Jeff Zagers Salutes Roy Orbison With His Ambient Americana Take on ‘California Blue’

The songwriter pays tribute to some US musical greats on his upcoming album, ‘All For The Love Of Sunshine.’

Mar 30 2016, 3:18am

Image: Clayton Walsh

“California Blue”, written by Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne for Orbison’s 1989 album Mystery Girl, is a classic piece of breezy pop. Produced by Lynne and featuring Orbison's unmistakable vocals, it’s a song about dreaming of an easier life in sunny California.

Savannah, Georgia songwriter and guitarist Jeff Zagers has chosen the song - complete with three part harmonies - to close out All For Love of Sunshine.

A follow up to last year's debut of original compositions Still/Alive, the new album features Zagers’ unique interpretations of music from Townes Van Zandt, Arthur Russell, The Carter Family, Brian Ferry, Brian Eno, and Yoko Ono. Taking his distinct brand of ambient/industrial Americana, Zagers honours some of the classics from past generations.

Nobody sung about dreaming of California better than Roy Orbison. Zagers understands and respects that.

Noisey: The album is bookended by “You Got It” and “California Blue”, both written by Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne. Why’d you choose to cover these particular songs?
Jeff Zagers: I was very much infatuated with the song "You Got It". I always knew and loved it, but I later found the album and played the a-side every morning when I’d wake up. A friend asked if I’d ever heard the song that comes after called "In the Real World". I heard that sad song but couldn't touch it. It's too crushing of a number. I slowly started getting more and more into these five songs and started realizing how well they segued. After my first trip to California during that time, it seemed more than right to cover "California Blue". When I got back to Savannah I was glowing for a couple weeks. The brisk weather out there left me elated. I really do miss that place and have fond memories.

Though Orbison said he was the best producer he’d ever worked with, Jeff Lynne’s production on the original is good but pretty standard. Are you a fan?
I have to say, that music on that a-side just booms to me. The b-side is passable. I like what ELO I’ve heard. Listening back the instrumentation on Mystery Girl it sometimes sounds like 20 acoustic guitars playing the same thing. The sound was resonating off of what the Traveling Wilburys were doing it seems, with the addition of mixed writers and producers and great synth work.

Orbison’s voice is so identifiable on the song. You bring this more detached feel but the song retains a warmth. How did you approach it?
A lot of the songs on this album was me musically detaching myself from arranging the songs. The arranged bass/drums/rhythm sounds came from a Technics organ left behind at a house I lived in and actually appears on the cover of my previous album Still/Alive. It turned into a precursor I guess. I took the easy arranging scenario because I was feeling the songs so much and wanted to just splatter the paint and song over it.

‘All For Love of Sunshine’ is available from Wharf Cat records April 15.