November 2011 (phone)
Cornelius Goodwin is a singer, sax player & Narrator for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra tribute band 12/24 that has the unique distinction of once featuring former TSO vocalist Maxx Mann in its ranks. Cornelius also contributed some sax playing to Maxx's new band The Kings Of Christmas, featuring former TSO members. Though those studio sessions would remain unheard he would get to perform on stage with Maxx on stage in December 2011. 12/24 has also released a CD of Christmas songs Miracle On Rock St.
Cornelius got in touch with me over facebook after I broadcast some episodes of my weekly "The World Of Trans-Siberian Orchestra" podcast that shared 12/24 & the Kings Of Christmas. I took advantage of that that new connection to find out about 12/24 & The Kings Of Christmas. The controversy mentioned in the interview concerns Tommy Farese being let go from TSO after 15 years due to his work with The Kings Of Christmas. It was an enjoyable talk with a like-minded artist, something I was pleased to discover later in the interview.
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AJ: I just wanted to talk for a couple minutes about 12/24.
CORNELIUS: Sure, sure, hit me.
AJ: Cornelius, can you tell me how the group got started a decade ago?
CORNELIUS: Sure. There was a member of the band whose not in the band now named George Houseknecht. He started the band with Lenny Kucinski & Rich Kossuth & Jay Santos. They decided to ... George came up with the idea of a TSO tribute band & 2 years prior before I got there, I guess they were doing it. Then they wanted to have an announcer. Lenny called me up & kept asking me. He never said anything. He called my phone one weekend. So I left a message & said I was interested. Why is this guy calling up & after I answer hanging up the phone? Evidentally he was calling so other members of the band could hear my voice. So, they decided to hire me for the gig as announcer. & when they hired me, basically they said 'can you sing' & I said 'yeah, is the Pope Catholic? Of course.' So that's how I got the gig.
AJ: How long have you been with them?
CORNELIUS: This is my eighth year.
AJ: So, how did 12/24 move from being a tribute band to making their own CD?
CORNELIUS: Well, we'd talked about it for a long time. I guess when we had [former TSO singer] Maxx [Mann] in the band, I mean, I was talking to him about it for a long time. & Maxx seconded that motion & said "Definitely we should do this." Then we decided to start writing our own stuff & we noticed most of the people already had songs. We'd try to get it out & let people hear it. & they decided to put these songs together. We went through a certain amount of songs that basically pertain to Christmas that we could utilize or Christmas songs that are already out there with our own twist to it & arrangements. & it came out very well. That's how it got started.
AJ: How did that affect the band? You guys went from being basically a TSO tribute band to doing your own stuff. That's gotta have an effect on the dynamics of the music & whatever, right?
CORNELIUS: I think it's ... I mean, there's only so much you can do as a tribute band.
AJ: Yeah, that's true.
CORNELIUS: It's a Peter Principal type of thing, sooner or later, & I think we were at that point where we felt we couldn't go any further without doing our own stuff. You know we love TSO & we love their music & we still play their music, but people were just getting to the point ... "when are you going to have your own CD out?" We can't play a CD with TSO's music.
AJ: Of course.
CORNELIUS: So that's why we started doing our own.
AJ: So, tell me, I've seen some of the videos of you guys on youtube & what's out there. Do you guys do Christmas Eve & Other Stories just or what's the set-up?
CORNELIUS: We basically didn't change much of the set. The first half of the show, of course, you've always got to do the TSO, the organization the way they do the story, the Christmas story. We had some songs that we dropped from the repertoire & time to time add new songs, especially when TSO comes out with a new song. Basically, we try to keep with TSO in the first half of the show. & lately, the second half we put our own snap on it & let people come away with a different version of the music, which is our version.
AJ: Well, you've listened to some of my stuff. You know that I've talked to musicians who've been doing, you know, similar things like you. But, I've yet talked to someone whose taking the Narrator role. Can you give me some insight on that particular challenge?
CORNELIUS: Oh, yeah, definitely!
AJ: Is challenge a good word?
CORNELIUS: Yeah. I remember when I first started doing the Narrator I had the hardest time. I had not actually experienced the entire show when I first started doing the narration. So, I had the hardest time actually memorizing all the lyrics. Lenny kept saying "Know the story, know the story." But, I think I got hired in October & we went on tour in November.
AJ: Oh boy.
CORNELIUS: So, yeah. So what I would actually do for the first couple shows I actually taped the words to the floor. & I think once it got so bad, that same year ... I had a hat on for the Old Man, of course, so what I did I taped the words inside the hat. So as I'm speaking I'm reading the words in the hat. I remember one show one of the fans comes up to me & he goes "Were you reading the words from inside the hat?" "No, no, never would do that!" But, the more you get used to it, of course, now it's second nature cause I've been doing it for so long. It's an important part of the show.
AJ: Yeah, it is.
CORNELIUS: Yeah, I think about it & its for the kids too. Ironically, the narration, the first time I saw the DVD [The Ghosts Of Christmas Eve by TSO], was done by Ossie Davis. Well, I'm from New York & Ossie Davis lived in Mount Vernon near New Rochelle. & my dad had a place in New Rochelle, so he used to come over ... so they knew each other. So, it's kinda ironic. When I got the part Ossie Davis had just passed away that year. So, it's kinda ironic that I got that part. It must be in the stars.
AJ: Well, you know, I have actually asked other folks like you, like Eric Strothers of the Enjoy Church who does a tribute thing you may know, this must be difficult because so many of us are used to going to shows where there's a bunch of musicians & narration is really so unique to TSO. & most people aren't used to standing on stage, either, just giving narration.
CORNELIUS: Yeah, the Narrator of TSO now is amazing. He I saw I think it was the Beethoven's Last Night show & the narration was so intense that I, now that I'm doing them, actually analyzed every every word that he does & I sit back & I look at how he does emphasizes different parts of the word or the sentence & it takes you to a totally different realm. It's not just sitting here, you know, dictating something written on the paper. You act it out. So, it's not an easy thing to do & not easy to keep people's attention for such a long period of time.
AJ: Yeah, that's the challenge. It's just this thing of dialogue & these monologues ... there's an inherent challenge in it & getting your audience to listen & pay attention, particularly, as you just said, Cornelius, if you have kids in the audience.
CORNELIUS: Yeah, that's the hardest part & they're attention span is like that fast.
AJ: That's it, that's it. Totally. & you can't let the show go down, too. There's a vocal thing, as you said, you're analyzing every word to keep the same dynamic that the music has.
CORNELIUS: It's got that whole rhythm ... the temper of the whole thing to keep that rhythm going.
AJ: You said you also sang, right? You're also a singer in the group?
CORNELIUS: Yes. I sing about 4 or 5 songs & do the narration. I sing everything from ... I'm a good attempt at a renaissance man ... I try to sing ... I do like "Old City Bar".
AJ: It just blends one into the other.
CORNELIUS: Yeah, basically, because we tie them together with narration & the Old Man together. So, I do "Old City Bar" & I do "For The Sake Of Our Brother", which hasn't been done since [the late] Daryl Peddiford did it, you know. It's not an easy song to sing. I try to do these songs emotionally, so people can actually get a feeling of ... you know, you're experiencing that whole song but going through every reference in that song ... so we can feel the emotion in the song, that's the most important thing, you know.
AJ: Yeah, that is an element with TSO.
CORNELIUS: & that's what's the whole thing about our show. It's not just a show, it's an experience. Because the things that come through the show are the emotions of Christmas. Now at Christmas, once a year, people change. People like each other, people get along, people accept each other & its because of Christmas.
AJ: Speaking of experiences, Cornelius, can you shine some light on the ... how can I say this ... 12/24's Maxx Mann era?
CORNELIUS: Oh yeah.
AJ: Because you are the, as far as I know, you guys are the only tribute/cover/whatever you want to call it TSO group that has actually had a former TSO member at one point in your ranks.
CORNELIUS: Yeah, yeah.
AJ: You're very unique.
CORNELIUS: Maxx is great. He's a phenomenal performer. & there was some ... I think ... what was happening was I wanted him there. A lot of people liked that we were in the band together, but there was a little bit of tension between him & the owner of the band, I guess, because of the creative thing. Because Maxx wanted ... we were supposed to be ... basically we were supposed to be TxO [aka the early name of THE KINGS OF CHRISTMAS], you know. We were supposed to have everyone from TSO in our band & Maxx was going to incorporate that & I thought it was a great idea. But, I guess, some of the other guys didn't want to overshadow what we had already created. So there was a difference there, so that's why they parted that way, but we still get along & we still go out & hang out & all that. I love Maxx. I call him "my brother from another mother" cause we always hang out & stuff. Tommy [Farese] & those guys [in THE KINGS OF CHRISTMAS] I see them all the time, too, & just learning from them. They've been where I want to go.
AJ: What was it like for all of you in 12/24 to now have a TSO member in the ranks?
CORNELIUS: Oh, it was great! It was great because he fine tuned us. Because there are certain things that will make our show better. That was one thing about Maxx. He was very easy to learn with & share knowledge. So he gave us a lot of things & tips on what really goes on for a professional actor, you know. So it helped out a lot. It helped us out definitely talent-wise & knowing what to do onstage & how people perceive you, things like that. So it was a really big learning experience for us.
AJ: Like I said you guys are really unique, you have that little edge.
CORNELIUS: We had the privilege of having him in the band & getting that edge. You not not like too many people are going to go from a rock band to a tribute band & go 'okay'.
AJ: How did he come to join you guys?
CORNELIUS: It was weird. I guess he was ... like some of the guys in TSO now & I think you hit the nail on the head [on a previous 'The World Of Trans-Siberian Orchestra' podcast]. TSO is not coming out with any stars or people who people can actually ... how can I describe it?
AJ: Are household names?
CORNELIUS: Yeah, you want a band, you look at VAN HALEN. You know Eddie is going to be in that band. They tried to put another lead singer in there & it didn't work, Sammy Hagar & all that it didn't work. Everybody wants the real VAN HALEN, you know. & that's it with TSO. They tried to change that formula. You know a band is just not the members in the band, it's a unit. You just can't switch people around like a chess piece or a game. The people are gonna notice & that's what the problem is. So, those guys [in THE KINGS OF CHRISTMAS], Tommy & Maxx & those guys they wanted that camaraderie. They wanted that unity. They wanted to be a family & they were looking for a source to do that & we were the source.
AJ: As long as you're playing music & you're enjoying it, because if you're not enjoying it it's a lot of work.
CORNELIUS: Yeah, that's what was happening. I mean, they'd been passed along & I guess they weren't enjoying it. I think your podcast, your last podcast that you gave [on THE KINGS OF CHRISTMAS] summed it up so great because that's exactly what they were going through. They're going through the process of not having ... you know TSO does not have a star, it does not have a ... They pride themselves upon that, but at the same time it takes away from people being ... knowing what to expect.
AJ: I appreciate you saying that, Cornelius, because it's my opinion & my observation, but I really believe personalities are important, not just for the audience but also for the people in the band. You want to be recognized. & for me, TSO is moving into something else. It's like a Broadway show. It's something where the people aren't so important. & I think, like Alex Skolnick even said similar when he quit, you know he wanted to play his own thing with his own personality. So, I'm glad to hear someone else might agree with me on that ... somewhat adventurous point.
CORNELIUS: Oh yeah. There was a band I used to love as a kid called WAR.
AJ: Great band.
CORNELIUS: Fantastic band. & then I was going to go take my kids to see them because they listen to music too. & then I was online & read about how it's not WAR anymore. I mean Lee Oskar is not in the band, some other cats aren't in the band, because the owner/the management took the band's name.
AJ: Yeah, I know, I know.
CORNELIUS: It's now LOWRIDER.
AJ: There's a band coming to B.B. King's Club, I think it's B.B. King's, it's the YARDBIRDS. I love the YARDBIRDS, but it's the rhythm guitarist & I think like the drummer. You know it's not ... & it doesn't matter who else is in the band you just don't want to see them.
CORNELIUS: No, you don't want to see them.
AJ: You don't want to see someone else doing it because the personalities are really really entwined in the music.
CORNELIUS: Yep, yep.
AJ: I'm glad you're backing up my thoughts. Sometimes I think I'm just talking & I'm crazy because ... my perspective is one thing, but I'm glad to hear someone agrees. Now, Cornelius, I've heard & maybe it was wrong that you also got to work with the guys in THE KINGS OF CHRISTMAS?
CORNELIUS: Yes, I did a couple of sax tracks for them.
AJ: I heard that the sax tracks aren't going to make it to the final product.
CORNELIUS: Yeah, not this time, probably next time. I'm good friends with those guys. They're not too far from me, so I go over there & hang out with them sometimes. I'm free if they need me, but it's THE KINGS OF CHRISTMAS & I'm not an ex-TSO member so it didn't work out.
AJ: Well, you know only half the band is ex-TSO members, the other half is outsiders. So, it's not ... how about we just say this year you're a prince of Christmas?
CORNELIUS: Okay, that works. Better than a jester!
AJ: Let me just throw one more thing out at you, Cornelius. I'm sure you obviously know the buzz around THE KINGS OF CHRISTMAS & some of the controversy that's going on ... & a comment came to me the other day that these guys, Tommy & the boys, have no animosity towards TSO. They're happy with what they're doing on this new project. As someone who is an outsider to TSO, but came in & dropped some sax for them, can you just comment any on the energy in the studio with the guys?
CORNELIUS: Oh yeah. It is amazing. They're kids at Christmas, you know, because they still have a fan base, they get to do their music & they get to do it with their best friends. What more can you ask? You get the best of all 3 worlds at one time, you know. You have your fan base, you get to do your own music & you get to be around your best friends. So, I envy them.
AJ: Sounds good to me, man. Sounds good to me. Well, listen, I really appreciate you talking with me for a couple minutes here.
CORNELIUS: No problem, Aaron. Spread the word. Keep in touch. I hope this is not the only time I hear from you.
AJ: Absolutely. You know how to find me. I'm really easy to find. But, I wanted to make sure I called you before ... has 12/24 hit the stage yet?
CORNELIUS: No, we go on Saturday.
AJ: Okay. I wanted to make sure I got to you before you guys were beginning versus ending. Listen, man, I got home about a half hour ago so I'm going to go make my dinner now.
CORNELIUS: I'm taking my kids to see The Immortals.
AJ: Sounds good. Thanks for the time, you have a good night with the family.