an interview with Kent Lavoie by Lana Gentry 2015
interview assistant Ivy Bagnall  

Singer and songwriter Kent Lavoie, otherwise known as Lobo swept the charts in the 1970's while commanding the respect of industry giants such as Graham Parsons. Even today, his former romantic ballad I'd love you to want me can be heard over and over on the oldies stations. While the era of Am Gold has come and gone, the humble Lavoie is still very much a part of the world and has found happiness in a more reclusive and quiet world. We caught up to Kent to see how he was.

LG: I want to say that I loved your music growing up and pop music was different to me in the 1970s than what it has become. Perhaps it’s just my age,  but seems to me that music back then had so much emotional depth and even though there are some deep emotional songs out there today, it seems like there were so many more back then. So I was wondering if you felt the same way.

KL: Yeah, I believe the intent is the same but I think the difference is that we weren’t trying to compete as songwriters as much as we were just expressing what we were thinking about. In my case, I wasn't the least bit concerned with how complicated the chord was or how it might look to someone else. You know ... you’re an artist. You aren’t just thinking about what you’re going to do when you get through with it. It’s the process … the doing. That’s what it is, the joy of the process was writing a song. 

LG: That’s wonderful and I totally get that. Yeah, for me, it’s always been more about the journey than the prize—so I feel much the same. “I'd Love You to Want Me” and “Me and You   and a Dog Named Boo” were really high on the charts in the seventies. Of course, you did so many other great songs as well. In retrospect, do you have any particular favorites that you did and, if so, why … or ones that you were more emotionally attached to than others? 

KL: Yeah, “I’d Love You to Want Me” was pretty much a favorite. I wanted to write the big ballad. There was a conscious effort to do that. The premise behind that was what I imagined in school. I had a really pretty art teacher. Of course it was back when the teachers weren’t gang-banging the 14-year-olds. Haha! I was a high school senior and the teacher was 22. And she looked at me and I looked at her and there was a connection. That line (from “I'd Love You to Want Me”), “The obligation that you made, for the title that they gave,” was about that. It was the love you couldn’t have. You know?

LG: Oh yeah. The taboo … yes, of course; the forbidden fruit. Unrequited love.

KL: It was strictly done from an emotional standpoint, not trying to be clever or anything. I’d love you to want me the way that I want you and all that other stuff was just a vehicle to get the main thoughts out there. My personal favorite that stands out, based on a true experience, “Don’t Expect Me to Be Your Friend,” was also on the list of hits.

LG: There’s a lot of truth in that; some people try so hard to push themselves to be friends after relationships, but it’s not an easy thing to do, depending on how it ends.

KL: But if you can’t be friends with someone, then it was never good when you were doing it to begin with. That’s the bottom line. If you don’t still have some emotions about someone who you really did have feelings for, you’re kidding yourself. I wrote the song, "Don't Expect Me to Be Your Friend," which was simple talk about walking down to the village where we used to go … Coconut Grove in Miami. That's not where the person for whom I wrote the song was from. That’s just artistic whatever … Coconut Grove. There’s another one called “Goodbye Is Just Another Word” … it was written about the same person … and we tried to record it a couple of times. I met Bobby Vinton and he starting singing that song and talked about recording it. It was in the waning moments of his career so even if he had, it wouldn’t have made that much of a difference financially lol.

LG: But he’s still Bobby Vinton so it’s still damned cool haha.

KL: Yeah, true. But those two songs were the most emotional for me besides a song called "She Will Always Be Mine," which I wrote about my wife of 40 years. It's pretty much a mushy emotional song: in other words, stick with me. 

LG: Well, those can certainly be the best ones. I loved the 70s music, which I call the AM Gold era and I hope that’s correct ….

KL: You are exactly right. That’s what it was.

LG: That era produced so many sentimental songs and, again,  perhaps it is in part my age, but that makes me feel that way. What an era.

KL: Yeah, well, I think it had a lot to do with the soft sound. I never used a power chord in any of my songs. And the voice was in the face … especially in my case. There wasn’t a word I ever uttered, or recorded, that you didn’t know exactly what it was. Lana, I wasn't trying to be cool. I wasn’t trying to be anything. I did love the songs and the records when we made them, and they were based exactly on the way they were written. If you just took my voice and strings, well, there just wasn't that much difference in that and the recording. It was in its purest form and that I believe, in part, is why I had so much appreciation for it—because I love that kind of purity in a lot of music. Nothing is obstructed, tweaked, overdone, or overproduced. I mean, for the time … it was produced well, but there was just an innocence in the era and so many recordings simply were what they were. There wasn’t all that saturation in production and you never lost the poetry. As a poet, I like to hear that kind of thing, I really appreciate that .

LG: Yes, the words were very distinct and clear. I could hear everything you were singing …. That’s actually a really rare thing for all songs. Often, we cannot tell what people are singing unless we read the lyrics, so I liked and still like that about you. You really pulled that off. “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo”… was that a real dog or a fictional character?

KL: You just made the mistake—which I know you will correct—that so many people make by saying, "You and Me and a Dog named Boo. You're a poet now, Lana haha. That doesn’t rhyme. It's ME and YOU and a dog named Boo hahaha. 

LG: Mental terror overcomes me for that obvious mistake haha. Go on ....

KL: I was up in New York with a publisher and he was discussing a “you and me against the world” type of song and I had this idea of writing about … well … I had this German shepherd. I actually started out with “You and Me,” and couldn’t come up with anything else, so then I went to “Me and You,” and the dog came around the corner, staring at me, and that was that. I wrote the song.

LG: So he was real?

KL: She was real. 

LG: I know you made a reference earlier in the call about  about Helen Reddy. Did you say you wrote a song for her?

KL: Oh, no … just referencing that I was talking about the idea of that, not the song by Helen Reddy, “You and Me Against the World,” which led into our conversation about my song about the dog. 

LG: Oh, yes, duh to the highest power. Sorry about the misunderstanding. Of course.

KL: This was years before that. My song came first … before Helen’s—but I was just making an association. The statement the publisher made to me was something like you and me against the world or you and me out in the world or something of that nature. He was going for that kind of scenario.

LG: I wanted to ask you something about some music you may or may not be familiar with. I’m wondering if you are familiar with a band out of North Carolina called The Connells, and I ask because when their music came out, something in the melodic flow and style reminded me so much of your music that I even wondered if they had been influenced by you. I became a fan of The Connells, in fact, because I was such a big fan of Lobo. So have you ever heard of that comparison or heard of them? They weren't really high rollers but they did make a mark in the undercurrent of great music. There was one they wrote that I found particularly moving called “’74–’75,” which was kind of a “whatever happened to …” type thing. It was beautiful but there was something in the cadence and flow that really reminded me of your work. So consequently, I have always wanted to ask.

KL: Great! I have it right in front of me. It could well have been influenced or influenced not even consciously. I am going to give it a listen.

LG: Yeah, so much did I think that the music had the feel of Lobo that I actually asked my brother Charles, “Whom does this remind you of?” and he said, “Lobo.” I nodded my head yes. So are you still recording or have you kinda chilled out?

KL: I was recording a lot for a while. I’m moving back into a condo so I’m not sure I have room, but I have a system and I think the last time I did a project was in 2008 when I redid my earlier songs. I still have the system. I haven’t done it in the last couple of years, but I have the ability to do it. Yeah, now there’s no real demand for it. I guess I could do stuff and put it on my website, which I have nothing to do with. A fan did it for me and it’s been on there for 20 years. No demand: that’s the bottom line.

LG: Yeah, well, the market waxes and wanes, of course. All artists go through that. I have some projects that are successful and others that people have absolutely no interest in whatsoever. But I still sit down to work on them sometimes. Even when I can see that they have no commercial value, they have value to me. So that’s why I was asking if it just hits you whether a project is commercial or not.

KL: Go to Youtube and you will see my song “You Will Be All Mine.” Give them a listen and tell me what you think. Those were the last projects I did. Those were done as a person my age would do them. I don’t try to write ballads for pop radio now. I really wouldn't know what to say.

LG: Of course. Though you know what they say about a great song. Anyone may come along and take it and reinvent it. A great song is timeless.

KL: “I’d Love You to Want Me” was a big hit here and in Argentina and elsewhere. My hits are still around. A lot of my ballads have become reggae. My entire exposure to music now is through YouTube. I love it. You can plug in a song and you never even knew what the group is called and still you find it. It’s fun! I enjoy it. You suggested The Connells. I am definitely going to listen to them.

LG: I hope you enjoy them and I hope you see an association as I did! If you don’t, no problem. I won’t argue. And by the way, thanks so much for giving me the personal story on “I’d Love You to Want Me.” I love that line you mentioned: “the obligation that you made, for the title that they gave” … wow! That particular line was always intriguing and I have always wondered about it. Knowing now that it was about a teacher, it makes so much more sense. 

KL: It was different even 17 or 18 years ago. Now it’s all about shooting your family lol. The biggest and scariest part of this generation is the all-importance of self. It seems more important that everyone knows you are doing it than that you are doing it. The problem with this is there’s gonna come a point where they have to deal with each other and that's gonna be tough because they are only dealing with themselves now! It's gonna be an interesting time. I mean I think all generations look at past generations and think they are fools. Anything can become a world event in five minutes. I don’t begrudge it … but what’s the end result? Eventually it will be impossible to become the most important thing. 

LG: Right on.

KL: The only thing I can imagine right now is that I must be the antithesis of the kind of thing you are normally doing lol. I must be completely different from the kind of people you write about. 

LG: Well, I would say that what you don’t know much about me yet … and you likely don’t participate in social networking from the sound of it, but if you did, I could open up my accounts and show you how much I share your work. There is absolutely no set type of person I write about. I write about more visual artists but I have interviewed musicians and what I do is diverse. There is no age or medium per se. I write about what I like. I selfishly write about what I want to write about. 

KL: Wow, that’s cool.

LG: I do go for people who are visible and current in the press but I always have a huge list of personal desires with regard to writing about certain people. I have always wanted to interview you. I would like to introduce the younger audience to these things, too. I have a small but diverse and dedicated audience. It was very personal to me … “I’d Love You to Want Me” was just the most beautiful song in the world to me. The yearning was palpable in that song. It was so romantic. “I see the want in your blue eyes.” Man, what a fantastic line.

KL: Thank you! You are interesting. Your diverse interests truly make you a very interesting person. And that’s really why I thought it was so cool that you contacted me. I’ve never been one to care to share my life with anybody, but I really appreciate this. I wanted to do it. It’s usually just my wife and my dog. I have never really become involved with what others think.

LG: Well, I understand that also! I am that way, too! I feel incredibly honored by your kind words, sir.

KL: This is why I was in obscurity even when I topped the charts. I do understand that it limited me from doing even more but that’s the way I am.

LG: Privacy is a weird thing. I’m much more on a microcosmic level of exposure than you, but I have had experiences that did not sit well with me as a result of being exposed. It can be suffocating and scary. I can relate to Garbo in that way … feeling naked and exposed and having moments of just wanting to crawl under a rock. I get that.

KL: I have always said to people, “If you want to be a star, you need to be willing to stand up on a table and tell everybody.” I'm the guy who wants to go sit in the back corner and watch the guy standing on the table. I find it entertaining! I hid myself so well and, near the end of the bigness of my career, I started reading things about my reluctance to do things and how it was shortening my career and in the end they were right … but I still have albums that people have paid me a lot of money to do. Once you start believing some of the crap people say, you find yourself becoming a caricature of yourself. So I finally started saying, “Thank you but it doesn’t work for me.”

LG: Yeah you have to really get a handle on the good and the bad that people say because it can get inside you  and really have a bizarre effect on your self-esteem.

KL: Looking back and talking to you, I think I mentioned this when we talked the other night about the guy calling me from England and about our talking for two hours. At my age, looking  back now … He asked if I wouls=d like for him to research and write about my career and I said yes but only for one reason: I would enjoy it this time because, at my age, it’s a different thing. And I did miss a lot of the joy of it while trying to hide. It doesn’t really qualify as regret, but it comes under reflection upon things you wonder about … and how things would have been if you had done them differently.

LG: I can see that. It’s hard to find a balance with being out there and yet not out there. I try to control it somewhat because I can hit that wall where I start to panic lol. And again … I’m no Lobo. I am not that visible. 

KL: I was always able to handle it. I’ve toured extensively in the Asian market because over there it is so big … and they know every song. It can range anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 people. I always enjoyed it. But as a result of the last Malaysian airplane disappearing … well, I am not particularly fond of flying anyway … I’m not doing it anymore. I would do a small show in the states if I could drive to it. My big fear is that I don’t wanna be in an airplane with some moron in charge of it … and contemplating that. It’s not the death that bothers me but I would hate to think that I was going to go through that miserable experience and that it would all end over something that just wasn’t necessary for me to do. 

LG: Well, yeah, like my dad said to me when he stopped flying. He said, “There’s no way I’m gonna do it.” And I said, “Well, you get in a car all the time. That’s less safe.” He said “Yeah, but if I’m in a car accident, I'm not gonna endure the kind of hell I’m gonna go through when that plane is going down.” LOL!

KL: Haha.! Yes. The irony about airplanes … the songs that I mentioned to you … the really emotional songs … were about a particular girl I was with for years before I married for the first time. She was on a on a jet that went down in the Everglades, I think, in ‘72. It took me a couple of days to realize that she had been a survivor when I called her apartment and she answered the phone. Life is full of those strange things. It’s interesting how they can affect you.

LG: So true. And hey, I am so honored that you gave me some time out of your busy life. Thanks for that. And I know from talking to a lot of people that there are lots of people with whom I connect who really do have an interest in the genre. They are so fond of your songs as you well know. I've even had a few well-known visual artists who reflected on the meaning of those songs. Dave MacDowell is a well-known painter and we reminisced a lot about your songs. He was excited about me doing this interview as well. 

KL: That's cool!

LG: And one more thing: In our phone conversation, which is technically off the record, but you did say to do whatever I want creatively with this … so I wanted to say that I really enjoyed hearing about your musical experiences with Graham Parsons and so many others when we spoke. You have had a fascinating career. Thanks a million.

KL: Thanks so much, Lana, for your time.