John Batdorf is One ‘Old Man’ Who’s Still Got It Going On
Bob Lefsetz is a notoriously tough customer. A well-known voice in the music industry, he’s been writing the Lefsetz Letter (now a blog) since 1986. Self-described as “beholden to no one and speaking the truth” he is the quintessential fan: an outspoken critic of any form of music that doesn’t serve the listener first and music executives second.
So, when Lefsetz encouraged his readers to take a listen to John Batdorf’s latest album, “Old Man Dreamin,” a lot of people took notice – especially John Batdorf. “He usually rips people to shreds,” Batdorf told me during a phone interview, with a chuckle. ”He is brutally honest, and does not hold back in is reviews; I was almost afraid to read what he thought of my new CD.” But Batdorf had nothing to worry about.
“The vibrancy, of a building career, by someone who’s practiced, who has something to say… this is what the aged audience wants, but is not getting,” Lefsetz wrote in a July 2009 issue of the ’Lefsetz Letter.’ But says Lefsetz: they’re getting it with Batdorf.
Batdorf, 57, was part of the duo Batdorf and Rodney back in the ‘70s. The duo achieved modest fame; had a few radio hits (Can You See Him, You Are A Song, Home Again, and Somewhere In The Night). They were, for a time, signed to both Atlantic and Asylum Records. Batdorf and Rodney disbanded in 1975. In 1976, Batdorf formed the band Silver and had a top-20 hit single, “Wham Bam Shang-a lang.”
Silver broke up soon after touring with the band America. The next two years, Batdorf was a staff songwriter for The Entertainment Company and had songs recorded by America, England Dan, the Currie Sisters, and Kim Carnes.
In 1982, Batdorf finally realized his dream of a solo record deal. He signed with 20th Century Fox Records, released a single, and the label promptly went under a week later.
At that point, Batdorf reassessed his career, and learned that there were opportunities for musicians behind the scenes in TV and commercial production. “I didn’t even know such a career existed,” said Batdorf. For many years, he made his living mostly composing, producing, arranging, and on vocal work for TV shows and commercials.
Batdorf has made five albums over the past five years. In 2004, he returned to live performing at his first house concert in Malibu, Calif.
Bob Lefsetz, who wasn’t familiar with Batdorf, attended the concert, and said in his blog that he was “stunned” by how good Batdorf was. Listen to and watch John Batdorf sing: “What D’Ya Got” from ”Old Man Dreamin’” to see something of what Lefsetz saw in the artist.
I’m reprinting pieces of what Lefsetz said about the album in his July 2009 post, because I can’t say it any better:
You put it on and you like a few tracks and then you play it again, and after each and every play new nooks and crannies are revealed, you like it more, and then play it more. This is the classic rock experience. Coming home, breaking the shrinkwrap and dropping the needle and being drawn into a whole new world. Amazingly, this concept lives on in the twenty first century, with John Batdorf’s new album.
I could sell this album out of my trunk to baby boomers. This is what they’re looking for. Youngsters will laugh and say that the record is wimpy, but they never lived through an era where you could love both Joni Mitchell and AC/DC. There’s nothing wrong with soft, there’s nothing wrong with tuneful.
Enough horses__t that people over fifty can’t write and perform vital material, that the audience should just retire. People are hungry for fulfilling new music. And John Batdorf has delivered it.
The lyrics to “What D’Ya Got” are both “autobiographical and tongue in cheek,” says Batdorf:
My kids focus too much on pleasure
They think dad’s sittin’ on a buried treasure
I gotta message that might surprise them
When their old man can’t subsidize them
“That’s exactly my life; I have two twin boys who are 24,” says Batdorf. The album overall “is a shout out at the music business. The people who are making it now are so young. I grew up when the moguls were guys in their late 40s and early 50s, not in their 20s.”
What did he think of making his first music video at 57? “It was a crackup; it was also exhausting. We shot four videos in one day with a borrowed high-definition camera. The edited versions came out really well; they capture both humor and sensitivity, which feels right to me.” To learn about Batdorf’s upcoming concerts, visit this page on his site.
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