Hamish, “Pick Up The Pieces” is already a cultural possession. After all the years, why are still so many people falling in love with the AWB music?
Good question Thomas, I have not a clue and can only surmise that what we created back then has a substantial lasting quality that all good music has. What did we know? We just did what we did to the best of our abilities. I wrote a song entitled Too Hip which is the last track on the new 360band album and a couple of lines allude to our obliviousness to how the music we were creating together in the winter of 1973/74 would change all our lives. Broke and living in a little house in the Hollywood hills donated by Karen Shearer the PR lady at MCA (our label at the time) with blankets over the windows to soundproof the room we played and wrote in. Now, if you’d said to us then that the stuff we were jamming on in that moment would still be getting played in 2017, never mind being embraced by new generations, we’d probably have told you that you “bugger off and don’t be daft”.
Back to the 70s: Do you remember the first reaction of the US audience in as they realise that this “white” R&B band was from Scotland?
The first ‘reaction’ we got that encouraged us and made us feel that we were right was on our first US tour when we opened for BB King at the Kennedy Centre In DC to a predominantly African American audience and had the best reaction we’d had anywhere up till then. It felt like our validation. We came offstage that night flying after our little 45 minute set. We were accepted with open arms – a definite WOW moment for us all. It came before the hits and later we were so low profile individually that I think a lot of folks assumed we were from the US and didn’t know we were from Scotland
From Glasgow to L.A., what were your formative experiences in the US, especially in California?
Our first trip to the US was exciting and a total inspiration. We’d gone to LA to play On Bonnie Bramlett’s first solo record and were immediately thrown into the whole scene, rehearsing at SIR on Hollywood and Vine and recording at Sunset Sound. Little Feat were in one of the other studios so we were hanging with those guys and immediately made to feel accepted and welcomed. Sam Clayton from ‘Feat’ was also on the ‘Bonnie’ sessions and became a pal who would sit in with us later when we’d return to play LA and do tv like Soul Train. There were a lot of players and singers around those sessions Like Rita Coolidge, Joe Hicks, Kenny Gradney, Freddy Stone and I got the best guitar lesson of my life watching and listening to Bobby Womack who came in to overdub a part on a basic track we’d just cut. Playing my old Telecaster he went once through the song figuring out the changes then starting to formulate an overall part which was different in each section going from rhythmic chord work on the verse and then melodic single note riffing on the chorus and some kind of mixture of all for the middle. It all made such perfect sense and he had the whole thing done by the third pass. Now – That’s what I’m talking about.
How did you meet Ned Doheny?
I met Ned through my Girlfriend at the time Georgeanne Lapierre and we hit it off immediately. He struck me as a very bright, articulate, warm and funny individual and very much of a kindred spirit musically. When we played together recently he reminded me that when we met I couldn’t talk. I’d been ordered total voice rest by the doc after I’d developed some problems toward tour’s end and was writing things down which was very frustrating when trying to write down a joke as people would quote the punchline when you were halfway through writing it.
Did you decide quickly to write songs together?
We never made a conscious decision to write songs together. It just happened! When I was in LA (which was often back then) we’d hang out a lot together. I wound up staying at Ned’s home in Benedict Canyon at the end of a tour and we’d been out carousing, probably at DanTana’s down on Santa Monica next to The Troubadour and wound up sitting either side of his kitchen table with a couple of beers and a couple of guitars and ‘shit happened’.
“A Love of Your Own” is one of the great, timeless hits of the 70s. Is it true that the song was finished in half an hour?
We did write it in a half hour and it has turned out to have a long life with many cover versions over the years and thanks for the compliment. Who knew! It’s a funny one. It literally just happened? If you could bottle it or say this how you do it that would be great, but it’s one of the handful of songs I’ve been involved in that I’m most proud of and it popped out that night in Ned’s kitchen. As I said we’d been out and had some fun and were just jamming. I’d begun to play the first sequence of chords over when Ned sang that first line or two with a melody that came from his guitar playing, then I think it became slightly call and response but I don’t really recall who came up with what after that. It just flowed and inside half an hour we had it. I think we made a cassette that night and listened to it the next morning to find to our delight we’d actually created something worthwhile.
“Whatcha’ Gonna Do for Me” was the second song you wrote together. That song would be recorded by the AWB for their 1980 record “Shine” – and by Chaka Khan. How did it come about that Chaka recorded this song?
Strange that when we’d been so successful with our first effort it took us five years to write another one? I don’t know if we were both scared we’d jinx our friendship or that we couldn’t do it again as the first one had happened so naturally. If we’d been really mercenary about it we’d have been trying to churn them out. It was better that it happened quite naturally again. I was in LA for months to write and work on the AWB ‘Shine’ album and we were hanging out as usual in downtime.
Ned had a beautiful old Steinway in his living room which I loved the sound of and sat there messing with some chords which we decided to work on and again Ned kicked it off lyrically. This one took a little longer and involved a bit more work but we both knew that we’d got another good ‘un.
I’d known Chaka for a few years by then from the time we’d go hang out at Rufus sessions at the old Record Plant and had played on her first solo albums. CK and her manager Jack Nelson had come to the sessions at Sunset Sound and she sang on the original basic track which allowed me to concentrate on my guitar part. I always felt that we missed it on our recording. The producer, David Foster didn’t ‘get’ the song either and it was reflected in the lacklustre nature of the final recording. It wasn’t intense or upbeat enough so when Chaka, Jack and producer Arif Mardin decided to cut a version we got a ‘burner’ of a track with Larry Williams, Steve Ferrone, Anthony Jackson and the great David Williams and myself on guitars plus the Brecker Brothers- wow! I felt vindicated in my belief in our song when it became the title track of Chaka’s album and a number one R’n’B single.
Are there any still unpublished Stuart/Doheny songs unreleased in the vaults?
There’s one song that we started but never finished round about 83/84. The title escapes me and probably forever unless Ned can jog my memory. There are only two other songs we finished, one is Never Too Far To Fall, covered by George Benson on his In Your Eyes album and Isn’t It Strange which is included on the final AWB album Cupid’s In Fashion.
Why didn’t you write any more songs together? Could you ever imagine writing songs with Ned again in the future?
Ned and I both settled down and had families round about the same time so our focus definitely changed. Then I got involved in working with Paul McCartney and wound up back in the UK so we haven’t been in close proximity to each other for rather a long time and hadn’t seen each other in years but had kept in touch sporadically. When Ned came over to do a few dates in the UK I was very busy and just managed to make his last show at The Social in central London. It was great to reconnect and he dragged me up onstage to do “A Love Of Your Own”. Not only the first time we’d ever played it live together, but probably the first time we’d played it together since the night we wrote it. The handful of shows we’ve just done were great with the core of my regular band and we plan to do more. I can always imagine writing songs with Ned but we’ve done it in such a very naturalistic and unworkmanlike fashion that it’s tricky. Maybe we could start a new trend of accidental songwriting!
Could there be a chance that we get to see further shows featuring Ned and your band?
Anytime, anywhere. As long we’re both up for it. Anytime, anywhere.
Many fans have been dreaming of a reunion of the original AWB for years. Now your new album “The 360 Band” has been released, in which your old AWB colleagues Malcolm Duncan and Steve Ferrone are involved. How does it feel to play together again?
It feels absolutely great! It was like no time had passed and we clicked like we always did. Playing with Steve and Molly again was like riding a bike. You just get on and go. As we sat on the couch at the back of the control room listening to the first playback we looked at each other and Steve said “just like the old days isn’t it” to which the only reply was” YES”! It felt great and so very right. Get a good group of players, a solid song, get in the room and ‘carve’!
West Coast music seems to be experiencing a renaissance again. Hamish, you will play in July with Shawn Lee from Young Gun Silver Fox. Their great debut album celebrates the West Coast music of the 70s. What do you think, where does the growing interest for this kind of 70s music come from?
I caught Shawn’s band’s set at the Hyde Park concert last week and it was great. Loved the tunes, really melodic with interesting changes, great singing and great harmony. Reminded me a little of Ambrosia and Mike McDonald era Doobies. Like your first question it’s a tough one to answer but I think it’s maybe something to do with the way the record business has operated and targeted a sort of lowest common denominator kind of thing. It certainly has been that way in the UK led by the likes of Simon Cowell homogenising and dumbing down music as far as possible to what they think is certain to sell, cynically bleeding anything interesting away. Sticking to straight major and minor chords, nothing interesting. Anti music. I think that we all want more substance from music.
A record as sophisticated The Doobies “What A fool Believes” wouldn’t get heard now. Lyrically, rhythmically, harmonically and melodically sophisticated, yet a huge hit. Musical sustenance. Food for the soul. People want to hear something interesting. Makes sense to me.
Hamish, thank you very much for the interview!
A special thanks goes to Shawn Lee who made the interview possible.
This interview was first released in West Coast Music Magazine in 2017.