Alan Munson interview
Since joining his first band at 13 years old, Alan Munson has performed with numerousrock bands over the years as lead vocalist and guitar player, has performed with acoustic guitar/vocal duets, and as a solo artist.
In 1972, he and fellow rock band member, Bill Cooley, recorded and released their first recordalbum entitled “In Debt”. “That album recording experience changed everything,” Munson recalls. “I really enjoyed playing in bands and performing on stage, but I found the recording studio environment to be more musically challenging and creatively rewarding”. Although he continued playing in bands, most of his energy was shifted into recording studio work, songwriting and music composition. That focus led to the recording and release of two “solo” record albums (“Good Morning World” and “First Light”) with all original songs, Munson playing all of the instruments and performing all lead/background vocals. His recording studio work continues, and, to date, he has written and recorded over 400 songs.
Over the last few years, the Cooley-Munson “In Debt” album and Munson’s solo record albums have attracted the attention of the fans/collectors of 1970’s Psychedelic / Psych Folk music. The original vinyl LP album releases are sought after by record collectors who have paid over $800.00 for a single copy of the original albums.
Where and when did you grow up?
My family moved through a number of the U.S. states, from coast to coast, in my childhood years. We finally settled in Santa Barbara, California when I was in my teens. I lived there for many years, much longer than anywhere else, so I consider Santa Barbara as my home town. I absolutely loved growing up in Southern California, and from a music perspective, it was an exciting place to be in the late 1960’s and 1970’s.
I started to learn guitar in my pre-teen years. My father is a life-long guitar player and he encouraged me to take up the instrument. He’s an amazing guy. He’s now in his 80’s, and he is still playing guitar and performing shows with his band. That is truly inspirational! He has always played country music, which I unfortunately did not care for at all. I wasn’t too thrilled about guitar lessons that involved learning country songs. I moved forward with it, but I was a somewhat reluctant guitar student in the beginning.
All of that changed with the arrival of the Beatles and the “British Invasion” groups. I remember the exact moment when something really clicked for me. I was intently watching the first U.S. appearance of the Rolling Stones on television. I loved their music, loved the guitar driven sound, they all looked so cool on that stage, and an audience filled with hundreds of screaming girls didn’t hurt the image at all! That was it, I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and my music goal was set. I went from being mildly interested in the guitar, to obsessively practicing and playing. It’s amazing how a single event like that can become life changing!
Of course, the Beatles were a huge early influence on my music, but I was more excited about the harder edge groups like the Rolling Stones, Kinks, and especially the Yardbirds. Beyond that time, my interest stretched across many types of music , so it’s difficult to pick out just a few names. I think my vocal style was most influenced by the lead and harmony vocals of groups like the Hollies, Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. I spent a lot of time singing along with Graham Nash, and those way high harmony vocals that he so expertly delivered. I thank him for all the voice lessons he unknowingly gave me back then.
Were you in any bands before releasing your solo albums?
I was in my first rock band when I was 13 years old, and played with several rock bands over the years leading up to my album releases, and beyond. As you would expect, my first couple bands had their rough edges. But, whatever we lacked in our instrumental skills, we made up for with lots of energy, relentless fast tempo and deafening volume. We were getting our first paid gigs when I turned 14; mostly school dances and that kind of thing. At 16, we started playing some night club gigs, and I felt like I was on track with my music goals.
My much later Psych-Rock band “Aftermath”, was the hardest working, and probably the most popular group I performed with in the early days. I played guitar, and for the first time, sang all the lead vocals in the band as well. We had skillful players, a solid sound, and a well-connected manager who kept our show calendar very full. “Aftermath” stayed together for a few years. We moved into performing original material, and introduced several songs I had written into our playlist. Some of our “live” performances were recorded, but there were no record releases.
After the break-up of “Aftermath”, I joined up with another rock band, “Future Passed”. In that same timeframe, I teamed up with an amazing female vocalist, Suzanne Lukather, and we formed an acoustic guitar duo. It was quite a change to perform shows with only two of us on the stage, playing acoustic guitars. Our playlist included fairly intricate song arrangements and challenging vocal harmonies. Suzanne and I did some demo recordings together, but no releases.
What were some of your most memorable concerts?
The first one that comes to mind, is a concert I played at the Santa Barbara Memorial Auditorium in the 1970’s. I performed three sets in that concert. Played the first set with my rock band “Future Passed”, a second set as an acoustic duo with Suzanne Lukather, and a third set which I performed solo, playing songs I had written. That was the first time I had ever performed solo and I was a bit apprehensive about trying that out in front of a huge audience, but everything that night went incredibly well. I came away from that concert with the realization that I enjoyed the full band, the duo and solo performing styles equally, which changed a lot about my future direction in music.
One of the hottest Southern California venues for Psychedelic Rock in the 60’s/’70’s was Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara. The list of groups who performed there is astounding, including Jimi Hendrix, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, Buffalo Springfield, on and on. I attended several concerts there and had the chance to see many of my favorite groups. And then, in 1971, I had the great fortune to perform in a concert at Earl Warren Showgrounds with Bill Cooley and our band “Future Passed”, with a few thousand people in attendance. I was absolutely thrilled to perform on that very same stage where so many rock legends had performed over the years.
“We had both set our sights on music as a career path”
Cooley & Munson duo released “In Debt” in 1972. Would you like to tell me some of the strongest memories from recording and producing this LP?
Bill Cooley and I had been playing in a rock band together for a year or so. Bill is an accomplished and exceptional guitarist today, but even back then he was a great lead guitar player. Our music interests eventually shifted from performing with the band, to working on all original music. We had both set our sights on music as a career path, so a move to writing, composing and recording original songs was an essential next step for both of us.
I wrote eight of the songs for the Cooley-Munson “In Debt” album, and Bill wrote the closing track “One Long Day”. We spent a lot of time collaborating on the song arrangements for the album, prior to recording anything. Those sessions would run into all hours of the night. When we moved into recording, most every instrumental and vocal track on the “In Debt” album was a “first take”. We had some novel ideas, no fear of experimentation with our song arrangements and sound. In the end, we produced an all original album with our own, unique Psychedelic-Folk rock music style.
The “In Debt” LP was released on the Studio West record label in Santa Barbara and was produced by Monarch Records in Los Angeles. There were only 200 copies in the original LP release, but we believed big production volume would soon follow. There was no doubt in our minds that a major record label deal was coming; it was just a matter of time. We were charged up with youthful confidence, and thought we were unstoppable. Our songs were getting radio airplay, there were special displays of our albums in the record stores, there was a meeting with a concert promoter, “live” radio interviews; all of that fueled the fire.
After the album release, Bill and I did some performing to promote the album, but the major label record deal never came around. We later went off to work on separate music projects. Even without the major label deal, the “In Debt” album release was a huge milestone in our music journey. And, with the reissue of the album by Guerssen Records in 2008, the “In Debt” album was re-discovered, and has become very popular. That album has taken an amazing ride through time. Bill and I have remained the best of friends, and we have continued to record music together over all these years.
In 1975 you released your first solo LP, “Good Morning World”.
A couple years after the “In Debt” LP release, I started writing songs for my first solo album, “Good Morning World”. Most of the album was recorded in 1974, and released in 1975 on the Parallax Records label in Santa Barbara, California. The original release came out in cassette format only. I had fully intended for the album to be released on vinyl LP’s as well, but soon after the initial “GMW” release, I was already working on songs for my next solo album, and had moved on. For that reason, I was very pleased when Guerssen Records reissued the “GMW” album in 2008, in both CD and vinyl LP formats. The “Good Morning World” album continues to be my personal favorite of the three early album releases.
The “GMW” album is comprised of nine original songs, with a Psychedelic-Folk style across the tracks. The music is predominately acoustic. I sang all lead and background harmony vocals, and played all instruments on the album; including 12 string and 6 string acoustic guitars, electric bass guitar, 6 string electric guitar and some percussion. I enjoyed experimentation on this album and utilized some fairly unusual song arrangements, chord structures, tempo changes within songs, and multiple guitar harmonies. I had found and defined my own, possibly even unique, personal style of writing, performing and recording music through the course of this album project. It’s a style that I have stayed with, or close to, in most all recordings that followed the “Good Morning World” album.
“If you don’t live it, then don’t write songs about it”
What can you tell me about your songwriting, what inspired you the most?
I met with a record producer in Los Angeles in the early 70’s, and he listened to a demo tape of songs I had written and recorded. I was certain that tape contained the next big hit he would want to rush into production on the record label. He carefully listened to each song, which I found encouraging. When the tape finished, he paused and said “I like the music, but you don’t have anything to say. You’re young, go out and experience the world, write songs based on that real life experience, and then come back and see me”. That was not the response I wanted or expected, but as time went along, I realized I had been given the very best songwriting lesson I could ever hope to receive.
From that point forward, every song I wrote was based on that advice, which had become my “If you don’t live it, then don’t write songs about it” rule. The time that followed our meeting provided me with more than enough rich life experience to write songs about. My songwriting greatly improved with the depth and the passion of lyrics that can only come from direct personal experience.
Although the songs are written based on my own experiences, I try to avoid over-personalizing the lyrics. I do not want the songs coming across to listeners as “the adventures of Alan”. For that same reason, I rarely share the background, or story behind my songs with anyone. My true reward as a songwriter comes from a listener finding their own way into the songs, finding lyrics that touch their lives in some way, and defining those songs as their own; as their own story. The listener’s interpretation of the song’s meaning may be very different than mine, but to me as a songwriter, the listener’s view is the one that truly matters.
A few years later in 1979 you released “First Light”.
My third album, “First Light”, was originally released on the Parallax Records label in Santa Barbara, California in 1979. The album was recorded in San Jose, California between November 1978 and March 1979. “First Light” was another solo recording project, and like the previous record,
I sang all the vocals and played all instruments on this album. The “First Light” album doesn’t easily fit into a specific music category. The eleven songs on the LP range from Psych rock, to some mellow folk rock, and even a song with a country rock flavor. There is a fairly even balance of acoustic and electric song styles across the album. Instruments played on the record include 12 string acoustic guitar, 6 string electric and acoustic guitars, electric bass guitar and I played drums on a few tracks.
A couple of the “First Light” songs got radio airplay, and the album sold quite well for an independent record release. Copies of the album also found their way into the European market through a distribution connection. In 2008, the “First Light” album was also reissued by Guerssen Records, and one of my previously unreleased songs, “Thirty”, was added to the LP as a bonus track.
What happened next?
I was primarily focused on songwriting, composing and recording studio work though all of those years. I went through a prolific songwriting phase and created quite an inventory of original songs. By the end of the ’90’s, I had written and recorded well over 400 original songs.
I was also planning to release a new album on CD in the 90’s. It turned into a recording project that seemingly had no end to it. One of my friends came up with a line, that he enjoyed sharing with everyone, about my apparent lack of progress with that elusive new CD project. He said … “Scientists say that the sun will burn out in 15 billion years, which means, of course, that Alan Munson will be finishing his new CD in the dark!”.
Although that planned album project was not released in the 90’s, I had actually recorded and produced over 13 full length CD’s of original songs through that time period.
What’s the story behind your latest project, “The Road Goes On”.
My fourth, and most recent solo album “The Road Goes On” was released in early 2010 and is available in CD format. There are ten original songs on the album. The music style is a fairly laid back rock-based sound, with some folk-rock and blues influences coming through. Like my earlier albums, I placed strong emphasis on meaningful lyrics, up-front vocals and background harmony vocals. I performed all lead and background vocals, played 6 string electric, 6 string acoustic and electric bass guitars, keyboards and percussion on this new record.
Bill Cooley made a guest appearance on the album, and contributed some great lead guitar work to the title track, “The Road Goes On”. And once again, I thank Guerssen Records for getting this new album release out into a worldwide marketplace.
Guerssen re-released your music.
I’ve greatly enjoyed my association with Guerssen Records (Spain) over the last four years, and it’s been a pleasure working with them on my album releases. Guerssen reissued all three of my early albums in 2008. The “In Debt” and “Good Morning World” albums were released both in CD format and as vinyl LP’s. We worked directly from the original album masters to ensure the best possible quality, and the albums were re-mastered by Shadoks Music Studio in Germany. The album cover artwork, liner notes and CD booklet designs produced by Guerssen are excellent.
I am now also contracted with Yoga Records in Hollywood, California. Last year, my albums were released for sales as MP3 and FLAC downloads on the Yoga Records label. One of the primary Yoga Records objectives is to get my music into movies, commercials, and other video applications. My association with Yoga Records has been another great record label experience.
What are some future plans?
I’m currently writing and recording songs for another new album release. This 5th album will be another solo recording project, with all original songs. The style will be somewhat similar to my “Good Morning World” album, with a return to more of an acoustic based sound. I’m excited about this new recording project and I hope to deliver the best.
I’m also working on putting together one or two albums of previously unreleased songs that I wrote and recorded in the 70’s and 80’s. I believe those songs are of equal quality to the tracks on my album releases, but they never found their way to an album release.
Thank you for your time.
Thanks Klemen! I really appreciate having my music work and interview included in the “It’s Psychedelic Baby” magazine.
If anyone would like more information about my music work, please visit my website.
– Klemen Breznikar