|Its about dog-gone time: The R&N interview with John Platania
By George A. Fletcher
Guitarist John Platania is used to being approached by famous people asking him to play guitar or produce their records. There are lots of them out there, such as Van Morrison, Don McLean, Bonnie Raitt, and Chip Taylor.
So when cartoon artist Elwood Smith asked John to help him get his songs recorded, it seemed like another production job, he said.
But thats not quite the way it turned out for the guitarist, who after 30 some-odd years is just getting around to his debut CD, Lucky Dog.
It also didnt turn out to be another production job for the cartoon artist. Smith, widely known for his offbeat visual humor thats been featured in just about every major magazine and newspaper in the world, is also a guitarist and songwriter who served as the CDs executive producer.
At first I thought that I would help him get a few songs recorded. Then he asked me to do a whole album. I said, Yeah, but with the caveat that I do what I want (with the material), he said.
Platania explained he kind of rewrote things as he went. I destroyed his music! he laughed.
Elwood writes these really dark songs. I wasnt frightened but the lyrics are scary. His lyrics are what really sold me. The way he writes made me think differently outside of the box.
A one time jazz purist, Smith said that his interest in singer/songwriter-oriented music is connected to his love of Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits and Randy Newman, but Im having a ball checking out others like John Hiatt, Julie Miller anyone who writes unusual, unpredictable, interesting songs.
John Platania's debut CD Lucky Dog
Platania said he prefers to work alone but there were exceptions with Smiths project. People hire me and leave me alone. Thats best for me. But Elwood had a lot of input like in the articulation of lyrics. He also has great ears and was really great with mixing.
Platania said the CD, which is getting a lot of European airplay and Internet sales, contains some pretty desperate stories, about desperate people.
But these stories ring true to life, such as the reggae-tinged Black Dog & Bad Luck, the story of a homeless man who succumbs to a life of booze, pills, bad food and the elements, behind the dumpster at the A&P, and Little Nazi Boy, about the cycle of hatred begetting hatred.
Saddest and most thought provoking of this collection is I Do Believe, written in the wake of a loved ones passing. Smiths lyric recalls that persons last words, I do believe I hear voices on the other side / I can see loved ones gathered in the light / I do believe I hear voices on the other side. The song is also performed instrumentally as the CDs closer.
Lucky Dog is both the CDs title and a curious love song. Ive been in love / Ive been in hate / Ive been the quarry and Ive been the bait / Ive been a hero, and Ive been a fool / Since you met me and I met you.
Platania and company do a solid turns with the bluesy Dont Nobody Know, rock (Numero Uno, I Am Time) and he delivers equally well in an acoustic settings, on such tunes as Love Stay Away and I Can Stand Alone.
Though known for his guitar playing, Platania can also sing. He delivers each tracks vocal with a natural sincerity that moves between a whisper and growl, just perfect on tracks such as It Aint Gonna Cost You A Dime and Fire In Arkansas.
After years sweetening other peoples music, John Platania is still sweetening other peoples music. Thats what he does best. But this time, with Lucky Dog, he gets to call it his own because he made it his own.
Lucky Dog is a wonderful collaboration between two immensely talented individuals, but Platanias world-class guitaring and production makes it stand out as a natural selection of AAA radio programmers and fans of music with brains and heart.
Warm thanks to Elwood H. Smith and Maggie Pickard for their generous artistic contributions to this issue of Rhythm and News magazine.