JACK TEMPCHIN:
IT'S ABOUT THE SONG

'PEACEFUL, EASY FEELING'

By Terry Roland

jack_tempchin.jpgHow many songs from the last 50 years can be recognized with a few remembered lyrics? Surprisingly, I've found, not many. Then, there's Peaceful, Easy Feeling. The mention of the title inevitably brings a look of pleasant recognition to the faces of many people. The song, like any great American pop song, crosses cultural, social, generational and even international boundaries. While talking with Jack Tempchin for an hour during our recent phone interview, he told stories of experiences and memories shared by fans of the song. I even interjected my own stories. It seems he may have a great basis for a book on the impact and experiences of this song alone. A Chicken Soup for the Peaceful, Easy Feelin' Soul, if you will.

Jack Tempchin is a singer-songwriter of great fortune due to the openness of his artistic soul, his strong sense of musical community and his absolute passion for the craft of songwriting. As you'll read in the following interview, he even had a song idea in the works during our conversation. He is a fine example of how the best American singer-songwriters embody the craft of disappearing into the song rather than using the gift of their muse for the benefit of their ego. With Jack Tempchin it's all about the song.

Tempchin's life is not only about his best-known, iconic Eagles song. His recent release, Songs, is a diverse, well produced recording which demonstrates how skilled songwriting transcends style. It is one of many albums and projects he has worked on over the last 40 years. Beginning in the early sixties, Jack was one of the first wave of singer-songwriters to emerge in the aftermath of Bob Dylan's meteoric rise to fame. He began as a solo performer opening for artists like Hoyt Axton. Through his performances in the Southern California area, his name became well-known among musicians and songwriters. His love for music transcended his own region, which was a key to spreading his influence.

During the interview, I found a key element to Jack's success has been his love of collaboration. This led to friendship, associations and prosperous work with Glenn Frey, of The Eagles, Jackson Browne, Tom Waits and J.D. Souther. His influence on the appealing, early country-flavored Eagles-sound is clear with the hits, Peaceful, Easy Feeling and Already Gone both making it to the national charts.

His love of surrounding himself with the music community has been a consistent part of his life. Indeed, it seems when talking with Jack, he doesn't have a career as much as he has a life in music. Today, he travels between San Diego and L.A. playing regular gigs at a local Encinitas restaurant and becoming a mentor and influence to the young songwriters at Hotel Cafe in L.A.

Tempchin has also come full circle hitting the road again as a solo performer at house concerts, coffee houses, guitar stores and other acoustic venues. While his name will forever be associated with Peaceful, Easy Feeling, based on the scope of Jack's artistry, craft and music, it is clear he is a man of great wealth, not only monetary, but the prosperity of his own spirit through the gift of song he's willing to allow to flow to the world around him.

TERRY: I thought we'd start with what's happening today in your music career.

JACK: I've been going back to playing solo at gigs. I've been playing with a band called Rocket Science for the last 15 years, just a group of locals around Encinitas. We play a weekly at a restaurant called The Calypso.

TERRY: Tell me about how you started in music.

JACK: I started by playing a place called the By Frost Bridge in La Mesa. I wasn't very good, but I'd just get up and play. I started opening for Hoyt Axton and Hedge and Donna. They were the first to record one of my songs. Then I went to The Candy Company on El Cajon Boulevard. Around that time I met Jackson Browne, Glenn Frey and J.D. Souther. I got to open for Lightnin' Hopkins. I formed a hoot night on Wednesdays at a place called The Heritage. Tom Waits was the doorman there.

TERRY: What was your impression of Tom Waits?

JACK: He was, well, a doorman. But, then he would get up and play. He was really good. He played great guitar. He was writing those early songs then like I Hope That I Don't Fall In Love With You. I got to know him and we even wrote a song together. There was this guy, Ray Bierl. We both idolized him. He wasn't a writer but a great interpreter. We learned songs from him. He has never recorded until recently. He has an album out on CD Baby. From there I went to The Alley in Escondido. I opened for Ramblin' Jack Elliot there. In those days I played all my shows solo. In 1972, the San Diego folk scene just closed down. It was puzzling. So, I went to L.A. and played The Troubadour. Through the owner I got a record contract.

JACK: During the 80s I had a band called The Funky Kings. During that time, I also traveled all over the country as an opening act. It was all solo.

TERRY: Do you perform any covers?

JACK: Musically, I prefer writing my own stuff. You know, Dylan came along and that really started the singer-songwriter movement. I'm just too lazy to learn other people's songs. And when I do, I don't do them as well as the originals. Like, I'd learn this blues song and then a friend would walk into the room and say, "What did you do to that song?"

TERRY: Can you talk about your own songwriting process?

JACK: Well, let's see. Writing for me as a process is always different. Here's an example: I like to play at music scenes. One's that are developing. There's a great one in L.A. called The Hotel Cafe. It's neither a hotel or a café (laughs). A lot of younger singer-songwriters, which I love. Like I got to know the bartender, a girl, and she got a record contract, released a CD. Her name is Meiko. So, I like to wait around till closing time to play. I recently got up and started playing piano. As I was looking at the people, the thought occurred to me, 'that's a lonely looking piano.' So, it gave me a song title, The Loneliest Piano in Town. So, I take that home, make up stuff from it. I might go for 40 minutes or so. Just put it all out there. Then, I start the editing process. That's when I start throwing stuff out. Even the title may change. Then it's the putting together stage, which can take a very long time. Sometimes I like to just get up on stage and start playing. I've got up and played songs that weren't finished. I might just get a phrase or start with an idea. Right now, I'm working on something about the simple life in a complicated world. I'll let it percolate for a while then try different styles. It might turn out to be a jazz song or something like that. I think the greatest tool a songwriter has is a deadline or a reason for the song. Like a friend needs a song for a compilation and they need it next Friday. Then, you get going from start to finish. Also, I love to co-write. It's really an area I do a lot of. Not everybody likes it. I listen, facilitate.

TERRY: Who have you co-written with?

JACK: Tom Waits, Glenn Frey...Glenn is a great writer. It's just incredible that I've been able to write with him. I learned so much from him. We co-wrote songs in the movie Thelma and Louise and in Steve Martin Movies like The Lonely Guy. I also write with John Brannen. The song we wrote together is on the latest Eagles album.

TERRY: Tell me how you came to write Peaceful, Easy Feeling.

JACK: I won't tell you the usual story. It's gonna appear in a book called, Chicken Soup for the Songwriter's Soul. I was in El Centro when I wrote it. I came up with it and thought I'd done a good job. I thought the line, "I'm already standing on the ground," made it not actually a love song. It's like you can't count on a woman or anything really to find peace within yourself. It wasn't the usual love song. But, I've got to say, Glenn Frey and The Eagles took it and placed it into this greatness. Then, from there, it had a life of its own. It was like having a kid. I talked to a guy who said he heard people singing it while he was hiking in the Himalayas. Who knows how that happens? It's way beyond me. It is what it is. You just can't try to figure it out. Somehow it came from a certain emotion, a mood. It captured a feeling...the words, the music made me feel a certain way. It's like when you're on a highway driving and you start noticing the bugs on the windshield. Then, you start changing the way you look at it and notice the sky ahead. You put it into rhyme or poetry. It's trying to hold on to that feeling. You put it down. Remember it. Recently, Jackson Browne made some comments on his live album saying it didn't make sense that a woman can't take you any way you don't already know how to go. But, I was talking about was the temporary nature of it. It's realizing about your expectations. You know, like Tom Waits song..... I Don't Fall In Love With You....He says he sees the girl, he gets all of these thoughts in his head, then she's gone and nothing happens. 110% of guys have so much expectation, but it has nothing to do with the girl at all. Once I realize that, I don't have these false expectations that get in the way.

TERRY: What is a folk song?

JACK: Oh yeah. I just watched the first Smothers Brothers show on DVD and Pete Seeger was on it. His comment was a folk song is whatever people are singing. It's not a concrete thing. Nothing's written in stone. You know, it's about people singing, playing acoustic guitars. It's songs that last. I think about Stephen Foster, or songs like, Oh Susanna, that have been around. Those songs we learned in grade school. There's the songs people bring with them to the campfire. The thing is, each song changes with each new generation. Songs like Danny Boy have changed over the years. The songs are handed down from generations. It's only been a short time we've had the machines to record and preserve the songs, so most of these are songs that have lived in people's minds.

TERRY: What are your thoughts on spirituality and music?

JACK: Let's see, well, music is all about spirit, feelings, and ideas. Ways to communicate and express a feeling. We are spiritual beings. Music let's us express what being is about. You capture life at that moment. It's becoming one with the moment. The moment is eternity.

TERRY: So, are there any other projects coming up that you'd like to share with us?

JACK: I've been working with this guy, on this series up north, Tales of the Tavern. It's folkie concerts. The audience comes no matter who's playing and, man, you can hear a pin drop. It seats about 200 people. Henry Diltz came along to my gig there and did a video of the concert for a DVD release. It's being worked on now. It'll be out soon.

TERRY: That about wraps it up, Jack. It's been a pleasure. I look forward to seeing your upcoming shows.

JACK: Thank you.

Terry Roland is an English teacher, freelance writer, occasional poet, songwriter and folk and country enthusiast. The music has been in his blood since being raised in Texas. He came to California where he was taught to say ‘dude' at an early age.