Taking time off recording in a studio in Los Feliz, California, Ken Goldstein chatted with us about his life on the road and his new record, Hello Breakdown.
“My first solo acoustic record (Hello Breakdown) is not about a mental breakdown,” Ken explains. “It is about breaking down an old way of thinking and living; looking at my past with an fresh eye of appreciation; recounting the lessons I’ve learned through hard living in gratitude; forgiving and moving forward.”
“It was a hard one to record; but now an easy one for me to listen to!”
Life on the Road
We asked Ken what was that one thing he wouldn’t go on tour without, and he answers right away with “My MONO case!” We laugh, Ken doesn’t.
“For real! I was out this year with my Dempsey Blues trio, The LA Hustle [with drummer Daniel Thomson and bassist Mike Phillips, Jr], and MONO sent me the Dual M80. It was a real game changer – especially on airplanes – because we were always running from flight to flight and it just was so much easier than lugging hard travel cases,” he adds.
“Also,“ he continued, “when we’re on tour or recording, we have our friend and road dog Charlie with us. He’s been my ‘ride or die’ since he was a puppy!”
Being on the road gives Ken the chance to meet old and new fans, to start inspiring conversations, and to gather more ideas for songs. Everywhere he travels, he wears the original silver casted pendant of his D69 logo on a chain around his neck. The D69, which he first sketched 20 years ago, has come to not only represent his music but also how he sees inspiration, “… as lightning hitting a sail before a gust of wind sends it soaring”.
“I know people think it’s a fancy “D” because of its shape and because of Jack Dempsey, but it’s actually a lightning bolt forming the post of a sail. The company that makes them for me, 1928 Jewelry, sent me off on this last tour with a bag of them that I gave to fans and new friends along our way from California to Pennsylvania.”
Trail of Tears
2017 was the first time that Ken used his own name, Ken Goldstein, and not the stage persona you may be more familiar with, Jack Dempsey. And it’s the first time he’s ever performed live without his signature, “Trail of Tears” – the two distinctive white stripes that run down his cheeks below each eye. He still rocks his grandfather’s “Punch Top Hat” that has been a mainstay of his persona since he was a child performing on Maxwell Street in Chicago.
“The makeup and hat made a lot of sense to me up until last summer when fate put an amazing kid in front of me – Cale Ferrin. That night I was at a gig seeing Daniel (the drummer from The LA Hustle) perform with some of the artists from American Idol. Up by the stage area they’d roped off a section for people with disabilities to enjoy the concert up close. I spotted Cale up there, dancing like Ren in Footloose. There was absolute joy in every move he made – so I was inspired to invite him to make a music video with me.
“We shot the video in my backyard with my next door neighbor, comedian Andi Osho. She set us up in front of a white piece of paper – it was a true budget production! I think the whole video cost $17 to make (with pizzas!) and it got picked up by a ton of big outlets, including Upworthy who was a great supporter of the video.”
In the months that followed, Ken was asked to perform the song at various events and fundraisers throughout the United States. Inspired by the reaction to his performances, he decided to record Hello Breakdown (which includes the song He Makes Me Happy).
And it was through his time with Cale – who is, according to Ken, the most “transparent” person he has ever met, that he decided to lose the make up and the stage name.
“The record represents the breakdown of an old way of thinking. There isn’t any regret on this record; and for the most part, though I have re-written and updated all of the songs on it, it’s a collection of songs that have been with me for years – some I first wrote when I was a teenager.”
The first track off the record, The Ballad of Jack Dempsey, is one that’s been written “over and over again” with each new transition he’s gone through. And the entire album was recorded live, and in one magical session with producer, Alex Burke, who helped to put everything he wanted to say about his life into one collection of songs.
“The most transparent song is the little ditty Dumb Guys Never Get It. You can tell how old that song is with the lyric, ‘And this evening I find myself wishing that LA winds would knock my phone line out’ – I was writing about the sort of phone that needed to be plugged into the wall to make a call! It’s a song that got better with each relationship break-up and each hard life lesson. And now it’s a cautionary tale.”
Ken Goldstein’s upcoming solo record comes sprinkled with pearls of wisdom, and it won’t be long before you hear them for yourself. Hello Breakdown releases on December 10th of 2017.