Popdose Interview: Eddie Money
Eddie Money knows he’s an archetype, and he doesn’t mind it one bit. His 15-year run of AOR hits and arena-rock stardom, from the 1978 double shot of “Baby Hold On” and “Two Tickets to Paradise” through MTV hits like “Take Me Home Tonight” and “Peace in Our Time,” was interrupted in 1981 by a drug overdose that nearly took his life. Rehab stints for drug and alcohol problems later put a dent in his always healthy touring schedule, but Money soldiers on as he approaches his 60th birthday next year — staying clean and “trying not to smoke a million cigarettes,” as he rasped during our talk a couple weeks back.
He’s happy to talk about being a rock ‘n’ roll survivor; in fact, he’s happy to talk about anything at all, at approximately 1,500 words a minute. An interview with Money is almost guaranteed to feature at least one burst into song (in our case it was “Ferry Cross the Mersey,” during a discussion of Gerry & the Pacemakers’ Rock and Roll Hall of Fame prospects); when he gets tired of talking about his career, he’ll turn the tables and start peppering his interviewer with questions. The extracurricular topics ranged from his hometown Giants’ Super Bowl win (he’s still excited, more than a month later) to Roger Clemens’s stupidity, and on to politics. (“It had better not be that frickin’ Obama,” he said; when I told him I am, indeed, all about Obama and explained why, he conceded, “Yeah, you may be right. My kids like him, too.”)
Money’s most recent album, last year’s set of ’60s soul covers called Wanna Go Back, turned the spotlight on his daughter Jessica; she’ll soon be featured in an MTV reality series about rock-star offspring called Rockin’ the Cradle. Meanwhile, Eddie is writing a stage musical about his own life, and he’s plotting to become the latest rocker to go country. He’s working with Vince Gill and John Ford Coley (among others) on songs for an album called The Other Side of Money that will feature, yes, a Nashville-ified version of “Two Tickets to Paradise” and which he hopes will “open up a whole new market for me.”
So how’s it going, Eddie?
Oh, man, I’m just tryin’ to pull it together this morning. It ain’t as easy as it used to be, comin’ down from a road trip at my age.
You were playing a casino near Portland this weekend.
Yeah, it was great, we had a lot of fans come out. I’m breaking in a new keyboard player. The old one was with me for 10 years, but he decided he didn’t want to do any more of those 4:30 a.m. calls to get on the bus and head out. Can’t say I blame him.
The great thing is that I’m taking my daughter Jesse on the road with me these days. She’s a miracle. We do a couple duets, she sings “Turtle Blues” by Janis [Joplin], it’s a lot of fun. She’s a great singer — I think she’s gonna go far.
She duets with you on the Wanna Go Back album as well.
Yeah, that really made me happy, to be able to highlight her, and it adds a great new dimension to the shows as well. We had a lot of fun making that album. I had wanted to do it for a long time. It’s full of songs that I loved when I was coming up, and stuff I used to play with my band [the Grapes of Wrath — not the '80s roots rockers, obviously] when I was a teenager.
Unfortunately, we had a falling out with the guy we made the record with [at the tiny Warrior Records label], and we ran out of money — that record wound up costing me about $125,000. But I got to sing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Mockingbird” with my daughter, so I ain’t complaining.
You do a lot of casino gigs. How are those, compared to a normal club date? Do you figure the audiences are mostly there for you, or are you a distraction from the gambling?
Oh, no, man, the casinos are a fantastic gig. I tend to get a crowd that likes to get away for the weekend, and they come out just to see us. I bet a lot of them never hit the tables.
I like every place I play, pretty much. What’s not to like when you can get up there and do your thing? You got your big shows and your smaller ones — did a show in Raleigh last year in front of 250,000 people or something. But I don’t mind playing shows at small places, little local clubs or places like B.B. King’s. Those small places, man — that’s where rock and roll comes from.
But yeah, the facilities in the casino theaters are usually real good, too, so that’s nice. They treat me well, ’cause they know I’m gonna make them some money, y’know?
Well, that sounds nice. Sure sounds like a better setup than you had the last time I saw you.
Yeah, where was that?
On the kindergarten lawn at our kids’ elementary school, at the Pizza Night fundraiser a couple years ago.
(Laughing, then coughing, then laughing) Oh, yeah!
I don’t know how you managed it, but you rocked pretty hard that night. The parents were really into it. The kids were more interested in the cakewalk, though.
I think you’re right about that.
I want to thank you for doing that.
Oh, you gotta support the schools. I’ve got so many kids runnin’ around the house, I’ve gotta do what I can to make sure the education’s good, y’know?
I do a whole lot of stuff for the schools around here, and when I’m back east I do benefit gigs for my old high school. We do a lot of charity gigs. We do Toys for Tots and all that kind of stuff, and I’ve done a bunch of work for the Elizabeth Glaser [Pediatric AIDS] Foundation. That’s a great charity. She was an amazing lady.
You’re still working awfully hard. You seem to do a couple dates pretty much every weekend.
Yeah, well, anything to get out of the house …
The wife [former model Laurie] must love it when you say that.
Believe me, she’s happy to get rid of me. I ain’t easy.
It must be hard to gear up to travel and do gigs every weekend, then come home during the week.
Well, it’s the economics of it. I’d like to do things during the week, but with the economics of touring the way they are these days, you’re lucky to make any money at all. Nobody seems to come out on Tuesdays or Wednesdays anymore, they’ve become blackout nights, so you have to work around that. So we get it going on Thursday or Friday, load up the bus and head out.
The last time we went out on tour full time was on one of those package tours, playing with Styx and REO Speedwagon. It was a great time — I love those guys, we’ve known each other a long time. Kevin Cronin lives around here, too — he’s a good friend of mine. But I was opening those shows, and I don’t like to open for other bands when I think I can kick their ass onstage, you know?
They say this is the richest country in the world, but it ain’t what it used to be. So you just adjust, I guess. I just keep doing what I do, and try not to smoke a million cigarettes.
Right from the start of your career, a big part of your bio was that you were a cop in New York before you got signed. I used to hear Casey Kasem talk about it …
… but I never heard any more detail than that. What’s the story?
A lot of people think I was like Starsky and Hutch, but it was nothing like that. I took the mental aptitude and physical aptitude tests, like anybody else, but I went on the job as a trainee and mostly sat at a desk. It didn’t take me long to figure out I wasn’t cut out for it.
Those are great guys, cops, and they’re great to hang around with. I just couldn’t see myself wearing that uniform for too many years, having to keep my hair short all the time. I mean, jeez. So I quit the police and came out to [the University of California at] Berkeley, and I was there for a while and Bill Graham heard my cassette and signed me. The rest was a big roller-coaster ride, man.
You were in that last generation of acts that came up the old-fashioned way, before MTV, from years of club gigs to a major-label deal to big arenas and fame…
Yeah, sure. It nearly killed me, too, man.
Well, apart from that…
(Laughs) Don’t get me wrong — I definitely had it good, I just nearly blew it. You know, I made the first record and all of a sudden I was opening for the Rolling Stones and the Who in front of a lot more people than I’d ever seen before. Those guys were great to me, until I started doing a little too well. Once we started getting three encores as an opening act, the Stones kind of politely let me know it wasn’t going to work out anymore, you know? I still love them, though — what the fuck was that with Keith falling out of a fuckin’ tree?
I was personally more interested in finding out what he was doing up in the tree in the first place. The news stories never mentioned that.
Yeah, no kidding. I’ve been out of my mind more times than I wanna admit, but I never climbed a tree.
Speaking of which…
Well, I got into a lot of the pitfalls that people run into in the business, and I seemed to fall into them harder than most. I liked going out there and making twelve hundred bucks a minute, that was a high, definitely. There were a lot of women in my life back then, too, keeping things interesting. But there was also lots of powder, lots of barbiturates. I was drinking at same time. And then all of a sudden I’m in a coma after that overdose, and I nearly didn’t make it.
Put me out of commission for a long time, man — I couldn’t walk for a year — but then [producer] Tom Dowd got me back in the studio and we did the No Control album, which was all about what it was like to go through that.
I had made a bunch of dough in those first few years, but I had bad deals with managers and publishing, and they were taking a lot of my money, like 40 percent. And then I was broke all over again after the overdose, so I basically had to start over.
MTV wound up helping your comeback, didn’t they?
Yeah, I was a heartthrob on MTV for awhile, wasn’t I? (Laughs) No, they were good to me, and it’s amazing how the videos stick around. We made two videos for a total of, like, $88,000, and I still get people telling me all the time how they remember the video for “Shakin’.” And then I got to sing on a video with Ronnie Spector, which I still can’t believe to this day.
I had a pretty good run at the rock star thing.
I heard you’re writing a musical about your career.
Yeah, we’re real excited about it. I’m hoping to get it on Broadway in the next couple years. I’m calling it Two Tickets to Paradise, and it’s basically the Eddie Money story, but I’ve kind of condensed everything and moved all the events back so that I’m writing “Two Tickets” in the late ’60s, about 10 years earlier than I actually did.
I wanted to capture that whole era, because it was such an important time when it seemed like everything was going on at once. I had a brother who was in the war zone in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive, so I wanted to capture that. The whole show takes place on the night before I left [New York] for California. It shows how I met Laurie [his wife], it shows the overdose, all of that stuff.
It’s kind of like Jersey Boys a little bit, but in a different time period. That show reminded me a lot of myself, except in Jersey Boys it’s Frankie Valli’s daughter who dies of a drug overdose and in my play it’s me that has one. So we’ll see. There’s a lot of interest in it in New York right now, so I’m hopeful.
In the meantime, “Shakin'” is featured in the new Guitar Hero game [Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the '80s]. So you’re reaching a new generation of kids who tap on buttons on a fake guitar.
(Laughs) Yeah, that’s pretty cool. I mean, it’s an honor — they could have picked anybody for that, so it’s nice that one of my songs got on there. But they haven’t paid me for that yet. You know, they put “Two Tickets to Paradise” on that Grand Theft Auto [San Andreas] game, but they didn’t use enough of it so that they’d have to give me any money. They’re real crafty that way.
Buy Eddie Money music at Amazon.