“The eyes have it” - Dale Newman in conversation. Interview conducted at The Farm studio on 25th September 1997. Photography: TWR archive, Ian Jones and Jonathan Dann (originally published in #12 of The Pavilion).
TP: We’re here to talk about your debut mini album, Dale. Can you tell us a little bit about the background to this project?
DN: My song writing evolved over a period of years because |I have been writing songs for most of my life, starting from about the age of ten. By the age of fifteen I had begun to write and record them on any equipment I could lay my hands on.
TP: Am I correct in thinking that you had your own band?
DN: I stopped performing live at about the age of twenty five but twenty five years ago I was a guitarist with one of the best bands in Franklin Junior High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I sang Louis, Louis with one band with the dirty words and didn’t get in trouble! (Laughs). That was when I was about fourteen. By the time I was sixteen I was playing at after-game dances. Fort Wayne was a city of about a quarter of a million people and there were about ten bands working at the after-school dances, so each had their own territory and we were on the north side. As far as my school was concerned, I was not into the nicer side of rock and roll music. I was a degenerate kid who wanted to grow his hair long. You might say I didn’t enjoy my time at school I guess I posed some sort of a threat because I didn’t want to fit into the moulds; I’m still like that today.
TP: What were your first musical influences?
DN: My mum was a very good harmony singer in church; when she sang at home she never sang the main part; she always sang the alto, which is really pleasant to the ear, so she was probably my first influence. She also played the guitar. I wanted to play the violin but it was embarrassing to play the violin at school, being a boy. So the guitar really came to me through her. I then started listening to popular music like Roy Orbison with songs that really got to me like Pretty Woman; all of The Beatles and The Stones, The Kinks, The Hollies, The McCoys, and I was a big time Yardbirds fan. Before then it was mainstream classical music which is still some of my favourite music because I used to listen to it when I was a kind as I went to sleep. The guitar soon led to the band and that soon led to the downward road of rock and roll and debauchery!
We had quite a good little band and I went through a series of them. It was a bit like baseball teams, you traded players and then reformed and I was in bands called The Jersey Chains, The Apartment, the Leopardskin Pill Box Hat . The Jersey Chains being the most successful. We lasted for a good couple of years and as fourteen- fifteen year olds we were earning around $90-100 playing two nights a week. In fact, I was earning more than my mum was, and then I started college but dropped out after six months (College was purely a way out of going to Vietnam). There were so many things I wanted to do wit my life. I wanted to be the first man on the moon, the President, Paul McCartney, but I ended up doing none of those things. I have a tendency of setting unobtainable goals for myself. Writing songs is the only ambitious thing I have ever done.
TP: So, did the writing aspect of being a musician come naturally to you?
DN: Well, that’s all there is to it. I don’t do anything else. We covered things for the first few years - like Beatles songs - but by then I was nineteen and I had introduced original writing into the band. My first song, which would have been in about 1963/64 was a total rip-off of the guitar lick in the Four Seasons song and I wrote a whole song based around that riff. By the time I got out of High School and to College, our music had matured and was now heavier, influenced by The Beatles, The Stones,, The Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, Steppenwolf and Led Zeppelin among a hundred other bands, especially by the English scene at the time.
TP: Were there any particular guitarists who you especially looked up to?
DN: Early on George Harrison and Keith Richard, then Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck and late on Jimi Hendrix who I would have to say in my opinion, was the greatest rock guitarist of them all. Given all of these notable influences, after High School I was therefore in a fairly heavy rock band between 1970-71 called Lucy Grey who covered Led Zeppelin tracks among others and I was the Jimmy Page copy artist and although everyone who played guitar in a band wanted to be Jimmy Page, I was the best! (laughs). I even had the look, the long dark hair, I was thin, I had everything! (laughs). I sort of mad e name for myself for a couple of years as The Jimmy Page Copy Artist and had a good time playing gigs very loudly, very heavy every weekend. We even had our own following as people came to see us rather than school bands although this was local stuff in the Fort Wayne area. I don’t know what kids do today but when I was growing up we went to local clubs to see local bands every weekend (laughs).
A lot of things were building up inside of me at this time; I was 19-20 years of age, we were getting older and as bands get, our loves were intertwined and the band sort of exploded and I found it impossible to stay in a band with a group of people . I therefore broke the band up in 1971 and when this happened I also had a major revolution in my life and I ran away from home and went to Seattle where I went from a heavy electric sound to a totally acoustic style. I was into James Taylor and had always been into Crosby, Stills & Nash, Cat Stevens, Simon & Garfunkel and I did a little bit of performing newer, more complex serious song. I couldn’t write a song in four anymore, it had to be in some stupid time signature that only a guitarist can do! (laughs) Drummers used to look at me incredulously with crossed eyes when I was playing a tape but it made perfect sense to me and really I have been writing on my own ever since. So there is only a period of three or four years when I was actually copying what other people had done rather than create and record my own music. The attraction of writing my own music has always been the feeling that I can do this, I can be creative and do anything I want. It’s a wonderful feeling; no one can tell me what to do when I write my own material.
Originally what I wanted to do was play really loud with lots of feedback and trash my guitar, which is exactly what I did! (laughs). I was thrown out of school a couple of times you know, it’s had being a musician! (laughs).
TP: So where did you go after Seattle?
DN: well, I only really ran away for a summer then I came back home and bummed around. I didn’t want to be in a band anymore, I had had such a sour taste of being part of such a small community of human beings; I am simply not built for that. I am built to be on my own and slotting into what other people are doing as needed. From that day to this, writing has been a very important part of my life and I would literally sit at home and play for three or four hours a day and although I don’t know what the creative process of writing really is, my inspiration all comes from being on my own and playing. I have written a lot of songs in my life and have always thought that this one would be best and the next one would be The One. The writing side of music is wonderful.
TP: have you kept tapes of all your completed songs?
DN: I don’t know. I ‘m not sure. Because it was not how I made my living but it was rather something I did for its own enjoyment, keeping a record of everything didn’t really seem necessary and was a big pain, whereas if I can’t remember what I’ve written, I questioned whether it could be worth remembering. That’s the way I would look at it. But although I have never been one to keep logs or diaries, I would dare say that if I really wanted to search in all of my closets and bags, I would probably find some version of almost everything I have written. I used to count the number of songs I’d written and I must have written abut two hundred song ideas and if that sounds over the top, I must explain that I used to write really long songs which would keep me occupied for three or four months and now, although a lot of songs keep me occupied for the same mount of time, it is a much shorter song, its’ much simpler.
TP: Of course, there are artists with whom you have worked, like Genesis, who have gone through precisely the same evolutionary process, with the maturing of their compositional skills over the course of their career.
DN: I think that is perfectly natural, you throw more of the chaff out whereas when you were younger, you might be more precious about a song.
TP: Which leads us nicely into asking as to what precisely were the events in your life that led up to you becoming involved with Genesis?
DN: Well, my older brother died suddenly and that really affected me profoundly. I just kicked around for a couple of years, just writing endplay all the time. I really became a bit like a hermit, getting by on very little money, just doing small day jobs out and about like delivering flowers etc, as I like to be on my own, in the car and in charge of myself. I was also doing a very occasional gig where I would open for someone and where I would suddenly have to learn my songs as I only wrote on my guitar and back then it was only guitar and voice. At this time, a member of a rival band; Dan Owen, who had a truly wonderful voice, and I began to play together as a duo; two guitars and a voice which is when I really started to sing. I had sung as a schoolboy but when my voice broke I stopped and it was not until I met Dan that I started again.
I was writing a lot of the songs and he was following my guitar playing whilst I was following his singing, so one fed off the other. We did a few gigs as a duo, we even did a few openings for Genesis. We were good but totally unambitious.
TP: How did the shows with Genesis come about?
DN: Well, all of my friends whom I grew up with were very seriously into music, and up to a point did it to a very professional level and many of the same people stayed in the music business. One of these guys, Craig Schertz, who became Genesis’ sound mixer had gone to Texas and was working for the sound company that genesis were using. He called me at the florists to say that they needed a guitar roadie for a couple of weeks and , of course, I was interested. It was just after Christmas and I guess I was just one of the guys who came to mind who could just take off for a couple of weeks and could look after guitars.
I knew they were going to Europe so I go a passport because I was a big fan of the band. By this time I was a big fan of all the progressive groups; Yes, King Crimson, Van Der Graaf Generator, Genesis, you know the stuff and maybe my music has been influenced by the English bands because I particularly liked them at that point. Yeah, and so I used to go to a lot of the shows and I was really into it. So, I got a ‘phone call from Craig and agreed to do the two weeks, and met Mike Rutherford. My guitar skills were enough to do what he required at the time, which was just a few acoustic guitars and keeping them in tune, Looking back on it now, it was pretty simple but I made it complicated when really all it was, was me with an ear tuning a guitar (laughs). Now of course, it is much more complicated!
The two weeks went well and Mike asked me if I wanted to go to Europe, so I said “thank you, here’s my passport” and we were off (laughs). All this time I was carrying a guitar with me and continued to write music but I didn’t keep lyric books as words don’t pour out of my mouth or mind naturally when I am faced with the need to write lyrics. So, I was writing lots and lots of music and trying to finish it with lyrics and that was quite a problem for along, long time. Consequently, the lyrics were there because they had to be there, not because I wanted them to be there.
TP: You’ve obviously worked with Genesis for twenty three years (at the time this interview was conducted - AH) that’s an astonishing tribute to the band; that they keep their staff.
DN: It says enough about the organisation and twenty three years sounds grand but Geoff Banks has been around as long as I have. There is also Geoff Callingham, Steve Jones and Mike Bowen.
TP: Can you tell us how you got involved with Anthony Phillips?
DN: Through working with Genesis and the fact that Dan and I had opened for these five Genesis shows in ‘78 I think. I’m really bad with dates, whether it was ‘72 or ‘92 is really tough for me (laughs) but it must have been about 1978 so people were aware that we wrote, played and sang music together. Actually we sang very well together and worked very well as a harmony act. So the word went round in a circle; Ant was doing an album, Tony Smith knew we could do this, Ant needed singers so it just sort of happened and it all fell into place very well.
Indeed, a bit like this interview! Since then Dale has until recently continued to work for the band in the capacity of studio manager for their recording facility: The Farm and has produced three self-released albums: The Eyes Have It (1997), The Little Things That Matter (1999) and Cubed (2003).