Coast Highway Christmas
(JH Records)


Back 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 project—a 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 classics—along with four new Hitchcock originals—in 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 1960’s 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.’ It’s 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 with

interview written and produced by Robert Silverstein for mwe3.com

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?

JH: I’ve had the honor of working with a small cancer trust for the past decade that’s 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 who’s 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 album—many 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: There’s 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?

JH: Richard Bredice is the main guy. Along with being one of the finest guitarists in Orange County, California, he’s 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, California—one of the busiest in the area with work done for Disney, Capitol Records, etc. They are musical geniuses, to say the least and I’m 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 Lamantagne’s 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 “Santa’s 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 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s during the Western Swing era before Elvis and rock ‘n’ roll took over. So that instrument—certainly big in the country circles—additionally has a place in SoCal music history and we wanted to pay homage to that. Rounding out the other collaborators were Todd Griffithe—an excellent keyboard player I’ve played with for a number of years and Cara Olsen—the lone female singer we had who has a gorgeous voice. We also had some terrific kids—four 8 and 9 year olds—daughters of some friends of mine that did some great singing on a few cuts. And finally, Greg Whelan—a buddy of mine did a fun voice over part on the Santa song. We all had a blast. And, let’s not forget the always dependable Frank Cotinola on drums. He’s Richard’s 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 Richard’s 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, California—just 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: It’s 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?

JH: Well 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. I’m a huge fan of the architect of that sound—U2’s, 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 Box—a compressor that’s really cool. It ‘rings out’ that jangly 12 string Rickenbacker guitar sound to the hilt—replicating the mid to late 60’s 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 classics—they just make me happy. So, for all of you Byrds lovers—this is the most jangly, chiming holiday CD you’ll ever hear!

mwe3: 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 Lamantagne’s 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 “Santa’s Catching A Wave” and really peps it up with his incredible playing. Richard Bredice, as I mentioned earlier is a true rock guitar virtuoso—very melodic and powerful at the same time. He and Greg go back and forth with their dynamic playing on that song and it’s really cool.

mwe3: It seems like the original songs that you wrote on the Coast Highway Christmas album are very personal—reflecting 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 her—and all of those courageously battling this disease—a song of hope. Like cancer, it’s a ‘curve-ball’ that can turn one’s life upside down. My feeling is to never take good health for granted. The other original songs—three of them—are 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 don’t 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? It’s really spectacular.

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. They’re quite the talented couple!

mwe3: I lived in L.A. but I guess because there was no cold or snow it didn’t 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 of sorts.

JH: It’s about giving in my opinion. Presents—obviously 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, there’s 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? There’s such a history behind each of the covers, for instance I didn’t 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 I’ve got from people who’ve 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. You’re right—that was written in the 1960’s 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 that’s 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.

mwe3: Also, your cover of “Do They Know It’s 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. It’s very melodic and I layered it with some digital delay and was fortunate to have Cara do the high notes at the end—she 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.

mwe3: 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 year—my father was in the Air Force at the time so I was born on a military base. I live in Aliso Viejo—a community in South Orange County, California. It’s the best place on earth because of the weather and the music—and those California girls...they’re awesome!

mwe3: 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 music—that 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 Rickenbacker’s ‘janglyness’ throughout. I don’t want to take away from the great tunes that these holiday classics are—just 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


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