World Goes Round
1989 has a special place in my heart
The Frank Musker-led group’s debut work comes to Japan!
Another project involving Frank Musker is World Goes Round. a collection of never-heard-before music by the group he formed in the late 1980s with Elizabeth Lamers, Jeff Hull, Marty Walsh and Tommy Vicari. Some of the best hit makers and session musicians of the time, the album is a collection of the best of the 80s sound. Frank told us about the background behind the project’s creation, and the story behind the “resuscitation” of the original music.
First of all, congratulations on the release of the World Goes Round album.
Frank Musker (FM): Thank you.
It was a particularly interesting project. Tommy Vicari was the producer, fantastic musicians participated, and we’ve had some great feedback.
Tell us about the circumstances behind the group’s creation.
FM: It was born very organically. In the 80s, I had a house in Laurel canyon (LA). Back then I was in a relationship with Elizabeth Lamers, and I often wrote songs with her. Our songs were recorded by Rodney Franklin, and Brian May, from Queen, and it felt like Laurel canyon became the starting point, so to speak, for all our creative music. We could record there, so people like Jerry Hey’s Seawind Horns, or other great musicians from LA came over to record with us. At the time Elizabeth was singing with Linda Ronstadt and John Denver, and she would go on tour with them. Marty Walsh (on guitar) also played with John Denver. Talented people like James Burton, who was Elvis Presley’s original guitar player, or Jerry Scheff, who played bass, also for Elvis, would come to participate one after the other. Marty is our fantastic guitarist, who played on a lot of albums, like Dona Summer or Dolly Parton and around then he was working on Supertramp’s album and tour. We started thinking about writing songs together, and the first one we wrote together was “Put It On The Line” – the song became one of World Goes Round singles. We wrote it for Michael McDonald at first, but when we took it to him, he told us that it was a great song, but that unfortunately he already had six mid-tempo songs on his album. We ended up not selling it to anyone else, and it’s been hidden away these past 30 years.
How did Jeff Hull, on the keyboard, decide to participate?
FM: One day, as I was making myself some tea, I heard some cool music coming from the studio and thought to myself, who is that? Turns out it was a song by Mark Jordan’s wife, Amy Sky. And Jeff Hull had arranged the track with her.
Oh, I see.
FM: So I told Elizabeth: “This guy is really good. Let’s rope him into our project!” (laughs). I got along well with Jeff from the get-go, and we wrote most of the songs on the album together.
Jeff co wrote Brenda Russell’s classic grammy nominated “Piano In The Dark”
He was also the producer.
And how did Tommy Vicari become involved?
FM: I met him through Jack Nelson - who sadly Jack passed away from COVID-19 last year. Jack was Chaka Khan’s manager at the time.
Jack was a great guy, who was also managing Jeffrey Osborne. Tommy was a very famous engineer, and we became friends through his involvement in one of Jeffrey’s albums. So we’re all friends, and the project started organically from that, it’s like fate brought us together. And we were not abiding by any record company’s’ rules, we kept our creative freedom. That’s the key thing.
FM: A few songs in this album have particularly global themes. For instance “Big House”, which has its own video, is a song about the destruction of the Amazon’s rainforests among other things. This was more than 30 years ago, but I went on a trip to the Amazon and was struck by the situation there. But when I came back to California I realised nobody was interested in the situation, everyone just kept on talking about money, success etc. So I told Jeff and Marty that I wanted to write something about that. People like Peter Gabriel write songs about a variety of themes, Donald Fagen, too. So I thought I would try to do something like that, and let my creativity run free. The album still includes love songs of course, but we were already writing songs about these kinds of global issues over 30 years ago. Nowadays they’re on everyone’s minds, but we were already aware of them back in the 80s.
FM: That’s the gist of it - at first, we recorded 6 songs. Most were co-written by Jeff and me, and Marty and Elizabeth were always involved. Jeff did the arrangements. He’s a great arranger, and Marty is a guitar hero. We finished it in 1989, but there was one problem: I was going back to Europe. I got a very interesting brief for a project there. And although I’d lived in California for 10 years, I thought it wasn’t a bad time to go back.
We’d poured our hearts into those first 6 songs, but we were all so busy, and nobody felt like “We’ll do whatever it takes, but we’ve got to get a deal!”. Tommy is always working. But yeah, that said, in the end, we recorded 4 more songs for the album. The songs on this album were all written back then, and depending on the song, we’ve kept the lead vocals from the time. At the end of the day they were only demo recordings, so we had to re-record the instrumentation. We used the lead vocals of the time for “Can’t Let Go” and “Put It On The Line”, for instance. They were left untouched for over 30 years, travelling through time, but I think you can’t tell at all from the final product. Because we’ve used the exact same musicians and producer to re-record them.
How did you come up with the band name “World Goes Round”?
FM: It was probably a slightly strange name for the time. But basically, we wanted to make it something international. Because we felt it was something we were creating not just for America or California, but for the world. In the album’s first song, “Rebel Heart”, the chorus ends with “And the world goes round”. I thought: perfect, this is going to be the first song. It feels like us. Besides, you often say “what goes round, comes round”, so it’s kind of like a catchphrase. But now most people call us WGR actually, since World Goes Round is a bit long.
Relationship to the singer, Elizabeth
So tell me about more about you and Elizabeth. How did you meet, and how did you fall in love?
FM: (laughs) The first time I met her was in a wonderful restaurant in Hollywood. It was a British restaurant called Oscars, owned by one of my friends, and I used to go there often. Next to the main restaurant was a small music room, and people like Don Henley, Peter Asher, or Linda Longstadt used to come by quite often. There was a beautiful white piano there. And one night I went there, and two girls wearing 40s-style dresses were singing as a duo, things like Cole Porter songs from the time. They harmonized so wonderfully. Elizabeth was one of the girls from that group, and she was amazing.
I was really interested by the songs she wrote, and we started writing together. We started dating, and she came to live with me. We met around 83 or 84, and for 7 years we wrote together, diligently. She was really good both at lead and background vocals, and could sing in various genres, including jazz and country. She loves singing live, and even today she mainly sings in jazz clubs. She’s also the one who gave me confidence as a singer and performer. Although we broke up over 30 years ago, she’s married and has kids now, and I’ve also followed my own path, even today I think the combination of our two voices is the best there is. On the World Goes Round’s album, it’s mostly Elizabeth and me doing the background vocals (and Marty did a bit too) so basically, we did everything the four of us. Although we did get the help of a few outside singers, too.
By the way, I’d like to ask a bit about Dominic Bugatti. When did he come back to England?
FM: Wasn’t it in 1982? The Dukes’ album took quite a long time to make, and I chose to live in California, and Dominic chose to go back to England.
We wrote a few songs together after that too, but having stayed in California, I started collaborating with a lot of different people, like Michel Sembello, and it was a really exciting period of my life. John Robinson and Nathan East came to record, I was constantly working with high level musicians. It was very exciting times for music. I’m still friends with a lot of those musicians to this day.
Was the process quite different then, between making songs for The Dukes and for World Goes Round?
FM: For sure. The process is always different, depending on who you write with. Dominic and I wrote all the songs for The Dukes – wait, actually George Martin worked on “Memories” with us (laughs)
The songs for The Dukes were mainly written for the guitar, right?
FM: Guitar and piano, the two. Before programming and sequencers became commonplace Dominic played the piano and the bass, I played the drums, and we both played the guitar, and that’s how we made most demos. And a lot of songs were made by making mastered versions of the demos. I mean, those demos had all our feelings and personalities in them.
That’s the most important at the end of the day, isn’t it.
FM: There’s a big difference between that and the way we created songs for World Goes Round. When Dominic and I wrote, we did the lyrics and the melody at the same time, but for World Goes Round I was the one who wrote the lyrics. I love imagining all kinds of situations and writing about them, so it wasn’t a problem at all. And Elizabeth contributed ideas, like on “Joy And Pain”. We wrote together, and it went really well. Before that she and I had written songs together, like “The Eagle And The Condor” with Rodney Franklin, and “Too Much Love Will Kill You” with Brian May, so at that point we were already a good writing team. For the World Goes Round, our method was that Jeff Hull and Marty Walsh, both amazing musicians, prepared the base track, and I would write the lyrics and the melody. Compared to what Dominic and I wrote together, the songs in World Goes Round have a much clearer concept behind them, that’s the main difference I think. Both Marty and Jeff liked my lyrics a lot, and they came up with suggestions of how to make the melody better, things like that. By the way, Marty is currently a professor at Berkley College of Music, in Boston. He helps young people who want to be musicians.
FM: But he said if World Goes Round ever goes live, he’d prioritize that. I’d be extremely happy if the four of us could share a stage together. And Marty said “If we need a drummer, or horns, or anything at all, just let me know and I’ll get some in 5 minutes, I’ll bring in my best students”
WGR’s musical influences
(laughs) By the way, was the World Goes Round influenced by Scritti Politti at all?
FM: No, not really. Personally, I’ve always loved American music. And we were always very aware of the music that Arif Marden was producing. But both the sound, and the vocals particularly, are very different. His music (Green Gartside) is very British. But at the time Dominic and I were focusing on American music, and we sang in an American accent, too. Our songs would probably sound really strange with a British accent.
FM: In 1988 and 89, Jeff did all the programming on a Lin drum machine, and actually all the drums on the World Goes Round album were programmed, did you know? He’s a great drummer himself, and he also played drums live for Chaka Khan.
I didn’t know.
FM: The biggest influences on World Goes Round are people like Peter Gabriel, Donald Fagan; the Doobie Brothers; Jackson Brown, Fleetwood Mac, that type of music.
We created the music thinking it’d be great to come even slightly close to those musical heroes. That’s what we were aiming at. Actually, since our band has one female and one male singer, we’ve been compared to Fleetwood Mac quite a bit.
What’s the highlight World Goes Round’s music?
FM: All of the songs are a highlight in their own way. Each one of them tells a story or has a message. And all of them are a labour of love. We are all perfectionists, that’s also the great thing about them. We were looking for that “ah-ha!” moment, and persisted until we found it. Personally, my favourite song is “Put It On The Line”. As I mentioned, we kept the original lead vocals, and then coordinated on Zoom. Tommy and Jeff created the final sound in Tommy’s studio. Marty was in Boston and Elizabeth in California, exchanging files. In terms of lyrics, it’s a very modern song. It’s about supporting those who do the front line work in hospitals or in the army - people who are doing their best for the country for the sake of the world. It’s unbelievable really, that the lyrics were written over 30 years ago and yet it’s so relevant today. I didn’t write it thinking “this will definitely happen in the future”. So Toshi, I’ve got to say, and I’m not saying this to Toshi the journalist but to you as a friend who understands my music, but I’m really proud of this album. It’s like a small shining jewel for us. It’s the best music the 5 of us have ever produced – that I’m sure of.
Beginning from a single cassette
Tell me again, how was it that you were able to release music that you created at the end of the 80s in the 2020s?
FM: At the beginning, it was down to a single cassette. Two years ago, I went on a trip to India with my wife. I got an email from Marty saying “listen to this!”, and with two songs attached. The songs were “World Goes Round” and “Rebel Heart”, I think. I told him I thought they were great, and he said that he found them in a rack of audio cassettes at home. And that he had a total of six songs. When he told Tommy Vicari, he too was thrilled. Tommy put “Big House” “Please, Please”, and “Round The World” into Pro Tools, and started working on them. We had the master tapes for a couple of them, but we couldn’t find anything else, so a few are based on the original cassette tapes. Nobody believes it when you tell them the audio cassette is the master.
Tommy Vicari is a true genius. He’s probably in the top 5 sound engineers worldwide. Right up there with the likes of Quincy Jones’ engineer Bruce Swedien, or George Martin’s Geoff Emerick, or George Massenburg. So we are really lucky to have him as a producer and engineer.
He had time because of the COVID-19 lockdowns, otherwise he’s always busy. And it’s a project made for the love of it, not money. No one was in it for the money. It’s all about the music.
The album was released digitally, but the CD still hasn’t come out right? I heard that an analog version was going to be released.
FM: Yeah, CDs aren't generally available in anymore. I was planning to release the analog version in January or February of this year, but we had to postpone because of the impact of COVID-19. Funnily enough, the album artwork for the analog version was done by a young team in London, all in their early twenties. They made something really great and exciting from the only photo shoot from 1989, but when it came to discussing the analog, I went “so Side-A’s song order is this, and Side-B is…” and he answered “Side-A, Side-B, what are you talking about?”. So I explained: “It’s an analog record! You put it on the turntable, and flip from Side-A to Side-B!”. I really felt then that I’d gotten old (laugh).
What did Dominic say when he heard the album?
FM: Dominic was very involved in getting this album out there actually! His partner Vicky was the one who did some videos for the songs. She’s a very talented filmmaker. She made the videos for “Big House” and “Round The World”. Dominic also designed the band’s original website, and did the visual production. If you look he’s on the album’s credit.
Last question. When you look back at the mid to late 80s now, what kind of period was it for you?
FM: It was a great period. I want to go back, frankly (laughs). Later I met my wife, and now I live on an island in Greece. It’s a very calm and peaceful place. We have 90 olive trees, and every year we make our own olive oil. We go for a swim every day, and we’re really happy. But even then, I’m still in England half the year, and I still love America and California. I’ll never forget how much fun it was to live there back then. Although it’s changed a lot. It’s become something completely different. But half the band members still live in California, so I’m planning to go back.
FM: There were a lot of highlights in my music career, and even after I left California I was able to work with people like Robert Miles, or Italian superstar Zucchero, and classical artists like Josh Groban. I think I’ve been very lucky but within this busy career of mine, 1989 definitely has a special place in my heart. /////