By Gregg Shapiro
Photos: Greg Allen, Focus Features, Twentieth Century Fox
Is there anything Dennis Quaid can’t do? He can act, and earned himself a Golden Globe Award nomination for playing gay in queer filmmaker Todd Haynes’ 2002 Douglas Sirk homage Far From Heaven. He can do comedy (Breaking Away, Postcards from the Edge) and drama (The Right Stuff, The Big Easy) with equal aplomb. He can look hot as fuck at 64 years old. He can even make selling insurance in TV commercials look effortless and sincere. With Out of the Box (Omnivore), credited to Dennis Quaid & The Sharks, Quaid can confidently add singer/songwriter to his long list of accomplishments.
The melody usually comes first. It’s actually usually chord changes; intentional messing around. From there I’ll get a phrase. I like for the music to line up with the words emotionally; the whole feeling of it. The phrase is where the song comes from.
I’m self-taught. I got a guitar when I was 12 and I started learning chords. I listened to music that I love and tried to match it. The first song I learned to play was (The Doors’) “Light My Fire”.
A few of the songs that I play guitar on were actually written on piano or at least began on piano. I learned to play piano when I got the movie Great Balls of Fire (the Jerry Lee Lewis biopic). I had a year to prepare for it. That certainly helped! I continued afterwards. Jerry Lee was one of my teachers, in fact. Another teacher I had was Booker T. Laury, an old, black blues piano player. He was missing a finger on his left hand, but he still had the best left hand that I’d ever seen. He came and lived with me for three months; kind of like my second dad, in a way. He taught me a lot about piano. I play the way he played. Out of that, I wrote “Good Man, Bad Boy”.
[Laughs] originally, we were on the road in Texas, opening for ZZ Top. I was looking to write a kind of ZZ Top song. I’m a redneck myself; I’m from Texas. Then it turned into a strange relationship type of song [laughs]. You have the redneck style turned on its head with a woman. I like stories and I thought it made a pretty good story.
“You’re So Fine” I wrote for my girlfriend. I’ve always wanted to write a song for a Pixar movie. That’s the kind of feeling I tried to put into it. I imagined a relationship between a dog and a cat in a tropical setting where, in the end, they’re skipping off into the sunset on a beach [laughs]. That’s what it came out of, but it’s still about my girlfriend. “Out of the Box” comes a little bit out of John Lennon. There’s a line in it attributed to Lennon – “while you’re busy making plans/life is running through your hands”. He said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”. They’re all personal, even if they’re disguised as fiction [laughs] which is what I like to say about music. You disguise it in a way so that it’s maybe more universal to people without being self-indulgent on my part. “Out of the Box” comes out of what I’ve been through the past couple of years. Getting out of my old patterns of thinking and all the stuff that holds me back. All the ways I beat myself up in life. You get out of that and move on; be in the moment.
I guess those are my two favorites of all The Doors’ songs. I really love The Doors and I grew up with their music. We’ve been doing “L.A. Woman” since 2003 as a band. It’s a very difficult song to do, but we’ve had a lot of practice [laughs]. We started doing “Riders on the Storm” about three years ago. They fit together really well. My voice and Jim’s (Morrison) voice and are kind of the same. We’re both kind of baritones.
We’ve been together since the year 2000. My son is 26 now and he was nine at the time. We were trying to come up with a name during rehearsal at my house. It was my son Jack who said, “How about The Sharks?” We said, “All right.” It’s because it was Shark Week on television [laughs] and he was really into sharks at the time. I like to say, “Thank God he wasn’t into dinosaurs” [laughs].
I’ve seen David Bowie in concert. I’ve seen Willie Nelson in concert. I’ve played on stage with Willie a few times during the years. I’ve had a lucky life, musically. I’ve gotten to meet many of my heroes and sit around and play with them in the living room. I remember one night [laughs], back in the late eighties, in my living room was Bob Seger, Chrissie Hynde, and the Talking Heads; just sitting around jamming. David Byrne was there! That’s what my life has been like musically. It’s been such a great ride.
Yes, I would actually. Performing on stage is so much like doing theater, really. I could see that.
No, I really don’t. It’s like apples and oranges. It all depends on what the script is, really. When I read a script, it’s the only time I’m going to be an audience member with a first-time experience of it. That’s what guides my decision-making. How do I feel about the story? That’s pretty much it.
Nope! I think I’ve worked with all of them [big laugh].
It’s right up there in my pantheon. That movie made things a lot easier for me. I was 24 years old when it came out. All of a sudden, I didn’t have to audition so much anymore. I was getting offered things for the first time.
Out of the Box, the debut album by Dennis Quaid and the Sharks, was released on November 30, 2018.