Brent Bourgeois (1990)
By Ralph Burnett
It is fitting that Brent Bourgeois' solo debut is also on a debut label. Charisma emerges from the long shadow of Island records and Brent Bourgeois form the innovative rock duo, Bourgeois Tagg. I always thought Bourgeois Tagg was a "tris hip" name for a band. In my intellectual search for deeper meaning I engineered concepts like: Bourgeois Tagg - "playing tag with the middle class"; or Bourgeois Tagg - "proletariat futbol"...until my later revelation that Bourgeois and Tagg represented the last names of the "white-guy funk" duo. I decided I really liked their music anyway.
Brent Bourgeois was born June 16th, 1958 in New Orleans. His family moved to New Jersey when he was seven and moved to Dallas, where his parents still live, when he was fourteen. Brent began playing piano at age three, no doubt propped upon a booster seat atop the piano bench--banging out a variety of two-note cords. Says Brent, "there was never really any attempt for me to do anything else [other than music] and everybody knew that's what I was going to do." Brent composed his first instrumental song around age twelve and composed his first song with lyrics when he was fourteen called "The Break" which wound up being a prolific proclamation of his musical pursuit.
It was in Dallas during his high school days that Brent formed a band called Uncle Rainbow with Larry Tagg which eventually relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area. Uncle Rainbow amassed quite a following in the local club scene and, as Brent puts it, "almost made it."
The next big change occurred when Brent met a girl named Marry Ann and, as he smilingly explains, "for the love of a woman and money I moved to Sacramento." Uncle Rainbow attained peak popularity in Sacramento and Brent attained peak popularity with Mary Ann and in 1983 she became his wife.
Brent and Larry attracted the interest and respect of Jerry Sterchi, owner of a Sacramento club called the Shy Road Pub, who put together a recording studio which became the demo plant and birth place of Bourgeois Tagg. One year later, in 1985, these demos lead to a record deal with Island and Bourgeois Tagg's self-titled debut appeared January of 1986. A follow up album Yoyo was released in 1987 and yielded the hit single "I Don't Mind At All."
Bourgeois Tagg begin recording a third album for Island in 1989 with producer Peter Wolf of Starship and Heart fame. Brent, unhappy with the direction the initial three songs were taking, recounts, "I felt that the lyrics that I was writing didn't seem to match the music that we were making in the studio...I had some things I needed to say, intimate things that I couldn't express as part of a group. Also, there was a feeling at Island that it was our time to put-up or shut-up and there was a lot of pressure in that area that I felt was very counter-productive to good music--particularly in regards to my lyrics and what I had to say...and it just wasn't something I could live with."
The creative direction that Brent was heading lyrically came full-circle with music that complimented the corresponding themes of maturity, honesty and the importance of values that comprise the eleven songs that are Brent Bourgeois. Brent says that the honesty factor was something he learned from Todd Rundgren who produced Bourgeois Tagg's second album Yoyo. "Todd taught me how to write honest lyrics...it was sort of a tough love type of a situation. He spent a couple of weeks dissecting our songs from a lyrical point of view in his own kind of cynical way that's so loving about him. He's a very brutally honest guy and he's that way about himself and that way about everybody else. It was kind of a shock to the system at first but it was something that I am ultimately very glad that I was able to participate in having somebody like that really get inside of what I was doing and it's really carried through to this day. If you have something to say as a writer, you better be as honest as you can because you don't really get that many chances--you get forty-five minutes every two years." And the respect is bilateral--Todd asked Brent and Larry to work his last solo record.
Helping him consummate his goals on this project, Brent collaborated with two highly accomplished producers, Danny Kortchmar and David Holman. Brent expounds, "I broke the album basically into songs that I wanted help with arrangements on and songs I wanted to recreate just like the demos only with a lot better fidelity. Holman, [who co-produced Bourgeois Tagg's debut], did the ones in the second group. David is an engineer who basically could create the technical environment that I needed to get down the songs in the way I already knew I wanted them put down. He loves to experiment with odd sounding things--there's nothing that he would shy away from trying as far as a weird vocal effect or effects on anything. The beginning of the song 'My Little Island' is a whole kind of montage of radio and ocean--that's something that is right up his alley. All I would have to do is suggest that we try something like that and he'd be three steps beyond it in ten minutes. [Grammy Award winner] Kortchmar, [whose credits include co-writing and co-producing all three of Don Henley's solo albums], helped me with some of the arrangements in the first group. I was looking for somebody to collaborate in the producing end as a guitarist because it's something that I don't do very well. Kortchmar's not technical at all he's just more of a feel guy and I gave him the songs we felt needed more of an edge and that was achieved through his own guitar playing."
I asked Brent what his musical influences were growing up to which he laughingly replied, "Ralph, I must tell you that I really haven't grown up." It is accurate, however, to state that Brent's musical influence stemmed from a jazz point of view, via Weather Report, and retreated towards rock over the years. "The Beatles always were a heavy influence...(I think that kind of goes without saying), and Sly Stone, and Stevie Wonder...Peter Gabriel has certainly influenced me in the last few years," says Brent.
Complementing Brent's distinctively captivating original compositions is a shimmering version of The Zombies classic "Time Of The Season". "Bill Graham, my manager, has been bugging me and bugging Bourgeois Tagg to do that song for years," says Brent, "and I'm the only one that ever wanted to do it so when I got to do my own record it was kind of a natural."
Brent didn't feel our discussion was complete without talking about 'Adult Contemporary'. A few years ago, Brent would have sneered at the idea his record was being worked AC. In fact as Brent puts it, "Adult Contemporary was kind of a graveyard for young rock musicians...and 'fuseak' was an area that used to drive me crazy--you don't know if you're in an elevator or listening to a radio!" Thanks largely to VH-1, Brent believes AC is becoming much hipper; "now it's kind of a refuge if you don't play metal or rap," says Brent..."it's becoming broad and eclectic. There's really no difference between 'Hot AC' and what 'top-40' was a few years ago (without the rap). And it's not 'top-40' anymore it's 'top-30' and 'top-25'...no radio station in this country plays 40 songs anymore!"
And what is a lofty goal for Brent? "We want to take this record to zero -carve a new niche...and maybe by next year be in the negative numbers...because number one just won't do!"