It won’t be long before you’ll be needing a book to take with you to the dunes or the Dells or to read out on the deck. I’ve got one for you, but it comes with a warning. Get it now and you’ll be done with it even before our next string of 70 degree days. I’m talking about veteran deejay Bobby Skafish’s newly published collection of artist interviews, We Have Company: Four Decades of Rock and Roll Encounters (Rick Kaempfer's Eckhartz Press).
There are plenty of famous names in the book that'll keep the pages turning: Rod Stewart, Don Henley, Jackson Browne, Robert Plant, Steven Tyler, Dave Matthews, David Lee Roth, John Mayer, and Sting, along with members of well-known bands, including the Ramones, the Clash and Cheap Trick. They all sat down with him over the years, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Bobby got them to reveal something they never talked about with anyone else.
Nearly every artist in the book produced at least one choice nugget that was new to me. Graham Nash, one of my favorite interviews in the book, eagerly opened up to Bobby about the entire sweep of his multi-faceted career, in the process putting Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young into a class of its own as a group that played both Woodstock and Live Aid, in addition to the infamous Altamont concert of 1969 (Nash described Altamont as “a bad day all around”). Bobby had heard that David Crosby was something of a talker before their conversation took place, and David ended up being exactly that, the interview going down in the books as one Bobby will remember as “a joy.” Alice Cooper’s quick wit showed in a brief encounter with Skafish outside Chicago’s Riviera Nightclub.
We learn through his interview with Robert Plant about the qualities that, in Bobby's view, make for the ideal interview subject: a quick mind, the ability to put things into words and the willingness to say something outlandish on occasion. Chicago-born Roger McGuinn told Bobby why the Museum of Science & Industry has always been one his favorite places since childhood and the story behind why he changed his name from Jim to Roger in the ‘60s.
I also liked how the interviews are not in transcript form. Bobby adds an essential personal element--he tells us what’s going through his mind before, during and after each conversation. (If I was still teaching my Radio Programming course at Columbia College, I’d make this book required reading—as an instruction manual on how preparing for an interview involves both researching relevant facts and applying the right emotional tone appropriate to each guest.) And, to his credit, he hasn’t cherry picked his best interviews to be included in the book, either. There are remembrances of conversations that went very well (David Bowie, Robbie Robertson) but also some that just didn’t seem to click (Heart), one that required him to take a extra creative approach to make it work (John Lydon, AKA Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols) and others where he felt he wasn’t quite on his game (Chrissie Hynde & the late James Honeyman-Scott of the Pretenders; Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music). Some interviews proved to be pleasant surprises (Alex Van Halen, Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony of Van Halen). Another produced an unexpected disappointment (Jackson Browne). All in all, though, Bobby--ever the pro--was able to find the right balance point between minding the musician's ego and putting on an entertaining radio show for his listeners.
And if you grew up in Chicago, you’ll appreciate Bobby’s references to places you likely frequented back in the day. Among them: Sounds Good Records up on Broadway and Ashland; Wax Trax Records on Lincoln; International Amphitheatre; Club C.O.D.; Poplar Creek; Quiet Knight; ChicagoFest. It’s all icing on the cake in a book that’s a fun and fast read. (Bobby, I'm hoping you have a Volume II in you because I’m looking forward to it.)