You all know Klaus Voormann, don't you? From 2007 until 2009 he’s been working on a very interesting musical project called A Sideman’s Journey (see also the "releases" page) in which he retraces his musical career right to where it all began. Together with some of the finest musicians he worked with in the past, including Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Cat Stevens (Yusuf), Albert Lee, and many others, Klaus recorded several covers of some legendary songs.
Part of the proceeds of the project will go to “Water is Life – Lakota Environment and Health Project”, a charity project in aid of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, in which Christina Voormann has been involved for many years. We at Beatles International were quite intrigued by the the entire project and decided to ask Klaus and Christina about it. And we did!
On Monday 20 July 2009 we had a nice conversation with them and they told us all about Klaus's release "A Sideman's Journey" and how and why this project has been developed.
First of all, we’d of course all like to know how Klaus came up with the idea for the project. Klaus: ‘It had to do in fact with my 70th birthday. Christina came up with the idea, as 70 is quite special, and said why don’t you call all these people up and make some music or whatever and that’s how it all started. They all loved the idea and it was very interesting because I was very hesitant to call them because I don’t like to ask people to do me favours. But as soon as I called them I got a little more confident and thought, well if they react like this why not simply do it?’ Work on the project started soon after his 70th birthday (29 April 1938) and continued until late J anuary 2009. Klaus called the people he wanted to work with. But wasn’t it a hell of a job to get them to clear their calendars for the recordings because they are all very busy people? ‘It was of course very difficult but they all helped and they all tried to get it together and it was really great,’ Klaus explains. ‘We actually wanted to have Ringo on the same day as Paul but that didn’t work out because we got some time with Paul in the studio and exactly on that same day.
Ringo had to go to the Chelsea Flower Show to open a garden for George Harrison. Ringo really wanted to play together with Paul and Klaus, but in the end we did it one after the other. Working with Paul was also great. We had great fun recording the track and he was absolutely wonderful. He really is a funny guy who likes to joke round. He is a real entertainer, a real frontman.’
A Sideman’s Journey
Now as far as the title of the project A Sideman’s Journey is concerned. What is it about and can you explain it? Because you could argue that you have played more than just a supporting role in rock history.
Klaus: ‘Lots of people have been doing similar work as I did. And maybe I'm a little bit more special because I was so close to some of the people I worked with, but that doesn’t make me anything different than a sideman. I was a sideman.’
How did you actually go about selecting the songs for the album. This must not have been an easy job?
‘I had a long list,’ says Klaus. ‘And I thought, who’s is gonna be there, who might be doing what. But I did not make a final decision before I was together with the musicians and had the chance to ask them. For example, I asked Ringo, are you going to sing You’re Sixteen? And he said “no, I’m not going to do that song, I’m not sixteen anymore. I can’t go on singing you’re beautiful you’re sixteen and you’re mine”.’ Apart from all the songs we know that are on the album, can we also expect any new material? ‘There is a song people might not know, which I wrote, and it is called So Far. At the start of the documentary you can hear part of it.’
Of course having a new album or DVD out obviously means doing some promotion. What can we expect as far as that is concerned? ‘I’m doing lots of promotional stuff right now in Germany. We have lots of TV coverage. I was in a talkshow called 3 Nach 9 and some other shows. We actually have lots of press coverage and a lot is happening in Germany right now.’ Klaus is also working on several other projects at the moment, like a painting for the city of Liverpool. Musically he has no real plans at the moment but he is quite busy with his graphical work.
Pine Ridge Indian Reservation
As mentioned earlier, part of the proceeds of A Sideman’s Journey goes to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in the United States, or to be more precise to the Water is Life – Lakota Environment and Health Project, a charity project in aid of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, which Paul McCartney helped launch back in 1999. When asked about this project, Klaus calls his wife Christina to the phone to explain, as this is really her project. ‘We have been working for the project over ten years now and we have found out that in many areas of the reservation the water has been contaminated by radiation and by heavy metals,’ Christina explains. ‘So many people are drinking poisoned water and we believe that these have cause extremely high rates of cancer, of kidney failure and still births. For many years it was believed that this was due to a certain lifestyle with alcohol problems. But with the rates being as they are, I said something else must be wrong, something that has to do with the environment. Uranium mining takes place in the area, but there’s also a bombing range, and nobody knows what they are really testing there. And there’s also chemical waste, pharmaceutical waste, and so on. Fact of the matter is that many areas are contaminated.’ According to Christina problems with water occur all over the world, like in Africa, East India and Bangladesh, and these areas get all the attention: ‘If I were to do the same work over there I would get a lot of publicity. But nobody seems to look at the United States,’ says Christina. ‘It is also a political issue. Certain institutions have known for many years that the water is polluted. But they have been hiding it from the public. So I am actually a bit of a troublemaker for some of these institutions, somewhat similar to Erin Brockovich. We are focusing on private well owners because most of the population gets its water from privately-owned wells. And they asked for my help and for financial aid in order to find out whether the water is OK or not. And if it’s not, to find solutions like filter systems. But it really is a big problem, and I can tell you that there are certain institutions that don’t make it easy for me. But both the private well owners and many experts are willing to help.’
So, A Sideman’s Project is not only an interesting project musically, but it’s also interesting on a human level because the stuff that’s going on at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation really deserves worldwide attention so that the people living there will soon be able to drink clean water.
Beatles International would like to thank Klaus and Christina for their time. If you would like to know more about the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation project, please check our ‘releases’ section or go to www.klausvoormann.com.
If you like to see Klaus on TV promoting this project, here's a nice link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kV71RPTHJGY