*Sally and Jon Tiven with blues icon Buddy Guy (Photo Used Courtesy Of Jon Tiven)
Dynamic writing/producing team find unexpected success
By Ron Wynn
The writing/production/instrumental duo (as well as husband and wife) team of Jon and Sally Tiven have worked with many legends of soul, blues, R&B, rock and pop over the years. Since 2002, they’ve also been an integral part of the Music City community. Now they’ve recently enjoyed a new breakthrough: success on the dance charts.
Jon Tiven acknowledged that it’s been quite a surprise to see how well the single “Glittering Gutter,” off the LP “The Soul Tapes” by English vocalist Billie Ray Martin, has done. It entered the Billboard Dance/Club Charts at #44 and last week reached number eight. The song has also been issued as an eight-remix single, with differing versions reworked by some of dance music’s biggest production wizards like Mooli, Offer Nissim, Tweaka Turner and Dave Aude.
Here are Tiven’s views on the single’s success and several other topics we covered last week in an extensive interview.
How different was it working on this project as opposed to some of the other things that you’ve done?
“Billie and I met in the mid-90s after her smash “Your Loving Arms” made her a known quantity and she came to the U.S.A to meet people who could help her make a Soul record. She, Sally and I wrote several songs which she recorded on her album “18 Carat Garbage” (the title track and “Captain Drag” were songs we wrote with her), and that album was cut in Memphis with the Hi Rhythm guys and Ann Peebles and Carla Thomas guesting.”
“We became friends and wrote some more, and she approached me about a new project. We wrote and recorded a record in New York with my band, which at that time was Sally, myself, and our favorite NY drummer Simon Kirke (Free, Bad Company).
This was originally intended as a collaboration between Billie Ray and myself where I would completely share billing, and so I took liberties with my guitar playing that I wouldn’t have necessarily done had I strictly been the producer. I figured “if it’s my name on the marquee, I get to go wild, freak out, and play what’s deep within me” and so I did. All the tracks were cut for this in 2000, and when it was complete I thought it was not only one of the best things I’d ever done, but had great commercial potential, as they say. But Billie was not convinced that all of her vocals were of a quality that she’d be proud of in fifteen years, so the record sat and was never fully mixed, never mind shopped to labels. A year or so ago I got a call from Billie telling me that she’d listened to the record again after so many years and loved it and wanted to finish her vocals, so I sent her the tapes and voila! Success!”
The fact that this sat for 15 years—I had completely written off it ever being released—-and now it’s gotten to #8 on the dance/club charts (Billboard) and is currently #12 on Music Week’s charts in the U.K.—-I just feel like my artistic license has been renewed and approved.”
Hearing all the different remixes were you surprised by any of the approaches and were any of them radically different from how you originally envisioned the project?
“I was completely stunned by all of the mixes……they basically took the skin off the bones and built entirely new people on the remaining skeletons. It showed me great possibilities of how far you could go and still keep the song. I like my chord progressions the way they are, but it’s nice to know that with a little tweaking you can go off on a completely different tangent and still keep the integrity of the song.”
You’ve worked with many legendary names in soul, R&B, rock and pop. What person or persons have proven the most enjoyable and memorable among those you’ve worked with?
“Making records with my dear friends—-Wilson Pickett, B.B. King, Frank Black, Bobby Womack, P.F. Sloan, Don Covay, Steve Cropper, Little Milton, Ellis Hooks, Steve Kalinich, Syl Johnson, Sir Mack Rice—-that’s the kind of experience you want to keep with you forever. These were/are not just business relationships, these were/are buddies of mine who I speak to or spoke with regularly about all kinds of things. I’ve made some records with people who testing the boundaries of our friendship during the making of the record as well with Alex Chilton and Don Nix, and those experiences are memorable in another way. I’ve been so fortunate to have had my musical career intersect with so many one-of-a-kind talents any one of which would be enough to make me feel grateful, let me list a few: Chrissie Hynde, Paul Rodgers , Tom Verlaine, Ron Wood, Arthur Alexander, Felix Cavaliere, Graham Parker, Chris Spedding, Dan Penn, and Betty LaVette.”
Having been a Nashvillian for several years now, what are some things you’ve discovered about living and working here that you wouldn’t have thought were the case until you came?
“The wonderfully open music scene that some folks have showed me. Particularly jazz cats. Thank you Nashville .”
What projects have you done that turned out better than anticipated and some that didn’t do as well as you thought they might>?
Better—-well, this Billie Ray Martin really turned around completely, after having given up……..the most surprising thing to me is that several of my early productions (Alex Chilton, Prix, Van Duren) from the mid to late 70s are now being revered as Powerpop Classics when at the time I never got paid, didn’t see a whole lot of positive reviews, and so I consider those my “pancake” records.”
“You know, when you make pancakes you throw away the first batch so the 2nd batch tastes good. Now I’m getting wonderful reviews and even a check or two, it’s quite a mindbending experience. I hope I don’t have to wait 40 years for people to appreciate the work I’m doing now.”