Ron Balliet: First, I would like to thank you for this chance to sit down and talk to you about your career.
It's my pleasure.
RB: Tell me a little about how you got started playing music.
Well, let's see... I didn't play at first, I just had a guitar and imitated it (laughter). I had an old guitar and the tuning keys weren't working. Then, I heard about this guy named Aubrey Walker, who could tune guitars and I took mine over there and he tuned mine with a pair of pliers, no less. Then, he taught me a few chords and the first song I played was "Corrina, Corrina" (sings part of the song).
RB: How old were you at this time?
I don't know... around 13 or 14. Then, I was trying to figure out how Chuck Berry was playing these leads, you know? And I just could not figure it out. Aubrey Walker had a nephew named Corky, and he could play guitar a little better than me. He had a friend from St. Louis who came to visit and he could play like Chuck Berry. So, I sat and watched him play one night. I was just glued to what he was doing and I went home and I could kind of start doing it.
RB: So you picked it up fairly easily? Playing guitar?
Yeah, I picked it up pretty good, actually. I lived in a little military town in Southwest Oklahoma that, actually, used to be part of Texas and there were a lot of bars and I heard about this guy who was in town, who had a group called The Tornadoes. He was a Mexican guy named Lou Vargas, and he was playing at a place called The Pink Elephant. So, I would have a friend drive me out to The Pink Elephant and we would park underneath the window and we would roll down our windows and listen to The Tornadoes play and I would hear what the guitar player was doing and I would pick up on it. I could visualize in my mind what his hands were doing and I finally got up enough nerve to talk to him. I was in a music store one day, and he came in buying strings and I was playing my guitar and he was watching me play. I found out where he lived and I walked over to his house and knocked on the door and said, "Teach me how to play guitar." He said, "I heard you play guitar. You already know how to play." (laughter) I said, "Yeah, but I can't do what you do." He was a very nice guy and, if you notice, all my records are dedicated to Lou Vargas. I haven't seen him since I left Oklahoma, which was back in the Jurassic Park era. (laughter)
RB: Were your parents supportive of your musical endeavors?
RB: Did that hurt you or bother you any?
Yeah, it bothered me a whole lot. My dad was a musician, but only classical music was acceptable. So, that was difficult for me.
RB: You have said that Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis and The Beatles have been a major influence on you. Are there any others?
I listened to all music and some have influenced me more than others. The list would be a whole lot longer, but those are the beginning ones. Big Joe Turner was a big influence on me. I love Big Joe Turner. Bo Diddley was another, Louie Prima, you know, these were the ones when I was younger. Living in that little town in Oklahoma, there wasn't a whole lot of radio. But, I would stay up late at night and listen to radio programs out of the South. That was about the only way you could hear music that was "happening". I had a friend whose dad was a juke-box distributor. He had this big building filled with all kinds of records. He had tons of 78's and, of course, 45's which is what the juke-boxes were playing and I would go there and get 78's and 45's and I was also able to get records from the black artists that I normally wouldn't have been able to get.
RB: Tell me a little bit about how you joined The Disciples.
Well, The Disciples was a group that came and played in my hometown. They were out of Norman, Oklahoma. And later on when I left high school, and I might add, that I left the night of graduation. I literally had my car parked at the exit of the high school filled with all my clothes. I was going to Duncan, Oklahoma where I had rented a motel room. I was hired by a Chinese guy to play in his band at a club in Lawton, Oklahoma, which was one of the bigger towns and they had lots of bars. Anyway, graduation was over and I was taking off my robe and the principal was there and he would not give me my diploma until I paid 25 cents for an overdue library book. I was a big reader but I could never remember to take the books back. So I always had these big bills at the city and school libraries and he wouldn't give me my diploma. I gave him the money, gave him my robe and walked straight out the door and left. I headed out to Duncan to play in that band. But what happened was they had a raid. Oklahoma was real strict with their drinking laws because of being a big Bible Belt state. They had a raid and found out I was underage so they kicked me out and I couldn't play in that club anymore. So I went to Norman, Oklahoma and started teaching guitar at a little guitar shop along with Jesse Ed Davis, who was a real famous guitar player later on. He and I was teaching playing guitar there, and the guy who owned the shop was the booking agent for The Disciples. The Disciples guitar player left the group so they needed a new guitar player. They auditioned me and Jesse Ed Davis and they took me and Davis has never let me forget that. (laughter)
RB: Tell me about your time with The Disciples.
We were a really good band. I wasn't the singer. I was just the guitar player. I had the ability to sing, but back then I didn't have the courage to be a singer. There were certain things that I needed to learn and I didn't realize that a person could overcome certain things about singing. I figured a person could learn how to play guitar, but I thought you were born a singer. You know? And I thought either you had a voice or you didn't. So, I mainly played guitar. We played at a lot of colleges and we went to Colorado where the drinking age was 18. So, we were like, in heaven. At this time, we were playing a lot of Beatles, but we were also doing bluesy stuff. Being from that part of the country, all the guitar players were more blues-oriented. My guitar hero was Freddie King. Certainly not Eric Clapton. There were guys in Tulsa that could blow Clapton away. But, because they weren't from England, or on the cover of Rolling Stone, they were unsung heroes. We were playing Beatles' songs and then, we would play Johnny Lee Hooker. So, as a guitar player, you had to go from a big, distorted sound to a clean sound for The Beatles, which was very hard to do. I was using a 1951 or 1952 Telecaster at the time. When we played in Colorado, there were a lot of college kids there. They would go back to their universities and call us during the winter to play at their colleges. Although we lived in Oklahoma, we were going to Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and as far away as Michigan and Illinois. We played a lot in the Midwest and the South, but not very much in the Southwest. While we were doing that, we happened to get a gig in Detroit, Michigan in this club, one summer. There was a band playing there and the keyboard player was Bob Seger. The lead singer was a guy named Fontaine Brown. Fontaine went to California and remembered us and gave us a call and said, "Come out. I want to do a record with you." We went to California, and we were signed to an all black label, except for Fontaine and us. Fontaine was a producer. At the time, the black musicians didn't understand the white music scene too well. Especially, the distorted guitars and loud volumes. So, they were trying to put us into a pop vein. That was not too good, but we learned a lot about writing. Well, that didn't fly and after a while, we got the idea of Fontaine joining our band. Fontaine joined the band and Southwind was born. I was the guitar player and co-wrote some songs. I even sang a couple songs. Actually, the best song we ever did, as far as my performance, was a single that was never on an album. That was called, BOOGIE WOOGIE COUNTRY GIRL, and that did real well.
RB: You have performed that song in concert, from time to time.
I haven't done that song in a long time. I am thinking about redoing it. But, if I redo that song, people will say, "You're doing the same old thing." And, if you try something new, they say you are selling out.
RB: Southwind broke up and you all went your separate ways.
Fontaine was a very talented singer/songwriter. He was the most "together" at the time, as far as his writing and singing. He had a vision for himself. Another guy in the band, who was a singer, was Jim Pulte, and he was a very good singer too. He didn't quite have his act together as well as Fontaine did. It's one of those things that just when you're going to "happen", is when most bands break up because the pressure gets great, and you don't realize it. You're doing real well in concert and you are blowing everybody away, but there's no response from radio necessarily, or from the record company and then, you've got guys on the side, who are whispering in your ears, "Hey, you're the star! Dump these other guys." And, I will tell you right now, you know that movie with Tom Hanks called, THAT THING YOU DO? That's not accurate at all. That's not the way it is. You're not going to have a record company at that time, telling the artist what to record. I mean, that wasn't going on at the time. Back then, the record companies didn't know what was going on. What record companies did, at that time, was bust groups up either on purpose, or because they were evil. Like whispering in your bandmate's ears. And, if the record companies weren't doing it, it was the girlfriends. So, you gotta be real strong.
RB: Were any of these girlfriends named Yoko Ono?
(laughter) We had a guy working for us a roadie, who was as bad at it as anybody. So, with all the pressure and the talking behind backs, things did not work out.
RB: Who were some of the bands you toured with when you were in Southwind?
Oh, there were tons. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Spirit, Sly Stone, Tower Of Power, Chicago Transit Authority, Jethro Tull, Canned Heat, John Lee Hooker, David Lindley and Linda Ronstadt.
RB: So, you got to meet some "big time" rock performers.
Yeah, we also got to blow a lot of them off the stage, I might add. We were a very good band. We could take an audience and get them crazy in a matter of 15 minutes. But, it was very difficult to get that on vinyl. We did not have the expertise about how to go about recording that live. I'm the kind of guitar player that is more along the line of Neil Young. The "seat of your pants" kind of guitar player. There are guys who can play note for note, the guitar solos from Clapton's CROSSROADS. I'm not that kind of guy. I just emote and go from feeling. The other musicians in Southwind were very much like that. They were much less trained than I. It's difficult to get that relaxed thing and once you do get it, it's even more difficult to get it recorded right. When we played The Forum with CCR, we had the same agent. CCR told the agent that we couldn't be on their show anymore. I think it was because they thought we sounded too much like them. However, I didn't think we sounded much like them at all. It was roots rock, though.
RB: After Southwind broke up, you became a session player for various people including Linda Ronstadt.
Yeah, Linda and I were friends. She also lived in Topanga Canyon. Or, I should say, I was crashing in Topanga Canyon. (laughter) I had met Linda at a show, at Mr. Benjamin's, in L.A. We were boyfriend and girlfriend for a time. After that kind of fell apart a couple years later, she was doing a thing at The Troubador and her guitar player, that she was using at the time, was Bernie Leadon. He couldn't make it back to do this show in which she was recording live. The guy who was playing guitar for her at the time, was Glenn Frey. The drummer was Don Henley. The pedal-steel player was Sneaky Pete and the bass player was Michael Bowden. They needed a guitar player and they called me up and we spent a week recording Linda's, RESCUE ME. It was when she was first trying to do rock. At the end of the week, Glenn Frey was saying how the band sounded real good. He said he and Don Henley were putting a band together. He already had Bernie Leadon playing for him, but they were trying to figure out if they needed another guitar player. I said I was with this other band and we had been at it for a long time. They went on to form The Eagles using Bernie and they also added another guitar player to do the rock stuff because Bernie was a very good country player but I'm more of a rock guy. Whether they were thinking of using me instead of, or in addition to, Bernie, I don't know. I remember going home and talking to my roommate at the time, about whether I should do it or not and he said, "Nah, what have those guys ever done? Stay with the guys you're with." And, to this day, this guy says, "I am the guy who kept you out of The Eagles!!!" (laughter)
RB: Any regrets, not taking their offer?
No, because I didn't want to be just a guitar player. And, I would have had to really study playing the guitar to keep up in that band, because they hired a couple gunslingers. At that time, I was just thinking about being a writer and a singer, but mainly a singer. I said to myself, "I had already done the sideman thing." I was into writing and they certainly had enough writers in that band.
RB: Later on, you honed your writing skills. You had several artists including Mink DeVille, Lisa Burns and Michelle Phillips record your songs. And later, Robert Palmer, Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, Paul Rodgers, Rachel Sweet and many others. It must make you feel good that other artists like your songwriting style. How does this come about? Do artists come to you, or are your songs pitched to them, by others?
I have never pitched too many songs myself. But, most of the time, when I do pitch a song, the artist will record it. If I'm there singing it to them, they wind up recording the song. Most of my covers have come about by me releasing my own albums, and artists picking it up.
RB: Have the artists ever called you up to talk about the songs?
No, not usually. I did have Dave Edmunds call me up one time, to ask me about a certain guitar sound.
RB: So, you decided to start a solo career, one in which your musical direction is quite a bit different than Southwind, in a lot of ways. Is this the music you had wanted to play all along?
Like I said, in order for a guy to learn how to do things, anything, you have to figure out what your liabilities are. You have to figure out what your strengths are. Then, you have to focus on your strengths and avoid your liabilities until they are no longer liabilities. Put simply, if you can't do it, don't do it. Well, Fontaine Brown was more of a power singer. Jim Pulte was more of an R&B kind of singer, country guy. I had this other kind of singing that wasn't quite developed. I couldn't get Southwind to do it because I couldn't get the drummer and the bass player to be simple enough. Back then, the "thing" was a lot of bass notes, syncopation in the bass and in the kick drum. My "trip" is for the vocal to be real syncopated, where everything else is not. I am singing the bass line because I am a rhythmic kind of guy. If you have a bass player who's thinking like a bass player, he's going to be doing the same thing you're doing and all of a sudden there's nothing to rock off of. I didn't know, at the time, that that was what was required to make it work. I only instinctively felt how the bass line should be. Back then, musicians did not like being told what to do. It was like, "Hey, man, there's no leader in this band. It's a democracy. Don't tell me how to play my instrument." So, I had to have my own band, in order for me, to get what I wanted to do.
RB: How did you get your contract with Capitol Records?
I got my contract with Capitol Records because of CADILLAC WALK, by Mink DeVille, doing so well in Europe and the United States.
RB: How did producer Craig Leon come into the picture?
I heard about Craig Leon through my music publisher. He had played me a demo Craig had done on VICTIM OF ROMANCE, and it sounded like Phil Spector, somewhat, and I liked Phil Spector.
RB: You named your first album SHOTS FROM A COLD NIGHTMARE. Can you tell me the meaning of this album's title?
Well, I'm not a "meaning" kind of guy. It's either I like it or I don't like it and I don't take it any deeper than that, you know? I'll let someone else dig out what it means. To me, I liked it. At that particular time, I was reading a lot of Phillip Marlowe. So, that probably came out of FAREWELL MY LOVELY or THE BIG SLEEP.
RB: So, more or less, all of your album titles could fall under this same explanation then? Except for LOUISIANA JUKE-BOX.
Well, I was gonna call that album either VOODOO RIVER or LOUISIANA JUKE-BOX. I had never called an album off one of my song titles, and I sort of liked the way those titles worked, you know?
RB: How did Gary Valentine, of Blondie, become the bass player for SHOTS FROM A COLD NIGHTMARE?
Craig Leon had just done a couple Blondie records, so, he was used to working with Gary, so, he wanted to use Gary Valentine on bass. We wound up having Valentine on bass, instead of Doug Feiger, and Phil Seymour played drums.
RB: Had you known Phil Seymour beforehand?
Phil was in The Dwight Twilley Band. My manager, Ron Henry, was also their manager, at the time.
RB: SHOTS FROM A COLD NIGHTMARE received good critical reviews with some calling it, one of the Best New Artist albums of the year. But, it failed to garner you any hit singles. Was this disappointing to you?
Well, it's always good to keep things in perspective. I'm certainly not the only one who has had something good said about them, that didn't have a hit off a particular album. It was hard to try to figure out how the system worked, how you could get so much good press, so well received live and not have your record label acknowledge that you were doing well.
RB: Robert Palmer recorded your song, BAD CASE OF LOVIN' YOU, which charted well. How did this recording with Robert Palmer come about?
At that time, my publishing company was one of the top publishing companies. I had BAD CASE OF LOVIN' YOU and ROLENE and NO CHANCE did well that year. So I had three chart records that year, for the same publishing company. At that time, it was very difficult for a rock record to do well. Even Pat Benatar was having trouble cracking the Top 20. Some people were saying that BAD CASE OF LOVIN' YOU is the song that brought rock back to the charts. Because, at that time, you had Fleetwood Mac, which I really like, but it's not rock. And, you had Rupert Holmes with PINA COLADA, things like that. How Robert came about recording the song was that Robert told me he was going to do a show, and he was being driven to the show by a program guy, and the program guy asked him if he had heard this new Moon Martin record and played him BAD CASE OF LOVIN' YOU and Robert, later, put it in his set. That was back when people took chances. These days, the shows are so organized and rehearsed, that they have a set list and don't deviate from the list.
RB: Do you know if that is the first time he had ever heard your music or was he already familiar with it?
As far as I know, that is the first time he had heard my music.
RB: He then, became a big fan of yours.
Yeah, actually, at one time, he was doing 3 or 4 songs of mine in his set.
RB: Do you recall hearing his version of BAD CASE OF LOVING YOU, on the radio, for the first time?
I don't remember hearing it for the first time, on the radio. I don't listen to much radio. I do remember hearing ROLENE, on the radio, for the first time. We were on tour and the guys in the band liked to listen to the radio, so they would have the radio on. I was recording ESCAPE FROM DOMINATION, in Vermont and I'm in Vermont, and someone says, "Hey, Robert Palmer is recording BAD CASE OF LOVIN' YOU." I said, "Really?" I said that it would be interesting if BAD CASE and one of my songs, come out at the same time. So I get back home to California, and I get a call from Warner Brothers and they said, "Robert's down here and wants to meet you. Could you come down?" And, they said, "By the way, BAD CASE OF LOVIN' YOU is going to be a number one record." This is before the record is even released.
RB: Did you have any say in what songs got released as singles?
I had no choice. They usually picked first song, first side. If you have 8 good songs on an album of ten, let's say, it's harder for them to pick a single than if you have one good song. So there was always someone at the label saying, "I like this tune," while another would say, "I like this tune." My records were always in limbo, because no one could figure out which song was to be released. So they released HOT NITE IN DALLAS, and that was it. It did well on the rock charts, but it had no single promotion because they didn't think rock could do well. They never did release BAD CASE OF LOVIN' YOU and, six months later, it's a big hit for Robert Palmer.
RB: Can you tell me a little bit about your first tour?
My very first tour was in August of '78 and I went up to Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon and, I think, San Francisco and Vancouver. That was fun. Now, keep in mind, I had always been just the guitar player in my other bands, and this was the first time I had to sing every song in the set. Sometimes, 2 sets a night. I had myself worried sick and I was glad to see I could get through it. I remember playing up there and all of a sudden realizing I had some hits.
RB: You can tell this by the response of the people?
Yeah. I had been used to playing a lot of clubs. I started playing when I was 14. When you start playing clubs and your job is to get the audience off, you have to have what you call "chestnuts". (laughter) Something to drag out when things are going down, you know? So, you always had these certain songs that you would "pull out of a hat", so to speak. And the ones we always did were TURN ON YOUR LOVELIGHT, by Bobby "Blue" Bland, LAND OF A THOUSAND DANCES and GLORIA. Those kinds of songs. Later on, it became ONLY YOU KNOW AND I KNOW and TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS. (laughter) You know, those songs were guaranteed to get an audience off. Others were MIDNIGHT HOUR and KNOCK ON WOOD. And, all of a sudden, shoot, I realized I had three or four of those kinds of songs that I had written, in my set. I would do a song and say, "I gotta put that at the end of the set," because that's the kind of song you want to do at the end. So, subsequently, I put together a blistering set.
RB: Did you tour Europe for the first album?
Oh yeah. I mainly toured Europe. I went to Germany for 2 months. We sold 75,000 copies of my first album in Germany alone. That's big numbers for a first album over there.
RB: How did you chose the members of your backing band, The Ravens?
Well, Rick and Denny Croy just auditioned. I was auditioning bass players and I had had so much more trouble with bass players than anything else. I just felt that 8th notes on a bass was better for what I was doing. It was difficult to get bass players to want to do that. They all wanted to play a lot of syncopation. Denny Croy was able to do it and do it with conviction. As Robert Palmer always used to say, "Yeah, a guy can sing a certain style, but can he do it with conviction?" Robert used to talk about how a guy could imitate this style and that style, but could he do it convincingly? You could get a bass player who would say he could play the 8th notes, but he wouldn't do it convincingly. Denny could play it with authority and he loved doing it and I told him I was looking for a drummer and he said his brother played drums real well. So he brought in his brother, and I said, "This is great." But, I still needed a guy who could sing tenor parts and that is hard because my syncopations and vocal phrasings are difficult. I needed someone with range, you know? So I was auditioning guys, and I was not having much luck. I called this one guy up who told me he had a friend from Des Moines, Iowa, who might be able to do it. So he sent Jude Cole over, who was only 17 or 18 at the time. I had him sing like maybe three lines and I said, "That'll do. (laughter) That's good enough." I remember telling my girlfriend, at the time, I said, "This guy can really do it."
RB: On SHOTS FROM A COLD NIGHTMARE, you do a version of ALL I'VE GOT TO DO, by The Beatles. Did you ever get a chance to meet any of The Beatles?
No, but remember Southwind? The Beatles were forming their own record label and they put Peter Asher as the head of Apple Records. Well, Peter Asher was looking for talent in L.A. and he came out to that club called Mr. Benjamin's and he saw us play. So he gave us some money and a producer, to go in and do some demos. We went in and did demos for The Beatles record label. It was us and one other band. So they sent those things off to be on Apple Records, but it never developed. Apple didn't have a very long life. They had Jackie Lomax and Badfinger and that was about it. Southwind had a song that had the same groove as LADY MADONNA.
RB: In an article written by Stephen Peeples for the 12 inch vinyl for BAD CASE OF LOVIN' YOU, he states that many would have thought the frenzy stirred by the critical acclaim and the MOON'S OVER EUROPE tour would have led to much more success. Can you tell me what caused your career to stall when, obviously, you were putting out some damn good songs?
Right place, at the right time, or wrong place, at the wrong time. It's always hard to figure these things out. It's all in the timing. Again, I spent most of my time in Europe, because that is where my music was most appreciated.
RB: Let's talk about the cover of ESCAPE FROM DOMINATION, with the aliens. What was the concept and who came up with it?
Well, I did. But, it wasn't supposed to be quite as ordinary as that. I wanted it to be a little more mysterious than that. (laughter) Yeah, it was my concept. But, I wanted it to be more moody and eerie and I chose the title as well.
RB: I have heard that at a concert there was such a call by the audience for you to do another encore, that you wrote a song backstage in, like, 4 minutes. Which song was that?
Yeah, what happened was, we were in Berlin and this show was extraordinary. I remember the show to this day. We were in a medium-sized theater, like a movie theater, and all the seats were slanted and it had a balcony. Man, it was rockin'! We did three encores and I didn't have a lot of material at that time. Well, that's not really fair to say. Back then, people would say, "Bruce Springsteen plays for 2 hours and you only play for 45 minutes. What's the deal?" Like I am short-changing people or something, you know? And I'd say, "Well, how many songs does Bruce play in 2 hours? Ten?" Everybody played nine solos and Bruce raps about each song for 10 minutes. You see? I don't do that. I let the songs speak for themselves.
RB: So, Moon, how are you ever going to do STORYTELLERS on VH1, if you don't tell stories about what your songs mean?
Yeah! Really! (laughter) So I say, in my set, I might do 20 songs while Bruce is doing 10. We had done about 20 songs and I had been working on this song called HOT HOUSE BABY and parts of it were simple enough so I could say, "All right boys, here's how it goes," and I am trying to teach this song to these guys backstage. You might say. "Moon, why didn't you just play something like JOHNNY B. GOODE?" You have to remember that I had always been a guitar player, so subsequently, I didn't know the lyrics to other people's tunes. I knew very few songs by anybody else. I didn't know Chuck Berry's songs as far as singing them. So anyway, I had not even finished writing or recording HOT HOUSE BABY, but we were able to pull it off.
RB: Let's go on to your next release called STREET FEVER. Yourself and Warren Dewey produced this album and some would say this has a bit of a harder edge to it with songs like FIVE DAYS OF FEVER, STRANDED and BREAKOUT TONIGHT. Did you want this record to have a different feel than your first two?
No, I wasn't thinking in terms like that. The only thing I did was I wanted to record the drums a certain way and Craig Leon didn't wanna do that. So I had to get a different producer, to go in that direction. But, I was just writing the songs and those were the ones that just popped out. I took the record to Capitol and they said they did not hear any hits. So, I went and recorded 3 more songs that weren't originally on STREET FEVER.
RB: What were these songs?
SIGNAL FOR HELP, LOVE GONE BAD and WHISPERS and Capitol was extremely happy with these additional songs. So, they picked SIGNAL FOR HELP as the single. At the time, I was touring with Rockpile.
RB: The European version of STREET FEVER has an additional song on it, your take on Chuck Berry's, HAVANA MOON. Why was this song not on the U.S. copy of STREET FEVER?
They didn't think they had enough space to put it on the vinyl. The less minutes you have on a side of vinyl, the hotter you can press it, or the louder you can press it. The louder a song is the more bottom and top it has. The louder the song is, the more exciting it sounds. I like that version, by the way.
RB: After STREET FEVER, you released an album called MYSTERY TICKET. Does the title refer to you taking a bit of a new direction?
No, I never thought of it that way. It was just a title that came to my mind and I liked the idea of it, you know?
RB: How was it that Robert Palmer was chosen to produce MYSTERY TICKET?
After STREET FEVER didn't do so well in the United States, Capitol said, "You need to stop producing your own records. You need to get another producer." And that wasn't any problem with me and I said, "Okay." I said, "Let's go find another producer." And Capitol, at that time, wanted to sign Robert Palmer. I think Capitol thought that by me getting Robert Palmer to produce this record, it was a way to help them sign Robert and they did sign Robert Palmer. After he got off Island, they did wind up signing him. So, I looked around for different producers. I auditioned, in my mind, a lot of producers. I went and talked to a lot of them and I found out that a lot of them didn't know anymore than me and most of them knew a lot less than me. I was going to interview Mutt Lange, but he wanted me to do a 3 or 4 song demo and keep in mind, I was a big thing in Europe and I was saying, "He doesn't know who I am, he doesn't know what my stuff sounds like," and I didn't want to have someone judge my new material to see if he wants to produce me or not. Of course, I might think differently now. (laughter) That would have been a good match. I like his songwriting and I like his production and it would have been a good match for me.
RB: On MYSTERY TICKET, there's a song called ACES WITH YOU. This is one of my favorites from that album and it is produced by Andrew Gold. How did this collaboration come about?
When Capitol wanted me to get a new producer I said, "That's fine." But, the problem with the record business is you have the pop charts and you have the rock charts and rock producers don't know how to make pop records and pop producers don't know how to make rock records. So, I thought we needed two producers. One to do the rock stuff and one to do the pop stuff. I said, "Let's get Andrew Gold to do the pop stuff and we'll get someone else to do the rock stuff," and I wound up with Robert Palmer doing the rock stuff. So, that was my idea on that and Andrew produced ACES WITH YOU.
RB: You also worked on another song with Andrew Gold that didn't make it on the album.
Yeah, a remake of MR. BLUE. I don't know, about ten years later, Garth Brooks did a country version of it.
RB: MYSTERY TICKET has a bit of a techno-pop, keyboard-based sound to it which is somewhat different than your other albums. Was this a direction you wanted to take or did Robert Palmer have some say in the direction you took with this album?
Well, no, this was pretty much me. Craig Leon, my first producer, even says this. He says he and I did one of the first techno records. Now, I think Donna Summer did the first techno record. I was just putting a little more rock into what Donna Summer did. At the time, I was really liking the synth thing that was happening over in Europe and BAD CASE OF LOVIN' YOU was in that direction and so all you gotta do is put a little more synths in it. So this album was not a big stretch, from my imagination, from what I had done in the past. It was just a different over-dubbing approach. Robert was more than happy to help me achieve that because he had been working with Gary Numan and some guy from Tangerine Dream and he knew how to make that kind of record and there was a new way to cut tracks which was you cut with a sequencer and it was a more musical approach. Robert had to put up with a lot of flak in Europe because I was kind of like their American guitar-hero, Chuck Berry hero, roots-rocker guy in Europe and I came out with this techno record and when they interviewed Robert, they would say, "Why did you take our guitar-hero and make him into this techno-gentleman's-quarterly kind of artist?" (laughter)
RB: Did MYSTERY TICKET sell less than your other albums in Europe?
It sold less than STREET FEVER, which was a big hit, but it still sold better than my first two records. And, it had a bona-fide hit, it had X-RAY VISION, which was a hit in Europe.
RB: And your only video was for X-RAY VISION?
It was the only video that I would even want to look at, yeah. I did a couple videos before that, but it was before the video era.
RB: You mean just performance videos?
RB: Gene Taylor, of The Blasters, played some keyboards on this record. How did he become involved in this recording?
Well, I liked his piano playing. I think he is real good and I thought he could do what I wanted. So I brought him down, and had him play.
RB: The album was recorded at Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas. I bet that was quite a lot of fun.
Yeah, I was there for 4 or 5 months and Robert was very patient with me. I have a lot of ideas, so I would have one idea, and while they were trying that idea, I would have six more. Plus, I'll have 3 or 4 parts going on in my head. I would construct the songs in my head and I would say, "The bass part does this and the keyboard part does that," and I would have all these scenarios in my head. Well, Robert does it a different way. Robert will bring in a musician and let the musician play and whatever that musician plays he fixes that up and then, brings in somebody else and then that musician has to play to that drummer. Well, I don't like doing it that way because you paint yourself into a corner with each subsequent overdub and I have since learned that that can be a very good way of doing things and you can come up with some unique surprises that way, but at the time I was more into constructing variations in my head. Robert was very patient and did a great job. Looking back at it, I probably made a mistake remixing some of his mixes. I think his mixes were probably better than mine. I learned some things. Probably, at the expense of the record. I went to a dance club in LA and they were playing X-RAY VISION, which was a big dance hit in the United States, and I noticed that I had put on too much bottom end. I have subsequently learned to be more careful about the mixing setup that I use. I remember Robert didn't like the mixes because he was saying, "Where's the mid-range?" And he was absolutely right because there was so much bottom end that got jacked, on there, there was no guitars and stuff. But, hey, you live and learn.
RB: You mentioned to me during my stay here, that the timing of the video for X-RAY VISION was not good because, by then, the song BAD NEWS from STREET FEVER, was just taking off in Europe. Tell me about that.
Well, it just shows you how things happen. We had finished STREET FEVER. It was done. It's life was over. I had produced STREET FEVER myself and it didn't do well, so the label said I had to get a new producer. So, I get Robert Palmer and we're working on MYSTERY TICKET and in the middle of doing it, and this is about a year after STREET FEVER was released, and I get a call saying we need you to come to Europe for some promotion and I said, "Promotion for what?" and they said, "For STREET FEVER," and I said, "That album is done," and they said, "No, it's a hit." So, I had to leave in the middle of doing MYSTERY TICKET with Robert, to go promote the record that I produced, that everybody said was bad because it was my production. Now, it's a big hit in Europe.
RB: How long were you gone?
I was gone 3 weeks. I told Robert, I said, "Listen, I know you have been working with me for a long time and it must be boring as hell. Bring some guys in and cut some songs and if I come back and you're not finished I'll wait around. I don't care." So while I was gone, you know what he cut? SOME GUYS HAVE ALL THE LUCK. So I am walking down the hall of Compass Point, and I hear this tune and I thought, that sounds like ACES WITH YOU, which is the single that I thought never got a fair shot. So anyway, when it comes time to release MYSTERY TICKET in the United States, they don't want to promote it in Europe because they want to promote STREET FEVER. Now, keep in mind, we now have 2 records. STREET FEVER, which is all guitars, and MYSTERY TICKET, which is all synthesizers. Capitol is very happy I'm doing this new sounding record. But, meanwhile, I've got this giant record that was on the Radio Monte Carlo's charts for, like, 30 weeks and it was in every disco from Greece, to Spain, to Germany, to Italy, and I had never had any success in Italy because they were more disco-oriented. They took BAD NEWS, cut out the bridge and sped it up a little bit and it became this giant disco hit and it's all guitars. So six months later, I'm coming out with MYSTERY TICKET which is all synthesizers. It was a nightmare. What we should have done was reassess everything. Do I want to come out with a synth record now that I have this guitar record doing so well? I loved the synth record that was coming up, but everyone in Europe blamed it all on Robert (laughter) and it wasn't his fault. I was the one who wanted to do a synth record because Capitol said I needed to do something different.
RB: Could MYSTERY TICKET have been delayed?
Well, it could have been if record companies would think like that. It would have taken some bold moves.
RB: Can you tell me about the making of the video for X-RAY VISION?
Well, I'm into this whole synth thing and I'm going to Capitol and they're still doing videos where they have heavy metal bands doing rock concert videos on a soundstage and I said, "I don't want to do that." I want to do a story where it's like a little movie and I've got this dance track and they didn't even know what dance music was. I said, "It's going to be the next thing. You're going to have dance clubs where they play videos. Where they watch the videos and listen to dance music. This is a rock dance record rather than just a disco dance record." Well, what's the difference between them? The difference is that X-RAY VISION has guitars in it where most dance records didn't have guitars at the time, it was all synths. Well, I've got an Eddie Van Halen kind of solo in X-RAY VISION and it was a year later until BEAT IT did that. As a matter of fact, I had to edit that solo out at a lot of the dance clubs, because they weren't ready for rock dance records. I had trouble getting money for the video from Capitol America because I was still in the doghouse there because my last record didn't do so well. But, I was somewhat of a star in Europe, so I was able to get the money, to do the video. It wasn't a huge budget, but it was a good enough budget. We did the video in February and Capitol did not release that video until August. Capitol didn't think videos were important. Making the video was cool and an interesting experience, to say the least. The girl in the video was the girlfriend of the producer of Billy Idol, Keith Forsey. She was from Texas.
RB: After MYSTERY TICKET, we go on to MIXED EMOTIONS which was released in France only, and this album was almost fully techno-pop.
I'm not exactly sure about the release of that record. I don't think they fully released it in Europe. I never even saw any reviews on it. No one ever even talks about that record, even in Europe. When the dust settled from MYSTERY TICKET, Rupert Perry said, "We want to sign you for Europe, but not for the United States." They had had enough of trying to figure out what to do with me in the United States. So I signed for Europe only, and in the meantime, I am making MIXED EMOTIONS which, by the way, most of the guitars on there are sampled. I have not really gone back to listen to that record. So, after I finished MIXED EMOTIONS, I'm thinking it's not right for Europe, but perfect for the United States. I didn't realize, at the time, just how big I was in Europe or I would have made another guitar record. But, I was into doing this techno thing because it was a new and exciting thing for me. I even was spending my own money on very expensive equipment like wave terminals where you could make your own wave forms. So I'm in the middle of doing this record, and Bobby Columby of Capitol and the Europe Capitol liaison, wants to come out and see the direction I am going. We play my remake of The Zombies SHE'S NOT THERE and they said, "Moon, if that's not a hit are you going to quit the business? Because, if that's not a hit you oughta quit." They said this is perfect and exactly what you need to be doing and they asked if I could finish SHE'S NOT THERE so they can release it even before the album is done. I said it may throw me off some, but I will go ahead and do it. So, I finished up the song and then, finished the rest of the record. Meanwhile, I gave the record to Capitol and they still think I'm a guitar guy in Europe. So when they hear this techno song, which isn't my song, that's another thing. Capitol in America was always trying to get me to record other people's songs. In Europe, they don't want me to do other people's songs. So I do a techno song, which was right for America, because the techno thing was just starting to happen. I was doing someone else's song which was perfect for what Capitol wanted me to do in America. I was thinking Capitol is going to pick me back up in America. I do SHE'S NOT THERE and they send it over to Capitol Europe and they say, "This is not a guitar song. Moon didn't write this song and we hate it." So, they just put the record under the rug and no one ever knew it was even done. That was very hard for me to take.
RB: How was it that you chose to do SHE'S NOT THERE?
I am a Zombies fan and SHE'S NOT THERE is a favorite of mine and to this day, I remember a video that I think I saw of The Zombies singing SHES'S NOT THERE and there's a graveyard and they are digging up a grave. I even met one of The Zombies who was the head of A&R at RCA about five years later. I asked him about that video and I don't think he knew anything about it. I was driving from Oklahoma to L.A. and I heard a song by a techno group, I can't recall their name, and part of the song reminded me of SHE'S NOT THERE and I put the song together in my head in just a few minutes and I still think that I did a really good job on that whole idea. I had a great time doing it. Artists say this, and I always hate it when they do, they'll say, "Well, I'm just way ahead of my time." I'm not going to say I was way ahead of my time, because that's not true. I was six months too early. You know, in certain things. It wasn't like I was doing something that wonderfully, creatively different. It's just like, I was just too early sometimes. One thing I noticed about Americans is if you're an American artist, it's very difficult for you to be wild and do artistic things. In other words, if you're English you're called innovative. If you're American and do things that don't have a centralized focus, you're scattered or you don't have a direction. So, Robert Palmer can do this song and that song or The Beatles can do that and they are innovative. But, if you are an American and try to do that, you don't have a direction. I always found that to be very stifling. They always want you to try to make a record that sounds like one thing, here in America.
RB: After MIXED EMOTIONS, there seems to be a pretty large gap between recording. Did you do any recording between MIXED EMOTIONS in 1985 and DREAMS ON FILE in 1992?
I finished MIXED EMOTIONS in 1985 and from my point of view, I didn't just say I'm going to take some time off or I'm disappointed. I even heard there were some people in Europe who thought I had taken time off because I had gone crazy. Well, I've always been crazy. That's a fact. (laughter) I realized that after the experience with Capitol and the confusion with Europe wanting guitars and America wanting synths, in order for me to do what I wanted to do, I had to learn to engineer my own stuff. I could not be at the hands of engineers anymore, or producers. So, therefore, I had to learn how to do certain things. Now, keep in mind this is in 1985, when musical gear is still very expensive. So, I then had to study to learn what kind of mixing console and tape deck I needed that would suit my needs and ones that could do it at a price that I could afford. It took me a few years. I bought a little piece of gear here, and a little piece of gear there, to build my studio. I actually redid my studio several times. I would get it all done and I would record a tune. Then, I would find out I had the wrong type of gear and I would update it and finally, about 1989 or so, I got enough of the gear that I knew was right. Then, I had to learn how to use it well and it took me a while. Then, I did the album DREAMS ON FILE and that was in 1992. It wasn't that it took me so long recording it. It was that I had to learn how to be an engineer. I had 2 or 3 labels that wanted me in Europe and I picked a label called FNAC, which was a giant record chain like Virgin and they had started a record company. Well, that was a mistake. They did not know what they were doing and inside of a year, they were bankrupt. But, I did learn how to be an engineer doing that record.
RB: DREAMS ON FILE includes a great cover of Bob Dylan's STUCK INSIDE OF MOBILE (WITH THE MEMPHIS BLUES AGAIN). Are you a Dylan fan?
Yes, absolutely, from day one.
RB: Then comes LUNAR SAMPLES. You re-recorded CADILLAC WALK and BAD CASE OF LOVIN' YOU in quite a different way. I like these versions a lot. Which versions of these songs do you like better?
Oh shoot, I don't know. Once I finish something, I don't ever listen to it again. I haven't listened to any of those records since they were done. LUNAR SAMPLES wasn't really supposed to be a release. I was doing that for a friend of mine who had a small label in America and he thought he might sell 5,000 copies or something. I redid those songs just for him. It was kind of a fun experiment.
RB: A lot of artists don't like being asked what their favorite album is. I take it you couldn't say what your favorite overall album is?
It's not that I don't like being asked that question, it's simply hard to answer since I have not listened to any of them since I have done them. I have no idea. I am so sick of them after I finish them, that I don't want to ever hear them again. Plus, I don't want to be reminded of some stupid thing I may have done on them. I would just rather move on to the next one. However, every once in a while I get surprised. On that record DREAMS ON FILE, I remember doing some live publicity performances at some record stores and I was sitting in a dressing room and I heard this tune and I said, "Now, listen to that song. That really depresses me. If I could make a tune that sounds as good as that, I could be successful again." And I'm listening to this tune and I say, "Listen to how great that sounds. I have to go and find out who that is." And I open the door and it was one of the tunes on DREAMS ON FILE.
RB: Let's move on to your latest CD, LOUISIANA JUKE-BOX. You have assembled quite a list of guest players. Tell me how this record came together.
I told you I had to redo my studio over and over out in L.A. I wanted to record live drums again. I got tired of doing synth-drum-machine records. So, I decided to build my own studio. I couldn't do that in L.A., because the land was too expensive, so I thought I would go to Austin or Nashville. I went to Austin and I didn't find any houses that I liked. Then, I came to Nashville and found a house I liked and built this studio. I dropped a lot of money in this studio, I might add. The building itself cost $100,000. I came here with my girlfriend, at the time. She was very helpful and gave me the confidence that I had written some good songs. I have a tendency to start a song and if I get a mixed response on it, I won't finish it. I'll just move on to something else. I had a couple songs that I wasn't going to finish because I didn't think they were good enough and then, I'd play them for her and she would say, "Moon, these are fantastic," and she would say I ought to finish them and then, as I got to working on them, I would see that yes, these are pretty good. So, I got enough tunes together and I started recording. I didn't plan on using a lot of musicians. I was only going to use the ones that I thought were necessary to get the job done. But, here in Nashville, they have such great players. A lot of people say that Nashville has great writers. No, that's not true. They have shitty writers in Nashville. They have writer's that know how to craft a song for what radio wants to hear. But, some good writers here are not getting a chance because they are not writing stuff that is ordinary enough to fit radio's taste, but they have some great players here. I'll tell you that.
RB: LOUISIANA JUKE-BOX has a lot of different styles on it. Including, the BRIAN SETZER-styled GET HOT (OR GO HOME) and the CCR-sounding VOODOO RIVER. And you also include a couple country-flavored songs like ROCKIN' LITTLE HONKY TONK and LOUISIANA JUKE-BOX. Plus, some of your trademark sounds. What is your take on these songs and tell me about recording them?
I had some other songs that I didn't record. I realized that they were too rock-dance oriented. I decided I wanted to have a roots record. In Sweden, they would say that Moon would be a great pop guy if he'd just stop making these rock records. In Germany, they would say that Moon would be a great rocker if he'd just stop doing that pop stuff. I wanted to have a record that doesn't really have any pop on it. Just a roots record. I wound up with one pop thing on there, DON'T BLAME THE RAIN. But, it is roots-esque with those ROY ORBISON and BUDDY HOLLY tinges to it. I tried to hone it down to be a record that rocked. I had a couple good guitar players on LOUISIANA JUKE-BOX. That second solo on GOOD MORNIN' POLICEMAN is a killer. I'll put it up against anybody and you know, the funny thing is that nobody ever talks about that. The guy who did that solo is like this mild mannered, Christian guy and I don't mean that to be derogatory. I mean he's not this guy who is hanging out at heavy metal bars with tattoos. His name was Jeff Conley. All of a sudden he starts to play and I am saying, "Whoa, where is all this emotion coming from?" Man, the guy is soulful. Very good.
RB: You toured over in Europe for this record last summer. What was the response of the crowds that came to see you?
It was really good. I played a lot of shows. I didn't play so many in Germany and Sweden which really bothered me. I played one show in Germany with Willy DeVille. There was about 6,000 people there. After the show was over, I was out front visiting with the people and I had a guy selling CD's there. As these people were coming out, they were saying, "It seems like I know you," and I'd say, "I'm Moon Martin," and they'd say, "You're Moon Martin?" and I'd say, "Yeah." They'd say, "I didn't realize that was you up there. They usually have such bad opening acts we couldn't figure out why it was so good." The only satisfaction for me, anymore, is the response of the people. Not the people from the record companies. I get satisfaction from the fans liking my songs. That's enough for me. The only thing that matters is that I have an audience that enjoys what I am doing. Radio doesn't know anything. That's just a medium, you know? Record companies don't know anything. They're marketing tools. I was standing out there and people were being very, very kind to me and the ones who did recognize me said wonderful things to me and I really thank them for that because that is the only thing that means anything.
RB: Sven Peterson writes in the liner notes for THE VERY BEST OF MOON MARTIN, "In the reality of the record business, having talent and producing great records does not necessarily equate commercial success." I think that statement just about says it all about a lot of artists, including yourself.
Yes, I have talent and people like me and stuff. There are lots of guys in the same position. People will say, "Aren't you so disappointed that you have such talent and you didn't have critical or commercial success?" Hey, there were plenty before me so I'm not the only one and that guy you quoted, Sven Peterson, is one of the guys most responsible for my success in Europe. I would say he was one of the top 3 guys, if not the top guy, and he was kind enough to say something like that on the liner notes. He brought me back to Sweden, to do radio and TV, enumerable times. He gave me a lot of feedback, both good and bad, about what I was doing and that was important to me. He came down to see me play on my last tour and that meant so much to me. Like I said earlier, all the guys at Capitol were great. It was a good organization and I had some really good times there and the complaints I have are about the mechanics of the business. Not an individual label.
RB: Did he choose the songs for THE VERY BEST OF MOON MARTIN?
Yes. He took the time to do that and it meant a lot to me.
RB: It would have been very tough for me to pick from your catalog of songs. It's missing a couple of my favorites including SHE'S A PRETENDER and BOOTLEG WOMAN. But, I guess you only have so much room so you try to have as broad of a base as possible. I would imagine that that was hard for him to sit down and decide which songs to include.
Now, keep in mind Swedish music tastes. They like a lot of pop stuff over there. But, they like heavy metal over there, too. And they like ballads. So, you have to play accordingly. I want to get up there and give them 50 minutes of rock, you know, rockin' out. I remember the boys in the band saying, "Why aren't you doing any ballads?" And I'd say, "Well, if we do a ballad at a show where the crowd does not know me very well, the talking in the room would be louder than the ballad." It doesn't bother me that the talking is louder, but the guys in the band would wonder how they could do that. I would tell them because they came to have a good time. So, who are we playing for? Ourselves or them? We're playing for them and if the crowd doesn't want to hear ballads, I don't care about playing a ballad. I don't have to get up and prove that I can write a good ballad. I learned this from Del Shannon, when I used to back him up. Del Shannon wanted to give them the hits, but he didn't want to necessarily give them his latest, greatest thing that proves he could write a great song. He didn't mind that he had to do RUNAWAY for the one-millionth time. He was there to rock. I am there to give them what they want. I'm stopping short of giving them KNOCK ON WOOD or MIDNIGHT HOUR. (laughter) I will only do my own material in a live situation. I might throw someone else's song in there from time to time. The Dylan song I had always kind of sung to myself. But, I didn't really know all the words and I went and got the words. I did change a couple of the lines because I was a bit uncomfortable with them. I think on the next tour I am going to do more of the new and less of the old material. I will give some of the old material new approaches. I will try some acoustic things and maybe throw in some more ballads.
RB: What songs off of LOUISIANA JUKE-BOX, got the best response?
Gosh, they all did. I didn't play that many of them. They don't even speak English over there and they were singing along with DANGEROUS CURVES the first night I played it. I would say probably GET HOT (OR GO HOME). By the end of it, it was just really fun. It would get toward the end and just be smokin'. The drummer in my band could play that stuff really good and my bass player didn't mind copying my bass parts and he really locked into what I did. He threw his style away and took my style and does something else with it that's very good. And by the time we got to the end of that tune, sometimes the audience was just flabbergasted. We had a couple fake endings on it.
RB: Speaking of style, when I mention your music to people, they will ask me what category or style of music is it. I tell them it runs the gamut of power pop, to pop, to new wave, to rock, to rockabilly, to country rock and so on and so forth. But then, what I end up saying to them is that your music is just plain fun. I call it cruisin' down the highway with your top down music. Because, that is where I enjoy your music most is traveling in a car.
Well, I agree with you 100%. Whenever I give my records to anybody, I say, "Do not listen to this record at your home. Make a cassette or if you have a CD player in your car, fine. Listen to this record as you're coming home from work or as you're going someplace. Because my music is car music." And that's the best way I can describe it. I don't know why, but in my mind that is where my music sounds best.
RB: What does the future hold for Mr. Moon Martin?
First, I have to learn how to speak French better. (laughter) Then, I want to make a great new record. I am going to finish some songs I am working on. Then, I will probably hear, "Why does this new record have synths in it?" Or, "Why is this an old-fashioned guitar record?" I am just going to record what I like, at the time, and hope that people like it. As I am writing songs, I put myself in the audience, at the clubs. That is why a lot of my stuff rocks. People come there to rock; not to be introspective. Some of my lyrics may be somewhat introspective, but it's still rockin'. I used Dony Wynn as my drummer on this last record. Dony's the kind of guy that wants to set up, put his earphones on and rock and feel, not think and that is really the only thing that matters. Some guys are good at that. There are other guys who have to think it through, first.
RB: Even though you may be more popular in Europe than the United States, there are plenty of fans in America, including myself, who would love to see you perform. Are there any plans for you to do any shows in the U.S.?
I am going to do that, yes. And I am going to try to do it in a big way. I don't mean big concerts. I mean a lot of shows. I know the French band I have wants to do that. I think they would love it, but I don't think they know how big the United States is. I mean you can travel all the way through France in ten hours. I think I will finish this record, do another European tour and then, take some time off for my voice to recover. It is much more physical for me to sing than to play guitar. I admire drummers more than any other musician. Everyone makes fun of drummers, but I think it is "the" instrument. I think it is the hardest instrument to play. Especially, to be a good live and recording drummer.
RB: I really appreciate you taking your time for me to interview you. It has been a great thrill for me and I'd like to thank you very much.
You're quite welcome.
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