As we move deeper into autumn, life has started to take on a new weight and shape as the changes that emerged last spring start to settle in. It dawned on me earlier this year that 2017 marked 25 years since I returned to music after a 10+ year hiatus in the ‘80’s, having left as a jazz bassist to return as a singer-songwriter, and I wanted to make a statement about that. The look back resulted in a project I’d wanted to pursue for some time– a retrospective of our work– and this is XXV, which we plan to release on December 7th.
Multi-instrumentalist, lead guitarist and soulmate Paul Candilore features centrally as my chief musical ally, all the way from our first album, “Set Free,” in 1996, to our new, unreleased 2017 van Gogh Brothers tracks. Bassist Clayton Young and multi-instrumentalist Steve Latt also stand high as founding members of the van Gogh Brothers and creators of our sound. It took years for this band to find its voice and place in the “Americana” community, a term that didn’t exist until relatively recently. Now, having established ourselves in the LA music and songwriting community, I am especially proud of both our sound and our large body of quality work.
I remember the specific day- Sunday, August 16, 1992- when I picked up my 1972 Guild and wrote my first song after almost a decade. I knew I had returned to music for good.
My professional career began as a jazz bassist with Zamcheck in the 1970’s (I was Gian Caterine back then). Zamcheck played the Newport Jazz festival and toured with Gary Burton’s band featuring a young Pat Metheny. I would occasionally play a “singer-songwriter set” between sets when we had extended club bookings. Otherwise, I gigged very little in my current singer-songwriter incarnation in those days.
I returned to music decidedly as a singer-songwriter in 1992, playing open mics (I remember having to follow the incredible Susan Werner one night- yikes!). Paul and I played the open mic at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville for months until we got a “featured” slot. We “graduated” to club bookings, short tours, and opening slots for new friends the Swinging Steaks and others, with the occasional concert opener for Marshall Tucker and other national touring artists thrown in. Mostly, however, we wrote, recorded, played the bars and, thanks to Heavy Hitters Publishing, had lots of songs in lots of TV shows.
In the early days, Paul and I produced our albums ourselves. After a while, and mostly because Mick and Keith used the “Glimmer Twins” as their production moniker, we decided that since “we each had one good ear,” we would henceforth call our production partnership the “van Gogh Brothers.”
People called us the “John Cate Band” (a name I hated) for quite a few years in the beginning. After kicking it around for a while, we decided in 2002 to extend the van Gogh Brothers name to the rest of the band. At that point our lineup had solidified and included the brilliant Clayton Young and the amazing Steve Latt. “Two Brothers” was the first official van Gogh Brothers album, with Pinebox Walk, Vicious Game and Day is Done proving to be seminal works that we still play regularly.
In today’s digital music world we no longer have the physical artwork and information that used to accompany albums, so we don’t get to communicate or know what thinking and contributions go into the works. For XXV, there are selections from 13 full-length albums plus side projects for a total of 50 songs. Our recordings began in 1994 (after I resumed writing in 1992) and continue through 2017. The earliest song in the collection is “Sweet Mercy” which I wrote in 1993 and recorded as a demo in 1994, and the most recent is “Don’t Leave Me Lonely,” written and recorded in 2017.
I’ve lived in a few places over the years, including England, where I was born, but the three places most central in my life are Newton and Wellesley, Massachusetts, where I grew up and raised my family, and Malibu, California, the literal place of my dreams. The cover photos for XXV reflect this with a white rainbow over Zuma Beach in Malibu, a blue moon over Waban, Massachusetts and November at Lake Waban, in Wellesley, Massachusetts.
Our sojourn in Malibu is nearing an end and we are preparing to re-establish ourselves in the Greater Boston area, closer to family and to our roots in Newton, the “Center of the Universe.” I will continue to work part-time in LA and Malibu, but look forward to a Boston-based van Gogh Brothers residency and to taking up bass again. Meeting Joni Mitchell inspired me to renew my vows to jazz, with Joni having been a great example of bringing songwriting and jazz together, and sharing a love and appreciation of the lyrical approach to bass. And England… Hopefully I will have the opportunity to spend more time in my “other” homeland. Life is good and full.
We will have a “Bon Voyage” gig at the Mint in LA on Monday, November 13th at 7:00 PM for the Hunnypot Radio Show and industry meet-up, now running for 12 years under the direction of John Anderson and Jeff Gray. Our kick-ass “Soho House” lineup features Scarlet Rivera on violin, with Brian Jennings on bass and vocals, Michael Carey on lead guitar and Jonathan Smith on drums. We’ll do a 1/2 hour set after the 7:30 interview segment.
XXV will be our 25 year stake in the ground. I’m looking forward to seeing where we go from here, and to seeing many of you in the weeks to come. Thank you for supporting our music over these many years and giving us a reason to believe.