in 2008, mwe3.com featured a review of the album Grateful by
Southern California pop maven and guitar aficiando Jim Hitchcock.
Early in 2011, Jim began mapping out the release of his latest recording
projecta timely and timeless holiday flavored CD dedicated to
the classic California Sound entitled Coast Highway
Christmas. The catch here is that Jim and his group
perform a range of Christmas and holiday classicsalong with
four new Hitchcock originalsin the spirit of California music
superstars such as The Byrds and Tom Petty. For the 12 track Coast
Highway Christmas Jim breaks out his Rickenbacker 6 and 12 string
guitars, with the results conjuring up some of the most heavenly sounding
pop-rock to emerge from SoCal in years. Handling all the vocals himself,
Jim receives top support from a number of players including pedal
steel guitar hero Greg Liesz, Richard Bredice (producing
and playing lead guitar) and Frank Cotinola on drums. Thanks
to Jim's skillful touch on his 6 & 12 string electric Rickenbacker
guitars, that jingle jangle guitar sound made popular by The Byrds
back in the 1960s is in fine form on A Coast Highway Christmas.
The addition of both Greg Liesz and Richard Bredice tastefully
reinforces the foot tapping, guitar-centric vibe that runs right through
the center of this vital CD. Commenting on working with the iconic
Greg Liesz, who adds pedal steel to the album, Jim adds, That's
right, pedal steel guitar is played by the great Greg Leisz, arguably
the country's finest pedal steel guitarist who recently toured and
played on John Fogerty's Bluegrass effort last year. You see, pedal
steel was huge in the thirties, forties, and fifties in the dance
clubs in and around L.A. during the Western Swing era before Elvis
and Rock 'n' Roll took over. Its truly a brilliant stroke
of musical genius that Jim infuses a number of holiday favorites with
that Cali Roots Rock feel. I mean, The Byrds covered Dylan
and Pete Seeger, so why not a real West Coast, rockin' Christmas flavored
kind of pop album dedicated to the holiday season? Plus, as Jim pointed
out to me on the phone, the Rickenbacker factory is located just minutes
from where he grew up. www.CoastHighwayChristmas.com
mwe3.com presents an interview
interview written and produced by Robert Silverstein
The following interview took place in October 2011
mwe3: Your new CD, Coast Highway Christmas is being done for
charity. When did you start planning the Coast Highway Christmas
album, what was the main inspiration behind the concept of the album?
Ive had the honor of working with a small cancer trust for the
past decade thats funded over one hundred thousand dollars to
various cancer research entities like the City of Hope and the Chao
Institute at the University of California Irvine. The charity and
its history of giving are listed on our website: www.coasthighwaychristmas.com.
Recently, a rather young member of my extended family whos also
a parent with four younger children was diagnosed with colon cancer.
This disease has hit home so to speak and become a bit
personal. As such, we dedicate our CD to cancer survivors everywhere
with all net proceeds from downloads going to fund research. As far
as a Christmas albummany of my friends, family and fans suggested
I do a holiday effort with the same chiming 12 string Rickenbacker
guitar sound of my past albums. I always liked many of the public
domain Christmas songs and felt that adding my arrangement to them
would be cool along with a Southern California theme. So...voila!A
Coast Highway Christmas was born. It took about 18 months to complete.
mwe3: Theres a number of musicians with you on the Coast
Highway Christmas album. Who were some of the key musicians who
were important in the album planning and production?
Richard Bredice is the main guy. Along with being one of the finest
guitarists in Orange County, California, hes also my co-producer
on all my albums, including this one. He and Pat Woodland, who masters
all my stuff, are the duo behind Woodland-Bredice recording studio
in Irvine, Californiaone of the busiest in the area with work
done for Disney, Capitol Records, etc. They are musical geniuses,
to say the least and Im grateful to work with them. Richard
adds all the textures (keyboard patches, synth, drum programming,
etc.) to my sound and mixes all tracks. All of the lead guitar solos
are done by him and Pat did a nice orchestra arrangement on "Coming
Home For Christmas"one of my originals. Through Richard,
I was able to get pedal steel guitar ace, Greg Leisz. Somehow taking
a break from his American Idol house band work and Ray Lamantagnes
global tour, Greg was able to perform his magic on a few tracks for
the album. His gorgeous pedal steel guitar sounds awesome. I wanted
to have this sort of Cali-Roots Rock feel of meshing the
12 string RIC with the pedal steel and I think it works best on my
original Santas Catching a Wave. And, what people
may not know is that pedal steel guitar was very big out here in L.A.
and O.C. back in the 1930s, 40s and 50s during the
Western Swing era before Elvis and rock n roll took over.
So that instrumentcertainly big in the country circlesadditionally
has a place in SoCal music history and we wanted to pay homage to
that. Rounding out the other collaborators were Todd Griffithean
excellent keyboard player Ive played with for a number of years
and Cara Olsenthe lone female singer we had who has a gorgeous
voice. We also had some terrific kidsfour 8 and 9 year oldsdaughters
of some friends of mine that did some great singing on a few cuts.
And finally, Greg Whelana buddy of mine did a fun voice over
part on the Santa song. We all had a blast. And, lets not forget
the always dependable Frank Cotinola on drums. Hes Richards
band mate in the legendary OC (Orange County) band, The Missiles of
October and provided a rock solid beat throughout.
mwe3: What guitars are you playing on the new album? I know on your
2008 album, Grateful you featured what you describe as the
crown jewel among your guitars, the 2006 Rickenbacker
360 Blue-burst 12 string.
JH: Well, certainly the horse of my guitar sound is once
again my Rickenbacker Blue Burst 360 12 string for the Byrds-Esque
lushness. I also used my black and White John Lennon 6 string RIC
for some rhythm guitar sounds with a bit more distortion and for all
my digital delay riffs. I pretty much told Richard to go nuts on guitar
leads for this album and he did some great work. He throws down some
surf guitar, some Chris Isaac / Ventures etherealness and even a little
Dire Straights / Mark Knopfler tastiness. But, a good deal of his
work is just Richard playing some unique, melodic guitar that sounds
spectacular. The guitars he used were both Fenders. His 65 Telecaster
and his Eric Johnson Stratocaster. All of the guitars were amped through
Richard's 1965 Fender Princeton. I also purchased a new Martin cutaway
for the acoustic stuff and it sounds great. As far as the bass, I
did all that work and used Richards Music Man bass directly
through his console.
mwe3: Tell us more about the Rickenbacker guitar factory. You told
me it was just minutes from where you live and grew up.
JH: The Rickenbacker factory is in Santa Ana, Californiajust
30 minutes from where I live. I find it interesting how the greatest
electric guitars, no disrespect to Gibson, are both manufactured in
Orange County, California. Fender is in nearby Fullerton. A lot of
good electronic engineers came out here for the weather around a half
century ago, I guess.
mwe3: Its just amazing that the timeless jingle-jangle 12 string
electric sound is still the best. Can you say something about how
you achieve your famous digital delayer 12 string guitar
sound and what other studio devices or sound effects help you achieve
your wide screen 6 and 12 string guitar sounds?
I displayed the digital delay on a few tracks, most notably
on Joy To The World and the guitar I used is actually
my 6 string RIC. Im a huge fan of the architect of that soundU2s,
The Edge, so I layer that in where I can and the effect I use is a
Boss Digital Delay box. The effects box I was able to get and really
enjoyed using for my 12 string RIC is The Jangle Boxa compressor
thats really cool. It rings out that jangly 12 string
Rickenbacker guitar sound to the hiltreplicating the mid to
late 60s Roger McGuinn guitar rhythms on such Byrds classics
as Mr. Tambourine Man and Turn, Turn, Turn.
The late 60s was the renaissance period of Rock n Roll
in my mind where the Mozarts and Beethovens ruled in the form of the
Beatles and the Stones. Whereas, the former was rock-a-billy and the
later rhythm and blues, the Byrds originated the jangle rock
movement, permeated thereafter by Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers,
R.E.M., Oasis and a number of other bands. Obviously, the 12 string
RIC rhythm guitar chords majestically strummed by Roger carried that
sound and I rate it right up there with all the influential rock guitar
legends. My apologies with all the pontificating, but, every time
I hear hear those legendary Byrds rock classicsthey just make
me happy. So, for all of you Byrds loversthis is the most jangly,
chiming holiday CD youll ever hear!
How about Greg Liesz and the rich history of the pedal steel guitar,
that fabled instrument which adds that high, lonesome sound to some
of your new tracks? How did you meet Greg and how does he enhance
your guitar sounds and recording with the pedal steel on the Coast
Highway Christmas CD? How did you work out and blend your guitar
sounds with Richard Bredice and Greg?
JH: Well again, as previously mentioned, pedal steel guitar has a
relevant history in SoCal music with all the honky-tonk western swing
clubs that dominated out here a half century ago. Greg, current Pariah
Dog member of Ray Lamantagnes band, actually lives out here
and is a friend of my producer, Richard
Bredice. Greg is a musical genius, pure and simple and can go Roots
Rock on SoCal oriented Christmas tunes like mine as opposed
to overly country, which is what pedal steel is known for a lot, with
his playing. Oh Holy Night is Greg, front and center on
my CD and his playing excludes that lonesome quality as
you mentioned. He also plays on my fun original Santas
Catching A Wave and really peps it up with his incredible playing.
Richard Bredice, as I mentioned earlier is a true rock guitar virtuosovery
melodic and powerful at the same time. He and Greg go back and forth
with their dynamic playing on that song and its really cool.
It seems like the original songs that you wrote on the Coast Highway
Christmas album are very personalreflecting on growing up
in SoCal on the title track and the song where you mention your mom,
When Grey Turns To Blue, which ends the album on a song
of hope. Are the other original songs on the CD autobiographical of
your life in SoCal? The title track in particular is really memorable.
JH: My original When Grey Shades Turn To Blue is the only
non-holiday tune on the album and as you mentioned is dedicated to
my mother. She has Parkinsons and I wanted to send herand all
of those courageously battling this diseasea song of hope. Like
cancer, its a curve-ball that can turn ones
life upside down. My feeling is to never take good health for granted.
The other original songsthree of themare autobiographical
in nature and clearly highlight our Southern California region. The
title track is just an expression of my life out here around Christmas.
We dont have snow in my neck of the woods, but, can have really
beautiful weather out here in December with incredibly blue ocean
water, crisp clear air and warm temperatures. Its pretty awesome.
mwe3: How about that great cover art of the Coast Highway Christmas
CD? Who designed the cover art and packaging? Its really
JH: My graphics guy Mike Olsen is a true artist. He designed the entire
look for my album and website. The art department at CD Disk Makers
was also really impressed and his wife, Cara, also sang some parts
on a few songs. Theyre quite the talented couple!
mwe3: I lived in L.A. but I guess because there was no cold or snow
it didnt seem like Christmas to me! What does Christmas mean
to you personally? I guess the holiday has always had religious overtones
yet it also seemed like a new beginning and a good time for charity
Its about giving in my opinion. Presentsobviously to the
kids and family, but we should also remember those less fortunate,
especially those whose health is an issue. We highlight cancer and
Parkinsons survivors on this album so hopefully people can support
those causes, attempting to find a cure. Christmas in Southern California
for me, especially growing up as a kid, was always a happy memory.
No, theres no snow, but most often there is some incredibly
beautiful weather, with the Santa Ana winds blowing away the smog
and creating some picturesque ocean blues. I love it!
mwe3: How did you decide what Christmas-related tracks you wanted
to Rickenbacker-ize with that rockin SoCal beat? Theres
such a history behind each of the covers, for instance I didnt
know that Do You Hear What I Hear was written in 1962
by a married couple as a plea for peace during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
And it sold a quarter million copies during the Christmas of 1962!
JH: I wanted to Rickenbacker-ize the entire album. We
did most of the tunes that way but also tried to Roots-Rock
it a bit when Greg came on board. The comments Ive got from
people whove listened to it have said they like the beat and
the speed of these holiday classics. I really strove to
speed these songs up a bit and make them lively and happy and I think
we accomplished that. Do you Hear What I Hear? is a great
song. Youre rightthat was written in the 1960s for
the reason you mentioned. We really tried to give that song a jangly
Byrds feel, but also wanted to layer it with a sort of
psychedelic accent with some Richard Bredice guitar solos. I think
we nailed it.
mwe3: Also impressive is your cover of 2000 Miles originally
done by The Pretenders. Where did you find that track and why did
you decide to include it? It fits in perfectly with the Coast Highway
Christmas album concept.
JH: Well a lot of Pretenders fans think of that song as a holiday
song due to the Christmas Time lyric thats repeated
throughout. Chrissie Hynde wrote it for one of her band members she
was dating at the time, expressing how she missed him around Christmas.
I just like the song from truly one of the greatest rock bands of
all time. Richard did some great acoustic guitar solos on that one
and of course, I had the jangly RIC 12 string on full throttle.
Also, your cover of Do They Know Its Christmas is
great. Can you say something about your cover of that mid 1980's classic?
That song always had such a great hook and seems to fit on the Coast
Highway Christmas CD too.
JH: I always loved that song by Sir Bob Geldorf. Of course, they had
all the greats singing on it (Sting, Bono, etc.). I heard a great
version done by Barenaked Ladies and I was inspired so I put it on
the CD. Its very melodic and I layered it with some digital
delay and was fortunate to have Cara do the high notes at the endshe
did a great job. Todd emulated the keyboard riff perfectly and all
told, I think it sounds pretty good and it certainly has a timeless
message of bringing attention to world hunger.
Can you say something about where you were born? I learned your father
was in the military and you were born overseas? Where do you live
now and why is SoCal still the best place to live on earth?
JH: I was born in Azores, Portugal but was there for a yearmy
father was in the Air Force at the time so I was born on a military
base. I live in Aliso Viejoa community in South Orange County,
California. Its the best place on earth because of the weather
and the musicand those California girls...theyre awesome!
What are you hoping people will come away with and feel after listening
to the Coast Highway Christmas CD and how about your future
plans for the CHC album and other musical plans moving forward?
JH: I hope people are just happy when they hear the musicthat
they get a thrill out of hearing these holiday classics, covers and
originals as compositions with lead guitar solos, lush vocal harmonies
and 12 string Rickenbackers janglyness throughout.
I dont want to take away from the great tunes that these holiday
classics arejust accented a bit with this Cali-Roots Rock feel
I was going after. As far as the future, I just want to keep playing
music and hopefully perform these tunes with my mates during the yuletide
seasons ahead. Merry Christmas!
Thanks to Jim Hitchcock @ www.CoastHighwayChristmas.com