The Yacht Rock Book - An Excerpt

by Greg Prato

March 6, 2018 sees the release of a new book by yours truly, The Yacht Rock Book. Just what is yacht rock, you ask? Perhaps the easiest description is: music that would not sound out of place being played aboard a yacht back in the good old days.

But these songs were also some of the top pop gems of the '70s and '80s. And while some associate yacht rock's biggest songs with one-hit wonder artists, several of rock's most renowned artists fall under this category, too, including Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, Steely Dan, Hall & Oates, The Doobie Brothers, Toto, and more.

Featuring interviews with many of the heavy hitters of the genre, including John Oates, Kenny Loggins, and Don Felder, The Yacht Rock Book leaves no sail unfurled. This is the definitive story of yacht rock's creation, rise, chart-smashing success, fall, and stunning rebirth.

And here, lucky Songfacts readers, is an exclusive excerpt from the book for you to enjoy!

Chapter 10: Party!

Just how out-of-control and decadent were the '70s and '80s, if you were a popular singer-songwriter or musician?

Don Felder [The Eagles guitarist/singer]: I think it's being quite polite to say "a lot of partying." I think there was massive amounts of partying, all types of levels of it. Abusing ourselves with drugs and alcohol, abusing ourselves with the level at which we were working. We had very little time off - we were always on the road or in the studio. There was a lot of women involved in the whole thing that was going on. There was a lot of partying.

We used to have a phrase that if somebody had just gone to the bathroom and done some cocaine and had come out and you could still see white powder around their nose, it was called, "You're showing." During the filming of that "Hotel California" video, while Joe and I are playing the end of the solo, I lean over to him - jokingly - and say, "You're showing." [Laughs] It was just a way to play with him, like, "Oh my God... we're being filmed and I've got blow on my nose!"

Burleigh Drummond [Ambrosia singer/drummer]: It was pretty nuts. There were plenty of substances that could make or break your evening. And, from what I saw, a lot of people were doing it. That period was kind of thick in that - drugs like cocaine, and of course marijuana. Those were the substances of choice during that time period. But hopefully, most people survived. Some didn't. I'm so removed from that world now, I don't see that anymore. I associate it with that time period, and I'm glad that I made it personally through there - in one piece... or in a few pieces that still work together.

Lance Hoppen [Orleans bassist/singer]: The '60s opened the door to that stuff, but it had a different feel. I mean, the peace, love, and hippie generation - turn on, tune in, drop out, all that stuff - had a nature to it that was part rebellion and part seeking a higher plain. The '70s were more decadent in that the drugs were the thing. It went from pot to cocaine... it got more problematic.

The whole Studio 54/disco scene, I was never a part of that, but yeah, you can say that was the peak of the debauchery. And a lot of people paid the price - some with their lives. Some of us escaped it, and some of us didn't. I have friends that were victims of that culture, and there but for fortune could have been me, too. But I've been clean and sober coming up on 21 years. Thank God for that. So yeah, the '70s were a very hedonistic, "me, me, me" generation - as opposed to the '60s, which I think had a bigger vision for where the planet should be headed. Of course, now we're in a very critical dark age, and I hope we turn the corner on that.

Rick Roberts [Flying Burrito Brothers singer/guitarist, Firefall singer/guitarist]: Starting with the '60s, we were a drug culture. And it was taken to the extreme, in the sense that you really didn't have to have the money to pay for the drugs or the partying. It was all brought to you and offered to you. I have a couple of books out myself, and in one of the books, I wrote, "What they say about rock'n'roll - 'sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll' - it's all true." And the thing is, as it went from the '70s into the '80s and on - even to now, as far as I know - that whole thing steadily diminished.

Yacht, RockYacht, Rock
Back when I was getting into it, it was still your parents' worst nightmare - that you would pursue rock'n'roll as a career. Now, kids are being groomed for it, from the age of six or whatever, because it's a very big money thing. And that goes further - the record companies, they only realized in the mid-'60s what a cash cow they have on their hands. And they were still learning how to deal with it.

There were bands in the '60s that got huge bonuses - not advances, but bonuses - to sign. And there's one story about one band who got a million-dollar bonus to sign a big contract - four guys - and they split up and went their separate ways, never even went into the studio, and each took their quarter of a million dollars and went out and pursued real life somewhere. But the thing is, most of us got into the music because we liked it, and because it gave us the opportunity not to really grow up and go out and get a real job. Whereas, as time has gone by, some of the hardest-headed businessmen I've ever met in my life are musicians now.

In the old days, you were very fortunate to hook up with an honest, savvy manager who could guide your career and take care of business for you. Because most of us - not all, but most - didn't have a clue. And that's why so many musicians from that era made large amounts of money, and blew it all. When I read about that Sly Stone has been living in a van for the last 15 years or something, it's astonishing.

And the other side of that - the ugly side - is a lot of people who didn't have any skills in the actual music itself... there are some very good and honest managers out there, but there are people who got into it who thought, Let's see, this is big money. How can I get a piece of it? And they went into it with all the wrong motives, and never really did too much for the artist, but managed to pad their own pockets pretty heavily. And, in terms of guidance and in terms of smart business decisions, offered nothing to the artists.

The artists came out of it with a finite career - a career that was over by the time they were 30 or 40 years old - they'd made their big amount of money. I can say this personally - when you were hitting it, when your records are charting big and you're playing to sellout crowds, you feel like it's going to go on forever. So you aren't all that careful about how you spend your money.

Also, generally, most of us were kids. We were just in our early 20s or younger, even. We weren't all that responsible, so we put out massive amounts of money - not just for drugs and alcohol and partying, but just bought things we didn't need. Huge houses and fancy cars. And then, suddenly, the well dried up. And, believe me, the record labels do not have a Prudential plan or 401ks or anything like that. So you were really spun in the deep end of the pool without any idea that it would end abruptly, and when it did, there was no safety net.

And I personally - in the early '70s - spent a lot of money on, and did, huge amounts of cocaine. My only rationalization or excuse was that when I did a lot of cocaine, I didn't want to go party - I wanted to play my guitar and write songs. And I wrote most of my hit songs wired to the gills.

The only drug I never got involved with was heroin. I saw the effects of that and I didn't find them attractive. But with alcohol and cocaine, I went the whole nine yards. And I didn't actually get sober until nine years ago. I put cocaine down quite a long time ago. It did in fact stimulate my desire to write - I would be full of ideas. But when the ideas had dried up, when it was no longer "Sniff, write, sniff, write," and it became, "Sniff, sniff, sniff, sniff," I said, "OK, this is no good anymore." So I stopped. But with alcohol, I stuck with that for a long time later, but finally realized, "It's killing me, so I think I'll stop." And I did.

Graham Russell [Air Supply singer/guitarist]: We saw a lot of that, but we certainly weren't wild. We had our moments, but if we ever did anything, we did it in private. The thing was, when we achieved great success in 1980, I was already 30 years old, and Russell [his Air Supply partner Russell Hitchcock] was 31. So it's not like we were 19 or 20 and wild, and doing all these weird things. We both had children. So we never got into drugs or anything - although it was all around us. It was all around us when we were opening for Rod Stewart three years before. But we never got into it - it just wasn't our thing. A great night for us would be having a bottle of wine. But we never got really crazy, and we perhaps paid the price for that, because we were never considered really "cool." We were having all these massive hits, but we weren't cool.

Toni Tennille [Captain & Tennille singer/keyboardist]: Daryl [Dragon - the "Captain"] never touched drugs. He never drank alcohol, he never smoked marijuana - he never did anything like that. He's always been kind of a fanatic about the food he eats, and very afraid of different ingredients that may cause this, that, and the other for his health. So he never touched anything. I tried marijuana once - actually, the guy that I wrote Mother Earth with, the director, used to smoke it all the time. He said, "Oh Toni, you've got to try this. This is really wonderful!" So I did, but what I didn't like about it was it scratched my throat - it burned my throat. And I'm a singer - I didn't want to mess anything up. So I figured, "Well, a glass of wine will do the same thing." And I drink moderately, I always have. A glass of wine with dinner.

Rapper Lil YachtyRapper Lil Yachty
So, we were not into any of that stuff. It's not because we're square - it's because my voice is my "instrument," and I want to take really good care of it. And I've been that way my whole life. I can't just take it out of a case and start playing. It's my physical self. And I know that kind of thing works for other artists - that they get more creative when they have drugs in their system of certain types.

When we signed with Casablanca - which was notorious for all the drugs that were going on in that record company - we would be invited to parties, and of course, there would be the "cocaine room" somewhere. And nobody ever told us where it was, because they knew we didn't care for it. There are some funny things I wrote about in my memoir, about having a party in our beautiful home in Pacific Palisades and inviting some of our record label over for the party. They walked in and we had a full bar, fabulous food, and all kinds of great stuff. And they only stayed about 10 or 15 minutes, then left. I said to one of my friends, "Why didn't they stay?" And she said, "Toni, they couldn't find the cocaine room, so they went to a party that had it!" So that's the way it was. We were considered square, which was not fair - I just wanted my voice to be in as good a shape as it could possibly be.

Elliot Lurie [Looking Glass singer/guitarist]: I don't know if things were any wilder or crazier [in the '70s] than today. Not really, no. I think it depends who you were and exactly what you specifically did varied for each artist and group.

Jim Messina [Buffalo Springfield bassist/Poco guitarist/Loggins & Messina singer/guitarist, solo artist]: When we moved into the '70s, drugs became too much a part of our creativity, and, sad to say, I think it's been very disruptive, as we moved on into the '80s and "90s. I hope to see that all go.

March 6, 2018
Order a copy of the book here.

Further Reading:
Don Felder interview
Graham Russell interview
A yachty discussion of the genre with the Yacht Rock Revue.

More Song Writing

Comments: 1

  • Julie from Fairbanks, AlaskaWhat an awesome book! It encompasses about 2/3 of the playlists on my iPod - although the term Yacht Rock is new. I've been reading Songfacts since about 2003 (Shawna's Larry Burnett interview) and it's wonderful hearing the stories from the artists themselves. Lots of behind-the-music info rattling around in my head. Must be why I keep losing my keys.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

When Rock Belonged To Michelob

When Rock Belonged To MichelobSong Writing

Michelob commercials generated hits for Eric Clapton, Genesis and Steve Winwood in the '80s, even as some of these rockers were fighting alcoholism.

How The Beatles Crafted Killer Choruses

How The Beatles Crafted Killer ChorusesSong Writing

The author of Help! 100 Songwriting, Recording And Career Tips Used By The Beatles, explains how the group crafted their choruses so effectively.

Graduation Songs

Graduation SongsFact or Fiction

Have you got the smarts to know which of these graduation song stories are real?

Waiting For The Break of Day: Three Classic Songs About All-Nighters

Waiting For The Break of Day: Three Classic Songs About All-NightersSong Writing

These Three famous songs actually describe how they were written - late into the evening.

Harold Brown of War

Harold Brown of WarSongwriter Interviews

A founding member of the band War, Harold gives a first-person account of one of the most important periods in music history.


WeezerFact or Fiction

Did Rivers Cuomo grow up on a commune? Why did they name their albums after colors? See how well you know your Weezer in this Fact or Fiction.