QUESTION 1: First off, tell us a bit about yourself and why you ended up with music?
I have had an interest in music since I was very young. I started playing the piano and organ when I was 5 years old, studying classical music. That was more than 6 decades ago. I first got interested in rock and pop music and becoming a songwriter when I saw The Beatles on television in 1964, and I formed my first band shortly after that, when I was still a young teenager. In 1967, I realized my first success as a songwriter when a song I co-wrote called ‘This Is the Time’ became a #1 hit for the band I was in at the time.
The band was called The Sixth Generation and the success of the record led to significant popularity for the band and extensive touring. After I entered university, it became too difficult to continue touring and keep up with my studies, so the band broke up in 1970 even though we were still very popular at the time. I studied business and eventually served as the Chief Executive Officer of an international company for many years. All the while, I never stopped writing music, although I never published any of the songs during that time. In 2010 (40 years after The Sixth Generation had stopped playing), we were asked by family and fans to get back together for a reunion.
I wrote a new song for the occasion called ‘That Was the Time’, which was essentially an autobiography of the band. We recorded it, and the song took off like wildfire, loved by Baby Boomers everywhere around the world, and basically becoming an anthem for the Boomer generation. So, the band decided to start recording and touring again after our 40-year break. Shortly after that, I retired from the business world, which allowed me to devote more time to music. I wrote quite a few songs for The Sixth Generation, and a number of them became quite popular around the world. In 2015, ‘Livin’ In a Small Town’, which is a song I wrote about our home town, hit #2 on Billboard. In 2016, the songs I wrote for the band’s ‘Feelin’ Good’ album drove the album to #4 on Billboard. ‘Touch the Moon’ from that album was considered for a 2017 Grammy nomination, although it did not end up with a nomination. These successes with my songs led me to continue as an individual singer/songwriter after the other band members decided to retire during 2016.
QUESTION 2: Do you remember the moment you figured out that you wanted to be a musician?
Yes, I actually do! I have an aunt who was very musically inclined and started showing me how to play a guitar when I was 5 years old. I credit her getting me started with music. My grandparents also had a piano in their living room, and one day around the time my aunt had got me started on guitar, I sat down to play the piano, and I loved it. Shortly after, my parents bought an organ for me, and I haven’t stopped playing keyboards since then.
QUESTION 3: Who are your biggest influences?
John Lennon and Paul McCartney were my first major influences for songwriting, but there have been many since then, and the list continues to grow. (And truth be told, it was all the screaming girls in The Beatles’ audiences that initially got my attention. 😉 ) I admire great songwriters across genres, and I think all of them have had at least some influence on my songwriting.
In no particular order, songwriters such as Brian Wilson, Paul Simon, James Taylor, John Fogerty, George Harrison, Neil Young, Jackson Browne, Neil Diamond, Willie Nelson, John Denver, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Dolly Parton, Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars, Adele, and even Leonard Cohen have all certainly had influence on the songs I write. I actually study the songs of great songwriters such as these, and I learn from what was successful for them.
QUESTION 4: When and where did you do your first live gig?
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away. 😄 My first live gig was with a band I had formed when I was 14 years old. It was for a teen dance at an American Legion Hall in the small town in Michigan where I grew up. My mom and dad had to take me and my equipment and pick me up after the gig. I have done thousands of performances since then on stages across the US and UK, including some at very major venues such as the world famous Cavern Club in Liverpool, England, and the National Mall in Washington, DC.
QUESTION 5: How did the new record/single come about?
I wrote “I Saw the Sign” as a gift to my wife on our 46th anniversary. It’s the story of how we met. Back in those days, she was a big fan of my band, The Sixth Generation, and often came to dances where we were performing. I had seen her before, but one night things just clicked. We married a few years later, and we’ve been married now for 48 years.
QUESTION 6: What was the process from start to finishing this record?
Like all songs, it started with an idea and a framework for doing the song. In this case, I decided I would write a gentle love song, telling the story of how my wife and I met and how, after all these years, we were still together. After that, I sketched out the storyline. As usual when I do that step, lyric lines and music highlights start occurring to me, and I jot them down as I do the sketched outline. Then I set about the process of actually writing the song. When I write, I sit down at the piano and the words and music basically come to me at the same time. (Every songwriter does it differently, but this is how it always works for me.)
In this particular case, the song just came flowing out. From the idea to having the music and lyrics didn’t take much more than an hour. (Sometimes that happens!) As I usually do, I then let it sit without touching it for a day or so. Then, I went back to it to do tweaks until I was satisfied with the song. Like always, after that step I started working on the arrangement – picking the best instrumentation to complement the song and working out the individual parts on my keyboard.
In this case, I used a picked guitar in the foreground with a softer electric piano and strings in the background to set a gentle mood for the song. When I was in the recording studio, I played each individual part on my keyboard, with the recording engineer capturing a separate track for each one of them. (Yes, that’s actually a keyboard you hear in the recording, not a guitar.) Then, I recorded the vocal track. After the studio got everything mixed and mastered, it was released to the world.
QUESTION 7: How do you feel about the music industry today and how it has evolved over the years? Do you benefit from the evolution in any way?
I guess I have a good perspective on this because I’ve been involved with the music industry over a lot of years. So much has changed since I first entered the industry back in 1967. Back then, it was analog recording and vinyl 45s, nowadays everything is digital, which makes the recording process and getting a final product produced much easier. Another major benefit of today over those days is the Internet, which has allowed such things as easier collaboration, easier distribution of recordings, and very importantly, easier access to music for listeners (buyers). Social media also plays an important role in getting the word out about a new song without spending a ton of money on marketing, which is particularly important to independent singer/songwriters such as myself. While the record companies have always spent a lot of money marketing their signed artists, independent artists do not have the same deep pockets. In the old days, even as a teenager, I could personally present a new song to disc jockeys at local, regional and even major-market radio stations and if they liked it, they would play it on the station, thereby letting listeners hear it so they could go to the record store and buy it. Today, that is not the case.
Most radio stations are owned by large corporate organizations who only allow play of songs based on money they receive from the major record companies. This is another place where I think the Internet plays an important role to independent artists such as myself. Independent Internet stations are popping up all over, and they reach a worldwide audience. Streaming services such as Spotify also reach across the globe. As a result, I have acquired new fans for my music on all 7 continents, which could have never happened in the old days.
QUESTION 8: How does the future look for you? Touring? Even more new music?
I think I have a very bright future, even though I am older than most singer/songwriters who are regularly producing music. I have released an album and 12 singles since October 2016 when I went solo after The Sixth Generation dissolved, and I am releasing another single, as well as a 5 song EP during April. I actually have new songs lined up for release every month through the end of the year. I also regularly perform live, with performances booked every month through the end of the year to help support my releases.
My fan base continues to steadily grow with each new release, as indicated by increasing streaming statistics. It also helps that I write songs across music genres. While historically most of my songs have been rock and pop songs, I recently released a couple country songs that have done very well in attracting new fans. The single I will be releasing this month is actually a show tune—the kind of song you might hear in a musical. I teamed up with another artist I know who has the perfect voice for the song, and I expect each of us will attract fans from the other as well as brand new fans with the release. I am also currently writing a pop song that will feature another great vocalist.
QUESTION 9: If there is one thing our readers should know about you, what would that be?
I have been passionate about songwriting for many years, and that passion only increases as time goes along. I do not expect to get rich as a songwriter. I love writing songs and people across the world like my songs, so that is my reward.
James Lipton Questions
1. What is your favorite word? Infinity. I sometimes just sit and try to comprehend what it really means.
2. What sound or noise do you love? I love the silence of a heavy snowfall when there is no wind.
3. What sound or noise do you hate? A crashing automobile.
4. What profession other than your own would you not like to attempt? An undertaker. I wouldn’t like it at all.
5. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? Welcome to the land of nice people.