Johnny's Inspiration For Never Been Blue
I think this is the reason why I gravitate towards making intimate recordings. I want the listener to feel like they are in the room and close to the people making the music. It enhances the experience and the music sinks in more deeply. It means more...at least, to me it does. And while there are many different musical styles and genres, my constant musical desire remains to simply try and put something beautiful into the world; something that will perhaps reach someone else in a personal way, so that we may connect and share the feeling together.
The intent behind Never Been Blue is no exception. The thread that runs through all of the songs on the album is one of reflection for the valuable gifts in your life; gifts that you’ve already received and perhaps overlooked. Imagine how much you would miss them if they were suddenly taken away...
Whatever the emotions we are feeling - love, joy, loneliness, gratitude, regret, fear - the most valuable gift we have as humans is just that: the ability to feel emotion and connect with each other. Without this, there would be nothing left to live for.
I hope these songs connect with you.
Here are a few more nuggets that influenced the making of Never Been Blue:
After Midnight Sessions by Nat ‘King’ Cole
This is my favorite recording of ALL TIME from ANY musician. Supposedly, After Midnight Sessions was Nat Cole’s response to fans and critics who said he’d lost his way when he traded in his intimate piano trio for big band crooning. Needless to say, I think he proved with these songs that he still had the stuff…and then some. Every track beams with warmth and love. The small arrangements are so incredibly swingin’ and hip, especially for 1956. Honestly, I could listen to this album every day for the rest of my life and never grow tired of it.
Frank Sinatra with the Red Norvo Quintet
Live in Australia
I heard a track from this album on the radio and fell in love with the bright and happy vibraphone. I tried to bring the same optimism by incorporating a glockenspiel on the song “Floatin’ My Way Back To You”. It seemed appropriate since the song is about an unsinkable fellow in love.
“Memories Are Made of This” by Dean Martin
I admire the backing harmonies and textures on Deano’s hit. After much searching, I was lucky to find The Redondos, a talented four-part a cappella group in Southern California to add their own backing magic on “Rockin’ Good Way”.
“I Like the Likes of You” by Bobby Short
Bobby Short played piano and sang with his band at the The Carlyle Hotel in New York City for 35 years until he died in 2005. He made numerous recordings in his lifetime and was known for resurrecting and sustaining somewhat forgotten gems from the Great American Songbook. I’ve always admired the personality he brought to his vocals and his instrument.
Short was a New York City institution. On a visit there in the pouring rain, I heard his “I Like the Likes of You” drifting into the street from a restaurant’s PA system. I took it as a sign. The next day I visited the The Carlyle and sat down in the room that he had performed in for all those years. I decided then and there that I would cover the song in his honor. I wish I had seen him perform it while he was still alive.
Eric Shifrin, Pianist and ComposerEric had a beautiful instrumental melody that I heard on one of his solo albums. I couldn’t get it out of my head and finally asked him if we could develop it further. When he agreed, I wrote lyrics and a bridge section and we named it “Sincerely Yours”. When the time came, I asked Eric and his band to play at my wedding. They performed “Sincerely Yours” as the first dance. It was magical.
San Francisco, CA
Eric has a wonderful New-Orleans lazy stride-piano style that is immediately accessible. He is also a wealth of information for the Great American Songbook. I had all but given up on my previously scrapped attempt of “Do It All Again” until I heard him play and sing it back to me. He performed it with such personality that I decided to record it again as the final track for Never Been Blue.
Eric and I also wrote “Showin’ Every Symptom of Love” together after I heard the 1960's Georgie Fame hit “Yeh Yeh” on the radio. I was intrigued with the challenge of enunciating the rapid-fire lyrics. Eric had the bridge (complete with stops) already finished and we crafted the rest together. I love Red Young’s Hammond B3 organ on this song so much that I went back and added the flavor to a few other songs on the album.
“We’ve Got A World That Swings” by The Four Freshmen
I’ve always loved this song that Jerry Lewis made famous in the original film version of The Nutty Professor, but it wasn’t until I heard The Four Freshmen’s version on an oldies radio show that I wanted to cover it. Their version sounds like it has either bongo or conga drums (drenched in reverb) being played as an adjunct to the snare drum. The congas seem to give the snare an extra “lift” and it sounds totally swingin’ to me. When I listen more closely to some of my favorite Capitol Records recordings from the 1950’s, I can hear the same kind of conga beats being played from far back in the room. Could this be part of the reason why I love these old recordings so much? Hmmm.
Needless to say, I added congas to all the swing numbers on Never Been Blue and love the flavor so much that I doubt I’ll ever record another swing song again without them.
I got the idea for a “Palace Hotel” Italian love story song while staying in a hotel in Florence, Italy. Eric Shifrin and I composed the music together when I returned to the U.S. and I wrote the lyrics on a follow-up trip to Umbria. Italy is absolutely beautiful and it’s impossible not to hear music when I’m there.
“Rockin’ Good Way” by Dinah Washington & Brook Benton
I heard this duet on the radio while in Seattle, WA and admired the way Dinah Washington and Brook Benton flirted with each other throughout the song. They really sounded like they were having fun! I knew I wanted to cover it, but it would be very important to find the right female lead to sing it with me to get the right chemistry.
Later on, I did more research on Barbara. Turns out she’s a living legend and has recorded with everyone from Ray Charles to Nancy Wilson to Mel Torme’. I was very nervous on the day we were set to sing together, but Barbara made me feel instantly at ease. Professional and inspired, she was the perfect choice for the song and I was very lucky to work with her. It’s one of my favorite tracks on the album. Thank you, Barbara!
Never been blue
You’re the only one that I depend upon
Never been blue, like before
When I thought I was on my own
I think about this every day
All the loneliness that you took away
And it’s true, since I met you
I’ve never been blue
This album was inspired by my wife (and muse) who continues to put up with me. Why? I will probably never know, but I am indeed the luckiest man on earth.