I enjoyed this conversation with Marc Edelstein - he did an appreciation/article about my fourth album, “Mary Jean & 9 Others,” for PopMatters, during 2022.
We actually wound up talking about my third album too, Downtown. So this is a pretty well in-depth chronicle of that slice of time.

Hi Marshall...

Here's my overeager list of questions.  After what must be a thousand interviews for you over the past 40 years, I tried to find some different angles on the standard stuff and then mainly focus on Mary Jean and those sessions. Just answer whichever questions you like, however you like. If I could get these back by end of September, that would be great.

Much appreciated!

Hi, Marc... 
Again, I definitely appreciate your interest in this album. I'm just gonna go from memory here, do the best I can that way.


Q) Early history of your band: Any interesting trivia or factoids we don’t see on Allmusic or Widipedia? Who started, who stayed, who left? How did these personnel changes impact the band musically, chemically, or otherwise?

A) During the 1980s, which is what we’re talking about here, it was my brother Robert and me. Chris Donato was with us on bass from ‘81 to ‘86 (and that’s a connection that doesn’t end, even though we’re not in touch lately). For a year or so we added Tom Teeley and Graham Maby (for live shows only), then in ’87 we went back to a trio but with Graham on bass in place of Chris - that was the group on the album in question, and on the tour that followed.

Q) I’ve read about your early music influences, and what you grew up listening to. Did any one specific album seriously alter your musical direction?

A) No - never any one specific album. I could point to any Billboard Hot 100 singles chart from 1965, ’66, ’67, ’68, or ’69 and say, “These are my influences,” but that’s just a part of it.

Q) Let’s discuss Mary Jean. Before we get specific... Looking back four decades later, what’s your overall, from-the-top, honest appraisal?

A) I haven’t listened to it in decades and didn’t go back and listen to it in advance of this interview; I can’t name all the songs on it, don’t remember all the words to the ones I can name, but I know that there’s some great stuff on the album. I do remember those times pretty clearly.

Q) In terms of music (if not always lyrics), Mary Jean is a joyous, ebullient record. Describe your mindset back in 1987? Life outlook, romantic situation, et al?

A) We did that album right after I’d worked on the movie “La Bamba” - I took a train ride back from the West Coast and wrote a lot of the words to the songs on Amtrak stationery, looking out the train window at the passing landscape. There was a trip to Memphis in there somewhere with my wife, Ione- she and I have been married since 1978. Maybe I took the train there and met up with her... (OK, I remember now: I met her there, she stayed for a few days, then went home: I stayed in the Peabody hotel and worked on the songs some more. I went to a John Fogerty concert one night, and to the party afterwards, also in the Peabody, and met some people at the party, including Wynonna Judd, and Sam Phillips. I just now remembered all of this for the first time since it happened.) My mindset was kinda mixed up in that my relationship with my record label had crashed and burned by about 1984 - I’d tried to get out of the rest of my five-album deal with them at that point but they wouldn’t let me go. So my last three albums for them, including this one, have sort of a cloud over them in my mind. But I could still find joy in the creative process most of the time.

Q) I can’t seem to find a precise release date for Mary Jean besides October 1987. Can you provide one?

A) It came out right when “La Bamba” came out, that much I can tell you.

Q) With regard to your 1982 debut, you’re quoted as saying “That band back then was really slick. Almost too slick. I see the tapes of that now and I think, ‘This is a little too polished, almost’” Forgive a hack for saying so, but I mostly agree. “Our Town” may be my favorite song you ever did, and I feel like Mary Jean hews very close to that pop model over the entire record. It just seems to “breathe” so well. What kind of sound were you aiming for at the time?

A) One thing I know that I was binging on leading up to this album was a handful of tracks by The Bobby Fuller Four - I obsessed over this stuff, and what I heard as the dream-like, other-worldly aspect to the sound of it. And you guessed it - I did want to try and pick up where I’d left off with “Field Day” on this album. My third album (which I do like) was a bit of a weird departure for me in that it wasn’t the work of a self-contained band like the first two had been - again I set out to get back to that approach on my 4th album. And I’d gotten a gold Stratocaster that I couldn’t stop playing; I was still using Vox AC 30 amps but started running them at full volume during this time- to me that’s one of the greatest sounds you can get, the ‘Strat/cranked AC 30’ combination.

Q) For us older folks who grew up on vinyl, some classic records feel like they “reboot” or start over on Side 2 with an exceptional track that could just as easily have opened the entire record - Or perhaps even flip the order, listening to Side 2 first. Genesis’ Wind and Wuthering does this, also the Moody Blues Seventh Sojourn. Mary Jean’s “This Street” wraps up Side 1 so well, and then “Somebody Crying” feels like a whole new beginning. How did you determine the song sequence?

  • This album was the first of mine to come out on CD (and LP, and cassette), but we were definitely thinking still of Side One and Side Two - that was still reality to us, and of course it was crucial then to try and get the perfect sequence, perfect flow.. You mentioned “This Street” - if I remember correctly, there’s live drums on one side of the stereo mix and a Casio loop on the other side. And it’s a Mosrite 12-string on the L or R side and maybe my Vox 12-string on the other... And I asked Graham [Maby] to play the bass like Larry Graham did on “Everyday People” Interesting track, right?

Q) Peter Case wrote “Steel Strings.” Was that song recorded anywhere else? Did Peter contribute in any other capacity on the record?

A) He did the song on his first solo album, which I think is self-titled; I loved that album, and obviously that song stayed on my mind. T-Bone Burnett produced Peter’s album and my third album simultaneously, mostly at Sunset Sound in Hollywood (where Prince was also working at the same time, possibly on “Around the World In a Day” - at the time it seemed normal, but now it’s incredible to me that I was right there on the same site as him, while he was doing some of that stuff of his that I’m still so in awe of. Ione came out for a visit while I was at Sunset and on some days would sit out all day in the courtyard, read a book and just wait for Prince to come out and shoot baskets with his bodyguard.) Anyway, at this same time T-Bone was in pre-production with The Bodeens, and Elvis Costello, and was working on a play with Sam Shepard. He was a hard-charging workaholic kinda guy.

Q) Who is/was Mary Jean?

A) Nobody, and I was always disappointed that I couldn’t think of a more interesting title and concept for that song. Like I said, there was a cloud over me during albums 3, 4, and 5; I just had to grind it out sometimes, and that song (the lyrics anyway) was one of those times. I do think the piece of music is really nice- beautiful chord changes, atmosphere, etc.

Q) Favorite tunes on Mary Jean? Hidden regrets, youthful decisions, or items you’d change four decades later if you could?

A) The only song on the album that I’ve played live recently is “Calling Out For Love (At Crying Time),” but I’m sure that there are others I would like if I heard them. In general I think that I took my sound to some new places on this record, and that some of the songs are gems. As usual, I was doing work that didn’t sound like anybody else’s stuff. I wouldn’t change anything about it now at all.

Q) I adore Mitch Easter, whom you count as a friend and who guested on Mary Jean. What’s it like working with one of indie rock’s godfathers?

A) Mitch and I were in each other’s orbit a lot back then. I could be kind of a bombastic loudmouth-type in those days, which is drastically the opposite of Mitch, but he must’ve liked me because he always said yes when I asked him to do stuff. Going through it in my mind now, we really did do a lot of things together, but we’ve lost touch over the years. I just thought of him as a nice person, somebody from my tribe- a peer that I could learn stuff from.

Q) Any other specific memories from the Mary Jean sessions? Working with Don Dixon?

A) We did the whole thing in Studio B at Bearsville, less than a mile from where Ione and I were then living; we’d moved to Woodstock at the beginning of 1987 and on this one album I tried hard to come in under budget: I wanted to be able to put something in the bank after we were done, and I think that it did happen this one time. We had a nice house; the guys in the band stayed with us while we rehearsed, but maybe moved to some of the housing that the studio had once we started recording; Bearsville had really cool living spaces available to clients. If I’m not mistaken we did the whole record in 4 weeks, but then Karin, my NY A&R person, wanted remixes; those were done at Ardent in Memphis. Hmmm, Memphis again - but this was a separate trip from the one that Ione and I took, that I mentioned before. BTW, Dixon and I are still great friends - we stay in touch with one another. He’s super-talented and has great people skills.

Q) Latest project details?

A) Lotsa stuff- There are 40th Anniversary reissues of my first two albums in the pipeline, both coming out within the next 12 months; I was able to claim the US Copyrights to the sound recordings and made a licensing deal with Yep Roc. We’ve worked hard on these things and I think they’re really worthy and beautiful. I’ve got some 40th Anniversary shows coming up this year and next - I’ll be milking the 40th Anniversary thing as much as I can. I’m grateful to be alive and well, grateful that I still have the ability to get up on a stage and play and sing with a Rock and Roll band. I also appear with The Smithereens as a guest vocalist, with is great fun - very enjoyable onstage and off. And I’m also working on a film project; I’ve been talking about it a lot lately and will hold off now, but it’s one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done in my life, an amazing learning experience. And I’m working with great people.