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By Mark Pavilons
A King resident's love of jazz has propelled him into the spotlight, meeting and interviewing some of the top names in the industry.
Snowball's Ronnie Littlejohn hosts The Gumbo Kitchen Friday nights from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. on JAZZ.FM91 or online at jazz.fm
Not only has Littlejohn slid comfortably into the chair behind the microphone, he often can't contain himself or his love of music. His passion, knowledge and interest in jazz have given him rare opportunities to engage the biggest and best.
“I have had the honor of interviewing some of my musical heroes and sheroes – folks I grew up listening to as a kid,” he said. “Music icons who have shaped the musical landscape. I've had a ball doing it and have learned a lot of lessons along the way. I must add that this would only be possible because of a radio station like JAZZ.FM91. There isn't another radio station like it anywhere in the world.”
Littlejohn selects and “chases down” each person. He presents his list so far of some of the best, toughest and most interesting celebrity interviews, here in his own words.
Most difficult interview to get: Smokey Robinson.
“Smokey's manager is a guy who has been in the business forever. He has represented Don Rickles, Tony Bennett and a whole bunch of other big-time guys and gals.
“I hounded this poor guy. He was always very polite and appeared to be sincere about an interview. I didn't let up. I would follow up every couple of weeks. I figured if this guy was around in the legendary mob days of Vegas there was probably very little I could do to ruffle his feathers. Then COVID came and his tour was cancelled, and the chance of an interview was gone. Or was it? Two and a half years later Smokey was booked to play Toronto. I called his manager back. ‘Hey, it's Ronnie Littlejohn,' I said. ‘I know,' was his reply. We went back and forth for months trying to schedule something and we finally did. It had to be a phoner because Smokey doesn't do Zoom.
“I got his manager on the phone that morning who would connect me to Smokey. Just before he connected us, I said ‘I hope I wasn't too much of a pain in the you know what. ‘Oh, Ronnie you were! But I like you.' Now, the sweetest words I've ever heard were ‘Say hello to your new daughter' but the runner-up was ‘Ronnie say hello to Smokey Robinson.'
“Smokey shared so many great stories. I interviewed him again a year later. This time, however, his manager put me in touch with someone else.
Most Intimidating Guest: Irma Thomas (Soul Queen of New Orleans).
“When the Stones heard Irma sing ‘Time is on My Side' they knew they had to record it. It became a huge smash for them. So much so that Irma stopped performing because she was tired of people asking why she was singing a song by The Rolling Stones.
“When I approached Irma for an interview, she had two conditions. ‘Do your homework and don't ask any stupid questions.'
“No pressure! After about two minutes of speaking with her on the phone she put me at ease. It was like talking to your favorite auntie.”
Biggest potential train wreck: The Isley Brothers, R&B legends.
“The Isley Brothers have been a part of my life since I was 13. ‘Shout, It's Your Thing, That Lady, Twist and Shout,' are you kidding me? I was granted a chat with Ronald and Ernie Isley over Zoom. The interview was smashing! Better than I could hope for. At the end of the interview I thanked them and we all logged off.
“I texted my wife “THAT WAS INCREDIBLE!” Words spoken too soon. The file containing the interview was GONE. Nowhere to be found on the computer. I felt nauseous. What was I going to do? I called the manager back. ‘Hi Ronnie, is everything ok?'
“‘Umm yes I just wanted to thank you again and ummmm well … there's a bit of a problem. You think we can do it again?”
“Explaining that I had lost the file was easily the most embarrassing moment in my short career. The manager (Ronald Isley's wife) cut me off ‘I have a call coming in I have to let you go.'
“She hung up. I BLEW IT! That great chat with the music icons was gone. A few minutes later I get a text from Ronald Isley's wife. ‘Let's do it again in 10 minutes.' The Isley Brothers sure didn't need to give me a second chance. I can only assume that our conversation went so well that they thought, hey why not. They logged back into the zoom as I kind of awkwardly stammered ‘hey guys, long time no see.' Silence.
“We did take two of the interview almost word for word. That was a close one. Lesson learned BE PREPARED FOR ANYTHING!
Most Nervous: STING.
“When Sting had his musical production The Last Ship in Toronto he and his manager stumbled across my program. His manager reached out and told me how much they enjoyed it. Half-jokingly I said, ‘Hey if Sting ever wants to be on the show!'
“How is next Tuesday? WHAT?'
“Up until this point my interviews lasted until all the questions were done. Some had gone on for 40 minutes or so. I had never even considered time constraints. I was told Sting was doing press all day for his new album and I only had a tight 15 minutes with him. We scheduled the Zoom interview. That morning my wife cleaned the entire house as if Sting were coming for dinner. Sting was scheduled to perform on Jimmy Kimmel that night so I asked him jokingly if he was nervous about being on MY show. ‘Yes, I've been up fretting all-night wondering what you were going to ask me Ronnie.'
“At the 10-minute point of the interview they cut me. ‘Gotta go Ronnie, thanks for the chat!' Sting's music is the soundtrack of my life. I had my first high school dance to ‘Every Breath You Take.' Speaking with him was slightly surreal.”
Politest thanks but no thanks: Keith Richards.
Most edited interview: (Tie) Taj Mahal & Bobby Rush.
“Blues man Taj Mahal's manager warned me. ‘With Taj you either get 10 minutes or an hour and half.' Lucky for me Taj was in fine form and I got the latter. He told me interesting stories about how he took care of Bob Marley after he and the Wailers were kicked off a Sly & The Family Stone tour because the crowd were too enthusiastic.
“This segment could have been two hours after the music was edited in so I had to do some chopping. I could have done part 1 to 4 with Taj.
“Bobby Rush is a legendary blues man out of Mississippi In his late 80s Bobby doesn't mix words.
“If it's on his mind, he says it. Not all of his jokes are fit for radio, so I had to spend LOTS of time editing them out. Unfortunately, those are some of the best parts. Bobby does this thing where he tells the radio host that they are the best and he follows their show all the time. I fell for this the first time till I heard him say it to another guy. That is how Bobby has remained so near and dear to radio hosts all over the world. He knows how to make you feel good. He is so likeable.”
Best Timed Interview: Jon Batiste.
The timing for this could not have been better. Somehow, I got to interview Jon Batiste days before he won 11 Grammys. I'm curious if I would have landed this one after the Grammys.
“Daniel Lanois: I had the iconic Canadian record producer on the show in 2020 and again in 2023. Just before his second visit I had a strange inkling that he only wanted to talk about his latest record. I'm not sure why I did this, but I reached out to his people to feel them out. I had never done that before. They got back telling me I was correct, Daniel only wanted to discuss the new record and future plans. Fair enough.
“So, in preparing for our second interview that's what I did. Only questions about the new record. After about 20 seconds into our conversation, he tells me ‘Ronnie let's talk about anything you want to talk about. The past, the present, the future. I'll follow your lead.'
“It ended up being one of my best interviews. The lesson here is ask for forgiveness not permission!”
Booker T Jones: “The legendary leader of Booker T. & the M.Gs played on pretty much every Otis Redding song as well as Stax records. This was maybe the most in-depth interview I've done to this day. Booker T and I chatted for nearly an hour. He took me through his entire career. We spoke about recording ‘Try a Little Tenderness, Green Onions,' him producing Willie Nelson and Bill Withers. I've never been more riveted.”
Steve Cropper: “Guitarist Steve Cropper who wrote ‘Dock of the Bay' and played on every Otis Redding and Stax recording told me about the time he first heard Otis sing. Otis was the driver for some band and drove them to the studio that day. It was Otis's job to lift the band's gear and go get them lunch. As the recording session was winding down the unknown driver quietly sat down at a piano and starting singing ‘These … Arms . of . Miiiiiine!'
“Steve Cropper's jaw hit the floor and the rest was history. No one is sure what became of the band Otis was driving that day.
“Steve Cropper told me ‘I can't imagine how awkward it was in that car on the drive home.”
Most of these interviews can still be heard online at jazz.fm
Excerpt: A King resident’s love of jazz has propelled him into the spotlight, meeting and interviewing some of the top names in the industry. Snowball’s Ronnie Littlejohn hosts The Gumbo Kitchen Friday nights from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. on JAZZ.FM91 or online at jazz.fm
Post date: 2023-06-28 14:08:09
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