When current New Riders of the Purple Sage and former Hot Tuna guitarist Michael Falzarano put together his latest solo album, We Are All One, he enlisted the help of many of the great musicians that have become part of his extended family including the late Vassar Clements, Buddy Cage of the New Riders, JGB’s Melvin Seals and Kerry Kearney. The resulting album takes you on a cohesive journey through many genres with Michael guiding us through all the wonderful styles of music that he’s played over the years.
We Are All One immediately caught my ear with the rollocking Why I Love You I Can’t Explain and didn’t let go through Gonna Power Down Now – the gorgeous lo-fi instrumental that closes the record. Other highlights include a song written as a tribute to Allen Woody (Last Train Out), two covers (Candy Man and How Long Blues) and the last known recording of Vassar Clements (When There’s Two There’s Trouble). We recently sat down with Michael to talk about his latest release…
Scott Bernstein: When I saw the late Vassar Clements’ name attached to this project I realized it must’ve been a long time in the making. Can you take us through a timeline of the creation of We Are All One?
Michael Falzarano: It’s hard for me to come to the realization that it’s been about four years. What happened was, I started recording this project and just as I was wrapping it up about three and a half years ago I got a phone call from Buddy Cage. He said “listen, we’re putting a version of the New Riders of the Purple Sage together to do five shows, would you be interested in playing?” I said “of course!” Number one, I love Buddy and David (Nelson). I love their music, I grew up listening to it and playing it in bars all over New York and Long Island. So, it’s like a natural thing for me. I figured five shows, we’ll just do ‘em and have a great time and that would be that.
READ ON for more from Michael Falzarano on We Are All One…
So, we booked the five shows and they all sold out. We had a great time playing them. Everybody got along, it was really great. We decided that maybe we should try to do some more shows. I told ‘em I knew an agent in North Carolina and I said “why don’t I give him a call to see if he could book shows?” I called him up, an old friend of mine, and it turns out he was a huge New Riders fan. He said “I’ll take it, don’t worry about it. I know I can book it just give me a week.” A week later he comes back with 30 shows and we’ve been playing 100 shows a year ever since for the last three years.
At first it was such a whirlwind. There was just so much going on that I couldn’t concentrate on anything but playing with the Riders. So about six or eight months ago I decided, ok things in that world have calmed down a little bit and now it’s time for me to get back to this project. I just went in, wrapped it up and put the finishing touches on it. I got my friend to do the cover artwork and put it together and now it’s on the street.
SB: Was there any stuff that was recorded in the second round of production six or eight months ago?
MF: This was all stuff that was going to be released just around the time I started with the New Riders three years ago. There’s nothing that was recorded within the last year. After those five NRPS shows I kept thinking “okay, I’m going to get to the album but let me deal with the Riders right now.” You know how things go, two years went by and I said “Whoa! What happened?”
We went all over the country, back and forth up and down, into Canada back into the States. Flyin’ here, flyin’ there. I don’t know how many bus tours all over the country. It was very hard to say “okay, I’m going to get the record done.” I already had the 14 songs on this record plus another six or so, I didn’t really feel the need to get another batch of songs going. Plus, nobody had heard these songs so it wasn’t like it was old stuff. I just felt that the way this project came together was the way it should go out and I’ll worry about the next one next year.
SB: I love the way We Are All One flows. The last song, an instrumental called Gonna Power Down Now blew my mind…
MF: That particular tune almost didn’t even happen. What happened was, I had been asked to do the title track to the Dennis Rodman TV Movie Bad As I Wanna Be. I rounded up a bunch of guys and we went up to Woodstock to record it. I wrote it with the help of a couple of guys, recorded it, did the background vocals, mixed it, mastered it all over the course of one day. At the end of that brutally long day we were just kinda standing around in the room fooling around with the instruments and I had an idea for an instrumental… a quiet piece. Just as we were doing this the engineer in the control room didn’t realize what we were doing so he pushed the talkback mic and said “I’m going to power down now if you guys are done,” meaning he’s just going to shut down and go home. We said “no, no, no; we’re going to do one more thing.” We just started this thing with no conversation whatsoever. That was it. It was the only time we played it, the only take we did.
A couple of months later I was listening to a rough of it and thought it had a really cool feel to it, so I wanted to go back in and work on it. I went back to the studio to work on it and I see the people at the studio are upset. I ask them what’s the matter and they tell me that they can’t find the tapes anywhere and that someone must’ve thrown the master away.
SB: That’s a musician’s worst nightmare!
MF: The studio was moving or something, long story short not only is it the first take it’s the only take no overdubs. You’ll notice if you listen to it you’ll hear some analog hiss.
SB: The track’s very lo-fi.
MF: It’s lo-fi to the max. That’s the reason. There was no remastering, no remixing no anything. It’s like “here ya go.” I edited it a little bit, but I think it’s special because of the backstory.
SB: Why do you refer to the guests on the album as “Extended Family?”
MF: When we were coming up with concepts for the album we thought we could do the “and special guests” or “and friends” and to me it is like an extended family. Like for instance Jorma is literally extended family to me. He’s the godfather to my daughter so he’s literally extended family. The other guys, Vassar and all these known players and unknown players they are all very good friends of mine. We all have open invitations if we’re playing somewhere. So, it seemed appropriate.
I wanted to use the name of something so that later on if I do decide to go on the road I have something to call the project when we’re out playing other than my name. I don’t really like using my name as the band name even though it is about me.
SB: You wrote all of the songs on the album with the exception of Candyman and How Long Blues, why did you decide to cover those particular tunes?
MF: The cover songs both are songs I’ve performed and played with Hot Tuna for 20 years. There some of the first ones we started playing. In Hot Tuna, Jorma sings his arrangements of those songs and I’ve always really loved them especially How Long Blues. As I learned more and more about that particular song it really stood out to me as something I wanted to get on a record. I first heard it from Ramblin’ Jack Elliot and there’s lots and lots of versions of that song, but after playing it with Jorma and Jack all over the world I really dig that song and wanted to use it as a connection from the Hot Tuna years to the New Riders’ years. I like to mix things up. I think it’s important to show some history and legacy.
SB: I noticed that Last Train Out is dedicated to Allen Woody. Is it dedicated to Woody or about him?
MF: That’s a good question. Here’s what happened: I had been in Italy and a friend of mine called me to tell me the news about Woody. The song Last Train Out wasn’t actually a song at that time but just a little idea that had been in my head for years. I knew where I wanted to go with it but it never came out as a song.
The day after I got the news about Woody I was staying at a magnificent 900 year old castle in Italy in this unbelievable setting. I sat on the patio at 3 in the morning drinking coffee, playing the guitar just fooling around and started playing something and that song began to come out. Some of the imagery in there is directly related to my stay in Italy. I wouldn’t say it’s about him, but he was the inspiration for it. I think that anybody who hears the song can feel that way about anything or anybody.
SB: Hot Tuna was one of the first wave of jambands. When people talk about jambands, it’s like it started with the H.O.R.D.E tour. I never really understood that. There was a pretty cool scene in the late ’70s and early ’80s in San Francisco and you never hear anything about them.
MF: I noticed when it first started happening to be honest with you. Just like every genre it starts out with no rules, no regulations and no boundaries. Slowly, what starts happening is that boundaries, rules and regulations start to form around the genre. Now the genre isn’t all this, it’s just this. I think that’s what happened a little bit with the scene although it seems to be opening up now.
I was reading a book one time about the jamband scene where they were talking about Hot Tuna and they said “Hot Tuna’s not really a jamband.” I didn’t quite understand that because that is what they did. This is before I was in the band, the ’70s when they experimented with the longest jams outside of maybe the Grateful Dead. There were songs that had 15 minute endings that went on for 45 minutes. They used to do this one song, Invitation, that would go to many many places as did many of their songs.
I’m sure if you asked Jorma he wouldn’t be phased by it one way or the other, but I think that Hot Tuna is definitely one of the bands that early on would take a song and expand on it and expand on it. I think they were one of the first along with the Dead to play those really really long shows.
SB: Has touring gotten more or less enjoyable as you’ve gotten older?
MF: As I like to kid around with my younger musician friends, “I don’t get paid to play music, I get paid to get on the bus and get to the place I play the music at.” It’s enjoyable. I enjoy playing the music immensly. Now, the traveling isn’t as exciting as it was when I was younger, mainly because I’m older and I’ve done it for so long it’s hard to get excited about staying at another hotel. What I really enjoy is going to different towns and seeing all the people we know and fans in that town. I wouldn’t say it’s as exciting as it was, but I still definitely enjoy doing it and I hope to do it until the day I die.