DUANE HITCHINGS is a true legend of rock!!! Yeah, I know, kinda over the top and perhaps not the best of introduction (John Lennon was a true legend of rock). However, this Syracuse, N.Y. American was just a teenager when he first did the Dick Clark Tours in the 60's (with Del Shannon, Ricky Nelson, etc). He's been recording and jamming with the likes of Buddy Miles Express, Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin. He spent the 70's behind the keyboards, recording with acts such as CACTUS, Thee Image, The RUNAWAYS, Ted Nugent, etc, and started making waves as a songwriter and songsmith of top-notch quality.
He spent the 80's writing songs for artists and bands such as: Pat Benatar, Kim Carnes, Alice Cooper, Robin Gibb, Heart, King Kobra, Eddie Money, Steve Perry, Rod Stewart, etc, etc. Wrote movie themes and soundtracks for: ROCKY IV, IRON EAGLE and FLASHDANCE (received a Grammy for the latter movie and the song, "I'll Be Here Where The Heart Is", with Kim Carnes). Toured with Eric Carmen, Alice Cooper, Rick Derringer, etc, discovered and produced the demos which lead to a recording contract for this little known band, TESLA. Geeez, enough with the praise already - Hitchings spend most of his present dates at Nashville /TN. Yup! he writes material for Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, and basically any hillbilly with a funny walk and a drinking problem. Read on...
Hello Duane, Thanks for taking the time to answer some Q's. You do know what they say about all the 70's & 80's rockers in the states. Sooner or later they'll all end up in Nashville [:-)]. Do you enjoy writing country music nowadays? Were you ever into the music in the past?
Duane: Yep ! Had a babysitter that looked EXACTLY like Elizabeth Taylor and knew THEN at age 4 what a beautiful woman was. She was 18 – I was a bit young ! She, would listen to “The Grand Ole Opry” and so would Mom & Dad. I was brought up on a farm outside Syracuse on a dirt road AND played barn dances ( bass ) in REAL barns – could smell the “incense of cow” even !!! Yeah – I did not “go country” – always have been.
What are you up to right now? Any fun projects in the works?
Duane: Writing as always to, in this case, to pay a mortgage on a new home, have an eye on a sweet boat and – you know - food !! LOL !! Working on Pam Tillis, Rod Stewart ( as always ) , Ken Chesney and Tanya Tucker.
Could you inform us a little bit about your studio. What kind of equipment are you surrounded by there? Are you up to speed with all the latest hi-tech?
Duane: One must ALWAYS be up to speed on high tech or lose !!! Period !! MySpace – FOR MUSICIANS – (not the part for teenagers and corresponding perverts) – as an example is at the center of the music business – as I said THE MUSIC MYSPACE section. I am sponsored by Yamaha and are helping develop and improve the Yamaha Tyros Keyboard ( one man band ) – Awesome. I have a room full of computers – Neundo digital recording system and all the rest of the junk ! I hate PCs but have them because of software issues. I am a closet Apple man though ! Next purchases when the PCs wear out – Apple - a double G5 ( studio ) and two G4 laptops for my wife and I. I had a Mac with Pro-tools when they first came out – NEVER crashed !!
Great! Going back in time, can you tell us about your first professional recording.
Duane: 1. I was picked up in front of Onondaga Central High School by local famous DJ in his new Cadillac convertible, impressing the whole school and this blonde “goddess” I had a crush on - to go to Rochester to “make a record” with “famous” band in Central New York State. 2. Got there with band, singer and a one track recording machine recorded “Heart and Soul” for $15.00. Found years later it was a major country wide hit – DJ made all the money – however I was going steady with blonde “goddess’ next day after the recording session. Before that, couldn’t get even close to her!! 3.Session was stopped abruptly when girl lead singer was caught by boyfriend ( drummer ) in closet “doing the monkey” with guitar player. That ended the session. Sooo - the last track we recorded was the record --- Ah….the good old days !!!
You joined the band Cactus in the early 70's and recorded the last couple of albums with the band. Any truth in the rumor that you guys were too arrogant and too violent for your own good? I believe Ted "The Saint" Nugent was quoted saying something about this too. :-)
Duane: NUGENT MENTIONED THAT SOMEBODY MIGHT BE MORE ARROGANT THEN HIM !!!! WOW !! Awesome !! AND the subject of violence – Ted got me in his Ford “off road monster” and tried, while running through his cornfields to run over his brother ( on a very small off road motorcycle) during one of my visits to his farm !!!!! Since I was extremely hung over ( I stopped partying MANY years ago ) , I was laughing so hard , I almost choked !!! Then did I mention he stuck me in a bedroom that night that had walls FULL of dead animals and stunk from formaldehyde !!! Hey, I am just getting started !!! LOL !!! Ted “ain’t right” which with the rest of my friends , makes him perfect !!! Ted is cool !! Note is possible - interest – for $5.00 one could see The new Cactus with Michael Pinera and myself, Bob Segar , Aerosmith and Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes at a drive-in theater during the day AND then the promoter ( Marjorie Sexton ) would play “200 Motels” by Frank Zappa and a Jimmy Hendrix movie when it got dark. None of us had record deals to that point - $5.00 dude !! I heard “Like A Rock” everyday by Bob.
Yeah, Ted's cool. You co-wrote (among other songs) the hits "Young Turks" and "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy", and played keyboards on tour(?) with Rod Stewart. Any fun stories from the Rod Stewart days?
Duane: I did not tour with Rod , just wrote and recorded with him. When I was with Cactus with Timmy and Carmine , both Cactus and Rod Stewart and the Faces toured together for close to a year off and on. MANY Stories !! Hilarious stuff but not family reading!! WAY too many – seriously. Plus I could get sued or be involved in divorce proceedings of people who are still married since that point in time – say nothing of the various felonies that where committed during that time by “the entourage”.
Ehem, well, I guess you experienced all sorts of "difficulties" as a member of the Alice Cooper band at the height of his... ehh... intoxicated period (the early 80's). Would you say it was easy to work with the shock-rocker at this particular time?
Duane: Difficulties !!! The only difficulties we all had together was pulling up to a pharmacy at 11:00 at night – let’s say in Lyma, Ohio - and trying to convince them to sell us ALL of their NyQuil ( boxes )! A bitch getting to sleep after being up for a couple of days!!! LOL !!! Seriously, Coop was and is one of the best people I have ever worked with and for. He is a true gentleman and brilliant! We where all nuts back then and STUPID AND VERY LUCKY!! Coop would tell you the same thing. We have all decided there is no future in death, at least on this planet - so we all cooled it a long time ago. The rest are dead!! I mean it ! My wife , Deborah, and I recently saw Coop at the Ryman Auditorium ( the old Grand Ole Opry ) and he was better than ever. We went back stage to say hi and was as sweet as usual. DO NOT miss Alice if he comes to town. The band is a bunch of young ass kickers – you will not be disappointed and the Coop rules the stage !! My wife, a non musician ( thank God ) is pretty much a country fan, being from Nashville, got her mind blown and when we went back stage, she could not believe what a nice man Coop was. Rod, Coop, Kim Carnes, Carmine Appice and Buddy Miles had a huge impact on my career ! I owe them a WHOLE bunch! No matter what one does in their lives, it takes others to help you! That is Duane’s sermon today – thank you very much !!!
But honestly, do YOU have any clue to what the lyrics on "Special Forces" and "Zipper Catches Skin" are all about? You took part there after all, co-writing some stuff ;-)
Duane: Just the music – I can not write my name much less lyrics. I rarely paid much attention to lyrics UNTIL I came to Nashville. Rod and Alice are brilliant at lyrics however. ( I would sneak a peek now and then. ) LOL !!
OK, What did the Grammy for "I'll Be Here Where The Heart Is" from the FLASHDANCE movie, mean to you as a songwriter and person. I guess it opened up a lot of previously locked doors?
Duane: Yes, it did !! I went out and bought a special table for my new and ultimate PRIZE. I WAS Mr. HOT SHOT!! And you know what ?? I put the son-of-a-gun on the table in the sun and everything that was clued together ( the sun was hitting it ) melted the glue and it fell apart and was on the carpet !! MY GRAMMY WAS A PIECE OF CRAP ---CHEAP Turkeys!! LOL! gasp LOL!!! More – cry allot. Seriously, (which by now I am sure you are doubting my ability to be serious) I was definitely honored BUT the “melting Grammy is for real!! Hilarious !! I use it for a tooth pick holder know. When music folks from Nashville come into my studio and see the Grammy full of tooth picks, they hit the floor!! However, I was very honored to receive the Grammy – I just like having fun with it !! Note: at the time I received the Grammy, Rod Stewart and the Rolling Stones had not received one! Oppps .
How did you first get in contact with Steve Perry (Journey). Were you introduced by the record label to help out during the writing for the "Street Talk" album?
Duane: I knew Steve when we where both looking for gigs (pre-Journey ) and we where talking of possibly putting a band together. Good man!!
I believe you co-wrote stuff with Michael Bolton in the mid-80s. Originally intended for his next solo album? I know that "Emergency" ended up on the album "Excess All Areas" by the U.K. band "Shy" in 1987.
Duane: Thanks for the info. I forgot what the band was named and the name of the song! Seriously, I have been looking for that info. It was a good song and of course it was a pleasure working with Michael. We where in a band together for a day – that is a whole other story and he would drag me around Sony (he was just a writer at the time ). We would “sniff” around Sony for writing projects and then he sang Georgia on the Johnny Carson show and the rest is history !!
You also co-wrote the excellent "The Sweetest Victory" from the Rocky IV soundtrack. What can you tell us about the "Touch" project, there wasn't any real band behind this moniker, right? Were you ever involved in anything more than providing the song for the soundtrack?
Duane: NOPE!! I meant Sly – we where in the recording studio together for the movie. Great guy ! Little guy but I would not want to mess with him !
Did you know about the other TOUCH from the states? They had a minor hit in 1980 with "Don't You Know What Love Is" and featured Mark Mangold on keys.
Duane: THOSE THIEVES – WHERE IS MY ATTORNEY!! Jake Hooker and I will sue the son of a guns !!! Wait a minute ----- I did not know that -- thanks Wally. LOL !
You're also responsible for "Iron Eagle" (Never Say Die -1986), featured in the movie of the same name. Did you catch a pre-view of the movie and did they (the three-piece suits) tell you and Jake Hooker to write a song around the subject.
Duane: No, Jake got the script and we wrote it.
Did you have anything to do with the fact that the song ended up in the hands of King Kobra [with your "Cactus" and "Rod Stewart" buddy, Carmine Appice].
Duane: Yes, Jake and I produced it and I later co-produced King Kobra.
Could you tell us something about the writing process for King Kobra and "Thrill Of A Lifetime". Carmine wanted you to join in and write some more "commercial songs".
Duane: Carmine and I are ALWAYS trying to write commercially – ATTENTION ALL MUSICIANS ---- another word for commercial is PEOPLE REALLY LIKE IT. Allot of musicians can’t get that through their heads so they play clubs for the rest of their lives or end up being Rolling Stone music reviewers. You get a good review in Rolling Stone, on an average, and you are dead meat as far as real success goes. Examples of horrible reviews of “new bands” that Rolling Stone said they would never make it – Led Zeppelin, The Cream , Foreigner etc. and etc. Now there where exceptions – Bruce Springsteen and Patty Smythe.
I know it's difficult to choose between your "babies" and that you probably love all your compositions equally [well, perhaps not "all" of them :-)]. However, if you had to pick three favorite tunes, which ones would you pick?
Duane: 1. “Strangers Of The Heart” – Heart ( Bad Animals album), 2. Don’t Look Any Further – Dennis Edwards and The Temptations 3. “I’ll Be Where The Heart Is” – Kim Carnes for the movie Flashdance 4. Young Turks – Rod Stewart 5. Lately “Confidentially” – David Frizzel ( Lefty Frizzel’s brother), 6. “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” – Rod Stewart for the “Gift That Keeps Giving” award!! IT DON’T MELT. By the way, you said three songs – I am horrible with math. LOL! The songs are not in any special order by the way.
So, when did you first realize that people were truly interested in your music and song material?
Duane: The moment I cashed my first royalty check and it did not bounce!! That was “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy”, which by the way, was a spoof on guys from the “cocaine lounge lizards” of the “Saturday Night Fever” days. We Rock & Roll guys thought we where dead meat when that movie and the Bee Gees came out. The Bee Gees where brilliant musicians and really nice people. No big egos. Rod, in his brilliance, decided to do a spoof on disco. VERY smart man. There is no such thing as a “dumb” super success in the music business. Rod has been a real good guy to me --- AND NO, he is not gay. His problem is long legged beautiful blonde FEMALES! He will tell you that!!
I'd have to ask this, are there any hidden treasures in your music vault? Any projects or tunes from the past that you could consider releasing?
Duane: Yes, a “electronic trance” album. I am working on it know – a labor of love.
What's your opinion about "The 80's" in a retrospective view? Are you still just as fond of your material or have you been listening to the "let's bash everything from the 80's" people?
Duane: What on earth is the “lets bash everything from the 80’s people”?? – oh yes, the reviewers from Rolling Stone or most music reviewers – I did not say all, the musicians who are pissed they did not get a record deal- 80’s bashers, most kids who go to “music business school” these days and get A & R jobs and don’t have a clue and end up signing the HORRIBLE BANDS that appear on David Letterman’s show most nights – those 80 bashers?? And the “college crap bands” that would not know a melody or lyric if it sat on their face “80 bashers” – those guys????? Wally, don’t get me going. Oh by the way – There ain’t no new rock-n-roll. Rock is gone and hopefully something new will come along that is completely different but with the same power, irreverence, in your face but brilliant light that rock was and still is on CDs. WE NEED NEW BLOOD – and kids that have the creativity that will start a new deal. It will come. Until that time, the stuff that has been going around is 4th generation crap and that includes rap ! I have had my butt kicked by a couple of bands that I have run across on MySpace though – but just an improvement of what us old farts started in the 60’s and 70s. Who knows. Can’t wait until the “New Young Turks” kick it !!!! Same goes for the REAL talented Afro-American brothers that will eventually emerge and push out the mediocre so-called “rap crap”. Rap used to be really awesome years ago !!
Thanks for everything, if there's anything you'd like to add, say, or promote, please do:
Duane: I have been rather silly sometimes in this interview but am VERY HONORED! Thank you Wally!!!
God Bless, Duane aka. “da Hitch”
Interview by Urban "Wally" Wallstrom,
Published 23 March 2007