An “Essential” Conversation, Part I

It took me until my third album, “Crash Site,” in 2001, to write a collection of songs that really sounded like songs, and record an album that sounded like an album.

At least one major recording label executive was nonplussed.

“You don’t shake your ass like Ricky Martin or Shakira,” the label chief told me. “I wouldn’t know what to do with you.”

Maybe I should have stopped then; it was apparent even to me that I wasn’t going to be Springsteen or Petty, let alone Pete Yorn or David Gray. I was going to have to find another way. Which for me was to just keep doing it, one song after another, one show at a time.

And that’s when my music career began to get good. There’s a pretty solid collection of songs between “Crash Site,” and last year’s “What’s Left Behind,” standouts like “Dear Elizabeth,” “Back from Waterloo,” and “California.”

And so, as I anticipated celebrating fifty years, and began recording what will be my tenth original studio album last summer, I decided to put a strong chapter mark on the time period. Ergo this brand-new collection of remixed, remastered, repackaged and reissued greatest hits, “Essential Benjamin Wagner (2001-2021).”

When it came time to put these songs in context, there was really only one person to turn to, someone with whom I’ve been discussing music for over twenty years.

Brian Ives is a rock journalism lifer who has put in nearly three decades at MTV, VH1, Loudwire, Sirius XM and He currently runs digital content operations for Beasley Radio’s 40+ stations, and hosts a new podcast called, “How You Play Your Hand” about musicians and resilience.

Brian – whose career we’ll cover in an early 2022 episode – is an epic music fan, the kind of guy who listens to the entire Miles Davis catalogue – studio albums, live albums, compilations, outtakes, b-sides – in release order across days and days. This is a guy who (along with his rock photographer wife, Maria) is out at shows nearly every night, a guy who understands every R.E.M. reference I make (listen for gratuitous “Eponymous” and “Finest Worksong” mentions).

Above all, Brian’s a terrific friend, concert going partner, and free swag sharer; perhaps no one’s given me more Neil Diamond ephemera than him. Moreover, he’s been one of very few people friends or colleagues with whom I can share open, and cynicism-free discussion on all things music.

And he knows my catalogue because, God bless him, he showed up at my shows for over twenty years.

And so, to celebrate the release of “Essential (2001-2021)” – available today everywhere you download and stream music – please enjoy part one of a two part discussion with Brian on AppleSpotifyYouTube or wherever you get your podcasts.

Related Posts