The kids are all
MUSIC | Children of pop music icons pay tribute to
their roots by singing the songs of their famous fathers
BY THOMAS CONNER Sunday Show Editor
Spencer Gibb is sitting in traffic in Austin, Texas, and
he sighs. He thinks for a moment, then says, "People
think it must have been a breeze being me." He's been
talking for half an hour about the delicate relationship with
his father, the Bee Gees' Robin Gibb, and he's been dispelling
most preconceived notions about what it's like to be the progeny
of pop royalty. Like it's not all bon-bons and Keith Richards
parties, and all the doors do not open automatically to you.
"People know your heritage, so you never get to be you,"
he says. "They walk into the club where you're playing,
and they say, well, 'You better be f---in' good.' I mean,
facing that kind of thing certainly forced me to learn my
instrument and be good. Because if you can just get people
over that hump and get them to listen to what you're doing,
then it is actually worth doing."
Think about it: You're the son of a huge pop icon. What
do you do? Do you pursue a career of your own in any field
other than pop music? If your particular paternal pop icon
is well off, do you pursue a career at all? Or do you submit
to the famous family genes and have a go at the music biz
Offspring of famous parents have pursued all of the above,
but at least 14 of them bit the No. 1-with-a-bullet and followed
him into the family business. Out now, exclusively at Target
stores, is a CD called "A Song for My Father," a
collection of kids of famous dads each performing one of their
father's songs. Salvador Santana (Carlos' kid) does "Evil
Ways," Ivan Neville (son of Aaron) does "Yellow
Moon," Jen Chapin does, of course, Harry's working-dad
staple "Cat's in the Cradle," and so on.
It was a long road to this point for each one of them, too.
Most of the contributing artists we spoke with about this
project previously had never recorded one of their father's
songs, hoping to keep his legacy at arm's length long enough
to establish their own musical identity.
"At some point you've got to get out far enough to see
yourself as yourself, and see Dad for who he is, too,"
says Sarah Lee Guthrie, who has not only the legacy of her
father (Arlo Guthrie) to wrestle with but that of her grandfather
(Woody Guthrie). "And those are the best Father's Days
-- when it's not just dad and child, but person to person."
The man behind the plan
The artists on "A Song for My Father" are the
children of boomer-era pop stars. Two reasons for that: Those
are the singers old enough to have grown children now, and
they're the singers Jim Brandmeier likes.
"A lot of these people are my heroes," Brandmeier
says in an interview from his Madison, Wis., home. "They're
people I like and respect."
Brandmeier -- yes, he's the brother of Jonathon Brandmeier
of WLUP-FM (97.9, "The Loop") -- formed his own
record label and called it 180 Music. "Because I wanted
us to get back to music," he says. "With radio consolidation
and record company consolidation, it seems creativity has
been delegated to the board room. So let's do a 180 and get
back to the music."
"A Song for My Father" is one of the label's first
discs. But beyond the father-child hook, Brandmeier -- a jazz
flutist and a former commercial jingle producer in Chicago
-- saw in this collection a chance to promote out-of-the-box
"This isn't so much about artists forging a career in
the wake of their father's shadow, it's about forging a career
with music and artistry that isn't necessarily the most commercial
or Top 40 thing. That's a much bigger challenge than outshining
a famous father," Brandmeier says. "A.J Croce, for
instance -- young people don't know his dad [Jim Croce], but
he's out there making music right down the line in the opposite
direction of the Top 40. Ivan Neville is a great musician,
and the Nevilles are a close-knit family, but they don't fall
into the commercial cracks. ... I mean, these kids all seemed
very proud of their fathers. The Nelsons [Matthew and Gunnar]
were doing a tour last summer, a tribute to their late father
[Ricky Nelson], a whole tour playing his music and telling
stories. They certainly didn't look at that as an obstacle
or a shadow. They saw it as an honor."
But many of these songs and all of these musical dads were
once Top 40 and very commercial. The fact that the next generation
singing the same songs is now far left of the commercial center
made facing up to this project even more daunting for the
kids. They're all eager to honor Dad, but sometimes they need
a little time to themselves first.
And this isn't the first time they'd been asked. Devon Allman,
son of Allman Brother and guitar hero Gregg Allman, says --
like all the artists we spoke with -- he's been approached
for dozens of other tribute projects to his dad. In fact,
the first such suggestion came from Gregg himself.
"I remember Dad saying, when I was 18, 'Let's go in
and cut 10 or 12 Allman Brothers songs and have you sing 'em
all,' and I was like, 'Oh, nooooo!' " Allman says. "I
mean, fans already are coming to my shows and yelling out
for 'Whipping Post.' ... My usual response to that is that
there's a pretty good band out there on the road that does
a pretty good version of that song -- because it's theirs!
I've got my own thing. I don't need to be Dad. And he's cool
with that now."
He pauses. "Whew."
A one-time thing
For this CD collection, however, these artists decided to
make an exception -- a one-time tip of the hat to dear ol'
"This project seemed classy," Allman says. "I
think when you're a second generation of someone like my dad,
it's real easy to fall into that campy category where things
are not done with taste. This project really felt like a tribute,
not like a bunch of kids cashing in on their parents. It's
about our representation of what they do."
Spencer Gibb echoes that evaluation. "I've been pitched
a lot of this kind of thing over the years," he says.
"I always turn them down because myself and my band [54
Seconds] weren't really into exploiting the name. And most
projects seem kind of cheesy, but this one didn't. We had
creative control, and it seemed like it was being done for
all the right reasons. It wasn't just someone coming to me
and saying, 'Hey, will you do "Staying Alive"?'
Or asking some son of a Beach Boy to sing 'Good Vibrations.'
In a way, that made it harder, though. Gibb says he agonized
over which song to record. He chose "Run to Me,"
a Top 20 Bee Gees hit only briefly in 1972.
"Initially, we thought 'Run to Me' was too obvious for
the band," he says. "We have that '60s melancholy
thing going already, so we wanted to do a more well-known
song and turn it upside down. We battled and battled, and
we worked through some others in the studio, but it felt we
were trying too hard. We kept coming back to 'Run to Me.'
And what did Daddy Gibb think?
"He surprised me: He really loved it," Gibb says.
"He's very critical of cover versions, but then he surprised
me with something else. He told me 'Run to Me' was a hit single
the week I was born. I never knew that. My only connection
to it was that it was one of my favorite songs of theirs.
And Dad wasn't present for my birth -- because he was promoting
'Run to Me' in the U.S.!"
Meanwhile, Sarah Lee Guthrie threatened to do all 15 minutes
of her father's classic "Alice's Restaurant" for
"I thought it would be a great idea, and I actually
learned the whole thing for the first time for this project,"
she says. She settled on "Coming in to Los Angeles."
"It's a great song. I've been playing it for years with
my dad, and it has a great energy. A lot of people try to
rock that song out. I think it's more groovy, so we pulled
it back, made it more mellow."
"That's what I wanted," Brandmeier says of his
compilation. "I wanted these kids to honor their dads
but express themselves in the process, too. And some of them
really got a lot out of it. Louise Goffin -- she has two famous
parents [lyricist Gerry Goffin and singer-songwriter Carole
King]. She talked a lot in the studio, and her eyes were welling
with tears. You could tell there was love there for Gerry.
She didn't talk about Carole. This isn't 'A Song for My Mother.'
He laughs. Maybe that's next. "Yeah, and we'll do 'A
Song for Uncle Charlie' and 'A Song for Aunt Esther' ..."