Popdose first met rock journalist and power pop musician Ken Sharp through the supernova that is Omnivore recording artist, Cait Brennan, and her producer Fernando Perdomo. All three of their solo albums (all produced by Perdomo) ranked high on my year-end best albums lists in 2016, 2017 or both. Now anyone can name-drop, especially when you live in LA, but when Sharp does it, he tends to have first-hand experiences with the classic rock superstars within his orbit. Rick Springfield appeared on Sharp’s last album which now brings me a few degrees of separation closer to my all-time rock hero, Dave Grohl.
For this feature, I decided to connect the dots — and the musical notes — that tie together the likes of David Cassidy, Dennis Wilson, Todd Rundgren, Eric Carmen and the Beatles within Sharp’s world of power pop culture.
In the days and nights after New Mourning, you’ve completed a trilogy of new songs that reference David Cassidy, Todd Rundgren’s Utopia — and now The Beatles — is this a concept album in the making?
KEN SHARP — (laughs) Actually, no, just a freakish set of circumstance that my last three singles have all had some association with an artist/band, first with “I Wanna Be David Cassidy,” and then “Utopia” and now “She Hates The Beatles.” The common thread is I love all of these artists.
As for my next record, I’m close to being done with the follow-up to New Mourning, which is a mix of the style of music I’m known for, however, with more of a keyboard fueled direction and a big spoonful of soul-pop referencing my Philly roots. And while New Mourning was a very dark record charting the messy dissolution of a relationship and the free falling into a major depression that ensued, a thread of optimism shines through on this new album, at least a little bit….You have my promise that my next single, which will be culled from my new album, will not have anything to do with a band/artist.
“I Wanna Be David Cassidy” came together really fast in the wake of his passing — and all for a good cause. How did you pull that one off?
KEN: I’m a first generation Partridge Family/David Cassidy fan and also loved that music with no pre-conceived conditions or worry whether anyone thought it was cool or not. I LOVED it and that’s all that matters, now and then.
I became friends with David in the late ’80s and had a chance to work uncredited on his revised autobiography, Could It Be Forever?, conducting extensive new interviews with David, his family, friends and musical collaborators. I also had a chance to co-pen liner notes with pop culture expert Lisa Sutton for several Partridge Family CD reissues — The Partridge Family, Up To Date, Shopping Bag and Sound Magazine (which was for me, the band’s Sgt. Pepper’s).
In February of 2017, I opened a show for David at the Canyon Club in Agoura Hills, California and that was a real thrill getting a chance to open for a childhood hero of mine. I even premiered a song from my forthcoming album called “24 Hours A Day”; its title cribbed from a song on the Partridge Family album, Sound Magazine. Sadly, the show I opened for David turned out to be one of the last live shows he ever performed.
Fast forward to David’s tragic passing and shattered at the loss of a musical hero/friend, I felt I needed to channel my grief into something creative and write a song about him. I drew inspiration from my formative days watching his show on TV and wrote a song about how I wanted to be David Cassidy; he sang groovy pop songs, looked like the ultimate pop star, got all the chicks, and traveled the country in a Peter Max psychedelic looking bus, I mean, who wouldn’t want to be David Cassidy?
I roped in my two good pals and musical collaborators, Fernando Perdomo and Rob Bonfiglio, two outstanding and gifted artists on their own. I went into Fernando’s Reseda Ranch Studio, located only a few minutes from David’s home in Encino where he lived during his ’70s heyday. Shortly after David passed away, we cut the song quickly. It was mixed on a Saturday and the day after, it premiered nationwide on Rodney Bingenheimer’s show on Sirius XM radio. So cool…
“Utopia” is a tribute to the band that would also make a damn-fine Utopia song. And it accompanies a touring book you worked on for the band. How did this project come together?
KEN: I’ve been a huge fan of Todd Rundgren and Utopia for 40 years. Hailing from Philly, Todd’s old hood, the transcendent music of Todd and Utopia was played in heavy rotation on Philly radio so I became a major fan with that daily injection of musical magic. Luckily, I had a chance to see Utopia perform live four times circa 1981-1985 but it wasn’t enough.
Through the years, I’ve been fortunate to interview all the members of the classic latter day lineup of Utopia — Todd, Willie Wilcox, Kasim and Roger Powell — and always hounded them about a reunion. When word came down that the band would embark on their first extended U.S. tour in the States in 33 years, as with the “I Wanna Be David Cassidy” single, I needed an outlet to express my joy hence I wrote a song called “Utopia” as an loving homage to the band and its collective connection with their loyal Utopia fan base.
I didn’t try to copy anything per se, just put myself in that mindset and tried to channel that wondrous spirit of invention. I brought in Fernando and Rob once again, two hardcore Todd/Utopia fans, and we cut that song quickly. I’m really proud of it. I’ve sent it to Utopia band members, Willie Wilcox and Kasim Sulton, and they both really liked it. I plan to give a copy to Todd in May when the team that put together the “Utopia” single, Fernando, Rob and I, go on a road trip to Las Vegas to see the band perform.
As for the Utopia tour book, in the past I’ve worked on tour books for the likes of Brian Wilson, The Beach Boys, Jeff Beck, KISS and Bad Company. I pitched the group’s manager, Eric Gardner, on doing one for Utopia, partly driven by my own selfish need to hold such a thing in my hands. I worked in tandem with the supremely gifted designer John Sellards and we created a blockbuster, 60-page tour book that I’m proud to report has been garnering raves from the Utopia fan community.
Your latest — “She Hates The Beatles” — strikes a chord with many a music enthusiast who tries to marry a healthy relationship with a good record collection. Is this based on a true story?
KEN: Actually, no, (laughs) that would be too painful to imagine given that The Beatles are my favorite group and I worship everything about them. Thankfully, my girlfriends’ have all had pretty good taste in music and I’ve never had to end a relationship due to their dislike of The Beatles.
My co-producer, Fernando Perdomo told me during one of our sessions that he had a great title for a song, “She Hates The Beatles.” By the way, he did draw from personal experience with a few of his past girlfriend. Yikes, that’s so hard to imagine! He challenged me to come up with a song and said he’d cut it for free if I came up with something good but that I had to release it quickly as a single. So I went home after the session, figured out the premise for the song, a guy who’s totally into his girlfriend, she treats him well but the breaking point in the relationship is she hates The Beatles and makes him listen to Barry Manilow on the radio. Hating the Beatles is too much for him to move past and he has to break up with her.
By the way, while I’m not a “Fan-ilow,” I’m not a Manilow hater — my girlfriend took me to see him live twice and I enjoyed it — but the original line “Philly soul” didn’t sit right so a pal of mine pushed me to come up with something different and Barry Manilow fit perfectly.
I played it for Fernando, he liked it and we cut it fast, just the two of us playing all the instruments. Just the other day, I sent the song to Eric Carmen, another major musical hero/friend of mine, worshipping his his work in Raspberries and as a solo artist; he told me he loved it so mission accomplished.
Since I’ve released it digitally, I’ve had some folks reach out to me asking if this would be released as a vinyl single. I’ve partnered with the company, Sofa King Vinyl, who released my “I Wanna Be David Cassidy” vinyl single and we’re gonna launch a campaign soon to try and make this single happen. I’ll need to get 100 folks committed to buy the single, which will come with a nifty color picture sleeve. If anyone out there reading this article hears the song and digs it and wants a vinyl single, please send me an email, firstname.lastname@example.org
Your latest book, the complete history of Dennis Wilson’s Pacific Ocean Blue, bypasses the heaps of praise for Pet Sounds and countless books about Beach Boys band drama and turns the spotlight on a lost classic — what inspired you to bring this lost album’s story to life?
I’ve always been a major fan of the Beach Boys but was not hip to Dennis Wilson’s 1977 solo album, Pacific Ocean Blue, until six years after its initial release. I was working as a music intern for the Philly rock station, WYSP-FM, and hanging above the program director’s door was a huge framed promotional poster for Pacific Ocean Blue album, and it was signed to an employee at WYSP. That image would go on to haunt me each day, and draw me in, and soon thereafter it inspired me to check out the record.
Setting the needle down on side one, song one, “River Song,” I was instantly pulled in–the record is a dark symphonic song cycle signaling the emergence of a major talent, sadly overshadowed by his genius big brother. One day, the poster was gone, purloined by someone at the radio station, but my deep love of the album remained. In the mid ‘2000s, I put together a feature for a UK music magazine about the album, structured as an oral history chronicling its back story.
After the article published, I expanded the story into a 415+ book, which was published recently, and has been garnering praise from the Beach Boys community, which makes me feel good — anything to illuminate Dennis’ exceptional artistry is a win-win for me. The book is self-published on my Jetfighter imprint, and like my similarly self-published, “Play On! Power Pop Heroes” multi-volume series, it affords me the freedom to produce books that connect with a small but passionate niche audience.
Stepping back a beat, you mention Eric Carmen. Didn’t you write a book about his work with The Raspberries?
Overnight Sensation: The Story of The Raspberries was my first book and it landed a feature in the June 30, 1994 issue of Rolling Stone. It’s been out print for 20 years with used copies have been selling for upwards of $300-$500 on the secondary market. It’s a BIG book… oversized 8 ½” x 11″ 352-page paperback crammed with interviews, press clippings, rare photos, handwritten lyrics, concert ads, memorabilia, plus a look at pre-Raspberries bands, The Choir, Cyrus Erie, The Quick and much more. It’s the ultimate scrapbook on Raspberries. If I can find 150 to commit $45 + shipping, I can do another limited run. Interested fans can e-mail me direct.