Garry Tallent is one of the revered figures of the Jersey Shore music scene. A core member of the legendary late night jam sessions that took place at The Upstage in Asbury Park, and an original member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, you couldn’t grow up as a bass player in New Jersey (as I did) and not end up playing some of Garry’s classic bass lines along the way. Garry has also made a name for himself as a producer, working with artists such as Southside Johnny, Gary U.S. Bonds, Marshall Crenshaw, and Steve Forbert.
Now a resident of Nashville, Garry played an integral role in the opening of the Musicians Hall of Fame, which honors the musicians that played on the most famous songs we all know and love. When a recent tour took me through Nashville, Garry was nice enough to show me around the museum, and I can tell you from firsthand experience it’s a shrine not to be missed by any musician or serious music fan.
But Garry’s latest endeavor is something that’s been a long time coming, his first solo album. The new release, Break Time, has already garnered rave reviews. I caught up with Garry recently and asked him about the new music, and how it came about.
After so many years as a musician and producer, how did it feel to be in a different role this time?
The experience of being “The Artist” was very different and very familiar at the same time. In relying on my co-producers for assistance, I felt very relaxed that they had my back. I relied on Eddie Angel in the tracking stages and Tim Coats in the overdub/mixing stages in the production. This led me to be able to relax and just play as a member of the band in the tracking process. In doing overdubs and mixing, I learned things that I may have done wrong in producing records, like be too much of a perfectionist, and just letting things be spontaneous and not so under the microscope. I felt I needed to apologize to many of the singer/songwriters I have produced for not letting things slide more. After all, it’s only rock ‘n’ roll!
Who are the band members, and how did you pick who you wanted to play on the album?
Jimmy Lester is on drums. We have played together on a few things and have a couple of “fun” side bands including the Twenty Eights, a Chuck Berry tribute that we have done over the years, mostly on Chuck’s birthday, and The Sugar Pills, our garage band doing mostly songs from 1966. Anything with a Vox organ and a fuzz tone!
Dave Roe plays upright bass and is also a member of the Twenty Eights. I play guitar in that band, so I got to know Dave through that, and his years with Johnny Cash. Eddie Angel has been a pal for years, and plays with Los Strait Jackets. He is also co-producer of the record.
Randy Leago and Fats Kaplin are both multi instrumentalists, and can easily hop back and forth on accordion, flute, harmonica, steel guitar, banjo, and mandolin, and make spontaneity in the studio seamless. Kevin McKendree plays piano with Delbert McClinton and Brian Setzer, and has the styles of Jerry Lee and Huey Smith down perfectly.
The original idea was to use a lot of different friends on different sessions, but when we did the first session, we cut half the record in a day. Obviously I decided if it ain’t broke…
Did you achieve the vision you were going for when you started the record, or did it just evolve as it progressed?
My vision for the record was realized. The cross of Creole, R&B, and ’50s rockabilly was what I wanted to achieve, and I chose the songs used based on the ones that would fit that mold.
Who would you say are the artists that most influenced you?
My musical influences are so varied that I can’t even begin. I have studied the music of every genre of popular music from the ’20s to the present, and have taken from them all. Influences always begin in your childhood, and I was aware of music at an early age. My mother played and sang country songs from WWII when she could get a quiet moment. She showed me the chords she knew, some bass runs and Carter strumming, along with the concept of “playing by ear.” The first live music I heard was Hank Thompson and the Brazos Valley Boys, whose honky-tonk country music was the precursor to rock ‘n’ roll. It was the time when rock ‘n’ roll came on to the radio airwaves full force.
I was attracted to the sound of Elvis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry and a host of early musicians and singers, but none more than Buddy Holly. I absorbed The “Chirping” Crickets record, which led me to the West Texas sound, and then to the Delta and Cajun music and to New Orleans R&B.
My first band experience was playing in a Greek band playing traditional Greek music, with a foray into pop music with a rousing rendition of “Never On Sunday.” This was as the British Invasion hit America, and we would attempt Beatle tunes with accordion, drums and guitar. My move to NJ in the summer of ’64 left me to take in the recycled ’50s music that I loved coming through the covers of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Hollies and so many others. When school began that fall the only vehicle I had to meet people in a school where everyone went through kindergarten together was music.
That, of course, was a very exciting time with Motown and serious soul music thrown in the mix. This is the time I borrowed a bass and joined a band devoted to the radio hits of the day. So many great bass players to steal from. James Jamerson, Paul McCartney, Duck Dunn, Bill Wyman, too many to name. I played all the teen clubs at the Shore including The Hullabaloo, Le Teendevous, and every summer pavilion from Belmar to Sea Bright. We graduated to the Asbury Park bars while I was still in high school, where you played one club five nights a week.
With The Upstage Club on the scene, we could finish five sets and then go over to Upstage and play until dawn. These heady days brought on the “Psychedelic Sounds” of that era and new influences of Jimi Hendrix, Cream, and the concept of jamming. Complete sets of unrehearsed spontaneous playing, often with total strangers. This was a real education, where the “playing in the moment” concept of jazz came into rock music.
Are there any songs on the album that are particular favorites or yourself or the fans?
I do have favorites, but find that they are not always the favorites of the listeners. “Charlene” seems to be the song that people are reacting to most. This pleases me because I feel like I was able to pull in so many of my favorite influences into this one track. The accordion and fiddle on top of the Bo Diddley beat with the washboard, and slapped bass thrown in the mix. I started the album with “Oh La La” because it represented to me the tone I wanted to set for the record. A lot of nonsense set to the Memphis beat of the late ’50s Sun Records sound of Carl Mann. That was a great rhythm to do the Twist to. I know my own influences for each song but enjoy hearing people tell me that they know where songs came from, often things that never occurred to me.
Where does the name of the album come from?
Fans have asked me what I do on the breaks from the E Street Band. The album comes as an answer to that question. I like the process of writing, playing and producing and have always stayed active doing those things. The singing is my way of pushing myself out of my own comfort zone.
Did anything unexpected occur during the sessions?
On “Promise To My Heart,” I wanted to have that twangy, Duane Eddy guitar sound. Many have tried to copy it, but there is only one person that does it right. I picked up the phone and asked Duane for a favor, and to see him pull up carrying his guitar and amp is a sight I will never forget!
Any chance there will some live shows?
I would love to, and actually had started booking some dates when I was called to active duty with the E Street Band. I have hopes to do some when the next “Break Time” comes along!
You can find out more about Garry and the new album, and keep up to date on any live shows, at GarryTallent.com, Facebook.com/GarryTallent, and follow him on Twitter at @gwtallent. He’ll also be with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ on Aug. 23, Aug. 25, and Aug. 30, and at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, PA on Sept. 7 and 9. For more on those shows, go to brucespringsteen.net.