A Couple of Questions with Paul Brady
ALSO: Paul Brady was featured in our The Best Albums You've (Probably) Never Heard feature.
For those just learning about Trick or Treat now, can you give a nutshell summary of your career prior to its release?
I am Irish born and, apart from some years living
in London (‘69 thru ‘72) and the East Coast of the USA
(‘72 thru ‘74), I have lived in Ireland. From
that base, I have toured and recorded all over the world. Prior
to Trick or Treat (1991), my sixth album as a
solo artist, I already was a singer and musician for 25
years, initially for fun…in R&B and soul bands while
at college in Dublin Ireland in the mid ‘60s, covering
Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Ray Charles, Junior Walker
songs…and, soon after, professionally, with two of Ireland’s
most celebrated traditional folk bands, the Johnstons and
Planxty. As a member of the Johnstons, I first became nationally
known. In addition to having several hits in Ireland, the
Johnstons had a US hit in 1969 with a cover version of
Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” probably the first cover
version of that much covered song. The album I made with
Planxty member Andy Irivine in ‘76, Andy Irvine & Paul
Brady, has consistently made its way into critics’
top ten all time CDs in the genre worldwide. After a decade
(‘70s) immersed in Irish folk music with these bands, which
took me all over Europe and USA, I found I wanted to go
back into the music I had loved previously: pop music from
Britain, Ireland and USA, R&B, blues, jazz, country,
soul music, and world music as it is now called (but which
for me meant African, South American, Cuban, and European).
From all this, I began to try and write my own music and
songs…inevitably, as it turned out, filtered through the
sensibilities I had acquired during my decade in the Irish
folk world. (Hey, Marketing guys! Can we have the plan
by close of business today? Ho! Ho!) This I began
in 1980, and from then until Trick or Treat, I
toured all over Europe with a band or as a solo artist,
gigging and releasing records which – thankfully – always
seemed to find their way into the hearts and record collections
of large numbers of Irish music lovers both at home and
around the globe. Outside Ireland, though not as commercially
successful, my records built up a dedicated following worldwide
and captured the imagination of many fellow artists, songwriters,
and critics. By the time Trick or Treat was released,
I was known as an accomplished interpreter of Irish folk
songs and a singer/songwriter expressing modern Irish sensibilities
in a global context, through writing melodies and lyrics
that stuck in the head. Artists internationally also seemed
partial to the brew, as, by the time Trick or Treat was
released, my songs had been covered by Tina Turner, Bonnie
Raitt, Santana, David Crosby, Art Garfunkel and Paul Young,
among many others that your audience probably have never
heard of…but might have fun discovering! For the train-spotters,
Bob Dylan, in the liner notes to his 1985 box set Biograph, included
me, along with Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits and Lou Reed, in
his list of “secret heroes...not witch-doctoring up the
planet.” That was nice.
Do you have any anecdotes about the recording of the album?
The record was made between LA and New York. We started it in the big room at A&M in LA, where about half the tracks were cut, spent a week at Bearsville in Woodstock, NY, and finished it over several weeks in the winter of 1990 at the Hit Factory on 54th in NYC. It initially was an exciting time for me. While I had visited the US many times, this was the first time for me to record an album there. I loved being in LA. The weather was great, and things were moving fast. It was at that time I first met Bonnie Raitt,and it turned out that she had been into my stuff for years, though I hadn’t been aware of that. She came down to the studio and sang on the record. I had also coincidentally just written a song the night before we met: “Luck of the Draw,” about a barmaid who used to serve me a drink in the bar every night after I’d come back from the studio. Of course, it being LA, she was “not really a bartender, but a screenplay writer!” Bonnie asked me next day had I any songs I hadn’t recorded, and I pulled out the guitar and sang this new song for her. I hadn’t even demoed it yet. She loved it and, before long, had recorded it herself. It became the title track of her next record, which won her a bunch of Grammies, which was nice. When we moved to the east coast to finish the record, things got a bit bogged down, and my memories of that winter in NY are mixed. I was staying at the Mayflower Hotel at Columbus Circle, and it felt like I was there forever. There was some fun, however. Recording in the studio where the Band had recorded was cool, and while I was in NYC, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker were recording in the adjoining studio. They popped their heads in from time to time and made encouraging noises.
Did you expect it to have a better commercial reception than it did?
I guess so, in all honesty. I had just signed a new record deal with Universal out of London on one of their labels, Fontana. The guy who signed me was one of the UK heavyweights at the time: David Bates, director of A&R at Universal, who first made his reputation by signing UK band Tears for Fears. He was a big fan. I was heading to LA to record with Gary Katz, erstwhile producer of most of Steely Dan’s classic albums. The band was made up of some of the hottest players on the scene: Jeff Porcaro on drums, Freddie Washington and Jimmy Johnson sharing the bass, Michael Landau on electric guitars, David Paich on keys. Bonnie Raitt dueted on the title track. They all seemed to love the songs and, while the record was not easy to make and took a lot longer than I expected, I was fairly happy with how it turned out, and everyone around me was making the right kind of noises. Also, Mercury, one of Universal’s labels in USA, was excited and wanted to push it. The guy running that label at the time, Mike Bone, thought it had a real chance in the US market and there was the usual round of late night dinners where lots of alcohol was drunk and the prospects for the record seemed rosy...or was that rosé? Anyway, a showcase was organized in early 1991 down in Soho, NYC, where I was to play a half hour solo set of some of the songs from the record in front of a lot of press, industry heavies, and the usual crew of breathy young record company types. That wasn’t a problem. I had many years experience of playing solo, and, if I may say so myself, it works real good. Even Alain Levy, then president of Universal, was there. Apparently, we met, but I don’t remember that bit. The show went good. Everybody “oohed” and “aahed,” and, later, producer Gary Katz and I went to dinner together. “It went real good, didn’t it, Gary?” I said, adrenalin still pumping, thinking I was half way home. Gary considered for a moment, and then said, "Don’t take this the wrong way, Paul...but... right now they’re considering whether to put you IN for the race..." I toured the east coast US with my Irish band a few months later. The single “Soul Child” was doing ok at radio and on the radio tip sheets. Then the head of Mercury, Mike Bone, my champion in US, was suddenly “let go.” That really was the kiss of death for Trick or Treat. A new crew moved in. “Next please!” But I got over it and moved on to better things.
Are you pleased to find that it still maintains enough of a following to make its way into this piece?
Yes, I am. Pleasantly surprised. It’s a funny old world. No wonder artists get too hung up on making sure their records are perfect. Once they’re released, they’re there for all time. I was a bit anal and too much a perfectionist in those days. Now I know better. Now I’m a “first take is the one” kinda guy. Life is way too short to spend that much time in recording studio.
What are you doing now?
Lots of things. Right now, I’m sitting in the Qantas business lounge in Auckland, NZ, waiting for a flight to LA after spending a month long holiday down under with my partner. Immediately prior to that, in December ’06, I did two Tokyo and four Australian solo shows. Next month, I tour east coast US for a couple of weeks, starting in the Sanders Theatre in Harvard, Cambridge, MA, and ending in the BB King Club in NYC. Since Trick or Treat, I have released seven more records: a couple on Universal, a couple on Rykodisc (who re-mastered my entire catalog to date), and the remainder on my own label, PeeBee Music, distributed worldwide by Nashville’s Compass Records. My subsequent records have all sold very respectably and been critically well received in Ireland, UK, USA…globally, in general. Irish television did a six-part series on my career in 2003, which was broadcast twice and released on DVD as “The Paul Brady Songbook.” IRMA, the Irish Recorded Music Association (Ireland’s version of the Grammies), presented me with their lifetime achievement award a couple of years back. The BBC in UK did the same last year at their Folk Awards (Folk...Trick or Treat? Hey I’ll take it from wherever it comes!) My songs continue to be covered by other artists worldwide from Brooks & Dunn (No. 1 US country song “The Long Goodbye” recently) to the UK’s Cliff Richard (No. 2 song in UK charts Christmas week ‘06 with “21st Century Christmas”). I’m continuing to write and perform, and I’m hugely enjoying all that life has given me. For anyone who wants a broader picture, check out http://www.paulbrady.com.