We celebrate the 40th anniversary of songwriter Adam Mitchell’s 1979 debut solo album Redhead in Trouble! and discuss his work with KISS and Linda Ronstadt, Canadian music, Johnny Cash, Nicolette Larson, and his latest album Back When We Were Cool.
By Warren Kurtz
This 1979 album contains: Fool for Your Love, The French Waltz, Dancin’ Round and Round, Out Among the Stars and five more
GOLDMINE:The first time that I think I heard your influence was as a producer. I grew up in Cleveland and my best friend John and I would hear Canadian music across the lake and listened to the Toronto band Fludd. There is the shuffle beat of their “Turned 21” and the up-tempo rock beat of “Get Up, Get Out and Move On,” which is the first Fludd song that we heard.
ADAM MITCHELL: After I left the band The Paupers in Canada, I got involved in producing, worked on Linda Ronstadt’s first big solo record, did a couple of assistant assignments, and that led to me producing some Canadian acts including Main Line, James Leroy, The Good Brothers, and Fludd, who were a great bunch of guys. We played hockey together. They were fun and easy to work with.
GM:James Leroy was another favorite of ours with “Touch of Magic,” that you produced in 1973, and I learned of The Good Brothers with their country rock song “Garden of Eden,” in 1979, at the same time that your solo debut album Redhead in Trouble! was released. You mentioned Linda Ronstadt. Both she and Jennifer Warnes provided background vocals on your version of “Dancin’ Round and Round,”a composition we discussed last year when Juliana Hatfield recorded her version after she learned of it through Olivia Newton-John’s recording. Now Linda Ronstadt is a Kennedy Honors Award recipient this month.
AM: That is a great and very deserving honor. Linda and I became instant friends when I was singing background vocals on her 1970 album Silk Purse, which contained her hit single “Long, Long Time,” so it was natural when I did my solo album for Warner Brothers that I would include Linda. We rehearsed all the songs at my home in California. She and Jennifer had a great blend and who wouldn’t want those two to sing background vocals? Linda’s favorite thing to do, believe it or not, was to sing background vocals. Linda and Jennifer are also on my recording of “Out Among the Stars.”
GM:Both “Dancin’ Round and Round” and “Out Among the Stars” are great flip sides from your Redhead in Trouble! album. Congratulations on “Out Among the Stars” ultimately being released as the title song of Johnny Cash’s 2014 album from the previously unreleased studio sessions from thirty years prior in 1984.
AM: I had no idea he had recorded it at that time. None whatsoever. I remember when he did the American Recordings album in 1994 with producer Rick Rubin, I asked myself, “Why didn’t he do ‘Out Among the Stars’ on it. It would be perfect?” I had no idea he had recorded it ten years earlier. Who doesn’t want a Johnny Cash credit to their name?
GM: Sure. Same with David Allan Coe with his composition “She Used to Love Me a Lot,” another outstanding song on Johnny Cash’s Out Among the Stars album.
AM: Merle Haggard also recorded “Out Among the Stars” and it became the title of his 1986 album.
GM:And your version of “Out Among the Stars” was used as the flip side of “Fool for Love.” I heard the A side on Canadian radio 40 years ago in 1979 and sure enjoyed it.
AM: Thank you. “Fool for Love” is one of my favorite songs. When I was doing my demo, which included that song and eventually got me the deal with Warner Brothers, I was missing two lines in the second verse and I was driving through Malibu Canyon on the way to the recording studio, telling myself that this was inexcusable. Then I came up with the two lines in the car on the way to the studio, “Are you balancing the maybe with the bound to be? Tell me everybody are you just like me?” Nicolette Larson also recorded a version of “Fool for Love” in 1981 on her Radioland album.
Flip side: Out Among the Stars
A side: Fool for Love
Warner Brothers WBS 49027
GM:I think Nicolette Larson did a wonderful version of your composition “The French Waltz” on her debut album in 1978.
AM: Nicolette used to come over to the house all the time and sit around and sing with us and she did it the way it is supposed to be done.
GM:That same year I heard Stonebolt on Canadian radio, for the first time, with “Queen of the Night,” before their big hit “I Will Still Love You.” It caught my ear, really liked it, bought the album, and we would play Stonebolt and Nicolette Larson at Peaches Records & Tapes, where I worked in Cleveland.
AM: I wrote “Queen of the Night” in the summer of 1976 before I moved to California. I liked “Third Rate Romance” by The Amazing Rhythm Aces and I wanted to write something like that. As a songwriter, you listen to songs and there will be something that sparks an idea and off you go. I am thrilled that you like it.
GM:I heard the song “Crazy, Crazy Nights,” that you wrote with Paul Stanley, which went to No. 65 in 1987 for KISS, when I was at a KISS concert a few years ago. Then I was listing to the Crazy Nights album the other day and I found the song “I’ll Fight Hell to Hold You” to be so powerful, which you wrote with Paul Stanley and Bruce Kulick. Bruce told me about that song, “It was always great to have Adam involved with KISS songwriting. I had a nice climbing guitar riff and some strong verse chords that I presented to Paul and Adam. They responded well to it, jumped on those ideas, and we created a wonderful song.”
AM: Absolutely. Bruce is a great guy and the best kind of guy you would want to have in a group. He is so talented and is a phenomenal guitar player. If I went home and practiced really hard for 200 years, I still wouldn’t match his playing. He is a guitar player’s guitar player.
GM:Congratulations again on all the songs you have written with KISS over the years.
AM: Thank you. You still hear “Crazy, Crazy Nights” on the radio overseas all the time.
GM:On your latest album, Back When We Were Cool, “The Lie They Want to Hear” is a great up-tempo starter for the album and my favorite song on the collection, with its political undertones.
AM: Yeah. Who do you suppose that song is about? I try to write songs where people will try to recognize some kind of truth. That’s just my style. I try to write lyrics that people can relate to as far as their own lives go. Getting an idea for a song is like walking along a sidewalk and finding a great idea there that nobody else has noticed. Then you pick it up and work on it. There are the songs I wish I would have written and that is true for every single writer. When a songwriter hears a really great song the first thing they will think is, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
GM:When I listen to “Before I Forget,” on the new collection, musically I am reminded of the subtle power of “Wind Beneath My Wings” to go with your touching lyrics.
AM: I never thought about that. With “Before I Forget,” everyone I know, young or old, has someone, maybe a grandparent, a sibling, or a friend who has Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia. It is so common. I write occasionally with Clive Young in Australia, who is a very good songwriter, and he said that he had this idea for a song. He sent me the title “Before I Forget” and it is something that everyone responds to right away. There is a line, “Name by name, friends disappear.” That is how it happens. I have watched people go through dementia and the first thing is that they can’t remember the name of that person or that actor or someone. I was in a restaurant in New York with a friend when he was just diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer’s. He still behaved like the same person I knew but he wanted some vinegar and just couldn’t think of the word for vinegar. Then two years later he didn’t recognize me. That is why some of those lines are in the song including, “You don’t seem to know me like you used to.”
GM:I talked with Glen Campbell’s daughter Debby about that topic as well. Growing up I enjoyed that blend of pop and country that I heard in him and later from The Eagles, who you reference in the fun song “Videos Suck.” What an enjoyable song that is about 1970s music in the pre-video era.
AM: It is probably only enjoyable if you get all the references in there of great songs from the 1970s. One that people often miss is “Hollywood Nights” by Bob Seger. The ending is from The Eagles’ “Hotel California.” There is no question that videos changed the music business in the 1980s with a different art form, and it was not the same as growing up with only the auditory portion of your brain just listening to music.
GM:My daughter Brianna has been to Africa several times, teaching math, and I will play her “I Wanna Go Back to Africa” when she heads back there soon. I enjoy the electric guitar in the background.
AM: That is Brent Mason, who is the Michael Jordan of guitar players. In my opinion he is the best guitar player in the world. He is astounding and one of the most sought after guitar guitarists in Nashville. I am just fortunate that I had worked with all these guys before in one project or another. I was thrilled that they all agreed to show up and make this record. We recorded the whole thing in one day, which is pretty rare. I have a whole other album of songs ready to go. I am still writing songs as my way of seeing the world and sharing with other people. Hopefully they will understand how I feel and will see themselves in the songs or say to themselves that they hadn’t seen it that way before but will relate to it. In addition to me recording my music, it is also always nice to hear versions of your songs that you like, recorded by others. Thank you for sharing my music with the Goldmine readers.
Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine, writing the In Memoriam and Fabulous Flip Sides series. “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.