IN CONCERT: Of Songs and Feelings – JACK TEMPCHIN – SANTA BARBARA NEWS PRESS
IN CONCERT : Of Songs and Feelings – Jack Tempchin, best known for penning Eagles hits ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling’ and ‘Already Gone,’ returns to the Tales From the Tavern series, Wednesday at the Maverick Saloon
BY JOSEF WOODARD, SANTA BARBARA NEWS-PRESS CORRESPONDENT
To address the elephant in the room — that is, Jack Tempchin’s songwriting career — yes, he is responsible for the classic Eagle’s song “Peaceful Easy Feeling.” Among the hundreds more he has written over 40 years, that title is and will always be his best-known and epitaphic achievement.
But there is more to his story, as he shows in his live sets, one of which he’ll give at the Maverick Saloon Wednesday in a return visit to the Tales From the Tavern series.
Actually, not to belabor the “peaceful easy” angle, Tempchin was sitting by the beach near his home in Encinitas recently, talking up the press on his cell phone. Among many topics discussed, including his new “Song a Day Journal” project on YouTube, Tempchin spoke philosophically about what has become his signature song.
“I never thought it was going to be a big song when I wrote it,” he says. “It was really a convergence of the right time in history, the right people performing it and making a record and everything else involved. You can’t underestimate just the contribution that incredible record made.
“Then, it just became its own little work of art, to my great astonishment. It picked up a life of its own, just like all my favorite songs that I used to listen to and still do. A song becomes the property, really, of all those people who hear it and loved it. ‘Over the Rainbow’ doesn’t belong to the writers anymore. It belongs to everybody who sings their kids to sleep with it. Of course, I’m so pleased to have that happen with one of my songs.”
In checking in on Tempchin’s résumé, with songs covered by George Jones, Johnny Rivers, Emmylou Harris, Glen Campbell, Glenn Frey (a longtime writing partner) and others, he is obviously a musician of eclectic interests. It’s not all peaceful and easy.
“I love it all,” Tempchin says. “I love to write a jazz song or rock songs — like (Eagles hit) ‘Already Gone.’ I also have a lot of good time blues-y songs. I write songs with Candye Kane, which are more about either sex or eating food. I write songs about the joys of misbehavior. And then I write a bunch of ballads and love songs, and ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling’-type things, too. Whichever kind of thing I’m working on, the best song is the one I just wrote.”
Over the years, Tempchin has also kept up his live work, partly as a way of road testing new material. He had a band called The Funky Kings in the ’70s, was a regular opening act for the likes of Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band and Christopher Cross, and had a popular Monday night gig at the hip L.A. hole-in-the-wall club The Joint for a few years, where drop-in guests included Donovan, Joe Walsh, Roger Daltrey and Delbert McClinton.
His discography includes an album for Arista and the 2007 grab bag “Songs.”
In short, songs propel him. Whereas professional songwriters have often had external pressures to produce, Tempchin has concocted a unique internal source of pressure on his creative faculties recently, with his “Song a Day Journal,” available daily on YouTube. Theoretically, he pens a new song daily, makes a low-fi video if himself singing the tune and uploads it for the World Wide Web to see.
“It’s quite challenging,” he says. “I try to keep the quality high, as well. Once in a while, I dip into the past and I get something out of an old notebook and make that into a song. But most of them are created fresh.”In part, the concept attests to the burst of creative energy and need for a viable outlet for his songs, an urge satisfied by the Internet.
“I was sick and I got well, and I had all this energy,” he says. “I thought, ‘Hey, I’ll do this.’ I’ve always wanted to do a lot of stuff on the Web, but the technology wasn’t there for me to do it all by myself. Now I can make a song and put a video up. It just creates more energy, because I’m always thinking about the next song.”
In a sense, the project is a modern way of getting around the typical delay between getting a song covered and it being released to the public, a situation that is a built-in source of frustration for songwriters. “(With the Internet,) I could write something and 40 to 100 people could see it the next day, and I could find out if it’s catching on or not,” he says. “The mark of adulthood is supposed to be that you can accept delayed gratification, so I’m not so grown up, really. I can, but I prefer just to have a more immediate gratification. That’s inspiring, and it keeps you going.”
Possibilities for his newest songs, among his half-finished ideas, include a song called “Yuck City.” “It’s about eating disgusting foods,” Tempchin says. “I did a show for teachers, and it made me think of writing a song for kids, so it’s about all the horrible things that appear on your plate that you have to eat. It has the line, ‘Don’t make me go back to Yuck City.’ It’s just an idea so far, but I’m amassing a list of smelly unpleasant things that people eat.”
Tempchin may or may not score another hit cover song, but regardless of his commercial prospects, he remains committed to the art form that has consumed his life. At this late juncture in his career, he is newly re-dedicated to the creative process.
“I’m really thrilled that I can find a spot for myself in the world of music. It doesn’t have to be a big spot. Like Ricky Nelson said, ‘If memories were all that I sang, I’d rather drive a truck.’ I don’t mind getting up and singing a bunch of songs people are familiar with, because I’m lucky to have those. But on a day-to-day basis, I need to continually create, or else you just feel stagnant.
“There were some eras and times when there was no music but disco, say, or no music but hip hop and rap. For those periods, I was very frustrated, because I didn’t even try to write those things. I knew it just wasn’t going to happen. So you just keep doing what you’re doing and hope a time will come around when you have a spot.”
Clearly, songwriting is his life’s direction.
“I tried quitting,” he says. “It seemed like a good idea, but I’m giving up on that.”