Sometimes, the best way to listen to the lessons of history is to listen to history itself. Thanks to Jack Feschler at Waxidermy, we don’t have to wonder about the mood surrounding the release of Ron Cornelius’ first, and only, solo album, Tin Luck. Polydor’s press release really says it all.
Tin Luck: The Original Press Release
Ron Cornelius, a native of Berkely, California, began playing the guitar when he was twelve. Four years later he was backing up virtually every group that came to play San Francisco, including The Shirelles and The Miracles. A few more years and it was Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen for whom he was playing. Now he makes his own music.
Ron has been playing professionally for more than ten years, chalking up experience few other
musicians could match. Talking of his younger days with the Untouchables, the house band that backed major artists in his home town, he characteristically understates the experience. ‘It was no big thing,’ he says, ‘because in those days all the recording people who had big hits, well, none of them played music, they were all singers. Everybody who came through had to have a band, we just backed ’em up.’
Around 1964, he began to play local clubs with a band he started with a friend, Joe Davis. But Ron always maintained an affinity with the studio and in the daytime they ‘were in the studio with the Kingston Trio, helping them out, and getting in our own stuff on the side’. The group was called Larry, though Ron isn’t even sure of this as it was so long ago. Larry, through a personnel shake up, evolved into West, Ron’s first real group experience where he began to write his own material. This was at the height of the psychedelic summer, but West chose to keep their distance from that scene.
When San Francisco Blossomed…
‘When San Francisco blossomed,’ recalls Ron, ‘we packed everything up and went across the Bay about forty miles down to a little sugar town called Crockett, and hung out there. So we could drive to the city and be in the middle of all that, but we were living way out. West was isolated from the whole trip,’ Ron concluded.
West lasted for three years and two Columbia albums. There was much hard work and little commercial success. Disenchanted, they broke up, near the end of 1968.
Ron, for the next year and a half, found himself in the studio much of the time. Down in Nashville he worked with Flatt and Scruggs on two of their albums and was busy building a reputation for himself as a fine studio musician.
People were noticing. Soon he was called to do sessions for Dylan’s ‘Self-Portrait’ album, then Leonard Cohen asked Ron to tour with him and help him record an album. Another call from Dylan around that same time summoned Ron down to Nashville to do ‘New Morning’.
In Ron’s Blood
‘It was really a fine moment in my life to be able to play with Dylan. I had always had it in my blood to play with Dylan; I imagine every guitar player does.’
Of the influence these two have had on him, Ron says, ‘playing with Dylan has done a lot for my guitar playing, but Leonard has done a trip for my head, mostly I guess from just being around him.’
‘Leonard Cohen is one of the liveliest people in the world when he wants to be,’ Ron remarked in admiration. ‘I think he could fly if he wanted to.’
Of Cohen’s musical influence on him, Ron says simply, ‘He has calmed me down some. I had a lot of things stored up inside me that Leonard brought out gently.’
Ron has been writing songs since his days with West, (three of West’s songs are on Ron’s ‘Tin Luck’ album). Bit it was not until his experience with Cohen that the songs started to flow more easily.
Writing for Tin Luck at Leonard’s House
“About five or six months ago I was down at Leonard’s house in Franklin, Tennessee,’ he recalls. ‘Here I was in Loenard’s house at Leonard’s typewriter, the same one he uses. Anyway, it was about two in the morning and all of a sudden, I just flipped out laughing, just really enjoying myself, playing around with this happy little melody I wrote called “Indoor, Outdoor Lovin’ ” (a song on Ron’s album). The words came to me in about fifteen minutes. Not that the lyrics are so heavy or anything, but just the way it came was beautiful.”
In spired by the vibrations of Dylan and Cohen, and his own musical sense emerging, Ron set out to record an album of his own. ‘Some of the songs I started writing when I was sixteen, but this album is the first I’ve done all by myself,’ he says.
The album is both electric and acoustic. Ron would rather play in an electric band, with just bass and drums. Assisting him on the album are his old chum, Joe David on base, and Paul Distill on drums.
“I’ve Learned Some Things…”
Although possessed with a winning personality, may of Ron’s songs are melancholy and sad and are drawn from personal experience. Some, he says, ‘were written during some pretty bad times in my life, but I’m not that down now.’
Before Ron goes on tour with his own songs, he is waiting to see if Cohen wants to do another short one-night trip. Tat is how much allegiance Ron has to the man.
Ron is also producing two of his friends’ records out in San Francisco. This is his first crack at producing, but he is highly enthusiastic about what the results will be.
What is Ron Cornelius trying to communicate in his music? ‘My songs are just songs, there is no gigantic crusade. The only thing I’m trying to say is I’ve learned some things through my experiences, and at the same time I’ve hung onto my guitar.’ ”
If you’d like to read a review of Tin Luck, Ron’s solo album, check out Galactic Ramble’s take.