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Q&A with Nashville-based multitalented John Heithaus of The Rock House All Stars and Qualified Records – Blues.Gr


"It’s all about the song and the songwriter. Without the songwriter, there’s nothing to get excited about. The creative synergy of the songwriters and the tracking band is another important touchpoint."

John Heithaus: Music City's Music Man


The Rock House All Stars, an ensemble of sixteen musicians is led by co-producers John Heithaus and the multi-Grammy® winner Kevin McKendree, and features inspired original performances by seasoned Grammy-winning and nominated artists, along with exceptional vocalists representing Nashville‘s growing crop of emerging talent. The Rock House All Stars released an album project titled LET IT BLEED REVISITED – AN OVATION FROM NASHVILLE (2022, Qualified Records). Let It Bleed is the eighth British and tenth American studio album by the Rolling Stones, released on November 28, 1969. The album charted top ten, including reaching number one in the UK and number three in the US. Many songs became staples of Rolling Stones live shows and on radio stations for decades to come, including “Gimme Shelter” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, both listed on “best ever” songs lists. In 2005, the album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, and is on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list.




(Photo: Co-founder of Qualified Records; bassist; co-producer of The Rock House All Stars, John Heithaus)


Let It Bleed marks a return to the group’s more blues-based approach that was prominent in the pre-Aftermath period of their career. The main inspiration during this string of albums was American roots music, drawing heavily from gospel (“Gimme Shelter” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”), Hank Williams and Jimmie Rodgers (“Country Honk”), Chicago blues (“Midnight Rambler”), as well as country blues (“You Got the Silver”, Robert Johnson’s “Love in Vain”) and country rock (“Let It Bleed”). Qualified Records endeavored to produce a unique “tribute” album (with a twist) which features freshly reimagined arrangements. The producers handpicked lead singers for each track and encouraged them to provide their own artistic interpretations of Mick Jagger’s vocals. The ensemble is led by co-producers ISSA nominee John Heithaus (Tom Hambridge, Jim Allchin) and the multi-Grammy winner Kevin McKendree (Delbert McClinton, Brian Setzer Orchestra, John Hiatt.) The producers extend their appreciation to everyone who lent their considerable talents to the project in the hopes that Stones fans across the globe enjoy our celebration of an iconic album by what Rolling Stone magazine has heralded as the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band of all time.


How has the Blues and Rock Culture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

I’ve been fortunate to travel extensively around the globe and Blues music is often a touchstone in every country I’m in representing specific cultural flavors and perspectives. Even in the US from Mississippi to Chicago and Austin to NYC and more, the blues takes on its own regional flavor which I love as it “connects the dots” to a local culture.


When did the idea of The Rock House All Stars come about? What characterize band's music philosophy?

The Rock House Allstars is the creation of my business partner, the Grammy winning keyboardist, songwriter, producer, engineer and true multi-instrumentalist Kevin McKendree. I was fortunate to join the band as a producer and bassist for 2 recent projects and Kevin’s versions of the All Stars morph with the needs of each specific project. He’s got a very large Rolodex of quality musicians.


Currently you’ve release with Qualified Records & Kevin McKendree. How did that relationship come about and what is label's mission?

Kevin and I met years ago while we both lived in the Washington, DC metro area and then reconnected incidentally through a mutual friend, the great musician and producer Tom Hambridge. Tom and I hired Kevin for studio sessions on several #1 charting projects and we developed a solid association from that. Kevin invited me to be his business partner subsequently. The mission of Qualified is simply expressed in the name we chose. We endeavor to produce American Roots music with the highest standard of excellence with the Artists as our partner in the entire process in every aspect. There’s an old management adage that goes something like “people support what they build and create” and it’s that creative, marketing and business collaboration that works for us.

"The Rock House Allstars is the creation of my business partner, the Grammy winning keyboardist, songwriter, producer, engineer and true multi-instrumentalist Kevin McKendree. I was fortunate to join the band as a producer and bassist for 2 recent projects and Kevin’s versions of the All Stars morph with the needs of each specific project. He’s got a very large Rolodex of quality musicians." (Photo: ISSA nominee John Heithaus and the multi-Grammy winner Kevin McKendree)




Do you have any interesting stories about the making of the new album LET IT BLEED REVISITED – AN OVATION FROM NASHVILLE?

Oh, yes! Jimmy Hall and Bekka Bramlett made "Gimme Shelter” jump out of the speakers. As a duo they just clicked and tore it up. Jimmy played harp on it as well. Another gem was the ace guitarist Rob McNelley whom everybody wants on their records for a reason! His Keith Richards and Mick Taylor-inspired guitar parts made the record. He showed up in the studio with like 10 guitars in different tunings. So cool. Our pal Emil Justian sang amazing vocals on "Let it Bleed" and "Love in Vain", he came in as a “placeholder singer” when we tracked the songs and his parts were so good Kevin said “look no further!” I mean every singer (Wendy Moten, Mike Farris, Seth James, Nalani Rothrock, Rick Huckaby, Lee Roy Parnell, Luke Bulla and Lilly Hiatt) did such an exceptional job with their interpretations and also, Yates McKendree on drums. Damn, even Charlie Watt’s head would turn to listen to those parts, just exceptional. I had a blast learning and working the Bill Wyman and Keith Richards bass parts. Simple and foundational but complex in timing. And last, Kevin McKendree - he engineered the tracks, played keys, guitars, percussion and even complex backing vocals for Wendy Moten’s killer “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. He’s like a Swiss army knife of musical and recording tools, whatever you need he’s there. I’m blessed to have him as a partner.


Why do you think that The Band and Rolling Stones' music continues to generate such a devoted following?

Excellent question. It’s the songwriting and approach to production in my view. The Band worked their craft on the road with Ronnie Hawkins and Dylan for years and then when the door opened for them and they fell into their own thing, it was just a natural synergy that worked. Like a killer recipe that you bite into and say “what the heck is it and why does it taste so good?” As a bassist I’ve always loved Rick Danko and, of course, who doesn’t dig Levon Helm? The rest of the band as well, just exceptional musicians, songwriters and performers and nobody has been able to replicate their deal in my view. I saw the Stones play on TV on Ed Sullivan and I bought “Between the Buttons” as it had “Ruby Tuesday” and “Let’s Spend the Night Together" on the LP. I wore that one out. And Ive been a fan ever since. I think people gravitate towards Mick & Keith as their art of reinvention and remaining relevant stands out. I saw them in Nashville right after Charlie Watts passed in ’21 and the show was very consistent with the moniker “the world’s greatest rock n roll band.” And contributing members like Chuck Leavell (who is a good pal of McKendree’s) and Steve Jordan, certainly Darryl Jones and Ronnie Wood make the band click like few others can do for fans. So I think it’s their relevance that continually inspires fans.

"I’ve been fortunate to travel extensively around the globe and Blues music is often a touchstone in every country I’m in representing specific cultural flavors and perspectives. Even in the US from Mississippi to Chicago and Austin to NYC and more, the blues takes on its own regional flavor which I love as it “connects the dots” to a local culture." (Photo: John Heithaus)


What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I’m not very expert in the blues, I am a student that’s continually discovering and learning about the deep, wide and complex genre. But I am encouraged by young artists like Yates McKendree that love straight up traditional blues from the Masters and work hard to bring it to audiences to turn them on to the magic of it all. Yates’s LP Buchanan Lane on Qualified Records is a great example of the past and future state of the blues in one sitting. Sublime!


What moment changed your life the most? What´s been the highlights in your life and career so far?

Wow, I’ve had a few that made a major impact, many arising from my friendships and business association with guys like Tom Hambridge and Kevin McKendree and others. When the “lightbulb” moment occurs it’s magical and I’ve been fortunate to see more than a few. Probably the biggest highlight was helping record and master Tom Hambridge’s #1 and award winning “The NOLA Sessions” which we mastered at Abbey Road in the “George Martin Suite” with this very cool engineer named Sean Magee. He worked with the Beatles, Tina Turner, the Sex Pistols and many more and was an amazingly smooth expert to work with. And the truly vintage gear in the studio! The list is too large, but I’ll bet it’s millions of $ worth of equipment in perfect condition.



How do you want the music to affect people? What's the balance in music between technique and soul?

That’s a wonderful question that’s above my pay grade in many aspects. I want to make music that stands the test of time, that sounds as fresh 10, 20, 30 years later and more than when we mastered it. I love to make a difference in people’s lives thru music. “If it feels good, do it” is a lesson I’ve learned from the Masters.


"Wow, I’ve had a few that made a major impact, many arising from my friendships and business association with guys like Tom Hambridge and Kevin McKendree and others. When the “lightbulb” moment occurs it’s magical and I’ve been fortunate to see more than a few. Probably the biggest highlight was helping record and master Tom Hambridge’s #1 and award winning “The NOLA Sessions” which we mastered at Abbey Road in the “George Martin Suite” with this very cool engineer named Sean Magee."

(Photo: John Heithaus & Tom Hambridge, Abbey Road Studios, London UK)


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

It’s all about the song and the songwriter. Without the songwriter, there’s nothing to get excited about. The creative synergy of the songwriters and the tracking band is another important touchpoint. And folks like Tom and Kevin have taught me that it’s not cool to get too fancy. Let the music speak for itself sans effects and tricks (unless that’s part of the creative messaging, which it rarely is). And last, I’m a marketing guy at heart with a musician’s soul. I always think about the audience, what they need and how they need it expressed. We do this for ourselves for sure, but primarily it’s about the music lovers. Without them, we’re nothing.




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