quentin jones interviewed
While on the road recently, someone popped Robert’s 1997 studio album in the CD player, and everyone in the car seemed pleasantly surprised by this little-known gem. “I haven’t listened to this album for ages, but it’s a very good album”, Robert said. I’d already written an appraisal of this album back in ’05 (see elsewhere on this website), but after listening to Robert praising the album and telling us anecdotes about the sessions, I decided to find and interview Quentin Jones, who made the album happen and also played guitar on it. These days, Quentin is the owner of Lanark Records, and I appreciate the fact that he took the time to answer my questions about the album.
Quentin, can you tell us a bit about your early career, how you started playing guitar, etc.?
I guess I was always fooling around with the guitar as far back as I can remember. My dad played a little. I used to love Hank Williams Sr, Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell in the 60s, and the Beatles and the Stones, just about everything. My dad listened to country music, and my older brothers liked rock. My mom was an opera singer, so there was lots of music in the house. My brother Bruce stole my uncle’s ephiphone guitar for me when he divorced my aunt, so that was my first guitar, say around the age of 6.
Did you know Robert’s records?
Yes, again my brother Bruce bought some of his records and played them for me. I thought he was great. I never thought I‘d be playing with him. We also use to watch The Loveless. What a great movie.
How did the “Robert Gordon” album on Llist come about?
At the time I owned a recording studio with another guy, and it was doing very well. We were also in a band called The Reach Around Rodeo Clowns that did and does psychobilly, and we wanted to start a real record company. We got some distribution, and we wanted to record our band plus others. We had a deep voiced rockabilly singer that we wanted Richard Gottehrer, Robert’s old producer, to produce and he said he would. But then I thought: “why not ask him what Robert Gordon is doing?”. He said he would ask him if he was interested, and for me to make an offer. I did and the next thing I knew, that was the end of that singer and I was meeting with Robert!
Was Robert enthusiastic about the idea?
At first he seemed a little cool about us, but he warmed up quick. And after knowing Robert for 11 years, I can tell you when he says he will do something, he gives it everything he has.
When did the sessions start, and when did they end?
They started in the middle of January 1997 and ended early that spring. I think we did four five-day sessions.
The bassplayer and the drummer, Aaron Walker and Mike Bitts, who are they?
Aaron Walker is a guitar teacher in the Lancaster area, and Mike Bitts was in a band on A&M Records called the Innocent Mission. Both of them are friends of mine, and both are great players. But neither of them knew anything about rockabilly, but I knew they could play it and Robert would guide them.
Were all songs recorded ‘live’ in the studio?
No. What we did is we recorded drums, bass and rhythm guitar with Robert doing a guide lead vocal. The vocal was to be replaced later, but we ended up keeping about half of them, because they were great the first time. Then we would add lead guitar, keyboards and backing vocals.
How many songs would you record at each session?
Four or five.
I noticed that Aaron and Mike also sang background… Was that Robert’s suggestion?
Yes, and he directed them. He also did backing vocals, and the three of them would do it at the same time. He really got the most out of everybody.
Did you have any creative input, or did Robert come to the studio each time with a clear idea of how each song should sound?Robert produced the CD, and we gave him a free hand to do so. He pretty much knew what he wanted before we would record. He would let us put in ideas, but it was his show. Sometimes he would let me play what I wanted on lead as long as he liked it, other times he told me what to play note for note.
Did you suggest any songs?
No, again I let him do his thing because I believe in him.
I noticed that you also worked with Charlie Gracie. Did you have a hand in Robert recording “Butterfly”?
No, I knew Robert before I met Charlie.
Has Charlie ever commented upon that version?
Yes, Charlie Gracie respects all of Robert’s work.
Would he bring demos or original versions of songs for you to listen to?
Here’s where things would get a little tough. Robert does not play guitar, and he had no demos of his songs. So he would sing them to us and we would all have to figure out what he wanted. We would keep doing it until he was happy.
That “Mystery Train” type riff on “Last One To Know”, whose idea was that?
It was Robert’s and that is just what he said to me, “Play a ‘Mystery Train’
type of riff”.
“Bertha Lou”, “All For The Love Of A Girl” and “Gonna Romp & Stomp” had already been performed by Robert in the early 80s, together with the Danny Gatton band. Did he play you those versions?
No, but he said he always wanted to record them.
What was it like to work with Robert on these sessions?
Great. I never thought I would meet Robert, let alone record with him. As a teenager he was one of my favorite singers, so I was excited to work with him.
What was the mood like generally on these sessions?
Great. He was hard to please and he made us work hard but I do think he made us all do good work. You have to understand, Robert knows what is best for himself live and in the studio. And if you just listen to him,
drop your ego, everything will sound great. I like playing for someone like that, it makes me a better player.
Robert’s sister Jackie also sang back-up on these sessions. How did that come about, and what was it like to work with her?
She was a sweetheart! Robert said he wanted a female vocal on some songs and we agreed to bring her in. She has a great voice and was easy to work with.
Overall, the album has a strong country flavour. Were you surprised by that?
Yes, a little. But I’m pleased with it. I think it’s his best post-RCA work.
Was Robert satisfied with the final masters?
Yes, very much so, because he had the final say in everything.
How did the album do upon its release?
Great, it sold well and we added many great artists. It sure help me to work with other great stars like Charlie Gracie, Tommy Conwell and even Herman’s Hermits. Had it not been for Robert, none of this would have happened.
Quentin, you have also worked with Robert on various live-shows.. what’s that like when compared to working in the studio with him?
Playing live with him is a blast. I only play live with him when I set up a show for him.
Do you have any special memories?
So many. But the best thing is when he gives me a compliment, and just getting to know him all these years.
Quentin, thank you for your time and good luck with your future projects!
Thank you, Arjan.