October 14, 2019

Legendary Musician Danny Kortchmar on Playing With The Immediate Family, James Taylor and More

The Immediate Family; Photo by Peggy French

Danny Kortchmar – also known as “Kootch” – is in rare company as a musician, producer and songwriter. Over the past 50-something years, his performing and/or production credits have included work with Carole King, Neil Young, Linda Rondstadt, Jon Bon Jovi, Billy Joel, Cheech & Chong and Hanson. Meanwhile, Kortchmar-written songs have been recorded by the likes of Don Henley, James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Hall & Oates, John Waite and members of Crosby, Stills & Nash.

These days, beyond the occasional session or sideman gig – including recent recording with the Foo Fighters’ Taylor Hawkins – Kortchmar keeps busy with the band Danny Kortchmar and His Immediate Family. Featuring fellow legendary players guitarist Waddy Wachtel, bassist Leland Sklar, drummer Russ Kunkel and guitarist Steve Postell, The Immediate Family recently performed at The Mint in Los Angeles on May 4. Following the show in L.A., The Immediate Family will be doing a tour of Japan in support of its Honey Don’t Leave L.A. album.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Danny Kortchmar by phone leading up to the performance and highlights from the chat are below. More of the conversation will be featured on a future episode of the Paltrocast With Darren Paltrowitz podcast.

Jewish Journal: So in terms of your credits, you’ve been there through generations of essential music and I’m curious when you realized that it was going to be absolutely okay if you were a sideman, a session man and a co-writer as opposed to the superstar out front?

Danny Kortchmar: Well I never saw myself as a superstar out front. I always wanted to be in a band. I always wanted to be selected to be in the ensemble. So I never saw myself as being that guy. And besides, I knew it was working with so many talented people that I thought, “You know I’d rather work with James Taylor. I’m not gonna be James Taylor as a writer or a singer.” No one is and I’m perfectly very happy too. I was very happy to play music with James, so I didn’t really see it as that sacrificing my “superstar solo career” for working with other people. I thought that was the path that was the right path for me.

JJ: But you did write a lot of hit songs or co-write a lot of hit songs even. So did you outright set to be a side person? Or were you always writing music beyond that?

DK: I was always writing songs from the time I was 16 or 17. They stunk (laughs), it wasn’t until later that they got better. I’ve always been writing songs. It wasn’t something I thought about, just what I did. So I’m not sure what I can say about that other than that I was always writing songs.

JJ: Are you the sort of writer that writes every day like a 9-to-5 job? Or do you have to write when you’re inspired?

DK: Oh I only write when stuff comes to me, when the inspiration hits me. I keep notes all the time, and I have a long long long long list of ideas for titles of song titles, lines that could be in song lyrics. Stuff that would fit with other lyrics. So I have a backlog of material to draw from, but I don’t get to write every day. I’m not a journalist, I write songs when the spirit hits me.

JJ: For somebody that’s thinking of coming to one of the Immediate Family gigs coming up, what does the setlist look like?

DK: Well I introduced the band as being a cover band that covers our own material. And that’s kind of what we are. All the songs we play, we all wrote them played on them, produced them… It’s a lot of hits, a lot of well-known songs that I wrote, that Waddy wrote, and then we’re doing a bunch of new stuff that sounds like the old stuff, that fits very well with the known stuff. So you’ve got a cross section of our versions of well-known tunes and then you get to stuff that no one’s ever heard that are completely original with us and haven’t been recorded by anybody else.

JJ: In terms of your career, is the focus of the moment and for the long-term the Immediate Family? It seems like it could be totally like your Ringo Starr All-Starr Band as the thing that you do as a headliner for the rest of your life.

DK: Well I would like that to be the case, absolutely. I love these guys, I’ve known them all my whole life practically. We’ve been playing together in just so many different circumstances  We all know each other really really well. We all love each other. We’re all family, and I see no reason to not do this as much as possible. We all love it. We have a great time doing it and we all want to do it more and more and more. So yeah, I want to ride this one on out.

JJ: So in terms of other projects that you’re working on, are you allowed to talk about anything else? Or is this the main thing that you’re doing?

DK: Well I guess it’s the main thing I’m doing. Also James enlisted me to do something called “The Troubadour Reunion Tour” in 2010. That was a James and Carole King tour… That was with the original band Russ, Lee and myself, with the original rhythm section that played with both of them, going back a million years. So they put the original band back together, we went out there, it was great.

Anyway, at this point we’re talking about having a making a film out of it, using all the footage for making a concert film out of it and I’m producing the music. So that’s just great. It’s just nice to revisit that great experience of playing with those people.
JJ: It’s very refreshing to hear that your take on everything is, “I’m very proud of what I did. I hope to continue to do all that and this is who I am.” That’s not what you hear every day.

DK: Well it’s too bad you don’t hear that because that’s the way it’s supposed to be. You’re supposed to care, you’re supposed to have an identity and stand by it. You’re supposed to have a sense of authenticity and stick with that. In my opinion, that’s what an artist is supposed to do.

JJ: Moving on a little bit because this is for the Jewish Journal, a lot of your fellow session musicians, including some in the Immediate Family are also Jewish and I’m wondering if that ever comes up.

DK: Well I must first in the Immediate Family, four out of five of us are Jewish, and three of us grew up in Manhattan, in New York City. So we love our Jewishness… I’m culturally certainly very Jewish. I love the Jewish culture… I was brought up to appreciate art and literature and theater and all that, the way a lot of young people in Manhattan were around the time that I grew up. So there’s a cultural thing that I’m very proud of and delighted with.

JJ: Were you bar mitzvahed?

DK: No… I guess that makes me a fake Jew, but whatever. My family was not religious and I’m not religious.

JJ: So finally, any last words for the kids?

DK: For the kids? Play. Kids that are interested in music, play your heart out, put passion and blood and guts into it, mean it. When you play or write for sing or perform, think high, aim for the stars, you know? Don’t aim for the gutter, aim for the stars.

More on Danny Kortchmar and his Immediate Family can be found online by following him on Facebook.