Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Paul Krawl & The Kingsnakes Live @ White's wes Matt Besey November 1st 2013

Paul Krawl & The Kingsnakes
The Prodigal Son Returns
Paul Krawl is one of the many musicians both great and obscure who have witnessed and had a role in defining the era of late sixties blues based rock & roll. He performed at the Monterey Pop Festival in1967 backing up Johnny Winter in a memorable performance. Winter was so enthralled with Krawl and his band that he christened them the Kingsnakes. The name stuck and the incendiary performance at Monterey gave Krawl a legitimacy that any struggling artist would aspire to. At the tender age of fifteen Krawl played up and down the California coastline looking for nirvana and finding it in the communal spirit and shared gigs with Janis Joplin, Country Joe and the Fish, Wet Willie and Uriah Heep  … to name a few. Krawl signed with EMI records - Europe and that led to several top flight assignments including backing up the Pointer Sisters and taking part in a Bruce Willis film the Return of Bruno. The Kingsnakes have made a big splash across the Ocean and toured in Europe for last ten years. They are credited as being one of the top R&B and Dance Bands in England, Japan, Russia, as well as in the southern states of America. Currently the Kingsnakes are putting the finishing touches on a new album entitled Woman Troubles.
Did you have a mentor or somebody that taught you the ropes, someone that inspired you?
You’re going to laugh. My next-door neighbor was Buck Owens. He got famous. Bakersfield, California. That’s why I play honky-tonk over the weekends. I was probably 15 years old when I hooked up with Buck Owens and Don Rich. I went over and bugged the shit out of him. Buck lived over in East Bakersfield near the Kern Valley. They have a ranch out there. All the guys got ranches out in that area. He and some of the guys started a thing and they bought a movie house near Chester Lane and they converted it into a studio. That was 1962 or so, the original Buck Owens studio. That’s where I actually recorded a few things in there after everybody had left.  
Did Buck or Don Rich give you lessons or help you figure out chords and leads?         
Yeah, they showed me a few chords. My cousin was the biggest influence on me was my cousin Key Salcido. He was in a band called The Classics. He was real popular in California down there. He was the one who actually got me started on things when I was a kid.  He showed me some stuff. We’d jam over at the house. He’d show me some chords and things. I just took off after that. I just started my own style and everything. I combined Buck Owens with a lot of the different stylists in Bakersfield. They were starting the honky-tonk sound and I just picked that up. I combined it with blues because I was influenced a lot by B.B. King. I just started combining all those styles and then my own style emerged.
How would you describe your own style?
Oh, it’s a combination of the country rock, blues, blues rock. It’s more like a Texas Fandango combined with a Bakersfield honky tonk, it’s hard to explain it. That’s why my music’s a little bit different yet accessible.
 How do you rate yourself as a singer?  Did anybody teach you the art of blues singing or country singing?
Actually, I always hired a vocalist, you know, a guitarist, or a bass or piano player that sang better than I did because I never considered myself a lead vocalist. I always considered myself a second voice or a harmony vocalist, you know, a background vocalist. I’m pretty good at harmonies. If somebody quit the band or decided they couldn’t make the gig I would sing the leads.
I’m in between baritone and tenor. It depends on how good my throat is. Sometimes it will crack on me because I’ve been singing for too many days. When I’m singing, I put everything I’ve got into it, you know, it’s real raspy and throaty.
I read where you were just a young guy when you started gigging on the California coastline with Country Joe & the Fish, Janis Joplin, Uriah Heep, and other big names. What was that like for you?
I was a kid, 15, 16 years old, and I ran away from home basically. Went up there and started doing that. They had a place called the
Big House in Haight Ashbury.  I even lived there. There were a lot of notables that weren’t known at the time like Grace Slick and Janis Joplin, Jerry Garcia. I got to play music with all those people, all of ‘em. It was in that era. I was a little bit younger than some of them but I was immersed in that era and started with that sound. That’s where I got called Frisco Blue because I stayed there and started going back and playing there. I had a couple of blues bands I started. I can’t remember, oh, Young Cats was one of them. I played with William Martin Brown, a little bit, not much. He is the one that wrote the original “Wipe Out.” Remember that song? Then it was picked up and it was recorded by the Surfaris and they made it famous. But William Martin Brown of the Impacts was the one that wrote it. We started a kid’s band and after a while we became the Heaters. The Heaters were pretty well known in California. We had a big following for a while. That’s when we started opening for a lot of bands. We were getting notables at the time. We were fronting like Janis & Big Brother & the Holding Company and Bill Champlin. We were opening for Bill and quite a few bands around the Bay area. We got to front Johnny Winter one time. A band had dropped out and we got to play Monterey Pops.
We had just purchased these transmitters and we were tried them out. We walked out in the audience. You know this was when they first came out and Johnny Winter said, “Look at them Crawlin’ King Snakes out in the audience.” He was playing I’m a Crawlin’ King Snake. They had just released it then. Next day all the papers picked up, “Crawlin’ King Snakes fronted by Johnny Winter. A smash hit.”  So that’s when we changed our name to The Kingsnakes and we’ve had it ever since.
You were really fronting a lot of great bands. Did that get you more notoriety and more gigs because you were sometimes outshining them?
Yeah, sometimes we did. That’s one of the reasons we went overseas because they record company didn’t want us to compete with a lot of people so they were doing distribution down there. Johnny Winter had his thing going and Stevie Ray Vaughn Robert had a huge following. Anyway, they had quite a few bands that were all in the same market and they were marketing pretty heavy. They didn’t want to put us in that mix because we’d pretty much cloud their thunder. So you know we had a good act. All of us were veterans by that time so we had a really good sound.
I had Artie Story for bass. Artie Story was a nut. He was a very, very straightforward bass player but always in the pocket. Dutch Johnson was the drummer that I originally used.
So you had a lot of great players in the band.
Oh yeah, yeah. They were all far better than some of the players nowadays. I grew up with people that developed their own sound, a style of writing your own music. We got to a point where we got really good at making music, you know, but different from everybody else, eclectic
 You backed up the Pointer Sisters. What was it like to perform with them?
Oh, it was pretty good. A lot of it was just starting to come together through their recordings. They weren’t the Pointer Sisters then. They called themselves the Brownettes. The Pointer Sisters, were very professional. You know they would come in, do their job and get out. But it was great working with them. They’re all professionals. We actually backed them up on stage on a couple of occasions. We backed them up at the Troubador in LA. Mad Hatter I think was the name of the other one. We did a few shows before “The Return of Bruno” came out. That was released in ’88, ’89, around in there.
Was there a record company that treated you well and actually gave you the money you had coming?
Atco. I liked Atco. Those were great people to work for. It was actually the best one. There was one out of Minneapolis that was a little bitty label Blues Shack but they folded. I was trying to sell through Alligator Records.I know a lot of people at there. I’ve done a lot of work with people at Alligator but mostly out of California and some out of Chicago. You know we played a couple of places on off nights like Legend and the House of Blues - Dan Aykroyd’s House of Blues. He had another place just west of Minneapolis. He came in a couple of times and played when I was sitting in with the Blues Biscuit band over there. That was fun. I used to be a good harp player, not great. I think Bruce is a little better harp player, but he’s just not as versatile or doesn’t know as many songs but Aykroyd was good. They’re fun to play with and if you don’t know that they’re a star, you don’t care that they’re a star because all of you are equal when you’re in a jam session. We were all there to create good music and that’s what it’s all about. But it’s always been about and that’s what sparks the music. Nothing else. I don’t care if I make a lot of money at it or not. Hell, I’m retired and getting my social security so I’m just going to play music until I die. I’ve been doing this since I was seven years old. I can’t think of anything else to do. I’ve made enough money in it to get a good college education. My ma told me to always have a back-up, so you know, I became an engineer. I do industrial engineering and stuff like that. I do emissions control products. And I’ve got a few patents and things like that. One thing that’s good about mathematics and music, they both go hand-in-hand.
I think schools made a big mistake by eliminating music programs. That really bothers me and that’s why we go overseas through Music Exchange. That way we get to go into Germany, Russia, Ukraine, Africa, Switzerland, England, France - all the different countries and we go into the grammar schools and high schools and even colleges to show them what we know about music sand the blues out of Chicago or the southern blues, and all that. We show them the differences and how you lay your hands on the guitar and how you approach the music and sing it and it’s a kick.
BB King once told me, “If you’re telling a story, tell it like you’re just talking to somebody. Tell them the story. Do it with feeling, and do it with conviction.” That’s the way I approach and play music. You know I saw B.B. King practice one note, one note, for an hour, just trying to get the bend right, trying to get that sound, that texture, trying to get what he wants to feel out of that note. Sometimes I’ll do that too. I’ll go around and I’ll just practice a note or two notes for a while just to get the feeling out to the audience. Well having said that, when I go out there on stage I don’t try anything fancy yet people seem to notice and take note when I play. It’s a great feeling to know that you’re communicating with your audience.
You’ve been on several labels. Did you ever get royalties?
Yes, as a matter of fact people out of Minneapolis are really good about payments. The suits out of Chicago and Detroit and New York, you’ve got to watch. LA, they’re okay as long as you’re doing stuff for them. If not, they just drop you. They don’t worry about the royalties or the contracts or anything else. That’s why I’ve always tried to do it myself, as much as possible.
You worked with Bruce Willis in a film, and it sounds like you two got along pretty good. Did you jam together?
Yes I went to his studio a couple of times. I actually did some of the scores and he bought a couple of them. I did some rearranging and some things like that. I don’t want to say anything bad but there are still some credibility problems on who wrote parts and who did not because when I left there my name was  removed from the writing credits. The suits changed the name of the band that was actually playing and performing so they would not have to pay out $17 grand to the musicians that actually wrote the music. I didn’t have a contract signed so they threatened to sue me for defamation of character and all this other crap.
It was in LA - Warner Brothers and Motown Records, a combination of the two. They bought out the Pointer Sisters. You know, I’m still friends with a couple of ‘em, but definitely not with the majority of ‘em. I feel if they’ve got to use somebody that way to get where they need to go then they’ve got a real problem. I don’t.
 Why were you in Europe so long?  
We toured off and on for 10 years. We were going back and forth between here and there but we spent all our time in London. We had a flat outside of Piccadilly.
Why did you leave?
The bass player died, Tim Ingles. We got him from Sister Sledge years ago. He was the one that we used overseas for a while. He was with us most of the time during that period.
You’ve had a long career. How many albums did you release?
I’ve released two LPs stateside and I’m going to re-release them because the record company took them off the U.S. market and sold them overseas. Then there are five that were released by EMI Europe. Then those were taken over by the overseas company because I wrote them when I lived in Europe. They said that I didn’t have proprietary rights to those songs because they were written and recorded out of the studio. I don’t care. I can always write more but I still have rights to my first two LPs and I’m going to re-release them in the United States. That’s what we’re working on right now. I don’t even know if I can use the Kingsnakes name anymore because the overseas company holds the rights to it. They picked up the Kingsnakes over there. We signed a contract to release LPs over there so they started a new Kingsnakes band overseas. I don’t know who in the hell is running it. But I don’t care. It’s all about the music more than anything else, you know?
They co-opted your name, and that sounds kind of ugly.
Well, it was pretty ugly. They were getting a lawsuit against me but when Tim died the contract became null and void because all four of us had signed the contract so that left it open for all the bookies for the next 18 months. Our contract closed last year on December 6 so that let us out the contract. Then having said that, that released my first two albums because those were mine. I produced those LPs.
They weren’t produced out of Screen Gems or EMI or Cavalcade over there. So we’re just going to go ahead and continue to record music. I’ve got 16 new songs written that I’m going to do. I’m going to release one as a single to see if I can get a bullet out on the radio called “Nobody Else.” It’s a ballad, a slow one. It’s a really cool song. I’m going to get Eric Ericson from here in town to sing it for me. He’s a clone of Neil Diamond. He sounds identical to Neil Diamond when Neil Diamond was young, that clarity in his voice.
Do you have any vivid memories of when it all fell into place, where it was a moment in time when it all came together and was just a shining moment for you?
Well, you get the warm fuzzies and you get those little spirals going up your back, that good feeling. Yeah, actually we were, (Laughter) this is funny. We got to play in California. We were playing in a place called the Rose Garden and there were several bands that were booked and we didn’t know who was all booked to play. This was a gig with the Heaters. We were considered really good at the time.  Felix Cavaliere and the Young Rascals showed up there and they were so good. I was just awe-inspired, got to talk to them, rubbed shoulders with them and everything. They were one of my favorites. They were from back here from the east coast. That was just good. You know, you get up there and you get to play on the closing. You get to play with all these musicians that are just super at the time. We were trying to improve our style and we just fit really well with what the Rascals were doing, it was like heaven. 
It sounds sort of funny but that was one of my highlights. I’ve got a lot of highlights. I opened for people at the Queen’s Concert - Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton. It was at a pre-party, at least I was there, you know, rubbing shoulders with rock’s icons. It’s been a real ride, it really has.
Do you have any regrets?
Uh, losing all my wives to music, yeah. (Laughter) You get busy with and you think she’s the only one but then there’s always another one coming along. I wrote a song called, “If You Don’t Love Me, Someone Else Will.” Just for that purpose. (Laughter)
Do you have any last words for the readers, for the folks that are going to come see you?
Stay true to yourself, always. Don’t bend, don’t give up. Just stay true to what you want in life. You’ll be happy, and you’ll never regret anything.
Paul Krawl and the Kingsnakes are performing at White’s Bar Friday November 1st with special guest Matt Besey. This will mark their official CD Release Party in Michigan

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