January 1st 2018 in Yucca Valley, California, and the American melting pot gurgles and spits. Leaving Patti and Mike’s house on the edge of the desert for the cultural experience of Denny’s 24 hour breakfast, oatmeal with brown sugar, decaf with half and half, wheat toast and avocado, no butter. Our waitress (server as they seem to want to call her) is a lovely, friendly Mexican lady and as we order, another Mexican family arrives for lunch – their lunch is our breakfast. So close to the Mexican border one hears Spanish everywhere, that quick fire language that concertinas out of the mouth, cascades down like a waterfall, speeds like a bullet. I love Spanish, I speak it a bit, speak more than I understand as it fires back at me with different accents depending on where you are in the world, expelling at a 1000 mph. But I love some of the words and it’s wonderful to be able to communicate at a certain level and put these words into a sentence with native speakers. Mariposa – butterfly, mantequilla – butter, mosca – fly. Just to be able to say “There’s a fly and a butterfly in the butter” in another language makes me happy.
At this precise moment I’m listening to Going To California from Led Zep IV, earlier I listened to The Last Resort, suggested by Rod in Vancouver as he sits in a massive freeze out that has disabled his Skype, cancelling a planned talk today. It seemed appropriate listening to a track from Hotel California in California. One thing led to another and I moved on to Don Henley and listened to The Heart Of The Matter, The End Of The Innocence and The Boys Of Summer and realised he had a lot of songs with ‘The’ in the title which made me feel a lyrical affinity with this much maligmend mega-star as a few of my songs have ‘The’ in the title: The Striker, The Muse, The Guessing Game, The Lantern, The Folly, The Devil’s Dance, The Road Map To My Soul and then there’s that cover of The House Of Love song I did with Norwegian singer Marte Heggelund, The Beatles And The Stones. But on the subject of poor old Don Henley, dismissed by the edgy and loved by the breezy souls in this state and across America – if it wasn’t for him, The Church might not have made Starfish, there would be no Milky Way hit and that doorway that opened up might have remained closed for ever.
It was after Heyday that the band was signed to Arista records and the discussion about who should produce the album came up. Scott Litt, REM’s guy, Tim Palmer, Bowie, U2 etc etc there were a few contenders, Arista must have suggested Greg Ladanyi. We had remembered Henley’s hit from 1984, The Boys Of Summer, co-written with Mike Campbell, Tom Petty’s long time guitarist and collaborator, it was a multi-faceted Pop masterpiece that incorporated Henley’s rather wonderful voice, a moodiness and a drum machine, a modern production. These contrasting elements with an evocative lyric that took you to California, that had Deadheads and Cadillacs, sunglasses, sun and lost love made for an intriguing choice. Greg Ladanyi produced the song (with Henley and Danny Kortchmar) and that disparate mix of him and us might have been the secret to that short lived commercial success we achieved. Coupled with Ladanyi’s recent work with other Arista artists, Jeff Healy and Cruzados, his reputation as a trustworthy hit maker that understood an artistic temperament with Henley, Warren Zevon and Jackson Browne, made Arista jump for joy when we agreed to work with him. Waddy Wachtel might have been added to the equation as somebody realized that Ladanyi’s hopeless bedside manner might need a bridge between band and apparent project leader. This mess of personalities put the band on the map in America. Sadly Ladanyi died in a freak accident in Greece where he was watching an artist he had produced (Anna Vissi) from the side of stage where he fell onto a concrete floor just 13 feet below, never recovering from the head trauma.
Meanwhile as we move to the more expensive decaf and better wifi at Starbucks, the light starts to fade on the brown hills and the unhappy cacti, craving their summer’s baking heat and blooming flowers, we prepare to leave this desolate place for the buzz of LA and the gracious hospitality of our friend Marc before another road trip that takes us back to Texas via a night in Tucson and another in El Paso, landing in Houston – from desert to desert in the Wild West that spans California east to our next destination later in the week, Jackson, Mississippi.