname is Britten. Is that Terry Britten?

Bob J: Yes.

Hilary J: One of the same composers that wrote the big hit for Tina Turner, “What’s Love got to do with it”.

DH: And also, well known in the UK as a songwriter for our senior citizen rock ‘n’ roller, Sir Cliff Richard… I want to come to two tracks that are my absolute favourite songs on the album. One of them is the song that was built around the ee cummings’ poem. Whose idea was that? I mean that was just on the face of it was such an unusual idea

Bob J: I take credit for it. I kind of don’t remember how it all got started but I was and still am a major ee cummings’ fan. And we were exploring lots of uncharted territory in different directions. And Hilary and I both have an eclectic background as she already describes her work in the theatre. We both are lovers of classical music and whatever. So, I don’t remember exactly why we chose that particular poem. But yeah, when I think back on the combination of the fact that we use an ee  cummings’ poem. and we’ve got Luther Vandross singing. It’s a pretty crazy combination of things that frankly, Darren, at that time I was probably thinking that that would be one of the tunes that would take us off the pop charts and off the radio –  that it was too weird and that maybe people wouldn’t accept it.

Hilary J: Yeah, growing up with my father, I can tell you, Darren, he always has a project. He always has an idea and a project and a concept and some of them are out there and some of them are right on. And so, when we pour out my memory of presenting that poem as an idea that would we a pop song – trying to write something that would be on the radio. I remember thinking, wow, okay, whatever. But he’s been right before, and we just started to delve into it. And I understand exactly your thought that to me, it was the least likely to be anything that would be something people would grab on to. And then somehow, just between the cast of characters that we got involved in it, it ended up being so funky. And when I listen back to it now, I think that’s one of my favourite cuts on the album, too. Now, it really holds up in a way that I never would have anticipated going into it,

DH: I think it’s partially the unpredictability of it, which in itself makes it worthwhile. But then the fact that it overcomes that unpredictability and works so, so well, Again, I’m a huge ee cummings’ fan myself. And when I first heard that, I just thought. I’m really not sure how anybody would be so left field to imagine doing this.

Bob J: Well, I was nervous at that time about whether we would even be able to get the rights to do it. In fact, I don’t remember exactly how we went about getting the rights to make sure we weren’t sued by his estate. But apparently, we must have. And also, I remember that that was definitely one of those ideas that tried to push you out of your comfort zone or out of your habitual way of thinking in a conventional way. His rhyme schemes or the rhythm of his poetry is so different from what a popular song would be that it forces the music to go into a different direction.

Hilary J: And working with my dad on this project, it was always, I think, for him about pushing me to be outside of my comfort zone and to mould me and bring me into a new world. And it was always a challenge between vocals where I would say, man, I’m in that booth. And I think I nailed that. And then he hit the talkback and his voice would come and he’d say “thank you but let’s do it again. I think you could dig in a little bit more, Hilary”, and I’d dig in a little bit more. You can, try and try to do some but then it needed a little more push to bring out the best performance. And it was challenging for me for sure. But I think that that’s the way you work with me. But that’s also the way you work as a producer in general. I think even when I’ve observed you with other artists, you’re never really comfortable with just sort of saying, okay, yeah, yeah, we all know you can do that. But what if I gave you this ee cummings’ poem? Can you make that into a pop song? That’s a very much your kind of thing. And it’s brilliant in that it’s when you throw somebody off their game, you’re taking a risk there. Maybe it’ll fail, but in my experience, and particularly in that case, more often than not, it kind of knocks people out of their boring zone. And that’s when the really cool, creative stuff happens. And then, of course, on that tune I notice – I’d said Pino Palladino doesn’t play on some of the funkier tunes, but – that was Pino on that tune. So, go figure. You know that from Storm warning and that shows you his range and  his talent, and the depths of it.

And also, that’s Manu Katche who play the drums and I think that’s a lot of the success of the track. That’s a really cool feel to which the two of them bring toit.

Bob J:  I’ll add to what you were describing about our process and how I was pushing you. Because I think at that time your studio recording experience was kind of minimal and your performance ethic was to get it “right”. Like you would in the theatre – that there’s  a correct way. But in the end, my feeling about getting you into the recording mindset was trying a whole bunch of stuff is the way to go, because if you just leave it there, there is no correct way to do it. There’s just a lot of ways. So, try this way and try that. You’re looking for some magic that didn’t exist before. And the studio is so powerful that if you have a good engineer just capturing every single moment, you’ll find those surprize ones are the gems that you are always looking for.

Hilary J: Yeah, and I’m experiencing this now with my own daughter. Darren. My daughter is 18. She’s hopefully about to go to Berkeley in the Fall. And she’s a songwriter and she’s a singer. And we have a studio in our home, and we do some recordings with her. And I get the same resistance from her and I get all the stuff that I’m sure I was giving (Bob) at the time when we were making this album. And I find myself in the position you were in and saying the same things to her and I think I must sound exactly like you. And I can remember how frustrating it was when it was me on her end. But now with the gift of, you know, hindsight, I can say it was the right thing to do. But I also remember how intimidating it was. It really was intimidating for me. I really felt out of my depth at times. Here I was surrounded by these heavy hitter musicians. And I mean, not the least of which is my father, who I wanted to impress, and I wanted to not disappoint. And it was really intense emotionally, but a great period of growth, too.

DH: I saw the video that you posted the other day of yourself. Kevin (husband) and Ava (daughter) doing the new song you’d recorded. And over the last couple of years, I’ve seen the little bits of things that you’ve posted of Ava singing at school and things of this kind. And she’s obviously a continuation of some James family tradition of musical ability. So, you must be very proud.

Bob and Hilary J: Thank you we are

DH: So, before I move on to the other song, I particularly wanted to ask you about, you’ve mentioned the thing about the father / daughter kind of atmosphere in the studio. One of the things that strikes me about some of these songs is that they are quite romantic. They are at times quite passionate. And as I said at the very beginning of the interview, Hilary inhabits those songs very, very much. Now, I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like to get inside those songs with your dad present. I don’t think if I if my daughter was a singer. I don’t think she could do that. How did that kind of back and forth work between the two of you?

Hilary J: Well, I can say from my perspective, the first thing that comes into my head is that is probably the part where my acting training really did help because I just am an actress. And so, I would go in and still now anytime I approach a song, I always approach it as an actress. I approach it from the lyric, and I go in the head of that character. And so, I’m able to distance myself a little bit. And especially with this album, which the majority of the songs I did not write, it would be a little easier. For me to sing a song that I wrote about a romantic subject or anything that would get into the area of the bedroom or whatever, if it really was about me and my relationship that might be more difficult but in this case, the songs were not written by me, so I could really approach them more as an actress would. And I would be in the studio with my headphones on and I would just be in the world of that character. And for the most part, this is pretty tame stuff. I mean, again, in this era, the lyrics might be a lot more explicit and it would be harder for sure. But I don’t remember that being such a hard thing. Maybe it would’ve been harder for you, Dad. I don’t know.

Bob J:  Well, you weren’t a teen at that time, you were already married and you were a full-fledged adult so, I don’t actually remember any unusual sensitivity other than the normal father / daughter kind of thing and the fact that maybe we would not be talking about too many details of the lyrics or something like that.

Hilary J: But I do think it was important when we were picking the tunes and when we were sitting with Michael Colina and Ray Bardini, our producers. I do believe that was one of the things we talked about when we chose a tune is – will this be too weird? Maybe not even so much for us as the performers, but will it be weird for the listener to hear this song coming from a father / daughter duo? And so, we decided that there wouldn’t be anything too sexual, too graphic. Obviously we didn’t do anything with any really risque lyrics, but  I think it was some it was a factor when we chose the tunes but on the other side, we didn’t want to be the white bread cornball types, otherwise that would have taken us right out of the genre we were in. But we did want to be tasteful. I guess that’s the main thing. We wanted to be tasteful. Also  I was just gonna say as I was describing that, I remembered now that one of the songs, one of the only other songs that my dad has recorded that I wrote was one that I wrote with Kevin and is called Lay Down with You. And it’s very much about that. Again, it’s tasteful. It’s not real explicit. But I suppose there would be an argument that it was an interesting choice for my dad to record of me singing and writing. But I don’t know. I guess we just kind of got past it.

DH: The other song that I did want to raise with you is the song Just Like My Lover, which again is a huge favourite of mine.

Bob J: That one is good

DH: Bob, there’s a little bit of piano phrasing on there that then feeds in to a guitar solo of Lee’s (Ritenour), which, to me,  has almost the feel of a Steely Dan, an album of the late 70s or early 80s, that kind of thing. And looking through  musicians who were working on your album in that period so many of them worked with Walter Becker and Donald Fagen,  I wondered if you were ever approached by Steely Dan to go in and do a session with them.

Bob J: That’s an interesting question. Almost. But no. And I was kind of frustrated because I was well aware of how hot they were at that time. And, as you say, some of my close associates were called upon to do those sessions. Steve Gadd and several different guitar players – Steve Khan amongst others  – and various people that I knew. And I was aware of what was going on. And in fact, I had one moment in which I was working on my own album at this big studio in New York. And, ah, I was watching this man who was over sitting by himself in the corner studio all day just watching my session. And it turned out to be Donald Fagen and he was there the whole time, never introduced himself, never spoke to us and. I never talked to him. Never got to know him. And I only found out who it was after the fact that somebody told me that. Did you know that he was there watching you? No, I didn’t. And so, I never even found out why. And even to the degree that maybe that’s the reason I didn’t get called for those sessions because he didn’t like what he heard. But he did stay there for a long time. That’s my only memory about that. And fitting that sound into the timeline of Flesh and Blood which was obviously much later – we were we were working on it more like ninety-three, ninety-four. OK.

DH: Ironically around the time that Steely Dan had reformed…

Bob J: Yeah. And Just Like My Lover – one of the special things about that was that Fourplay had just been signed to Warner Brothers. And I was able to get them to play on that track. And Lee Ritenour was still in the group, and he only stayed in the group for about two, three years. So that makes it at the time. And so, I found that sound on the day of that recording that Harvey and Lee and Nathan got was pretty unique and just gives me a very fond memory of the contribution that they made.

DH: And I love that song. From memory, am I right in thinking that that is something the two of you wrote together?

Bob J: Yes, you’re right

Hilary J: But my Dad started it.

Bob J: I think in fact it’s the only song that I ever wrote in which I tried to come up with the lyric. I’ve written a lot of melodies, but I never attempted to do both. So, I’m very, very happy that it’s represented on the record as it is the only one. And I’m very happy also that Hilary helped me make it whole because It was pretty rough. I had my ideas about the kind of double meaning of the phrase Just like my lover. I could feel it in my head, but in my memory, Hilary’s the one that that fleshed it out and made it a cool lyric

Hilary J: This is a perfect example of the parts of this record that were really like parents parenting and parent and daughter. And my dad saying, “OK, I know you’re insecure about writing songs and you’d rather use one of these songs that are being submitted to us, that are already finished”. “But damnit, we’re going to write a song for this record and you’re going to write it and we’re going to do it”. And you came to me with a sketch with the part “in the morning…” and that part of it. And we sat at the piano and wrote that song and it but was definitely very poignant to me as a nurturing thing. It could have been not for an album. It was like him teaching me how to throw and catch the ball or any other thing that a parent teaches their kid. You were teaching me to write music and you were teaching me to not be insecure and you gave me the template and we did it.

Bob J: A very fond and very, very, very fun memory.

DH: Well, as I say, probably one of my two favourite tracks on the album. So aside from the fond memories, they worked and that means that these things go on. Which is a wonderful side of music and relates toto why it stays with us. And why we’re sitting here now talking about an album that is without wanting to make everybody feel old, a quarter of a century old. And it is to me as fresh today as when I first heard it,

Bob J:  I consider that be so kind and just the best kind of compliment, for when music is too much of a novelty or too much of a gimmick or something. It doesn’t feel fresh after a time has passed. And I can speak to that for there are things that I did 30, 40 years ago that that I don’t really want to hear anymore, because they may have been something that seemed like a good idea at the time. But when it’s coming out of us, pure or as pure, as we could do it, then I think we do have a good chance that it will stay fresh and that that it won’t become as dated.

Hilary J: Listening back on it now. I’m so proud of it and I enjoy it so much more now, because in the moment it was such a risk for me, I was so vulnerable. And I was still even though, yes, I was married, and I was not a baby by any means, but I was still as a recording artist, very young and very green and very insecure. And so, there was a lot of cringe-ability factor for me when I would listen to things that I didn’t think I was cutting it right or I didn’t know whether it was good – it was just a very insecure time. And now I listen back to it. And I think, damn that’s really good. There was such a journey and there were so many cool decisions we made. And of course, they just don’t make records like this anymore. Again, looking at the cast of characters on this record this morning and thinking, you know, I mean, we had a string section. You got to love your dad when he says, “OK. I think this track should have a string section. Let’s have a string section”. I’m very spoiled with this album. Very, very spoiled with the quality of production that went into it.

DH: I guess that’s one of the things with your father being who your father is. He has such a broad range of musical contacts and abilities. You find so many different flavours… Thinking about your own musical accomplishments is how many vocal styles you can bring to the table.  And I guess, that is something to do with that actor inside of you and adopting a character and therefore the character when you’re working with a particular, say, a pop audience or a jazz audience or a children’s audience, you becomes someone different.

Hilary J: Well, yes, yes, yes, and yes. And that’s the thing. What happened with (my children’s character) Miss Hilary Please, is that I started teaching pre-school kids and I was teaching a drama program. And my degree that allows me to do that is in theatre. So, I teach like a drama teacher. And (Kevin and I) wrote these songs for that project. And we decided to put it on a C.D. And it’s a return to my theatrical background and my style. And in some weird ways, I feel like it’s more me than some of the pop stuff and the Flesh and Blood material, because that voice has always been inside me. And I feel like the Miss Hilary character releases the ability to use all my tools where as proud as I am of the other work I’ve done, I’ve always felt like I had to rein myself in a little bit. I had to worry about being what people would think, you know, am I cool? Am I going to be able? Is this going to be a hit? Will people play this on the radio? So, there is a there is a mask there in a way that there isn’t with Miss Hilary. Miss Hilary can be silly. Miss Hilary can be loud. Miss Hilary can be funny. Miss Hilary can use her soprano voice that I have without feeling like, oh, that doesn’t sound like pop music or it sounds that won’t be played on the radio. All the things that I was afraid of in the past, in the in the pop and jazz world that I was worried would make me sound too square, too white, too theatrical, too whatever I am. I can have a blast with Miss Hilary. And I’m having a ball with it. Honestly, I feel almost more like myself than anything else I’ve ever done.

DH: Just a couple more questions if I might. About 7 years ago you released the Storm Warning album, which included Storm Warning from Flesh and Blood and a number of things from your debut solo album Behind the Mask. What was the motivation for re-releasing that material?

Bob J: That record (Behind the Mask) had a frustratingly not good start with a record label that was opened by the producer, Phil Ramone called N2K Encoded Music.

Publicity photo of Hilary James from the period when “Behind the Mask” was set for release on Phil Ramone’s N2K Encoded label

Hilary J: We had a record all finished – all set to go.

Bob J: And Hilary was one of the first, or maybe the first artists, that Phil signed to that label when he was going from being a producer of already various established artists –  Billy Joel and Barbra Streisand, Paul Simon, etc., – and into the new role of record company, president of his own label. His goal was to sign new artists and to go down that path. And he heard Hilary and loved her. And signed her. And during the course of more than a year, maybe two years of development of the material with him, the business career of Phil Ramone changed drastically to the point where they decided to stop the label. Extremely frustratingly and sadly for Hilary before her record ever came out. And there was a lot of seeing the music business, the bad, the dark side of it, in which not only did the record not come out, but they weren’t really very co-operative with helping or helping us with what we could do to get that music out, which we were proud of. And with such great stuff that she had written with her husband and so, there was a time when we didn’t think we would be able to do anything with it because there were complications of ownership, complications of the money that they had spent recording it and so forth and so on. But eventually we reached the point where it was possible for us to get the masters and to put it out. and I’m continually frustrated about the fact that it never really got the promotion and the attention that it deserved. But at least in this era, it can get out there and you never know when the timing can be right, when it’ll get even more exposure. Especially with the way things are on the Internet now. So, everything has changed in our business. But at least it’s out and least you got to hear it. And you and Hilary can talk about it.

Hilary J: I was actually surprised that it was out again. I didn’t even realise. I was doing some of my work with Miss Hilary Please and dealing with placing Miss Hilary Please on i-Tunes and all the various ways that your music is out there these days. I stumbled upon it being out there. I didn’t even realise. It’s been it’s been through so many different versions. The original version, which truly I got the phone call from Phil Ramone. I think it was two weeks before our release date and the single had already been shipped to radio. We were that far into it. And I got the call from Phil saying. “The labels folded”

(Darren holds up a cd for the others to see)

Bob J: Is that the promo?

(Darren holds up a second cd)

DH: No. This is the promo with a couple of covers on there, which weren’t on a second version. You were asking me at the beginning when we’d had contact before today and one of those occasions you gave me the promo. The first one showed you was released on an Internet label called “mp3.com” who had licensed some of the material about a year after the first label folded. mp3.com also released some albums by Roger McGuinn from The Byrds and things like that. And I think at the time you explained that when the mp3.com version was released, the only condition that the first record label stipulated was that the songs that were covers could not be included because of songwriting royalty issues. Ironically, mp3.com was another label that did not last long. The only difference between those two versions of the album, is that the first one has “Can’t smile without you” and another cover version that I forget. But the second one doesn’t.

Hilary J.: The other cover version would be “This is dedicated to the one I love”

DH: Ah, yes. And then there’s the one that came out about seven years ago, which is different again and includes “Storm Warning” and “Can’t smile without you”, but also has a couple of other songs that weren’t on Behind the Mask. I guess it was a very sad and complicated release.

Hilary J: Yes, the first “Storm Warning” one was when we were on Red River with you for about a second. and then that kind of fell apart when your deal with them came to an end. And so, then it was in limbo again. And now I guess Evolution has put it out there, at least digitally and when you look it up on i-Tunes then it is Evo sound that has put it out now.

DH: I didn’t know about that part of the story.

Hilary J: It is.

DH: The thing was with the Red River release and this is the wonders of the Internet, I found a copy for sale at the Seattle Public Library. They’d had it as a stock item and customers were able to loan but they had decided to reduce their cd catalogue sell off titles which they thought they had done their time. I have seen the one on iTunes, but I just assumed that that was the same as the Red River one.

Hilary J: It is just a change of licensee, the same cut of the same songs. Yeah, it’s the cover with my head turning. Yeah. That record has just had a weird bumpy journey. And I’m grateful to anybody who ever listens to any of the releases. I absolutely loved making that record. I could talk endlessly about that one, just like this one. It was a whole different journey in my life, but I’m very proud of it. But it also is very painful. Honestly, it’s a painful journey. And because it was an attempt at being a pop album and meat that point in my life, I didn’t have a child yet. I was still very active in trying to become a pop artist. As the time has gone by, life changes, you move on, you go on to new different things. But, that’s a hard one. That’s a hard one for me,

DH: I’m sorry – I didn’t really mean the end of the interview to get bogged down in all those release problems. Maybe someday we can do a whole separate interview about the actual music from those sessions. That’d be interesting to do

Hilary J: You’ll get so bored with me by then, Darren

DH: It will be fun for your audience to know how the music came about

Bob J: Yeah.  I recommend that Kevin gets involved with that interview too. Because that record was very much about their collaboration – both romantically and musically and all of that. And a lot of great music came out of it for which Hilary’s father is very embarrassed and frustrated because it coincided with bad timing also in that I was changing my record company too. We thought we had such a solid relationship with Warner Brothers. And then suddenly everything in their management changed. It was just one thing after another. Everything changed in our business to the distribution of jazz and to jazz record labels period. And they just fell by the wayside and everything changed. And I did not keep up with it from a business standpoint. The most recent deal with Evo Sound was a result of me making a distribution deal with that company that’s based in Hong Kong called Evolution. And they acquired my whole catalogue, everything that I’ve done in the last thirty years. And I was able to put the Storm Warning record in amongst those titles, and they committed to not put everything out all at the same time, and of course, there’s a certain amount of promotion money that they put into stuff. But, so far, and I have a very short relationship with them, it’s so far, so good. And hopefully the Storm Warning album will get some attention and get some legitimate record label support.

DH: How are things otherwise with you? I mean with the impact of the pandemic.

Bob J: I had a gig coming up in New York at this club. the Blue Note, which they try to cram two hundred people in the place that really should only accommodate about 75 and the chances of them opening back up during these times is very unlikely. This is the reason my close friend Jack O’Brien, who’s a Broadway director and was involved with two or three different shows that were either already up and running or getting ready to get up and running and I was very almost shocked to hear him describe that his people were all talking about a year from now before they’ll be able to get anything back up and running again. The theatres have just come crashing to a halt. And so, everything changes but it does provide a cool opportunity for people to do things maybe they wouldn’t do and to step out and put stuff out there, because there is sort of this captive audience of people sitting at home looking for things to watch. Looking for things to listen to.

I’ve found it to be a very creative time because you’re sort of forced to not be able to do some of the things that might distract you from doing your creative work. You do have this kind of virtual audience that’s out there. There’s something about it. It almost feels more accessible. You see it everywhere. Everybody’s putting out material. I don’t know if it’s odd. It’s certainly nothing that I would wish to happen. But now that we’re in it, it’s kind of interesting. The things that are happening because of it.  It’s like the video that Hilary made that you mentioned “Put our hearts together”. It is so great to show how you’re self-contained, your family. You can do it. You’ve got the camera. You’ve got the sound. You’ve got the recording studio. You got to tell it. You’ve got the writers and you got nobody to say you can’t.  It’s not that you could necessarily count on having a million people pay you for it, but you could reach people without a record label, without anybody coming in between you. You decide to publish it, put it online and it’s out there. You did the whole thing yourself from your home studio. It’s very powerful.

Hilary J: Well, it’s not perfect. It’s not perfect. And if I were waiting for it to be perfect, I could never do that. It’s not a perfect thing. And there’s some bad news about that because some people think they are anonymous, and they have no talent. That’s a separate issue. But if you if you do have talent and you do have a gift, there’s this wonderful ability to say it doesn’t have to be perfect because we’re doing it from our home and we’ve got the technology we’ve got and we have to work with what we’ve got. So, it takes away all those voices in your head that say, “it’s not perfect, it’s not perfect”. Put it out. My dad, always one of the biggest lessons ever he would try to drill into my head was go public and create and stop making bland disclaimers. It’s the worst thing that can happen to an artist is that you’re outside, you’re looking at yourself and criticising all the time. And this kind of removes one of those problems because everybody understands the situation. We’re all at home. We can’t work with professional work crews and whatever. People are willing to suspend their disbelief in a way and just go with it. Sure. My Dad used his camera phone to film his performances and sure, the recording was sideways for one of the days, but people are really forgiving about that kind of stuff right now. They just want to get to the good stuff. Let’s hear the music. And that’s kind of a great environmental way to live. You can say that that was the best you could do at that time. Right. Tomorrow you figure out a way to do better.

DH: That’s a much more positive end to our time together. Thank you so much for your time today.

Bob J and Hilary J: Thank you. It’s been really nice to chat.

Hilary J: Thank you for letting me take this little ride down memory lane to gather the thoughts that pop up when you sit down and do this. It was nice to hear what my dad had to say and kind of you to share in our memories together.

DH: Bye for now, Stay well.

(The albums referenced in this interview can be found at the following links:

Flesh and Blood

https://www.amazon.com/Flesh-Blood-James-Hilary-Audio/dp/B00FY3DU3M/ref=sr_1_7?dchild=1&keywords=flesh+and+blood+cd&qid=1590078011&sr=8-7

Miss Hilary Please – What Makes Me Special

https://www.amazon.com/Special-Hilary-Please-Flying-Trapeze/dp/B0794L61YC/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2682FKTITXNCH&dchild=1&keywords=miss+hilary+please&qid=1590078211&sprefix=miss+hilary%2Caps%2C216&sr=8-1

Miss Hilary Please – Share a Smile

https://www.amazon.com/Share-Hilary-Please-Flying-Trapeze/dp/B087V8XFVD/ref=sr_1_2?crid=2682FKTITXNCH&dchild=1&keywords=miss+hilary+please&qid=1590078211&sprefix=miss+hilary%2Caps%2C216&sr=8-2

Hilary James – Storm Warning (includes songs from the “Behind the Mask” album

https://www.amazon.com/Storm-Warning-Hilary-James-Bob/dp/B07RYW4KBJ/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=storm+warning+hilary+james&qid=1590078362&s=dmusic&sr=1-1

Bob James – Restless

https://www.amazon.com/Restless-Bob-James/dp/B000002MP8/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1057PNBTNXHIP&dchild=1&keywords=bob+james+restless&qid=1590078592&sprefix=bob+james+restless%2Caps%2C217&sr=8-1

If you have enjoyed this interview, please consider giving a donation to the Alzheimer’s Association ( https://www.alz.org/ ) or a similar charity – a cause which all those who took part in this article feel passionately about. – Darren

 

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