Inside the New Jackson Browne Tribute Album with Producer Tamara Saviano
Jackson Browne has written songs throughout his career that cut right to the emotional core -- taking listeners deep inside very personal situations in a way that also resonates in our own lives.
We were reminded of that legacy with the release of ‘Looking Into You: A Tribute to Jackson Browne,’ a magnificent overview of some of the best of Browne’s output across the years as seen through the musical eyes of both his own associates and those who have been influenced by his work. Mixing familiar names (Don Henley, Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt, Lyle Lovett, etc.) with some that are perhaps a bit less familiar (Venice, Griffin House, Bob Schneider), the whole thing plays like a lovingly assembled mixtape designed to shine a new light on Browne’s very deep catalog as well as a slew of fantastic interpreters that you might have missed in your own listening travels.
The idea to do the tribute came from Texas businessman Kelcy Warren, who put his brainstorm in front of industry producer Tamara Saviano and asked if she’d come on board to help him bring the project to fruition. We recently had the chance to sit down with Saviano to talk about the process of putting this tribute together:
This is a pretty incredible project. Where did things start and how long was this in process?
The backstory is that I produced this Guy Clark tribute before I did the Jackson Browne tribute. I was working on the Guy Clark tribute, recording in this studio in Austin that is owned by a guy named Kelcy Warren, who lives in Dallas. Kelcy is one of the co-producers on this record. Kelcy and I got to talking and he really liked the Guy record and he is the biggest Jackson Browne fan I’ve ever met and knows Jackson’s catalog inside and out, and just always wanted to do a Jackson Browne tribute. But Kelcy runs a very busy oil and gas business and is not really into working in the music business, although he’s a huge music fan.
So he asked me if I would lead the charge and produce this record. I said, “Yes, I would love to,” because I’m a big Jackson Browne fan, too. So we started and we had a conference call in August of 2012 and in that conference call, we talked about how he wanted to do it and what his creative vision was. Typically, when I do an album, I get a house band and I have a certain sound in mind and I know exactly how I want to approach it. Well, it was very important to Kelcy that each artist that was part of the tribute had creative freedom to do whatever they wanted with the song. So it was my job to give them the tools and resources to do that and pull together the pieces. So that’s what I did!
As you mentioned, there are a lot of these projects where there’s a house band and it’s all recorded in one studio. When you’re working in a situation that’s not that, it seems like it would present some challenges and this album sounds wonderfully cohesive -- not just the material, but also from a sonic standpoint. I would guess that it probably took some work to really make it all fit together.
Yes, that is a challenge and we knew going in that it would be. But you can handle a lot of that in my opinion, in the sequencing. You can have different sounds and styles on the same record providing they flow in and out from each other in a certain way. I’m really glad you think we pulled that off, because that was a challenge. When the songs would come in, I was like, “Oh, how are we going to make this work!” That is a challenge, but I do think that we pulled it off and I’m happy that people seem to like it.
It’s an incredible lineup of folks on this album. Were there people that you wanted on here that you weren’t able to get to?
I think we hit a home run on this one. We really wanted Linda Ronstadt and she just doesn’t sing anymore, so she turned us down because of that. We almost didn’t get Bonnie [Raitt] because of her schedule, but luckily, the record took us a little bit longer than we thought it would and Bonnie’s schedule opened up so that we were able to get her on the record.
We wanted Dawes, because Jackson worked with them, and they just could not fit it in. They just couldn’t make it work. It seems like there’s someone else that we wanted that for whatever reason, we couldn’t get them. But it was only about scheduling -- it wasn’t like we called anyone and they said, “No, I don’t want to be part of a Jackson Browne [tribute] record.” It was like, “We’d love to do this, but there’s just no way.”
I think what is cool about this album is that sometimes you will have a tribute that has very little, as far as a visible connection back to the artist, and so many of these artists have a personal connection with Jackson. Did you start with a wishlist of obvious folks and build out from there?
Yes, and I’ve done this with my other projects. This is my fifth record, so I’ve gotten pretty good at tribute records. We started with a wishlist of the people that, as you said, were obviously close to Jackson. Those are the people that we called first and they were the ones that were like, “Absolutely, I’m in.” Don Henley was the first one to commit, so it does make it easier when you can call people and say, “Don Henley is in.”
I heard someone say once that Jackson Browne writes songs like nothing good has ever happened in his life. I disagree with that, but there’s no doubt that he has written some, at times, darkly emotional material -- something which I’ve seen him acknowledge, even in the live setting one time asking the crowd whether they wanted to hear a happy song or a sad song next, with a chuckle. I mention all of that, because there’s a lot of depth to Jackson’s music and there are songs, like ‘These Days,’ ‘Call It A Loan’ and ‘Late For The Sky,’ to name a few, that really give you the feeling that you’ve been put inside the situation of whatever it is that he’s dealing with. In each of the songs that I just mentioned, the artists that tackled those songs really captured that, which is no small task.
I agree. I think the artists on this record -- well, first of all, being that I’ve done several of these, it always amazes me that these artists are coming to the table for one song, one song out of their whole career. And the amount of love they put into it is amazing. Don Henley on ‘These Days’ is a perfect example. You know, he’s Don Henley, and they were in the middle of making their Eagles documentary at the time, plus they were touring and he put so much time into this. ‘These Days’ is the first song that Jackson ever wrote when he was 16, so it’s kind of an important piece of the Jackson Browne story.
Don was going to do ‘These Days’ and the first arrangement that we were going to do, he was going to meet us at this studio in Austin and Bruce Hornsby was going to play piano, Steuart Smith was going to play guitar -- and it was going to be more of a rock version of ‘These Days.’ We had it all planned and then Don called me one day and he said, “You know, I’ve really been thinking about this, and the song is so important that I was thinking maybe we let the lyrics speak for themselves and we just back it off and have a cello and a violin on it.” I was like, “Well, that would be beautiful, let’s do that.”
So I cancelled the studio session and I started looking for the right cellist and the right violin player to work with Don, and then I got an email from Don a day or two later with a link to a YouTube video and all he said was, “Take a look at this video -- have you ever seen this band?” I went to the YouTube link and it was Blind Pilot, and I was not familiar with Blind Pilot and Don was not familiar with Blind Pilot. I don’t even know how he stumbled upon this clip.
When I watched the video of Blind Pilot, I knew exactly what Don was hearing for ‘These Days.’ I got it immediately and it was exactly what the song needed. So I emailed him back and I said, “I’m going to try to track down this band.” I tracked down Blind Pilot and the end of the story is that Don ended up going to Portland and recording in the studio where they record with their engineer, and it is what it was supposed to be. Don put weeks and months of thought and love into that song.
That’s a hell of a launching point for the record. I think we all know as music fans that Don Henley could snap his fingers and grab four of his guys and just knock it out and probably have it sound just as good as it does on this record. But the fact that he came together and did this collaboration with this band that he didn’t know going in, it really speaks to the talents of both sides.
Yeah, it was incredible. Just being on that journey was pretty f---in’ incredible, I have to say.
It’s interesting that there’s no overlap. Did you really get lucky enough to not have two artists want to do the same song?
Well, Kelcy really had pretty firm ideas about which songs he wanted which artists to do -- and in my past as a producer of tribute records we, of course, learn by our mistakes. When I did ‘Beautiful Dreamer: The Songs of Stephen Foster,’ we had a little bit too much of this, “Ooh, I want this song,” and people wanted the same song. I learned that it’s good to give the artist either a specific song that you want them to do or maybe a choice of two songs and not give them any other choice, and that’s what we did.
Is there anybody who came back and made a good case for a song they really wanted to do that was not something that you proposed?
Hmmm, let me think about that.
One that comes to mind that I thought was an interesting one, was Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa doing ‘Linda Paloma.’ That one works really well.
You know, actually, my husband works for Bruce Springsteen, so I have kind of an inside scoop on Bruce. My husband’s been with him for a long time. So now that you mention it, I think we went to Bruce and I’m sure we said, “Do you want to be on this album? Here are the songs that are already picked.” We let him pick whatever he wanted that wasn’t already recorded.
It’s a very Bruce kind of song, but it’s a little bit obscure and one that some folks might be surprised to see. At the same time, it completely makes sense that he would pick that.
Absolutely. When they wrote back and said, “He’s going to do ‘Linda Paloma,’” I was like, “Of course he is!”
You’ve mentioned it several times, but your Guy Clark tribute record was great.
Thank you. That was my baby. The way the Jackson Browne is Kelcy’s baby, that was my baby. I’m actually writing Guy’s biography and doing a documentary film on him that I’m working on right now.
You put out your own book as well.
I did. It’s a memoir about my step-dad and how our tumultous relationship led me into music.
Has Jackson heard this tribute album?
The feedback that we’ve gotten is that he really likes it and he’s very honored that we did it. He’s coming to Nashville next month for the Americana conference, so I’ll get to see him in person and I want to ask him if there’s any certain tracks he really likes. But yeah, the feedback from him has been really good.