This is the first ever feature interview at Urb’l Remedy! We’re kicking things off with David Spinozza. He’s been in the business since the 1970s. Some music aficionados may be familiar with him, but he’s not as known as all the artists he’s worked with. Sometimes that’s part and parcel of being a studio musician or guitarist. Regardless, he’s been part of various touchstones to our collective musical history while working with heavyweight artists and contributing to, what are now, classic works.
His discography is numerous and goes on and on and on like an Erykah Badu record. Some of the artists he’s most known for working with are 3 of the 4 Beatles, Yoko Ono, James Taylor, Paul Simon, and Dr. John. Not only has he worked in music, he has also touched film, television, and Broadway with his musicianship. Here at Urb’l Remedy we’ve dubbed him That Music Legend You Don’t Know, But Should. And if you don’t know, now you know!
He released a solo record in 1978 called Spinozza and another in 1983 called Here’s That Rainy Day that was only released in Japan. He is part of funk/jazz/progressive super-group, L’Image, who released their debut, 2.0, in 2009. The follow-up, Now, is due in the not too distant future.
Find out about all this and more by reading his exclusive interview below. Thanks to David Spinozza for being open to this interview and helping us set things off by being the first artist to be featured.
Urb’l Remedy: How did you get started?
David Spinozza: I started playing the guitar around eight years old. I had asked my mom to get me a drum set, initially, but she purchased a guitar, instead, and I began banging on that and haven’t put it down since.
Urb’l Remedy: You’ve done more collaborative work than solo work. Do you have a preference? Would you have preferred to have put out more solo work throughout the years?
David Spinozza: I was always interested in arranging and producing records. Not necessarily just my own. With all the playing I did with other artists, I got signed to do my own solo records, but I wasn’t really looking for a record deal. I didn’t have any desire to be a guitar star, I enjoyed the process of creating music and making it come alive on tape back in the ’70s. I kept getting called to work with other musicians, so I just went with it. It was a natural progression.
I also was asked to compose and arrange music for television commercials, which I did for some years. I enjoyed the challenge and the pay was good.
Urb’l Remedy: Speaking of collaborators, one of the collaborators you’re most known for working with is James Taylor. How did you two hook up and how was it to work with him? Any interesting tidbits regarding 1974′s Walking Man?
David Spinozza: At that time, I was Carly Simon’s musical director. I would write her musical charts and put together a band to perform live. I was doing some guitar parts on Carly’s solo album, Hotcakes. From what I remember, she had recently been dating James and he stopped by the studio and Carly introduced us. He seemed to like my work and asked me to recommend some producer/arranger-type musicians. He had been thinking about doing a recording which would have more orchestration than his previous records and would require those skills as well as playing.
I didn’t feel comfortable recommending myself, so I gave him a few names of people I worked with and admired. The list was: Kenny Ascher, Leon Pendarvis, Rob Mounsey, and there may have been a few more. James looked at me and said, “What about you? You can arrange and produce.” Well, needless to say, I was really flattered that he asked me.
He explained to me that he had this one song that he tried to record and was unhappy with the results. The song was “Let It All Fall Down.” He made me an interesting offer. He said if I could help record that song the way he envisioned it, I could produce the entire album with him. I was thrilled and challenged by that offer and the rest is history.
I must say that J.T. is the real thing. He is the quintessential troubadour. He can sit down with his guitar and sing you a story like no one else. When we had our first production meeting at their apartment and James played some of the songs he wanted to record, he asked me what else I heard on them. I remember saying something like, “Why don’t I press record on my cassette machine and make the album right now?” He really was and is that good. I’m still a fan of his.
Urb’l Remedy: How is it to have known and worked with 3 of the 4 Beatles and Yoko Ono?
David Spinozza: Paul McCartney – He was the first X-Beatle I worked with. He wanted to make an album in NYC. Somehow he got in touch with the musicians’ union in New York and asked them to recommend some players on drums, guitar, and keyboards. I was doing a lot of studio sessions at that time and my name got thrown into the hat. I was invited to meet Paul and Linda [McCartney] at a loft where they were listening to players. I played with and for Paul and when I got home I received a phone call, from Linda, asking me about my availability to work with them on the Ram album.
John Lennon — I don’t know where John got my name from. I don’t know if Paul and John were talking back then. I got a call from Yoko asking my availability to work on Mind Games. I believe it was a few years later.
Ringo Starr — Arif Mardin produced Ringo the 4th. That was the recording I worked on with Ringo. I worked with Arif on numerous recordings and he probably recommended me for that project.
Yoko Ono — Yoko was very involved with John’s Mind Games sessions, so when Yoko was ready to do her own project [1973's Feeling the Space], she called the same rhythm section that played for John.
Urb’l Remedy: Where were you when you found out John Lennon had been killed? How did his death affect you?
David Spinozza: I was in a bar restaurant called Possible Twenty. It was a favorite watering hole for studio musicians. Some musicians even invested in the place. It was a great place to hang in between sessions. We all knew each other and were treated really well there.
One evening our waitress came over to the table crying. She said John Lennon had been shot. We were all in disbelief. This was before cell phones and TVs in bars, so we were all using the payphone to call anyone we thought might have information. He wasn’t confirmed dead, yet. It was a very sad evening.
Urb’l Remedy: Any memorable thoughts on some of the songs you’re most known for being a part of?
David Spinozza: Don McLean “American Pie” (1971) from American Pie – My funniest memory about that song was me telling Don McClean it would never get any airplay because it was too long. Most of the records back then were under three minutes and most recordings stayed within that time frame, if you expected to get it on the radio. Boy, was I wrong or what!?! I thought it was a great song, though. Still do.
John Lennon “Mind Games” (1973) from Mind Games — I don’t really like to compare the different ways that Paul and John liked to work in the studio. They both were very talented and had very different production styles. John liked to work fast. He played you the song and we’d run through it a few times and then record the basic tracks quickly. He would then come back another day and overdub additional guitar parts or whatever he thought the song needed. The studio players were never there for that part of the production.
Paul McCartney “Another Day” (1971) though not originally included, later added to re-releases of Ram — Great song. It was the first song we recorded together and I remember doing many tracks of overdubbed guitar parts. I thought it was a magical song and production. It came out as a single while we were recording the Ram album.
Paul Simon “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” (1972) from Paul Simon — What a great song. What a great songwriter. That was really fun to record. At some point, Paul had played me “Still Crazy After All These Years.” He asked me what I thought of it and I was blown away. He recorded it a short time after that on his next record. What a great song.
Dr. John “Right Place Wrong Time” (1973) from In the Right Place — I never heard the entire song until it was released. I was leaving [the] Atlantic recording studios one day, on my way to another session. Dr. John walked out of one of the mixing rooms and saw me waiting for the elevator. He said he was mixing his single and they had forgotten to put a solo on it. He asked me if I could put a quick guitar solo on it. I told him I didn’t have much time, but he coaxed me in and they cued it up to the part that needed the guitar solo and I just started playing along.
I said, “Okay, I’m ready. Let’s try one.” Dr. John said something like, “Ready, my ass. That was a take.” To this day, I wish I had a second chance at it, but it seemed to turn out okay. A few months later, I heard the entire song while sitting in the back of a New York cab on my way to another session. When the guitar solo came on, I had a knee jerk reaction and exclaimed to the cab driver, “Hey, that’s me!” He quickly turned down his radio and fired back, “Yeah right, buddy.” A true story, but he didn’t believe me.
Urb’l Remedy: With such longevity in your career, instead of asking you what you consider your GREATEST accomplishment to be, briefly describe the TOP 3 accomplishments or highlights of your career.
David Spinozza: I’m not much for nostalgia. I generally look forward to the next projects I’m going to work on, but in hindsight I’d have to say that working with 3 out of 4 of the Beatles is a pretty cool and rare accomplishment. It wasn’t something I aspired to do, but that it happened is terrific. My A&M solo album [ 1978's Spinozza] was a real creative time for me. And I’ll always cherish the Walking Man album with J.T. I’m very proud of that.
Listen to “Superstar” from David Spinozza’s A&M solo album, Spinozza (1978).
Urb’l Remedy: You’ve worked in music, TV, film, and on Broadway. How do they compare? Which is your favorite?
David Spinozza: The one thing they all have in common is you need to have musicianship. I prefer to work on new music rather than play the same music over and over again. Broadway calls for that and I can do it, but it’s not my favorite way to work.
Urb’l Remedy: How has the industry changed from when you first started to present day?
David Spinozza: There are no more major record labels for one thing. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I think people having the ability to record at home and post it on YouTube or sell it online is pretty cool, but one has to weed through a lot of mediocre material now.
It seems that everyone is a self-proclaimed songwriter, photographer, filmmaker, musician, or whatever. There used to be a filtering system to get to the best of the best. Perhaps I’m old-fashioned, but I’m not crazy about the way it is right now.
Urb’l Remedy: What’s the most important thing to you as a musician when choosing projects?
David Spinozza: When it’s for a recording, I’d have to say the song or composition is first and the singer or player is second. There are a lot of great singers and players, but a great song makes them shine.
Urb’l Remedy: Tell me about 1969′s the Goggles.
David Spinozza: The Goggles was a TV band that was put together as a pilot for a television show. It was supposed to be a light science show for kids. We would put on those goggles and discover some magical stuff and then explain it in a scientific way. The show only aired once and NBC never picked it up.
Urb’l Remedy: Tell me about L’Image.
David Spinozza: L’Image started out many years ago with Michael Mainieri, Steve Gadd, Tony Levin, Warren Bernhardt, and later, myself. It is a group of guys I played with in many different situations. We became Carly Simon’s backup band and I opened up for Carly on occasion and they would be my band for a while. We, basically, were each other’s band on different projects and after thirty or more years, we decided to get together and make a few recordings and do some live gigs when everyone is available. It’s a difficult band to get together because all the guys are very busy on their own. It’s magical when we do get a chance to play together. Collectively, we’ve played on thousands of recordings.
Urb’l Remedy: What was it like to conduct and play with the SNL Band from 1982 to 1984?
David Spinozza: SNL band was a hoot. We didn’t get much airtime back then, but what a band.
Urb’l Remedy: What about being first chair on Hairspray? (We love the Broadway at Urb’l Remedy!)
David Spinozza: Hairspray was great fun. Marc Shaiman wrote a terrific score and the band was fun to play with.
Urb’l Remedy: Any advice for up-and-coming musicians who want to do what you’ve done and continue to do?
David Spinozza: Most of my work was in the studio. Not sure how much of that is around anymore. One has to find creative projects and people that think alike and keep going after it. There’s always room for more good music. Practice, practice, practice!!!
Urb’l Remedy: Anything else coming up for you this year that we should look out for?
David Spinozza: I may do another solo project and I hope we can get L’Image in gear again soon.
Talk about Hitting The Ball Out Of The Park with A Great Interview on David Spinozza!!!! I LOVE an Interviewer That Does Their Homework, it made for an Awesome Debut. Thanks Freddie Beat @ URB’L REMEDY $ Thanks David Spinozza (Hey Buddy, I Would Have Believed Ya & I Would Have Cranked It UP)! How about a YES on another Solo Project?
Good job Freddie!
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