Jamie Notarthomas Interview

Critics compare his style to Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and Neil Young.

In fact, he opened for Bob Dylan and Melissa Ethridge, and Rosanne Cash to mention just a few names.

He’s recorded with Trey Anastasio (“Phish”), John Popper, 10,000 Maniacs, and David Bearwald of Sheryl Crow’s Tuesday Night Club.

He regularly performs nearly 200 shows a year.

He-----is Syracuse, New York’s own Jamie Notarthomas.

This is the first time this February 3 rd 1995 Interview has been published in it’s entirety.

Q – It must be a lot of work to be Jamie Notarthomas. Besides the singing part of your life, you have to contend with the business part. How do you manage to fit everything into a day?
A – Well, you’ve got to be able to change hats, and really, really wear the one you’re wearing at the time. That includes forgetting all about business and loving music, listening to music, writing music and all that. I’m discovering the key to organization and taking chances to really see through what you have to do. It seems so risky and impractical, but, if you’re gonna do it, you gotta do it right. If you asked me that question tomorrow, I’d give you a different answer. If you asked it to me last year, I’d say I can’t do it! (Laughs). But, today I’m holding a book in front of me that has 31 sub-categories.

Q – Is this some kind of an inspirational, motivational book?
A – This book is to keep my brain together, so it doesn’t spin. You get so many phone calls, and as much as Jeff (Merchant-Jamie’s Manager) is handling a tremendous load himself and the people who work with me; they’re all working really hard. There’s certain things that only I can do, that I can deal with. There’s people that I know so I have to organize it. So, I put together this 31 section book. Half of it’s dedicated to personal things which I include song-writing and learning tunes and writing down ideas and lyrics and organizing my tapes, and CD and calling people whose music I like or whose show I like. Brainstorming ideas and so on. Then another section that’s dedicated to categories ranging from video, radio, communicating to people through the mailing list, e-net, booking gigs and what I need to communicate to the most important people that I’ve been dealing with. This helps me as I get random phone calls, running out the door. I can compile these things in their categories and it really helps me put it all away. I can close that book. But, the stuff just comes at you so fast. You gotta have some kind of a system. So, that’s one thing I’m working on right now. I’m finding no matter what your goals are in life, nothing ever comes out the way you planned it, the way you want it totally. There’s just a range, there’s an area that you shoot for. If you know what it takes, you set yourself up and go for it. I just find it’s not worth stressing out, nothing is worth stressing out over. If it gets to that point you’re definitely going to start going downhill because your mind and your body won’t function at it’s maximum. At the time of the most pressure is when you should find the eye of the hurricane and do the most impractical thing at that point. Make beads. Paint a picture. Go listen to music. GO for a walk. Do anything-----but, get rid of that tension. You can’t work with that. I love the philosophy of logic. I took a class at O.C.C. ( Onondaga Community College) a long time ago and I can’t remember the guy’s name, but he said, ‘Stick with it you’re gonna get something out of this’. I did, and he was right. One thing leads to the next and that’s what helps me cope with all of the goals. Ask yourself, how does someone like ‘Phish’ handle what they’re doing? Have you heard my new CD?

Q – I have not. But I saw you on t.v., channel 13, so I know what you’re all about.
A – No. You don’t. That was terrible. That was one of the worst shows I’ve ever performed on, and I’m not just saying that. The direct line from the soundboard was from an 8 channel EV Board. It was direct. There were no mics in the audience. They had that time constraint. It was just a terrible show. Then Channel 13 just kept showing it, and showing it and showing it. I called them, and you should probably write this, that really hurt my career in Syracuse, that t.v. show. I was drawing like 500, 600, 700 people in bars as a solo act and that show came on and man, the excitement dropped immediately. I look at the thing and there’s some neat stuff about it. I think the solo piano song came off good, but I watched it like 3 times and couldn’t stand it. They just kept showing it. As far as other musicians looking at it in Syracuse, they would say, ‘What’s the Big Deal’? None of the subtlety was there. We had a good crowd and the songs were there, but, there’s a lot more dimension to my performance than what you could get off of that show. So, I asked them to take it off the shelves and they kept playing it. I asked them again and they took it off for a month and they started playing it again. I told them we had signed a contract with 95X (radio station) that said I had the right to, by law, stop their showing of that. So, it stayed off the shelves for six months. Then they started showing it again. I called ‘em and said, ‘I want you to burn the tape. I want it totally put away forever, because it’s hurt my career’. They said, ‘Well, we thought we were helping you’. I said, ‘If you want to help me, let’s shoot another show’. I do appreciate what they were trying to do. They went out of their way. Certainly, a lot of it is my fault, but I with they didn’t keep showing it.

Q – What do you think of the SAMMYS?
A - I think the SAMMYS (Syracuse Area Music Awards) do just as much harm as they do good. If things don’t change, that fucking thing ain’t gonna last very long.

Q – One of the criticisms I hear about the SAMMYS is, the same names keep coming up for an award.
A – Its very political. The structure of the SAMMYS alone cannot possibly serve the artistic community. It can’t. The way its set up it serves…..they make an effort and they’re certainly going to hit some great marks and they’ve got a nice, safe poster child with George Rossi. He’s great. No doubt about it. Why don’t you and I, if we’ve got our guts up to do it, do another interview and really think out what we don’t like about the SAMMYS and what we do like and give ‘it’ a review they way ‘it’ reviews people. That kind of critique could help it develop if you can say it in a way that you’re not pointing a finger and actually giving constructive criticism to an idea that’s really doing a hell of a lot better than anyone would’ve ever thought.

Q – Is Jeff Merchant your manager?
A – I’d rather not talk about business. Nobody cares. I like to be known for my music. My music carries me, not my personality and not my political connections. That tells people more of what I care about than any question you could ask me. That’s my response. That’s my answer to your question. I don’t think your reading public cares who my manager is.

Q – Soulamander Records-----is that your label? Is that an independent label?
A – It’s an independent label. Soulamander Productions is what I am and Soulamander Records is it’s own body which I have complete control (of) but, I have obligations too. That’s about the best way I can describe it. This could be the whole interview, this question that you asked. If you would want to talk about that whole subject: what is a record co. in the first place? Who really are the Big Ones and what makes them strong? It’s a whole conglomeration of different teams coming together. Different groups collaborating together. On many levels, on a level of my stature, it’s gonna be far more profitable to remain independent. It’s great. You can make more money if you do it right being an independent label than being indebted to the large guys. It’s everybody’s aspiration to play anywhere in the world and be known and put out a record and know that hundreds of thousands of people are checking it out, but what are you going to do to where that façade? Are you gonna sell your soul for it? I really value the underground. I don’t need the t.v. and newspaper to tell me what’s real. I don’t put a real lot of faith in that stuff. But, a lot of people do. They let the t.v. and magazines guide so much of their thoughts of how they dress and what success is.

Q – How important is it to have a financial backer for someone in your position?
A – Not as important as your ability to manage finances.

Q – Terry Cashman thinks very highly of your music, but what could he do to give your career a boast?
A – Who is Terry Cashman, by the way?

Q – He was Jim Croce’s record producer?
A – Oh, o.k. he came out to see me play. He had a really cute daughter too. (Laughs).

Q – That’s what you remember. But, does it mean anything that Terry Cashman thinks you’re talented?
A – Certainly, I guess. I judge people on if I like them. He had a good personality. He certainly has earned respect over time. Musically. His genuine like and draw to my music certainly made me feel complimented. Whether he was in a position to help me, he certainly believed he could. Whether he was in a position to do that, I didn’t investigate enough. Some people get offended when you investigate them. But, you just can’t go throwing your cards out. That was just his resume. He was a nice guy. I liked him, but, I’m very suspicious of people. They have to be a little persistent for me to work with them. I have to feel like this guys a friend. This guy knows my music. I’ll tell you one thing right now, I’m surprised I’m sharing this much information with a guy who, I don’t even know if you like music.

Q – Well, I do.
A – Or, what you know about it. So, I have no idea how your mind works, other than I’m enjoying this conversation with you.

Q – Well, thank-you. Many singers and bands are under the mistaken impression that if you play a showcase club in New York City for just one night you’ll be “discovered”. You performed at the Bitter End in New York. What were you hoping to get out of that?
A – Hmmm. These days I just look at as another territory to go play that’s near a place where a lot of my friends live. I have friends, fans, appreciators who live out that way. By traveling out there I make it easier for them to see what I’m doing. I’m taking my most recent development of my musical, artistic project and I’m bringing it to them, like you bring a traveling art show. The cool thing is, you try to re-produce the success of that show, the performance in many different circumstances. New York City is one of the toughest ones. That is not to glamorize it. A lot of it is really a joke. If you knew about the booking code of ethics in New York City, you would not want to become a musician, if you lived there. There’s some real dirty tricks those club owners play. I’ll tell you what happens. You want a story? I went down to play the China Club. I had worked up a mailing list of about 6,000 people up here, in like 1989, 1990. I built up followings in New Jersey and surrounding areas of New York. Worked my way closer and closer to the city and because I believed at the time that there’s just a flourish of A and R people and miracles are gonna happen when you get there, I booked a gig in one of the more prestigious clubs, the China Club. Tommy Allen was working there at the time from the old ‘Flashcubes’. There was kind of like 2 managers there. They booked me and I told ‘em how hard I was gonna work at it and this and that. Like all Syracuse people and in typical Syracuse tradition, we rented two Greyhound buses. (Laughs).

Q – For local fans.
A – Yeah, for local fans to go. Everybody parked their car, jumped in and went down. We mailed a huge mailing list to all the state, including surrounding areas of New York. I went down to the China Club for the first time and planned on building it up so that when I went there, the first time I would kick ass. I went in and they were charging like $14-$17 a ticket. I don’t know if they always do it or not. They don’t let certain people in and they let other people in. Between the bus and all of the word of mouth I got going I had a crowd of about 450 people waiting outside to see me play. They were saying, what’s going on today? It’s early and the people don’t wait. I was the band that drew, and they were waiting to get it. They were putting me on at 10 o’clock. The doors opened at 10 o’clock. They told me I maybe could go on longer if there was more people, but they changed their mind when I got there. Rather than giving me 30 minutes to play, they chopped it down to 20 minutes. So, by the time my audience came in, I was already finishing up and they were kicking me off because they were so excited there was a big crowd they wanted to put the house band on who was just gonna play a little bit after the d.j. so they booted me ‘cause they were psyched and my audience got so pissed that I never drew like that again in New York City. They paid $17 to see me sing 2 songs. That is what New York City does to you. They chew you up and they fuckin’ know it. (Laughs). They give people huge drink minimums. They take advantage.

Q – To paraphrase George Harrison, “anybody can write a song. It’s writing a hit song that is so difficult”. Do you agree with that?
A – What’s a hit song?

Q – You know that Billboard Top 40 chart? A song that sells millions of copies.
A – Well, these days a hit song is a video. (Laughs).

Q – Why do you think you’re such a popular draw in Central New York?
A – Well, I’m not so positive of how popular I am now because I purposely weaned a certain crowd that was following me. There were certain crutches that I got used to. I started out making a living playing cover tunes. There was a percentage, a small percentage or whatever of the crowd was following me because they enjoyed my selection of songs by other people and my interpretation of them. Now, you can fall too far into the cover tune thing to a point where it becomes inescapable. If that crowd is starting to become too dominant, it’s gonna kill your ability to be recognized for your own music. I wrote a song about not playing cover songs that would crack you up. It’s not on any albums yet, but, I do have it recorded. If you feed a certain intelligence to a crowd, you’re gonna draw that crowd. If you play ‘Brown Eyed Girl’, day after day, you’re gonna get the kind of crowd that loves that song which is young girls out looking for a husband. Sure enough, you’ll be playing weddings in about a year. That’s what they want. ‘Will you come play Brown Eyed Girl at our wedding’? A wedding band makes good money, but, it’s not what I got into music for. So, there were certain songs I played that were a mistake. They helped for awhile draw a certain portion of the crowd, but, eventually I just stopped playing that stuff. I stopped playing ‘Bad’ by U2, which is a great song, but, I was getting too much recognition for being able to do that. ‘In Your Eyes’ by Peter Gabriel. Great song. I was playing it solo long before Jeffrey Gaines made a single of it. Besides I do it better. (Laughs). ‘Brown Eyed Girl’. It’s in the vein of ‘Free Bird’. I don’t do that kind of stuff. It’s along the lines of ‘Free Bird’, ‘Turn The Page’, ‘Stairway To Heaven’, type of disease. Playing stuff that’s too successful and too safe, people will come out to see just because of those songs and often those people are really young and impressionable. They haven’t really developed a taste for variety yet. They like what the radio pushed into their ears. That’s a very safe bet to get a meal, to play that stuff. But, it’s a dead end. It’s not gonna take you anywhere, except to the wedding hall. So, I had to wean that, and man, it pissed people off. You wouldn’t believe how vicious some people got when I wouldn’t play ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ and when I wouldn’t play

‘In Your Eyes’. The cool thing is that this really intelligent, well, let’s say music loving crowd was hanging out in the back trying to enjoy the atmosphere. Certain crowds were drawing the macho guys looking for the cutesy girls who like ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ songs, kind of bringing in a roughen crowd which again, starts to pull you away from the respect of being a legitimate musician. So, by ignoring that stuff, a more mature loving crowd started to show up and move more forward. That’s where you’re gonna get a record deal. That’s where you’re gonna get true respect from you peers. Focusing on the real art of the music. If you’re Bob Dylan, you’re putting out music that is undeniably mind-blowing. There’s no way anybody can ignore the intensity of that guy’s mind. That’s what people should strive for-----to play the guitar with the magic that Stevie Ray Vaughan or Jimi Hendrix plays. They should strive lyrically to be as intense, to be as true and honest as Bob Dylan. If you’re The Grateful Dead, you’re a community. You know how to foster a whole way of life. These to me are the things that make up music. Business is just what you do to survive, your files. That’s just keeping your house clean. That’s what business means to me.

Q – When you’re working on a new CD, do you pay attention to what’s going on around you? Do you listen to the radio or t.v. for ideas?
A – I pay attention to what’s going on in the underground scene. You can see what’s really taking effect. You can see what music is legitimately spreading waves and you can feel it on just as honest of a level by what good talent is picking up on, what trends kids are grabbing onto and becoming interested in. I see what’s going on in the industry from a direct, face-to-face conversation with people on the road. You just notice that people are talking about the same things. I listened to what I love to listen to when I was recording my record. I experimented with a lot of things people haven’t. I’m attempting to do something that’s very much myself. When I wrote the body of songs I was inspired by reading books, watching the news, reading the papers, listening to music, swimming, raking the lawn. I really meditated on it. I wrote the songs while I was living my life. Then, when I take it into the studio it’s a different head. When I wrote the songs, I wasn’t doing any business. I shut the machine right off. Everybody went out and got jobs. They fended for themselves; the band, the people who worked for me. I just shut the machine off and retreated. There’s where I went and finished writing songs, because I had some written. Then, when I went into the studio, I took on a different head and I brought the music that inspires me, that inspired me while I was writing it, to just bring a little piece of that into the studio. I don’t how much of whatever, I pulled off, but, that’s how I did it. I was a ‘Trekkie’ at the time. While I recorded the record I watched ‘Star Trek’ everyday. I was getting caught up in it. So, I made my dinner time right at 6 o’clock. (Laughs). I’m into the future thing. Predicting the future is a very interesting thing. ‘Star Trek’ seems to talk about that a lot. The type of music I was listening to was based on its honesty and it’s production. I’ll give you 3 examples: Van Morrisson’s ‘Hymas To The Silence’, Bob Dylan’s ‘Infidels’ and I was listening to some ‘Replacements’. Stevie Wonder. Some of that stuff too. Those to me are great records. Great records.

Q – How many years have you been performing?
A – That’s funny that you asked. I just opened up a drawer as I was cleaning one of my dressers and the bottom was filled with papers. I started going through it and have here letters from my first gigs. I have stuff here from 1985. There’s letters trying to open up for Arlo Guthrie. I got a ‘Hot Tuna’ gig in 1986. I played tons of benefits around that time. When I was about 19, I had a band and I just found the set list from that band and boy, is it funny. (Laughs). I’ve been playing music since my first high school band, 17 old, 18 years old. But, professionally about 10 years.

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