'Time Together' With Michael Franks Franks is best known for his 1976 smooth jazz hit "Popsicle Toes." This year, Franks released a new album, Time Together, with more songs suited for cooling down on summer days.
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'Time Together' With Michael Franks

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'Time Together' With Michael Franks

'Time Together' With Michael Franks

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Here's a phrase maybe you haven't heard for a while: Popsicle Toes.


MICHAEL FRANKS: (Singing) Popsicle toes, popsicle toes.

SIMON: "Popsicle Toes" was the hit song from Michael Franks' 1976 album "The Art of Tea." That was back when they had albums. The singer-songwriter is back with his 18th album - we call them CDs now - "Time Together." And it's got more songs suited for simmering down on steamy days. Michael Franks joins us now from member station WAMC in Albany, New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

FRANKS: My pleasure.

SIMON: Are you nearly as mellow as you sound?

FRANKS: I usually am - except on occasion.


SIMON: Well, you handled that in a very mellow way. Let's listen to the first track on this CD, "Now that the Summer's Here."


FRANKS: (Singing) One thing is crystal clear, I won't be going anywhere, except my Adirondack chair, now that the summer's here...


SIMON: This is a song about not doing much and I like it.

FRANKS: Well, that was inspired by our last winter. I live in Woodstock, New York and I always have enjoyed winter, even though I'm originally from California. But this last one was intense, and so I just started fantasizing about summer, and so I was imagining sitting in a hammock instead of curled up next to the fire, I guess.


FRANKS: (Singing) Now, now that the summer's here...

SIMON: It mentions Adirondack chairs specifically, and while we have the chance, I've never found them especially comfortable.

FRANKS: They're not at all. My wife got some really nice cushions, outdoor, you know, all-weather cushions. That improves them considerably. But, no, they're not.

SIMON: How do you think your music has changed over 40 years?

FRANKS: I don't know if it has changed that much. I've always tried to emulate the writers I admire so much, and I still admire all the same ones pretty much, I guess, you know, Jobim and the Brazilians and I love, you know, the great American songbook writers, you know, like a Cole Porter and the Gershwins. And I always try to write a song as good as one of those if I can.

SIMON: Yeah. You were a teacher at one point before you got into music as I gather.

FRANKS: I was. I did teach part-time and I was living in Los Angeles and trying to write songs. I wasn't thinking so much being a recording artist as much as being a songwriter. A couple of my tunes were recorded by two old blues musicians, legends, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. They actually got me my first record deal.

SIMON: You have such a distinctive voice, and people have remarked on that for years. No one had told you that?

FRANKS: When I would, you know, I record demos of tunes and try to get them to different singers, occasionally, yeah, people would say who made the demo? And I'd say, well, you know, I made that one. And eventually since nobody else was covering them, you know, I just said, well, I guess I'll do it. But since then I've been so fortunate with covers, you know, of my tunes. You played "Popsicle Toes" and that one has been so kind to me over the years, recorded several times with Natalie Cole. I did one of my tunes recently.

SIMON: And when a great recording artist like Natalie Cole does one of your tunes, how do you feel about that?

FRANKS: It's the highest compliment really, I think, to have somebody else want to record it in the first place. With Natalie, it was a song called "Tell Me All About It," which I had recorded years ago. And she just called me one day and said I'd like to record this song and what do you think? And I said please do, you know. And she did this beautiful sort of scat-type thing at the end.


NATALIE SONG: (Singing) Tell me all about it, baby, baby. Make you tell me all about. That's exactly what I'm gonna do...

SIMON: I gather one of your early idols was Peggy Lee.

FRANKS: Yes, she was. And she was so kind to me when I first started. She knew a musician who was working with me. And this guitarist, with whom I worked, had been her musical director. And he said would you like to meet Peggy, and I said yeah. And so went up to her house and she had heard some of the early rough mixes from "The Art of Tea," and she told me how much she liked it. She mentioned particular tunes. She liked a song called "Eggplant" a lot. She said I've loved that tune. I couldn't believe I was actually next to her, you know, let alone being in her house. And then later, maybe a few years later, she recorded one of my songs.


PEGGY LEE: (Singing) I could not break the blues of spring until you took my heart to sing...

FRANKS: I listened to her growing up and my parents were big fans. And so, I never could get over that sense of excitement, you know, when I was around her.

SIMON: Does it make you want to be especially kind to young talents who approach you now?

FRANKS: Oh, sure. I meet young people all the time who are so talented. You know, and, of course, the music business is certainly, you know, transmogrified since I got into it, although it's easy to actually make music and produce your own music, I guess, has become much easier. You don't really need a studio. But...

SIMON: You don't need a band.

FRANKS: You don't need a band, you don't need a studio, but I...

SIMON: You barely need a voice.

FRANKS: At least not one that sings in tune. But I meet young people all the time who are really talented. And it's hard to encourage them to go into the business, which is, you know, so I think it's even harder really to make a living at it now.

SIMON: You use the word transmogrified, which, a, reminded me that you are a former English teacher, and, b, inspires me to ask - I mean, I think I know what the word means - but what do you mean when you say the music business is transmogrified?

FRANKS: Well, it's like changing but changing into something almost unrecognizable. I don't know about continuity in it anymore. And I think the sort of changes in radio formats, you know, didn't have a good effect really on the kind of music I make and perform. I miss the DJs. You know, like a lot of the DJs disappeared from the scene. And I used to listen to certain programs, you know, and certain guys would play certain things and they had their favorites. Some jazz DJs were more straight ahead and others were a little more, you know...

SIMON: Let me try something. Ready?


SIMON: That was Michael Franks.

FRANKS: That's it.


FRANKS: That's it.

SIMON: What a shame there's no particular demand for it anymore.

FRANKS: I know, I know.

SIMON: Well, Mr. Franks, your current CD is going to take a lot of people through a lot of summer nights.

FRANKS: Well, thank you.

SIMON: Michael Franks, speaking with us from Albany. His new album, "Time Together." Thanks so much for being with us.

FRANKS: My pleasure, Scott. Thank you.


SIMON: And this is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'll try it again: I'm Scott Simon.

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