Q&A with L.A. band of Jack Mack and the Heart Attack Horns, the “Hardest Working Band in Soul Business”

"Some may argue the 50's and 60's were the hay day, however, I think there's always going to be players, singers and bands that love Soul and Blues. Los Angeles is a melting pot of characters that come from around the world to seek success in music, film, arts and all the creative fields. Soul and Blues is timeless and will always be represented."

Jack Mack & The Heart Attack:

Hardest Working Band in Soul Business

L.A. band of Jack Mack and the Heart Attack Horns, known and loved around the globe for being the “Hardest Working Band in Soul Business,” just released the album "Live from Centennial Park, Atlanta, 1996". This album connects Clint Eastwood’s Warner Bros. Pictures upcoming feature film, Richard Jewell, with the band’s live performance during the tragedy. It’s July 1996 and the band is engaged to perform at the XXVI Olympiad, the international multi-sport event being held in Atlanta, Georgia. As the band closed their set and performed their original tune, “I Walked Alone” in the early morning of 27 July, a pipe bomb exploded in very close proximity to the stage directly killing 1 person and injuring 111. The white noise aftermath of the bomb blast provides a stark backdrop to what could be the first time an act of domestic terrorism closed a live recording. Producer and Director Clint Eastwood, along with producer Leonardo DiCaprio, are launching a major film release with Warner Bros. Pictures, titled "Richard Jewell” with all-star cast including Paul Walter Hauser as Jewell, Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm, and others.

This biographical drama is based on the story of Jewell, the security guard who was subsequently wrongly accused of being the bomber. The film is scheduled to be released on December 13, 2019 and features two of the band’s performances, the Staples Singers’ “I’ll Take You There” and the band’s original song “I Walked Alone.” Sax man Bill Bergman (producer, co-writer and horn arranger) and Andrew Kastner (co-producer, co-writer and guitarist) talks about the band, local scene, and the new album.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What is the story behind the band's name? What is/was the hardest part to be "the hardest working band in soul business"?

Bill Bergman: Andrew's friend, Claude Pepper [RIP], real name was John Mack. Upon Andrew learning this, Claude said: "Yea, and everyone called me Jack." To which Andrew replied: "Jack Mack?" And so-Jack Mack and the Heart Attack was named. Plus, it sounded better than the other choice of names: "Salmon Dave." Without a doubt, the hardest part of a working band is the travel to and from gigs. We have a saying: "We'll play the gig for free, but, you have to pay us to get there and back."

Andrew Kastner: The “Hardest Working Band in Soul Business” cam from James Brown’s moniker, “The Hardest working man in Show business”. The playing part is easy. The hardest part is everything else, The business itself is hard. Making records is hard. Getting gigs can be hard, but especially the travel, it takes a toll. Just to do one gig somewhere means getting up way too early, dealing with LA Traffic, then LAX which is an insane airport, airport security, The flying part is easy, then rent cars, drive sometimes up to 3 hours to a smaller town, check in, get 40 minutes rest, back in the car, go to sound check, back to the hotel, another short m rest if you’re lucky, back out, grab dinner, back to the gig. After the gig, back to the hotel, and the next day do it in reverse. Playing is the easy part.

Are there any memories from band's live at Centennial Park in Atlanta (1996) which you’d like to share with us?

Bill: The sheer volume of that bomb. When adding the sound of the explosion to the enormous volume of our PA and monitors, that moment was the loudest thing I've ever heard. In addition, the chaos, mayhem and confusion made for a scene I never hope to experience again.

Andrew: In 1996, Jack Mack and the Heart Attack was booked for 8 nights playing in Atlanta in Centennial Park during the 1996 Olympics. On the seventh night in the early morning hours of July 27th a terrorist’s bomb exploded, killing 2 and injuring 111.  We were onstage and nearly lost our record producer Bill Wray. Playing that week in Centennial Park was amazing. The spirit of the Olympics was in the air. I believe the stage was used one of the Rolling Stones tours. On either side of the stage they had built these enormous green rooms for the Olympic athletes to come hang out in. Beneath the stage, news teams from around the country had set up mini newsrooms to broadcast from. The security to get back stage was very tight. We had more than one credential and it was kind of difficult sometimes to get through all the security.

On each night we played a headliner act such as Kenny Rogers, Miami Sound Machine, Travis Tritt or Brian Setzer would play at 8pm and we would close the night with a midnight show. It was a party and the thousands who stayed to see us were super enthusiastic. On all the nights leading up to July 27th, Bill Wray, our record producer at the time was at the sound tower mixing our sound. Over the course of the week he had made friends with the security guard, Richard Jewel. who stood by the sound tower. He thought by befriending him he could slip into the sound tower without having to show his many credentials all the time.  Bill kept asking me to come out to the Tower and meet “this guard, Richard Jewell” and give him some CD’s and a T-shirt. I did so and met Richard the night before the bombing. He seemed to me like a down home, country guy.

We were nearing the end of our set at around 1:18 am. As we finished our original song, “I Walked Alone”, TC, our lead singer started to announce the next song and Boom! To us in was evident that it was a bomb. The blast was right in front of us and a little to the left around 150 feet from the stage. The blast was really loud because the sound went through the PA system.  We felt a pressure to our chests and it rocked us back on our heels. Debris was flying and falling at our feet. We froze, not knowing what to do. The next thing I know, people were telling us to get out of the park, so we all walked off the back of the stage and out of the park in a very orderly manner. When we got outside it was pandemonium. Police cars and fire engines sirens, people running in all directions. The band walked straight to the van that was there to take them back to the hotel. Our record producer Bill Wray, who was mixing our sound was standing next to the sound tower when the bomb went off. He said it blew him off his feet. Because he was an eyewitness to what was going on at the sound tower, he went with a policeman to be interrogated. I was torn about which way I should go until I saw a news crew approaching with a camera. I decided to do an interview with them which turned out to be for NBC. That interview made the headlines of every newspaper in the world.

I finally went back to my hotel and turned on CNN. They were reporting that something was happening but really didn’t have the story straight. Something about an explosion, maybe a transformer for the PA system or something. I looked up CNN’s telephone number in the phone book (no internet back then) and I told the receptionist that I was on stage when the bomb went off. She patched me right through to the producers and I was on the air live in a matter of minutes. I gave them my account of what happened including the name of my band and they kept me on the air for about 20 minutes. I started to worry about Bill Wray since he was my roomie and last, I heard he was being interrogated by the police and still hadn’t showed up back at the hotel. By this time, it was probably 2am. So, I hung up on CNN and called the police station. They told me Bill had left, so I turned on the TV again and changed the channel. Now Tom Brokaw was talking about the bomb but he also hadn’t been given the correct story so again, I opened the phone book. Within minutes I was on the air talking to him live. I gave him the whole story. Then Bill Wray showed up looking like he was in shock from the whole thing. He later found out he had shrapnel in his leg.

The next day the media started to hound us so we moved to a hotel 45 minutes outside of Atlanta where we tried to doge the press for a week but our phones never stopped ringing: Larry King, Bryant Gumbel, Tom Brokaw, Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood, everyone was calling us. they all wanted our story.  The entire week was all about media and press and interviews. The problem was we wanted the publicity but at the same time we didn’t want to exploit a tragic situation. People died and many injured and we wanted to be sensitive to that.

As it turns out we were taping the show every night on digital Dat tapes and when Centennial park was reopened about 5 days later, Bill and I went back to the sound tower and to our amazement the DAT tape was still in the tape machine. We couldn’t believe the FBI had not confiscated it. So, I grabbed it. I ended up giving them a copy later on so they could figure out the timeline. It was a terrible way for one of the best gigs of our lives to end. Playing in front of 30,000+ people a night for 7 nights in a row was a dream come true for us. In the end it was one of the most tragic and craziest weeks of our lives. We’re lucky we survived.

"I would love for musicians and artists to be compensated financially commensurate with their efforts and talents. We now live in a world where music is basically free. To master an instrument, become a gifted writer, and reach a level of worldwide notoriety requires skills above and beyond just being a great player, singer or performer." (Photo: Jack Mack & The Heart Attack, early days)

What touched (emotionally) you from "Sex Machine", Al Green, Sly Stone, and Bobby Blue Bland's music?

Bill: As a child of the sixties, the soundtrack of our lives was rich with every type of music. Being a young sax player, I gravitated towards the artists and groups that featured sax and horns. Being able to play with groups that allowed me to make the sounds I heard on records and the radio set me on a path that has lasted nearly 60 years.

Andrew: Interesting question Sex machine, wasn’t emotional, it just wants to make you get on up and dance. Al Green is more emotional. It’s that his true essence comes through his voice, his pain translates. That's the sign of a true artist. Sly is all about genius. Grooves and vocals. I love his vocal textures, in one song there could be 4-5 differentness, Sly singing low by himself. The Girls, The group singing harmony, The bass player with his baritone. Earth Wind and fire is very much the same if you think about it. Bobby Blue Bland, well that’s pure emotion. All of his experience is right there in his voice.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

Bill: I would love for musicians and artists to be compensated financially commensurate with their efforts and talents. We now live in a world where music is basically free. To master an instrument, become a gifted writer, and reach a level of worldwide notoriety requires skills above and beyond just being a great player, singer or performer.

Andrew: Well in the business I would have gotten rid of the typical record deal model, where the record company makes millions before the artist sees a penny. Man, they had that system rigged. The label gets 90% and recoups all the costs of the project from the artists 10%. Some mobster thought that one up. If I could change anything now it would be to make sure artists and songwriters got paid a fair amount of money for streams. The whole streaming business model does not work for the artist and the songwriters. It basically killed the entire business.

"Andrew's friend, Claude Pepper [RIP], real name was John Mack. Upon Andrew learning this, Claude said: "Yea, and everyone called me Jack." To which Andrew replied: "Jack Mack?" And so-Jack Mack and the Heart Attack was named. Plus, it sounded better than the other choice of names: "Salmon Dave." Without a doubt, the hardest part of a working band is the travel to and from gigs. We have a saying: "We'll play the gig for free, but, you have to pay us to get there and back."  (Photo: Jack Mack & The Heart Attack, 1988)

Make an account of the case of Soul & Blues in L.A. Which is the most interesting period in local scene?

Bill: That's a hard question to answer. Some may argue the 50's and 60's were the hay day, however, I think there's always going to be players, singers and bands that love Soul and Blues. Los Angeles is a melting pot of characters that come from around the world to seek success in music, film, arts and all the creative fields. Soul and Blues is timeless and will always be represented.

Andrew: Definitely from 1967-1985. I saw Albert King in a tiny club in the mid 80’s. Stood right at his feet. In that period, you could see anyone and everyone. Now they are all mostly gone.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in music paths?

Bill: Find your individual voice. Stay true to your personal vision. I've recorded with everyone from Motorhead, Neil Diamond and No Doubt-and found joy in all types of music and all the ways to create it.

Andrew: I guess I could quote Glenn Frey on this one, “He who writes the song wins”. And Hold on to your copyrights and publishing if you can or sell them for a lot of money with a reversion clause. I guess the other lesson is make sure your having fun.

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