Sometime singer-songwriter and all-round good guy Josh Dodes is one of my favourite artists, and a follower of Bruce. Here’s his story.
So you’ve listed Bruce amongst your main influences – which of his music caught your ear? When was this?
Like most people, it was hearing “The Way It Is” on the radio, back in ’86. Up until that point, most of the people I was listening to had cranked out their best stuff in the 70’s, when I was too young to be listening: Billy Joel, Elton John, James Taylor, etc. So I used to listen to a lot of old tapes, and I think I assumed that that’s what I’d be doing forever – born too late or something. But all of a sudden, out of nowhere, here was this new guy on the radio with this great song and playing the **** out of the piano – soloing and everything! It was a big jolt – there really weren’t many people out there for young pop/rock piano players to look up to at that time. (There aren’t too many more these days, either.) In any case, I ran out and bought the record and must have listened to nothing but that record for months.
Have you covered (or been tempted to cover) any of Bruce’s songs at a show?
From time to time, I’ve led into my song “American Angel” with the beginning of “Song C” – it seems to work well as an intro (even if I’ve never learned exactly how to play it!). And I’ll usually soundcheck the piano before shows with a riff on “King of the Hill.”
As to temptation, that’s a different story. Actually, for a while now, I’ve had this idea to do a low-key series of shows in New York where I’d do a different entire set of covers from the musicians I look up to, one show each: one week it’d be Hornsby, the next week it would be Marc Cohn, etc. Maybe I’ll actually get around to that someday.
Do you get a chance to catch much live Hornsby?
I’ve probably seen him 7 or 8 times, and I have a bunch of bootlegs (including the Yoshi’s shows, which I discovered through this website… great stuff). It’s just amazing to watch him play the piano in person. He’s easily the best piano player in pop music, probably the best ever in my opinion, unless you go way back to the time that jazz was considered pop. And of course, like all good musicians, he always puts on a different show. It’s pretty amazing to watch him shape and change things on the spot, and to his great credit, he’s been surrounding himself for years with musicians good enough to follow him anywhere.
You ever met him?
I did meet him, and to my embarrassment, I made kind of an ass of myself. I went to see him play up in Providence, RI in 1996, right after I moved to NYC to start my own music career. I had it in my mind that Hornsby might take a personal interest in someone who had some balls and was doing stuff that was similar to his. I had seen him dare this guy to get up on stage and dance at a previous show, and I decided that the best way to impress him would be to be fearless. So I decided I wasn’t just going to meet him; I was going to play for him.
Long story short, I got backstage passes by writing to his wife and explaining what a huge influence he was, and pretty much as soon as I met him after the show, I asked him if I could sit down and play something for him. They had already started packing up the piano, so he told me he couldn’t let me, and instead of doing the smart thing and dropping it, I said, “Look, if I follow you up to Boston tomorrow night, will you let me play for you then?” I don’t think he was too happy about it (I believe the word “pushy” may actually have been used!), but he agreed, and I cancelled everything and drove to Boston and played for him before the next show. All of this might have been fine in the end, except that I chose to play him this song of mine (“The On & On”) that I thought was most influenced by him at the time, and according to JT Thomas (who said he really dug my stuff, thankfully!), I think it weirded Bruce out a good bit. (You know, ‘is this kid trying to be me?’ etc.)
And also, I played like a 6-minute version! I was basically a kid, and pretty dumb about this kind of stuff. Anyhow, I ended up feeling like I was wasting his time – which to be honest, at that point, I probably was.
I’d love to meet him again, now that I’m older and more together, but you know what they say about first impressions. In any case, it taught me a lot about where to draw the line between aggressive and obnoxious.
Which of Bruce’s songs would you list as your favourites, and why so?
My favorite song is probably “Harbor Lights.” It’s got great forward motion, and it also has two of my favorite piano sections in any of his songs: the introduction and the interlude after the second chorus. Sometimes I’ll sit at home and just vamp on those changes – I love those big chords. Other favorites of mine (chronologically) are “The River Runs Low,” “The Show Goes On,” “Rainbow’s Cadillac,” “Country Doctor,” “King of the Hill,” and “Sneakin’ Up On Boo Radley.” But obviously, there’s so much great stuff to choose from.
And aside from Bruce, who would your musical influences be?
Early Billy Joel and early Elton John, definitely (“11-17-70” was a particularly big influence on my live playing). James Taylor, Marc Cohn, David Wilcox, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen. I have lots of other favorites, but those are the artists that I think have actually influenced my writing and playing the most.
Bruce has a well-documented taping policy to help “spread the music” – what’s your stand on that with your own band?
Well, I’ve never stopped anyone from taping, but the truth is, I’m a pretty big perfectionist, and while I’m obviously used to making a million little mistakes in a live context and having that be fine, I cringe a little to think of those mistakes taken out of a truly live context. Somehow, the same mistakes that fly by in a real show jump out more when you don’t have the whole vibe of the show itself to go with it. Maybe it’s just me. Anyhow, it’s really flattering that anyone would want to record a show in the first place, so I should probably just leave it alone and let the chips fall where they may.
Can you explain the concept of Bands on the Run, and your involvement in that? How has it affected your career?
“Bands on the Run” was an American reality show where VH-1 took what they thought were the four most interesting unsigned bands out there and put us all on the road together, taping everything, ostensibly as a means of trying to convey what life on the road for a working band is like. There was an elimination process based on money, and we were the first band eliminated (we were in the wrong place in the standings at the wrong time!), so we weren’t on for that long, but the show was still an enormous help to us for one reason: it sent our name awareness through the roof over here, especially for an independent band. The show was a minor hit in the States, and even though it didn’t get us rich or even signed, it did get us somewhat famous. And while people stopping us on the street was cool, it was the ability to open a lot of tough doors in the music industry that was the real benefit of the show for us. Without BotR, we would never have had club owners calling us from cities we’d never played, and we wouldn’t have been opening up for Avril Lavigne, Duncan Shiek, Pat Benatar, the B-52’s, Alana Davis, etc. So while the show itself was pretty dumb(typically junky reality stuff, with a 90% focus on scandal and 10% focus on music), it was a great help to us in a lot of ways.
How would you classify your own brand of music?
Yeah, this has always been the hardest (and undoubtedly most important) question, because we tend to combine styles that people are not used to categorizing together. I guess if I had to do it in a few words, I’d say “piano-based pop-rock.” But the truth is, we incorporate a lot of funk and jazz and blues and all of that, as well. Ultimately, I think it’s a commercial mix, and I think our fans’ enthusiasm bears that out, but I’ve certainly not done myself any favors in the industry by following my love for those more outside styles! It’s a tough line to walk, wanting to follow our different interests musically at the same time as the industry wants bands to be instantly categorizable. Every year it becomes more narrowly demographic-targeted, because the gigantic engine at the middle of the whole music industry is commercial radio, and obviously, commercial radio is really about nothing else but trying to define more and more clearly a target group for certain advertisers. (Was that a long and defensive enough answer for you?)
What’s your musical background, Josh? How and when did you get started? Any notable collaborations?
I took classical lessons for seven years, and then taught myself rock and jazz and blues from that foundation (and a lot of great records!).
My parents put me into piano lessons at age 5, which was very smart, because I was too young to realize classical music wasn’t “cool,” and by the time I discovered pop music, I was ready to play it.
But all of a sudden, out of nowhere, here was this new guy on the radio with this great song and playing the **** out of the piano – soloing and everything! It was a big jolt – there really weren’t many people out there for young pop/rock piano players to look up to at that time.
As to notable collaborations, I just passed on the one opportunity that might have fit that category. Maceo Parker asked me to be his keyboardist for part of a European tour this spring, but the timing for me was a mess, since I would have been away from right after my new record came out (bad) to shortly before I get married (worse). It was incredibly hard, though, because Maceo’s a hero to me. I hope maybe he’ll ask me again somewhere down the line, when things aren’t as crazy!
Just how much practice do you manage to cram in on your piano?
Nowhere near enough. The business end of this career, in addition to working a day job, leaves me with almost no free time! On a good night, I might get two hours in; when I’m swamped, I can go a week without playing at all.
So what’s in the immediate pipeline for Josh Dodes?
Well, there’s the new record we just released (it’s called “Freak,” and it’s available worldwide at www.cdbaby.com/joshdodes), and we’re starting to record shows for a live album we’re hoping to release later this year. So it’s a really transitional time – in a good way. I guess I’m as interested to see what’s in the pipeline as anyone!
Thanks to Josh for an extensive chat – be sure to check out his record. His website is at http://www.jdband.com.