Jennifer Warnes is back with a beautiful album, Another Time, Another Place, her first in 17 years. We spoke with her about the new album, songs from her catalog, the rock musical Hair, Leonard Cohen, Roy Orbison and Toni Tennille.
By Warren Kurtz
GOLDMINE: Congratulations on the new album. It is beautiful, classy and contains a nice variety, beginning with a cover of Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe,” the “uh-huh” song with a rolling acoustic guitar.
JENNIFER WARNES: Thank you. My co-producer Roscoe Beck sent it to me. I have known Roscoe since our late ‘70s Leonard Cohen tour. He heard it on the radio and felt the song and message would be right for the album.
GM: My favorite song on the album and one of my favorites songs of the year is “Once I Was Loved” with your voice blending with the strings on the chorus, a song that John Legend co-wrote. My family was so impressed with Jesus Christ Superstar this Easter.
JW: That is so nice to hear. Stephen Barber arranged that one which features the Tosca String Quartet. John Legend co-wrote it with Marcus Hummon. Mary Martin, a legendary A&R person, originally from Canada, who introduced Bob Dylan to The Band and managed Leonard Cohen and others, made calls and found this one through Marcus. The song rang true to my heart.
GM: There are songs on this collection, so relaxing, that it sounds like the audience is invited to sit around a campfire with you and the other musicians to enjoy numbers like “So Sad” and “The Boys and Me.”
JW: Mickey Newbury wrote “So Sad” months before he passed away in 2002. He was quite an amazing person and a sophisticated writer, like Nilsson. There is an annual gathering in Austin to celebrate his music. He was friends with Kris Kristofferson and he also provided The First Edition with their first hit single, “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In).” For “The Boys and Me,” I wrote reflections from 25 years ago of being on the road with the band. We did laugh at the line, “We won’t slow down,” because we are slower now than we were in our youth, but it’s still amazing.
GM: After going through two hurricanes in less than a year here in Florida, I appreciate the sentiment for New Orleans in “The Big Easy.”
JW: There are a lot of words in that Ray Bonneville composition and they knew that I am comfortable with lyric packed songs. I think that Hurricane Katrina is really a metaphor for what America is going through now and I wanted to provide some sort of beacon of hope with this song and with the album.
GM: The album concludes with a Dire Straits cover. I remember when my wife, Donna and I saw An Officer and a Gentlemen in the theater in Dallas in 1982, the soundtrack included your big hit, “Up Where We Belong” with Joe Cocker, and Dire Straits’ “Tunnel of Love.” Now you are covering “Why Worry” from their mid-‘80s Brothers in Arms album.
JW: In addition to Dire Straits, The Everly Brothers also had a version on their mid-‘80s “Born Yesterday” album, and they do a great performance of it with Chet Atkins, too. I am a fan of the genre that brought us Fats Domino and Ricky Nelson, with a gentleness. “Why Worry” sounded like a standard, as our world is full of worry and comfort is needed.
GM: Looking back at your earlier songs, the flip side of “Right Time of the Night” is a favorite of mine, “Daddy Don’t Go,” the one song that you wrote for your mid-‘70s Jennifer Warnes Arista debut album, where you sing, “It’s a long hard road without you.” It seems that you took personal sadness and turned it into a beautiful song.
JW: The story behind this song goes back to 1958. The day after Christmas that year, my father walked in, laid down and died suddenly of a heart attack, in front of his children. This one unforgettable moment shaped my appreciation for the beauty and fragility of life.
Flip side: Daddy Don’t Go
A side: Right Time of the Night
Top 100 Debut: January 29, 1977
Peak Position: 6
GM: Toni Tennille told me, “I think Jennifer is one of the loveliest singers that I have ever heard. I still remember her as the slim girl in a mini skirt with long blonde hair in our acting class at South Coast Repertory Theatre in southern California, back in the late ‘60s. We each went on in different directions, but both of us succeeded as artists. She was also a guest on my talk show back in 1980. I have always thought she is a brilliant singer with a unique and unmistakable voice. Her album of Leonard Cohen songs was heartbreakingly beautiful.” Toni brings up theater and Canada’s Leonard Cohen. Please tell us about your first charting single, “Easy to Be Hard” in 1969, from the rock musical Hair, and a song that I learned across the lake on Canadian radio, when we moved back to Cleveland in mid-‘80s, “First We Take Manhattan,” months before your hit “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” with Bill Medley, from Dirty Dancing.
JW: Toni is a lovely person. We were a couple of women out of Orange County, who were encouraged to follow our dreams, open-hearted, not hip or cool. There is a warmth and rich sound in Toni’s voice. I was in the Los Angeles production of Hair with Ben Vereen. I played Sheila and “Easy to Be Hard” came with that role. I do have some Canadian roots. My great-grandmother was French Canadian, “across the lake.” Leonard wrote “First We Take Manhattan” for our Famous Blue Raincoat project. Roscoe, who played bass on it, Leonard and I all have different interpretations on the song’s meaning. That exciting guitar you hear on the recording is from Stevie Ray Vaughn.
GM: We lived near The Front Row Theatre in Ohio, where Roy Orbison held his final concert, thirty years ago in 1988, the same year as the debut of the Roy Orbison Black and White Night concert special. It was fun watching and hearing you, Bonnie Raitt and k.d. lang providing background harmonies on “Blue Bayou.” What was it like sharing the stage with that entourage?
JW: Jackson Browne called me and said that he needed my help on a project. I didn’t know what it was. I went to J.D. Souther’s house and learned that they needed help with the Anita Kerr vocal arrangements for “Blue Bayou.” Bonnie and I spent a couple of days on it and then k.d. arrived from Canada to form that trio. That experience helped me next with “Tower of Song” on Leonard’s 1988 album, I’m Your Man. I created the “Doo dum dum dum, day doo dum dum” backdrop.
GM: Thank you, Roscoe and the others for what you have created on Another Time, Another Place. I know it has been a long time in the making and was definitely worth waiting for. It is peacefully beautiful and the album cover puts a smile on my face.
JW: Thank you so much.
On December 1, Leonard Cohen will be honored at Canada’s Walk of Fame Awards show at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto.
Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine, known for “Fabulous Flip Sides” along with giveaways, interviews, CD, DVD and book reviews. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, as part of “Moments to Remember” at wvcr.com or iHeart Radio – search WVCR.