Ned, what was your first impression as you saw the Average White Band on their first US tour in the Troubadour?
Glenn Fry and I were sitting on the stairs at the Troubador with our mouths hanging open. They sang and played so well that it shook us up. Nothing better than being spooked by someone else’s talent.
How did you later hook up with Hamish?
I met Hamish through a mutual acquaintance. He was recovering from throat surgery at the time and unable to speak. He wrote his communications down on a tablet.
Your first songwriting collaboration with Hamish was “A Love of Your Own”, one of the great 70’s classics. How did it come about?
We had adjourned to my place in Benedict Canyon after a night of drinks and laughter at Dan Tana’s. We picked up some guitars and started noodling. One thing led to another and “A Love of Your Own” emerged shortly thereafter. It was too easy really.
Your L.A. based contempories like CSN & Y, Eagles, Jackson Browne took a more smooth polished country rock sound with them throughout their careers, but your music always seemed to have a funkier side and was more groove orientated. Was that a sound that you had always wanted to develop or was it a result of producers like Steve Cropper?
Actually, I had always been a devotee of body-music. For some reason I just gravitated to it. The masters of Motown and Stax-Volt got under my skin at an early age.
Did Hamish and the AWB sound affect the musical direction you took with regard to “Hard Candy” in 1976?
Well, we worshipped at the same shrine, but I was well into “Hard Candy” by the time I met Hamish.
What stopped you getting together again to write or produce more songs together after “Whatcha Gonna Do For Me” was such a success?
We have often asked ourselves that question. I guess we’ll never know.
You have a special relationship with London. The first time you went to London was in 1969. You met stars like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Dave Mason. What were your formative experiences in the UK?
I was still a kid and it was all new to me. I met some doctors whilst drinking warm beer at a local pub and wound up a spectator at a Formula 2 car race in Scotland. I ran into friends in London who took me to meet Dave Mason. I wrote a tune while sitting on the floor of his cottage (Trust Me). He introduced me to Cass Elliot and we started singing together. Cass was a magnet for talent of every stripe and I soon met “everyone”. Like the Japanese, the British have always been sympathetic to my work. God bless them.
Let us talk about your Laurel Canyon years and the LA scene in the 70s. Be honest, how much truth lies in yacht rock clichés of hedonistic life between parties, beautiful women and drugs?
In 1978 you got the invitation to play in Japan. What do you think are the reasons for the great enthusiasm of the Japanese fans for West Coast music?
They are always on the prowl for the next cool thing in any form. California was a mythic place for them. I was a child of that myth. Unlike my compatriots (except for Jackson), I grew up there. California was a land free from the strictures of their culture. What’s not to love?
West Coast music seems to be experiencing a renaissance again. After the release of “Separate Oceans” many music enthusiasts discovered your songs and records again. At the beginning of the year, the collaboration of Michael McDonald, Kenny Loggins and Thundercat have caused a sensation. Where do you think the growing interest comes from?
Nature abhors a vacuum. There is not much going on musically these days. The DJ phenomenon sent a segment of the population scurrying into thrift stores and record shops all over England and the US to discover something of value. The DJs are all that’s left of FM radio. There are bringing “unheard” music to people who have neither the time nor inclination to search for themselves. I have never been a fan of “West Coast Music” – a bit soft for me. I much prefer the musical rigors of the East Coast. I never really felt like I was part of the West Coast oeuvre except by birth.
With the recent recognition and appreciation of your work around the world, through recent reissues on the Be With Records label and re-edits of your work, have you any plans to bring out a new album or do an extended tour in the near future?
I would love to do both. I would love to record another proper studio album – rehearse and capture. I would also love to do a live album.
Ned, thank you very much for the interview!
This interview was first released in West Coast Music Magazine in 2017.
Photo: Be With Records