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Rob Hegel

The title of Rob Hegel’s newest CD, Make It Magical, might come from the name of one of album’s songs, but it also describes the back story of how the disc came together.

Hegel, who got his professional start in the music industry as a staff composer for music legend Don Kirshner, is best known for writing and performing the cult hit “Tommy, Judy & Me” and for earning a Gold Record for co-writing the 1985 Air Supply Top 20 hit “Just As I Am” with Alice Cooper guitarist Dick Wagner. Some of his other credits include composing the disco hit “Sinner Man” for former Labelle singer Sarah Dash and writing “Do It For Our Country” for the movie “Grease 2”.

But with Make It Magical, he’s earned another important distinction: He got to collaborate with legendary Doors guitarist and songwriter Robby Krieger.

Krieger not only co-produced the CD, but plays guitar on most of the songs. His distinctive leads lend a classic rock sensibility to Hegel’s compositions, which run the gamut from ballads (“Do You Ever Think of Me At All?” and “Say You Love Me”) to jaunty pop (“I Belong to You Belong To Me” and the title track) to country-tinged efforts (“When You Wake Up In The Morning” and the humorous “Completely Nude”). There is even a pair of “oldies” included: the previously unrecorded “I Belong To You Belong To Me,” which Hegel wrote the night John Lennon was murdered, and a remake of “Just As I Am,” which features background vocals by members of the Palm Springs Gay Men’s Chorus.

Hegel and Krieger’s paths crossed after Hegel started working with producer Harper Hug on new music in 2014. At the time, Hegel had been contacted by a former record promoter who had asked him to submit a song for a charity CD for the UK-based Pete Quaife Foundation. The Foundation, named for the Kinks’ original bassist who died in 2010, was started by Quaife’s brother David to supply children on dialysis with Kindles and Xboxes to help them pass time during the lengthy treatments (Quaife himself had been undergoing such treatments years before he died of renal failure).

Hegel and producer Hug worked out an a cappella version of the 1965 Kinks classic “Tired of Waiting for You,” which Quaife’s brother liked so much he invited Hegel to England to perform. That inspired Hegel to put together some new music, which formed the basis of Make It Magical.

“I told Harper (whose studio is in Palm Springs) that we could find some musicians around the area,” Hegel explains, “and the next day he calls me and asks if it would it be okay if Robby Krieger co-produced the album. He said he’d played some stuff for Robby and Robby really liked it and wanted to be involved.”

Hegel met up with Krieger at Krieger’s studio, Horse Latitudes (named after a song from the Doors’ second album, Strange Days), and the pair hit it off immediately. Hegel discussed recording some originals and some cover songs including a Doors song Krieger had written, “Light My Fire” or “People Are Strange,” but the more originals Robby heard the more he urged Hegel to drop the idea of covers and just record his own songs.

Working with a top-flight talent like Krieger meant Hegel had access to some of the L.A. area’s top musicians. For drumming duties, Krieger and engineer, Michael Dumas, brought in veteran session stickman Mario Calire, best known for his work with the Wallflowers and Ozomatli. Also recruited for the sessions was bassist Bob Glaub, whose credits read like a “who’s who” of rock. Some of the performers he’s worked with include John Lennon, John Fogerty, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, Linda Ronstadt, Stevie Nicks, Jackson Browne, Rod Stewart and the Bee Gees.

Doug Pettibone was brought in to stamp his distinctive guitar and mandolin tones on several of the tracks. His credits, too, include a roll call of major league artists like Keith Richards, Norah Jones, Elvis Costello, Joan Baez, Mark Knopfler, Sting, and Jewel.

Elliott Randall, the guitarist responsible for creating the dual lead guitar parts on Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ in the Years,” can be heard on three numbers, “Do You Ever Think Of Me At All?” “Completely Nude” and “Something Is Going To Happen.”

The talents of Lee Thornburg (horns), and Richard T Bear and Ronnie King (keyboards) were also added to the some of the songs. These musicians also have impressive and diverse credits that include Tower of Power, Ringo Starr, Toto, LeAnn Rimes, Pat Boone, 2Pac, Mariah Carey, and Crosby, Stills & Nash.

All the musicians lend a certain je ne sais quoi to Hegel’s compositions, bringing out their melodic qualities. Hegel’s excellent voice has the ability to move from sounding wistful (“Do You Ever Think Of Me”) to tongue-in-cheek (“Sanitarium”) to romantic (“Just As I Am”) and still sound convincing.

The recordings were a wonderful collaborative effort from phenomenal talents. As the title says, it was Magical.

Notes by Tony Sclafani, author of “Grateful Dead FAQ: All That's Left to Know About the Greatest Jam Band in History,” published by the Hal Leonard Corporation imprint Backbeat Books in 2013.