Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Jimmy Michaels: Karen Carpenter Superfan

I recently did an interview with Jimmy Michaels which I want to share with you here at Karen Carpenter Avenue.

Jimmy is a professional musician with an impressive portfolio and has enjoyed a fair amount of success. Beyond his professionally released works in his earlier years Jimmy experimented with creating his own mixes and remixes of Karen Carpenter's solo works including the released and unreleased tracks. In the following interview you will learn more about Jimmy and his interest in Karen Carpenter.

Jimmy Michaels (2008)

RH = Rick Henry
JM = Jimmy Michaels

RH: Welcome to Karen Carpenter Avenue Jimmy, it is a pleasure to have you here for a visit. Tell us your background in music. Do you have any degrees or special training in music? Do you play any instruments?

JM: I guess I could be called a sort of born natural when it comes to music. Started out in the very early 90s in a small garage hard rock duo, then in more recent years have expanded my horizons producing and writing all different genres of music. One minute I could be producing or writing Hard Rock like when I was young, the next I could be doing beautiful Easy Listening, i'm all over the map LOL. Instruments I play are drums, various percussion instruments and piano/keyboards.

Never went to school for it, never had any training or earned any degrees. Back when I was a boy in the early 1980s when I was in elementary school, we had a very hip sort of teacher who did all kinds of different things in his classroom. He happened to have an orchestral snare and bass drum in there. One day at lunch, I hopped on it and started jamming away...long story short, they thought it was an adult professional playing, and when they seen it was a kid, the local newspaper was called and I had my pic taken at the drums with a small write up done, and this was sort of the beginning of what was to come later in life for me (see attached pic for the newspaper photo and header from the article)

Jimmy Michaels Newspaper Clipping from the Early 80's

RH: Tell us about JMP Music

JM: JMP Music is an independent music label I started in 2007 when I decided to return to writing and producing music after a roughly 5 year hiatus. It began mostly carrying underground indie rock acts and some of my own work, and today, it's a little more diverse than it was in the beginning. Two of the most recent editions to the JMP family are 80s dance music legend Ernest Kohl and Austrian film music composer Gerhard Heinz, to give you an idea of how open the label's become since it's start 7 years ago.

RH: How many of your songs have been recorded? Have any of your songs made it onto the charts?

JM: Too many to mention between the mid 90s - present, none ever made any major big time charts. Really though at the end of the day, it's the interest and sales that keep us indie artists going..as long as they're still there, we'll keep making music.

RH:  Who are some of the artists that have recorded your songs and which songs are they? Maybe some of the highlights.

JM: D.C. LaRue "More Things Change", Type C "The Darkness", Genise G "Sexcapade" to name a few. One song I am especially proud of is "Dark Lady" by my old rock duo called Waco (and was also the very first song I ever wrote).RH: How about your early days as a DJ?

JM: I wouldn't call it my early days, more like my in between/not knowing what I was doing next hiatus days. My small rock duo (which we called ourselves Waco) came to an end in late 1996. Following that I had some personal stuff to deal with and handle in life. Then once that was sorted out, had decided to get married, try to do the family thing and leave music behind. Well, the marriage didn't work out and towards the end of it, something I had done for years as a hobby for fun and enjoyment I decided to pursue as a possible career.

I ended up making a part time living off it through a lot of mobile "for hire" gigs and even had a short resident DJ stint during this time at a now de-funked nightclub in Phoenix Az spinning classic underground disco (with records - yes! vinyl! in the early 2000's at that!). By the end of 2002 my short lived DJ days were done..at least in terms of doing it for a job.

With the internet fresh and new and all this technology, I ended up creating an online weekly (which eventually went to monthly) downloadable radio program called "Disco Extravaganza", in which of course I played nothing but 70s disco (am a HUGE fan of that period of dance music if ya couldn't tell LOL).

I penned the name "DJ Jimmy M" for it by taking my music alias, throwing "DJ" in front of it, and abbreviating "M" from the "Michaels" and created this on air persona. And this is the first time i'm ever admiting this, but when I was mobile DJ-ing and had that residency, I had another alias (that I will never tell what it was...hehe)

Hence, that's how that name ended up on those Karen Carpenter remixes...when in fact it was Jimmy Michaels doing those, not my on air DJ persona (as for a handful of em, DJ Jimmy M didn't even exist yet). The show was a pretty big hit and caught on amazingly well, which I never expected - had thousands of devoted listeners the first few years. Then towards the final few years, the listener rate was dropping and was only in the mid hundreds to the low hundreds.

In it's final year, it ended up being picked up by an online radio station out of NYC called Disco 935. In late 2007 when I made the decision to come back to producing music on a regular basis and decided to cut a solo album, it was becoming tougher and tougher to keep up with doing this radio show between trying to produce and write for myself and other indie rock acts...so I called it quits after nearly 6 years of doing this show on a weekly or monthly basis.

I did end up becoming very close friends with the owner of Disco 935, and because of that, I will at least once a year still make a guest appearance over there, usually around the Christmas holidays to help him out when he wants a break for a week or to fill in for another show that's off for that week. So, that's the DJ story.

RH: You released an album called "More Things Change," it seems it's somewhat an underground disco classic.

JM: Ahh yes, my venture into classic disco and funk sounds (with a little bit of new wave added on the re-issue that's currently still available). I would not call it an underground disco classic though as it was produced and recorded between 2009 and 2011 (authentic to the disco era though). But it did gain a little bit of attention from those that are into the classic disco stuff. There's 2 main highlights of the album that gave it the attention. The first was the title cut, which is performed by Casablanca Records legend D.C. LaRue.

That tune itself is probably the most personal and special to me song I ever worked on. The reason why, is that it was a childhood dream come true. Being a die hard fan of D.C. growing up, I always said that if I ever was to become a musician, that one of my ultimate dreams would be to work with D.C. in making a new song for him. And it turned out EXACTLY in the fashion I always wanted...which was I wrote and produced the music, and D.C. wrote and sang the lyrics. The man is a lyrical genius and has a lot of statements to make in his music. If anyone out there isn't familiar with his work, I highly recommend checking it out. It's pure musical art all the way around.

The 2nd highlight of the album that gained the attention was a bit of an experiment I did in what I would call theatrical audio or, a mini movie for the mind. Take a combo of inspiration from concept disco albums by Alec R. Costandinos, rock concept albums such as Pink Floyd's The Wall and The Who's Tommy. Mix it with my love of 70s cop/action shows, sprinkle a little bit of The Twilight Zone in, and you get the continuous play second half of the album.

It's a bizarre twisted tale in both song and dialog of an obsessed fan of a fashion model who goes berzerk and kills her (played by me), the cops are on his trail, but during all this, what appears to be the ghost of the model (played by voice actress and make up artist Michelle Lea) is speaking to him and haunting him...but is it a ghost, or is it all in his deranged mind? What happens next? Tune in to the second half of the album and find out LOL The main song and single that came out of this epic was called "Crime Of Obsession", and is the tune that made folks curious to hear the whole concept piece after hearing either the single version as a solo (and slightly censored) tune or from hearing one of the remixes that were released.

One other highlight of the album I will mention that was added later to the re-issue is a re-recording/new production of 70s east cost pop legend Peter Lemongello's "Can't Get Enough Of You Girl", with vocal performed by Peter himself (this actually directly follows the close of the concept piece).

D.C. LaRue - Crash and Burn

RH: Do you have any current projects in the works?

JM: Yes, a few actually. One of which is a brand new song I wrote and produced for Austrian singer Ines Reiger. The song itself is kind of a milestone for me as it's a love song, and is the first time i've ever written something of this nature (with not being in any romantic relationship at the moment as well may I add). Style wise it's very late 70s/early 80s sounding, and come to think of it, quite similar to some of the lighter material on the KC solo album. It's planned to be released very soon as a maxi-single that will contain the original mix and a small handful of remixes, as well as the original mix appearing on a various artists compilation album coming out that contains assorted productions of mine in all genres.

RH: Before we move on to Karen Carpenter please let us know your music tastes. Who do you listen to? What was the first album you bought? What’s your favorite song?]

JM: Much like the music I write, I'm all over the map. Generally, when it comes to music, any genre from the 30s up through the early 90s I could be into. I have my favorite artists, composers and bands in all different genres. I could go from Glenn Miller Orchestra to Megadeath to Bee Gees all in one day to give you an example.

Really dig anything with beautiful lush melodies, a great rhythm or a hard beat - either slow or fast. Two of my main musical influences though were Freddie Mercury and Phil Collins. As for a favorite song, don't have one because it would be impossible to chose with as much music as I'm into. The first album I ever bought was "Are We Not Men? We Are Devo!" by Devo.

RH: Are you a longtime Karen Carpenter fan? When did you first hear her voice and what was your impression?

JM: I've always loved Karen's voice and a handful of the Carpenters tunes. "Close To You" was the first song I ever heard and first time I heard her voice. I was a very young kid, and my impression was from what I remember, just a warm happy feeling.

JM: It was when I first heard tracks off this lost 1979/1980 solo album many years later that I can say I became a true fan. I mean, who knew Karen could have been the next amazing queen of blue eyed soul? It's a real shame that wonderful album didn't see the light of day when it should have...who knows what could have been.

RH: What was your impression when you first heard Karen’s solo album?

JM: I was totally floored! Couldn't believe what I was hearing and how soulful she was - a total different side of Karen not heard very much on Carpenters material. Not to mention the great grooves backing her by The Brothers Johnson band and the brilliant production work of Phil Ramone. It just all came together like a perfect musical marriage.
(Note from Rick Henry: Jimmy mentions the Brothers Johnson band. There were six musicians who worked on Borthers Johnson's Quincy Jones produced albums that also worked on Karen's solo album including Rod Temperton, Louis Johnson, Ralph MacDonald, Jerry Hey, Michael Brecker and Greg Phillinganes)
                           Karen Carpenter - Guess I Just Lost My Head (Jimmy Michaels Mix)

RH: How did you find out about the nine unreleased solo songs?

JM: There was a record store in Ardmore PA (right outside of Philadelphia) called Plastic Fantastic that I used to go to in the 80s and 90s, and they had all kinds of rare to find stuff and was THE bootleg headquarters in the Philly area, and one time shopping in there around the time the solo album seen the light of day, I found a bootleg tape of the 9 cuts. I remember paying 40 something dollars for it, which at the time, was a lot of money for a bootleg. But on the upside, being pre-internet, I had to be one of the very few who had or knew about these. Lord knows where they got em?

RH: Which of the unreleased songs are you especially fond of? How about favorites from the album that was finally released?

JM: For the unreleased ones... "Midnight", "Don't Try To Win Me Back" and her cover of Paul Jabara's "Something's Missing In My Life". For the released stuff...would have to say the original 1979 mix of "Lovelines", "My Body Keeps Changing My Mind" and "Guess I Just Lost My Head".

              Karen Carpenter - Don't Try To Win Me Back Again (Jimmy Michaels Mix)

RH: What fueled your interest in mixing/remixing the KC solo tracks?

JM: Honestly? Just having fun and jamming with em originally. "Lovelines" kind of started the whole handful off, because my mind pondered of what would have been had it got released in 1980, and what would the 12'' disco remix that would have came out with it sound like. So, wanted to try to bring my vision to life the best I could without a multi-track master (which pre-internet times these were, no chance something like that could even be leaked as so many multi-tracks do now days, you needed the original tape in hand - which naturally, would never happen).

RH: You mixed only some from the album and a few from the unreleased tracks, why didn’t you mix all 21 of KC’s solo songs?

JM: The whole thing was a very random and sporatic kinda situation over a long period. Some were done in the 90s and some in the early 2000's. All done for fun and personal enjoyment. Never imagined the whole world would some day know of these when I did em.

RH: How did you go about mixing them? What sort of equipment did you use?

JM: Well, depending on which tune, it all varies. The early ones from the 90s were re-edited on reel to reel and then overdubbed rhythms live on cassette while doing the playback of the edits off the reel. Like for instance, "Lovelines" is nothing more than the regular song played straight through with just the bridge repeated an extra time. The actual "remix" portion of that is simply me playing a steady 4/4 kick and snare disco rhythm live on the drums to the playback (and carefully leveled in so it blended just right).

Then if you take one from the early 2000's like "Guess I Just Lost My Head", we have a bit of early digital technology entering into that one, in which what I did was made 2 WAV file copies of the song direct off the CD, one of them was recorded into the computer with the channels stripped, and the other normal. Dropped em both into digital multi-tracking at the same time and took the stripped channel one, put a little reverb on it, and leveled it into the normal one. Hence, bringing out hidden instrumentation and making it appear similar to a real multi-track master tape remix.

RH: How did your mixes get leaked to the internet?

JM: In the early days of the net here, I had originally made mediocre/soso mp3 copies at a 192 bitrate of everything I had for a buddy of mine, as well as sharing them with an underground yahoo group (anyone remember those?) I hung around in at that time. The actual "leak" came about as a result of the buddy (who was non-related to this yahoo group), when he asked me if he could give copies to this person and that person...and I was like, "yea sure, knock yourself out, have fun"..not having any idea of just how wide spread these were going to be. And I have to say, i'm very pleased and honored that millions of people know about these and are still discovering them today!

If I could have seen the future, I would have copied them in much better quality for my buddy back then. Unfortunately, a lot of the master sources for these (most were tapes) are long lost and only a few still sit in my closet somewhere deep in random boxes of tapes and so far, have only recovered 1 of them.

RH: Do you plan on doing anymore KC mixes? How about Carpenters mixes? I’d love to hear a Jimmy Michaels mix of “B’wana She No Home.”

JM: That's a tough question. A lot has changed since when I did these for sheer fun and enjoyment years ago. Being back in the indie music biz, now running a label and doing other things, I really don't do home made remixes like that anymore. However, if by some ungodly miracle, I could gain access to the original multi-track masters for any of the KC solo material or Carpenters, you can bet I'd be on it in a heartbeat!

Karen Carpenter - Something's Missing (In My Life)(Jimmy Michaels Mix)(Click Here to Listen)

Thank you friends for taking the time to visit 
Karen Carpenter Avenue!