Photo by Henry Diltz                 

An interview with
Paul Zollo

By Beppe Colli
Dec. 15, 2006

It was in the early 90s, thanks to (US) Musician magazine, that I got to know Paul Zollo's work. I quite liked all pieces by Zollo that I happened to read, so when at the end of that decade I got to know about the release of a book of interviews conducted by him, I immediately ordered it.

The "expanded edition" of Songwriters On Songwriting (more than 600 pages!, but not expensive at all: $18.95) featured, of course, interviews with songwriters. A few names? Randy Newman, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Carole King, Frank Zappa, Laura Nyro, Leonard Cohen, Brian Wilson, Rickie Lee Jones, Van Dyke Parks, Harry Nilsson. Not enough? Add Donovan, Burt Bacharach, Neil Young, Suzanne Vega, Tom Petty, Richard Thompson, Mose Allison, Tom Lehrer, Jules Shear, Los Lobos. Also Walter Becker and Todd Rundgren.

The book was even better than I had imagined. All interviews, all very carefully done, showed such a deep understanding of the "song" object that I found myself reading with a lot of interest even those interviews with musicians that were far from being in my "favourite" list. In time, Zollo's book has remained one that I've re-read quite often, sometimes for documentation, very often for sheer pleasure.

What about this interview? Well, at the end of last month I did a Web search about some names, among them Zollo. I found his website, read about his various activities, noticed his e-mail address. He kindly agreed with my proposal, and the interview, conducted via e-mail, took place during the first two weeks of December.

Though I'm sure you've answered this question a hundred times before, I'd like to know about how you started to develop an interest in music - and later, a really serious interest in music.

I was inspired and captivated by music as early as I can remember. Many of my earliest memories are musical. I remember distinctly the day in 1964 – I was six – when I first heard The Beatles on American radio. I Want To Hold Your Hand. It was thrilling. I could tell it was something different and special. The sound of those voices in close harmony, and those chords and the melody. It was enthralling to me even then. I knew it was unique, and I became an avid Beatles fan. But I loved so many of the other bands around then – like Herman's Hermits, The Association, The Rolling Stones, of course. And then Simon & Garfunkel entered my life – and I felt so close to their music. It inspired and warmed me. It was intelligent, romantic, fun and great. I used to play a makeshift drumset by setting buckets and garbage pails over a set of pipes in my basement. I took some piano lessons, and at ten I started playing guitar and almost immediately began writing my own songs. My first one was just words for Simon's Sound of Silence. Mine was The Look Of Absence. After that I started writing my own music as well as words, and never stopped. My folks were very encouraging, and I took private lessons in music theory – which were great for me – as well as piano and guitar lessons. I had a great guitar teacher who encouraged me to use all the chords and techniques I was learning in my own songs, and to write a new song every week, which I did. I also had a music teacher in junior high that celebrated my songwriting, and taught two of my songs to the class to perform, which was a major thrill for me. My first years of songwriting consisted of all pretty abstract songs, inspired by Beatles' songs like Fixing A Hole. Then came the era of the singer-songwriter, and I loved James Taylor very much, and also Carole King, Laura Nyro, Cat Stevens, CSN, and so many others. In Chicago, where I lived, there was a burgeoning folk music scene, and I fell in love with great performers and writers like Steve Goodman, John Prine, Michael Smith, Thom Bishop, Bob Gibson and many others. I played one of my songs backstage for Steve Goodman – an act of pure chutzpah, but he was quite kind – and he said, frankly, "That was good, but I could have written that whole song in one line." That was critical and crucial, and very helpful. The song I played him had abstract lyrics. I knew what he meant, and from that day on I tried to write songs that made sense, while still being poetic and compelling. I played at open-mics in Chicago solo and with friends. Went to college in Boston and put a band together. Then to New York and Hollywood, playing with bands, writing songs, performing. I never wanted to be a music journalist or author – just fell into that – I just wanted to write songs and perform them.

Though most of the pieces written by you that I've read originally appeared in SongTalk, I read them as part of your book Songwriters On Songwriting. In fact, I've never seen a copy of SongTalk! So would you please fill in the blanks for me?

SongTalk was the journal of the National Academy of Songwriters. When I came to NAS, just checking it out, SongTalk was little more than a calendar of events. I worked my way into writing for it, and they made me editor. I proposed getting in-depth interviews with great songwriters. They scoffed at the suggestion, saying no important songwriter would speak to us. I felt that if we talked to them seriously – as musicians talking to musicians – they would open up, and appreciate the focus on music and creativity, with no focus at all on celebrity or non-musical issues. And we had many famous songwriters, from Paul Simon to Prince to Bacharach – as gold members of NAS. Few music magazines did seriously, in-depth interviews with musicians about music. But I was told I could try, and given an office and a salary and an opportunity to do what I could. For my very first issue I got Frank Zappa to give me a great interview. After that I got Pete Seeger, Willie Dixon and others. Early on Randy Newman – who I adore – gave me a wonderful interview – I know his work so well, and he is so brilliant and hilarious, that our interview turned out beautifully. He really appreciated my focus on his work, and knowledge – musically and lyrically – of his work. So it was a fine in-depth piece, and people in the industry noticed it, and in time almost all the great songwriters I wanted to talk to spoke to me. It took me a few years to get to some of them – when I approached Dylan's people at first, they laughed at me. But in time I even got to talk to Bob, which was amazing. And to Simon – I did many interviews with him which I combined into one. The great thing about SongTalk, since it was a journal on newsprint with hardly any ads, was that we had a lot of space. So I did enormous pieces on these people, long, in-depth interviews. (Also with great photos – usually taken by my friend, the legendary Henry Diltz.) Often splitting them into two pieces, as I did with Simon. I always had the vision, since the very start, of putting all these interviews into a book, and in time that book became a reality. It is Songwriters On Songwriting. Before I had any interviews, I made up a dream list of the people I wanted for the book. And I got almost all of them.

I'm positive I first saw your name as a writer in the pages of Musician magazine - can't quite remember if it was the Bill Flanagan or the Robert L. Doerschuk era. Would you mind talking about your collaboration with Musician?

I mourn the loss of Musician. It was a good magazine. I worked for both Bill and Robert. I worked through that transition. I was never on staff or anything, but got to write many stories for them. That was meaningful for me, because it was one of the only magazines I cared about, as they did some long and serious pieces with important people. In fact, I tried to write for them for years and kept getting rejected. Until I did my Dylan piece in SongTalk – then they took me seriously. They wanted to buy it and print it in their pages. We didn't go for that, but then Bill started hiring me to do some stories. I did stories on people I probably wouldn't have otherwise – like the Soup Dragons and the band James. Went on their tour bus, which was a trip. Did a long piece on Me'Shell NdegeOcello, who I love. It was to be a cover story – but they changed their mind and put Danzig on the cover. I did do one cover for them – Melissa Etheridge. And I did many other stories for them as well.

Since right now I have trouble accessing my whole Musician collection I'll have to use my memory: Was it really you who organized those "Songwriters Roundtable" that were covered in Musician a couple of times? If so, would you mind talking about this experience?

No, not me.

I have on hand the issue of Musician dated May 1997, the Cover Story being The Greatest Songs Of All Time, where musicians choose - and talk about - their favourite song (my favourite piece being the one by Andy Partridge of XTC on Autumn Almanac, by Ray Davis/The Kinks). You contributed a few pieces to the issue. Were you surprised to see that quite a few of the songs chosen (by people of different age groups) had been written by Randy Newman?

A little surprised, and pleased. It's always been evident to me that people who understand what great songwriting is all about appreciate the brilliance of Randy Newman. His achievement is unique and amazing. And a lot of people have no idea what he's done. Yet when I interviewed Dylan, he singled out Randy for praise. "There’s not many people in Randy's league," he said, and he's right. A song like Sail Away, Dylan said, "it doesn't get much better than that." I agree. I am hoping to do a whole book with Randy. I love him as a songwriter and a man. He's a great guy – so smart, so funny, so gifted. I asked him, after I did my book with Petty (Conversations with Tom Petty), if he would do a book. "You think there's a whole book there?" he asked. Well, yes. There is. I hope to write it.

In the same issue, one of the main pieces is about the Ben Folds Five. Just personal curiosity: Have you listened to Ben Folds's Songs For Silverman? I thought it was quite good, personally, but from a commercial point of view it seems to have sunk without a trace...

I actually don't know that album. But did write a piece for Oxford American on Ben when he just started out with his band and had that song Brick and other great ones. And I loved his stuff – he's very, very good. He knows what he's doing, and he's very smart and gifted.

The edition of Songwriters On Songwriting I own is the one that came out in 1997 for Da Capo. I'm sure it was followed by another edition - which I've never seen: What does it add/subtracts?

It only adds, doesn't subtract. There's an expanded version that Da Capo put out in 2003, which has over 700 pages. Not as long as Clinton's auto-bio, but pretty meaty. It has some early interviews I did, such as with Roger McGuinn, Mark Knopfler, John Hiatt and others. And also interviews I did subsequent to the 1997 edition, with Me'Shell, Lou Reed, Becker & Fagen (I had Becker but not Fagen in the first book – did a combo interview with both for the second), Alanis Morissette and more.

When I first got the book, I was surprised (don't know why, really) to see that one of my favourite musicians ever, Frank Zappa, had been included. You interviewed him in 1987. What's your personal recollection of that encounter?

It was a dream come true to meet him and speak to him. As mentioned, it was one of the first major interviews I got. He invited me to his home – he had been sleeping – it was about 8 at night, and he instructed his engineer to do mixes while he napped. I was impressed by the industry there at his home studio – the music kept going 24 hours a day, literally. When he rested, he made sure work was being done. He was amazingly creative, focused and productive. Frank was very generous with his time. He appreciated my knowledge of music, though he was pretty tough on the music biz. I was kind of new to the biz at that time – this was 1987 – and that took me by surprise. Now I understand. But he was very brilliant and funny and sardonic. A genius. It was an honor to be in his presence. He was working on music on the Synclavier – which was new at the time – music that became his album Jazz From Hell. He was excited by the potential of the instrument to play anything he conceived. He would give it little challenges. "Let's see what 24 notes on a bassoon in one measure would sound like," he'd say, and the instrument would do it. He loved that. He smoked a lot of cigarettes, his only vice, and he was angry with me that SongTalk had published a little story on Al Gore, whose wife Tipper, at the time, had formed the PMRC – parents trying to censor and ban what they felt was objectionable music. Right before I became editor, the previous guy put a photo of Gore on the cover. So that was ostensibly why Frank did the interview, to object to that – "why [Gore] would be on the cover of a music magazine." I dismissed it, told him I shared his feeling – which I did – and switched the focus from Tipper to music. And it unfolded, quite beautifully, from that. In retrospect I can see I was a little intimidated by Frank – and could have swam into deeper waters with him than I did. But considering I was quite green, I did a good job, and it's meaningful to have that. He produced so much; I do think he had some sense that his time on earth was to be brief, and so he got in more work in his short lifetime than most people do in a long one.

Talking about his reaction to the album The Complete Works Of Edgar Varèse, Volume I, Zappa says: "I took it home and listened to it day and night for years." I'd say this kind of behaviour was quite common (even more so in the case of people who later became artists, obviously) in that day and age. Judging from your experience, has the present "multimedia permanent overload condition" made cases like this a rare occurrence?

I guess so. In that I assume what you mean is that in this day and age most people wouldn't seek out something like Varese? It's important to understand that in Zappa's day, he was certainly a rarity in seeing out Varese. It distinguished him. It wasn't something the other kids did! He said he would play it for kids he met, and he could instantly determine if a kid was worth his time by whether or not he could appreciate Varese. In Frank's day, the other kids were listening to pop radio and rock and roll. And Frank was unique, even then. Of course, he also loved Louie Louie and other rock classics, as he told me.

I do feel that the attention span of people – and teens and kids, especially – has diminished since I was younger. We used to revel in the chance to listen to a single album over and over again, absorbing the music till it was in our souls and our blood. Now I know it's quite rare for anybody – but kids, especially – to listen to an entire album. My nieces and nephews tell me they never buy CDs anymore, they just download individual songs. So that rather sit in front of a stereo, letting the music take you over, scrutinizing the album covers, poring over the lyrics, living inside of the photos as we did, they are listening to songs on their iPods while zipping about the Internet or doing other activities. We used to linger deep in the interiors of songs. I don't know if people often go that deeply into music anymore. I know there are some that certainly do, but I think it's changed. The advent of MTV decades ago now changed the musical experience to add a visual dimension to it that has diminished people's expectations of the music itself, the songs, the words and the music, to paint the pictures. It has reduced people's musical imaginations.

So, yes, I think much has shifted since the days when a young Frank Zappa would welcome Varese into his home and his heart and his thoughts, and though Zappa was certainly unique then among his peers, he would be even more unique today. However, at the same time, I see that music hasn't been segregated into past and present as severely as it was when we were kids; because of the Internet's ability to drum up any track of the past with digital crystal clarity, there are so many kids and adults alike discovering and embracing great music of the past, so that Zappa, for example, or the Beatles, or Laura Nyro, remain quite vital in people's lives, quite different from the way the music my parents loved, for example – like Sinatra or Judy Garland, existed in my life. Those were old dusty, scratchy LPs on the shelf. Now the music is there, immaculate, new, electric and alive for those who want it. And I know kids who love Zappa with the secret intimate ferocity that he loved Varese. It distinguishes them as Varese distinguished the young Frank. It is a private refuge.

So while attention spans have certainly shrunk, the ability to connect with all kinds of great music has opened up in a whole new way. And despite what many say about digital sound versus analog, I think there's no question that the clarity and depth of digital sound – as heard in an iPod, for example – is amazing and great. Sometimes old stuff is remastered inaccurately, and the balance and dynamics gets wonky. But mostly the old stuff, from Beatles to Mose Allison to Muddy Waters to the Chicago Symphony to Dylan and beyond, sounds amazingly great, better than ever.

You've interviewed countless greats. For instance, Laura Nyro (if I remember correctly, excerpts from your interview later became the liner notes to her Anthology), an artist whose personality at the time of her first record (released in 1967, when she was just nineteen) seemed to have appeared as already fully formed. Talk about her.

Another major honor in my life to meet Laura. She was a goddess. Like Frank, she was on her own trajectory totally, and like him, had a tragically short life. Unlike Frank, she resisted speaking to me for years. I didn't know it at the time, but she hadn't given any interviews for many years cause she had withdrawn from the music business. But my focus was never on only current work – it always was and is on timeless achievement. And since she was 16 and wrote And When I Die – miraculously her very first song! – she wrote so many timeless classics. Eventually, through much effort and many, many channels, I convinced her to do an interview. I remember well – she said, "But what if I have nothing to say?". I feel now she was scared that I would focus on questions like, "Why aren't you writing now? What happened to you? You use to be..." But that was not my focus at all, and I assured her we would have a good talk. And we did. We connected beautifully. I loved her and her amazing songs. Like Randy – and Frank – she did something completely her own. She played by her own rules. She was a true artist. So our first talk was about 3 hours long – inspirational, funny, warm and wonderful. And when she was done that day she asked if we could speak again the next day. Sure! And we did. And we spoke about her feelings about art and creativity – how in art there is joy, there is play – but it's serious. She called it her "serious playground." And how there were no limitations. It was beautiful. We reached a place of intimacy and beauty – a place her music touches, a place of joy – that I didn't know we'd be able to reach. And she was thrilled with the interview, and used it in her Anthology, as you mentioned – which was an honor for me – and also in her songbook. I cherish the fact that I connected with her. She was beautiful. And my son was born on her birthday, October 18th. "And when I die," she wrote, "there'll be one child born and a world to carry on, carry on." Carry on.

Talking about "precocious talents", I'm curious to know if you've listened to Nellie McKay.

No, I am not familiar with Nellie. But I will listen now. Almost all of these songwriters started writing at about 10 or 11. All of them were captivated by music as kids. They loved music, and dreamed of making music their life. And they did. Almost every one of them wrote their first songs as kids – right about the same age. But most of them didn't write good songs at first. They wrote imitational songs. Songs like ones they heard. They were learning the craft and the art by doing it. Which is the only way to learn how to write songs. By doing it. By imitating and emulating that which moves us till we find our own voice and style. Laura Nyro is the only one I know whose very first song was a classic song. That is very unusual. It takes most songwriters – and I am included – many years of doing it before they find their own path, and start to write serious songs. Songwriting is not something that can be taught, but it can be learned by doing it. And that is how all of them learned to do it. By doing it. And writing bad songs at first, and getting better. And better.

Joni Mitchell is an artist whose music is a lot more complex than it appears to the lazy ear. Have you ever met her?

Yes I have. On a few occasions. And I wrote a tribute to her once, including a speech that Graham Nash delivered, though he nicely amended it. Joni performed at the tribute, and I got to spend some time with her. I don't think her music sounds simple even to lazy ears. I think it sounds complex to almost everyone, and it is. She has devised her own language of music. She invented her own chords on the guitar, and her own tunings. This is very unusual. Even on piano she does stuff that is quite unusual, putting together chords and voicings that are just so odd, but work so well, and resonate beautifully in her songs. And she is one of the few whose music and lyrics are equally inventive and great. Most songwriters are usually better with either words or music – which is why songwriters of yesteryear were usually a team – one doing words, one music. But though I tried very very hard for many years – directly and indirectly through a multitude of channels with Joni – and though she promised me once in person she would do an interview with me, and said that talking to me would be a "catharsis," she never did it. Which I regret, as I love her work, and know it very well. We could have a great talk. My wife is a painter, and my dad collects art, and I know a lot about painting. She's a gifted painter, and it would be great to speak about the intersection of visual and musical art with her. I know it will happen some day. I regret that Joni has allowed the music biz to sour her on music, and has withdrawn from music. Great artists like her need to transcend the marketplace, and not to allow the vagaries of the business to affect the art. There are those, like Paul Simon – whose great album Hearts and Bones did not sell into the stratosphere like most of his work did, and he considered it a failure – yet then went on to do even greater work  - his next album was Graceland. Important artists must rise above the marketplace, the industry. Brubeck was told that Take Five was a miserable idea because no one could dance to it. It went on to become the best-selling jazz album of all time. Petty was told Full Moon Fever couldn't even be released, that it was no good and had no hits. It become his best-selling and most famous album. So artists must not trust the industry's judgment of their work. But it's not easy to do, especially when you are used to your art generating immense excitement among millions. When those numbers diminish, artists often feel their work has diminished in value, or they lose their inclination to put work into the marketplace. They see work of lesser value being celebrated, and it penetrates and damages their creative spirit. And this has happened with Joni, which is a shame, as she's one of the greatest songwriters ever. And some of her greatest, most amazing work, like the Mingus album, was never embraced critically or popularly like her "hits." Yet it doesn't change the fact that it's timeless, great work. It's amazing. Astoundingly masterful. Work for the ages. Sure, she's a great painter, and the world needs great paintings. But she's also one of the most talented living songwriters, and the world desperately needs more great songs. Despite what some might say.

Another interview I greatly enjoyed was the one with Burt Bacharach and Hal David. What did you make of the fact that their music from their "classic period" was embraced as stylish "cocktail/lounge" music by an audience with a "post-modern sensibility"?

I can understand how that kind of song that Bacharach and David wrote would be considered cocktail and/or lounge music, as it's in some ways a style that harkens back to previous era – an era where not one but two men – a lyricist and a composer – wrote songs not for themselves but for other singers to perform – and created their work not on a guitar for rock & roll but on a piano for a singer to perform with an orchestra. Bacharach has more in common with George Gershwin than he does with Bob Dylan. By this I don't mean to denigrate the greatness of the songs that he wrote with Hal David. They are beautiful, timeless classics. Nor are they simple or simplistic musically – a song like Alfie, for example, has a beautiful complexity, and like all of Bacharach's music, is quite sophisticated. And in the context of the Sixties, when Dylan, the Beatles, Paul Simon and others were stretching the boundaries of what a song could do and what a song could say, Bacharach & David were writing in this older style, this style that was not about new revolution but about old-fashioned romance, albeit with dazzling melodics. And so the greatness of what they accomplished might have been underrated at first, because it was not as overtly revolutionary. But in time, as with any great song, the value in an Alfie has not been diminished, and its greatness continues to resound in a remarkable way. So new generations have discovered it, and have embraced it anew. I would say that Hal David's lyrics, written as they were in that old-fashioned style in which romantic lyrics were created to fit a melody, haven't aged as well as Bacharach's melody. It's like George Gershwin with Ira Gershwin – it’s George's melodies, not Ira's lyrics – that were truly revolutionary and new, and it's George who is celebrated as the genius, not Ira. But Ira's lyrics, like Hal David's, fit those melodies perfectly, they ride on the tunes, they rise and fall linguistically with the melodies in a perfect, seamless way, and they made those melodies more palatable and embraceable to the public. Hal's lyrics for Alfie, though seemingly simplistic in some ways, fits that complex melody ideally. He is a fine craftsman. So while not all of their songs continue to resonate, the great songs of Bacharach & David certainly have become timeless standards, and resound with the grace of beauty of the finest songs great songwriters have ever written.

In the interview you did with him, Randy Newman talks about how rhythm coupled with a lack of both melodic and harmonic complexity (my wording) increasingly makes things difficult for music of greater sophistication. I know it's a complicated matter, but how do you presently see this topic?

Well, both Randy Newman and Paul Simon, in my book, expressed a conviction that the hunger for melody had diminished – Simon said that we are "long out of the age of melody," and felt that rhythm, in popular music, was more important, and that melody would never return. I felt he was wrong, and he was. (Of course, this conviction led to some of his most compelling work – rhythm based songs like all of those on Graceland.) Randy said that with rap music he felt he knew that, in time, rappers would want to introduce some melodies into the music, and he felt this belief was affirmed when hip-hop started to wed melodic choruses with their rapped verses. And in this day and age we see that songs with great melodies do still matter a great deal, and that people love them when they hear a good melody. It's the reason why the stunning ballad Hurt, by Christina Aguilera, is so cherished. It's an absolutely beautiful, heartrending melody with lovely lyrics. (Also her amazing performance of it goes a long way in entrancing people with this spellbinding song.) It's the reason why the songs of the Beatles continue to matter as much if not more as they did when they were created. Great melodies with crafty, creative harmonies – are something that will never go out of style. It's my belief that people hunger for great melodies. We want words that move us and speak to our hearts and minds, we want rhythm that makes us move and stirs our souls, and we want melodies that are visceral, ethereal and eternal. There are few combinations more potent than the fusion of a powerful melody with a poignant lyric. Add to that an invigorating rhythm and the result is heaven. Now I do think that ever since the birth of rock and roll, when guitar became the prevalent instrument over piano, and three and four-chord blues-based rock songs became the popular music of the time, that the sophistication of the piano-based songwriters – from Gershwin to Bacharach and beyond – was not valued, and that popular music became less sophisticated. Many guitarists nowadays, for example, do not play diminished, augmented, or extended chords. Sophisticated harmony, in many ways, is easier to accomplish on the keyboard of a piano than on a guitar. But at the same time, there have been many examples of guitar-based songwriters writing beautifully melodic and sophisticated songs, the most obvious and overt example being the Beatles. From the start, their music was chromatic and original and quite sophisticated. They effected a fusion of the sophisticated, complex melodic song with the visceral, earthy foundation of blues and rock & roll. And no one has ever really done it better, though there have been many guitar-based songwriters – such as Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and others who have composed quite complex and sophisticated music on guitar. And at the same time there have been the piano-based songwriters, such as Randy, as well as Elton John, Bruce Hornsby and others who have utilized the complex possibilities as well as the dynamic potential of the piano in composing popular songs. So it's certainly true that there aren't many people writing the kind of songs that Gershwin or Cole Porter wrote, or that the Beatles wrote, but I think popular music is cyclical, and that our hunger and appreciation of melodic and sophisticated songwriting will never fade, and along will come great songwriters writing great new songs.

I know there is a book of interviews with Tom Petty that you did. Talk about it.

It's called Conversations with Tom Petty, and it's a whole book of interviews I conducted with Tom at one of his two Malibu homes over many successive Saturday afternoons. This was during the time he was making the Highway Companion album, and he was in a happy place – creative, happily married, focused, in shape. I had interviewed him several times before and we had a warm and happy rapport, and I respect him so much, and am in such genuine awe of his accomplishments. I knew his work well – but he has a truly astounding body of work – such a consistent flow of amazing, genuine, heartfelt, non-contrived, poignant and powerful songs over some thirty years. So I did my homework – which was a joy – and listened to many songs I didn't even know. And I was amazed that there were so many as great as the greatest hits – songs that surely could have been hits as well had they been released as singles. So I researched, and learned the songs musically and lyrically – one of our links was that because I am a musician I can talk to him about music with much understanding, and so I always learn the songs inside out – and often I would ask him about a song that he might not remember that well – there are SO many, after all, and he would ask me to ask about it next week, after he listened. So we both did some prep for this. And the result, I am happy to say, is a rich book. The initial idea was to conduct interviews that were just about his work, his music, his songs. Not to get personal. But as we got into the talks, it became evident that his life was wrapped up in his music, and so this became the story of his life, as it is a life in music. And then we went back and spoke about his childhood – how he started in music, his first band, his momentous meeting with Elvis, coming to Hollywood, getting a deal, and on and on. Into what is truly "mega-stardom." "It all got very mega at that point," he said, when his career began to truly soar. So this book is an American success story. An American dream come true. And it has been so warmly received by his fans. Amazingly, he's never allowed any book on him to be done prior to this. So his fans were hungry for this – and with few exceptions (some expressed this had more "dirt" on him – but this is not a dirty book) – they really loved it. And I loved doing it, and I love his music, and him.

What's in store for Paul Zollo, 2007?

A lot. I have a new band together – The Zollo Group – and we have been performing in and around the Los Angeles area. It's my best group ever – I feel so blessed to be able to work with these guys. All wonderful musicians and also great people. And you need both. I have been writing a lot of new songs, and I am excited about the new ones, and am very eager to start recording a new CD with this group. We might do some live tracks to preserve our live sound. (You can hear some of these new tracks as they are completed, and old ones, too, at and also at I have also been co-writing songs a lot – just finished one called Baltimore, about Edgar Allan Poe, with Darryl Purpose, who is quite great – and another called Flying Machine, about an unfortunately early aviator, with Bob Malone, who is also astounding. I just finished a massive job – compiling a Rhyming Dictionary – which has over 90,000 rhymes – for Schirmer Books. It was their idea, and I took it on – and it was quite an undertaking. In the opening chapter, I analyze the use of rhymes in songs and poems, and use examples from Shakespeare and Byron through to Dylan and Simon and beyond. It's that chapter that distinguishes the book, I'd say. I am also working on a book of photographs – I have been very involved in the magical and miraculous world of digital photography. The potential it offers, plus the fact that I live in the heart of colorful characters, Hollywood, has enabled me to create a rich panoply of photographs of Angelenos of all stripes – some famous actors and musicians, many performers, including many in the burgeoning fields of burlesque and vaudeville, ordinary folks – everything, really. Young, old, rich, homeless, and everything inbetween. It is called Caras de Los Angeles; Faces of the Angels. I hope to have it finished by the end of 2007, and I am hopeful of getting gallery show of my photos. My work has been featured three times now in a L.A. art festival called Cannibal Flower, which is held at a gallery in downtown L.A. (You can see many of my photos at I am also working as Senior Editor of American Songwriter magazine, and write stories and interviews and reviews for them, and am going to be editor and chief photographer for a brand new global online music magazine called Bluerailroad which will launch in January, 2007 at It will have the kind of in-depth and serious interviews with musicians that I did in SongTalk with songwriters. I am hoping to convince Randy Newman to do a book of Conversations with me. I'll also continue to do freelance stories for other magazines, and, if everything goes my way, my novel, Sunset and Cahuenga, might be published. I will also spend a lot of time with my beautiful son, Joshua Zollo, the world's most beamish boy. It should be a great year. For me and everyone. I am, as always, keeping hope alive.

© Beppe Colli 2006 | Dec. 15, 2006