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An Interview with Legendary Rock Producer Chris Kimsey

by PHYLLIS POLLACK

It is safe to say there is no one reading this article who has never heard an album in which Chris Kimsey was involved, either as a producer, an engineer, a mixer or co-producer. Kimsey’s contributions can be found on albums by The Rolling Stones, B.B. King, The Cult, Peter Tosh, The Clash, Jimmy Cliff, Bill Wyman, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, New Model Army, Tom Jones, Mott The Hoople, Buddy Guy, Emerson Lake and Palmer’s Brain Salad Surgery, and several Peter Frampton albums, including Frampton Comes Alive! His extensive credits are far too voluminous to list here, and the number of his works continues to grow.

Among his venerable projects is the upcoming debut album Diary of a Soul Fiend from the band Saint Jude, whose as yet unreleased debut single, Garden Of Eden, features Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Wood. The album will be released by JDC Music Group, a record label spearheaded by David Hadland, Joe Costa and Chris Kimsey. The album was recorded at St. Claire Recordings.

Saint Jude has already achieved a respectable following in London due to their live performances. Peter Doherty liked the group so much that he personally requested them to open up shows for his group Babyshambles. Saint Jude have also shared the stage with The Waterboys. Led Zeppelin’s guitarist Jimmy Page is also among those who have come to check the band out, and was impressed by their performance. Onlookers were shocked last October when Ron Wood, who was in the audience at one of the band’s gigs, jumped onstage to play the song “Flying” with Saintf Jude.

Here, Kimsey talks about his involvement with Saint Jude, and a bit of his other work.

You have your own recording studio in London, Sphere Studios. The band is from London. Yet you recorded the upcoming Saint Jude album in The States, specifically in Kentucky. Why was that?

Two of them are from Kentucky, the bass player Colin Palmer, and the second guitar player, Artie Bratton, are from Lexington. But that wasn’t the reason. The band has had many sort of versions. I met them maybe five years ago, and did some cuts with them. Then they changed drummers, changed the bass player, and they kept sort of changing, I suppose maybe three times since I’ve known them. Then when David Hadland came over from JDC Music Group to talk to me about the band Very Emergency, and started JDC, he said, “Well, what have you got going on over here?” So I played him Saint Jude, and he just went nuts about it. So we went to see them, and signed them up. Then the bass player at that stage, it was a female bass player actually, she decided she didn’t want to play any more. She decided she wanted to be a gardener, so she quit. David said, “Well, I know some great bass players in Lexington, in Kentucky,” and the idea is to break them over there (The States), and get them there anyway. We flew the band over to Lexington, well, let’s say Lynne and Adam, the principals, and they did some writing in Nashville with some people, and they were over there for I think about two months. Then they met Colin and Artie, and then the drummer (Lee Cook, from Twickenham) and keyboard player (Elliot Mortimer) came over (from England) and they started rehearsing and getting ready for the album. So a bit from both sides of the water.

Saint Jude.

That explains a lot, because I was wondering how a band from London would have that type of feel, somewhat like the Black Crowes, where you feel that Southern vibe, mixed in with a bit of The Faces.

Well, they’re huge fans of the Black Crowes, as well, and Adam, the guitar player, is, I mean, he plays just like Keith (Richards) and Ronnie (Wood). I mean, he’s really grown up with all that.

I had heard that Jimmy Page had come to see the band play live.

I don’t know. Adam is very much the man about town. People have come like Grace Jones, and all.  So they’re quite popular in London, quite a groovy band for people to go see. And Ronnie Wood’s been around to see them a few times.

Who writes the songs and who writes the lyrics?

It’s really Adam and Lynne. There’s another guy called John Robertson, who was in the band. He was a second guitar player in the first kind of version that I met. He left the band, and he co-wrote some of the songs. It’s very Lynne and Adam, and someone else, but Lynne and Adam are the crux, and the lyrics are just kind of shared with everybody.

Ron Wood contributed to the album, specifically on which track?

“Garden Of Eden.”

Woody joined the band on stage a while back at one of their gigs. Were you there?

No, I was in the States, so unfortunately, I missed that. I think Adam has played with Ronnie on a couple of gigs that Ronnie’s done over the last couple of years. Ronnie and Woody met in A.A. (Alcoholics Anonymous). I mean that’s how they met, and became really good mates. Yeah, I mean, Ronnie’s played on a few things Adam has done apart from Saint Jude, and they’ve sort of written a bit together.

Ronnie Wood on stage with Saint Jude.

There has been a comparison of Saint Jude to The Faces. Do you think it’s partially because of tracks like “Garden Of Eden,” or even more so in “Down The Road,” where you can almost, somewhere in the distance, see or hear Woody and Ian MacLagan, far away in the mist?

I think for sure. I think that’s where their roots come from, as well. Definitely for Adam and Lynne.  So yeah, that makes a lot of sense to me. And also, just the format of the band with the keyboard, and the way it’s kind of set up. Yeah, the songs kind of fall into that arrangement. That’s what they grew up on, so that’s filtered through. Yeah.

You have worked with a lot of prog rock, progressive rock, groups like Yes, and Emerson, Lake And Palmer. Yet Saint Jude is blatantly much more traditional, straight-ahead rock and roll, like The Faces or The Black Crowes. Was that intentional? In other words, was Saint Jude’s sound, for you, a rebellion of sorts on your part, against the over glut of syrupy pop music that is predominantly being promoted by major labels today? At least, that is the case here in The States.

Well, it’s the case here, as well. I don’t really listen to the radio. I mean I listen to radio, but not sort of the top radio stations, because it’s all just pop crap.

Garbage.

Yeah. Most of the major labels that are left, they’re just churning that out, and (British American Idol seminal television shows) X Factor and Pop Idol are very a huge impact on music that way, I feel. So I mean, yeah, out of all the sort of music I’ve been involved with, that’s kind of my heart and soul, that area of music. And also great singers. I just like to work with extraordinarily talented singers, and when I heard Lynne sing, boy, she just blew me away.  I don’t really do the pop thing at all.

It seemed that when Slash’s band Velvet Revolver debuted at Number One, that some of the major labels might have gotten a hint that people are starving for real rock and roll.

Yeah, that’s true. I mean people want it. Absolutely. I just kind of rediscovered Audioslave. I don’t listen to that a lot. That’s a little heavier than what I would normally listen to, but I’ve been getting into that. And then, kind of, my roots also come from the Allman Brothers and that whole Southern thing, as well, I was really into. There are some great bands and good music out there, but it’s tough to get that signed to any major label, because they don’t know what to do with it any more. There’s a big huge hole in the market, and people want to hear it. Even my kids want to hear it. They’re playing old records, because they find it hard to find any of this new stuff that they like.

Yeah, people are starved for it, which I think that is part of the reason why people will not let go of the Rolling Stones.

Yeah.

You know, that sound. My next question relates with that. Comments have been made about Saint Jude’s vintage sound, which I think is one of its best, if not strongest aspects. Did you intentionally make a commitment to make the album not sound over-produced? To what do you attribute the vintage sound that gives this album so much of its appeal?

Well, it’s pretty much with any band that I work with, engineer or produce. I won’t work with anyone unless they all sit down and play live as a band, and the songs are worked out, and people know what they’re playing, so you’re capturing a performance. I really grew up, doing eight albums with the Stones, I definitely learned that’s what it was all about, and I’ve just carried that onto who ever I worked with after that.

Well, that’s interesting you say that for many reasons, including the reason that The Stones if anything, are a live band.

Yeah. Well, all the records I made with them were recorded live, as well. There were hardly any overdubs. You know, it was…

So you were basically nurtured in the studio with that type of…

Yeah. Well, not just then. Also, I worked an awful lot with Glyn Johns, and Glyn was like my mentor. Glyn was expert at capturing that, working with The Who, Joe Cocker and the Eagles. All those records were all cut live. They weren’t started with a drum machine or a click (track). It was a group of people performing in the studio together, which is…Now, that’s another thing that I think people really miss, you know, in recordings. There’s not enough of that. Well, there is, but you’ve got to look for it.

Chris Kimsey with Ronnie Wood.

Here is an irony. Looking back, to me, when it comes to the talk box, the first person that brought it into prominence was Peter Frampton, back on his 1976 “Frampton Comes Alive” that you worked on.

Yeah.

Now, so many of these kids you hear on the radio are using that for their vocals, and it’s just such an over glut, and it’s just so boring, and it has become so overdone.

Yeah, well, a lot of it is the same as when a thing called “Auto-Tune” came out, when you could pitch correctly if you couldn’t sing, and all the sudden, I hear a lot of pop records; that turns me off.

These altered voices for people who can’t sing.

Yeah.

Would you agree that Lynne’s voice is predominately upper register?

Yeah, I suppose so. Yeah. Yeah. Definitely. She likes to belt it out.

Was it ever difficult recording her voice over the hard rock sound of the rest of the band? She’s obviously a very competent vocalist, but was it difficult?

No, not at all, because she’s loud. She’s louder than the band. (He laughs.)

Really? Because I wondered if you had to compensate with the levels in the studio, you know, if you had to push the volume up really loud on her vocals, or any of that.

No, not at all. She’s a belter. I mean, she’s really loud.

So that is actually real. Wow, that’s amazing. There were a few overdubs, like in “Garden Of Eden,” that were really nice, too, though. There were some overdubbed parts that were really nice.

Yeah, there are a few bits and pieces.

But they weren’t needed for her in order to make her sound like that. They were just sort of embellishments here and there.

Right.

Obviously, the band has been pulling this off with live at their shows with rave reviews. The album is not out yet. What do you expect to happen with the band?

Well, they need to get on the road, and really, outside of the UK. They’ve played in London enough, and they need to get out there. They have a tour in India, I think in April, and they’re out there for eight weeks, doing something. There are some agents in Amsterdam in particular who like them and want to get them some gigs, but I’d love to see them get on a tour in the States opening for someone, and get a hand up that way.

When was the last time you listened to the album?

I’ve been so busy. I just sat down now for an hour…I was just finishing up listening to Chris Jagger, the album I mixed in December, and I just got it back from mastering, and I started listening to it, thinking I was just going to listen to a couple tracks, but I ended up listening to the whole damned thing because it was so good.

You worked with Terry Reid.

Ah, yeah!

I’ve seen him perform, and I wonder why he’s not more well known. Why doesn’t he have a deal on a major label? What happened there? I think he’s an amazing singer. What happened? What was that like back then?

He is amazing. But a lot of people would say he’s crazy, but he’s not. He’s a wonderful human being, and he’s a great singer. He’s just a beautiful singer; he’s terrific.

He’s definitely got a personality.

I think that goes back a long way. His father used to manage him away back, and that burned a few bridges, I know, because his father wasn’t a very personable person. But Terry is one of the great misunderstood in a way, but is he’s a hell of a singer. And yeah, it’s interesting you say that, because you’ve got someone like Amy Winehouse, who was pretty together at the beginning, and then sort of, she made it, and now, she’s a worse mess than Terry is, and that’s for sure (he laughs.).

I’ve got to remember that quote.

It’s a shame. I saw him last year. He comes over to the UK pretty much every year. I actually got up and sang with him. He did a gig at 100 Club, and I got up and sang a couple of songs with him. He was very surprised. He looked surprised to see me over there singing!

Due to time constraints, I have to limit my questions here regarding your work with The Stones. You worked out of EMI-Pathe Marconi Studios in Paris to record “Some Girls” in 1977. I have quite a few of the outtakes that have been flying around for the last thirty odd years. I wanted to ask if you were familiar with something that Keith had recorded during that time period, something that didn’t see the light of day until many years later, albeit a different version. He had recorded the Hank Williams track “You Win Again” in the late Seventies. He later recorded a different version of it, and it was released on the Hank Williams tribute album “Timeless” in 2001. Do you know anything about the original recording of that song?

No, I don’t. I recorded a few things with Keith that have come out, but that wasn’t one of them.

Do you remember any of the The Stones’ unfinished instrumentals, like “Munich Hilton” or “Jah Is Not Dead?”

Oh, yeah. I remember “Munich Hilton,” and there’s a lot of stuff I remember that didn’t get finished.

Do you remember how many songs you went through when selecting what to use for “Some Girls?”

On Some Girls, the only extra tracks that were recorded in that period, “Start Me Up,” was actually recorded the same period of Some Girls. But it was a reggae song, and then it turned into what it is today.

Which later ended up on “Tattoo You.”

Yeah, yeah. Because Tattoo You is actually…That album, I had to go in, Mick and Keith were not getting on. So I had to go in and sort of find…well, I knew of four or five songs that I recorded with the band that had never been used from Emotional Rescue and Some Girls, so I figured if I had five songs, there must be some from Black and Blue. So I just went into the tapes, and went through all the outtakes. And so that’s what Tattoo You is. It’s virtually an outtake album, but one of their best.  It took me about three months to assemble it all and get it all together, and then I just had to get Mick to finish off vocals on it, because they were never finished obviously.

I don’t know if you remember this. I found this gem in some outtakse I have.  Keith had recorded a cover of Sam Cooke’s “Let’s Go Steady Again.”

Yeah, my wife sang on that!

So that is who that was! I am so glad you’re telling me this.

(Chris laughs.)

You have no idea how long I wondered who that was. I wondered, “Were you around when that was recorded? Who is that singing on there with Keith?” That was definitely something I wanted to ask you.

Yes, we cut that in Nassau in The Bahamas. I remember that.

Yes, The Bahamas. I have had some of these bootlegs that have been flying around for centuries. This track is always incorrectly titled by everyone, and on bootlegs, as simply “Let’s Go Steady,” when the actual title is “Let’s Go Steady Again.” I always wondered who was singing with Keith on that. It’s an incredible track.

Yes.

It deserves a life. Why has it never seen the light of day?

I’ve got no idea! You should ask Keith that! (Chris laughs again.)

It’s a great track.

Yes, it is, isn’t it? Yes, there’s another one called “You And Me, We Had It All.”

I have that one, as well.

Yes, that’s a beautiful song, too. It was really cool.

Does it seem strange that I would be familiar with these outtakes?

Well, no, because I’m always amazed actually at how many…Well, I truly don’t know where they came from. There are some ridiculous amounts of outtakes. Someone even sent me a CD, I think it was Some Girls, they had outtakes or trial edits that I had been doing on songs. It was really strange! I figure either one of the French assistants or someone in The Stones road crew must have nipped it, and started burning them off, or whatever. But, yeah.

Well, nowadays, I think they’re easier to find because CDs are so easy to duplicate.

Yeah.

But way back when I started get them…

Well, they would have been on cassette or on quarter inch…

When I started collecting them, they were on vinyl. They had been transferred to vinyl, and that was the only way I ever found them back in those days.

Wow. Wow. Well, they must have gone from like cassette tape to vinyl, or from 15 ips quarter-inch to the vinyl.

Oh, yeah. I obviously didn’t get them from anyone directly involved first-hand. Just asking, because that track is so great. Does your wife still sing?

No, she doesn’t sing any more unfortunately. We made a record that never got released with a band called Doc Holliday playing on it, a guitar player, who Frank Carillo, who I met working with Peter Frampton. He was Frampton’s second guitar player. We cut a bunch of tracks that never saw the light of day. Yeah, but that one thing with Keith was really something…

That recording of “Let’s Go Steady Again” sounds like something Keith would have done on the first X-Pensive Winos albums with Sarah Dash.

Yeah, they both sing so well on it, it’s really quite special.

It’s so amazing that it is your wife!

(Kimsey continues to laugh.)

When you were working on “Undercover,” did you expect the band to be playing “She Was Hot” live twenty-five years later?

No, I didn’t at all. Well, the title track (“Undercover Of The Night,”) that was a fabrication.

Multi-layers of…

Yeah, a lot of editing on that one. It was a very weird, strange time when they were making the album.

You produced Jimmy Cliff’s 1982 album” Special.”

Yeah. One of my favorites.

Yes, and a few of his compilations.

I love Jimmy Cliff. He’s obviously an extremely prolific artist, if not a musical prophet. How was different for you when you first started working with him, producing a reggae album, and working with him?

Well, it was wonderful. I just went down to Jamaica, on almost a whim. Someone said, “You should go down and check it out down there.” A manager a friend of mine knew Jimmy’s manager at the time. So I went down there, and just hung out in Channel One Studios (in Kingston) for three or four days, watching and listening. And they invited me, sort of for input, and then it all started to kick off. I remember I brought in Byron Allred, the keyboard player with Steve Miller’s band, I got him down to Jamaica to do some keyboards, and there was someone else I brought in as well, I can’t remember who, to mix it up a little, so it wasn’t just straight all the players from Jamaica. I had such a good time. I ended up staying there for a whole year actually. I did a Peter Tosh album, as well. Jimmy was just extraordinary. And all those musicians were wonderful.

I’ve met Jimmy, and he’s just such a cool cat.

Oh, he is. He’s blessed. He’s got such a marvelous voice, and he’s such a wonderful person.

And then you had someone who had a totally different temperament, and that was Peter Tosh.

Oh, yeah. Very much so. Yeah.

And you ended up being chosen to produce the posthumous EMI Tosh compilation.

Yeah, Mama Africa. Yep, that album.

I have that album, and…

See, there’s a funny story. I suggested to Peter that he do a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B Goode.” And Peter said to me, he said, “Me no sing no white man’s song.” So I went and got a picture of Chuck Berry, and said, “This is the man who wrote “Johnny B Goode,” and he said, “Me sing the song.”

That is such a great story.

Yeah, that track, that was great, because there’s a guy, Donald Kinsey, out of Chicago, a great blues player, who was very influential on that album as a guitar player. He’s got a band called The Kinsey Report. I’m sure they’re still going. Don was great. But Peter would just come in and he’d play a song on the acoustic or the electric, just play it once to myself and the band, and then he’d just say, “Okay. I’m going for some fish,” and he’d disappear, and we wouldn’t see him all day. And he’d come back at about six o’clock, and we’d cut three or four songs, and he’d just start singing on top of them. Quite strange. But good, very good.

I had wondered what was behind Tosh’s version of that song coming out.

He didn’t want to do it until he realized it was a brother who had penned it, and then it was cool.

After Tosh died, and you produced the posthumous album, was part of your being chosen to produce it due to the relationship that EMI had with…

No, it was totally separate. The whole thing with Tosh was more through Danny Simms, who was managing Peter, Betty Wright, Jimmy Cliff and a white Jamaican band named Native.

Well, you know EMI reissued all those six Tosh albums, including “Mama Africa” on July 30, 2002.

No, I didn’t know that. But I know it’s still available. But I didn’t know they reissued it.  That’s interesting.

Aren’t you getting royalty statements?

Yeah, sure. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But it takes a while, because they have to come from Jamaica, so it’s a little bit uh…It comes through someone else.

Well, someone’s a little late with their royalty statement.

What is your preference for listening to music? Vinyl, CD or digital downloads?

I don’t download, so CDs, but I still got have all my vinyl. So I like to listen to my old vinyl, but yeah, CDs.

In addition to my CD players, iPods and my turntable and all that, I also have a jukebox.

Ah, cool.

I asked that question because most music fans do not know that a digital download is merely a compressed file.

Yeah, that’s right.

As compared to a commercially manufactured CD.

Yeah.

And therefore, the CD has better sound quality. These people lose fidelity when they rip CDs to their iPods or any other mp3 player…

Yep.

Additionally, you can only crank up digital files so loud before they start distorting.

Yes.

Okay, so what I am going to ask you is this. Younger producers today, or future producers who are growing up in the age of digital downloads…

Mmmm…

And who are growing up listening to everything on digital downloads are going to be a lot less experienced…

Absolutely.

In having a really good ear as far as sound.

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. There won’t be any high-fi buffs any more because um, yeah.

It’s frightening.

Yeah.

I doubt any kid growing up today could tell if his speaker wires were reversed, or out of phase.

No, you’re absolutely right. You’re absolutely right, Phyllis. That’s totally right.

So you don’t think I’m crazy.

No, no. It’s totally right.

To me, that makes producers like you even more important when it comes to working with valid artists. Can you comment on this?  Because there is a technology gap where a lot of these young producers are not really going to have a grasp on the art of sound the way that…

Well, now unfortunately, they’re not. And technology is moving so fast, and the whole music business has changed so much. Even the sound of music has changed to my ears. So I don’t know how it’s going to survive, or how young kids coming through… Although I say that, but the experience I have with my kids, who are twenty-six and twenty-two, they’re very fussy about what music they listen to. They’re listening to it, not from downloads, but from CD, but on small systems. They’re still fussy about the actual performance and the quality of what they’re listening to.

Do you think part of that is because they grew up with you, and they’re used to hearing…

Um, no, I don’t think so. No. No, I don’t think so.

Really?

No, I don’t think so. Possibly, I don’t know, difficult to know. Although I tell you what I do see. I see a lot of kids in resale, second hand stores, where they’ve got old vinyl records, and I see kids in there listening to them. I’ve been to a few. There was one in Cincinnati and one in Lexington, as well, and kids were sitting around listening to vinyl with headphones like you used to. So that was encouraging. I think once if the kids get a chance to hear vinyl, or even know what vinyl is, then they’ll go, “Wow, get me more of this.”

Economically, it became cheaper for the record labels to manufacture CDs…

Absolutely, yeah.

Because the weight of shipping cassettes and CDs to retailers was cheaper, so they paid less for that…

Yeah, yeah.

And vinyl was more expensive because it was made out of petroleum, and we know about the price of oil.

Yep. Well, maybe there’ll be a big bang, and all the hard drives will just collapse, so that everyone will have to dig up their vinyl to listen to music again. (He laughs).

A great conspiracy! How did you end up recording “Dead Flowers” on The Rolling Stones “Stripped” album. Ed Cherney recorded the rest of the album, so how did you end up recording that track?

Oh, that was when the band were playing at Brixton Academy (July 15, 1995), and I think Don (Was) wasn’t available, or Ed wasn’t available, or something, so they asked me to come in and record it. It’s strange. It’s funny you should mention that, because strange enough, because as I recorded it, I mixed it, as well, and Pierre (De Beauport) who’s Keith’s tech, said that my mixes sound ten times better than the album ever sounded, which was quite nice. I actually don’t have a copy of that, either. I was very upset that I didn’t think to take a copy of that with me, although Pierre must have a copy. Yes, he must have one.

Well, write that down to get a copy, so you don’t forget.

Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

PHYLLIS POLLACK lives in Los Angeles where she is a publicist and music journalist. She can be reached through her blog

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