The multi-instrumentalist explains why he’s celebrating his 20th anniversary as a recording artist with a remake of his debut CD and also performs the track, “Horizon.”
Musician Brian Culbertson
Tavis: Brian Culbertson has never met an instrument that he could not play. He’s mastered the piano, trombone, drums, bass, trumpet, percussions and something called a euphonium.
As a musician, producer and songwriter, he’s had 27 number one hits. His latest CD is called “Another Long Night Out” and he’ll close our show tonight performing one of the songs from that album called “Horizon.”
I will not put him to the test tonight and make him play all seven instruments at one time, but I look forward to the performance. Brian, good to have you on the program.
Brian Culbertson: Oh, great to be here, Tavis.
Tavis: Got the vinyl this time, huh?
Culbertson: I do. First time ever.
Tavis: First time in your career?
Culbertson: First time ever in my career.
Tavis: That means you’re like, what, 25?
Culbertson: Right. No, I been doing this 20 years. And right when I started, mid 90s, vinyl was kind of like not cool, you know. It was all about the CDs and now it’s like making a resurgence, so I’m like let me put it out.
Tavis: And what do you make of the resurgence of vinyl?
Culbertson: I think it’s more about an experience of listening to music again. You know, we’ve gotten just sort of like music is going everywhere with the digital age and now to put vinyl on a record player and to actually sit down and listen to it, I think it brings you back to at least, you know, my early years and it’s a beautiful thing.
Tavis: Since we’re on this right quick, I’m gonna put you on the spot. The thing you like most about the way the business has changed in the two decades you’ve been at it, and the thing you like least about the way the music business has changed in the two decades you’ve been at it.
Culbertson: I think the most thing that I like is that there’s a lot more interaction directly with fans. You know, it used to be there was this huge divide between, okay, you were making a record, no one was supposed to know about it. It’s all secret. Then all of a sudden, you release it on the world, right?
Nowadays, I’m all about opening that wall, that curtain, and putting videos up while I’m making the record. You know, Tweet and Facebook and doing all this stuff because it’s right there. So the fans have this whole new way of getting in touch with you. I think it’s great.
Tavis: And what do you like least about the way this business has changed? It is a business, isn’t it?
Culbertson: Well, I mean, you know, we’ve all heard of the declining record sales and that is very true, you know. Back in the day, you know, people used to sell records. Now I think the CD or the vinyl now are more about kind of a business card to be able to then go on tour. So it’s kind of reversed.
It used to be, you know, nobody really made money touring. It was all about that was to promote the sale of an album. So it’s kind of reversed and flipped.
Tavis: As an artist, I wonder how you process the fact that people aren’t buying records in the way they used to. How do you process that and not take it personally?
I was fascinated the other day – maybe fascinated is too strong a word. But I was reading an article about this exclusive interview that Anderson Cooper did with Donald Sterling, the owner of the Clippers at least for the moment.
Barbara Walters who recently retired, the biggest interview she ever did, Monica Lewinsky, after the Clinton administration. 50 million people watched that interview. 50 million people watched her interview Monica Lewinsky. Anderson Cooper got a big get with Donald Sterling.
That’s not the same thing, of course, but 720,000 people. That’s all. I mean, 720 versus 50 million. Then it’s not just about the subject matter. It’s about the fact that the business of television has changed so much…
Culbertson: Well, it’s so diluted.
Culbertson: There’s so much content out there.
Tavis: So what of the music business?
Culbertson: That’s what it is.
Tavis: Is that what it is?
Culbertson: That’s what it is.
Tavis: Same thing?
Culbertson: Everybody can make a CD now in their bedroom. You know, put it on iTunes by themselves. You know, it used to be you had to have this kind of a machine behind you. Oh, he has a record out. Oh, well, now everybody has a record out. So how do you sift through all of this noise, you know? So it’s difficult.
Tavis: But yours is always a beautiful noise.
Culbertson: Well, thanks [laugh].
Tavis: It’s a beautiful noise. And this project – I mean, everybody and their mama is on here. Well, I’m not on here [laugh], but everybody else in Hollywood is. I mean, you got great people. I mean, I don’t wanna start calling names, but I will.
Lee Ritenour, Chuck Loeb, Rick Braun, Russ Freeman. Good Lord, Candy Dulfard, Jonathan Butler, Nathan East. I mean, you called in all your friends, it seems.
Culbertson: I basically called everybody, you know.
Tavis: Yeah [laugh].
Culbertson: Here’s the thing. So this album of mine, you know, is to celebrate my 20 years making music. It’s a total remake of my first album that I put out 20 years ago. And that first record, I made while I was in college.
You know, I was at DePaul University in Chicago and basically it was just kind of me and, talking about in the bedroom, that’s how I made that one.
But, you know, that was the beginning of kind of the new technology these days where you could make records in your bedroom.
So I did that and, you know, it wasn’t the greatest production, I’ll say that. So I’ve always wanted to go back and redo it with the greatest people in the world. So that’s what I did with this one.
Tavis: So the production is infinitely better than it was 20 years ago, but what about the content, the music content? Were you as excited to revisit the material 20 years later? Does the material hold up?
Culbertson: Well, that’s why I wanted to redo it because I always liked the songs. I thought the songs and the arrangements were really interesting and not jaded by the industry, you know because I was just writing music that I thought was personally interesting.
So to go back and revisit these songs with the great players, that was what was exciting to me because they brought this whole new life out of these songs that I never had initially.
I remember, you know, doing the first record. I was trying to program the drums on a drum machine to try to sound like this particular drummer from the group, the Yellowjackets, Will Kennedy. And now I call Will to play on this version, so he’s playing what I was trying to do and it’s blowing my mind a little bit.
Tavis: I guess you got the sound you wanted.
Culbertson: Oh, man, yeah.
Tavis: Since he showed up for it.
Culbertson: Oh, yeah, it’s fantastic.
Tavis: When you hear these tracks 20 years later with this production and these players, obviously it sounds better. But did any of these songs hit you in a different way?
Culbertson: Oh, man. It did because you’re thinking of the last 20 years and how you’ve grown as a person, how the world has changed. Wow, these songs are now that old. So you can’t help but to get nostalgic.
Tavis: His latest CD is called “Another Long Night Out.” It’s out in vinyl and, of course, CD. And for you Brian Culbertson fans, you’re in for a treat tonight ’cause he came by not just to talk, but more importantly, to play a bit for us. So he’s going to play “Horizon” off of this new project. So, Brian, good to have you on the program.
Culbertson: Oh, a pleasure.
Tavis: Congratulations on your 20th anniversary.
Culbertson: Thank you so much.
Tavis: And thank you for the good music.
Culbertson: All right.
Tavis: I’m gonna say goodbye right now so I can get out of the way and let Brian do what he does so well. Thanks for watching. As always, keep the faith. Enjoy Brian Culbertson playing “Horizon” from this new project, “Another Long Night Out.” And until next time, keep the faith.
Announcer: For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at pbs.org.
[Walmart Sponsor Ad]
Announcer: And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.