Sometime in 1995, Bill Bottrell called and wanted me to be on stand-by. He was supposed to meet someone whom he had been putting off, but just in case, he wanted me to be available to work. Likewise, on the other side of the meeting, he was also being put off.
But it was a happy meeting – Linda Perry proved to be everything that we feared she wasn’t. Love her or hate her, she was a genuine artist. Not that her record company, Interscope, really agreed. She’d had a big hit with “What’s Up”, but according to her, that wasn’t like any of the rest of the album, and it also wasn’t typical of her writing. When her band, 4 Non Blondes, went to make their second album, the label wanted another atypical hit. Under pressure to produce, as the writer, Linda tried to leave the band, but Interscope wanted what they wanted. The band was dropped, but she was held to the deal.
And so they sent her to us, and to Bill. We had apparently gotten a reputation within record companies, based on the Tuesday Night Music Club album, and so they wanted us to manipulate Linda and gradually substitute our music for hers. But after two weeks of working with her, it was obvious to us that their agenda was to be thrown out, and we were going to make the album that Linda wanted.
And the album that Linda wanted was what we made, with early Pink Floyd as an inspiration: it was called In Flight. It was a very happy time for me – my daughter was approaching a year old, and the album was coming out well. I have two main memories of making it, one of which will be obvious, and both involve Grace Slick, the singer from one of my very favorite bands as a young musician. Linda lived in San Francisco at the time, and had become friends with China Kantner. They hatched a plan to have China’s mother, Grace, on the album.
When she showed up, the one track that was more-or-less finished was “In My Dreams”, so that’s what we played for her.
When it was done, the first thing she said was, “Who’s playing bass?” Everyone looked at me. “What did you do to it? I know you did something on the board – I don’t mind that. But what did you do?”
“Nothing,” I said. “It’s just that bass – ” I nodded at my fretless Steinberger L2 – “recorded direct.” She said something like, “That’s amazing.” And all I could think was “This is Jack Casady’s singer saying this…”
Linda had a song called “Knock Me Out” in mind for Grace to sing as a duet, and it became, in my opinion, the centerpiece of the album, with each singer singing their half of a very volatile relationship:
You knocked me out
You bit my lip
You held me down
And kept me sober
Through all this time
With no regret
I guess that’s just the way I liked it
It’s slow, it’s big, it’s stately, it’s got two great singers, and Kevin Gilbert plays truly gnarled licks on Bill’s National with flat-wounds. We play all sorts of rock and roll instruments on the record, but I especially want to mention Kevin’s organ playing (and particularly on the song “In Flight”), which he also played live.
We played live a few times with Linda, and she was as great a person as she was a performer. Our first show was a benefit for APLA, the AIDS Project Los Angeles. My large speaker cabinet was brought in by a crew, but I brought my own amplifier. I put it up on the stage, and jokingly said to her, “Hey Linda, my amp goes up on the cab!” She unquestioningly said, “OK!” and hauled it right up there: the perfect lead singer.
I recall that the first song we did was “Freeway,” which began with a verse solo – and then two things happened: first, drummer Brian MacLeod and I had never been on stage together before this; we had just played in the studio, and we were both kind of shocked by the power of our playing together. It felt like a jet taking off. At the same moment Linda and Kevin played the opening chord of the second verse so hard they that broke strings on both their guitars immediately. I remember a single thought: “This will either crash and burn or fly.” It flew. For the second song, they borrowed guitars from the opening act (Stone Fox, who were on Linda’s label), while the girls in Stone Fox changed their strings.
After the show, a friend told me that it was “like seeing Janis Joplin with Big Brother.” I’ve got a few good memories, but this is among my highest.
This article originally appeared in Issue 18.