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26 Nov 2009

Please, Eltonites, get up, stand up to receive one of the greatest musicians of the world... the fantastic... Bob Birch!!!!!!!!!!!

Dear Eltonites. Today is a very special day. We have here a very special musician. It's our guest of the week. A current member of Elton's band. He is always on Elton's side of the stage. Allsongslist doors are all wide open to receive the giantic, the incredible and charismatic: Bob Birch!!!

Hello Bob, it's so nice to have you here. Thank you very much for being here. Let's start, then.

Which are your most beautiful memories of your childhood? How it was growing up in Detroit, Michigan?

I don't remember much of my childhood, but growing in Detroit was amazing for a musician. In those days, great music was everywhere that you went. You could see the greatest live bands any night of the week. Detroit rules.

Yeah! At what age you decide you wanted to be a musician, Bob? And what were your musical influences?

I started playing instruments at the age of 8. I was always playing music and really started making money at it when I was 15. My influences were all the great jazz artists in America. Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Scotty LaFaro...just to name a few. Motown was a hugh influence. On to the 70's fusion era......... Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Herbie Hancock. 70's R&B...... Earth, Wind, and Fire, Rufus, Ohio Players, Sly and the Family Stone. Then to melodic 70's rock. Big influences were Chicago and Blood, Sweat, and Tears. 70's melodic rock is an education in itself. That's when I discovered Elton John and many other artists of the time that wrote and performed their own compositions.

In 1985 you collaborated in a group called “Fortune”, maybe first time you were credited as a professional musician. And in 1987, you and Guy Babylon both were part of the band Ashton, along with drummer Zak Starkey, son of Ringo Starr, I think. The band issued a critically acclaimed 'Modern Pilgrims' album through RCA Records, produced by Paul Rothschild, but they disbanded one year later. What happened?

With Fortune, we had a song in Billboard's top 100, but when it came time to tour, the record company (MCA) wouldn't give us the money, and that's what we really needed to make the thing big. With Ashton, we were a bit late. The Seattle grunge sound started to happen, and once again, the record budget was so hugh, that when it came time to tour, RCA wouldn't back it. Both of these projects were really special and we all learned a lot from them. We all remain friends and still work together at times.

Great!! How you got involved with Elton and how you ended up recording and touring with him?

I was working with Guy Babylon in different bands and recording projects since 1985. He got the gig with Elton about the same time the Ashton record came out. When Elton came off the road in 1990, I met Davey Johnstone, through Guy, and we started to work on the Warpipes record. When Elton went back on tour in 1992, he wanted to use a new bass player and Davey and Guy recommend me.

Good!! Have you been an Elton fan before? Remember the first time you heard Elton’s music and what moves you to buy his music, in that case?

Yes, what musician can't be a fan of Elton's music in one way or another. I don't remember the first music I heard of Elton's, but I was always impressed by the songwriting and piano playing. The production and string arrangements always got my ear.

When the unforgettable Guy Babylon passed away (not in our memories, not in our hearts), John Jorgenson told me “he was a very high quality person as well as being extremely focused and talented”. But if someone knew more about him, that is you. What could you say about our greatest “keyboard wizard”? We’ll miss him for the rest of our days for sure.

Guy was one of a kind. He would give 110% to everything he did. He was a true genius and I will never stop missing him, both as a band member, music partner and as a friend.

(pause) About the recording sessions. Which is the sequence since Bernie writes the lyrics until the album comes out? And how it is to work with Elton in the studio?

This is how it's done...............Elton sits down at the piano with a stack of Bernie's lyrics(or whatever lyricist he's working with) and while he's looking at the stack, decides what lyric he wants to write to, and after playing with the tune, both vocally and instrumentally for about 10 to 15 minutes, the song is done. That's the way he has always worked. As a musician and composer, you won't believe it till you witness it. It is truely one of the most amazing things that I've ever seen.

How many songs could be recorded for an album session? And remember some of the titles, from “Made In England”, “The Big Picture”, “Songs From West Coast” or “Peachtree Road” for example, that didn’t see the light?

It all depends on when Elton feels he has the writing of the record finished.

Was it difficult to replace Dee Murray in Elton’s band? Did you feel any pressure for being true to his versions?

No one could ever replace Dee. Those were his bass lines that made the songs what they were. I just wanted to try and reproduce them. I could play my own stuff, but to me, those bass lines on the record are part of the song. I don't think there was any's just the respect to play the right thing.

While rehearsing for one tour: who decides the songs to be on the set lists? How many songs you are rehearsing per tour? And which songs do you would like to include on a next to be set list? Perhaps “Into The Old Man’s Shoes”, the “B” side of “Your Song”? Just an idea.

Elton picks the songs he wants to play. Every fan has their own idea of what songs they want to hear, but the fans have to remember that 80% of the audience what to hear the hits. I would like to play "Blues For Baby and Me".

A good choice, really. Maybe we must suggest that to Davey. Oh, any experience playing live with Elton you could share with us, Bob?

It's always fun and the fans are great.

Who came up with the idea to create “Warpipes”? And why not a second album? There is genuine rock on “Rock and Roll Condition" and "Son of a loaded gun." But my favourite is “Tear Jerker”, that’s a classic: beautifully sung, great harmonies. I love that band.

Warpipes was Davey's idea. We got in some bad legal battles and lawsuits with the management and record company, so a second record was not about to happen

Other collaborations are with Rick Whitefield, Snuffy Walden, GeneralStore, The Newmastersounds. I was so surprised to see you collaborated on “Ghosts of the Open Road” debut album, back in 1995. The Ghosts were treading a path that is not very common: talented progressive rock with searing riffs and solos. In fact, I love “Red Asphalt” track. How many albums recorded that group?

The Newmastersounds is not me. There is a very talented keyboard player by the name of Bob Birch. I was just a session musician on the Ghost stuff. I think they did 2 albums. I record and write music almost everday. Some things you will see my name on, some not. I played on Keith Emerson's first solo record in 8 years, Keith Emerson Band featuring Marc Bonilla. Marc is a guitar player friend of mine and we do a lot of music together. He's probably one of the best in the world. I also wrote and played on a song on Joseph Williams solo record "This Fall". Joseph sang with Toto for a while and is an amazing composer........... his dad is John Williams. It was a real kick to have my name on a record with the Toto boys. Lukather, Paich, Pocaro, and Bobby Kimball. Those guys are some of my musical heros. Check out Steve Archer's album "Call It Grace". It's christian music that grooves. I got to play with one of my heros, Michael Omartian. He produced and played piano on some great records in the 70's and 80's.

Apart from music, which are your interests? What you like to do with your off time?

I like spending time with my beautiful wife Michele and my son Jonathan, and my 2 fab Dobermans, Ellie and Jackson.

Oh, finally, could you tell me your five favourite Elton's songs in running order, for my AllSongsList, where I tried to find the best of his songs ever?

Harmony, Blues For Baby and Me, Recover your soul, Electricity, and Little Jeannie.

Thank you very much, Bob. It was so nice for me doing this interview. I am sure eltonites loved it. Precisely, would you want to add some observation or suggestion, or something you want to say to other eltonites?

Thanks for being there. A Rock Superstar is nothing without his or her fans.

And we really need you, Bob. That's feedback: music for loyalty. Well, I would like to thank you for sharing your time with us, eltonites. It has been so amazing and it really was my pleasure. Keep well and I wish you all the best to you and your loving people. Also, I would like to thank you the fabulous Michele for collaborating too. Please, send a big kiss for her too. Thanks too Anna Montras for the pictures of Bob Birch. Oh, Bob, before you go, I have some people here who would like to tell you something:

Steve Archer, singer, songwriter and producer: "I was so glad to have Bob Birch play on my "Call It Grace" project! His chops on the track "His Way" made the groove solid. I have been blessed to work in the studio with some of the best in the world,(John Pattucci, Abe Laboriel, David Hungate and Leeland Sklar), Bob is right there!"

Jay Bolan, guitarist and vocalist: "Bob is one of my best friends, we have played together since 1985 he was one of my guys. He's an amazing musical talent, outstanding ear and sense of music in totality, and he loves to "rock" especially Zep or Van Halen. I used to play these amazing rock gigs and he laid it down, with great players like Gregg and Matt Bissonette, Danny Jacob, Rocket Ritchotte, Sergio Gonzales. We have had so many amazing times and gigs together. He produced a beautiful track he wrote with Davey called "Bring Only Love". I sang on that track. I used to go hang with the boys in Atlanta in the early and mid 90s when they were recording with Elton and we had some great laughs. It's making me remember so much..... more than happy to help say cool stuff about my friend."

Marc Bonilla, composer, guitarist and vocalist: "I could count the number of friends on one hand that I have that are both superior musicians and true people of character, dependable to the end and Bob Birch would top that list. Ever since the early 90's when we both had the good fortune to work together, I have probably shared some of my best musical experiences with him, both onstage and in the studio. He has the ability to play any type of music from hard rock to jazz to R&B and make it sound as though that was the only style he ever played. His sense of humor is always a joy to be around and his loyalty to myself and our bandmates as well as Elton is well-documented and altogether rare in this industry. If and when I ever leave this planet and God sees fit to have me upstairs, my band would include Jimi Hendrix, John Bonham, Freddie Mercury, and Bob Birch. But I'll wait..."

Thank you Steve. Thank you Jay. Thank you Marc. You have been so kind to help me with that surprise for Bob. You're all great musicians and I have so much fun hearing your respective albums. A must have, really. Finally, I also would like to thank Don Somerville and John Arnold for their help, without them couldn't been impossible to reach the stars.

Bob: I hope you like the surprise and I made you smile, you deserve all the best.

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