“I come in and he has 100 candles lit in the house and they’re all burning, and he’s got some incredible rock star wine, real expensive wine, I don’t even drink, but I’d have a little sip of this wine. So, I say, ‘Glenn, you have a date later after we write?’ He says, ‘No, man, it’s the muse. She’s up there, the songwriter muse, and there’s a lot of guys trying to write a song right now and we want her to come down and party with us.’”
John: Our guest this week on Art of the Song is California singer/songwriter Jack Tempchin. Perhaps best known for his collaborative work with the late Glenn Frey of the Eagles, Jack wrote their classic hit “Peaceful, Easy Feeling” and co-wrote most of the songs on Glenn’s solo collections album. He also wrote “Slow Dancing, Swaying to the Music”, which was a top 10 hit for Johnny Rivers.
Viv: It is such a joy and a privilege to be talking today with Jack Tempchin for Art of the Song. Thank you so much for inviting us into your studio and letting us set up and talk with you today. We appreciate your participation.
Jack:Well, thank you, I’m glad to have you here.
Viv: We’d love to get started with where you’re from.
Jack:I’m from San Diego. The only guy involved with the Southern California sound that’s actually from Southern California. This was where you came to get famous and so everybody came from everywhere here and they still do. But I was already in San Diego. But still, that’s two hours away. It might as well be Omaha, because you were either in Los Angeles where it was happening, or you were somewhere else. But this is where I’m from. A lot of the things that affected the culture of this country happened here. San Diego was the first place to have a shopping mall. First place to have drive-thru food, Jack-in-the-Box was from San Diego. So, there’s that culture that unfortunately we were responsible for. But also skateboarding and the surfing and all that stuff, it really didn’t start up here (L.A.).
Viv: It migrated up from San Diego.
Viv: Music, are you from a musical family?
Jack:Not really. My parents always said that we don’t have any artistic or music ability in our family.
Viv: Well, that set you on a path for success.
Jack:Yeah, when I was in high school, they took our class over to the college where a guy was teaching people to be music instructors. So, he got each kid up and had them sing a little bit at the piano. He told his class, “This person you could develop their voice, it’d be cool. This person here has a lot of talent.” Then, I sang a little thing, and he said, “This is one of these rare people that no matter how much training you gave them, they would just never be able to sing or do music.” Of course, that rolled right off because I had no intention of doing music at that time. I wasn’t into it. But don’t listen to those people is what I’m saying.
Viv: Awesome. That’s actually a big part of our show. Helping people understand that whatever people say, they’re wrong.
Jack:Exactly. It’s all about what you love and how much you love it. That’s really what makes it happen or not.
Viv: So, when did you fall in love with music?
Jack:Well, pretty early on. I had a transistor radio. Japanese little transistor radio. I’d listen under the covers when I was supposed to be asleep. In those days, you had like three radio stations and two of them were the same. Maybe there was a country station. Pop music was every kind of thing together. ‘How Much is that Doggy in the Window?’ and Frank Sinatra and they were all on the same station in the top 10. I’ve always loved it. Then, the coffeehouses came along when I was in high school. The folk movement. I heard Bob Dylan and then I would go to these places where they served hot apple cider and stuff and people strummed guitars. So, I got into that scene. Then I read ‘On the Road’ and went hitchhiking and got into the beats and stuff.
Viv: And the music? When did you start songwriting? How did that come to you?
Jack:I didn’t start playing an instrument until I was 18. Everybody else, music people, already had bands by that time. My first instrument was the harmonica and my friend, and I did a Brownie McGhee/Sonny Terry thing where I was playing the harmonica. But then, I started hanging out with my friend Joe and we’d go down to the beach and get high and make up songs for hours. I still never have run into anybody like him. He’d just make up these gorgeous things and keep rolling and rolling and then I just thought, “That’s how you do it!” Then, one day, I said, ‘Joe, these are incredible. Maybe we should write one of them down or something’. And he just looked at me and said, “No, man. That’s not cool. That would just ruin it.” He was a pure artist. But then I went into the coffeehouses and, frankly, I wasn’t very good at singing or playing. So, I’d play a blues song that I heard and my friend that was a blues player would say, “What did you do to that song, man?” Basically, I started writing my own songs so that nobody would know that I messed up.
Viv: If you butchered them or not, right?
Jack:I would play in the coffeehouses and that experience, because most of the time there wasn’t anybody there, and I got very comfortable on stage. I would just make up some stuff on stage. I’d have a half-done song and I would just do it. Then, what happened, and I had no thought of being in music, then somebody said on the second song I wrote, he said, “Can I do that song?” So, I said, “Ok”. He played guitar like three people at once. He was incredible. People all over the city kept saying, “Oh, that’s an incredible song!” He made it very popular in the San Diego folk music. Then, one day I said, “Hey man, can you show me how you play that?” And he said, “No, it’s my arrangement” and he wouldn’t show me. But my point is that people started doing my songs. They would ask me and then they would learn my songs and they started doing them. Only after that happened a bunch of times did I think, “Well, maybe I could be a songwriter.” Of course, that’s not the way it is now, everybody just assumes that they’re going to be a songwriter. It’s kind of backwards really.
Viv: Say more about that if you can. What do you mean they ‘assume’?
Jack:Well, in other words, they go, “Ok, I’m going to write all my own songs, of course. Everybody does.” But see, in those days, Frank Sinatra didn’t write his own songs, nobody wrote their own songs until Dylan came along. It wasn’t done. Really, when you think about it, Hoagy Carmichael wrote the songs. It was a whole different thing. You had guys who just wrote the songs. So, for me, people wanted to do my songs, therefore, maybe, I can do that.
Viv: Be one of those guys.
Jack:Yeah, rather than everybody going, “Of course, since I play, I have to write songs too.” A lot of times that doesn’t work out for me. And, of course, as a songwriter, I think why don’t they all just do my songs? That’s the other thing too.
Viv: When you say it doesn’t work out for you?
Jack:The songs aren’t as good. That’s what I’m saying.
Viv: Yeah, you don’t have to pull any punches on this show.
Jack:They won’t do other people’s songs. They just think, “Oh, that’s not cool. I have to do my own songs.” Then Hedge & Donna were a duo that I saw at the coffeehouse, Hedge Capers and Donna Carson, and they later got signed and they opened tours for Harry Belafonte. They were fantastic. They were the first ones to record any of my songs and I thought, “Wow, this could work!” Then, I started making a living, such as it was. When I got into college, I think it was $15 a month I had to come up with because I was living in the garage next to this guy’s apartment. So, I would run the Open Mic nights (we called them “Hoot Nights”) and I did that at 3 of the local places. One place, one time, Jackson Browne came down there. I had already heard his. In fact, I was already doing “Song for Adam” and a couple of those. So, he was a legend well before he put any records out. So, I met him and then Glenn Frey and JD Souther were in a duo called “Longbranch Pennywhistle”, which I never knew why the name, but I just read an article recently and one of them liked westerns and one of them liked something else and they just put the name together.
Viv: The Celtic cowboy influence.
Jack:So, they came down. Then, I had by that time a very large house with about six of my friends and my brother and I had a candle shop in the garage where we made candles. So, I asked them to stay there if they wanted. After that, anytime they came to San Diego, JD and Glenn would stay at my house. So that’s how I met them and became really good friends.
Viv: We had the opportunity to talk with Glenn when he came out with “After Hours”. We met with him down in Pasadena and it was such a pleasure to talk with him. He spoke so highly of you. He was talking about co-writing and writing with people and sharing that energy.
Jack:Well, we knew each other for 10 years before we ever tried to write a song together. Mostly after that, right here is where we wrote everything. Yeah, right here.
Viv: Well, this room has some serious history to it then.
Jack:It does. We had a lot of fun here.
John: Tell us about the first song that you wrote with Glenn Frey.
Jack:The Eagles started their vacation, which lasted for 14 years. Glenn loved writing with Don Henley, but I think it was difficult. They both had a huge microscope on every line and were very serious. So, he wanted to just have some fun. So, he called me to come over and he was renting a house in the hills that James Cagney used to live in. It was a big giant A-frame, one big room kind of with a giant fireplace. It had lots of Hollywood parties. I could feel the vibe. The way he tells it, it’s like I’m coming up to the door and I’m already singing something. He opens the door and is like, “This guy is already singing, it’s going to be easy!” Not like ‘What are we going to write today?’ I come in and he had 100 candles lit in the house and they’re all burning, and he’s got some incredible rockstar wine, really expensive wine. I don’t even drink, but I’d have a little sip of this wine. So, I say, “Glenn, do you have a date later after we write?” And he says, “No man, it’s the muse. She’s up there. The songwriter muse. There’s a lot of guys trying to write a song right now and we want her to come down and party with us.”
Viv: Oh my gosh. It’s like seducing the muse.
Jack:So, I always say when I’m talking to songwriters, “Oh, you didn’t know that, eh? You’ve been wasting your time because you didn’t court the muse.” We started writing that night also “The One You Love”. I think we finished that. It was right from the start just pure fun. I always thought, yeah, I’d love to do this, but I hadn’t had the opportunity. Then, it turned out my buddy that I had been good friends with all these years already happened to be one of the world’s great songwriters. So that was pretty fortuitous for me. We had a fantastic time. Then I wrote with him, basically, for all fourteen years. Wrote almost everything on all the albums with him. Got to ride along on his amazing life journey.
Viv: Sounds like it was a pretty shared talent there, I have to say. This is what happens when you start talking about stories like that and the energy comes in from that incredible magic that happens with two people who trust each other so much and can have fun with the writing. My brain just gets a little blown. That energy of being able to collaborate with somebody over time and come out with so many songs that have meant so much to multi generations now. Thank you, I guess is what I’m saying.
Jack:Well, it’s been totally my pleasure, I’ll tell ya. It’s been the funnest things that I’ve ever done, really.
Viv: Your new record. You have a new record out. Keith Harkin you’ve been writing with as well, so you’ve been continuing on the co-write path. Tell us about your new record.
Jack:The new record is called “One More Song” and I’ve got a few songs that are very old. One more song I did a long time ago and Glenn, I didn’t write it with him, but he helped me do a demo of it. He would always be helping me. Then, I put “Slow Dancing” on there.
Viv: I almost passed out when you played that at Barn Dance, I just have to confess. I went into a total fangirl moment and just about passed out. Full transparency.
Jack:Over the years, I had bands, I usually had bands all the time, and I had a monster rock band in 2000/2001 with people from Tom Petty’s band, the Rolling Stones, and all these people. Then, about four or five years ago I went back to doing the solo thing like at the coffeehouse and just playing solo. I realized it’s really great to just reach people and connect. So, the “Slow Dancing” I went back to a version that I do by myself and that’s what I put on this record. Then, all the other songs, some of which were written way back then. There’s a song “Circle Ties That Bind” that I played for Hoyt Axton and he started doing it and he was my hero. So that was the first official guy that went, “Hey, you’re cool and this is a cool song.” He never recorded it. So that song is on there. Then, other things that people, some new and some old, that people have never heard. So, mostly, it’s like what you would hear in the old coffeehouse. I just thought, well, maybe people are looking for something more real and something less packaged. So that’s why I did that record.
Viv: It’s a changing time in the music business.
Jack:Oh boy, yeah.
Viv: You’ve seen it. You’ve been talking about the Southern California sound, which you were one of the architects. To see where it is now, what are some of the positives and what do you think are some of the drawbacks?
Jack:Where it is now…. first of all, nobody knows where it is now. It’s like the whole world now. We are actually living in the future. Like William Gibson, the science fiction writer, says, we’re all 10 or 20 years behind. We think we’re living in an era, but what’s really happening with technology and all of this stuff is we’re way in the future. Nobody’s going to know. The whole human race is getting hive-connected to each other and now we actually have that jukebox in the sky where you can literally just say in words, “I want to hear Chris Hillman’s record” and it’ll start playing. It’s mind-boggling. I think everything is really super, super great about the music except for the fact, one little thing, that songwriters and artists don’t seem to be getting paid right now.
Viv: That’s a little hitch.
Jack:That’s one little thing. But, except for that, like you were saying about your 8-year-old grandchild can program on the iPad, a kid can hear some music and just trace that music and say, who’s that fiddle player? I want to hear that record! I want to go back! Oh, I never knew about J.S.! I want to find out. Boom. You can follow your interest immediately. We used to have to go to a record store, go into a little booth, and if they had the record, maybe they would play it for us. Or you buy it. You hear about the Rolling Stones, they met, Keith and Mick, on the bus because they each saw the other guy was carrying a Muddy Waters record, but it was almost impossible to find that music. Whereas now, you have all the music that’s ever been right at your fingertips. It’s incredible. Then, you always have to realize that there’s always been kinds of music for different purposes. Like dance music always comes in for a while and takes over. When I was a kid it was The Twist. Pretty soon, it was all Twist records. Chubby Checker. “Let’s do the twist!” Then, later, disco came in and we couldn’t get arrested with our music because everyone just wanted to hear disco. Then it was hip-hop. Then it was rap. It’s all just big beat dance music. Then comes in because people need different music to dance to. So, it’s all different kinds. I like some of them, so I don’t see any downside to that. Whatever anybody likes, they’re right. It’s just I don’t want to hear it, maybe, but they don’t want to hear something I like. I think the bottom line in music is the definition of good music to me is music I like. That applies to everybody else too. I don’t see a downside to it all. Like I say, except for right now, they’re not going to pay songwriters at all or musicians. And the musicians don’t realize. They’re young and they have this dream, “I’m going to be a pop star!” and they just don’t realize that somehow the money has been stolen away and, without that, it’s quite difficult to be a pop star while you’re also having to pull a job. So that’s the only downside right now, but I think it’s a glorious time for music.
Viv: That’s fabulous.
Jack:If somebody likes Michael Hearne, Barn Dance kind of music, or they like organic music, they can find it. They can listen to it. They can trace it all the way back to the roots.
Viv: In terms of the creative process, how do songs come to you? You said, as you were approaching Glenn’s house, that you were already singing. Is there something going on in your mind that all the time or in your heart you’ve got a song going on that’s just kind of noodling around in there and you just have to listen? How does that work?
Jack:Yeah, my process, which I didn’t understand till looking back on it for many years. I was talking to somebody who had interview a million songwriters and I said, “Well, here’s how I do it” and he said, “Well, that’s interesting because I haven’t run into anybody that does it like that.” I used to walk down the street whistling all the time and then when I worked at Chicken Delight, a guy came up one time and said, “You’re always whistling. First, you’re whistling Beethoven, then you’re whistling the Beatles…there’s always something running.” Then I bought first instrument, which was the harmonica, and so instead of whistling and I went done and I sounded out every song I knew. It’s always just going. Glenn and I called that “El Blurto”. We get these two guitars right here and then we just start playing and make stuff up. Then, I always was trying to record it. When I do that, the voice it starts singing, a lot of the song just comes out whole. Then, I can’t remember exactly what I said. When I go back and write it down, it doesn’t have the flow and the grace, but it was hard to record things then. Reel-to-reel, first of all, was all you had, and you couldn’t carry that around. Then, over the years, I had all these little devices. I had a bass guitar case and I made something inside it called a “Go-Wild Station” which had these little things with batteries. But now, the iPhone does it all, so you just catch it and go back and trim it up a little. That’s always been my way of doing it. Just pick up a guitar or nothing and just start singing and then a bunch of stuff comes out that’s really no good, that no one would ever want to hear and then you keep doing it and eventually you go, “Hey! That was pretty good.” And it just goes. It just always goes. Everybody’s always saying, “Well, why don’t you write a book on songwriting?” First of all, I didn’t like to talk about songwriting. Glenn taught songwriting at college level and he asked me to come in on it a couple times, but there’s always a debate about whether you can teach it, really. People can say a lot of things, but do the students actually get better? I think everybody should write songs all the time because it’s just a great thing to do. I want to write a book so finally I did a series of lectures that are called “Go Write One” and they’re on my website peacefuleasyfeeling.com and they’re only two minutes long and they say nothing about how to write a song, like the verses or the rhyming. They definitely say nothing about how to get your song published or make it big. They’re all about how to get in the mood, be in the frame of mind, and why you should do it and stuff like that.
Viv: How to get in the mood, the frame of mind, and why. I love the fact that you follow it up with the why you should do it. Can you talk a little bit about that? Share it with us?
Jack:Well, some of the things on the why were its journaling, for one thing. For a while I was doing a song a day and that was easy. I’d write the song, but I also had to make the video and put it up on YouTube. That was really hard. Then, when you look back at the song for that day, then you remember. You remember the day and the mood and the song and everything comes back. Just like writing a journal of everything you did, but even better in a way. So that’s a really good thing to do. It’s a way to connect with yourself. Then, of course, for me, it’s pure joy. It’s fun and I’ve always done co-writing too. Then, you have all these memories of the people and you got together, and you get excited about an idea or a musical thing. So, it’s like why to do it and how to have fun with it. But then, over the years, I realized that my process is not the same as other people. But hey, that’s who I am and I’m glad.
Viv: I got to say we are too.
John: Peaceful, Easy Feeling is one of the songs that you’re best known for. Tell us the story of how that came about.
Jack:I got a gig out in El Centro because my buddy Warren Huey made a poster and the poster quoted all the famous people of the time about me: Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell said, “He’s a real man”. Marshall McLuhan says, “He’s got a great command of media”. Then my mom said, “He’s a good boy”. It was all in this poster. He made it all up of course. But this guy in El Centro saw the poster and he booked me, it’s like an hour or two from San Diego, it’s out in the desert. It was a little mini-mall and they had a little coffeehouse out there. So, I made a date to go home with the waitress and I told the guys that I’m not going to need a ride to wherever we’re staying. Then, she disappeared and never came back. Then, I was just out there. There’s nothing there, just a linoleum floor for me to sleep on. So, that’s when I started writing “Peaceful, Easy Feeling”. I turned the poster over and, on the back, I was writing some stuff and now I’ve got that piece of paper. It was in the Hall of Fame or something like that. The lyrics aren’t any good until I get to the part where I have this phrase “Peaceful, Easy Feeling” and started writing that. Then, when I came back to San Diego, at that time, every girl that I saw I could fall in love with, I didn’t have to actually meet her or anything cumbersome like that. So, I would see these girls, I saw a girl at the street fair with these earrings and I put her in the song. Then, I finished the song on Washington Blvd in San Diego, there’s a Der Weinerschnitzel there.
Viv: So romantic.
Jack:People back east, I guess they don’t have them there, but there’s a huge chain. That was 40 some years ago. They just closed that particular one, but they still have a bunch of them. That’s where I was sitting when I wrote the first verse of “Peaceful, Easy Feeling”. My guitar was a Stella guitar that I bought in a pawn shop in San Diego for 13 bucks and it had a string already on it that was the strap, which is still on it. So, I just carried it around everywhere, in case anyone needed to hear tambourine man, I was ready. I was always just playing it and walking around in the hippie era. We actually called ourselves “Heads”, then the media came along with this word “Hippy” and we’re all going, “Where the heck did, they get that word?” So, that’s how that song came about. So, I worked on it, I played it for my friends. First, I flat-picked it, then I sensitive finger-picking. I was trying different things. Then, I was staying at Jackson Browne’s house, I had stayed with these guys over on Silverlake while they were there (it’s all in the movie), but later they were going to introduce me to David Geffen, which they did. So, I was up there, and Glenn came in and I was playing the song, I’d gone back to the finger-picking and he goes “What’s that?” And he put it on a cassette, and he said, “Jack, I’ve got a new band I put together and we’ve been together 8 days now and we’re rehearsing in a little closet in the valley. Do you mind if we work up your song?” Then, the next day he brought back a cassette and he played it for me, and it was The Eagles working up Peaceful, Easy Feeling.
Viv: We were just in songwriting workshop at the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival and Ellis Paul was using that song as an example of how to dig into a song, to look at, to figure out who you were talking about. He was using it as a prime example. As one of the prime examples.
Jack:That’s fantastic. Ellis Paul.
Viv: I can’t wait to tell him that you actually finished it in a Der Wienerschnitzel. That’s awesome.
Jack:Glenn made my songs famous and he was such a brilliant arranger in terms of capturing a mood. It’s not just musically. The song was instantly the desert and the harmonies. A lot of it’s that. That was a great adventure.
John: Jack Tempchin, thank you so much for talking with us today on Art of the Song.
Jack:Great. It’s been really fun. I’m glad I got to do it.