“We lived the good times/Now we feel the pain/Wonder if those days/Will ever come again… The past is the past/What’s done is done/Time to let go/Time to move on.” “It’s Changing”
The saying goes that most artists have an entire lifetime to make their first album, and six months to come up with the second. For veteran artist/songwriter/producer/engineer/guitarist CHAS SANDFORD, it took over two decades for his sophomore album, Wag More, Bark Less, the long-awaited follow up to his debut Parallax View, which came out on Elektra/Asylum.
That album included songs that were soon covered by John Waite, Sammy Hagar, Rick Springfield and Sheila B. Devotion. When three of the songs he was writing for a planned second album turned into a #1 hit for Waite (“Missing You”) and Top 5 singles for both Stevie Nicks (“Talk to Me”) and Chicago (“What Kind of Man Would I Be”), Sandford found himself one of the most in-demand producer/songwriters in the business, his songs recorded by a list that includes Tina Turner, Rod Stewart, Melanie, Roger Daltrey, Millie Jackson, Brooks & Dunn, Alison Krauss and David Wilcox, often producing as well in his own Secret Sound studio. He has also produced a wide range of artists, including Chicago, Stevie Nicks, Roger Daltrey, Rod Stewart, Berlin, Gene Loves Jezebel, House of Schock and Don Johnson, whose cast of guest musicians included Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Bonnie Raitt, Ron Wood and Dickey Betts.
Now living in Franklin, TN, outside Nashville, the Atlanta-born Sandford has enlisted an all star line-up of the city’s best musicians for the album, anchored by bassist Davis Santos (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, John Fogerty, Billy Joel, Elton John, Phoebe Snow, James Taylor) and drummer Nick Buda (Taylor Swift, Jewel, Edwin McCain, Mindy Smith, Randy Houser), with cameos by friends and colleagues including Chicago’s Bill Champlin and James Matchack, Survivor’s Jim Peterik, recording artist/slide guitarist Lee Roy Parnell and singer/songwriter Nicole Witt on background vocals.
“It was just too frustrating to think of being one of 10,000 guys trying to get a cover on a Rascal Flatts album,” he says about his decision to record his own music. “Everything is so upside-down in the business anyway—as hard as it’s ever been—so I might as well do something I really wanted to do, and see what happens. My best successes have always come when I’m doing my own thing.” Wag More, Bark Less is “about being happier, rather than in conflict all the time,” explains Sandford, who wrote the songs over the past two years after his divorce and a follow-up romance went awry. “Let Love Back in This House” has a folk-rock jangle that evokes the likes of the Eagles, Crosby, Stills & Nash and Fleetwood Mac, in its tale of longing and sorrow amid ghostly memories. “”My friends keep saying just move on/But I think of you in every song.”
“I originally wrote that with Little Big Town and/or Fleetwood Mac in mind,” says Sandford. “But when nobody pulled the trigger that’s when I decided to do it myself.”
It was the beginning of an outpouring of material that eventually became a cathartic album that helped Sandford get the past few years off his chest. “The Best of Times,” “Someday Susan,” “I Believed,” “Broken” and “My Favorite Regret” look back with a combination of disappointment, disbelief and a desire to move on. Sandford proves he can rock out pretty damn good also with the “Witchy Woman”-meets-Led Zeppelin “Waiting for the Sun,” the tongue-in-cheek rock of “Love Can Really Mess You Up” (“One day I wanna marry you/Next day I wanna bury you/What the hell am I gonna do?) and the soaring, Springsteen-esque socio-political “It’s Changing” bring the album’s sentiments full circle, from feeling sorry for oneself to getting out and doing something about it. On the other hand, the affecting “Let Love Back in This House,” “Whenever I See You Smile” and the soaring set-piece “Because of You” (written with Tyrone Noonan from the Australian band George) all show that Sandford’s optimism hasn’t been snuffed completely.
About the events leading up to the album Sandford says, “There were a great many emotions swirling around. So, the record’s pretty personal. As we all know, the more real, the better. There are a lot of raw nerve endings hanging out. The songs flowed out pretty easy.”
Wag More, Bark Less is the culmination of a career that began when Sandford ran off to Los Angeles at 15 years old. When the self-declared teenage guitar slinger, case in hand, met Ike Turner--resplendent in leopard skin bathrobe and shades--in an Inglewood alley in back of his own studio, the legendary musician invited him to a recording session with Ike & Tina and Delaney & Bonnie later that night, and Chas never looked back. He opened for The Eagles on the European leg of their Hotel California tour, then played in a band he put together with future A&R exec Tony Berg who played themselves in Robert Altman’s A Perfect Couple, including a live show at the Hollywood Bowl with the L.A. Philharmonic. Among his other cherished memories are two months on Broadway (and on film) backing Bette Midler in Divine Madness and being handpicked by the late, great James Brown to play with him at a charity show at the Arena (now-named The James Brown Arena) in Augusta, GA. His personal studio, Secret Sound, which has had incarnations in L.A., Kauai, Nashville and now Franklin, TN, has become a go-to destination for a wide range of recording artists, including Harry Belafonte, Tony Bennett, Madonna, Joni Mitchell, Tracy Chapman, Celine Dion, Joe Cocker, Aaron Neville, Def Leppard, Kiss, Keith Urban, Amy Grant, Wynonna, Levon Helm, Trisha Yearwood, Faith Hill, Carrie Underwood, Shania Twain and Tim McGraw, among many others.
“I’ve always wanted to be an artist, but I was on a roll as a producer and writer, so I went with it,” says Sandford.
Since moving to Music City from L.A. several years ago, Sandford has been active in songwriter festivals like Tin Pan South, and many of the musicians on the album are people he’s been playing with for quite some time.
“After awhile in L.A., there seemed to be a lack of ideas, which got kind of boring,” he says. “I wanted to find people who could throw something back at me and up my game a little bit. There are so many talented people in this town, people I greatly respect and I am blessed to call many of them my friends.”
“Once we make it through/We’ll never be the same” “It’s Changing”
“It’s Changing” is about both the personal and the macro, a point in time for each of us, where we must seize the moment and make it happen for ourselves.
For Sandford, Wag More, Bark Less, serves as a personal renewal, taking his past experiences, and moving on to the next level, with a flow and feel, from beginning to end, that makes it sound like albums did in the classic rock era.
“The world seems to be in real upheaval right now,” says Chas. “This feels right. Everyone’s looking for material with more depth. They’re tired of the way things are going. It’s a perfect time for me to be doing this.”