In early March of 2020, I got the opportunity to have a conversation with legendary musician Kenny Passarelli. Known as one of classic rock’s most sought after bass players, Kenny Passarelli’s bass performances have been recorded on iconic rock and roll albums released by six different rock and roll acts who have been inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. Throughout his career, Kenny Passarelli has earned recording credits on twenty rock albums that have gone gold. With an incredible reputation as a virtuoso musician and a formidable talent in the studio and on the stage, Kenny Passarelli’s musical contributions to classic rock history have become ingrained in the soundtrack of our lives.
Kenny Passarelli’s career took off when he joined Joe Walsh and Joe Vitale in forming the early 1970s band called Barnstorm. This exciting power trio exploded onto the scene with the release of their first self-titled album Barnstorm. The record was Joe Walsh’s first album since leaving The James Gang. Kenny Passarelli would record two more albums with Joe Walsh and Joe Vitale in the early 1970s including the records The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get and So What. On the second album, Kenny Passarelli shared writing credit with Walsh and Vitale on the soon to become classic rock song “Rocky Mountain Way.”
During the early 1970s, Kenny Passarelli began developing a reputation for his incredible skill set and sound he produced playing a fretless bass. What Kenny was doing with a fretless bass was pretty groundbreaking at the time. His talents led the way to working with Rick Derringer, Dan Fogelberg and the man he would work with on and off throughout his career. Stephen Stills.
In 1975, Kenny Passarelli auditioned for the Elton John Band. Elton John was the biggest rock star in the world at the time and was immediately impressed with Kenny’s playing. Elton John hired Kenny Passarelli to replace Dee Murray as part of Elton John’s revamping of his band. Kenny Passarelli recorded two complete albums with Elton John including Rock Of The Westies and Blue Moves. At the time, many hardcore fans were upset with Elton John for firing the old Elton John Band. The albums were met with undeserved criticism by some fans and critics who did not like the change. However, over time, many people have come to realize just how great these records were. The grooves on Rock Of The Westies defined some of the best recorded work of Elton John’s career. Listen to drummer Roger Pope and bassist Kenny Passarelli lock down killer rhythm section grooves on songs like “Street Kids,” “Grow Some Funk Of You Own,” and every other song on the album. Blue Moves was just as spectacular and then some.
When the Elton John gig ended, Kenny Passarelli and a few other members of the Elton John Band began working with Hall & Oates. Kenny Passarelli recorded two studio albums with Hall & Oates including X- Static and Along The Red Edge. Kenny Passarelli also appeared on the Hall & Oates live album entitled Live Time. Kenny was also credited with working on Daryl Hall’s solo album Sacred Songs.
Over the years, Kenny Passarelli continued to work with big-name artists earning a plethora of albums credits including single and multiple albums with Dan Fogelberg, Stephen Stills, Rick Derringer, and Cat Stevens beside the albums he recorded with Elton John, Joe Walsh and Hall & Oates. The songs that he wrote with Joe Walsh have been covered by artists such as The Foo Fighters, Slaughter, Triumph, Michael Bolton, Gary Hoey, Godsmack,The Eagles and others.
In the rock and roll world of touring and hunkering down in the studio, talent is not always enough to survive the challenges of those experiences. Artists want to work with musicians they can get along with. History has defined the experiences of bands in which personalities burned down the house. There is a reason why musicians like Kenny Passarelli have earned so may album credits besides their sheer musical talents. The man was incredibly easy to talk with and treated me like a brother, even though it was the first time we had ever talked to each other. I can only imagine how all the other artists and musicians he has worked with throughout his career enjoyed his company under the pressure of live performances and high cost studio time. The man is as genuine as it gets.
On August 13, 2017, Barnstorm was inducted into the Colorado Music Hall Of Fame. In the interview, Kenny talks about that day, and the recently announced Barnstorm reunion shows that were set until this Coronavirus nightmare basically changed life as we know it. It’s a frank interview in which Kenny talks openly about his career among other things. Any fan of classic rock will find this an incredibly fascinating interview as Kenny Passarelli takes us inside the recording studio and on the stage with some of the greatest legends of rock and roll.
(Please note: this interview took place during the first week of March before we knew what a beast the Coronavirus would quickly turn into).
Brian Kachejian: Hello Kenny, thank you for taking the time to speak with me this afternoon.
Kenny Passarelli: Yeah man lets chat! It’s the perfect time.
BK: Yeah, it seems like we are living the apocalypse right now with everything shutting down from the Coronavirus. How are you dealing with it in Colorado?
KP: It’s like everyplace else in its own way. It’s the same sort of thing, you go into the stores and people are terrified and the shelves are empty. It’s like you were in Havana or something. People are buying every last roll of toilet paper. I mean it’s crazy. There shutting down all the ski resorts. My daughter was in France in a study abroad program and I was lucky to get her back into the States before she may have gotten quarantined.
Other than that, I’m just sitting here in Denver and I’m looking out the window and it’s a gorgeous day and I’m lucky I’m not stuck in some place like Beijing with thousands of people. It is what it is. We are just loving everyday man the best we can. So that’s kind of where I’m at. The thing that’s a bummer is that we’re on hold for the Kent State Joe Walsh/ Barnstorm, David Crosby thing in Ohio. I got an email from Joe’s people saying we are on hold. It obviously could be postponed. By April 1st we are going to see where Ohio stands, who knows?
I was supposed to see Joe, they were going to be here for two sold-out nights with the Hotel California show and I was told by the inside of their organization that The Eagles weren’t going to cancel, they were going to keep going. However, the venues wound up canceling the shows, so The Eagles are off the road. That’s the state of the world right now man.
BK: It must be incredibly frustrating for you that you had this whole Barnstorm reunion concert happening and it looks like it’s going to be canceled.
KP: Yeah, it is frustrating because when we got together and we were inducted into the Colorado Music Hall Of Fame, we had like a day rehearsal. Joe was kind of cranky and it didn’t seem like he wanted to be there. I couldn’t tell what was going on. And this was a big deal. It was Joe Walsh and Barnstorm being inducted, Caribou Ranch being inducted, and Dan Fogelberg being inducted. It was really a combination of a commemorative event for Dan because you had all these people doing Dan Fogelberg songs. It was something for his cancer foundation and you had all these people doing his songs. Many great artists showed up like The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Vince Gill and Garth Brooks was the big headliner. I never knew it, but I found out that Garth Brooks was a big fan of Dan Fogelberg.
It was a really, really incredible gig, but I’m going to be very honest with you and I’m not trying to blow smoke up my ass, the twenty four minutes that Joe Walsh and Barnstorm played blew everybody’s mind. Because Joe was conscientious enough and who know what the politics were, because there are a lot of problems between the promoters and the war between the mighty billionaires who seem to hate each other. So, the bottom line is Joe had a little bit of an attitude. I asked him if he was going to play “Part of the Plan?” He said, “no I’m just doing my thing and then I’m leaving.”
Joe Walsh is kind of grumpy the rehearsal day and then we play (pause) it was magic, magic! Joe Walsh had his staff there, but I saw Big Head Todd there and some of the groups like The Lumineers I saw fall flat on their face because the monitor guy could not go from one group to another. You had Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and then you had Big Head Todd and then you had Donna Summer’s daughter. You also had John Oates who sang “Don’t Let The Son Go Down On Me.” It was a very hip version of it in tribute to Caribou Ranch.
It was a spectacular show, we had films playing behind us when we were doing “Turn To Stone.” The sound was ridiculous. Everybody who saw the twenty four minute set saw an incredible rock and roll show. Joe played ridiculous guitar; he was so set free. When he’s playing with the Eagles there is only so much that he can play under those guidelines that Don and Glen had set, and all the rules. The bottom line is Barnstorm is freedom for him and he’s got players that can back him. Joe Vitale is killer on drums and I’m at the top of my game. We also had two other great players with us. Jimmy Wallace of Nashville a guy in his forties who is a killer keyboard player and Tom Bukovac the number one call in Nashville playing second guitar. Bukovac’s a guy who could just blow everyone of the stage, but he’s in a supportive role. Between those guys and me and Vitale, Joe Walsh just flew, his vocals and guitar playing was just ridiculous.
The concert was shown on AXES, I think they called it the Colorado Music Hall of Fame Concert with Garth Brooks blah blah blah. Well anyways, the day after the gig Joe Walsh calls me. First off, we finished the gig and everybody went nuts. John Oates said to me “looks like you got a gig.” Everyone was really happy, and Joe Walsh gave me a hug and said, “I’m out of here.” He left and I stayed. John Oates than introduced me to Vince Gill who I had never met. I said to Vince, “are you going to stay until the end of the show for “The Gambler.” Vince replied, “well I only do what the higher ups tell me to do.” And I went “Holy F*ck.” First off, he had done a duet that night with Amy Grant on Dan Fogelberg’s “Longer.” He is such a great singer and so is Amy. At the very end he was standing right next to me with no guitar straps but playing his guitar. I could tell that there were a lot of politics involved.
The next day Joe Walsh calls me from Guitar Center and said “hey we’re going to do this thing. I got to let my solo band go and blah blah blah, but we’re going to do this.” And I said “okay, just give me a date.” Joe Walsh says it will probably be in the fall, because at the time it was August. I said, “okay sounds great to me.” Actually, Joe Vitale had called me first and said Joe Walsh is going to call you, we’re over at Guitar Center here and I just heard him talking to Irving who didn’t come to the show because he was in some castle in Scotland or something and Walsh told Irving, I’m going to do this Barnstorm thing because it’s incredible, “I got to do this, I got to do this.” So, I thought it was going to happen. (pause)…It didn’t f*cking happen.
Jimmy Guercio is like my big brother. After all these years we have become pretty close. Back in the day when he owned Caribou Studios we were all scared of him because we were stoned all the time and he was a straight guy. We could be staying up for three days in the studio and someone would say “Jimmy just got here,” and we would be like okay, I guess we will not walk into the mess hall. But he’s just a great friend and a genius guy. But he told me, he was there, and he said “Kenny, just be careful, the big train has the tracks.” What he was saying was the Eagles had done those two big gigs, one on the East Coast and one on the West Coast.
BK: Yes, I remember those shows in New York at the end of July 2017. The Eagles played at Citi Field in Queens, New York with Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers on the same bill. The next day Fleetwood Mac, Journey and Earth Wind & Fire performed. It was quite a weekend in New York for classic rock.
KP: Yeah, those were the shows the Eagles were playing with the new kid, Glen Frey’s son. So, when Irving got a taste of that, it was all over with. Barnstorm was out of the picture. Never heard from anybody a f*ck again man! That’s the way they roll. Now six months ago. I get a message from Smokie, who is Joe Walsh’s guy and he says, “are you available in May because we are going to do blah blah blah?” And this is almost like a year ago, and I said “sure, I’d love to do it, are you kidding?” We were told not to say anything to anybody. So just a couple of weeks ago they announced it.
It’s going to be Jane Fonda, blah blah blah, Chrissie Hynde’s brother who has a great band out of Ohio, a rhythm & blues band that never really made it, but just a great band. There’s also a group called Glass Harp featuring Phil Keaggy who was kind of like the Paul McCartney of the mid-west who had a real shot but had become this Jesus guy. But he still plays great and anyway he’s going to perform. And I don’t doubt if a lot of people show up. And David Crosby is going to ply just before Barnstorm.
BK: Will you guys set up a lot of rehearsals for the show?
KP: F*ck no, f*ck no…… It will only be a one day rehearsal. Joe Walsh hates to rehearse. But I’ve been practicing, I have been getting ready and I haven’t even seen a set list. At the Hall of Fame show we had only played three songs, but one of them had a 24 minute jam. So, I think for this show we are going to play 75 minutes, but let’s see what happens. But to answer your question about the possibility of the show being canceled, of course it’s a disappointment! But considering what going on in the world, WTF? The bigger picture is everybody not spreading this virus. So, that’s what’s happening.
BK: I wanted to ask you about the Joe Walsh album Analog Man that came out in 2012. You had played on that record, didn’t you?
KP: Yeah check this out. I was playing with Stephen Stills at the time, it might have been around 2011 or 2012. Joe Walsh sat in with us and he killed it. This is a great story. Did you ever meet Elliot Roberts the manager of Neil Young?
KP: Okay, so it had been Geffen and Roberts, they started with Laura Nyro, and then they got Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and then Joni Mitchell and then The Eagles. Geffen went off to be the tycoon and Elliot stayed in the management business and focused on Neil. Well, anyways he came to the show that time and we just killed it on stage. And then after the gig Joe Walsh contacts me to play on Analog Man. So, I just went over to Joe’s house. He just had a drum machine and he had guitar parts and I just stood there and plugged in my bass to his board. The engineer was Ringo’s guy and I never knew what was going to happen to it. And then he added Ringo Starr on drums and Joe Vitale played the Ravi Shankar stuff.
So yes, I was on Analog Man. I love the record. “Band Played On,” was my favorite track because it’s not so Jeff Lynne-ish. Even though I like a lot of Lynne’s records, Joe is great and if he is in control, he knows how to get what he gets. I can attest to that because of the way “Life Of Illusion,” came out. I don’t know if you know that story. Do you know the tune “Life Of Illusion?”
BK: Oh yeah, of course.
KP: That was a tune that I had written because Joe had given us an opportunity to bring songs. It was supposed to be Barnstorm but it really became Joe Walsh solo stuff. Joe Vitale would always show up with incredible demos because the guy was so focused. So, I had “Life of Illusion,” and we cut it and then the band broke up. It was just guitar and bass and I played guitarrón.[i] It was one of the first times guitarrón was used on record. Tom Stevenson played some keyboards because he was in the band at the time, but it was really all Joe and my melody. However, the band broke up before I could come up with some lyrics so all we had cut was an instrumental. That was 1974. In 1981, I get a call from Joe and he says “remember that thing we did. that song you had? I wrote lyrics to it.” And I went okay, and he sent me the lyrics.
I had throughout the years had two separate people write lyrics for the song when I was working with Elton and Bernie Taupin and Hall & Oates. Sandy Ellen who was Daryl’s old lady had written a set of lyrics for it. The song I envisioned was about some gal I think we called Rosa. But with Sandy Ellen, her thing was it was all about Daryl. I think she had called it “Souvenir,” something like “love is a memory I want a souvenir,” or something like that. And they were having some sort of beef at the time and the lyrics she wrote were really personal. However, It was really cool what she had done. So, we cut a track with Daryl. This was part of my deal with Tommy Mottola when I worked with him, Tommy Mottola gave me studio time and I was kind of at that point, Hall & Oates musical director. I had brought Caleb Quaye and Roger Pope into the band. I had said to the band that if I was going to play with them (Hall & Oates) I wanted to bring in players that I trusted that we could record and tour together. I said, “I don’t do it any other way.” I said you’ve been using great players in New York but the kids that you hire for a dollar a week can’t make it work properly, so please follow my lead, and that’s what they did.
The deal was I could write with Daryl and John. We were all really good friends. I moved to New York. One day I would work with Daryl and another day I would work with John. And then I would go into the studio. Tommy had a deal at the hit factory. That was some experience in New York. But things started to fail because they were getting into punk rock and Daryl wanted to go solo. He told me that, and then we went and did a record with Robert Fripp called Sacred Songs. And RCA said F*ck this. They sabotaged it because there was no way they were going to separate those guys. And that was probably the right thing to do. So, at that point, Daryl and John were broke. Things were really bad. They couldn’t pay me anymore; they couldn’t pay anybody. And then I got a call to work with Dan Fogelberg again which I think it was around 1981. The call was to do The Innocent Age album.
BK: That is one of my favorite Dan Fogelberg albums. A great two record set with so many great songs.
KP: Oh, it was fantastic. Dan and I were very close. I was the best man at his first wedding. I was with him though all three of them. Then one day he messaged me, I was in Mexico or something and he said to me,” I’m not going to sugarcoat this but I’ve got advanced prostate cancer and it has metastasized to my bones. And I’m thinking this man’s dead. He lasted another two years, but I never saw him again. He didn’t want to see anybody. He just went off to Maine, to his place up there with his wife. I heard he was doing good for a while, but later on it was ugly. I got really bummed because I had introduced the two of them, and it was tough because there was no closure there between me and Dan. But his wife started to describe his last days and I just said “stop, I totally get it, I really do.”
BK: I guess his wife was trying to tell you that you didn’t want to see him like that and remember him like that.
KP: Nah, he didn’t want anyone to. At a certain point he wasn’t seeing anybody anymore. Okay….long pause…. Okay let’s get back to the thing on Barnstorm. I know Barnstorm is a winner, there’s no doubt. Joe knows it. But the Eagles are number one and until Joe makes up his mind to want to do it, then it is what it is. It seems like there’s always things that come in the middle of it and get in the way, but until the right time comes along, well we will just see. I really think this Kent State gig is going to be a very meaningful gig. We were all part of that time, I was in Colorado at the time in Boulder playing with Tommy Bolin. But I get it with Joe.
BK: Besides the Barnstorm thing, do you have any other projects that your involved in right now.
KP: Yeah, I got tons going on. I am producing. I launched a guy’s career in the blues many years ago. His name was Ottis Taylor. I did five CDs with him. He’s got a name in Europe or whatever. But I snagged his guitar player Eddie Turner. And so, I’m producing three or four separate artists and I am writing my ass off. I had talked with Joe and there were plans to go into the studio and then tour. So, I just sent Joe a message saying “I’m sorry about The Eagles not being able to complete their gigs now,” I said “why don’t we just quarantine ourselves in the studio.” I’m waiting to hear back from him. But it’s a pretty giant machine to stop. You know what I mean.
The Eagles got eighty six employees on the road with them. Huge show! So that’s really the whole Barnstorm thing in a nutshell. We get together and Joe and I have talked about it, we get together with Joe Vitale in the same room, its over, its f*cking incredible, I mean God bless the James Gang and stuff, but those two guys I don’t think have really played that much. But Vitale has never stopped, and I have never stopped. And I have honed my skills on keyboards as a writer. There’s a little local band that I play with in town and so I am working all the time.
BK: Do you play every day?
KP: Oh yeah! without a doubt. Several hours throughout the day. I write and my lyricist is my girlfriend. She is incredible because she was a very successful divorce attorney and she retired and I’m like what am I going to do with this gal? She’s so smart and everything and so eloquent and she’s a wordsmith and has such a command of the English language. And I have tons of melodies, so I said to her let me throw some stuff at you and see what you come up with. And I’ll be dammed, she’s doing really great. So, I’m working on these songs, so I’m prepared to show these songs or be ready to collaborate with Joe or whoever. I’m in a real productive scene right now.
BK: What else have you been involved with recently that you have really enjoyed being a part of.
KP: Well a few years ago, I’m not sure if you know, but I was playing with Cat Stevens.
BK: The man was one of the most loved artists back in the 1970s. What was the experience like playing with Cat Stevens.
KP: Oh, it was incredible, He is a beautiful person.
BK: Yeah, you can hear it in his music.
KP: We were hanging out together and I did the Chris Isaak’s show with him. Yusuf said you got to come to L.A. and do this show with me. And the other musician to come along was a guitarist named Gunner who was on his album. Actually, Gunner Nelson’s is Ricky Nelson’s son. Well anyways, we are in the studio in L.A. and overdubbing bass parts and Chris Isaak had come over to the studio we were in. Later on, Chris Isaak picks me up at the hotel. So, I’m hanging out in the car with Chris because he has his driver, and Chris Isaak plays me this track that he had done in Nashville. And he says to me “something’s just not right, can you tell what it is.” And I said, “I know exactly what it is, it’s a rhythmic thing. Can you tell me who’s playing the bass part?” Chris says. “Oh Paul McCartney!” And I said, Oh okay, well I guess your just going to have to erase it, because it’s pretty lame.
There were parts that were really cool, and I said we would use those parts, but the other parts we will have to fix. And so, we went into the studio and did that. Later on, Chris Isaak comes over to the studio to meet Yusuf before we did the show. And then the three of us did a version of “Peace Train,” which was just killer. I wish I had a copy of it because it was really special, it was really killer. I tell you I love Chris Isaak because he is such a nice guy.
So, the Yusuf experience was great, but there were a lot of problem with the government with him. He couldn’t get a visa for his wife. He had not been back to the States for a long time, and I think there’s some f*cked up stuff going on there with politics and all that. But it was wonderful to be on the album. I did a few shows with him, I did the Jay Leno show with him and a few other things because he had had flown in his band from London. But in the end, the album failed.
BK: What did you do after that?
KP: Well, the last tour I did was in 2012 with Stephen Stills. But as of now, I’d rather be just hunkering down and writing. I tell you writing is really important to me. I do love producing, but it depends on who it is. But when it comes down to it, I’d rather just be working on my stuff. But of course, I’m up for anything, I’m up for the right move.
BK: Do you find yourself writing on the keyboard more than guitar?
KP: Oh yes, I rarely write on guitar. I write mostly on keyboard.
BK: Because it’s much easier to arrange on keyboards. I mean all the parts are right there in front of you.
KP: Yeah, the whole orchestra. I am classically trained. I started playing trumpet when I was seven. I had great teachers. I was headed to Julliard. I had all these scholarships and offers way back when. But I didn’t dig it. I mean I came from no money; my parents were not cultured and so there was this type of snobbery. The attitude was just not cool enough for me, especially after having played in rock and roll bands up to that point. I started playing bass when I was 16 and I was like this is where it’s at because I could never express myself rhythmically on the trumpet. I had all those years of training in theory and once I taught my hand to play, I had already developed the ear, so it came pretty quick because I was fortunate enough to have had the education.
I have done a lot of different things musically. I have a symphonic piece. I have a solo record with CBS International in which many of the songs on the record are still being played in Brazil. I have another ballad that David Foster produced. I did a bi-lingual record in 1989. So, I’m just doing the best I can to keep going. My ears are good, I haven’t suffered any hearing loss. A lot of my peers have lost their hearing man. I mean seriously lost their hearing
BK: Did you use earplugs on stage?
KP: F*ck no! Never, never. And I don’t use a lot of headphones. I do when I have too, but headphones were always dangerous. I knew it from the beginning. I mean, your wearing headphones even with a walkman and you just keep cranking it up. Physically, I’m good, I’m 70, but if you saw me, I don’t look like I’m 70. I take really good care of myself. I haven’t had a drink in five years which was the last real demon I had. I’m focused and together now.
BK: Do you think it’s also just a musician’s thing, that musicians tend to stay younger?
KP: Yeah, I tell you, me and Joe Vitale were out in L.A. and we were playing for Joe Walsh’s seventieth birthday in a private club. It was the only time I had seen him after the Barnstorm thing in 2017. I saw Ringo out there and I had not seen him in a long time. We had hung out a bunch when I was playing with Elton John. We had partied like there was no tomorrow. One time I had tried to keep up with Ringo and Harry Nilsson and f*cking Keith Moon of the Who. I found myself on the couch puking. I found myself woken up in a pile of puke. I’ll never forget it because I remember Ringo Starr’s son Zak Starkey who was a little boy at the time came into the room and saw me like that. Later on, when I met Zak, he said he remembered that. I said, “yeah and I hid all the puke with the pillows,” and he goes, “yeah I remember!”
So, I saw Ringo at this thing, and he looked great and he sounded great. And he says to me “what else are we going to do? We’re not electricians. We just keep playing man.” And I said, “man your right.” And I think Joe’s got that same attitude, he wants to keep playing. Maybe Henley does too, but he has kind of of taking the weight of this Eagles thing and there’s a lot of singing, I don’t know how he does it.
BK: Okay, I have to ask, was Keith Moon as crazy as his reputation seemed to portray him?
KP: Scary crazy, scary crazy! I briefly remember him blowing into the room. He was like a tornado, like a whirling dervish! That’s what he was like, a whirling dervish. And Nilsson who was so beautiful, but man those guys drank, they drank so f*cking much. They would just drink like a gallon of vodka and do tons of blow and just laugh and party. It was incredible times and I was lucky to be around a few of those. Vitale more so. Joe Vitale was at the Hit Factory when John Lennon would show up. He’s got some great stories.
Let me tell you this about Joe Vitale, the man is my brother. I think Vitale is one of the greatest musicians in the world. He’s an incredible drummer. Let me tell you this, Joe is Phil Collins’ favorite drummer. Just ask Phil who his favorite drummer is and he will say “Joe Vitale.” But Joe is also a great songwriter, great arranger, great keyboard player, he plays flute, he is the best musician I know. Plus, he’s an engineer. I think he took a year and a half off to learn Pro Tools. He’s got it all.
Well anyway, Joe Walsh is on top of the world man, he can do whatever he wants, he’s got a great old lady and he’s focused as hell, he’s sober and what can I say. When you’re in that space, you want to just keep working.
BK: You have done so many classic recordings and played with all the greats, but I got to think that being on a recording with Ringo Starr, a Beatle, has got to be quite rewarding.
KP: Yeah that was huge. At this point, I am on recordings of five or six inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. So, I feel very privileged to have worked with artists like that. Elton rolled into town recently and we didn’t talk to him because he was in a bad mood, but man did he throw down. He was so good. His band was good. There were no smoking mirrors. None of that bs. And a lot of people are f*cking cheating.
Trust me I know. I will say something to someone, and they will say, you see that guy over there at the keyboards with the laptop, well there playing along with tracks that have already been pre-recorded. I won’t mention any names (he does, but I’ll keep that between me and Kenny) But Elton was awesome, f*cking awesome. He just killed me. His piano playing was f*cking ridiculous. It was just some serious stuff. Real serious stuff. Real people playing real instruments.
BK: I can’t spend all this time with you without asking about your days as a member of the Elton John Band. Every musical artist records differently. What was it like playing in the studio with Elton John during the Rock of the Westies and Blue Moves sessions?
KP: They were incredible sessions, because he let me do whatever I wanted. All I had to do was learn his left hand. All the tracking was cut live with drums and bass and piano and Jimmy Newton Howard and Davey Johnstone. When we cut Rock of the Westies, we cut that stuff live. I had to overdub my bass parts and that’s a whole other story because Gus Dudgeon was so used to working with Dee.
We would just rehearse, and I would memorize what Elton was doing and he never said to me don’t play this or don’t pay that. Elton was awesome to work with. I wasn’t a huge Elton John fan when I got the gig. And I had already been in a Learjet when I played with Stephen Stills. And I had heard the early Elton stuff, which I thought was great, but it was also just a bit to Britt for me. Except for the funky stuff like “Take Me To The Pilot,” stuff like that. But it really wasn’t my cup of tea.
BK: How did you get the Elton John gig?
I hooked up with Elton because Walsh called me and said I recommended you for this gig, you gotta take it. They had heard my fretless bass stuff from the Dan Fogelberg record, and then the Barnstorm stuff, but the record that really caught Elton’s attention was the Rick Derringer record All American Boy that I was on. It was a great sounding record. And between that record and the Barnstorm stuff sounding so good on vinyl, Elton wanted to come up to Caribou and check it out. And he did, and that was it. Elton John did three records at Caribou Ranch. He did Caribou, Captain Fantastic, and Rock of the Westies.
BK: Three of the most incredible records ever released.
KP: Oh yeah! Masterpieces. You know there were a lot of people and critics who hated Rock Of The Westies. But listen to that mother f*cker now! It’s really well done. We had finished all the basic tracks and it was time to party when Gus Dudgeon pulls me aside and says “hey, I couldn’t get a bass sound on that fretless,” and I was going, here’s Gus Dudgeon, he’s like George Martin. What am I going to say to him, Go F*ck yourself? And then he says to me “do you have any other basses?” and I say “no, but Jim Guercio does.”
So, I call Jimmy and I say this mother f*cker is telling me he can’t get a sound on my bass, and I know what it is. Gus Dudgeon is used to overdubbing bass parts with Dee and he wants to do it this way. I was so pissed, but I couldn’t really say anything. So, Jimmy had a bass that McCartney had given him, an old Hohner because Jimmy mixed the Ram record. It was McCartney’s second solo record and McCartney gave him this bass as a gift. So, he had that. And then he had some old Gibson explorer bass which you know was alright. But man, I played a fretless bass; that’s what I was doing for the past three years.
So, I took all three basses that Jimmy had, and Dudgeon hated all of them except for the Hohner. And the action on the Hohner was so high. I’ll never forget it. It was just terrible to play. But that was the only one he felt he could get the sound he wanted from. So, he kept three of the original fretless bass tracks on “Hard Luck Story,” “Street Kids,” and one other one. Everything else was with the Hohner. Man, I was just besides myself, I was so bummed. Because what we had live was magic, and so I did it and when he mixed it and played it back, I had to bow down to him because the bass sounded incredible. He had a technique and it was great.
When we did Blue Moves, Caleb and Roger were the heads of the rebellion. They wanted less overdubbing. So that record is just about ninety percent live.
BK: I never knew that. It sounds so perfect.
KP: Yeah, it just about all live. It’s what Caleb, Roger and I wanted to do and Elton was behind it. And those instrumentals were killer. We were really allowed to let loose on them. Before he died, Gus Dudgeon told me that one of his favorite tracks on the album was “Crazy Water.” Paul Buckmaster was on that and so were the Brecker Brothers and David Sanborn. It’s a f*cking brilliant record. And we got panned for that two. People hated me for taking Dee Murray’s place. I got all this hate mail and I’m saying, “hey, wait a minute, I didn’t fire him.” And I saw Dee before I played the Wimbledon gig and I felt really bad. I mean I only did two records with Elton John.
BK: I have always believed that a great band starts with a great rhythm section starting with the drums and bass. If that isn’t right, nothing’s going to be right.
KP: Yeah, if your tracking music man, all you got to do is listen to “Soul Man,” or any of that stuff, if the drums and bass are right! It’s all built on that.
BK: So many great guitar solos or vocal lines in classic rock history were fueled by some incredible rhythm sections playing underneath it all.
KP: Without a doubt. You got it man, that is exactly right. When I was 19, Tommy Bolin and I went to New York and I played with Tommy Bolin on guitar and Alphonse Mouzon on drums and Jan Hammer on keyboards and Jeremy Steig playing electric flute. So, Tommy Bolin is playing his stuff and I’m playing funk bass and the other bass player was Eddie Gomez and then there was Tony Williams playing drums and it was just unbelievable to be a part of that and see that at 19 years old. So yeah man, F*ck! I have been very fortunate.
BK: Well we have been fortunate to have all those great recordings you made come to life.
KP: Thanks, I really appreciate you saying that. And, I am also digging what you guys are doing on the site with keeping this music alive. We need that. That’s what it’s about.
BK: Yeah, we are just trying to keep it going and turn on the young people to all these great records that they don’t really know much about
KP: Well, I’m digging it man.
BK: Yeah man. thanks again
KP: Take it easy, stay in touch!
[i] big acoustic bass guitar invented in 1972
Updated May 23, 2023
An Interview With Legendary Bassist Kenny Passarelli article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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