Tempchin: For The Writer of the Eagle's Classic, _Peaceful, Easy Feeling_,
It's All About the Song
by Terry Roland
How many songs from the last 50 years are there that the general baby boomer public can recognize just by name and even sing a bar or two with the words? Surprisingly, I've found, not many. Then, there's "Peaceful, Easy Feeling". The mention of the title inevitably brings a look of pleasant recognition on the faces of many people. The song, like any great American pop song, crosses cultural, social, generational and even international boundaries. While talking with Jack Tempchin for an hour during our recent phone interview, Jack told stories of experiences and memories told to him of the song. I even interjected my stories about the song. It seems he may have a great basis for a book on the impact and experiences of this song alone. A Chicken Soup for the "Peaceful, Easy Feelin'" Soul, if you will.
Jack Tempchin is a singer-songwriter of great fortune, which he built from the openness of his artistic soul, his strong sense of musical community and his absolute passion for the craft of songwriting. As you'll read in the accompanying interview, he even had a song idea in the works during our conversation. He is a fine example of how the best American singer-songwriters embody the craft of disappearing into the song rather than using the gift of their muse for the benefit of their ego. With Jack Tempchin it's all about the song.
Tempchin's life is not only
about his best-known, iconic Eagle's song. His recent release,Songs,
is a diverse, well produced recording which demonstrates how skilled songwriting
transcends style. It is one of a legacy of albums & projects he has
worked on over the last 40 years. Beginning in the early sixties, Jack
was one of the wave of singer-songwriters to emerge in the wake of Bob
Dylan's meteoric rise to fame. He began as a solo performer opening for
artists like Hoyt Axton. Through his circulation in the community of music
surrounding the Southern California area, his name became well-known among
musicians and songwriters. His love for music transcended his own region,
which was a key to spreading his influence.
Tempchin: I've been going back to playing solo at gigs. Right now I'm doing some secret gigs.
Roland: What would that be?
Tempchin: Have you ever heard of AMSD (Acoustic Music San Diego)? I'll be sneaking in on a couple of shows there; Al Kooper's show, the Barry McGuire show. I'll just be going in and play two or three songs to promote my gig there in February.
Tempchin: I've beem working with new musical formations. I've been playing with a band called Rocket Science for the last 15 years, just a group of locals around Encinitas, we play a weekly at a restaurant called The Calypso.
Roland: Tell me about how you started in music.
Tempchin: I started by playing a place called the By Frost Bridge in La Mesa. I wasn't very good, but I'd just get up and play. I started opening for Hoyt Axton and Hedge & Donna. They were the first to record one of my songs. Then I went to The Candy Store in El Cajon. Around that time I met Jackson Browne, Glen Frey and J.D. Souther. I got to open for Lightnin' Hopkins. I formed a hoot night on Wednesdays at a place called The Heritage. Tom Waits was the doorman there.
Roland: What was your impression of Tom Waits?
Tempchin: He was, well, a doorman. But, then he would get up and play. He was really good. He played great guitar. He was writing those early songs then like "I Hope That I Don't Fall In Love With You". I got to know him and we even wrote a song together. There was this guy, Ray Benuel. We both idolized him. He wasn't a writer but a great interpreter. We learned songs from him. He has never recorded until recently. He has an album out on CD Baby. From there I went to The Alley in Escondito. I opened for Ramblin Jack Elliot there. In those days I played all my shows solo. In 1972, the San Diego folk scene just closed down. It was puzzling. So, I went to L.A. and played The Troubadour. Through the owner I got a record contract.
During the 80's I had a band called The Funky Kings. During that time, I also traveled all over the country as an opening act. It was all solo.
Roland: Do you perform any covers?
Tempchin: Musically, I prefer writing my own stuff. You know, Dylan came along and that really started the singer-songwriter movement. I'm just too lazy to learn other people's songs. And when I do, I don't do them as well as the originals. Like, I'd learn this blues song and then a friend would walk into the room and say,"What did you do to that song?"
Roland: Can you talk about your own songwriting process?
Tempchin: Well, Let's see. Writing for me as a process is always different. Here's an example: I like to play at music scenes. One's that are developing. There's a great one in L.A. called The Hotel Cafe. It's neither a hotel or a cafe(laughs). A lot of younger singer-songwriters, which I love. Like I got to know the bartender, a girl, and she got a record contract, released a CD. Her name is Neko. So, I like to wait around till closing time to play. I recently got up and started playing piano. As I was looking at the people, the thought occurred to me, 'that's a lonely looking piano.' So, it gave me a song title, "The Loneliest Piano in Town". So, I take that home, make up stuff from it. I might go for 40 minutes or so. Just put it all out there. Then, I start the editing process. That's when I start throwing stuff out. Even the title may change. Then it's the putting together stage, which can take a very long time. Sometimes I like to just get up on stage and start playing. I've got up and played songs that weren't finished. I might just get a phrase or start with an idea. Right now, I'm working on something about the simple life in a complicated world. I'll let it percolate for a while then try different styles. It might turn out to be a jazz song or something like that. I think the greatest tool a songwriter has is a deadline or a reason for the song. Like a friend needs a song for a compilation and they need it next Friday. Then, you get going from start to finish. Also, I love to co-write. It's really an area I do a lot of. Not everybody likes it. I listen, facilitate.
Roland: Who have you co-written with?
Tempchin: Tom Waits, Glen Frey...Glen is a great writer. It's just incredible that I've been able to write with him. I learned so much useful stuff from my side. We co-wrote songs in the movie _Thelma and Louise_ and in Steve Martin Movies like The Lonely Guy. I also write with John Brannon. The song we wrote together is on the latest Eagles album.
Roland: Tell me how you came to write "Peaceful, Easy Feeling."
Tempchin: I won't tell you the usual story. It's gonna appear in a book called, _Chicken Soup for the Songwriter's Soul_ . I was in El Centro when I wrote it. You know, I came up with it and thought I'd done a good job. I thought the line, "I'm already standing on the ground," made it not actually a love song. It's like you can't count on a woman or anything really to find peace within yourself. It wasn't the usual love song. But, I've got to say, Glen Frey and The Eagles took it and placed it into this greatness. Then, from there, it just got a life of its own. It was like having a kid. You know, I talked to a guy who said he heard people singing while he was hiking in the Himalayas. Who knows how that happens. It's way beyond me.You know, it is what it is. You just can't try to figure it out. Somehow it came from a certain emotion, a mood. It captured a feeling...the words, the music made feel a certain way. you know, it's like when you're on a highway driving and you start noticing the bugs on the windshield. Then, you start changing the way you look at it and notice the sky ahead. You put it into rhyme or poetry. It's trying to hold on to that feeling. You put it down. Remember it. Recently, Jackson Browne made some comments on his live album saying it didn't make sense that a woman can't take you any way you don't already know how to go. But, what I was talking about was the temporary nature of it. It's realizing about your expectations. You know, like Tom Waits song, "I Hope I Don't." He says he sees the girl, he gets all of these thoughts in his head about expectations, then she's gone and nothing happens. 110% of guys get so much in their heads about this stuff, so much expectations about it and it has nothing to do with the girl at all. Once I realize that, I don't have these false expectations that get in the way.
Roland: What is a folk song?
Tempchin: Oh yeah. I just watched the first Smothers Brothers show on DVD and Pete Seeger was on it. His comment was a folk song is whatever people are singing. It's not a concrete thing. Nothing's written in stone. You know, it's about people singing, playing acoustic guitars. It's songs that last. I think about Stephen Foster, or songs like "Oh Susanna" that have been around. Those songs we learned in grade school. There's the songs people bring with them to the campfire. The thing is, each song changes with each new generation. Songs like "Danny Boy" have changed over the years. The songs are handed down from generations. It's only been a short time we've had the machines to record and preserve the songs, so most of these are songs that have lived in people's minds.
Roland: What are your thoughts on spirituality and music?
Tempchin: Let's see, well, music is all about spirit, feelings, and ideas. Ways to communicate and express a feeling. We are spiritual beings. Music let's us express what being is about. You capture life at that moment. It's becoming one with the moment. The moment is eternity.
Roland: So, is there any other projects coming up that you'd like to share with us?
Tempchin: I've been working with this guy, on this series up north, Tales of the Tavern. It's folkie concerts. The audience comes no matter who's playing and, man, you can hear a pin drop. It seats about 200 people. Henry Diltz came along to my gig there and did a video of the concert for a DVD release. It's being worked on now. It'll be out soon.
Roland: That about wraps it up, Jack. It's been a pleasure. I look forward to seeing your upcoming shows.
Tempchin: Thank you.