Interview with Kai Clark on His Father’s 72th Birthday
My sincere thanks to Kai Clark for doing this interview with me literally an the eve of the Gene Clark tribute show at The Chapel in San Francisco. On December 3 he will be a featured performer at the Gram Parsons 70th Birthday Bash at Don the Beachcomber in Huntington Beach, CA. Thanks Kai for these trenchant responses.
WJ: I understand you just received the CDs of the Gene Clark lost Studio sessions released from Sierra records. That sounds exciting. Tell us a little about that.
Some years ago I received a call from John Delgatto, founder of Sierra Records. He had been a close friend of Jim Dickson, who had supported and worked with my father over the span of his career. John had mentioned that Jim had left him quite a collection of recordings of my father’s that were rare and mostly unheard/ unreleased material. Before Jim had passed away he urged John to connect with my brother Kelly and me about releasing these recordings. John approached us with the project with an honesty and sincerity rarely found in this business. His first words were “these belong to you and your brother.” Then he asked if we would be ok with him releasing the material under his label, thereafter we would inherit the masters of the recordings and the rights thereof. Of course, this sparked my interest, and the respectful way he approached us made this offer seem too good to be true. I agreed to meet him at his home to hear the actual recordings and meet him in person. Interestingly, a friend of a friend had asked me to play a Gram Parsons tribute concert in Joshua Tree around the same time. John Delgatto’s house was on the way to the show.
If you ask me, there aren’t any coincidences in this world! Not only were these recordings some of the best I have heard of my father, his voice and penmanship were absolutely Steller! But John proceeded to hand me a pile of quality releases that he had done under his label in the past, which included the amazing Gram Parsons box set and other releases by artists such as Clarence White, Skip Battin, Douglas Dillard, Chris Hillman, Bernie Leadon, Al Perkins, Byron Berline and the list goes on. Most of the artists had worked with my father on projects on many occasions. Needless to say, I really liked John. And after seeing the releases done under his wing, I knew this release would be something special! The finished project is absolutely amazing. If you are a Gene Clark fan or are remotely interested in the man or his music, then you have to get this album. Its very rare! We will have some of the first copies of this CD and hopefully the vinyl addition for sale at the Gram Parsons 70th Birthday Bash at Don The Beachcomber on December 3 in Huntington Beach, where I am honored to be able to play some of both Gram and my father’s songs. Both were amazing songwriters and unique individuals as well. It’s truly an honor to be part of these events!
Note: There is a great picture of Gram and my dad and some interesting writing which includes mentions of Gram in several spots in the liner notes.
WJ: It has to be tough sometimes being the son of a musical icon and trying to make it on your own name. Jesse & Noah (Bellamy, they prefer not to use their last name) who just played our Nashville show I think are feeling a bit of that, the good and the maybe not so good of such connections. I think also Natalie Noone who’s played two of our shows a bit too, although she embraces her dad and does shows with him while writing and playing a very different style of music. Briefly, how do you handle that, getting your own vision out there?
KC: Living up to the legacy of my father can be, and has been, tough at times. I think you must realize that it was a different time for music and consider my father’s upbringing and his drive and passion to succeed. He had an undeniable talent. The urge is to go out and blaze a path on your own. To in some way find your own success. But just like the name of the Byrds followed my father for the rest of his life and career, so will the fact that I am Gene Clark’s son follow me for the rest of my life. I embrace it now with all that I am. I look at it as though he left me this great gift to learn and enjoy. As a younger man, I use to only want to play my own material. Now I am growing and opening new doors by embracing his music and playing it as much as I can.
WJ: Without getting into the whole label thing, in what overall continuum do you find your own creative process and therefore music? For example, I naturally find Bakersfield to be more of an influence out here than say in Nashville. How do you deal with pigeon-holing what you write and play?
KC: I think your environment defiantly influences your music. I also think that it can come from anywhere. I think that where you are or what you surround yourself with is just a medium to what’s already there inside you. I think we are coming to a point where we can play different genres of music within the same circle. The first two CD’S I made were all over the place as far as genres go. I would have a full-on rock song followed by a slow country style ballad. Any label that approached me always asked this question first. “So what are you?” “Country?” “Rock?” “Pop?” “Blues?” “Singer songwriter?” I had a hard time putting my music into one category because I have so many influences and such a diverse background in music. I always despised that about the music industry. I mean I can see for marketing reasons why they must put you in a certain category but I think that sometimes it puts walls up around the artist. That very one thing has probably kept more people like me from getting a record deal than anything else.
Right now, I find inspiration for my writing in my family life. I have three young children and a beautiful loving wife and I can’t tell you how strong my feelings are for them. Music is a great way to express our feelings and emotions without having to directly say them. I don’t just write music for people to listen too but I also write music to express what’s inside me. Playing and writing music is a very healthy thing no matter where or when.
WJ: When in your life did you become aware of Gram Parsons and what effect if any do you feel his music has had on yours? Did you ever meet him?
KC: Sadly, I never got to meet Gram. I was born in 1973 which is of course the year he passed away. Over the years I often heard his name mentioned by my father or his friends. There is a lot of history between my father and Gram. Not just between them but on their own journeys. They both lived short and extremely interesting lives. I think I discovered Gram’s music when I was in my early 20s though I didn’t fully delve into it until after I did my first Gram tribute show in my early 30’s.
I remember my father playing this one song all the time when I was growing up. I can remember him playing it on so many occasions. I just figured it was his song because he never said otherwise. The song I found out later was “Hickory Wind.” He absolutely loved that song! Every time I hear that song now it reminds me of my dad and Gram. I love playing Gram’s songs and they not only influenced me, but I am sure that they influenced my father in some ways long before me.