The guitar pick doesn’t fall far from the Stratocaster in some rock families. Several sons and daughters of hall of fame legends have felt the call of the amps and dreamt of making their own musical mark. A handful have gone on to noteworthy success, while others faced the reality of lightning only striking once in their gene field. Some have made a point to distance the influence of their forebear in their style of songwriting, while others seemingly mirror, in eerie similarity, the rhythms and inflections of their preeminent parent. And when there is more than one offspring hankering for the spotlight, the musical DNA strand may show itself to be dominant in only one member, causing that sibling to be praised above and beyond the rest of the brood.
The following compilation of second-generation rockers only scratches the surface of Mom & Dad wannabes who have set out to garner their own brand of glory. Each have their own tale to tell in how their praised parent(s) have influenced or distracted their quest for critical acclaim. Herewith, kid rock from A to Z:
Elijah Blue Allman
KISS tongue-wagger Gene Simmons used to change his diapers. The mascara-wearing frightman must’ve instilled some fashion sense into young Elijah because the kid’s grown up to front his own heavy rock band with made-up faces. Simmons wasn’t Elijah’s dad though, he just dated his mom, a dance-pop dynamo who goes by the name of Cher. Elijah Blue takes his surname from the southern rock and Southern Comfort-swilling legend, Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band. The man who gave us “Ramblin’ Man” soon ambled out of his marriage with Cher when Elijah was 2 years old. That’s where Simmons entered the picture.
“Gene Simmons went out with my mom for awhile,” Elijah told Raygun magazine, “and he gave me my first guitar when I was 11, but for years I faked it, played air guitar, until I decided to rock!” Young Elijah was sent to East Coast prep schools beginning at age 8, and while he fended off the usual taunts of being a privileged rock kid, he found time to front a few punk bands. He still was very aware of his musical identity. “It’s not on my mind, so I’m not wondering if anyone else is thinking about it; I’m pretty busy with my own reality,” he told Raygun. “But the frills? The fringe benefits? Yeah, of course, I maxed that s***.”
Growing up around Cher meant that young Elijah found a thrill in trying on his mom’s outlandish costumes. When he formed his own band named Deadsy in the mid-90s with an old school chum named Renn, the group adopted a punk/prep/goth fashion sense while performing on stage. While he and his mom teamed to cover the Tommy James and the Shondell’s classic “Crimson and Clover” for the soundtrack to the movie “A Walk On The Moon,” things weren’t always hunky-dory between mother and son. As landlord to Elijah, when he returned to California after graduation, Cher soon found her boy needed a little motivation. “She tried to charge me rent, trying to induce some sort of reality,” Elijah related to Raygun. “I hate doing things based on ‘principle.’ I said, ‘F*** that.’ She was in England and faxed me out of the house. I got the record deal out of necessity.”
Sire Records were the bearers of that deal. Deadsy set to work recording their debut album, “Commencement,” blasting away in their ‘80s goth-synth space-fizz signature style. The group got its name from a short cartoon rendered by artist David Anderson, about the adventures of a dead kid. When they handed in their effort, Sire was reluctant to release it. The album languished into the new century. Finally, friend Jonathan Davis, lead singer of the group Korn, stepped in to help out his chums, and was instrumental in getting the band signed to Dreamworks Records. “Commencement” is slated for release sometime in early 2001.
The music of Elijah’s band doesn’t seem to ape the disco underpinnings of most of his mom’s later work or the southern boogie temperament of his father’s legendary music. Elijah hasn’t really kept in touch with Gregg Allman since he left the family back in the late ‘70s. “He’s cool, but I don’t know…I don’t know when I’m going to be willing to start putting work into that,” Elijah told Genre Magazine. “I’ll kind of have to make the move. That’s a whole other Pandora’s box.” He is more his mother’s son. “I heard my parents’ music, of course, but I think my mom influenced me more just by the way she’s guided my life and the experiences she provided. Her music hasn’t really had an influence but just, like, life-type stuff.” Struggling to forge his own identity, Elijah would be wise to follow the singing advice of his guardian KISS angel and just “Shout it out Loud” and “Rock ‘N’ Roll All Nite!”
Guess who the most successful band of Canada was in the ‘60s? I just told you! The Guess Who barreled across the charts with hits like “These Eyes” and “American Woman” before lead guitarist Randy Bachman felt a need to distance himself from the fast-lane living and devote his time to a more Mormon-oriented lifestyle. He moved to Vancouver, BC and formed a quaint little band with fellow bassist C. F. Turner known as Bachman-Turner Overdrive. If you think songs like “Roll On Down The Highway” and “Takin’ Care of Business” were not indicative of a meek churchgoer’s existence, well, “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” (which went to number #1 in 1974). BTO, as it was commonly referred to, typified suburban headbanger idolatry throughout the first half of the 1970s. Around the time Randy made a transition from his earlier successful band to the BTO phenomenon, he and his wife Lorrayne also found time to have a son.
Young Tal Bachman was brought up to be a devoted Mormon. And a fantastic rocker! Tal was taken under the wing of his father. “It wasn’t like dad and I went out chopping wood or hunting,” he told the Express Writer. “Everything was rock ‘n’ roll. It’s not like, ‘go out and get a job at Burger King.’ It’s like, ‘hey, listen to this record,’ or ‘you want to come to the studio?’ Everything was music. It’s like ‘The Truman Show.’ I didn’t know anything else.” Tal soon got into the spirit of being a true rocker. “The first guitar I ever had my mom bought me,” he related to “Sympathy For The Devil.” “It was a hundred dollar Korean piece of total garbage. I smashed it when I was a teenager. I wanted to know what it would be like to smash a guitar.”
“The ironic thing,” he elaborated, “is that I thought as a teenager, ‘Well I might become a musician or guitar player, and if I do, I don’t want to play like my dad – my poor dad! He was probably thinking, ‘Oh, my dreams have come true! My son’s learning how to play the guitar,’ but I would not let him show me anything. I just taught myself, and I had all these books. The funny thing is, now, every time I play a solo, it’s like I’m listening to a Randy Bachman solo.”
Still, deciding to jump into the musical world of full-fledged rock performance was not very clear-cut to Tal. “In my experience, kids who’ve had prominent parents take a little longer to figure out who they are,” he said to Rolling Stone magazine. Young Bachman gave up the guitar and picked up Plato, as he relocated to Utah in his late teens to study political philosophy at a university. Dad would have none of that. “I’d get a phone call every month from my dad saying, ‘Why are you studying? Quit university and start a rock band,’ Tal related to the Canadian Press. “I think he realized that was the only thing I was any good at. I don’t blame him or anything. He was like a concerned parent: ‘My son’s wasting his life. Get him on the phone!”
Back home in Canada, Tal set the foundation for his very unique, melodic brand of song craftsmanship — but not without the input of his rock star Papa. “There were times where he said, ‘Just do a two-chord song and scream,’ Tal told the Toronto Sun. “I was like, ‘I just don’t like that kind of music, Dad.’ You know, it’s like that scene in that Monty Python movie, ‘I just want to sing, father.’ Torment is not the ruling idea of my life. I like music-based music. I don’t like attitude first. It’s not me.” Indeed, Tal seems to have been more influenced by the bands he has championed since an early age like Cheap Trick and Electric Light Orchestra. He has been very outspoken about the negativity and simplistic three-chord dronings of certain grunge bands of the last decade, most notably a group called Nirvana. Melody is key with Tal. “You can print this,” he allowed the Express Writer, “Bjorn and Benny from ABBA are better than Mozart. I’ve listened to hours and hours of Mozart and some of it’s great. But I put on ‘ABBA Gold’ the other day, and it’s like one hour of total perfection. There’s no difference, really. So you have an electric guitar instead of a viola. Big deal.” Egads! What must his father be thinking.
It’s not always about dad, of course. And Tal Bachman has hit his stride straight out of the gate. With the release of his self-titled debut album in April 1999, the talented multi-instrumentalist has fashioned a rich, rewarding bunch of pure rockers that would make Bjorn and Benny, along with his famed father, proud. The hit single “She’s So High” continues to receive heavy rotation on Top-40 radio, and his tunes were featured on shows like “Dawson’s Creek,” “Charmed,” and “Melrose Place.” On his home turf, Tal was awarded a slew of Canadian music awards for his outstanding musical debut. No telling what direction his follow-up will take, but if his first effort is any indication, we ‘ain’t seen nothin’ yet.’
“This baby’s made all the difference to my life,” Marc Bolan, the mastermind behind ‘70s glam-rock powerhouse T-Rex, once proclaimed to the media. The baby in question was his newborn son whom Marc and singer-songwriter-mom Gloria Jones promptly named Rolan. “The most important thing is that he has given me a sense of responsibility,” Marc continued. “Whenever I feel myself getting silly and maybe thinking of slipping into my old ways, I just imagine myself dying and Rolan never really having known me. That’s a horrible thought.”
On September 16, 1977, almost two years after Rolan’s birth, his dad sadly lost his life. Returning home from a club very early in the morning, Gloria lost control of the purple Mini Cooper she was driving on a tight curve in south London. The automobile spun and smashed into a tree, severely injuring her and killing 29-year old Marc Bolan. Young Rolan was, soon after, taken to America and settled into an upbringing by his mom in a suburb of Los Angeles.
Friend and fellow glam rocker, David Bowie, was so affected by the sudden loss of his compatriot that he immediately set up a trust fund for Rolan so the boy would not be without money in his later years. But Marc had not properly put in order all of his affairs before his death, and recently, Rolan has sought to claim the rewards of his father’s royalties, most of which has been benefiting a Jewish charity called Norwood Ravenswood.
The legacy Rolan’s dad left behind obviously instilled in him a burning desire to create music of his own. “My dad’s music has always been my only connection to him,” Rolan said to E! Online. “My family would bring me tapes and CDs. So I never really looked at it from the standpoint of being just a fan.” While the senior Bolan never climbed too high on the U.S. charts, his T-Rex outfit assaulted the U.K. shores with heavy metal hits like “Metal Guru,” “Telegram Sam,” and the rousing “Bang a Gong (Get It On).”
Rolan was nipped by the musical bug and attended a university in California, majoring in recording technology. Leaning towards a more urban funk-rock approach, Rolan assembled a band of friends to form a trio called The Brothers Bounce. Together, they have played hundreds of gigs around the country, mostly in the LA area. “It’s a fusion of R&B and rock,” he described his band to E! Online, “with a lot of samples and looped drum beats but with traditional heavy guitars and organ-playing influenced by my father.” They made their debut to the recording industry at a BMI brunch in 1998. Currently, they are still unsigned. In 1997, Rolan traveled to England to visit the site where his father perished and he videotaped his eye-opening journey for a short 40-minute film he produced for his new legion of fans. For Rolan himself, the musical journey has only just begun.
“It was uncanny, Jason had every nuance of his father’s approach to the group’s music; it was as though we’d played together for years.” Bassist John Paul Jones of the supergroup Led Zeppelin sang the praises of one Jason Bonham after the young drummer joined them at the 40th Anniversary of Atlantic Records held in Madison Square Garden on May 14, 1988. Filling the drum licks of his world-renowned father was both a dream come true and perhaps not so daunting a task. In essence, Jason Bonham had drummed for Led Zeppelin a number of times before.
After guiding the heavy metal barrage the Zep laid across the airwaves with a steady backbeat throughout their ‘70s heyday, John Henry “Bonzo” Bonham met his sudden demise on September 24, 1980 at the age of 34. He was found dead in his bed, a case of accidental asphyxiation resulting from his having choked on his own vomit after a drinking binge at guitarist Jimmy Page’s house. His son, Jason, was 14 at the time. His dad was an integral part of the Zeppelin legacy, and the other band members felt the need to close down the unit for a while thereafter. They issued the album “Coda” in 1982, the title suggesting finality, and the record contained unused tracks featuring the work of John Bonham.
But with the regrouping for Live Aid and the subsequent Atlantic Records festivities, the rock icons felt the tug to carry on. And Jason appeared in several of their efforts over the years, most notably as drummer on two of Jimmy Page’s solo albums. As mentioned, the band was already quite familiar with this accomplished drummer. Jason can be seen at the age of five banging away on a small drum kit in the group’s 1976 documentary, “The Song Remains The Same.” Zep members had witnessed firsthand little Jason’s growth in drum technique over the years in the early ‘70s. “We used to come back from wherever we’d been together and all sit down and start messing around and start dancing about,” singer Robert Plant told MTV. “Jukebox would be real loud, and Jason would get on his little kit, poor little tot, and he’d have to play all this stuff, you know. I mean he was better than the drummer with Steely Dan, better than the Temptations’ drummer, better than Bonzo, better than everybody because he was sober.”
Immersed in this musical environment, Jason formed his first band at age 17 named Air Race and released an album. His band opened for premier acts of the day like Queen, Def Leppard and AC/DC. Issuing two albums with his next band, Virginia Wolf, then two under the name Bonham, Jason ended the millenium jumping from a band called Motherland into another incarnation of his name, The Jason Bonham Band. This last group foray released a tribute to Led Zeppelin songs on the album “When You See The Sun” and toured the globe bringing these tunes to many fans of his dad. “I grew up in a home filled with the spirit and music of Led Zeppelin,” Jason said. “It’s a joy for me to be able to play a substantial number of these songs at every date.”
Interviewers Bruce Deerhake and Mike Houpt once asked Jason about the lessons he might have received from his father. “Actually I don’t remember being taught,” he replied. “I only remember one incident where he put on the jukebox ‘Turn It On Again’ – by Genesis – it has a little time skip in it. He kept saying, ‘Play this, play this!’ So I kept playing it and he said, ‘No wrong – do it again, do it again!’ I really don’t have memory of him sitting down and saying, ‘Do this.’ However brief the actual tutorial lasted, it seems Jason has picked up remarkably on his dad’s trademark pounding. “Some people say that I’m trying to sound like him; no, I’m not trying to do anything like that – I just end up playing like that – it’s the way it comes out.” Whether he likes it or not, he is his father’s son. You can spot Jason next in the new Mark Wahlberg movie “Metal God” in which he plays – what else? – the drummer in Mark’s band.
Note: Singer/guitarist Tracy Bonham, a female rocker with solo albums on Island Records is no relation to Jason and his family.
While accomplished musicianship can trickle down through the generations of a family, so too, it appears, can the bleakest of tragedies. The former assertion was acknowledged by Jeff Buckley when he told interviewer Steve Tignor, “My voice has been handed down through the men in my family for generations.” That voice was a compelling mix of emotive character and a knack for incisive storytelling. Jeff’s dad was the critically-championed cult folk figure of the 1960s and early ‘70s, Tim Buckley.
Father Tim moved to California at a young age and fell in with country & western bands in his teen years. By the time Frank Zappa’s manager spotted him at an LA club, Tim had honed his craft as a solo folk artist. He was signed to a record deal shortly thereafter and performed on the same bill as Jimi Hendrix, Moby Grape, the Velvet Underground, and Big Brother & the Holding Company. While his albums never made much of blip on the charts, his excursions into jazz, funk, and avant-garde music garnered Tim a heralded chapter in the annals of cult musicians that other artists aspire to achieve. At what seemed to be the height of his recognition, Tim made a fatal mistake. He took a drug cocktail of heroin and morphine. On June 29, 1975, 28-year old Tim Buckley passed away as a result of this overdose at a Santa Monica, California hospital.
Son Jeff never really knew his dad. He was born just as Tim was formally starting his career, right as he launched his debut album in 1966. Tim left Jeff and his mom shortly thereafter. Jeff bluntly told Steve Tignor, “I didn’t know my father. He left. He chose another family. I can’t help it if I sound like him.” Young Jeff was raised in Riverside, California by his mom, Mary Guibert, and his stepfather. He related to the New York Times his only connection to his father. “I met him once, when I was 8. We went to visit him, and he was working in his room, so I didn’t even get to talk to him. And that was it.” A few months later, Tim was dead. “He never wrote and never called and I didn’t even get invited to the funeral,” Jeff told interviewer Aidin Vazin. “There’s just no connection, really. I’m sure people will fill in the blanks and make up the kind of myth that they want to. I wish I did get to talk to him a lot.”
This sense of loss and hurt filtered into the later works of Jeff Buckley. He was known for writing songs about injustices — jagged, freeform tunes that spoke of the loss of innocence and spirituality. By the 1990s, Jeff had performed in a band named Gods and Monsters and was now seen frequently at the New York East Village coffeehouse Sin-e, strumming his guitar on his own. When he played at a 1991 tribute for his father, audience members were startled to hear the similarities in his style reminiscent of his dad’s. Sony Records soon signed him.
With a band in tow and an acclaimed album called “Grace” being hailed as a critical success, Jeff toured extensively in the mid-90s. By 1997, he was back in the studio for his sophomore effort, an album entitled “My Sweetheart, The Drunk,” slated for release in June of that year. On the night of May 29, 1997, however, Jeff’s plans for future accolades would be cut short with the same tragic swiftness as had befallen his dad.
That evening, Jeff and a friend were playing music at a marina near the Mississippi River in Memphis, Tennessee. Jeff strummed on his guitar for a while. Then he got up, walked to the water’s edge, and ambled in fully-clothed. He wandered out until he was waist deep, then laid back on the top of the water. His buddy turned to fumble for the radio, and when he looked back out at the water, Jeff was gone. The friend immediately dove in and searched frantically. Calling 911, police arrived and dragged the immediate area. Jeff never turned up that night.
Three days later, a few passengers on a steamboat chugging by Harbor Island spotted a body tangled in some branches near the embankment. 30-year old Buckley was finally discovered. Like his father, Jeff had been cut down during a period when he was being hailed as a true genius in his field. His songs about the injustices in this world seemed to be all the more poignant in light of this final injustice.
Neneh and Eagle-Eye Cherry
Stepkids born four years apart, Neneh and Eagle-Eye Cherry grew up in the jazz-flavored environs of their mentor and papa, trumpeter Don Cherry. Neneh, the older sibling, was born in March of 1964 to a West African man named Amadu Jah and her mother Moki. Jah soon departed, and Neneh was bestowed with the last name of her mom’s new love. Don Cherry was a renowned musician originally from Oklahoma City who had traveled the world, drinking in its cultures and incorporating global sounds into his avant-garde, yet melodic, jazz stylings. His 8-inch pocket trumpet was his trademark and the instrument through which he fashioned a discernable manner of playing.
Early on, Neneh saw the value in music and wanted to pursue it as a career, though her globe-trotting stepfather did tend to be a bit on the eccentric side for her taste. “Much to my embarrassment, Don would play the flute walking down the street, and I used to wish my parents would be just like normal folks,” Neneh once said. “Now, of course, I’m eternally grateful for all the experiences we had.” She summarily dropped out of school before graduation and moved from her home in Sweden to new London digs and set about carving her own legacy in stone. In 1979, she landed a stint playing bass and singing in a ska/punk outfit known as the Nails. By the mid-80s, she had sung lead and issued 3 albums with a classical/punk ensemble called Rip Rig & Panic and was eager to step out on her own. The resulting effort, the album “Raw Like Sushi” in 1989, yielded the hip-hop top-10 hit “Buffalo Stance.” Neneh soon was honored with many awards and given the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine.
Meanwhile, her brother, Eagle-Eye, was also forging ahead along his own musical path. In his bio, the oddly-named singer/songwriter explained the origins of his birth moniker circa May 1968. “My dad was on tour when I was born. He came home, and I was sleeping when he saw me for the first time. I woke up and opened one eye and looked at him and (he) gave me the name.” Don Cherry took the time to instill in his young son the notion of sticking with his craft through thick and thin. “I learned a lot,” Eagle-Eye told Radio Undercover. “I’m lucky because I have the jazz side from my dad, which is all about the music. My dad had his frustrations with days when he didn’t get paid or didn’t have money, but he never asked himself, ‘why do I do this,’ because it was always clear. You play to get paid, and you make an album in one or two days and it’s very simple. In the pop world, there are so many things that are abstract, and it’s about video and it’s about photo shoots and all this stuff that’s really not about the music. I think that having seen the two sides, that’s kind of what I’ve done. I’ve made music that is very much about the music.”
Don introduced his son to the performance world when he was nine, allowing the boy to play drums in his jazz band. But Eagle-Eye was conflicted about what exactly to do with his life. He attended the School of Performing Arts in New York and soon acquired a desire to act. He found sporadic work on television shows and modeled for agencies around Manhattan. By the mid-90s, however, his focus was back on music. He returned to Sweden and began writing songs that would eventually wind up on his debut album.
For Neneh, her singing career was still solid in Europe, but interest had dwindled somewhat in the States. She concentrated more on her children and lived in Malaga, Spain. On October 19, 1995, Don Cherry died of liver cancer near her home. It occurred just as she was readying the release of her third album “Man.” Eagle-Eye was very affected by his dad’s passing and used a song Don wrote, named “Desireless,” to be the title track on his debut album of the same name. The blues-pop record came out in the summer of 1998 to rave reviews. The single “Save Tonight” went to number five on the American charts and Eagle-Eye was nominated for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance at the 1999 Grammy Awards.
For his follow-up album, “Living In The Present Future,” Neneh lent her vocals to Eagle-Eye’s song “The Long Way Around.” “She’s just the greatest, sweetest person,” Eagle-Eye said about his stepsis. “I always wanted to record with her and I thought if I did it now it would stop everybody asking me when we were going to do it.” Together, they also are working on a documentary about Don. The two have truly bonded over the years and the gift of music, bestowed upon them by their late father, helped to solidify that unity. Sure, most brothers and sisters connect on some level of discussion, but in the Cherry household, it seems to have been a conversation in scales, arpeggios, and overtures. “I think musically, we’ve mostly been kind of having music dialogue on the level of listening to music,” Eagle-Eye explained to Radio Undercover. “If for some reason my dad was on a plane, the turntable (at home) was always turning, some album was always playing. It’s still that way. Neneh will turn me on to something and say ‘haven’t you checked this album out yet?’ So it’s much more on that level of just our love of music.”
“People have asked me if I ever considered changing my name, and I have thought about it. But it wouldn’t be authentic and anyway I am very proud to be my father’s son,” Adam Cohen has said in his press bio. The feeling is obviously mutual for Dad. Dad, in this case, is Canada’s premier poet/songwriter laureate Leonard Cohen. With his insightful, sometimes wry, lyrics and meticulously-crafted music, Cohen is respected by his peers as being categorically on the half-step level just a hair below Dylan. His bass voice and almost spoken-word delivery command the listener to take notice.
His love of his first wife, Suzanne, inspired Leonard Cohen to write a poem as well as his first single about her. That love bore them their son, Adam, in Montreal, Canada circa 1972. By age five, however, Leonard had moved on, leaving Adam to be taken around the globe by his mom, experiencing a wide variety of cultures on his path to manhood. As best as he could, Adam remained close to his dad and dabbled in music, taking a handful of lessons. But by age 14, Adam sat himself down at the piano and learned the craft all by himself. After attending college in New York, Adam performed in clubs, and played guitar with Chris Stills, the son of Stephen Stills (see Chris Stills in this article). By the mid-‘90s, Adam wanted to branch out on his own.
He attributed his musical leanings to both his parents in his bio. “There is no way my record would be like it is if (my mom) hadn’t been playing Bob Marley, Marvin Gaye, and Curtis Mayfield incessantly while I was growing up. My dad was playing George Jones and Hank Williams. The literary booty and beauty came from him, but it was my mother who gave me the toe-tapping, shake your hips and move to the groove aspect.” That’s not to say he didn’t consult with his dad on his songwriting. “I would ask him what he thought of this rhyme scheme, or tone of that song. Sometimes, I didn’t ask him directly, I’d present the song to him and just by his reaction I would know if I was in the right emotional landscape or not. He was an advisor by default.”
Indeed, Adam’s self-titled debut album, released in the summer of 1998, is part storytelling-savvy in the vein of his father’s achievements, and part pop sensibility with a sometime-driving beat that distances itself from the old man’s leanings. Nevertheless, Papa Cohen is pleased. He was positively glowing in his review of his son’s abilities on radio’s Morning Becomes Eclectic show. “Well, first off, his voice has a quality that is very compelling. He has almost perfect pitch. So, you know he didn’t get that from me. And his movement, his phrasing, his musical approach is very, very sophisticated. It’s kind of…it’s hard to describe. It’s new, it’s a new thing…I’m very, very proud of him.” With that kind of cheerleading how can a rock kid go wrong?
The stacked record platter building that sits off Hollywood’s 101 Freeway is the “house that Nat built.” The smooth-as-butter vocals of the legendary Mr. Cole made Capitol Records a ton of money long before the Beatles ever slapped their first single on the turntable. He was a man respected by all of his peers in the industry and his dignity in the face of a predominantly “white” recording world of crooners made him peerless. Handling prejudice in a deft, extremely intelligent manner, who can forget the time when Nat was accosted by a neighbor as he moved into his exclusive Hancock Park home, being told that folks didn’t want ‘undesirables’ around their community. “Neither do I, and if I see any, I’ll be sure to let you know,” Nat keenly batted back. He genuinely had the temperament to handle the ugliness, doubts, and bigots that attacked his persona and talents. His daughter Natalie, the second child of five, wasn’t as adept at combating the pressure. “Most of my life I spent wondering if people like me because of who I am, and the more successful you become, the worse it gets,” she once observed.
Natalie grew up happily enough, enjoying the love her father displayed to all of his children. “He never sang us romantic ballads like ‘Mona Lisa,’ she wrote in her autobiography, “Angel On My Shoulder.” “He sang gibberish songs that gave us kids the giggles. I cherish those memories, and I love the fact that when he was home, he was just being Dad. He really spent what has become known as quality time with us. The flip side of that was that he was gone for weeks, sometimes months, at a time.”
At the age of 46, while Natalie was away at boarding school, Nat “King” Cole died of lung cancer. The seeds of that loss put Natalie on shaky ground. She went on to the University of Massachusetts where she studied child psychology. She also became a member of the Black Panther party and sang in local bands. But she felt adrift. “I wanted approval really badly, and I could only get it from him when he was around,” she told E! Online. After Nat passed on, it led Natalie to do all her “crazy stuff.” “I had started experimenting with drugs in the early ‘70s,” she continued, “and that was a real bad period.” Just how bad? Her boyfriend in college introduced her to heroin. She then got hooked and needed to support her habit. Counterfeiting, check fraud and a little petty thievery entered her lifestyle. Natalie soon moved to New York and met a pimp named Ronnie. “I was hired as the come-on girl who would pique the attention of potential johns,” she wrote in her bio. “Once I’d made contact and Ronnie had concluded the financial transaction, the real business would happen under the bridge – without me. I froze my ass off out there in Harlem, USA, in the winter of 1973.”
When a pal died from an overdose of heroin, Natalie got clean for a moment — long enough to land a record contract and a husband. Her honey-dripped, soulful R&B styling reminded many of the skilled vocalizations of her father. She won two Grammies for her work on her 1975 debut album “Inseparable.” Her cover of the song “Sophisticated Lady” nabbed her another Grammy. Five more hit albums followed, closing out an extremely successful run for her career in the 1970s. But with the success came more angst about her station in life, so she turned to cocaine and booze to help quell her demons. She was known as the ‘gourmet cocaine chef’ amongst her friends who admired her freebasing techniques. She told E! Online that the cocaine was bad enough, yes, but it was also “the lifestyle, the risk – taking drugs with me across the border, going out of the country, being so high, flipping my car a couple of times. I could have gotten arrested.”
Her record contract was canceled and her marriage hit the skids in the early ‘80s. Natalie was still a raging drug queen. One time she simply grabbed her infant son out of bed and drove off to the seedy part of town, hunting for a coke score. Her agent, attorney and business manager all finally intervened and got her into a rehab clinic in Minnesota. She stayed under watchful supervision for six months.
Upon release, she signed with another record company and slowly tried to rebuild her professional life. She had run away from her dad’s immaculate legacy all her life. “It took the better part of 15 years of doing my own thing, struggling, still being compared to my father,” she told E! Online. “Grammy after Grammy didn’t mean s***. The extreme significance this man had in the music business was just so incredible that no matter what I did it became very, very difficult to get away from being his daughter.” So, in 1991, she decided to acknowledge her respect for her father. Natalie set about recording 22 tracks of her dad’s songs for an album. “My desire for some kind of closure with my father may be what was behind my attempt to do my father’s music,” she wrote in her biography. The album and its remarkable “duet” with Nat, “Unforgettable,” racked up another 7 Grammies for Natalie.
Sober since 1983, another “duet” with dad (on 1996’s “When I Fall In Love”), an autobiography, a recent TV-movie, and another decade’s worth of great recordings have all contributed to making Natalie a more grounded, more confident daughter secure with her identity. She is recognized by her peers as an accomplished singer. And what’s more, she feels she has her father’s approval. After she laid down the “duet” track for “Unforgettable,” she later wrote, “I knew Dad was smiling, and that was worth it all.”
- J. Croce
Eight days before his second birthday, Adrian James Croce lost his dad Jim in a terrible plane crash. Taking off in a chartered Beechcraft D-18, the elder Croce had just finished a concert at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana on September 20, 1973. The aircraft nipped the top of a pecan tree during take-off. All six individuals on board, including Jim’s best friend, guitarist Maury Muehleisen, were killed when the plane plummeted to earth. Jim left behind young A. J. and his wife Ingrid.
Mother and son moved from the Pennsylvania environs where Ingrid had first met Jim and relocated across the country to San Diego, California. A. J. listened to his dad’s songs during his youth, along with blues albums by Slim and Little Brother Montgomery. His eyesight began to dim at age four. The diagnosis turned out to be brain tumor syndrome. “There’s no actual tumor on the brain,” A. J. related to the Democrat and Chronicle of Rochester, New York. “But there’s pressure building on the spinal cord. You go blind, you go deaf, you die.” Ingrid faced the prospect of losing her and Jim’s only surviving legacy.
When A. J. turned 10, he received surgery on the malady and the condition was satisfactorily halted. Spurred on by years of enjoying music to draw his attention away from debilitating health, A. J. leapt into the musical arena full force. By age 13, he was playing piano at bar mitzvahs and at Ingrid’s restaurant, Croce’s Top Hat. The teen loved to play guitar as well. Being the son of Jim Croce, however, made A. J. uncomfortable. He didn’t want to have the pressure to live up to the name.
However, in 1990, when the senior Croce was posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in New York, A. J. chose to pay tribute to the man who wrote great tunes like “Time In A Bottle” and “I Got A Name” by performing “Bad Bad Leroy Brown.” This opened the door for him to finally acknowledge his dad’s influence on his own style. “It was really important for me at one time to keep my distance. As the son of a well-known musician, I think I had problems discovering my own identity in some ways,” he told the Democrat and Chronicle. “When you’re in that position, people are always introducing you as the son or daughter of…You’re held in a certain light. I’m at a place personally now where playing one of his songs is nice, fun.”
A record deal soon followed, and A. J. churned out four blues-rocker albums throughout the 1990s that were, at least critically, well received. He played gigs far and wide around the country — he and his band travelling in Arlo Guthrie’s old tour bus. His last release, “Transit” is a more pop-flavored effort, basking in the ‘60s rock sound of electric guitar. Although A. J. doesn’t remember his dad, he has gleaned something from what Jim left behind. “I think the most powerful lesson was the fact that there is no reason to write a song unless there is a good story there,” he told Full Throttle Saloon. “He (Jim) was a great storyteller and, for me, if there is any way that we are similar, it’s that we both tell stories. If I’m longwinded in real life, as a writer, I can tell a tale in three minutes.” With talents as great as these two men, “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim…or A. J.”
Jakob Dylan – The Wallflowers
Jakob Dylan is The Wallflowers. Yes, there’s four other guys. And the line-up changed after the tour in support of their self-titled debut album back in 1992. But who interviews the other guys? Who really knows them? Face it, he should just call his act Jakob Dylan. But, of course, we know he’s intensely personal and shy. Thus, we get the aptly named moniker for him to hide behind.
If your dad was rock’s most revered statesman, chances are you’d be a little reluctant to show your face in the harsh glare of a stage spotlight as well. Born in 1969 New York, Jakob was the youngest of four children in Bob and Sara Dylan’s brood. Before his age had reached double digits, the family had moved west to Malibu, California, and resident rock genius, Papa Bob, moved out. Jakob spent puberty and adolescence hopping between his mom’s home in Beverly Hills and Bob Dylan’s tour bus.
Even though one would think blues-folk legends like Robert Johnson, Woody Guthrie and Mississippi John Hunt would be the only sounds allowed in the Dylan household, Jakob grew up more focused on the punk anthems of Elvis Costello, The Clash and The Replacements. “I really like the Clash,” he told Us Weekly, “but I don’t sound like the Clash. The point is to be inspired, not imitate. Also, I’m not from a lower middle-class suburb of London, so how could I write music like the Clash?”
The withdrawn teen wasn’t even sure if music was the answer to his life’s pursuit. Although he played in a garage band named the Bootheels in high school, after graduation, Jakob focused on art and started taking courses at New York’s Parson’s School of Design. He lasted three weeks. Music was definitely in his blood. He moved back to Los Angeles, played some more with the Bootheels and started writing songs in earnest. During this period, he came up with the song “6th Avenue Headache.” It would turn out to be his first hit…six years later.
The Bootheels became The Apples and then, finally, The Wallflowers. Jakob contends it was just a name that was agreed to because it drew the least disqualification from the group. Bob Dylan scholars, with very little to do in their day, immediately saw that Jakob had secretly chosen the name of an unreleased track of his father’s for his band. The song “Wallflower” was released in an obscure Bob Dylan box set in 1991. “At the time, it was like ‘What song?,” Jakob countered to Details magazine. “I named my band after one of his songs? He’s got so much material, if I spent any time trying to find a word that he never used, I’d be up for years.”
After the less-than-enthusiastic reception to the band’s self-titled debut in 1992, Jakob’s initial record company, Virgin, allowed them to jump to Interscope Records. The follow-up album, “Bringing Down The Horse” in 1996 slowly trotted up the charts over a ten-month period and culminated as a phenomenal success. The hit single “One Headlight” garnered a Grammy, as did the band itself. The Wallflowers toured incessantly over the next two years. Many of the teens who bought the album weren’t capable of naming one Bob Dylan song. “I think a lot of the people who bought the (Horse) record had never heard of him,” Jakob told Details. “They were fifteen and didn’t know.” The album’s trenchant lyrics were dynamic in their insight of the human condition, but the pop sensibilities were at a variance to the senior Dylan’s style. Jakob had carved a niche of his own.
He and his father played one concert together during this period. A private affair for Applied Materials, a Silicon Valley computer company, was held at the San Jose Civic Center in California on November 14, 1997. Several fans of both musicians were irked that the two Dylans weren’t performing for their true followers but instead for a corporation. “People have this idea that we refuse to play together – or that I refuse to play with him,” Jakob offered to Details. “But we just don’t get asked. You know that was a great show. We were both on tour and we got a chance to be in the same town for the night. If paths cross, well I wish they did more often.”
The founding father of rock economically gave praise to his son in USA Today saying, “I’m proud of his accomplishments. He’s still young and he’s come a long way in a short time.” While his two earlier efforts tended to be oblique in their personal examination, Jakob’s latest release, the album “Breach,” seems to show more of the self-analysis fans of the entire Dylan legend would love to know. The song “Hand Me Down,” with its lyrics “You feel good and you look like you should/But you won’t ever make us proud…/Living proof evolution is through,” seems to suggest Jakob’s insecurities are still palpable even after all of the success he’s garnered. Regardless of these insights, Jakob seems to now be comfortable with the attention his second-generation profession has wrought. He told Entertainment Weekly, “Pop culture’s gone on way too long for anybody to complain that they didn’t know what success would be like when they got there.”
Nona Gaye and Marvin Gaye Jr.
“What’s Going On?” was one of the definitive soulful tunes of the early ‘70s, encapsulating the madness of Vietnam, poverty and pollution. The same phrasing could be said of the madness that occurred on April 1, 1984, when Marvin Gaye’s father fired on his son with a .38 caliber revolver Marvin had given his dad four months earlier. Marvin had been suicidal, using drugs and staying with his parents during this period, and tensions were high in the household. When Marvin Gaye shoved his father out of a bedroom to stop him from yelling at their mother, their dad reappeared at the door and killed his son.
Of his three children that were left behind, daughter Nona would go on to capture the bigger musical footnote over her siblings. Marvin Gaye Jr. wound up teaming with the son of Lou Rawls in 1991 to form a band called Nu Breed. Their efforts disappeared as fast as they were initiated. Nona, however, not only released her own solo album, the Janet-Jackson-sounding “Love For The Future” in 1992, she sang on several Prince tunes during the first half of the decade, most notably on the song “We March.” She was apparently one of the many loves the Purple One himself pursued over his career. In 1995, a tribute album honoring her father’s work featured covers by Stevie Wonder, Neneh Cherry, Lisa Stansfield, U2’s Bono, and Nona, among others.
During the 1960s, England’s hit-writing team of Lennon-McCartney dominated the charts with their catchy, original compositions. In America, the songwriting couple of Goffin-King were not too far behind in the running for top-ten tunes of their own. Gerry Goffin, a trained chemist working at a pharmacy, and a Brooklyn musical prodigy named Carole King churned out chart-smashing songs for well over 6 years, beginning with the Shirelles’ “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” in 1961. Shortly after this debut sensation was released, this songwriting couple debuted a sensation of another kind. Their first child, Louise, was born.
While the dynamic songwriting team scribbled tunes like “Take Good Care Of My Baby” for Bobby Vee and “Up On The Roof” for The Drifters, little Louise was sometimes being looked after by babysitter Eva Boyd. As legend has deigned it, Eva was one day spotted dancing around the house with a broom, chugging away in choo-choo fashion. This was supposedly the inspiration for Carole King to write a ditty called “The Locomotion.” However it came into being, the prancing guardian was given a shot at recording the song under the stage name Little Eva. The tune was yet another number one hit.
This kind of atmosphere permeated Louise Goffin’s charmed childhood, even after her parents divorced. She sat on Aretha Franklin’s knee while the soul diva recorded “Natural Woman.” Joni Mitchell sketched little Louise backstage at a concert. She watched as her mom shot to new heights when she released her landmark album “Tapestry.” All of this magic left little time for a sense of normalcy. “I feel like my parents were the parents of my creativity in a way,” Louise explained to interviewer Neil McCormick, “but in terms of getting direction and learning how to take care of things, it was really not an environment where they could have a family responsibility. I was like a kid around other kids, and it’s been a long road figuring out how grown-ups actually function in the world.”
All of this musical sensibility rubbed off on Louise in her formative years, and she soon found the natural progression in life was to dive head first into the business herself. “You’ve been around it since you were so young,” she continued with McCormick. “You saw people gathering together and having fun and exchanging all this creative energy, you’ve assimilated and heard and seen so much music, doing it yourself is about as difficult as falling off a log. But with that comes a lot of expectation.” Having already surfaced as a backing vocalist on her mom’s 1974 song “Nightingale,” record executives were comfortable supporting Louise’s debut effort in 1979 with the album “Kid Blue.” This release and her subsequent self-titled LP in 1981, both packed with Top-40-friendly compositions, sank without a trace. When her more complex album, “This Is The Place,” suffered the same fate in 1987, Louise took a long time away from the business to sort out her direction.
Clearly, the family connection felt like a distraction. “The most difficult element is the suspicion – you’re never quite sure why people are responding to you the way they are. You never know if it’s because of what you do and who you are in yourself, or because of who you’re connected to by proxy,” she told McCormick. “And I think that’s a confidence stumbling block…It gets really dull when one more person comes up to you when you’re doing something you’ve really worked hard on and says, “Oh my God, I just love ‘Tapestry!”
By the mid-90s, Louise was touring as a guitarist for Tears For Fears. She then fronted an English quartet named Twig, an outfit that generated psychedelia-tinged pop. At the end of the decade, she was back in the studio, mustering the confidence again to go it alone. For Louise, it’s apparent her mom’s popular refrain, “It’s too late, baby, it’s too late” need not apply to her anytime soon.
Donovan Leitch, Jason Nesmith…and Shaun Ryder
Scan the above names and they all seem to have a connection to at least one common source, the Bob Dylan of England – folk singer Donovan. The laid-back guy who gave us “Mellow Yellow” and “Sunshine Superman” also begat young Donovan Leitch, Jr. But let’s focus on Mr. Ryder first.
The controversial “Madchester” rocker from northern England who brought a psychedelic alt-pop sensibility to the turn of the ‘90s Brit rock scene with his band Happy Mondays was once married to Oriole Leitch. Oriole is the second daughter of Donovan and Linda Lawrence. Together with her older sister Astrella, who dated Shaun’s brother and fellow Mondayman Paul Ryder, it was one happy family for awhile.
Oriole settled down with Shaun in the mid-90s, and they had a daughter named Sion. Donovan was seen at family gatherings, proud father of his daughter and new son-in-law. But the marriage soured quickly, as Shaun continued to struggle with a heroin and crack addiction, all the while trying to pay attention to his new band Black Grape. The divorce was apparently a bit ugly, since Shaun tended to blame both Oriole and Britain’s internal tax service for his having to throw together the Mondays again to raise money. “I’m in and out of court with that snidey bitch called my ex-wife, so what could I do?,” he reasoned. The reunited Mondays were not well-received in the press, and Shaun subsequently demonstrated his displeasure by pulling a prop gun on journalist Simon Donohue of the Manchester Evening News. Although it’s unclear whether charges were ever pressed, it is certain that Shaun Ryder hasn’t changed his wild ways.
When Donovan hooked up with girlfriend Enid Stulberger in the mid-70s, she gave birth to two talented children. Ione Skye grew up to be an established actress and gave a particularly standout early performance in “Gas Food Lodging.” Her brother Donovan Leitch acted in the film as well. His course in life, though, has veered more in the direction of modeling and music. For the former profession, his svelte physique has been used in ads for Dolce & Gabbana, Anna Sui, and many others. For his musical fancy, he formed a band in California called Nancy Boy. This campy group presents glam-rock nuggets with swagger and outrageous fashion. For Leitch, music is meaningful. “It truly is performance,” he told Mr. Showbiz. “And it’s intensely personal. I feel like I assume a character from song to song.”
Jason Nesmith, Nancy Boy’s guitarist, is also the son of a famous artist, Mike Nesmith of The Monkees. As the third child born to Mike and his mom Phyllis, Jason was raised by his mother, after his parents divorced around the time The Monkees first disbanded. He grew up, gigging on guitar, and crossed paths with Donovan Leitch via Donovan’s brother-in-law, Adam Yauch, otherwise known as MCA in the group The Beastie Boys. Yauch was married to Leitch’s sister Ione Skye at the time and along with his bandmate Adam Horovitz, encouraged Nesmith and Leitch to record a demo at their Beastie studio. Jason has since amicably split from Nancy Boy in the late ‘90s and is currently backing British singer Amanda Ghost.
When Nancy Boy first started banging out tunes, Donovan Sr. commented about his son’s efforts to Hello Magazine. “I have heard a couple of songs and quite like them, but he needs to write more.” Donovan Jr. countered to interviewer Neil McCormick, “I’m a huge fan of my dad’s stuff, and I’m really glad to be part of the same family. And he is very happy for me. But our music is different from his. I can’t quite see him in make-up parading down the catwalk.” Now that would be a scary sight! Nancy Boy has released three albums to date. Suffice to say, father Donovan’s opinion has come around, and he now whole-heartedly approves of his boy’s music.
Julian and Sean Lennon
Who’s to say whether Sean and Julian truly like one another? The press they offer about their relationship is always cordial and positive. Both of them were born of one John Lennon, rock icon and rock martyr. The burdens they both share in that department are mutual in respect to world perceptions of them, particularly in their career endeavors, yet they vary in the manner by which they were raised. Their stories show a difference in temperament. One child is bitter towards the father whom ignored him. The other only can treasure memories of a dad who abruptly departed from this life.
For Julian, life around his father always seemed slightly neglectful. From the beginning, when Julian was born on April 8, 1963, just as the Beatles were hitting their stride in England and about to conquer America, John hid both his newborn and his wife Cynthia away from the public’s eye. Julian’s full name was John Charles Julian Lennon. “When I was a baby and my parents were still together,” he related to interviewer Willie Pepper, “I was called ‘John,’ and there was always confusion. My mum would say, ‘John come here,’ and we wouldn’t know which one. So they started calling me Julian to clear up that problem.”
After John met Yoko Ono at London’s Indica art gallery in 1966, time spent around Julian became very limited. The boy did get to accompany the Fab Four on several shooting days aboard the Magical Mystery Tour bus. The newspapers, however, soon picked up on Yoko’s presence and by 1968, Julian’s dad was out of the house and exposing his johnson on the cover of “Unfinished Music No. 1 – Two Virgins” with his new naked gal pal. John did, however, try to encourage his son in the area of music. “He got me a drum kit when I was five and bought me my first guitar when I was eleven,” Julian told Pepper. It was sympathetic Paul McCartney, however, who had written the song “Hey Jude” for the distraught boy, stepped in as father figure and first showed Julian how to strum that guitar.
When young Julian was 11, he sat in on drums for his father’s cover of the Lee Dorsey song “Ya Ya” on John’s “Walls and Bridges” album. Since John and Yoko lived far away in New York, visits with his son were sporadic at best. “He never came to see me,” Julian related to Pepper. “I had to go to him. It’s a shame, but you know, forgive and forget.” For Julian, that bitterness was not so easy to shed. “On one of these visits,” he told Express Newspapers Ltd., “Dad tried to introduce me to drugs – and I was only 12…I suppose a lot of people would think it was disgusting for a man to smoke a joint and offer it to his 12-year old son, but I’d rather think of it as a test. He wanted to see what my reaction would be, or maybe he thought if the mystery and the excitement were taken out of drugs, I wouldn’t have much interest.” As was the case with actor Robert Downey Jr. and his drug-enabling father, the experiment backfired. Julian apparently plowed through his fair share of cocaine in the early 1980s.
Julian’s mom, Cynthia, subsequently married Roberto Basanini, a gentle Italian who cared deeply for his new stepson. Even though Cynthia and Roberto separated in 1970, Julian kept a close relationship with Roberto over the years. The kind stepfather passed away towards the end of the ‘90s, and Julian dedicated his most recent album “Photograph Smile” to him.
On October 9, 1975, when Julian was 12, Yoko, after a series of miscarriages, gave birth to Sean Lennon. This was John and Yoko’s ‘love child,’ and John dropped out of the music scene to raise the boy for five years. John once told a reporter that his intense focus on Sean was “an attempt to atone for having missed Julian’s childhood. There’s a price to pay for inattention to children.”
John doted on his new son day and night. His guidance was as stern with Sean as it was briefly with Julian, but with quite a difference. “He was strict with me and with Sean,” Julian explained to the Daily Mail. “But Sean was handled with kid gloves. There wasn’t a toy in the world that Sean didn’t have. I would arrive in New York and walk into a 40 ft. x 40 ft. room, filled with toys. On birthdays, I would get a (toy) car and a little gift, a record or a book, and it really upset me when I…(saw) what Sean had.”
Julian’s opinion of his stepmom’s control over his father was quite incisive. “I at last came to understand this weird relationship my Dad and Yoko shared,” he told Express Newspapers Ltd. “It was so intense, like their complete sharing of everything, almost to the point of telepathy…It was weird watching them – like she could read his mind. They were so in tune it was almost frightening. It’s almost impossible to explain unless you saw it.”
It wasn’t until the late ‘70s that Julian became enamored with crafting songs. “I was never truly inspired by music until the day my mother bought me a piano for my sixteenth birthday,” he told US Music Vault. Julian began to connect with his father through their mutual interest in music during his dad’s final days. “When I saw him during school breaks, we’d sit and jam on rock ‘n’ roll tunes and play some of his stuff, too,” Julian related to Willie Pepper. “I’d love it when we’d sing and play together. I felt real close to him then. If he were still alive, we’d be playing together a lot.”
Dreams of what could’ve been would have to remain just that…dreams. On December 8, 1980, John Lennon was shot and killed by an assassin outside his Dakota apartment residence in New York City. The world went into deep mourning. Ringo Starr flew in to console Yoko. Julian arrived shortly thereafter. Yoko went before the media the day following the shooting to explain how she informed Sean of his father’s death. How she showed him a newspaper. Then how she took him to where his father had fallen. “Yoko made this big story of how difficult it was to tell Sean,” Julian later related to the Daily Mail. “That was bull****. I was there, and she was asking me how to tell him.”
Nevertheless, however jaded Julian felt towards his stepmom, he was genuinely shaken by the sudden death of a father he never truly got to know. He went into a tailspin that led to the party circuit. Booze and drugs dominated much of Julian’s existence. “The only thing that kept me going,” Julian told Express Newspapers Ltd., “was a strange talk I’d had with Dad about a year before (his death). He seemed convinced that the only way he’d miss out on old age was through a nuclear war. But he said, if anything happened to him, he’d send a sign back to us that he was okay. He said he’d make a feather float down the room. Ever since his death, I’ve been waiting for that sign. Everytime I’m alone in a room, I find myself staring around, looking for the feather. At first I thought I’d be frightened, but now it’s reached the point where I’d feel nothing but relief if I did see it.”
Meanwhile, Sean was just beginning to grasp the loss of his dad and perhaps, the legacy he might one day wish to pursue. He and his mom appeared on television to accept the Grammy award for John and Yoko’s 1980 album “Double Fantasy” soon after the tragedy. In 1981, Yoko told the Daily Express about Sean’s aptitudes: “He’s very artistic. I’m not trying to push him to do anything in that direction. He just does things on his own. We’ll see the way it goes.” She used a recording of a little story he once told to her before the song “Nobody Sees Me Like You Do” on her album that year called “Seasons of Glass.”
At age 7 in 1982, Sean gave his first public comments to the New York Daily News, when Yoko was concerned about taking the boy to see the Yankees play baseball. “My mommy says it’s dangerous, and I believe her. I don’t really care – I mean, taking a chance on getting killed or going to see a baseball game, which one would you pick?” Asked if his memories of his father were still fresh in his mind, Sean replied, “I used to remember him better than I do now.” Yoko made sure that Sean was looked after by friends and employees at all times. He later told Bust Magazine, “There were a lot of gay men around me, raising me, and there were a lot of men with guns, ex-vets (and) detectives who spent a lot of time with me…I just feel lucky enough that I had people to take care of me, you know what I mean? I wasn’t ignored. My mom thought it was necessary for me to have bodyguards. I don’t even have to say why. It didn’t damage me or anything.”
In 1983, Julian pulled out of his plummeting spirits and recorded a marvelous debut album entitled “Valotte” with veteran producer Phil Ramone. It garnered the hit song “Too Late For Goodbyes,” a tribute to his dad. Critics and fans alike were astonished at Julian’s vocal similarities to his own dad’s pipes. “I know a lot of people compare me to my father,” he told Willie Pepper. “It drives me mad sometimes, thinking about it. I just want people to judge the music without prejudice. Sure, we sound alike. I open my mouth and that’s what comes out. I don’t force it. I didn’t study my father’s sound. It’s all natural.”
Julian’s resemblance to his father didn’t go unnoticed with his little half-brother. Around 1985, Julian said, “Whenever I see Sean it’s great because I remind him of dad a lot and he just sits there and stares at me. He just looks at me and recognizes bits, like saying I’ve got the same nose as dad – which is sometimes hard to take even for me.”
Julian’s mastery of keyboards, guitars, and drums enabled him to craft some very fine work over the course of his next three albums. By the early ‘90s, he had sold over 6 million copies of his music, yet, most of his money disappeared through shoddy business associates and dealings. Despondent over the industry as a whole, Julian dropped out and traveled the world for about six years, living mostly in Europe.
Sean slowly evolved into a musician. His dad had shown him some rudimentary guitar chords when he was four years old. He worked with his mom on a song in 1984 called “It’s Allright.” He appeared in Michael Jackson’s “Moonwalker” video in 1988. By 1995, when he and Yoko visited Paul McCartney and his family at their home in Scotland, Sean was quite proficient on guitar. Together with Paul’s kids and his wife Linda, they all recorded an impromptu version of one of Yoko’s songs, “Hiroshima Sky Is Always Blue.”
After briefly attending New York’s Columbia University to study anthropology, Sean played guitar for the loopy Japanese group Cibo Matto and soon became enamored of one of its members, Yuka Honda. Together he and his new girlfriend began laying down tracks for Sean’s debut album. In the same spirit of Cibo Matto’s work, Sean’s initial effort tends to embrace love ballads, a smattering of jazz, a hint of country and a barrel full of candy-corn pop. Upon the release of the album, “Into The Sun,” some critics tended to dismiss the record simply because it didn’t match Beatlesque quality (unlike the critique given to Julian over the years that his work tries too hard to ape the Beatles’ sound). “I don’t know what they’re looking for,” Sean responded in the Toronto Sun. “It’s not like when I write a song I’m thinking, ‘My dad wrote ‘Strawberry Fields.’ I have nothing to do with the Beatles. I’ve had people at my shows be like, ‘Play a Beatles song.’ I’m like, ‘F*** off.”
When Julian Lennon decided to release his comeback album, “Photograph Smile,” independently in 1998, he set a firm date for its issuance. He was shocked to find out that Sean’s album was suddenly placed on the same date for its worldwide debut. He blames Yoko for this unnecessary competitiveness. “Whether Sean realizes it, or is able to acknowledge it,” Julian related to the Daily Mail, “Yoko plays a serious hand in his career. His mother has spent an awful lot of money on ensuring that Sean succeeds, way above and beyond my success…She always has to be the winner. That is essential to her…Sean may discover things about Yoko that he does not like. I shall always keep an eye out for him.”
Indeed, it would seem Yoko barely acknowledged Julian’s existence over the years since John’s demise. Julian has wrestled over his father’s estate with Yoko for a long time. In 1996, he finally received a multi-million dollar settlement. In comparison to what Sean will inherit, the figure falls far short of equality. Yoko allegedly has not allowed Julian to have any of John’s personal items as keepsakes. In an effort to be able to pass on some memorabilia of his father’s to his own children when the time comes, Julian has been forced to purchase the elder Lennon’s artifacts by auction, sometimes in the thousands of dollars.
Julian doesn’t publicly begrudge Sean his favoritism. “He is blood,” Julian has said. “I will be there whenever he needs me.” In 1999, Julian told The Sunday Times, “I love Sean to death, I think he’s a very smart kid…It’s been a little difficult with Sean, because every time I go to New York, or it’s his birthday or Christmas, I try and see him or call him or whatever, but I also think he’s at an age – early 20s – when your older brother is not so important.”
Sean acknowledges Julian’s influence on his life in relation to the career he’s trying to establish. He described his thoughts on Julian to Jam! Music: “I think it was especially hard for him. The press was really mean to him and he had a really difficult situation with his management and his record company – they really tried to exploit him and exploit his name. I really tried to learn from the difficulties that he had been through, and I think it paid off.”
The youngest Lennon forges ahead, prepping his next album for the year 2001. Julian has experienced renewed interest in his career and received critical praise citing that he has finally distinguished his own creative ‘voice.’ Of the two, it seems Julian has suffered the most emotional baggage from his father because it was John’s choice to remove himself from his and Julian’s relationship. The bitterness may never fade. “He and I certainly shared more of the same experiences,” Julian told New York Now in 1999 about his distant dad. “He, too, was abandoned by his father. But I don’t understand how between the ages of 35 and 40, he didn’t make more of an effort to try to resolve those problems. I truly think he was a hypocrite in many senses. He talked about peace and love a lot, but he didn’t practice it in his personal life. I very much respect him as an artist, but the one thing he taught me was how not to be a dad.”
Thousands of residents all over the island of Jamaica turned up to honor reggae’s reigning legend, Bob Marley, at his funeral on May 21, 1981. A month earlier, 12-year old son, Ziggy, had accepted Jamaica’s Order of Merit for his father, who was too ill to attend the distinguished ceremony. When Bob Marley passed away from lung cancer and a brain tumor, the definitive island sound that had emanated so influentially from Jamaica for over a decade might have been permanently silenced. But like others, who had come to foster their own brand of reggae recordings, son Ziggy also felt the need to continue on his father’s inimitable style.
Growing up as the eldest sibling in a large musical family gave Ziggy the leadership skills necessary to command a band of his own. His father and mother, Rita, were completely immersed in fashioning the soothing melodies of this new island beat when Ziggy was born in 1968. Bob taught his new son to play both guitar and drums in his youth, and by age 10, Ziggy was sitting in on Wailers recording sessions, playing an assortment of instruments. So it took no one by too much surprise when Ziggy and his siblings, the Melody Makers, decided to issue their debut album, “Play The Game Right,” in 1984 when he was the mature age of 16.
Utilizing the same kinds of syncopation and messages of Rasta Fari faith that had branded his father’s work as novel and spiritual, Ziggy has steadily churned out 11 albums to date with an ear for quality production and craftsmanship. The band’s 1988 album “Conscious Party” was particularly well-received by both critics and consumers alike. This disciplined approach to workmanlike productivity stems from his days growing up in hardscrabble Kingston. “Well, as a kid, it was as life to me,” Ziggy stated to Interview Magazine. “I didn’t even know any different. I couldn’t judge and say whether this is fun or this is hard, you know? I play and go to school and so forth. My father wasn’t a millionaire, neither my mother, so they still have to work hard to get some money.”
Surviving the harsh realities of their Trenchtown ghetto, Ziggy relied on the faith his father espoused through the African religion of Rasta Fari. Many residents on the island perceived Bob to be a prophet, and although Ziggy might concur with that opinion, he probably wouldn’t characterize his dad as supernaturally superior. “Yeah, mon, he’s our people’s prophet,” he told Interview. “A prophet don’t have to say, ‘Tomorrow at 12:00 there’s going to be an earthquake.’ Our prophets tell you about life. By example and word.”
The Melody Makers will continue to spread their joy into the new millenium, always with the ‘constant presence’ of their father in their work. Not that Ziggy feels he has to exceed any established musical benchmark. Everything’s mellow with the son. “I mean, my father is my father to me,” he told MTV.com. “It might be something else to others. But he’s my father. Just make life flow.”
Whereas, the progeny of John Lennon have immersed themselves unabashedly in the music world, releasing their own albums, Paul McCartney’s kids have, for the most part, decided to simply dip their toes in the water. While all of them seem to have an artistic bent, it is only daughter Stella who has stepped squarely into the media spotlight with her splashy, punk-spirited line of fashion for the House of Chloe. But brother James, born September 12, 1977, is quietly taking baby steps towards revealing himself as a capable guitarist.
All of the McCartney kids suffered quietly by comparison in the shadow of such a musical icon as their father. The outside world expects something amazing to occur when someone of extraordinary talent produces offspring to pass their wisdom onto. Paul’s ultimate solution to this dilemma, with tongue-firmly-in-cheek, was to tell interviewer Neil McCormick, “Obviously if you’re a celebrity, you just shouldn’t have children.” All kidding aside, Paul’s kids did have to acquire thick skins to survive. “Kids used to follow them round the playground singing ‘Mull of Kintyre’ (a popular McCartney song), and they had to learn to turn round sharply and have an answer. So they’ve kind of lived with it. But hey, you’re talking to a proud dad here. My kids are the best in the world.”
While he would probably consider himself more a sculptor, if pressed, than a rock star, he has participated on some of his parents’ work over the last decade. In the mid-90s, father Paul was concocting tunes for his next album release, “Flaming Pie.” One afternoon, he came up with the idea for a particular song. “I was out sailing in a small boat, just me, the sail, the wind,” Paul related at the time. “Peaceful. Like Heaven on a Sunday. That opening line led me through the song.” He immediately set about writing the tune “Heaven on a Sunday,” a jaunty rocker that required two guitar backings. That’s when Paul came up with a brainstorm. “I thought it’d be nice to play with James, my son, so we traded phrases…I played the acoustic stuff and left the Young Turk to play the hot electric stuff.”
Paul had already been thinking about his son while writing for the album when he came up with the tune “Young Boy.” “Young Boy’ is just about a young guy looking for a way to find love and basically I suppose I was thinking of my own son, who’s 19, though he’d kill me for saying that,” Paul quipped. While James only participated on the ‘Sunday’ track, his name was mentioned in many a reviewer’s comments, acknowledging his strong abilities.
When his mother, Linda, began her battle with cancer shortly thereafter, a fan’s note got her and husband Paul thinking about releasing an album under Linda’s name. “Wide Prairie,” as it was called, contained 16 tracks, 13 of which were written by Linda, and featured son James on a song called “The Light Comes From Within.” He played lead guitar on the track, and it was the initial single to be released after his mom passed away on April 17, 1998. James lent back-up guitarwork on several other tracks.
Father Paul tries to relieve some of the pressure James and the other kids may feel to follow in their dad’s footsteps. “People say to me, ‘Are the kids musical?,” Paul told Neil McCormick, “ and I know what they mean.” They mean, ‘Can we expect to see them on the stage shortly?’ I always said I would never push the kids into showbiz, and I never have. But James is a musician and would like to do music. I constantly talk to him and say, ‘You know, don’t you, what they’re going to do the first time they hear anything? You know you’ll be directly compared?’ He says, ‘It’s cool, you’re my dad, you did that, it’s good. I don’t think I have to compete.’ I think he’s got a level-headed view of it. What are you gonna do if it’s in your genes?” Sod the naysayers, and carry on the McCartney musical torch, is what we answer.
True to her Irish roots, “Danny Boy” and “Star of the County Down” were some of the first songs ever taught to Shana Morrison. But dad Van Morrison was not the one to sing them to her. Shana’s grandmother was her original musical messenger. Van had divorced Shana’s mother, Janet Minto (aka Janet Planet), the woman who inspired some of his greatest hits from the “Tupelo Honey,” “Moondance,” and “Astral Weeks” albums. Shana was two when her parents separated, and she has no memory of their being together.
Van Morrison did eventually get around to shaping his daughter’s broad knowledge of music when she would visit him on weekends and holidays. “Band members would come over, people would want to go over ideas,” Shana told the Los Angeles Times. “My dad’s a huge record enthusiast, so there was tons of record playing, and he would buy me records.” Not that Van enjoyed all kinds of music. His tolerance could wear thin very quickly. “Sometimes you put on something and he runs to the stereo as fast as he can to turn it off because he can’t stand it.”
Shana began to develop her singing chops with her mom. Janet was a songwriter who oftentimes relied on Shana to sing demos of her tunes so they could shop the tapes around the record business. Even though Shana was intent on getting a college education, it was apparent, at least to her father, that she shouldn’t give up on her singing abilities. After graduating with a business degree from Pepperdine University in 1993, Van corralled her into singing with his Rhythm & Soul Revue on the road. The live album, “A Night In San Francisco,” featured Shana singing backup. She lent her vocals to her father’s next album “Days Like This” as well. Shana soon felt confident enough to branch out on her own.
She put together a band called Caledonia, and cranked out a kinetic blend of pop, rock, blues, and Celtic all mixed into an eclectic sonic brew. To gauge the integrity of her work, she turned to her eccentrically-isolated papa as the ultimate arbiter of taste. “He’s heard all the demos I’ve done,” she explained to the LA Times. “Some of ‘em, you can tell his brow is a little furrowed and he storms out of the room (after the tape ends). It’s a massive three minutes he’s had to listen to the record.” Regardless of his take on her music, Caledonia went on to release its self-titled debut album in the late ‘90s on Shana’s own Belfast Violet Records label. Recognition of her talent reached the ears of slide-guitar bluesman Roy Rogers, and she joined him on an album called “Everybody’s Angel” the following year.
As for dad’s approval of her Caledonian efforts, Shana said to the LA Times, “He thought my voice was getting better and he liked the songs. He mentioned two – ‘those two are really good.” Shana couldn’t recall which two he liked. She, herself, still has a hard time defining the enigmatic shell Van has constructed around his personality over the years. “Maybe it’s hard for him to open up to complete strangers; I don’t know exactly what it is. It’s definitely not just when it’s time for an interview. He’s just a very inward, thought-driven person.” When Entertainment Weekly actually tried to extract words of praise from him over his daughter’s new endeavors, Van was characteristically curt: “I never thought she’d become a singer. If it had been up to me, I would’ve advised her not to. I just think it’s a very hard way to go in life.”
Gunnar was driving the streets of Los Angeles when he heard his dad’s song come on the radio. “Garden Party,” a commentary on the recording business that dismissed Rick Nelson’s efforts after the teen sensation switched from sugary pop to country rock, had been his final big hit. The radio deejay concluded the tune with words of sympathy to family members over the tragic loss of their dad. Gunnar thought it was odd to say such a thing. He hadn’t heard that his father had just perished in a plane crash that New Years’ Eve day in 1985.
Gunnar and his twin brother Matthew suddenly found themselves adrift in their musical direction. Before their father’s death, it seemed like they were on a direct route to stardom. The boys had been playing music and writing songs since age seven when Rick gave Gunnar a drum kit and Matthew a guitar. On their tenth birthday, they were surprised when their mom, Kris Nelson, took them to their dad’s recording studio. “All our instruments were set up,” Matthew recounted. “Dad was behind the glass waving to us and we recorded the song (“Feelings of Love”). So he actually produced our first song.” By the time they hit their teens, the boys were gigging at nightclubs around LA where the age limit was 21. But Rick Nelson’s sudden passing caused the twins, at the time 18-years old, to stop and re-examine their musical aspirations.
What had once been bubblegum-type pop in their repertoire was replaced by a more guitar-oriented rock sound. It took three years of convincing Geffen Records to sign them, but when the deed went down, Nelson’s debut album, “After The Rain,” caused a sensation in the latter half of 1990. The record went double platinum, and the hit single “(Can’t Live Without Your) Love and Affection” topped the Billboard chart for a week in September. Their long blond manes of hair stirred many a teenage girl’s daydream. Their identical look and sound was symbolic of the boys’ intense connection to each other. “My family is my twin brother,” Gunnar once told Hardline Interviewer. “We arrived here on Earth together. We have a symbiosis that you can’t get any other way, and our sound reflects that.”
With the advent of grunge, the brothers were shelved by a record company eager to promote Nirvana. Their follow-up album, 1995’s “Because They Can,” tanked. The writing had apparently already been on the wall according to Matthew. He told Knight-Ridder Newspapers, “The head of marketing said, ‘I’m going to do everything I can to kill your record because you’re unhip. This label is about being hip.” Geffen Records soon dropped the boys from their roster. Like their father’s treatment by record company executives in his day, the Nelson brothers were faced with the same kind of industry indifference as well. It’s not surprising that their favorite song of their dad’s is “Garden Party.”
Not willing to accept defeat, Matthew and Gunnar created their own label, Stone Canyon Records (named after their father’s old band), and have churned out an album each year since 1996. Gunnar couldn’t help but notice the similarities of career trajectory in relation to their dad’s. In their bio he said, “We had tremendous success at a very young age like he did. And now we’re coming to the same musical renaissance that he had at our age. It’s discovering what makes you unique, your own inner voice.” Now calling themselves The Nelsons, as opposed to Nelson, and – just like dear ol’ dad – switching to a more countrified take on their rock, the brothers have kept a steady fan base that still is ardent as ever.
In 2000, they released a tribute album to Rick Nelson called “Like Father, Like Sons,” on which they covered their dad’s songs live in concert. The boys still cite the spirit of their departed father’s music as their primary influence. “Our respect for our Dad as a musician and as a songsmith was always very, very strong,” Gunnar told Suite 101. “But I think, now more than ever, it’s really interesting to hear how complex the basic rock ‘n’ roll that he began his career with is and how much of an art form it is to make a song sound simple as an end result when it has so many complexities going into the making of it.” All of that aside, the boys simply just miss their dad. As Gunnar said to Hardline, when asked what he would change if he could alter one thing in his life, he replied, “I would elect to have my father still alive.”
Duane Betts, Berry Oakley Jr., Waylon Krieger and Alex Orbison
In the rock ‘n’ roll playbook, bands come and go. But oftentimes, one or more members from one band will simply skip to another group or just break out on their own. Such was the case in 1969, when Duane and Gregg Allman’s band met up with Second Coming in Florida. Bassist Berry Oakley and guitarist Dickey Betts jumped ship on their own trio and joined forces with the Allman Brothers Band. Dickey’s son, Duane, has decided to follow this same pattern in his own career with one exception. Duane merely has decided to play for two bands without quitting one for the other.
The Allman’s guitar maestro, Dickey Betts, must not have wanted any competition early on in his own family, thus, he purchased Duane a drum set when the boy was 7-years old. The youngster pounded away on the skins dutifully for about six years, then he picked up the guitar as he entered his teens. Duane’s interest in music and going to school in the chic colony of Malibu in California enabled him to cross paths with other celebrity kids of rockers. Gregg Allman’s son, Elijah Blue, once introduced Duane to Chris Williams backstage at an Allman Brothers concert. Chris is the son of songwriter Jerry Lynn Williams who has written top-40 tunes for top acts like Eric Clapton. The two boys hooked up with fellow schoolmate and drummer Alex Orbison, the son of legendary falsetto crooner Roy Orbison and formed a band named Backbone 69.
Meanwhile, another Allman Brother Band alumni’s kid, Berry Oakley, Jr., was well aware of Duane and his guitar skills. Berry’s father, Berry Oakley, Sr. had tragically perished in a motorcycle accident just before he was born, with eerie coincidences similar to the motorcycle death of the band’s guitarist Duane Allman. (After Duane’s untimely demise, Dickey Betts had named his son after their fallen friend – confused yet?) Berry Oakley, Jr. had also grown up around music, having been paired with Waylon Krieger, the son of the Doors’ guitarist Robby Krieger. Berry’s mom, Julia Oakley, had once been married to the Doors’ drummer John Densmore and had fostered a friendship with Robby and his wife, a bond that remained after she divorced Densmore and married Oakley. “When we were born, we were stuck in a crib together a lot,” Berry observed of his friendship with Waylon to the Los Angeles Times. “Later we learned how to play music together.”
At age 16, Berry Oakley, Jr. would join the Allman Brothers Band at gigs, sitting in on bass, the instrument his father used to play for them. Duane Betts also played with his father, Dickey, and the Allman Brothers Band when he was 16. “The first time I sat in I was petrified,” he told Jambands.com. “I actually forgot my guitar on purpose, but my Dad made me play anyway…I think my Dad knew I would be a musician. He brought me on the road, and I got to hear great musicians every night. I was able to see how the business works as well.” He also was on the receiving end of a prank or two. “One time I was sitting in with them, I was sixteen or seventeen, and some woman threw a bra up onstage at me while I was taking a solo. I had my eyes closed, and my Dad picked it up and put it on my guitar. So, I still have my eyes closed, and the crowd starts to go crazy, and I’m thinkin’ ‘Oh, man, they really like me…’ Then I opened my eyes, and I go, ‘Oh, no wonder.”
Berry Oakley, Jr. and Waylon Krieger formed their first band, Bloodline, in the early 1990s, toured extensively, and recorded an album in 1994. By 1996, Duane Betts hooked up with them, and along with drummer Alec Puro, they formed the Oakley-Krieger Band. Blues-rock sprinkled with a garage band attitude sums up their raucous sound. Berry’s mom, who married Three Dog Night singer Chuck Negron after the death of Berry Sr., manages the O-K Band. Duane still finds the time to play and tour with his Backbone 69 mates. Both bands remain unsigned to date, but that hasn’t dampened these sons of legends’ camaraderie and outlook. To them, just bringing this style of music to new fans and igniting the memories of Allman followers of yore seems special enough. “We get a lot of people at our shows who were around when our fathers’ bands started,” Berry told the Los Angeles Times. “They’re enthusiastic about it and complimentary. It makes me think that we’re doing the right thing. (They’ll say things like) ‘Oh, I bought your dad a beer in ’69!”
Karen and Shellie Poole – Alisha’s Attic
Their father has the musical footnote distinction of having beat the Beatles to the punch. In 1962, when both the Fab Four and Brian Poole and his Tremeloes auditioned for the executives at Decca Records, it was the quintet from Essex that landed a record deal instead of the shaggy Liverpudlians. Being first doesn’t always predict ultimate success. Poole and his group went on to adequately cover tunes originally recorded by other artists like the Contours, the Strangeloves, the Crickets, and, yes, the Beatles, but their work barely made a dent in the charts on this side of the Atlantic. It was after Poole left his Tremeloes that the group actually scored a few top 100 hits in the United States, most notably their cover of the Four Season’s “Silence is Golden.”
While Brian continues to tour in nostalgia bands, his most recent being the Electrix, his daughters, Karen and Shellie, have rooted themselves firmly in the present, writing songs together, relying on their own musical muses. Born in 1971 (Karen) and 1972 (Shellie), the two siblings have been focused on songwriting from an early age. As teenagers they performed under the name of Karen and Chelle in the early ‘80s. Together, they toiled as backup singers for nine years, honing their harmonies, all the while pining for a moment to break out on their own.
Their tunes are very guitar-driven. It’s pop/rock with a snarly dose of black humor, and the duo has been compared to another prominent British teaming, Shakespear’s Sister. The proper balance must stem from their differing personalities. “I’m a peace-loving hippy at heart; I’m the romantic,” Shellie said. Karen is apparently categorized as “a cynic.” The two have not widely broadcast their influences gleaned from their father’s career path. They have acknowledged that their desire to be vegeterians stems from the fact that dear old dad is a master butcher, a talent which apparently has instilled a queasiness for beef in his daughters. But his musical leanings doesn’t seem to have affected his girls one way or the other.
A member of another famous duo, Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart, found their dichotomous, edgy songs worthy enough to produce. Under his steady guidance, the album “Alisha Rules The World” was released in 1996. The girls named themselves Alisha’s Attic in reference to the recording attic in a church setting where they rehearsed and to an imaginary girl they dreamt up who possessed both sides of their personalities. Alluding to their work before the debut album, Karen said, “We’ve done some terrible stuff in the past. But now we’ve gone through all that, we’ve got to the stage where we’re confident enough to do what we want to do, the way we want to.” Indeed, they’ve been driven enough to release a second album, “Illumina” in 1998 and are finishing up a third album for 2001. The Poole sisters are eager to break out of the attic.
“We’ve got a piano at home and he bashes it, I show him a chord. I think he will be a musician, in fact.” This was Ringo Starr’s first acknowledgement to the media, in this case Rolling Stone magazine in 1974, that his son Zak was following the beat of his papa drummer. And by the time he hit his 20s, young Zak wound up playing drums alongside his dad.
Born in September 1965, the first son of Ringo and Maureen Starkey, he was christened Zak because it was “a strong name that can’t be shortened…a mad cowboy name that had been spinning round my brain at the time,” Ringo once revealed. While the boy enjoyed some of his father’s work with a little group called The Beatles, he truly loved the sounds emanating from David Bowie and Alice Cooper. But his primary influence seemed to lie with his deranged musical godfather, The Who’s Keith Moon. Although Zak received one drumming lesson from Ringo at age 10, it was his constant practice on the skins, while listening to Moon’s barrage with The Who on headphones, that honed Zak’s unique sound and versatility.
Pete Townshend told Ira Robbins about the initial influence his mate Keith had on Zak. “He gave him his first drum kit, which I think is rather strange. Ringo may have actually given him his first drum kit, but I think Keith gave him the first drum kit that he really wanted. It had nude women on it.” Zak was devastated when Moon died suddenly in 1978. While he continued practicing his rhythmic skills, Zak also took part-time work. His mom had divorced Ringo and married Isaac Tigrett, the founder of Hard Rock Café, and Zak, along with his brother Jason and sister Lee, labored in the restaurant’s environs at one time or another.
By age 17, Zak began sitting in on some session work with established musicians, the first gig being with The Spencer Davis Group. He drummed with Simon Townshend, Pete’s brother, in a band called Animal Soup in the mid-90s. Zak has also had a successful run drumming for The Lightning Seeds. The re-formed members of The Who looked to Zak to provide the beat on their Quadrophenia events in Hyde Park and New York in 1996 and later tapped him to tour with them into the new millenium. “He has his own style,” Pete Townshend commented to Ira Robbins. “But he’s very intelligent. What he did was adapt his own style as an imitator of Keith Moon – he does a garage band imitation of Keith Moon which is probably unbeatable – but he’s modified that, moderated it, in a very intelligent and musical way so that he won’t be directly compared.”
However, Zak has received the most recognition when he sat side by side, drum kit by drum kit, with his dear old dad during several appearances of the All-Starr Band concerts in the 1990s. “He’s a more technical drummer than I am,” Ringo observed of Zak. “He’s got good timing like I do, but my style is more laid back. His is certainly not laid-back, let’s put it that way. He knows how to hit those buggers.” Whether Zak will choose to branch out on his own solo career remains to be seen. He is very content joining the select few who have spent time jamming with the legends of rock. Obviously, papa Starr is proud of his son’s abilities. As he dryly noted back in 1992 to Rolling Stone about Zak tagging along on tour, “It seems like everyone’s kid is in a band, so I figured why not have him in my band? Plus, he’s a hell of a fine drummer. Must run in the family.”
So you wanna be a rock ‘n’ roll star? What path should you take to become a professional? Learn all of Hendrix’s obscure breaks. Study Jagger’s stage presence. Acquire Morrissey’s completely self-absorbed viewpoint when writing. Work as a roadie. Actually, all of these tips could help you to put on superstar airs, but Chris Stills, son of famed Buffalo Springfield and CSN dad Stephen Stills, recommends the last rock idol tip. He went on the road with his dad’s band, Crosby, Stills & Nash, as a guitar tech for a while. “If you ever want to know anything about how to put together a concert, don’t ask the artist,” he advised on CNN, “ask the crew. They run the boat. Crosby, Stills & Nash has had the same crew for, like, 20 years. So they had known me since I was a kid, and I learned a lot from them.”
Not that Chris Stills is in any rush to climb the ladder of musical success. He’s been at it for a very long time. Soon after his parents divorced when Chris was three years old, he lived with his mom, French pop sensation Veronique Sanson, in Paris. Being the son of two popular artists brought him a kind of cultural savvy faster than many kids his age, but Chris stressed that it wasn’t all bright lights and parties. “My dad was a huge guy and my mom, too,” he told Box Top Live. “But, they were my parents. The rock dynasty at home was family life. Those are created for the public. They don’t take that home with them.”
His mom introduced Chris to piano lessons at age 5, teaching him classical pieces. Chris became adept at playing many instruments, while he listened to the punk rock sounds emanating from England in the early ‘80s. By the time he learned drums at age 10, Chris also discovered his dad’s music. Not really knowing much about The Buffalo Springfield or their catalog of songs, he put the group’s first major hit, “For What It’s Worth,” on his record turntable. “I just sat there and played it over and over again,” he wrote in his press bio. “That’s when I realized that’s what it’s all about. It was a big eye opener. It touched something that all the other s*** didn’t come close to.”
He relocated to New York after graduating from the prestigious American School in France and began performing in clubs with a fellow American School alumnus, Adam Cohen, son of Canadian crooner, Leonard Cohen. Stills soon moved back to Los Angeles to work on the road with his father’s band and to form his own group named Mescalito. But Chris found a more inspiring collaboration through the recommendation of his dad. Ethan Johns was close to Chris in age and was Crosby, Stills & Nash’s drummer on tour. He was also the son of famed producer and engineer Glyn Johns (who helmed many records by The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and The Who). Glyn and Stephen Stills saw a similarity in style and spirit between their two sons. “Apparently, he and Glyn decided, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get these kids together,” Chris wrote in his bio, “so we hooked up. Five minutes after we met, we were playing songs to each other. That’s when it all started.”
The teaming of the two burgeoning artists resulted in Chris’ first album in late 1997, “100 Year Thing.” A combination of blues, country, folk and rock are all incorporated in the varying tracks the two wrote together. Chris is very grateful for his dad’s suggestion. “That was the best thing he ever did for my career,” he told CNN. “My dad saw the potential in the combination. It had taken him a while to get over the fact that I wasn’t going to go to college…He was worried. But no one can say no to music. He knows that too. He was fearful when I started to really dive into it. He just wanted me to have a formal education. Now he’s proud, but with a watchful eye.”
Sally and Ben Taylor
What can you do if just about everybody in your family is in the music business? Join the crowd naturally. That’s what Sally and Ben Taylor, daughter and son of soft rock legends Carly Simon and James Taylor, have done. Not only their parents but their Aunt Lucy Simon, Aunt Kate Taylor, and Uncle Livingston Taylor all have charted a course in warbling tunes over the years. Mix into that nuclear group of kin a gallery of drop-in friends like Jackson Browne, Billy Joel, and Burt Bacharach, and you’ve got no choice but to pick up an instrument and dive into the family business yourself.
For Sally, who turned 26 in the year 2000, her Uncle Livingston, a folk singer who travels to small gigs throughout the country, seems to have had the most influence on her approach to the music world, possibly more than that of her notorious mom and dad. “With my uncle – I learned from him the roots to a career in music,” she told interviewer Patrick Hill. “The routes, the different roads to be taken, that there isn’t just one, there are many. He took a specific route, and watching that – as opposed to watching my Mom, my Dad, my Aunt, other people who I knew in the industry that all took different routes, I realized – OK, this is something I can do for myself, on my own.”
What Sally has chosen as her path is to release her own material on her own record label, Blue Elbow, as well as act as her own agent, and book her band’s gigs around the country. With a striking voice similar to her mother’s, she has strummed her guitar to wonderfully-crafted, melodic songs released on two CDs, “Tomboy Bride” and “Apt. 6S.” She’s also sung back-up for some of her dad’s appearances, notably on Late Show with David Letterman. While she spent some time with her father on the road as a child, both before and after 1980, the year when James and Carly divorced, Sally was away at school for a significant chunk of that time. Still, music was always a part of her childhood. “It seemed like everything had a song,” she told Us Weekly. “Like if we needed to get groceries, there’d be a song about cereal that we’d all sing and get in the car.” At age 6, when she asked her mom how to write a song, Carly told her, “If you’re meant to write songs you’ll just know.”
Sally didn’t tackle songwriting for much of her youth. She started playing music in high school, but went to college to earn a degree in the medical-anthropology field. “I didn’t consider going on the road or doing anything professionally until 1998,” she said. When Sally did make the commitment, however, people in the industry took note. She was propositioned to join major labels but opted to continue releasing her records independently. The Farrelly Brothers, directors of the movie “Me, Myself & Irene” and fellow New England neighbors, got her to contribute a song to the film. She also lent a tune to the soundtrack of “Anywhere But Here” starring Susan Sarandon.
As independent-minded as she is, Sally certainly doesn’t disparage the work and legacy of her folks. “It’s actually a pleasure to hear someone say, ‘I’m such a fan of your parents,’ or ‘I’ve learned so much from your parents’ art,” she related to Patrick Hill. “That’s always an honor for me to hear. To hear that, it’s almost as if they were saying that about my own art and complimenting me.”
Her brother Ben, three years’ her junior, feels the same way. “For awhile I had a problem with people introducing me as the son of James Taylor and Carly Simon,” he told London Sunday Times. “But the way I look at it now is that a large part of what I am comes from who my parents are…It doesn’t mean I’m any better than anybody else, or deserve to be treated differently, but I’m honored to be identified with them. I idolize both of them musically.”
For Ben, the hankering to join the musical ranks of his talented family started around age 10 when he began playing guitar. Like his older sister, he was raised by Carly after her divorce to James but constantly went on tour with his dad. “I can remember from very early on travelling with my father and thinking that being on the road and playing concerts was a very cool thing,” Ben related to the London Sunday Times. “I was enchanted by the whole process: the rehearsals, the music itself and especially the tour bus. To this day, the only time I get a good night’s sleep is if I’m in one of the bunks travelling on the bus.”
Ben seems to have hung with his dad more than Sally, and to this day, he still goes out on the road with the old man. “Ben always loved music, though he never had any formal training,” James told the Times. “His education was fragmented – looking back, it’s shameful how we pulled them (Sally and Ben) in and out of so many schools. They both picked up the guitar and I played with them a lot, particularly Ben, because I was around him more.” While Ben designates himself as his dad’s ‘greatest fan,’ he has also admired and worked with his mom. He and Carly sang a duet in the recent Ralph Lauren “My Romance” advertisement campaign.
Ben made the newspapers in November 1999, not for his musical abilities, but for having discovered the dead body of his friend, Hollywood power agent Jay Moloney (Moloney once repped celebs like Steven Spielberg and David Letterman, and he tragically committed suicide). Unlike his sister, Ben has signed with a major label, Sony, and has recorded an album, yet to be released and tentatively titled “Green Dragon, Name A Fox.” Neither sibling feels like they are in direct competition with each other, at least in the music department. However, Ben is, and it seems always will be, possessive about currying his dad’s favor. “There is a little bit of rivalry between Sally and me,” Ben revealed to the London Sunday Times. “The quality of time I spend with my father is diluted when there is another child around to get some of the attention. For selfish reasons, I try to keep time with my father and time with my sister separate. I hate to admit it, but we’ve always been rivals for his attention.”
Given all the kids of rock stars who try to distance themselves from their parent’s legacy or ignore the fact that people are interested in them because of who their mom or dad is, Emma Townshend cuts through the pretension. “Do you think I don’t know how I got a record deal?,” she rhetorically queried interviewer Neil McCormick. “I know so many people making good music and record companies going, ‘Well, we like it but how are we gonna market it?’ And I know perfectly well that when I went in through that door and said, ‘Here’s my half-decent music…and here’s me,’ they went, ‘Aha, gimme!” The “me” part, of course, refers to her being the daughter of pinball wizard virtuoso and guitar god, Pete Townshend of The Who.
The no-nonsense, blunt honesty Emma exudes can be traced to her father’s personality and initial influence on her interest in music. She wrote in an article for The Times (of London) that Pete had “no time for you being a fool, you have to really concentrate. I can remember him helping me make little tapes when I was about seven, with big studio headphones on that just slid off my head! He never let me off because I was a kid, but he also never passed off a kid’s version on me.” Indeed, her popular papa knew from the start that Emma’s proclivity for the arts would be grounded with a sarcastic sense of humor. “One of my cherished memories,” Pete related to Neil McCormick, “was a pushchair walk through a local park. She was mischievously wearing rock star sunglasses at two years old, but in the deadpan manner of a retired theatrical dame rather than a showbiz celebrity.”
It seems that Pete Townshend and his wife Karen Astley doted on Emma and her two siblings, Arminta and Joseph, in much the same manner as most secure households operate. “I was lucky in a way,” Emma once explained. “A lot of kids with famous fathers never see them. My dad seemed to be always around, puttering around the house. So, I had time to pick things up just in conversation. He always had friends over so they would often discuss music.” Emma wrote about why hanging at home opened up a desire to create songs. “We had this great studio at home that I was just in all the time, making tapes, programming computers. The year I was 15, friends would call me to go out, and I’d be: ‘No way. I’m recording!”
Pete Townshend often included his curious daughter in deeply analytical discussions about the family’s craft. “When I was a bit older we would sit around after doing the washing-up and talk about pop music, how it worked, where it failed,” she wrote. “My dad is something of a great philosopher in these matters, an elder statesman, and he’s always taken it really seriously. He was the first person who explained to me that there are movements in pop, just like in any art, of baroque and classicism, of pastoral and urbanity, of cynicism and naïve optimism…You had to be quite talented to get a word in edgewise with dad – it’s kind of an art in itself.”
Emma’s debut before a live audience occurred at age 17 in 1986, when she sang the song “Hiding Out” with her dad onstage at the Royal Albert Hall in a benefit to aid the victims of the Colombian volcano disaster. Perhaps it was stage fright or just plain indifference that caused her to forsake the music world shortly thereafter and head to college. Pete and Karen didn’t exactly encourage her in her studies. “Parents generally beg their children not to pursue a career in music,” she wrote in The Times, “while mine were, ‘Oh, for goodness sake, stop messing around and get on with it.’ It’s like inheriting a big aristocratic estate – you’re allowed a few years of messing around, but then you’re expected to knuckle down and take your place in the family business.”
She knuckled down after she got a Ph.D. in history of science from Cambridge. It seems teaching undergrads at the university didn’t exactly equate to a lavish bank account she’d been accustomed to living with her millionaire father. Emma set about recording tracks with a university pal who later became her boyfriend. Spare, eclectic, edgy songs with slight washes of piano and guitar was the resulting sound she created. The debut album was entitled “Winterland” and was released in 1999 to little fanfare. Although her material was far removed from the guitar-driven, thundering sound her father had created with The Who decades earlier, it wasn’t strong enough to garner her very favorable reviews.
Her dad seemed to like the album, or so he said. As Emma has written, Pete “would never stint on criticism just because he’s my dad. I’ve played him things and he’s gone: ‘That’s just crap isn’t it, really badly recorded. I mean, I suppose there’s a good idea in there somewhere.’ So, I take it seriously that he says he likes the record.” And ultimately, there’s nothing more satisfying than making your old man proud, right Emma?
Like most teenagers, young Rufus Wainwright would sit in his room, hours on end, listening to and memorizing every line of music of his favorite songs. Being the son of Loudon Wainwright III, Canada’s premier folk artist, in league with Bob Dylan and John Prine, probably meant that Rufus was swept up in the societal commentary and topical issues inherent in the songs his father was known for warbling. Not quite. Rufus was a little ‘different.’ He liked opera. “My father, though he was never around, would always come by at extremely opportune moments and lend me some perspective,” the Wainwright boy once related. “Rufus,’ he said at this point, ‘you have to go to boarding school. You’re sitting at home listening to Verdi’s “Requiem” with all the lights off. We have to get you out of here.”
More than likely, Loudon was thankful that his son had shown enough talent in the field of music to crank out songs that weren’t geared solely for Italian tenors. Rufus had been playing piano since he was 6 years old. Like many kids of musicians, his dad left his mom, Kate McGarrigle, during Rufus’ pre-school years. Kate raised her boy and took him on tour with her act. Kate McGarrigle and her sister, Anna, were well known across the Great White North as the singing duo The McGarrigle Sisters. Rufus joined them onstage when he was 13, and the next year, he was nominated for the equivalent of an Oscar (it’s called a Genie in Canada) for his rendition of “I’m A Runnin’.”
Kate was the instigator in Rufus branching out on his own musical path. “She gave me a lot of guidance to create my chops,” Rufus told Weekly Wire. “She knew that I could sing when I was pretty young, and she started to train me. She wasn’t just my mother, she was also my coach.” As for his famous father, Rufus was leery of following in his very big footsteps. Although Loudon Wainwright only had one substantial hit with “Dead Skunk (In The Middle Of The Road),” he has certainly remained a legend on the folk circuit over the years. “My father played guitar and I always shunned it,” Rufus claimed defensively in his bio. “But at parties, pianos were hard to come by. That’s when I realized the guitar’s appeal. I think my father’s influence was always there under the surface, despite my having rejected it.”
He elaborated further to SXSW Countdown about his hesitancy in aligning himself with his dad’s career. “He can really fill a room. That’s always a bit nerve-wracking. I tend to be more sensitive or just more weepy. Maybe it’s just because I haven’t been through the mill yet, going up and down in this business. He’s got more of a tough hide. The hardest thing…is probably wanting to be more famous than he ever was. The competition is hard sometimes.” Despite his skittishness around his dad, Loudon has brought both Rufus and his sister, who also sings, onstage with him to perform. In fact, it was his dad who passed along Rufus’ demo tapes to legendary musician Van Dyke Parks, who, in turn, handed them to Dreamworks Records.
Scoring a record deal with the prestigious label, Rufus laid down guitar and piano-driven tracks that were suffused with more of a pop sensibility than folky airs. The album came out in May 1998, and unfortunately, did not reap any chart success. Rufus remains undaunted and has set his sights on releasing a follow-up album in 2001. Loudon spouted his fatherly advice for Rufus to the Los Angeles Times: “I don’t have to impart anything to him. His next job, and he knows it, (is) he just has to make the best album he can make. He just has to work. It’s all about the songs and the shows and the records. Just work hard.” Message received, Dad. Oh, and by the way, Rufus would someday like to write a fabulous opera.
Carnie and Wendy Wilson, and Chynna and Bijou Phillips
When Carnie Wilson and her sister Wendy got together with their dad, Beach Boy Brian Wilson, to record some tracks for a 1997 album self-titled The Wilsons, the girls experienced all the insecurities head-on with their reclusive father that they had managed to avoid growing up. Wendy related a story about a day in the recording studio when Brian exclaimed, “This is the best vocal session you’ve ever done!” She continued with her memory: “And then he would sit us down, trying to be really fatherly, ‘You know, girls, I just want you to know that you guys are the best singers in the entire industry.’ And we were like, ‘No, Dad, come on! That is ridiculous.’ And he would say, ‘I can’t sing today – you guys were too good for me!’ We would go, ‘What are you talking about? You go in there, and you put on that Brian Wilson sound right now!’ And he’d go, ‘You inspired me! I’m goin’!”
This topsy-turvy, emotional self-doubt plagued Brian throughout his entire career and subsequently was passed along to his two daughters. Growing up as the children of one of rock’s most eccentric and troubled geniuses, Carnie and Wendy Wilson struggled with emotional abandonment at an early age. “I just remember being really sad,” Carnie told Us Weekly. “I wanted his attention. I felt neglected, like, ‘Hey, how come you’re not paying attention to me? What’s wrong with you?” What was wrong with Brian Wilson has been definitively examined in his own autobiography. Deep depression from the abuse he received from his father coupled with a strong reliance on narcotics sent the most creative Beach Boy over the edge and into a sandbox, literally.
“Dad was in his own world, wandering around the house,” Carnie continued to Us. “I never saw my dad do drugs. My mom (Marilyn Rovell) was very good at shielding us from that. But one day she sat me down and said, ‘I want you to know that your daddy is not normal. He’s not like other dads. He’s a musical genius, but he’s a drug addict, and he’s not there for you, but he loves you.” Still, of the two daughters, Carnie seemed to spot some of the encouraging and endearing sides of their father during the girls’ childhood. “My dad taught me to play the piano,” she told People magazine, “To this day, we have the exact same playing style.” She expounded further on her amazement of her father’s abilities to Us magazine. “One day he said he was going to write a song about baseball. I went to get something in the kitchen, and when I came back, it was written. It took two minutes.”
For Wendy, her connection with Brian seemed to be even more remote. “Maybe he and I are very similar in ways and both very introverted,” she related to Reuters. “I’m not an introvert, but there are times when I can be. I think that he’s that way too. I guess there are feelings of resentment in the past. I just have a little bit of a guard up, that’s all.” Carnie does, however, remember a time when Brian broke free from his clouded existence to rescue a young Wendy from a burn she received in scalding hot bathwater. “I have memories of us running down the corridor of the hospital and my dad carrying Wendy like a hero,” Carnie reminisced for Us Weekly. “It was one of the only times I ever felt that (he was heroic) or saw him do anything like that.”
What Wendy and Carnie did glean from their dad was a propensity to perform and entertain others. Carnie spoke on her dad’s Beach Boy tune “This Whole World” when she was two years’ old in 1970. Three years later, she and sis Wendy were putting on backyard shows with a childhood buddy who also had parents tied to the world of music. Her name was Chynna Phillips, daughter of John and Michelle Phillips of The Mamas and The Papas. The trio performed as The Satellites, and in 1973, they cut a novelty record cover of the baseball classic “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.” The threesome remained pals off and on throughout their school years in Santa Monica, California.
If Carnie and Wendy seemed to have trouble relating to their famous dad, who finally divorced their mom in 1979, Chynna had very little ties to her father. He and Michelle divorced when Chynna was two years old. The seeds of dissolution had commenced two years prior to Chynna’s birth, when Michelle had an affair with fellow Mamas and Papas member Denny Doherty. “You have to understand I come from a family that is not really and truly a family,” Chynna once explained to the Toronto Sun. That doesn’t mean her folks didn’t love her. “My parents always encouraged my creativity. They sent me to ballet classes, drama classes, art classes. They were very supportive,” she told The Detroit News. But her dad, like Brian Wilson, became detached from his family because of his intense drug addiction.
In between dating the likes of Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson, Michelle encouraged daughter Chynna in her aspirations – to a point. Modeling for Chynna was encouraged more as an acceptable avenue for her to pursue during her high school years and didn’t crimp on Michelle’s active love life. “I waited until Chynna turned 18 to become a stage mother,” Mama Michelle quipped to Vanity Fair. The year was 1986, and Chynna had a visit from a cousin from back east. Owen Vanessa Elliot, the daughter of the late Mamas and the Papas vocalist Cass Elliot, grew up in Massachusetts but wanted to relocate west and live near her cousin Chynna. Rejoining the Wilson sisters, the foursome began practicing their vocal harmonies and sending out demos with Michelle’s help and connections.
Producer Richard Perry, who had worked with The Pointer Sisters, Barbra Streisand, and Ringo Starr, amongst many others, liked what he heard and spent three years working with the girls, shaping their sound. One sound that didn’t seem to fit was that of Chynna’s cousin Elliot, so she was subsequently let go. (MCA Records signed her on a solo deal, but her career seemed to stall). When the newly-named Wilson Phillips hit their early-20s, they signed with up-n’-coming label, SBK Records, and released a landmark self-titled debut album. Their first single, “Hold On,” shot to number one on the Billboard chart. The overnight success took them by complete surprise and made them instantly rich.
For one of the group’s members, Carnie Wilson, the fame and fortune caused her to struggle ever more so with a weight problem that she had wrestled with her entire life. She recounted the trappings of fame to Us Weekly: “When you’re fat, you can’t wear the pants or the sleeveless tops, so I was the shoe queen. I had, like, 400 pairs. When you’re 22 years old and you’re making a million dollars a year, what do you know? We worked so hard that I wanted to reward myself. So it was cheesecake and Chanel.” While she was able to drop 80 pounds for her appearance in the “Hold On” video, Carnie soon ballooned to 230 pounds and more. In August 1999, she finally tackled her weight problem by having a radical stomach surgery performed, and broadcast the operation live via the Internet.
The Wilson’s dad had been estranged from his daughters for the better part of a decade and a half. Brian had been entangled under the spell of a controversial therapist named Eugene Landy during the majority of the 1970s and 1980s. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t aware of the girls’ impact on the airwaves in 1989. “I’m so damn proud of Wendy and Carnie,” he conveyed to People magazine. “I’ve been following their record’s chart position like I used to my own songs when I was their age. (It took nine singles before the Beach Boys hit #1 with “I Get Around”) I haven’t called to congratulate them, probably because I know I was awkward as a parent, and I’m still nervous. But God, they make me proud.”
A follow-up album, “Shadows & Light,” resulted in mediocre record sales, and Wilson Phillips began to see their fame fleeting. Constant touring took its toll on Chynna, who checked herself into a hospital for exhaustion. By late 1993, she elected to leave the group and recorded a solo record, “Naked and Sacred,” which barely cracked the charts. Chynna married actor William Baldwin, Jr. and became a mom. She told The Detroit News, “My career will not be my first priority. My family will be my first priority. I won’t record if it takes too much time away from my kids.”
While Wendy Wilson took time off away from the music world, Carnie hosted her own talk show for a season on television. As Chynna reared her new family, her younger half-sister, Bijou Phillips, was coming into her own. The daughter of John Phillips and actress Genevieve Waite, Bijou grew up with an independent spirit. She legally emancipated herself from her folks when she was 14. Already a model, she hit the New York party circuit hard, boozing it up and flashing paparazzi unabashedly. Her flesh-revealing ways led her to pose for Playboy in 2000.
Amidst her outlandish lifestyle, Bijou found time to dive into music and acting, most recently landing a small part as a groupie in the film “Almost Famous.” John Phillips managed to show her the ropes on the former topic. “He taught me like three chords a day and I’d work on them all day,” Bijou told Hip Online. “I liked all the music that my dad liked, a wide variety like Patsy Cline, Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald, and tons of good music…I’m not really into the bands my friends were into when they grew up. I was never into MTV. I was really into Motown. Like my dad used to get tons of these Motown collectors CDs, it’s like a package of like ten CDs, and I’d steal it and listen to Motown all of the time.” Bijou elaborated on her own musical evolution: “I went to this camp called Stage Girl Manor, it was a performing arts camp, and we’d do like Broadway shows. And I know I could sort of sing because my dad could sing, my sister could sing, and my mom could sing, so I figured I could sing too. It was never like a discovery that I could sing; it was more like learning how to sing right and actually hitting the notes and knowing what I was doing when I was doing it, instead of just singing.”
All of this preparation, along with her attending a songwriting workshop to work out her family issues through music, resulted in the debut album, “I’d Rather Eat Glass.” An angst-filled series of Tori Amos-sounding songs caught the ears of a few admiring critics but did little to help her CD sales. Bijou seemed to pin the album’s poor reception to her dad. “If I weren’t his daughter, I wonder if people would take the record more seriously. It’s a double-edged sword, and you’re going to get cut on both sides,” she conveyed to Playboy.
It would appear Bijou is more envious of how her sister Chynna’s life turned out than emulating her popular father. “I don’t think Chynna is really interested in selling herself anymore. I really just want to get married and have kids, too. That’s my main goal in life,” Bijou lamented. But don’t write your sis off entirely Bijou. In 1999, Chynna got back together with her Wilson friends and has been writing songs in the studio with them. Wilson Phillips may have a new CD for release at the end of 2001.
Out of all of the dysfunctions between parents and offspring in this nuclear set of players, it’s evident that the struggles may now be less stressful, but nevertheless, remain unresolved. Shortly after Carnie and her sister finished their collaboration with Brian in 1997 on The Wilsons album (a record that, unfortunately, had brief exposure), Brian, once again, seemed to retreat into his shell. “Last week, he called me and said, ‘I really can’t speak to you for a week,” Carnie related to Reuters at the time. “And I said, ‘Well, why not?’ And he said, ‘I really love being with you, but it’s very intense when I see you. Some days, it’s scary because your energy is very intense, Carnie.” Time may not heal all wounds, but at least, they all have some semblance of family. Carnie put it in perspective to Us Weekly recently. “I have times when I have a really good cry over it. ‘Why does it have to be like this? Why can’t we spend more time together? Why is it so difficult for him to get close? But then, the kind of person I am, I think, ‘Wait a second. Look what he’s been through. We’re lucky he’s alive.”
Dweezil, Moon Unit, and Ahmet Zappa
Playboy magazine related the following story to Frank Zappa when they interviewed him in 1993: “Chastity Bono once told a reporter how terrible her name is. She said when she complained, Sonny (her father) reminded her, ‘Be thankful we didn’t name you Dweezil.” Well, Mr. Bono, young Dweezil, as it turned out, happened to be quite secure with his given moniker thank you very much. “I had the fortunate experience of being in a shoe store when I was four years old, and this big kid came over and was threatening me,” Dweezil related to EQ magazine. “He said, ‘What’s your name?’ I told him, ‘Dweezil,’ and he said it was a stupid name. I said, ‘What’s your name?’ He said, ‘Buns.’ At that point, I never questioned the validity of my name. I thought my name was cool – compared with Buns.”
Growing up in the shadow of one of rock’s most revolutionary pioneers, a man who packed jazz, rock, and avant-garde sounds with colorful characters like The Duke of Prunes and Big Leg Emma, the Zappa family was surprisingly ‘normal’ in its home environs. Even though papa Frank was concocting scatological references for his lyrics and winning fans with cult classics like “Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow,” his four children, Moon Unit, Dweezil, Ahmet, and Diva, could always count on their parents to keep them grounded.
Moon Unit was a typical teenager growing up in Southern California, when she collaborated with her father on the satirical gem “Valley Girl” in 1982. Moon’s idioms, particularly “gag me with a spoon,” became the lexicon primer for every ‘totally rad’ suburban teen across America. Moon apparently wasn’t very comfortable with her new-found notoriety, being that she was a gangly teen uncomfortable with the way she looked in comparison to real knock-out Valley Girls. “My dad’s music had made me shy,” she wrote in a piece for Harpers Bazaar, “almost repressed about my own anatomy, with his lyrics about ramming things up poop chutes and shooting too quick – this, from my dad! He was so open creatively that I was off in search of black turtleneck bathing suits with long sleeves. ‘Valley Girl’…made me feel like a sad zoo specimen. Going through puberty in front of the world on shows like ‘Solid Gold’ and ‘Merv Griffin’ only added to my self-consciousness.”
All of that exposure, however, helped Moon to eventually feel comfortable in front of the camera, and she went on to act in several movies, TV shows and plays over the succeeding years. As a witty, insightful author on a handful of magazine articles, Moon was tapped by Dell publishers to write a book in the year 2000. Aside from lending her vocals to some of her brother’s solo albums, her recording days pretty much ended with “Valley Girl.”
For her younger brother Dweezil, a career as a versatile guitarist was just beginning around the time Moon released her witty ditty. Steve Vai, an alum of Frank Zappa’s bands, as well as a sought-after session musician, spoke to Guitar Player in 1987 about his take on Dweezil’s initial approach to guitar. “When we started working together about 5 years ago, Dweezil was an absolute beginner. He couldn’t even hold a pick. He couldn’t hit one note without accidentally hitting four or five other strings. I gave him lessons here and there…Within a year and a half of being a total beginner, he was an accomplished guitarist with a lot of technique.”
Father Frank was impressed enough with Dweezil’s abilities that he allowed the 12-year old boy to sit in with his band during several European dates in 1982. “Although Dweezil had a lot of manual dexterity when he started off,” Frank commented to Guitar Player, “he had problems with rhythm – counting where to come in and what to do, just like most beginning musicians have a problem with that sort of thing. He was also limited in the number of keys that he could play in, and I had to modify the arrangements a little bit in order to put things in a comfortable key for him during his part of the solo.”
Nevertheless, Dweezil’s career as a respected guitarist got underway. The next year, when he was 13, he released his first single, “My Mother Is A Space Cadet.” By 1984, he and his father took to the stage at LA’s Universal Amphitheater to both jam on lead guitars. Dweezil acknowledged his dad’s influence and abilities shortly thereafter. “I appreciate all of his music, and I’ve always said that if anyone should be allowed to have any of that influence end up in their music, it should be me or Ahmet or someone from our family. And there should be no reason for anybody to question that.”
All the same, Dweezil seemed more influenced by the music of heavy metal, particularly the guitarwork of Ratt, Yngwie Malmsteen, and Eddie Van Halen (the latter would often stop in to teach Dweezil a few licks on the ax). Frank knew about his son’s leanings and didn’t begrudge him his differences in taste. “I don’t think he would desire or even enjoy being in one of my bands, just because the style of music that we play is so much different than what he likes to play,” Frank declared to Guitar Player. When asked by Playboy about Dweezil’s strongest work, Frank replied, “The best of it, I think, is his instrumental music, which is very involved technically, the rhythms and intervals are complicated and his execution is spotless.”
Dweezil released three solo albums in five years: “Havin’ A Bad Day,” “My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama,” and “Confessions,” yet each did not curry any favor towards his abilities in the eyes of the label representatives. “If I had the same ability but came from some place like Utah,” Dweezil confessed to Guitar World in 1991, “I think I would probably have a lot more support from record companies. They would think of me as a new talent. But since I already have a name that people know – a name that doesn’t necessarily bring smiles to most peoples’ faces – it makes it tough. The experiences I’ve had with record companies have been less than desirable. I mean, they’re utterly pathetic actually.”
As to other matters, Moon, Dweezil, and Ahmet all took their high school equivalency tests at age 15 and got out of the California public education early. This freed up more time for them to pursue their interests. Dweezil took a stint as a VJ on VH-1. He and Moon starred in a short-lived CBS sitcom called “Normal Life” in 1989. “We were put through the TV wringer,” Dweezil related to EQ magazine. “Frank told us, ‘You really don’t want to be involved in this industry.’ He was talking to me and Moon. ‘I know that you guys want to be excellent at what you do, and you’re not allowed to be excellent at anything on TV.” Dweezil apparently didn’t take those words to heart because he and his brother Ahmet tried their hand at hosting an ill-fated talk-variety show on USA Network in 1999 called “Happy Hour,” only to stand back and watch as their ratings never registered a pulse.
Dweezil was seen by many over the years as being a ‘player,’ and not just of guitars, amongst the Hollywood crowd. He once dated Sharon Stone. But father Frank had a different take on his son. “Dweezil, who has this reputation of being a ladies’ man, a playboy and all this stuff, is absolutely not,” he told The Guardian Weekend. “He spends most of his time at home in the kitchen and watches cooking shows on television. We discuss them. He’s a master Italian chef, a workaholic. I’ve had to tell him to slack off a little bit because I see him coming in sometimes and he looks really beat.”
In 1991, Ahmet, who had begun to take a more serious interest in music, teamed with his brother to form a band called Z. Singing lead while brother Dweezil wailed on the frets, they released their debut album “Shampoohorn” in 1992. Ahmet told Chord magazine, “I guess I’m jealous that my brother Dweezil can play an instrument. As a kid I never had an interest in playing an instrument. I’m into comics and video games.” After a follow-up record, “Music For Pets,” with his brother failed to capture much attention, Ahmet went on to start a band with some friends called Idiot Sevilles.
The year 1991 also signaled the moment in which both Dweezil and Moon appeared before media cameras to announce that their dad was sick with prostate cancer. Frank struggled with the pain for two years but finally succumbed to the disease and passed away on December 4, 1993. His wife and children – kids whom he had raised to be quite normal and who were deeply affected by his achievements and his integrity – were all there by his side. When Dweezil was asked by Rocknet what elements of his dad’s legacy that he and his brother tried to incorporate into their music, he replied, “We just apply all the things we learned from growing up into what we do. Our whole creative sensibility, having some humor…always maintaining a sense of humor throughout the darkest of circumstances.”
For many families of rock celebrities, life can be tumultuous and unstable. It’s a credit to Frank that he retained such a cohesive, close-knit feel for his children in their upbringing. As he succinctly said to Cutting Edge in 1993 before his death, “I got lucky. They like me; I like them too. We, all of us, like each other. We have a very nice family.”
© 2000 Ned Truslow
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