J.J. Blair’s Career
J.J. Blair is an accomplished musical engineer, producer, and musician who has worked with a long list of fantastic artists, including Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash, Rod Stewart, The Who, and many more. Most notably, he produced and mixed June Carter Cash’s Grammy Award-winning album Press On in 1999 and engineered on Grammy Award-winning record Great American Song Book Vol. 3 by Rod Stewart.
J.J. grew up in Chicago, where he got his start in music. Growing up, J.J. would play in blues and reggae clubs, and so he has been playing music professionally since the age of 17. Over the course of his career, J.J. has performed live with Beth Hart, Linda Perry, The Pointer Sisters, and the Who.
Eventually J.J moved to Los Angeles to begin his recording career. J.J has been a producer and engineer since 1994. Since then, J.J. has built a strong reputation in the industry, and is known for his great taste, musicality, and proficiency in a broad range of musical styles.
In addition to his impressive musical portfolio, J.J. has amassed a great collection of vintage mics, outboard gear, and instruments, which he draws from to make outstanding recordings and productions.
J.J. Blair does most of his recording in his personal recording studio: Fox Force Five. This studio in the Hollywood Hills was designed by Bret Thoeny, who is known for designing studios such as Bob Clearmountains Mix This, and Prince’s Paisley Park. The studio offers top grade acoustics, state of the art balanced power, and a homey atmosphere. The studio also includes a complement of some of the best vintage outboard gear, microphones, and instruments in order to create the ultimate recording environment. Artists who have recorded here over the years have included Johnny and June Carter Cash, Weezer, P. Diddy, Rod Stewart, Smokey Robinson, George Benson, Joe Bonamassa, Body Count, Stephen Bishop, David Cassidy, Kelly Clarkson, Jonny Lang, Josh Kelley, Kenny Wayne Sheppard, Eleven, Whiskeytown, Bird York, Unwritten Law, Black Eyed Peas, Vonda Shepard, Don Was, Ali Sudol, Jason Falkner, Mase, David Garfield, Tommy Stinson, Daniel Licht, Jon Brion, CBS Television Studios and many others.
What inspires J.J. Blair?
J.J. is a very accomplished producer and engineer, and has worked with some huge names in the music industry. Some of these names include Weezer, George Benson, Smokey Robinson, Unwritten Law, Lee Dewyze, Kelly Clarkson, P. Diddy, The Black Eyed Peas, Ryan Adams, Bird York, Stephen Bishop, David Cassidy, Melissa Etheridge, among others! When we had the opportunity to sit down with him in his amazing Fox Force Five studio, we asked him to tell us why he does what he does and to talk about some of the artists and albums that have inspired him throughout his career.
J.J. says he simply loves records, and his favourite thing about recording is that the studio becomes a musical instrument as well. He loves the process of recording music and says the studio is where the elements of art and technology come together to create something great. When recording an album, you will come in with an idea in your head, and if you can get the right team of people together, then you can bring that idea to life, and sometimes it is even better than you could have imagined it.
When asked which albums have inspired him over the years, the first one J.J. mentioned was Yes’s Close to the Edge. He says he just finds it is recorded so beautifully and musically, and that everyone is “overplaying” but in the most beautiful way. This is an album that he will listen to over and over when he is in the car by himself! Another album that inspires J.J. is Quadrophenia by The Who. He describes this album as the musical equivalent of Catcher in the Rye. J.J. says the album translates teen, outsider angst in a way that means a lot to him.
Please find a complete transcription of the interview below:
Warren: Hey, everybody, hope you’re doing marvellously well. Sitting with my friend, J.J. Blair. How are you?
J.J. Blair: Great to see you buddy.
Warren: We’ve been having… Actually, we’ve been hanging out a little bit today. We’ve had a bit of fun. We’ve been recording a drum recording course. And I particularly love your studio. I think first, it sounds fantastic and the gear is amazing, but the drum room itself is pretty comparable to, I don’t know, a bedroom size.
J.J. Blair: Yeah. Because it used to be a bedroom. You know, it’s a coincidence, isn’t it?
Warren: It is a great coincidence as they say. So this is going to be a fun course because of course we’ll be able to talk about how you can record drums in a relatively normal-sized room. Not a cavernous one.
J.J. Blair: Right.
Warren: It was a lot of fun to do. But what I want to talk to you about today, and we did this with Reed, who we both know very well, is the reason why you do this? What inspires you? Now, this is a very open-ended question. It could be people, like engineers, producers. It could be records. It could be songs. It could be gear. I just know when somebody asks me that question…
J.J. Blair: So why do I do… Why do I record?
Warren: Why do you just do this? Why do you do what you do? Because you play, you write, you record. What inspired you to start this adventure?
J.J. Blair: I love records.
Warren: Okay, good.
J.J. Blair: And this is a musical instrument. I am sitting in a musical instrument and it’s part of, you know… This is where the art and the technology come together. There are things that you can do in a studio you can’t… You know, The Beatles couldn’t just go out and perform Sgt. Pepper. Like once they made the record, maybe you can hire a bunch of people and go recreate it. But the studio becomes an instrument and it’s just always turned me on, since I had my dad’s reel-to-reel and realized I could play things backwards and edit tape and whatnot. And I just love it. I love music and I love recorded music. I love the process of it. And once you get to do it, the drug is, you come in with a nebulous idea. You’re like, “Okay, I have a song and I think this is going to be, you know… Maybe it’s going to work like this.”
J.J. Blair: And sometimes when you get the right group of people together and they land on that thing, and that idea becomes a reality and it’s even better than you imagined it. And that, for me, is the drug. Like that’s the high I keep chasing when it’s just like, okay, let’s try this. I’m going to throw this against the wall. Oh my God, it stuck. And it’s fantastic. And you know it’s great and then other people hear it and they’re excited by it and they love it and you’re like, yeah, I made that. That’s cool, you know?
J.J. Blair: And yeah, so that’s the high I try to chase on the rare instances when I get the opportunity. And it’s not just like I’ll do whatever for money.
Warren: What is that?
J.J. Blair: That is The Object from the Led Zeppelin Presence record.
J.J. Blair: And somebody on Etsy makes 3D printed models of them and they look really janky. They have all the serrations and everything. And as you know, I refinish guitars and finish guitars and I’m rather handy in that way. And so I just made it look nice through a bunch of elbow grease and hard work.
J.J. Blair: And being a big Led Zeppelin fan, particularly of that record. Presence might be my favorite Zeppelin record.
Warren: It’s a wonderful record.
J.J. Blair: Yeah. And then mixed in a day or something, by the way.
Warren: Well recorded the way they wanted to hear it.
J.J. Blair: Yes.
Warren: Probably the mixing was probably like-
J.J. Blair: Yeah, I think there was a real lack of sleep and probably some Peruvian marching powder involved. They had to configure the-
Warren: Can’t imagine what you mean.
J.J. Blair: -timeline. Yeah, something like that.
Warren: So there’s a record that inspires, Presence.
J.J. Blair: Yes. Presence is kind of the antithesis of what a lot of people think about when they think about a studio recording. It’s kind of the opposite of say, a Steely Dan record, which people think about like, “Oh, recording studio, you know? Like Steely Dan. That’s what you want to do.” And Presence is one of those records that manages to keep a very raw, live vibe where all that energy is still there and it’s still a little bit dangerous.
J.J. Blair: And those are, you know, I like to make both kind of records. I like to make the very slick, Steely Dan sounding stuff. And then I like to do, you know, Led Zeppelin One or something. I mean, I’m making a record right now that we are trying to get live vocal performance and have everything be a keeper. Like that’s the one, you know? No overdubs. And amazingly, our first takes have been keepers, you know? But there’s just certain types of music that are better when it’s raw and it’s natural and that’s always exciting.
Warren: It’s interesting you should touch on that idea of understanding lots of different ways to make music. We just did a video, strangely enough, coincidentally enough, again with Reed. And he was mixing a song and using a ton of plugins and somebody made a comment about, “Oh, you’re the performance.” And I’m like, “Yeah, but you do remember last week I put a video up with Reed going live to vinyl.”
J.J. Blair: Which takes possibly… I want to tell you a great story, by the way, about that as told to me by Lee Sklar. He was doing a record… This is one of those namedrop stories that’s fantastic. That has to wind up out there. Lee Sklar was telling me he was doing a Bill Schnee direct-to-vinyl recording. So you have to play down the entire side live to vinyl. And they were one cut away from the final cut of that side and the door opens and Jaco Pastorius jumps in and goes, “Hey cats, what’s going on?” And so they just blew… They had to go back and recut the whole album side because Jaco, who was out of his mind, came in and decided to mess up their take.
Warren: Ah, so what are the albums? What are the ones that you constantly go back to that inspire you?
J.J. Blair: And I don’t know why this is jumping out of my brain. There’s something about Yes, Close to the Edge.
Warren: I love that album.
J.J. Blair: It’s just so… There’s just something about it. It’s recorded so beautifully and musically and there’s a lot going on and everybody is completely overplaying and doing, but in the most genius way. And everything sits perfectly. I don’t know why that just jumped out of my head right now, but they’re just… I drive back and forth to Mammoth a lot and I like to do it by myself because I like to play the same song over and over and over and really get into it. And for some reason, that’s a record that I will just like get into over and over.
Warren: It’s strange you say that. The album for me that I listen to over and over again is The Yes Album.
J.J. Blair: Yeah.
Warren: Especially when it gets perpetual motion and the band breaks into two bands and goes left to right, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah. And then these two different grooves are playing at the same time and then they come back and then it just goes to pure melody and vocals. I think they just hit it on all levels, don’t they? Because they could write pop songs and they could also play their asses off.
J.J. Blair: Exactly. And they could be very smart. And it’s funny because side one of Close to the Edge, it took me years to penetrate that. I couldn’t, I like… I got side two right away, but side one I just couldn’t get for years. And then one day it finally… It was just too above my head. It was a little too weird, a little… And then I got it. And then it’s like, “Oh my God, this is the best prog music ever,” which is like saying, you know, the leper with most fingers or something.
J.J. Blair: But it really takes a special person to appreciate prog.
Warren: I’m quite obsessed with it. Prog, for me, hits on all levels for me because I grew up on classical music and then I got into Queen when Queen were more of a prog band, quite frankly. And so for me, it’s sort of guilty-
J.J. Blair: You mean before Radio Ga Ga.
Warren: Before Radio Ga Ga, which I love, too. But it’s like a guilty secret, you know? You know Brian MacLeod and I were talking about doing a prog band. You should do a prog band.
J.J. Blair: Well, I know he’s a very big Mahavishnu fan.
J.J. Blair: And ask him his Gene Simmons story sometime.
Warren: I will. I’ve got to get him on camera.
J.J. Blair: I love that guy.
J.J. Blair: One of the… And such a great song drummer. He was one of the first drummers that I noticed like, oh, his right foot is listening to the vocal. This is really interesting. Brilliant guy. Sweetheart, too.
Warren: I also remember the first time I ever recorded with him was with Don Smith. And he came into the control room. There’s Don’s studio in Agoura and we played the track. And I was playing bass with him. So this really was a great experience. Played him the track. Played him the demo and he’s like, oh, this is cool. Okay. So we went back in and the first take we played, we all just stopped and were like to like, how did he do that?
J.J. Blair: Yeah.
Warren: It was absolutely phenomenal. And we came back and listened and were like, that’s the take.
J.J. Blair: And since we’re talking about recording drums, he’s one of those guys who, you know, he gets in there. And this is the difference between session guys and everyone else. He hits a drum and he will make it sound better. He really has a sound. So do most great players, you know? But he’s just one of those guys. He just, the way he has a touch translates in the studio so well, you know? It’s always just sort of perfect. I never have to go, “Hey, can you like back off a little bit of this?”
Warren: One thing I do like about session drummers, which I think is very important. The best guys, the best session drummers, sound like they’ve been playing in the band for five years before they went in and recorded.
J.J. Blair: Yeah.
Warren: I think there’s this sort of perception, especially in an online world, where everything’s all about the technique. Look at this guy playing and this guy. It’s like, that’s great, but when you hire these guys, they come in, they do two or three takes. Maybe the third or fourth take you listen back and you’re like, yeah. It sounds like you guys have been touring for five years and just walks in to record.
J.J. Blair: Well, because guys who play in studios for a living, typically they play the drums. I mean they play the song and they don’t play the drums.
J.J. Blair: And that’s, you know, there’s too many guys who like, they’re playing their instrument, they’re not playing the song. And always what we’re doing on this side of the glass and what they’re doing on their side of the glass should always be about serving the song. And that’s always the underlying thing.
Warren: Absolutely. Alright. So, Close to the Edge.
J.J. Blair: Yeah.
Warren: So what else? We’re going to make a Spotify playlist.
J.J. Blair: I’m gearing up for The Who coming to town and I’m going through my… I just always have to go back to Quadrophenia, which to me is the musical equivalent of Catcher in the Rye. There’s just something that… That album translates teen outsider angst in a way that… It just means so much to me and I feel like every lyric of it.
J.J. Blair: And then if you’re going out of the studio, what I think is the greatest live album of all time, which is Live at Leeds, which just makes me so excited. You know, it’s just perfection and it sounds fantastic. And if you have the release where it’s the entire show where they play all of “Tommy” live, it’s everything I wish rock and roll still could be. But no one will. No one has A) the balls to do it like that, where you’re really out on a limb. And it’s just what people used to do then to get good and the way you would have to do shows and shows and shows and shows, bands were just different in terms of their skill and the way they worked as an organism because you have to go play a club for five nights a week or something like that.
J.J. Blair: And the way that people would shed back then, they don’t have to now. So they don’t… I’m not hearing it in, you know, it’s not that like, “Oh, in my day it was better.” It’s not that thing. It’s a different thing. People don’t have to put in the type of hours and blood, sweat and tears, you know, if you’re going to go play the Whiskey for your 25-minute set once every month. It’s not the same.
Warren: Pay to play.
J.J. Blair: Yeah. It’s not the same thing as you’re going to go play three hours for five nights a week at the Red Onion somewhere. It’s just a different thing.
J.J. Blair: You’re going to be, you know, where you have to learn other people’s material too, which always makes you a better musician than just, “I’m going to play what I wrote!” You know?
Warren: Right. Absolutely. So The Who, Quadrophenia.
J.J. Blair: Yeah. You introduced me to Graham Coxon. Those records, the Blur records, I just love. It’s just that I’ve… That was like them and Supergrass and Radiohead. You know, those were people who were really having fun in the studio in the ’90s and you know, trying to make really cool records.
Warren: Oh yeah. For us, in England, Modern Life is Rubbish was like, “Aaaah!”
J.J. Blair: Yeah, yeah.
Warren: It was like it made it okay.
J.J. Blair: Yeah. I used to just put on Oily Water and go, “Listen to that bass sound. Listen to that bass sound.”
Warren: So the guitar effects on Chemical World.
J.J. Blair: Yeah. All that. I don’t know? What else? I listen to a lot of country lately, hence the shirt. And because I play, for me that’s like what I like to play so I don’t get bored on guitar because I can add a lot of weird, chromatic bebop stuff and it works in the genre. Like you can play some bebop type stuff and you don’t leave the country idiom because it really goes hand-in-hand. I can’t play that if I’m playing rock. It’s just like, “What are you doing?” It’s not, you know, I can’t throw those licks in on Tumbling Dice or something.
J.J. Blair: You know, I wouldn’t want to, either.
Warren: Any particular country that’s really inspirational? Something that stands head and shoulders above everything else?
J.J. Blair: I mean, I’m on a real Merle Haggard kick right now. I just insisted on us recording one of his songs on this record we’re doing, but I wanted to do… It’s like, okay, what if Ray Charles had done this on New Directions and so we did it and we wound up doing it in six-eight with a little bit of a twist on some of the chords. Because I’m like, you know, it’s a song called “Sing Me Back Home,” which it’s a death row song, you know? And Merle’s recording’s a little too happy, but it’s such a deep song. And so it’s like, well let’s do this like it’s really, you know, like feeling it.
J.J. Blair: And it’s a record I’m making with Mike Finnigan who is, aside from being one of the finest B3 players alive, is such an outstanding vocalist. And so he puts you there. You’re in the moment. You’re on death row with the guy. And that’s the thing I love about country music. Aside from the twang, it’s, you know, stories.
J.J. Blair: About drinking and cheating and-
Warren: Then go to jail.
J.J. Blair: Go to jail.
Warren: And being on death row.
J.J. Blair: Being on death row.
Warren: So okay, here’s a good… What is the first rock or what’s the first, it could be pop, it could be anything. What’s the first record that you remember where you were like, “Wow, what is this?”
J.J. Blair: Probably The Beatles, the Red and Blue compilations. I immediately had to, you know… I was like, okay. I was a kid. I heard… I was obsessed from the beginning.
Warren: So your parents had those albums?
J.J. Blair: My sister, who’s 10 years older than I am. I borrowed hers and I played it on my crappy little General Electric phonograph. And she got mad and so we had to go buy her new ones that weren’t ruined by my crappy needle because these were things that, you know… And I got to pick out my first record ever that wasn’t like Snoopy Versus the Red Baron or something.
Warren: What was that?
J.J. Blair: It was Rubber Soul.
J.J. Blair: And that was it. I was off. I was hooked.
Warren: Rubber Soul is a great gateway drug because it’s a little bit experimental, but all the songs are about two minutes, 30.
J.J. Blair: Right.
Warren: So they’re like super pop, but at the same time, cool and experimental.
J.J. Blair: You know, that’s kind of like where they’re rocking out a little bit with those dominant seven on the backbeat things like The Word. So they’re starting to get into that, you know, sort of… That territory and they’re moving away from I Want to Hold Your Hand into… That’s the gateway towards the White Album.
Warren: Yeah, definitely. Yeah.
J.J. Blair: And the songwriting is just marvellous. And then the other thing that’s really… I’ve gotten to become friends with Davey Johnstone and the first time I met him, I’m like, “I need to tell you, you are the reason I play guitar, because my sister would put on Elton’s Greatest Hits and every time ‘Saturday Night’s All Right for Fighting’ would come on, I would grab a tennis racket and jump around.” I’m like, that’s the sound. I want to make that sound, whatever that is. And that was the sound that obsessed me with… And I asked him, I said, “How did you get that sound, by the way?”
J.J. Blair: What he described sounded like a ’68 or ’69 Goldtop, Les Paul. He said there was one Marshall stack, something like two or three AC30s and 10 Fender Princetons. That’s what he told me. And that was the sound.
Warren: Wow. And all individually mic’d or just cranked in a room with a big…?
J.J. Blair: That part, I don’t know. But it was like the amalgamation of everything and it was teeth rattling.
Warren: Wow. I wonder how much… It sounds like my guess is it’s all cranking in one room.
J.J. Blair: Yeah, probably.
Warren: And there’s like a mic or several mics. But not individually mic’d.
J.J. Blair: Yeah. It’s one of those things like I have to go back and give it another… I have to put the, you know…ear on it.
Warren: Just aggressive that… Yeah. I mean, it’s aggressive without being metal. So it does point to a lot of energy.
J.J. Blair: Yeah. And again, smaller amps, which is… I don’t know if we talked about this in our last interview, but you know, my experience in the studio is that I can get smaller amps to sound bigger because I’m not overpowering the room. I’m not overpowering the mic. A number of things. Like I can allow the air to move a little bit and I can get some texture out of them that if I’m going through like a Diezel or something, it’s just I’ve lost it in the first gain stage.
J.J. Blair: You know.
Warren: You know Dave Jerden and Bryan Colostrum, when I worked with them in the ’90s, we used to use like eight- and 10-inch speakers. Front and back mics and flip the polarity on the back one and get massive guitar sounds.
J.J. Blair: Yeah.
Warren: And that was the first time I’d ever experienced that. I was like, oh wow. My Pro Junior just sounds like a wall of guitars.
J.J. Blair: Yeah. Well, I talked about how this is, you know, impressionism. It’s about perception. We’ll go back to Zeppelin. I remember in the ’90s, everyone trying to get… Some friends I was working with, they really wanted to get that Bonham sound. They wanted that big bass sound to the point where they were varispeeding the tape machine fast and recording the song a couple clicks fast so that they could like then play back at regular speed. And the deformant of the drum would change. It’d be bigger. And I’m like, well now if I’m listening to Zeppelin, there really isn’t any low end there. I’m just perceiving low end.
J.J. Blair: And I’m perceiving low end because they left space around the drums and you can hear the room and I can hear that it’s tuned, but there’s nothing under 200 Hertz going on there that I can tell on that bass drum.
J.J. Blair: You know? And so that’s that. Again, it’s impressionism.
Warren: Sure. Yeah. You go back and listen to Van Halen One and Two, the kicks like “tick tick tick tick”. The 57s on the kick drums.
J.J. Blair: Yeah.
Warren: So plus, of course, you know, we were talking about this off camera. Mastering engineers were sort of forced to wipe off all the super lows anyway just to fit it properly onto vinyl, you know?
J.J. Blair: Yeah.
Warren: And then we were hoping that the RIAA curve was going to pick up the top top and the low lows.
J.J. Blair: And I don’t know when the… I just recently learned about the computer that looks ahead and knows how to space it, but I don’t know when that was introduced. But something tells me they didn’t have it in ’60s or ’70s.
J.J. Blair: So you had to be even more conservative with the room that you could work with when it knew how deep to cut it or how to space the next track.
Warren: So we’ve done some Zeppelin. We’d done some country. We’d done some, of course, Yes. Anything current-ish, like even last 10 years, that you-
J.J. Blair: It’s so funny-
Warren: And some Blur as well.
J.J. Blair: So I will hear something. I’ll hear like a song. I’ll be somewhere and I’ll hear a song. I’m like, oh, that’s interesting. And I don’t want to say the names of these bands because I don’t want to throw them under the bus. And I’ll Shazam it and I’m like, “Oh that’s cool.” I buy records. By the way, if you love music, just if it’s a song you like pay a buck 29 on iTunes, don’t Spotify. You know, don’t rip off the artists.
Warren: I think iTunes is going. And the latest version of OS X is not going to be there.
J.J. Blair: No, the store will be there. It’s going to be called Music.
Warren: Oh. Are you still going to be able to buy it or-
J.J. Blair: I believe you are.
Warren: Okay. But I do think that they’re abandoning caring about that.
J.J. Blair: We’ll figure this part out, but however, find a way to pay for music. You know? So I’ll do that now and I’ll-
Warren: Definitely, if you’re on Spotify, pay for it. Don’t use the free version.
J.J. Blair: But if you really want the artists to get the money, buy the song, don’t buy Spotify. That’s what I’m saying. If you love someone, buy their actual record.
J.J. Blair: So I’ll hear something somewhere and I’ll go like, oh that’s cool. I’ll go buy that record. And I’ll buy the record, because I, you know, it’s the price of two lattes. And then I get it. And I’m like, yeah, I’m not feeling it. And so I keep trying to get into new music and I’ll listen and I’ll go like, oh that’s…
J.J. Blair: No it’s not quite where I thought it was. And I don’t want to mention the bands because I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus and who knows, maybe they’ll hire me and I don’t want to talk shit about them. But you know, I’m not great about… Because when I’m driving around, I’m either listening to the news so that I can just walk around depressed all the time. Or I’m listening to comfort food. And I want to hear, you know… I feel like I’m too busy discovering old music that somehow passed me by on deep cuts and trying to make the best of the shitty sound on Sirius XM.
J.J. Blair: I’m awful at jumping into new music. Why? Because where do people discover new music? Spotify and I don’t use Spotify.
Warren: Right. Right.
J.J. Blair: So it’s usually when I’m somewhere and they’re playing Spotify and you know, and then something that I think is new, it’s like, oh, this has been out for 10 years. Okay. I’m just not that, not with it.
Warren: Well I suppose it’s also different because a lot of the bands that we considered to be the classic great bands were putting out one or two albums a year.
J.J. Blair: Yeah.
Warren: And you know, since the ’90s it’s like one to every two, every two to four years. So a band could be fairly new if they’re eight years old, because they might only be two albums into their career. It’s quite scary, really.
J.J. Blair: Yeah. And in terms of what’s being released right now, the signal-to-noise ratio is lousy. A lot of noise to, you know, quality signal. So you have to sort through a lot of chicken shit to get to the chicken salad.
Warren: Well I feel like you’ll probably relate to this. I feel like there’s a lot of like good, even some really good, and not much great. It just feels like I don’t… You know, there was something so horribly wrong with the old system of gatekeepers and stuff. But there was also something beautiful about it, you know, where it was pretty much at least pre-, sort of mid-’90s, where the cream rose to the top. I think the ’90s was a different time because I felt like when I first started, especially in America, I felt like the… It was not felt like, it was the A&R guys decided who was going to be successful. They found people and sort of like put money behind it. But I think up until that point, you know, bands, artists toured, started building followings. And then they were signed.
J.J. Blair: And no matter how many articles Don Henley wrote bashing the label system, here’s another perspective. They’re going to give you a million-and-a-half-dollar loan to make a record, promote, tour and do everything and you’re not going to have to pay it back. It’s a pretty good deal, unless you’re successful. The deal only sucks if you’re successful. Okay? But, if you’re a failure, it’s a great deal. And very few people look at it that way, you know? And there’s something to be said for whether or not that was valuable, and whether these people knew what they were doing or took a great art and turned it into crap by trying to make it commercially successful. But it had a good point. If you were a musician trying to… and you could make it past the gate. As much as we loved bashing on it back when it was paying everybody.
Warren: Yeah, absolutely. Any other records you just feel like…
J.J. Blair: Here’s something we’ve never talked about. I’m going to digress for a minute and I have a friend that I’ve been working with doing some records with who’s successful and a well known guitarist. But he says like, “Hey, you know, there’s a lot of guitar players that can play circles around me, but can they put on an act? Can they do these other things?” So it’s not just about if you’re a guitarist and you want people to know you. What do Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Eddie Van Halen, what do they all have in common?
Warren: Quite a few things, actually. I mean, they’re all great performers, they’re great songwriters. Great riff writers.
J.J. Blair: They’re great songwriters. How many great guitarists have we never heard of because they wrote songs that nobody cared about?
J.J. Blair: And for me, it always comes down to the songwriting. It doesn’t matter how fast you can play scales or how great you can solo. If you want people to take notice of you and you want to make a mark, you either become a great songwriter or you find a great songwriter to give you songs.
J.J. Blair: Because it’s the songs that endure always. But it’s, you know, I was just noticing… After having that discussion with my friend the other day, it was just like, yeah, I think if anything, it boils down to the songs. If you want to stand out from everybody else, have great songs and then try not to suck when you perform them.
Warren: Right. Yeah. That is a very valuable asset, to be a great songwriter. J.J., thank you ever so much.
J.J. Blair: Always a pleasure, my friend.
Warren: Always a pleasure to talk to you, as well. As ever, please leave any comments and questions below. You actually got into answering some before.
J.J. Blair: I do. I’m addicted to my devices and the internet and to procrastinate from working on stuff I don’t want to have to do. So I will probably be checking.
Warren: Marvellous. And we will also link to the studio tour previous interviews.
J.J. Blair: I’m sorry. I’m sorry. We did not bring the dog out today, but you can see her in the studio tour.
Warren: Marvellous. All right. Thank you ever so much.
J.J. Blair: Thanks, buddy.
Check out our previous interview with J.J Blair: