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Living Legends: Jazz Titan Dee Dee Bridgewater On Fighting For Her Rights, Mentoring Young Women & Not Suffering Fools On The Bandstand
Dee Dee Bridgewater

Photo: Isaiah Trickey/Film Magic

interview

Living Legends: Jazz Titan Dee Dee Bridgewater On Fighting For Her Rights, Mentoring Young Women & Not Suffering Fools On The Bandstand

Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com sat down with Dee Dee Bridgewater, a jazz-vocal titan headed into her sixth active decade with integrity, autonomy and a fighting spirit.

GRAMMYs/Feb 4, 2022 - 06:04 pm

Presented by GRAMMY.com, Living Legends is an editorial series that honors icons in music and celebrates their inimitable legacies and ongoing impact on culture. In the second edition, GRAMMY.com spoke with Dee Dee Bridgewater, a GRAMMY-winning jazz vocalist and NEA Jazz Master who has shattered stylistic boundaries across her five-decade career.

Dee Dee Bridgewater's life and career are defined by unshakeable values she holds paramount: personal integrity, professional autonomy and artistic borderlessness. But in a music world full of schmoozing and sycophantism, this can be a double-edged sword.

"Mine is a lonely road. I don't have a lot of friends in the business. People are standoffish with me because I say what I feel," she tells GRAMMY.com. "I just don't have a lot to say to people unless we're going to have an intimate conversation between two individuals."

It's this quality that makes her an impactful mentor to young women in the jazz business, particularly through her Woodshed Network program. It also makes her a hell of an interview — furious, poignant, always in the pursuit of equality and justice.

Bridgewater is currently approaching the sixth decade of her career, and she's just about seen it all. Not only has the two-time GRAMMY winner worked with pioneers from Sonny Rollins to Dizzy Gillespie to Thad Jones: she's set the standard for how a jazz singer can be self-sufficient and unbeholden to genre constraints.

And as a Black woman in a space frequently dominated by white men, Bridgewater has seen it all at this point. But rather than let it embitter or stall her, she's resolved to teach young women how to stand tall and proud in the face of discrimination, humiliation and any other adversities they may face.

GRAMMY.com had an in-depth conversation with Bridgewater about her most recent album, 2017's Memphis… Yes, I'm Ready; how she learned to deal with critics; and the hard-won lessons she imparts to her mentees.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

I've found that music steeped in the blues tends to have longevity. I wonder why music with those roots becomes sort of bulletproof.

That's an interesting question. I don't know that that's totally true, but you can find the blues in a lot of different musical forms — and it's not just jazz or hip-hop. You can find it in rock music and country music. Country music, to me, is blues.

In my music, I don't really consider it to have a lot of blues in it. My most recent album, Memphis… Yes, I'm Ready, was dealing with songs from Memphis, and a lot of those songs were blues-based. But in my repertoire of recorded music, maybe I will throw in a blues, but my music doesn't necessarily have blues-tinged form.

The blues is just very accessible music. When you get into blues lyrics, it's dealing with everyday problems that people have. I think that's what makes the music really identifiable. That, and the combination of the fact that the music is simple, so it's easier to access, I think.

I was just having a conversation about jazz and where jazz music has gone, and how it's become this more elitist music. My conversation was with another woman who's Black, like myself — or African-American.

I was saying to her that one of the reasons that I did Memphis… Yes, I'm Ready is that I wanted to see more people like me in the audience. I wanted to see a reflection of myself instead of seeing a predominantly white audience with a sprinkling of Black people.

I think jazz has categorized itself out of the mainstream like classical music has. A lot of the younger jazz musicians and vocalists alike — I consider us all musicians — have opted to do music that has more accessibility by putting in hip-hop, electronic music or all these other forms that can allow the music to reach a broader audience.

But when you think about jazz music today, unfortunately, you do not think about seeing Black people. Which is really unfortunate.

I find it also interesting that no matter what kind of music one does as an artist, if one has established oneself in a particular category of genre of music, then all the music that artist does becomes immediately whatever that genre is.

So, my Memphis… Yes, I'm Ready album was not able to fall into a category because in the jazz category, they said it was most definitely not jazz. But in the R&B category, they said "It's old-school R&B, so we can't really fit in." Of course, it wouldn't compete with who the new R&B artists. It wasn't American traditional, so it wasn't straight blues.

A lot of people that came to those concerts in the first couple of years were very upset. You could see they were visually upset. They'd be crossing their arms with scowls on their faces. And by the end, everyone would be standing and dancing. Now, that repertoire is my most in-demand repertoire for jazz festivals. Go figure!

My question about playing the blues wasn't necessarily because I think you play blues music, but that some old-school artists consider them one and the same. Lou Donaldson once told me, "Playing jazz is about playing the blues."

I've always been interested in more musical exploration. I haven't really concerned myself with categories and genres. I've just tried to do things that interest me and please me, because I feel that if they do, then they'll please the public that comes to see me. As I produce myself and have my own label, I have the [opportunity] to do so.

I haven't felt inspired, though! I haven't felt one iota of inspiration. Mm-mm. I've been very blown away by the political environment in our country. I spent the first four or five months appreciating being at home, and I didn't realize how exhausted I was because I constantly toured.

I'm just now starting to have some creative juices flowing. It's very interesting — I've started, when I go out, writing poems. I haven't written poetry since I was in college! But I've written four pretty good poems. I'm just starting to get into trying to do anything musically.

I'm probably going to have to do a new album of Memphis music, because I have been getting a lot of requests for that repertoire. And I'm going to want to do new stuff, because I'm tired of it. And probably, in February, we'll start rehearsing new songs that I want to put in.

It seems like no matter which musical context you find yourself in, you don't want to be defined or confined by anything.

I received a lot of criticism early on in my career — in the late '80s, in particular, when I started to go back into the jazz world. I was living in France at the time, and the French did not like that I would change repertoires and genres with each album I'd do. I was heavily criticized until they said, "Oh, this is just how she is."

I've been one of the rare singers who's been able to go all over the place. People are always saying, "We don't know what she's going to do next, but it'll be interesting, because her stuff is always interesting."

Then, I established myself as a good live performer, so I have a lot of people coming to my shows saying, "I've never listened to her music, but my friends tell me, 'Oh my goodness, go see her. She's a great performer — whatever she's doing, you're going to love it.'"

And I like that. I'd say I'm probably in a rarer position than my vocal counterparts. And having lived in France for 24 years, I was able to establish myself in a way that other American musicians had not been able to.

To me, the job of a music critic is to guide listeners to something they'd enjoy. At a certain point — especially as it concerns genres — it can devolve into a destructive function.

Yeah, that's been an issue. I used to write critics when they would give me a negative review. I'm well-known for my letters. [Laughs.]

But now, I don't care. I can read something and say, "Well, they're all up in their feelings," as we say now. They weren't really interested in what they heard or saw. They were more interested in expounding on whatever's inside their heads and trying to promote themselves as writers.

I don't really deal with critics anymore. With my work, you know — I started professionally 50, 60 years ago. I just do whatever it is that I feel like doing, and I know that I have a strong enough fanbase — if you want to call it a fanbase — and a strong enough reputation as a musician and performer that people want to come and see me anyway.

I'm interested more right now in mentoring, so I'm doing more of that. I've got a mentoring program with my daughter who does my management, Tulani Bridgewater-Kowalski. It's called the Woodshed Network, and we're going into our third year [in Feb. 2022]. Up until this year, we didn't speak so much about it because we wanted to see if it was going to really have legs and stand on its own. It's something that seems to be working, and we're really happy with that.

It's for women or female-identifying individuals. It's going well, and it's not about the music. It's about the business of music and establishing one's career and understanding all the various aspects of having a career — how to go about getting a career started and maintaining it. We're trying to create a community where women can network with each other and, so far, it's been really, really nice.

I'm sure you're getting opportunities to tell younger musicians things you wish you would have known when you were younger. Who were your mentors in the music business?

When I was starting out in the music industry, all my mentors were men. Thad Jones, of course. Dizzy Gillespie. Clark Terry. Dexter [Gordon]. Sonny Rollins.

Females — not so much mentoring as kind of shepherding me and allowing me to express myself on their stages. In that way, I had people like Nancy Wilson invite me up on their stage. Carmen McRae. Sarah Vaughan.

I did spend some time with Ella Fitzgerald after she had been decorated in France by the Minister of Culture. I went to the American embassy and we spoke at length about her career and the things she had suggested for me to do.

There was another woman who was very supportive of me and helped me out a lot personally, and helped me get gigs when I was trying to establish myself. That was Rita DaCosta.

And Betty Carter was a mentor. I was Betty Carter's puppy dog when I first moved to New York. Betty told me a lot of things to do and not to do, and any dates she had in New York or Brooklyn — anywhere — I'd always go, sit at a table, pay my way, and study her. I worked with Danny Mixon, because they were married and I wanted to get as close to Betty as I could.

I'd say that probably all I am as an artist and performer came from watching Betty. She told me I needed to have ownership of my music and produce my own stuff. I did.

Betty was someone who gestured a lot and moved a lot on stage, and for a jazz singer, you shouldn't do that. But I just loved her physical movement and how she could get so involved and twist and turn her body and do all these facial gesticulations when she sang. I don't know — I was just mesmerized by her.

Betty taught me to be fearless, you know? And not to worry about what people had to say about me and just go on and be myself.

It seems that you were attracted to being an entertainer — not obfuscating that part of what you do.

Well, I would say that I consider myself to be an artist, so I'm always trying to explore and go in new directions. I liked to say for many years that I wanted to model myself after Miles Davis. You never knew what Miles was going to do next, and I never understood why a singer would be expected to stay in one particular lane.

And I still don't like that. It's a choice of yours if you want to explore this one particular avenue and that's what you want to do. I respect that. But for me, I'm more interested in musical inspiration. I'm a Gemini, so I liken myself to — Miles Davis was a Gemini. Prince was a Gemini. I like my Geminis.

I hope that I will be exploring things until I don't have the voice, or until my body gives out, or until they both give out, or until I just leave this earth. And that's it.

I'm really about trying to lift the image of women in jazz, but not in a way that I'm going to hit people over the head. I'm just trying to push forward with myself without making a lot of noise. I'm just trying to do the things I do — the things I believe in — and I'm really trying to champion women. They need championing. I think I'm at a place in my career where no matter who I work with, I always want to provide a platform for any musicians that work with me.

In which ways do we still have a long road ahead as far as elevating women's profiles in this music?

First and foremost, a lot of women need to have equal footing. I still see a tendency with jazz magazines — when they do musical reviews on a female singer's albums — they compare that singer to another singer.

When I see a critique by a jazz journalist — generally men — and they critique an instrumental album, they get all into how that individual, that group is doing this, that and the other. And they don't do comparisons.

I hate that there's still this kind of macho notion that women cannot coexist with each other. We can't have singers with very different voices and be allowed to do the thing we want to do. Paying more attention to that than we do musicians [is important], but we just don't get the same respect.

It's better, you know? There seems to be a more conscious effort to allow a female musician to coexist in the same way as her male counterpart. And we are beginning to see bands that are more integrated with men and women. But we've got more to do in those areas.

But let me say this: I'm very excited that Jazzmeia Horn is nominated for Best [Large Jazz Ensemble] Album, and that she wrote all her arrangements — because people kind of see her as a singer. That's one of my babies. She's got her own label now. She's producing herself.

She's making some wonderful strides, and I think she's going to break some glass ceilings and people are going to start paying attention to her. They are already — because she's uncompromising. She's doing the thing she believes in. She's fighting for herself. She's standing tall — regal — and just doing her thing, and I love that.

The whole thing, I think, as an artist, is being an individual. Being unafraid to stand up and be who you are. I don't want to be like anybody else! And I don't want somebody to be like me, or try to be like me! I'm really a supporter of people finding their own, unique voice and emphasizing their uniqueness. That's what makes it interesting.

It's incumbent on my fellow music writers to not pigeonhole or marginalize women artists, but allow each one to have a limitless capacity for self-expression.

Yeah, just like our male counterparts. This goes into the whole societal thing — look, it's a bunch of men trying to do away with us having our abortion rights. Really? You motherf***ers! And I will say that. Who the heck are these people? I just don't understand.

This country has to get away from the s*** it was founded on. There's so much that this country has refused to deal with, and it permeates the arts. It permeates every aspect of our lives. So, when you get into jazz — and you've got to throw away all of this elitist bulls***.

Jazz music has become international music. It is music that is played around the world. And there are great musicians wherever you go. And it doesn't matter what the sex is!

It seems that since this last administration was in, they've been able to roll right back to where it's all about the white man being in control. I feel it's out of fear, because they know they're losing their grip. Because our world is turning into a beige world.

I feel like in the jazz world, there’s desperation because the music and the people involved in the music are no longer this old guard. Why do we keep giving awards to people who are dead? Really? Really? Have you noticed that?

I think it's all about change and fear by those who have been in control — that they're going to lose control — and doing everything they can do to maintain that control. But! It cannot continue. And it won't continue.

You mentioned elitism in jazz. From your vantage point, when did it tip over from being music for normal people — to enjoy, to dance to, to socialize to — into something locked in an ivory tower?

I can't speak to that. I'm not a jazz historian. I don't know when it happened. I just know that it's happened. I'm not that person who can discuss those kinds of things. I'm not that person who can discuss albums and who played on those albums and how they played on all of that.

I am that person who concerns myself with what I'm doing based on the relationships I've had with other individuals, and the people who have helped to shape me based on my appreciation of those artists. I'm the person who's tried to make a way for themselves no matter where the direction is going, with whatever it was I was doing. That's always been my concern. How am I going to keep pushing my artistry, keep my integrity, but at the same time, also do it to the best of my ability?

I say to young people when I do masterclasses: "Whatever you do, you want to be proud of that thing. If that thing's going down with a sinking ship, you'd better be proud that you built that ship, you sailed that ship — even though it hit rough waters." Being as uncompromising as you can possibly be.

You've got to be unafraid to be alone. Mine is a lonely road. I don't have a lot of friends in the business. People are standoffish with me because I say what I feel. I try to be honest. I just don't have a lot to say to people unless we're going to have an intimate conversation.

It's unfair that we allow someone like Miles Davis to be the mysterious lone wolf marching to the beat of his own drum without letting women occupy that role. I admire that you're a no-BS person with no interest in hobnobbing or glitz or whatever.

I mean, I'm trying now to hobnob a little where it concerns the mentoring program I'm doing [in case] I meet someone who's interesting.

All the mentors that are involved in our program are also all females. Because it's important to see yourself in the room. It's important to see people like you. It's important when you're aspiring to do something — even for you — to surround yourself with successful individuals that have similar interests to yours.

That's also something that isn't very prevalent. As my own producer, when I go in to have conversations with whatever label is distributing me — because that's another thing! I have a label called DDB Records. Whenever my albums come out, they're on my label, distributed by whatever label does my distribution.

But I own all my masters. It's my label; I've had other people sign to my label. But when a journalist gets ready to critique, they say, "Oh, here's Dee Dee's album out now on Sony Records." They totally disregard that I produced it. So, I still have to fight for that! I still have to write in and they make the correction later. But the damage is done!

There's also the disrespect of the musicians you hire to deal with. I'm not going to go out with some half-a**ed individuals, no matter who I'm playing with. I have been known to fire somebody on the stage if they don't have their stuff together. I have docked musicians who have played with me and didn't think they had to learn my stuff.

They think, "Oh, I'm just going to play with this singer." I send them arrangements and give them live recordings, but they don't pay attention. They think they can come on stage and just wing it? I'm about precision. So, yeah, I'll fire people. I will call you out if you don't know what you're doing.

I don't have time. I've worked too hard to get where I am and have the reputation that I have. I've built this reputation over many, many, many, many, many years. I'm not going to have some lazy-a** punk come on stage and not do their job.

Was it a long process to develop your integrity and sense of self?

Heck yeah! Of course. I went through many, many years when I was starting out where I could read a review and just boo-hoo. And then I would think I wasn't worth it.

Then, it dawned on me: you can let them know what they've done to you.

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GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

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EMusic To Launch Cloud Service, Spotify Inks UMG Deal
Online download service eMusic hopes to launch a cloud-based music service by the fourth quarter of 2011, according to a Billboard.biz report. The service will enable customers to stream downloaded songs to multiple Internet-connected devices, similar to the services recently launched by Amazon, Apple and Google. Ahead of launching a cloud service, eMusic will incorporate streaming features into its existing store in July. In related news, Spotify has finalized a licensing deal with Universal Music Group, leaving Warner Music Group as the last major record label that has yet to sign a licensing deal with the European streaming music service. The company expects to launch in the United States soon, according to Billboard.biz. (6/13)

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GRAMMY-winning saxophonist Sonny Rollins won the Musician of the Year award at the Jazz Journalists Association's 2011 Jazz Awards on June 11 in New York. GRAMMY winner Dee Dee Bridgewater garnered Female Singer of the Year and GRAMMY winner Kurt Elling won Male Singer of the Year. Additional winners included Ambrose Akinmusire, Joe Lovano, Russell Malone, and GRAMMY Best New Artist winner Esperanza Spalding, among others. In related news, GRAMMY-nominated composer/lyricist Robert Lopez, Trey Parker and Matt Stone earned the Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre for "The Book Of Mormon" at the 2011 Tony Awards on June 12 in New York. The musical also garnered awards for Best Musical and Best Orchestrations, among others. (6/13)

Living Legends: Devo Subverted The Herd Mentality Beginning In The '70s, But Their Art Punk Aesthetic Is More Relevant Than Ever
Devo circa 1980. From left: Mark Mothersbaugh, Gerald Casale, Bob Mothersbaugh, Alan Myers and Bob Casale

PHOTO: Michael Heeg/Courtesy of Devo

interview

Living Legends: Devo Subverted The Herd Mentality Beginning In The '70s, But Their Art Punk Aesthetic Is More Relevant Than Ever

Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh and Jerry Casale discuss the evolution of devolution, and the video revolution they helped whip into reality: "We drew a line in the sand, and either you hated Devo or you loved Devo"

GRAMMYs/Apr 20, 2022 - 01:53 pm

Presented by GRAMMY.com, Living Legends is an editorial series that honors icons in music and celebrates their inimitable legacies and ongoing impact on culture. This week, GRAMMY.com sat down with Mark Mothersbaugh and Jerry Casale, members of seminal new wave/post-punk band Devo, who challenged the status quo with irreverent, catchy songs.

The average music fan thinks of dome-shaped headpieces and whipping it good on the dance floor when they hear the name Devo, but for an entire generation of music lovers, the four-letter moniker means something much more. 

The Akron, Ohio art rock band formed in 1973 to spread a message about societal regression, driven by herd mentality and negative cultural influences (the name is short for "de-evolution"). The music they created was infectiously fun, with catchy choruses and a synth-driven futuristic energy that fit in perfectly with the new wave genre that was becoming popular in the early '80s. But behind the campy outfits and colorful videos, there was a nonconformist message — which the band managed to maintain even at the height of their popularity.    

From the science aesthetics of Q: Are We Not Men, A: We Are Devo! (1978) and Duty Now for the Future (1979), to the subversive empowerment of Freedom of Choice (1980) and

New Traditionalists (1981), Devo approached their output as a sardonic experiment. Their sometimes deceptive lyrical simplicity and sonic nuances created alchemy, and their charisma individually and as a unit made for a compelling blend of nerd rock meets post-punk. 

Devo’s dynamic videos always had a message driving the madcap imagery and ideas. Maybe even more than Sparks, who were touted as "your favorite band’s favorite band" in their recent hit bio-doc, Devo’s influence on music is substantial, with everyone from Talking Heads to David Bowie (who helped discover them) taking obvious cues over the years. If some thought Devo a novelty act, they proved otherwise a long time ago.

As Devo celebrates the 40th anniversary of their fifth album Oh No! It’s Devo this month  (as well as their third nomination for consideration into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame), they are also cementing their legacy as a band who call out the ills of the world in their music and actively work to change them, too. Throughout the month of April, Devo will donate all proceeds from their catalog to aid Ukraine. The band also have a top slot on the highly-anticipated Cruel World music festival in Los Angeles this May, which some have nicknamed "Gothchella" thanks to its darkly nostalgic, '80s-heavy lineup.

GRAMMY.com spoke with the band’s lead visionaries — Mark Mothersbaugh (vocals, keyboards) and Gerald “Jerry” Casale (vocals, bass) — via Zoom to discuss their formation and influential career.

The story of how Devo emerged as a force in music includes some very big names, including David Bowie and Iggy Pop. Can you share how they and others had a hand in your early success?

Jerry Casale: We popped up on the radar through many efforts that we made, and they finally succeeded in paying off, where Iggy became aware of us and we spoke with him in Cleveland, when he was playing on the Idiot tour and David Bowie was playing keyboards for him. We got him a demo cassette, and you would assume those things go in the wastebasket, because I know how that is when you're on tour…. He actually listened to it and Dean Stockwell and Toni Basil, who I had also gotten to, they talked to Iggy about it. He played it for David Bowie. 

So then David Bowie heard it, and told Iggy to put me in touch with David's lawyer Stan Diamond in L.A. and we started a dialogue. Then Toni and Dean played it for Neil Young in San Francisco about the same time. So then [Young] called up and wanted us to be in his film, Human Highway. And it all started snowballing. 

We did everything we could, and that was a do it yourself aesthetic. Back then, there was no internet…. We sent packages to Saturday Night Live over and over too, with the videos and the songs because we loved that program and we wanted to be selected to play on it. Of course there was no chance in reality that Devo was going to be able to do that then. That took having a manager and a label. We got on Saturday Night Live in October of 1978. 

It’s been over 40 years since Devo became hitmakers and you are still getting recognition for your work. In a general sense, what do awards and honors mean to you at this point in your career?

Mark Mothersbaugh: You know, it's nice to be recognized. We're in a business where there's always somebody younger, somebody cuter, somebody who got there faster, somebody who's getting paid more, somebody who had a bigger hit —  there's all these things that figure into people wondering, Where am I? How am I doing? Did anybody pay attention? So it's kind of really nice. 

Casale: I think that any artist would have to be a bit dishonest if they said they didn't like the fact that they are being recognized by some official organization or outside body of self-proclaimed gatekeepers. Yeah. It does mean something. I mean, my God, when you're a performer, you get up in front of people. Think of the nerve it takes to get up in front of people, like, why should people watch you? You were looking for approval, right? From the time you're a kid, you're looking for approval. 

In 1985, Devo was nominated for a GRAMMY for your video work, which was always such a big aspect of what the band was about.

Casale: Yeah, it sure was. I directed all those videos, and from the beginning, was kind of spearheading the visual aspect of Devo. We had agreed that it was going to be a multimedia kind of experimental art collective. So from the beginning that was very intentional. 

For those of us who belong to "Generation X," Devo are a very significant band, especially the album Freedom of Choice and the releases that came after. Do you hear a lot from fans of different ages about how formative you were to them?

Mothersbaugh: I have two daughters and I watch them and what things help them figure out what's going on in the world. Music plays a big part of that. I do get those letters and I meet those people at our shows, and, yeah, I like that. That's kind of sweet. For me, it was the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. And, you know, for them, it's Devo and that tickles me. 

Casale: We were very polarizing without even wanting to be, but we just were. Because of the way we looked, the way we sounded, the way we acted and what we said. We drew a line in the sand and either you hated Devo or you loved Devo. So a lot of young fans would all tell us the same story about how they got harassed or beat up or made fun of in school because they liked Devo. We inspired a lot of people to start bands, and a lot of bands that came after us that we respect have cited us as an influence. So we were an artist’s artist. That's heartening.

How did you two come together?

Mothersbaugh: When I met Jerry at Kent State University, he was a grad student and I was a sophomore. We collaborated early on on visual things. He had come up to me and said "Are you the guy that's sticking up pictures of art and astronauts holding potatoes standing on the moon?" And I go, "Yeah, what of it?" He goes, "What does a potato mean to you?" I really liked that for an opening conversation. 

Before there was a word for posting up art or graffiti, before there was Shepard Fairey, I was a teen who was posting artwork around school at Kent State. I don't know why I did it, but I had to do it for some reason. So that's how we met.  We were visual artists, and we collaborated on visual projects. He liked that I was making these decals that stuck on things, and he liked that I liked potatoes. So I made these potato decals for him for his senior graduation class project… that he hung all over photos he’d blown up from his high school yearbook of different kids he didn't like.

What is the significance of the potato?

Mothersbaugh: We were trying to figure out, who are we? And how do we fit into the world? We were both the kids of working class parents, and we decided we weren't asparagus people or part of the elite or the rich, we were like potatoes. We were like spuds. We were like asymmetrical, not very good looking vegetables that came from underground. But they were a staple of everybody's diet in the USA. 

The interesting thing about potatoes for us, it's like, potatoes have eyes all around, so they see everything. So we called ourselves spuds, and we used that term in exchange for comrades or mates.

In terms of presentation and imagery, including costume, your most iconic has to be the red dome hats. How did the idea for those come about?

Casale: The inspiration for the design came from an Art Deco 1930’s ceiling fixture. So imagine a milk glass-like fixture that looked like a dome hanging from three chains on the ceiling with a bowl. But upside down, right? I used to just stare at that when I was a kid in my grade school and I always thought it was such a cool image. 

And so years later, when we were talking about Devo wearing some kind of headgear, I kept thinking of that. Making them red and making them plastic and wearing them became a thing. Then we could make multiples and we could sell them to people because people wanted them. In fact, people were stealing them. So we started selling them. 

Devo had chart-topping success but the project was always sort of out of the box and different, even weird to some. Now bands like yours seem to finally be getting the recognition they deserve.

Mothersbaugh: Because Devo had content. A lot of the bands that were out at the same time as Devo, you could just kind of group them together. We had a concept that was unique, not just only for the time period we were in, but actually, for a much bigger time period of rock and roll. 

Just even questioning man's central glory on the planet. We kind of pose the question that maybe humans, we're not the best species on the planet; maybe we’re the only insane species. We might be the only organisms out of touch with nature and destructive, as opposed to being a symbiotic part of everything. And you know, that didn't win friends and a lot of people took offense to that. They're usually the people that should take offense to it, because we were probably talking about them. 

So we had a pretty unique concept, and it was what we wrote our music about. I think there are a lot of artists out there that respect that or understand that. 

Casale: The test of time proved that those bands weren't so weird after all. I mean, look in the '60s, '70s and '80s: Those three decades, there was an explosion of diversity — of creativity, of technology, of new ideas, new sounds, and groups who performed a body of work well. If you bought a record because you liked one song on that record, you probably ended up liking five or six songs on that record, because it was a piece and all connected. 

I think that's what kids today miss. They miss that reality. There were real groups, and real artists that did something with a whole body of work that mattered. And it was exciting. The packaging mattered and what the artist said mattered. We had MTV playing the videos. So [the '80s were] like the last decade where this explosion of Western culture was exciting, at the top of its game. That was the end, then it started to devolve and decline.

In addition to its statement- minded subtext, your early stuff was so atmospheric and that seems to have led you both down cinematic paths later in your careers, Mark with your scoring of shows like "Pee-Wee’s Playhouse" and "Rugrats," and appearance on the kids show "Yo Gabba Gabba," and Jerry with your directorial work.

Casale: Devo was kind of put on ice in the '90s and Mark wasn't interested in doing anything except scoring and composing for TV. Because I had directed like 20 Devo videos, [I started] directing videos for other bands. 

So I had a whole music video career as a director for bands like Rush, Soundgarden and Foo Fighters — the first video they ever made. They were anti-video because all the grunge bands were anti-video, but Dave Grohl said, "You know what, if we have to do one, let's get that guy from Devo because I can trust him because he's been in my position as a band member on stage, so he won't make us do foolish things." That led me to commercials. So then I had this whole directing career doing TV commercials up until about 2005, when it kind of trickled out as the business changed a lot and the money went away.

Mothersbaugh: I can tell how old somebody is when they say, "Oh, I really like your music," and they're talking about they're talking about "Rugrats" or "Pee Wee's Playhouse." And if they're talking about Devo, they probably have gray hair. Except for kids, because the internet is this amazing place. They’ve got the whole world right there in their hands.

So yeah, now we get people of all ages, asking about Devo, who are knowledgeable about it. So that's kind of interesting. In the early days we sounded like some sort of outer space version of Captain Beefheart mixed with Sun Ra or something like that. Jerry and I always thought about sound and vision.

One of the things we learned at Kent State was protesting isn't the way to change things in this country, because when they get tired of you, and when the government finally is irritated enough, they just shoot you. Like they did at my school. So we thought, who's changing things…and we were looking around and we thought… Madison Avenue, that's who changes the world. They get you to buy stupid cars, eat food that's not good for you, buy clothes you don't need and you're happy at the end of it. 

We just thought well, what if we use those techniques in reverse, and figured out a way to talk to people about reverse evolution, talk to people about how to change the trajectory of the planet. We looked for ways to add hooks into our songs but our whole idea was just to get people to come in, find out what we were. If they liked the song, they’d buy the album, and then they'd listen to the album and hear “Jocko Homo” and or they'd hear “Too Much Paranoia,” or they'd hear the last line in a “Beautiful World": "It's a beautiful world for you, for you, but not for me." And the videos were made to show that. 

Your devolution message has sadly never been more relevant.

Mothersbaugh: I agree that the world has devolved. It's even more complicated than ever to find out the truth about things. Jerry likes to call Devo, "the band playing on the Titanic while it goes down." 

I'm the eternal optimist. I keep wanting to think that between technology and just people becoming aware of where we are, you know, that they can figure out ways to turn things around. So I like that our music is being listened to and I hope it has a positive effect on people.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Dee Dee Bridgewater To Receive ASCAP Foundation Champion Award

Dee Dee Bridgewater

Photo: Christian Augustin/Getty Images

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Dee Dee Bridgewater To Receive ASCAP Foundation Champion Award

The GRAMMY winner will be awarded for her musical and philanthropic efforts

GRAMMYs/Oct 6, 2017 - 09:19 pm

GRAMMY-winning jazz giant Dee Dee Bridgewater, who received an NEA Jazz Masters Fellows award in April, will soon add another prestigious honor to her résumé.

Bridgewater will be honored with the ASCAP Foundation Champion Award. The honor is given to artists who have not only made outstanding strides in the music industry in their career but have also made significant philanthropic contributions. Bridgewater serves as a goodwill ambassador to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization to support grassroots projects that strive to end hunger internationally.

Past honorees have included Tony Bennett, John Mellencamp, Billy Joel, and Jazon Mraz. Bridgewater will receive the award on Dec. 12 at the ASCAP Foundation Honors Celebration at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York.

"The ASCAP Foundation is honored to recognize Dee Dee Bridgewater not only for her immense talent and singular contribution to music, but for her work and commitment to building a food-secure world for current and future generations," said ASCAP President Paul Williams. "She is a shining example of how the creative community can step forward and use their talent and influence to improve the human condition. We are delighted to present Dee Dee Bridgewater with our ASCAP Foundation Champion Award."

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Living Legends: The Kinks' Dave Davies On 21st-Century Breakdown, Mellowing Out In His Seventies & Stirring The Pot On Twitter

Dave Davies

Photo: Steve Hockstein

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Living Legends: The Kinks' Dave Davies On 21st-Century Breakdown, Mellowing Out In His Seventies & Stirring The Pot On Twitter

Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com sat down with Dave Davies, who changed rock music forever as a founding guitarist of the Kinks and made exquisite recordings as a solo artist.

GRAMMYs/Jan 11, 2022 - 09:10 pm

Presented by GRAMMY.com, Living Legends is an editorial series that honors icons in music and celebrates their inimitable legacies and ongoing impact on culture. In the inaugural edition, GRAMMY.com caught up with Dave Davies, the pioneering lead guitarist of British rockers the Kinks.

Dave Davies may have planted his flag as the lead guitarist and co-songwriter of the Kinks, but he has a less-known honorific to his name. The rebel of all rebels, John Lennon — who once poured a pint over a wedding pianist's head and would go on to be kicked out of the Troubadour for drunkenly heckling the Smothers Brothers, among other infractions — once called Davies, to his face, "one of the most obnoxious people I've ever met."

It was sometime in the front half of the 1960s, and the two British Invasion stars were at the Scotch of St. James, an extant watering hole (and musician's hangout) near Piccadilly Circus. (It wasn't rare for Lennon and Davies to insult each other in jest; Davies shot right back.)

Granted, Davies was, in his word, an "impetuous" young man. After all, in the Kinks, he was the hotshot guitarist beside his brother Ray, slugging out masterpieces like The Village Green Preservation SocietyArthur and Lola Versus Powerman amid fraternal spats and a career-changing ban from the U.S. So it's arresting to commune with the 74-year-old in his current form: dreamy, philosophical, borderline beatific.

This mellowing-out wasn't just the natural result of age. Like waves against a stone, turbulent life events smoothed him out with time. It wasn't just his up-and-down relationship with Ray, who once stamped on his 50th birthday cake. In 2004, Davies suffered a stroke that left him temporarily, partly paralyzed — a pivotal event that compelled him to stop smoking and drinking hard alcohol, which softened his demeanor in the ways you might expect. (A yoga and meditation enthusiast, he only indulges in gluten-free beer these days.)

After recovering with help from his other favorite pastime, painting, Davies is happy, healthy and productive in the 2020s. Three years ago, he released Decade, a luminous collection of solo recordings from the '70s. He's hard at work on a tell-all memoir, Living on a Thin Line, developed alongside biographer Philip Clark and due out in July. And — in case you're wondering — he and his brother are getting along great, with no dessert-related altercations to speak of.

GRAMMY.com caught up with Davies about his hard-won lessons about music and life, the awe-inspiring secrets of cats and how his freewheeling approach to Twitter recently landed him in semi-hot water.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

We should probably start by addressing the recent "mingegate" controversy on Twitter.

Oh, s***

It was so weird because I was really just musing with it, and it wasn't anything to speak of. I just like to muse and ideate and ponder, thinking back on my life and the '60s. People always have questions about the '60s, and I talk about everything. When you get older, there's more questions about everything from every decade. This idea came into my head about meeting models. You know what that is. I don't know if you want me to elaborate on it. 

I thought it was fairly innocuous, but it was entertaining to see the prudes lose their minds.

I just did it as a bit of fun, and everyone went crazy about it. I felt, "Is it rude, or is it just odd?" Maybe it was a little bit of both.

I've noticed a phenomenon on social media where people inform you of incorrect facts about your own life.

What's weird about it is you become very — not paralyzed, but it's weird. People seem to know more about you than you do. You have to be really careful what you say. There are a lot of fanatics out there about all kinds of things — about gender and gender-bending, everything. Everything and anything you could think of. That one can be hard. 

But it was only meant as a bit of fun. That's what it was for. There's not a lot of humor. We need to get humor back or else we'll go crazy!

Back in the '60s, when there was a lot of rancor about Vietnam and sexual politics, were people this entrenched in their views?

It's interesting thinking about it. Yes and no. 

No, in the way that all of a sudden, there's so many people entrenched in whatever view they've got. It seems like everything has something to say about something. Which is good, on one hand, but on the other hand, is it really informed information? You know what I mean? Or is it just written without attention to anything? That's what bothers me. 

Do you actually know what you're talking about, or do you think you do? That's the question! "Oh, I read it in the New York Times or something and it's true!"

The Kinks in 1965 (Dave Davies, top). Photo: Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis via Getty Images​

Do you think people are smarter today for having pocket-sized supercomputers?

I think it's made people easier to fool. People hear a half-truth and they're like, "I know everything!" We might need to study the information we get. The brain can only handle so much information, and they might pass judgements about things without it being the right judgment. 

Somehow, people have gotten taken by what their ears like — judgements based on some kind of reality, whether it's just an emotion in the moment. People are crazy because the world is getting crazier by the minute. It's hard for everybody, so you have to try to be informed about subjects and topics and try to have a balanced view of everything. It's not easy.

"People are crazy because the world is getting crazier by the minute. It's hard for everybody, so you have to try to be informed about subjects and topics and try to have a balanced view of everything."

I think we need to act with more compassion now than we did before the 2020s and Instagram and whatever. Everybody's very quick to judge. We're very quick to judge. When you think of it, we all perceive things slightly differently anyway. So, we need to brace ourselves with a lot of compassion before we make any choices.

A world where everybody thinks exactly the same sounds like my idea of hell.

Hell's a good place for that. You can't be right about everything. 

Somehow, we have to be very compassionate about other people's views. Because they change. I might like blue today, but if I only saw my favorite color — tomorrow, I might like green with a tinge of brown. That's where humor and compassion comes in. Nobody knows everything. 

I need humor. It can help us understand information better. Otherwise, everybody's right and everybody's wrong, all at the same time. Common sense! Has anybody bloody heard of common sense? There used to be a lot of it about years ago, when I was a kid. But not so much of it now, these days, unfortunately.

I think humor would hopefully help human beings in this weird age of COVID and Twitter and people being weirded out by all kinds of things. We don't even know if we're thinking the way we should, because there's so much information. When do we take time to consider what we're thinking, or what we're gaining? It's coming a bit too quick, everything. We like to think we know stuff, but do we really?

The Kinks performing on "Thank Your Lucky Stars" in 1965. Photo: David Redfern/Redferns​ via Getty Images

To me, one of the greatest thinkers through the lens of humor was John Lennon. I know you met him back in the Beatlemania days.

A couple of times. He was difficult, but he was funny in a kind of caustic, off-the-wall kind of way. But I liked that about him. I liked that he was different. He was looking at things differently. 

He paid me a weird compliment. He said, "I think you're one of the most obnoxious people I've ever met." And I laughed and said I thought he was. 

I've thought about that ever since. I don't even know what he meant! But I looked it up in the dictionary and I thought, "Hey, that's great! Unusual, different, irritating. Good!"

A big, big loss to humanity there. Lennon would be really useful now. His smart conceptions of people.

What are you interested in lately, whether it be music or non-music? What are you reading or studying?

I'm interested in so many different things. As I was saying, we should consider things before we make a judgment, which is true. But it's hard, because when we've got a queue, a list of questions that we want to ask ourselves before we make up our mind, the list gets longer and longer.

That's where meditation comes around. We can't think of everything at the same time. So, meditation helps you to clear the detritus for a while and not really think of anything. And that's hard. Believe me, I know that. It's really hard.

I don't know what I thought I knew until I take time to consider what's happening before we charge. That's where music comes in handy, because music's so aligned to the heart. You can know something's good or right by the way it makes you feel.

Dave Davies in 1970. Photo: GAB Archive/Redferns via Getty Images

Music is a lot more tuned in with nature than people's bad ideas — good ideas, not all bad. Music has always helped me — even when I was a kid — and it helps me now, to make choices. That's why music's so important. Because if it makes you feel good, there's no harm in it, really.

Who knows? Our heart will tell us if something is wrong, but everyone's different. Feelings always connect me to what may be the truth or may be lies.

"That's where music comes in handy, because music's so aligned to the heart. You can know something's good or right by the way it makes you feel."

While working on Living on a Thin Line, have you found that your memories of the distant past remain sharp? What's it like to survey decades and decades of information?

Actually, it's interesting. A lot of it depends on the quality and type of memory. We've been able to remember things as a musical link or connotation. It's just the way I'm wired — to remember things that are connected to musical or song events. 

I've always had quite a visual imagination. Imagination isn't always positive information. It can be quite a scary place. I tend to ponder a memory and think, "What was I listening to? Oh, yeah! I really enjoyed that!" It makes you feel a certain way. That's why imagination and memory work closely together.

Even just meeting people and having a conversation with someone, I'm sure that I'm perceiving and thinking and talking differently with you than I would be to anybody else. That's why we need each other, because we help and hinder and aid and encourage each other just by communicating. There's a lot in there — in meeting people.

When looking back at the span of your career and all the music you've made, what are you most proud of at this point?

Oh, man. Too much stuff! I'm really proud of the renewed interest in my composition "Strangers" — which was covered by the Black Pumas — and all my other solo work.

I'm proud of being an important part of the Kinks' music and Ray's impressive writing. I feel really happy that I'm connected to all that. But me, as a person, there's something different. I'm always trying to think of something new — and what is new? A different way of saying things is new to me.

Apart from the fact there's so much information out there and [Points to brain] in here, it's a difficult time for people — for young people as much as old people my age. It's difficult to assess what the hell's really going on. So, memory's a good way of connecting to the truth — or the truth how you saw it at the time.

You've never struck me as someone content to rest on something you did 50 years ago. Rather, you remain a restless spirit.

Yeah. Good or bad, that's the way I am. It's also trying to realize that other people might actually be right, even though they piss us off. What's making you angry? Try and talk about what's making you angry! 

How do we get to a point where we have hostile-ish conversation without blowing out completely? We're capable of it! Anger may be just as simple as something that's boiling inside we haven't dealt with, but it happens all the time.

A helpful tool when dealing with someone's misdirected rage is remembering "Oh, it's not about me. Something else is going on in their life."

I believe that. We're just the vehicle for the information they have, or the emotion. We do it to each other.

I remember in the very early days — when we first started out — I wasn't very good with conversation, because I was always an impulsive kid. If it felt right, I'd do it. It took me a while to realize that when you're having a conversation, the other person or persons in the room have just as much right to say what they want to say as you do. I was very impetuous and would say, "Oh, no — I'm right; you're wrong!" "Oh, stop it!" "Oh, shut up!" 

It took me a long time to realize that conversation isn't just about me [Laughs.] It's about us! And we're not the only species on the planet — and tell me if you think I'm wrong — that can have conversations that have outcomes, where you're heading somewhere with it. 

Maybe animals do it. I'm sure that cats communicate at a higher level. They know everything, and they don't even speak. They know everything: "You fools!" They're such special creatures.

Do you subscribe to the notion that everyone's a teacher of sorts, even if they're flat-out wrong? Or do you disagree with them?

Yeah, I do. When I was young, by having children, having kids around — often, they teach you more than you thought you taught them. With animals and children, you have to be very receptive about what the process is: what you want to gain from this meeting, from minds and concepts and thoughts and feelings. 

I very much appreciate the value of considering other people's views, even when you feel uncomfortable. Growing up in Western society, people are so adamant about getting it right and making choices so quickly. Whereas I think animals — especially cats — have a higher way, I think, of considering things.

I think maybe now, we can learn more from our children than we ever did, because a lot of kids have to become very smart very quickly.

It seems like music is one of the ultimate ways to bridge misunderstandings and divides.

Music can teach us ways to get on better. When you paint, you're not killing someone — although you may wish you were! But you're just expressing feelings and stuff, and that's what makes it healthy. It's a means of exploring feelings you've got inside.

I can't remember which philosopher said this — Yogananda or someone — or was it Joseph Campbell? You know Joseph Campbell?

Sure. The Hero With A Thousand Faces.

A great teacher. It was something like "Before you make up your mind about something, run it by your heart. What would your heart say?" A lot of ideas we might have could benefit by being connected to the heart. The heart considers things in a different way. 

That's important, especially if you're a writer or an artist. All of sudden, you'll get a feeling — "That would work OK!" or "I like that!" — and you don't always know why. Maybe it's not necessary to always know why you do things.

Dave Davies performing in Westbury, New York, in 2019. Photo: Al Pereira/Getty Images

My job is partly about trying to get people to care enough about something to read about it. So, I agree that we must lead with the heart at times.

A musician that really influenced me was a guy named Chet Baker. I'd never played trumpet, and when I learned it, I thought I sounded terrible! [Laughs.] That's because it's you playing it. 

But I always liked Chet Baker for some reason. I was fortunate to come across an interview he did on the radio a long time ago. He was being interviewed by a musicologist — some prissy guy with all the right words. At the beginning of the interview, Chet said, "Before you start, I know absolutely nothing about music. I've learned everything from what I'm feeling."

That really helped me, because that's how I learned to play. Not that I learned to play like Chet Baker, but the principle of the way he applied himself. Music was more important to him than music itself, if you know what I mean.

Also, coming up with a Biblical reference that I use sometimes: there's a story about Jesus. He went into the desert for 40 days and nights. I've come to believe it's a kind of training for a yogi or a priest or whatever. He looked at the horizon before him and he saw all these conversations and people.

All of a sudden, an intelligent being or person appeared and said to Jesus — as the story goes — "All this land can be yours to command." But Jesus was quite a smart guy. He realized that the person who presented themselves to him was really the conscious ego. The ego is saying to his soul, "I've developed my inner powers so I can control them, him, her — control everything." He said to this person, "Get thee behind me, Satan." 

The point is, a lot of the things we find within ourselves are not very nice things, like controlling people. We're caught up in all this information, and it takes a long time to figure out!

I've never interpreted that account through that psychological lens before.

I hadn't thought of it that way until two or three years ago!

How do you want to continue developing as a human being in your next phase of life?

I take it as it comes. But the trouble with growing older is that I'm worrying a lot more than I did 20 or 30 years ago. That's an achievement for me: to accept the body and the mind as human beings change. 

That's a big lesson for me, especially growing up from being a fairly impetuous, wanting-it-now, everything-now kind of person. I worry about everything! I'm worrying about having chocolate milk with what I'm eating. [Laughs.] "Oh, I only have coconut milk!" There are things you have to consider before you even get out the front door.

It's a weird world, Morgan. But thank God I'm in it, as opposed to not being in it!

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