Eric Kaz: Rocked by Bonnie Raitt, Jimi Hendrix, Rick Danko, More
Eric Kaz tells me his new collection of songs — which he hopes to have available in January at cdbaby.com — represents a milestone.
“This was the first time in my recording career that I’ve been completely satisfied with my own performance,” he says.
That’s quite a dramatic statement from the longtime songwriter and musician whose songs have been recorded and performed by some of the music industry’s biggest names. Bonnie Raitt and Linda Ronstadt recorded beautiful versions of one of pop music’s classic songs, “Love Has No Pride,” which was written by Kaz and Libby Titus. Both have also recorded other songs composed by Kaz, including “Cry Like A Rainstorm” and “Blowing Away.” Kaz’s songs have also been in the repertoire of Art Garfunkel, Joan Baez, Randy Meisner, Alison Krauss, Cher, George Strait, Tom Rush, Michael Bolton, Dolly Parton, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Kenny Rogers and a host of others. Baez named her 1977 album Blowin’ Away and covered the Kaz composition. Meisner, who is best known for his work with the Eagles, collaborated with Kaz on six of the nine cuts on his 1980 solo album, One More Song. Two of the songs, “Deep Inside My Heart” and “Hearts on Fire,” reached numbers 22 and 19, respectively, on the Billboard charts.
Kaz says he has “been fortunate and lucky enough to have had some of my songs become notable recordings by some very credible artists.”
He has written four top 10 country hit singles, four top 20 pop hit singles, and four top 10 adult-contemporary singles, and received two ASCAP Pop Award honors and four ASCAP Country Award honors.
However, his whole career has not been spent writing songs for other artists. In the 1960s, he played piano with folk musicians Happy and Artie Traum in the group Children of Paradise and then was a member of the Blues Magoos. He recorded two solo albums for Atlantic Records and two albums with American Flyer. George Martin, the Beatles’ producer, produced American Flyer’s self-titled debut album, and it and the band’s second release on United Artists Records were well-received by critics. Besides Kaz, American Flyer was comprised of Craig Fuller from Pure Prairie League, Steve Katz from Blood, Sweat & Tears, and Doug Yule from the Velvet Underground.
Fuller, probably best known for writing Pure Prairie League’s hit single, “Amie,” and Kaz next teamed for an excellent duo album, Eric Fuller/Eric Kaz, on Columbia Records in 1978. Like the American Flyer albums, though, the album, which was rereleased on Real Gone Music this year, went relatively unnoticed by the listening public. “There were so many capable bands, singers, musicians, and songwriters that came out of what can be called the Southern California sound of the 1970s,” Kaz says. “The Fuller/Kaz album was a good example of this and possibly deserved a second look. The album was another step in the right direction in my journey and evolution of making the recording of my music sound like I heard it sound in my head.
“Since most of the groups I was in did not have much commercial success, I continued to focus more and more as a songwriter as that was my great love from the beginning,” he continues. “I was extremely lucky enough to cross paths with some of the greatest vocalists who took an interest in my songs. I always think of my own career really beginning when I began to be recognized as a credible songwriter.”
Kaz says he has seen a lot of great concerts by other artists that have influenced him as a musician and a songwriter, so he deemed it impossible to pinpoint one or two that most impacted his career.
“When I was an underage kid growing up in New York City,” he says, “I’d sneak into bars and clubs in Greenwich Village and see Dylan perform, sometimes to a audience of just a handful of people. I saw Jimi Hendrix accompany John Hammond Jr. at the Cafe au Go Go and a few years later saw the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Blind Faith at the Fillmore East.
“I saw Bill Monroe and Skip James in small, informal college concerts, and I watched Bonnie Raitt sing her heart out in my living room, rehearsing material for her album Give It Up. I went to the Apollo Theater and saw James Brown and the Famous Flames, Junior Walker and Bo Diddley.
“I took guitar lessons from Reverend Gary Davis when I was a kid. I jammed with Lowell George, Paul Butterfield, Rick Danko, and Steve Cropper, and I sat at a piano with Donna Summer, Linda Ronstadt, Michael Bolton, and George Martin. How do I quantify that into one best or most influential performance by one artist in one concert on one night?” he asks. “Everything influenced me — from Beethoven to Robert Johnson.”
Kaz’s influences also began before he started sneaking into concerts.
“When I was 7 years old,” he writes on his website, “all I wanted to do was listen to country music like the Carter Family and Bill Monroe and be a singing cowboy like Gene Autry. What I didn’t know way back then was, that 20 years later, I would co-write the perennial love song, ‘Love Has No Pride.’”
Kaz also never expected his new collection of songs to coalesce into an eight-song album titled Eric Kaz. The songs were recorded last year, and the album so far has only been released in Japan. “I wasn’t planning to make new recordings for an Eric Kaz CD,” he tells me, “but my good friend and producer, Nick Jameson, liked my song ‘Just Wanna Be Home’ very much. Very often, we would sing and jam together, and ‘Just Wanna Be Home’ was one of his favorites.”
Jameson and Kaz were friends when they lived in Woodstock, New York, and they worked together there on recording projects of Raitt, Chris Smither, Rosalie Sorrels and other artists. Jameson produced and engineered albums for many musicians in Woodstock, including Paul Butterfield, Maria Muldaur, and Tim Moore. He also joined Foghat, produced their albums and made solo albums. Kaz reconnected with Jameson in Los Angeles, and that was the genesis of the new album.
“I felt completely relaxed and comfortable n Nick’s home studio environment and played and sang ‘Just Wanna Be Home’ in one or two complete takes,” Kaz writes in the album’s liner notes. “I don’t like to overdub my singing or playing, and [I] try to get the whole thing right in one complete performance. It felt good not having to deal with other musicians, trying to teach them the arrangements, the chords, the solos. I was free to do my own thing, and it felt really good. We had no plans to do anything else after that, but I liked the experience so much I started to talk to Nick about doing an entire project together.”
By collaborating with Jameson, Kaz tells me, he was able to establish his “own weird sense of timing and rhythm without having to follow a backup band of studio players.”
“There were a few exceptions of course,” he says. “The problem was and still is: I’m just not a pop singer/recording artist. With Nick’s help, I finally figured out what I had to do to make it work.”
Kaz says that “sometimes the recording and production process does not do someone justice.” But the collection of new songs and his musicianship on them is “another big step” toward “an accurate reflection of my musical vision.”