UNCHAINED - Jude Johnstone
Jude Johnstone: No, no. I write the songs for myself and then sometimes other people record them. I actually wrote Unchained quite awhile before Johnny did it. I just didn’t have a record deal to put my own version out until a few years later. Was still just a label that me and my manager made up to release my own records on. That’s why it came out after John’s recording. He was actually listening to my demo of it when he recorded it, which was a much more raucous, gospel version like the one on my debut CD, "Coming Of Age." He just heard it like a hymn in his own head. And sung it that way.
2 - How did you find out that the album itself would be titled after your song, which must have been a thrill?
JJ: I heard that Johnny Cash was playing a show at the Fox theater in Bakersfield. I lived on the Central Coast of California about two hours from there. I had heard that he had recorded a song of mine for his new project but I didn’t invest in that emotionally 'cause I knew that he would probably record 20 or 30 songs and the odds of my actually making the record were probably pretty slim. But I wanted to meet him, so I called his management and told them he had recorded my song and asked if I could come and meet him briefly before the show? I got the word that my name would be on a list, so my husband and I and our two small kids drove to Bakersfield. My husband was originally from there and his folks still lived there so we dropped off the 5-year-old, Emma, with her grandma and took the 4-month-old, Ray, with us. She was still nursing and hadn’t spent any time away from me so my plan was to have my husband walk her around in the parking lot outside the club while I dashed in to meet John. And then we would meet in the balcony afterward where we were to be seated so I could nurse her to sleep and we could watch the show.
JJ: Yes, Bonnie Raitt and Jennifer Warnes are singing the backup vocals on my recording and Bonnie is on the slide guitar. (Producer) Garth Fundis and I had John Hobbs play the piano on it cause the song has a real churchy, gospel feel on the piano that you have to be really well versed in that style to play. And he just killed it like we knew he would.
JJ: Yes, it was an actual person. I was just walking on Hollywood and Vine to my publisher Bug Music’s office, back when I lived in Hollywood (1979-92). The old man was just a typical sight on the corner of a city like Los Angeles, and he was swearing and carrying on about the government and what have you and it just occurred to me that there wasn’t that much of a difference between HIS lost and MY lost, on a spiritual level. So I started the song way back then. And I didn’t finish it till about '92, when my friend Valerie Carter came up to Cambria, where we had moved to, to visit me. I played her the start of it and she said, “You gotta finish this thing.” So I did. She did a really sweet version of it herself with me accompanying her, that was never released before John did it. I still have a copy of it, of course.
JJ: Hmm, workshops. I mainly listen to what the students are working on and I might get out something of mine to illustrate a point but mostly I focus on their work and how to make it the best that it can be. Now in college lectures, I like to stretch out more, tell some stories, like the Cash story or a Bonnie Raitt or Dr. John story, and answer questions they have about how I got a certain song to this one or that one cause they are usually interested in that. And sometimes a lesson on initiative and courage.
6 - You have a 1926 Mason & Hamlin parlor grand piano. Is that what you wrote "Unchained" on?
JJ: No, I got that piano sometime later. It was given to me by my cello player Bob Liepman’s mom, Nanette, when she moved into an assisted living place. She had a boyfriend who liked to dabble on the piano occasionally so I traded my Baldwin upright, just a sort of schoolhouse piano I had for years, (which I did write Unchained on and many others) for him to tinker on, in exchange for this priceless 1926 Mason & Hamlin parlor grand that is a songwriter’s dream. My kids called it ‘the great piano trade of ‘04.’
7 - For years I thought Cash sang "Oh, have I seen an angel OR have I seen a ghost" and was a little saddened when I realized that he actually sings "OH have I seen a ghost." So when I listened to your version, I was pleased to hear you sang "or." Do you believe you have ever seen an angel or a ghost - and which it was?
JJ: I believe that grace comes to us in the form of human beings when you least expect it, as in the ‘old man swearin’ at the sidewalk.’ I believe he was put there for me to see; perhaps an angel, perhaps a ghost. In either case, to teach me or startle me in some way. To shake me out of my sleep at the time. Which he did.