The Immediate Family
After fifty plus years in the music business, Danny Kortchmar has seen it all. The guitarist, who has produced Don Henley, Neil Young and Billy Joel, was unphased at this year’s Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame. His initial reaction to attending the annual induction ceremony was that there were a lot of people taking selfies and wanting to be seen. But his tone changed when he described the emotions of playing alongside songwriter Carole King who brought him, bassist Leland Sklar and drummer Russ Kunkel to play on “You’ve Got a Friend” like they had done in their youth on Tapestry, the album which heralded the ascendancy of the singer-songwriter era and was once the best selling record of all-time.
Kortchmar, who also backed James Taylor with Kunkel and Sklar, didn’t know Tapestry would be such a defining album. It was her third album and the first two had gone nowhere. But he credits producer Lou Adler for his vision and for bringing together Sklar, Kunkel and himself known back in the day as “Danny Kootch.” It’s produced lifelong friendships and a brotherhood that has resulted in a new band i a new century called The Immediate Family.
When I spoke with Kortchmar and posited that given all of the choices he could have made, it must be amazing to be in a band with your lifelong friends, he concurs that it is a big deal.
“They’re my dear brothers,” he says of their bond and longevity. “It is my immediate family.”
Kortchmar, who along with Sklar and Kunkel fronted an instrumental band in the late Seventies called The Section, had the chance to do an album in Japan. That brought together his old mates and guitarist Waddy Wachtel who Wachtel met on the LA circuit back in the Seventies. If the band’s guitarist Steve Postell is the new guy, he is still someone Wachtel has known for twenty years.
Wachtel notes that it wasn’t the most opportune time to start a new band. The band recorded their debut album The Immediate Family (Quarto Valley Records) and then virtually shut down as COVID-19 started to spread. They didn’t see each other for 18 months but thanks to the wonders of technology and editor Michael Pearlmutter, they were able to shoot a lot of their videos in their Southern California area homes. As Wachtel said, he ran out of places in his house to film. It all brings extra satisfaction as the band hits the road and experiences the feel of playing before an audience.
The debut album is a mix of new and old songs re-imagined. Kortchmar, who is known for writing “All She Wants To Do Is Dance” for Don Henley and co-wrote “Sunset Grill” and “Dirty Laundry” among others, was stuck somewhere on the freeway when he wrote “Divorced” as a commentary on contemporary society. “There’s a Valley and a 405 outside every major city,” he says of the milieu that inspired some lyrics and a call to Wachtel as he is prone to do when he has an idea. “If I’m stuck he’s the first guy I’ll call,” Kortchmar says. “He’s very bright and intuitive.”
Kortchmar describes his songwriting approach as being very undisciplined. He’s always writing down lines and compiling grooves and riffs that he’ll call upon later. “Your soul and body will tell you if you’re on track,” he says of the songwriting process. “I’m very interested in phrases and jargon. Anything I see or hear, I write down. You always have to be fishing. The idea is to have a lot to draw on.”
Wachtel, who has led Stevie Nicks’ band for the last forty years, fronted his own band The Waddy Wachtel Band in Los Angeles. It featured a rotating cast of players who gathered weekly at The Joint including Jack Tempchin, Bernard Fowler and Terry Reid and attracted rock luminaries who came to sit in. Wachtel came to Los Angeles in the early Seventies doing session work and playing with the Everly Brothers. He began focusing on songwriting when his song “Maybe I’m Right” appeared on Linda Ronstadt’s Simple Dreams. “The playing always seemed more important,” he told me of his early years and emergence into songwriting. “I realized I was missing out. I still want to get better at it.”
He and Korthcmar co-wrote three songs on The Immediate Family. While Wachtel admits lyrics sometimes are hard to come by, his spontaneous co-write of “Werewolves of London” with Warren Zevon and Roy Marinell, came quickly. Wachtel had just come back from London and dropped in to see a friend before a session. Warren Zevon was glad to see him. As he told Wachtel, Phil Everly had just seen the British horror film Werewolves of London and suggested to him that he write a song with the same name.
Marinell had a lick that they’d tried to include on a hundred songs but it never worked. When Zevon threw out the title to Wachtel, the guitarist said, “Werewolves of London? Oh that’s easy. Roy play that fucking lick.”
Wachtel, with London fresh in his mind, looked straight at Zevon and started riffing away with words. ““I don’t know…I saw Werewolves of London with a Chinese menu in his hand.“ Zevon enthusiastically said, “Yeah, like that!” Then Wachtel came up with a second line about walking through Soho in the rain. He suggested that since it’s about a wolf, they should howl. With the first verse and chorus carved, Wachtel looked down at his watch and realized it was time for a session and left it to his friends to write the rest of the verses.
Wachtel had a little fun with the song changing one of Zevon’s comic lines “I’d like to meet his tailor” for new Immediate Family fun. “Except for Steve we’ve all been fired by James Taylor,” he rattled off with his fellow Family members all cracking up.
The band also dusted off one of Zevon’s co-writes with Wachtel that later inspired the title of the noir Christopher Walken film, “Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead.” Wachtel says there was no connection to the film and was surprised when the filmmakers chose to name it with the same title. (It’s hard to trademark titles and there is a Glenn Close film called Immediate Family.) The song was featured in the closing credits of the bizarre gangster drama. When Wachtel sings it now, he changes the line “I saw Waddy in the Rattlesnake Cafe dressed in black, tossing back a shot of rye” to include the name and spiritual presence of his old departed friend.
Another film of note is a documentary about the band being directed by Phil Karlan. The documentary maker behind The Wrecking Crew about Los Angeles’ famed session players approached the band and Wachtel says he is unbelievably honored. But Wachtel is careful to point out that the band does not have any involvement in the project that some might have initially thought was a puff piece.
The Immediate Family cut “New York Minute,” for their Slippin’ and Slidin EP last year. Kortchmar spent much of the Eighties collaborating with Don Henley and recalled how Henley wanted the song to reflect the essence of New York in the autumn. He calls working with Henley the most satisfying of his collaborations. When the Yamaha DX synthesizer had just come out, Henley ordered one and Kortchmar took it home to play with it. He found the sound that is the main riff underlying “All She Wants To Do Is Dance,” he wrote all the lyrics the next morning. He calls it a cross between Graeme Greene and The Great Gatsby.
“You have to store them up,” he says of the ideas that turn into songs, “and use them when you need them.”
In the late twenties of his youth, Kortchmar, Sklar and Kunkel anchored Jackson Browne’s band that recorded Running On Empty, the live album about being on the road. Kortchmar recalls being onstage at the Merriweather Post Pavilion just north of Washington, DC and fans going nuts when they played the new title track, acting like they’d known it all their lives.
When I mention to Wachtel that the members of the Immediate Family have played on the albums that are the soundtrack of our lives, he just smiles and savors the thought for a moment.
“It’s amazing isn’t it?” he says softly, taking it all in.
Kortchmar is at the point where, after guiding artists as a producer for decades, wants to leave production behind and in his words “be on the other side of the glass.” Now in the renewed youth of his seventies Kortchmar has taken on the role of fronting a new band.
The sense of later life youth pervades the band and the edge of its three-guitar army. Session veteran Leland Sklar has also just launched his own NFT store featuring 89 collectible NFT digital cards sold in packs of 12 and based on his book, “Everybody Loves Me.”
“I’m gonna keep on going as long as I can,” Kortchmar says, a veteran observer of life on the road in writing “Shaky Town” and now infused by the energy of his new band and philosophizing about life in verse in the great new songs like “Time to Come Clean” and “Not Made That Way.” It’s a profession that doesn’t recognize the concept of retirement. “Most lifers feel that way.”
Wachtel and Korthcmar were once young New York City players trying to make a mark in Los Angeles in the great migration west. Like Kunkel and Sklar they all made their mark and their work is a vast cumulative list of songs that are all stored in our subconscious. In addition to “Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead,” Wachtel’s imprimatur is forever imprinted on vinyl. If you listen carefully enough, you can hear a young Lindsey Buckingham mutter Wachtel’s name at the end of the Buckingham Nicks song “Lola” as Wachtel comes out of his slide guitar riffs.
Like his fellow bandmates, Wachtel was inspired by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and the idea of strapping a guitar on as a profession. His life’s path placed him in Keith Richards X-pensive Winos. Richards famously quipped at the outset that for Wachtel who was synonymous playing with Nicks and Ronstadt, it “was time to take off the panties.” All Wachtel did was power arguably some of the greatest rock and roll shows ever played.
Richards and his wife stopped by the Iridium in New York a few years back to see the Immediate Family play. They were supposed to leave early to make an event their daughter was hosting across town. But they ended up staying for the whole set. Wachtel beams as he tells the story. For him and the Immediate Family, they couldn’t have received a greater compliment.