It is difficult to overstate the contributions of Bob Dylan, but it is also, for similar reasons, difficult to say anything meaningful about him that has not been said. It’s like talking about the weather or something, “You know, I really like it when it’s raining.” Me too, man. Me too. However, if one were to attempt to overstate the contributions made by Bob Dylan you could begin with thinking about the word “prophet.” Fate wears some people like a glove, and Mr. Robert Zimmerman seems a likely candidate. Like Saul on the road to Damascus – “Zap!” – and you’re plugging in at Newport. Anyway, Bob Dylan, like any good record-mover excelled at changing his style to fit the mood of the times, progressing from naive East-village golden folkie, coming down all “blowing in the wind” on people, to Highway 61 Dylan, writing death blues about the apocalypse, reflecting the fear and loathing around Vietnam and the draft, drug paranoia. That is, by anyone’s count a stunning transformation over the course of a five years. What’s more, leading up to his motorcycle crash in 1966, he put out three unbelievable albums over the course of a little more than a single year. Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde. Three of the most acclaimed and culturally significant records ever made. It’s the kind of achievement that seems superhuman, as if it could only be accomplished through some divine intervention. And it doesn’t hurt that the music was designed to form a mythology out of America, deliberately placing Dylan as the mouthpiece for the old weird gods.
Then, he was done. Just, utterly done. Burned out. There’s film of Dylan before his motorcycle accident, he’s in a car with John Lennon and a few other people. He’s wasted, spouting gibberish about Johnny Cash. Lennon mocks him to his face, Dylan doesn’t notice. Lennon says later that Bob puked on his shoes as well and they had to stop the car and get him cleaned up. It’s sad and strange, a far cry from the Dylan in Bringing It All Back Home, wiry and mystic and intense, if conceited. There are rumours that there was no motorcycle accident, or that there was a minor accident followed by rehab. At any rate, he retreated from being Bob Dylan for the next few years, putting out low-key country albums and waiting for the sixties to fully die off. It must have felt a bit like that scene in Life of Brian where Graham Chapman tells his crowd of followers “You don’t need a messiah! Just go home and learn to think for yourselves!” And they reply back in unison “Yes! We must go home and learn to think for ourselves!” He has written about the time after his accident, staying in upstate New York with his family, and how fans would come creeping out of the woods around the house, looking for him. “These are the people?” being Bob’s reaction.
To quote the man Bono “the lord moves in mysterious ways.” Dylan’s output after Blonde on Blonde (with the exception of a few albums, ie Blood on The Tracks) has been fairly derided as a kind of watery countryfied Bob Dylan-ey, mishmash. But it’s a funny thing with mythology. When someone is deified there’s nothing anybody can do about it. Bob Dylan is Bob Dylan, there is an actual person walking around in that skinsuit who did all those things and made all those albums, and honestly, the weight of it might be just a little depressing. Because who knows where inspiration comes from? It seems clear that the period in which he wrote all those songs ended in a very dark place, and this can make the divine inspiration narrative even more tempting- he’s Icarus; he’s Saul, blinded by the light. At any rate, whoever he is, he’s coming to town. Word has it the new album isn’t half bad either. – JAMES M. DAVIS
DEADSPIN: As coach of the Eagles he won one NFC East title. Yet if you poll Iggles sycophants who throw half-full beer cups at the children of Cowboys fans, Buddy Ryan won Super Bowls in each of his five seasons, even though his actual playoff record was 0-3. In fact, one of the Top 10 Philadelphia sports moments was when Buddy tried to sock offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride in the jaw, even though this happened while he was a defensive coordinator of the Houston Oilers. (He missed on that punch, too, by the way.) This is actually what Buddy Ryan brought to Philadelphia: WIP sports talk radio idiocy, The Wing Bowl, the 700 level anarchy in Vet Stadium. He brought out the self-mythologized, entitled, Calvin-pissing-on-Aikman’s-jersey side of Philadelphia sports fandom. If you can’t win anything, create a spectacle. Spectacles sometimes have more impact than actual wins and erase actual losses from the historical record. Who needs rings when you can cripple a kicker? MORE
Have you ever said, “I hate this dam job!” Unless you are a liar I am going to assume your answer to that question is “No shit.” Now you may be saying what the hell does any of this have to do with a book I should read. The answer is: everything. The book in question is called Post Office, Charles Bukowski’s screed against the drudgery of stupid meaningless work — work that does nothing but make other people more money than they need, or should want. Through his alter ego Henry Chanaski, Bukowski gives the middle finger to the idea of going to some place he hates to do something he does not see any real purpose for, just to make money. Chanaski is able to laugh wearily at the bleak absurdity of his station in life: the back-breaking labor, the endless walking, the joyless run-ins with idiot people on his route, the crazed and vicious dogs, the paper-pushing bureaucrats and their pointless rules. Henry Chinaski is a classic antihero, hard around the edges, hard to look at and even uglier on the inside. It takes an ugly man to deliver an ugly truth: all is suffering, and then you die, so enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think. I think his biggest problem Bukowski had with things like working for the post office was that it was labeled “work” to make it not sound like what it really is: making people into machines to make money for someone else. I think he thought something that deserved the title of work was art, or something else people do to be creative and say something about the human condition. Post Office does just that. It is a bitter glimpse into the world of the average working person through the eyes of one of the most honest poets in history, a defiant artist living in a society that does not respect people like him. So he dealt with it the best way he knew how: by drinking himself into oblivion. And also by creating art. He once said that “the difference between life and art is art is more bearable.” And what art couldn’t do, the drinking could. Despite all that, or perhaps because of it, Charles Bukowski was one of the greatest writers of the 20th Century.– MICHAEL ISOM
FRESH AIR: The mosquito-borne Zika epidemic is headed for its first summer in the United States. New York Times reporter Donald G. McNeil Jr. tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross that if the virus is ever going to hit hard in the U.S., 2016 will be the year.”No one in the population has had the disease before, so nobody is immune to it, nobody has antibodies to it,” McNeil says. “After this year, a fair number of people will be immune, and each year immunity will grow.” In his new book, Zika: The Emerging Epidemic, McNeil explores the origins of the Zika virus, as well as how it spreads and the best means of protecting ourselves from it. When it comes to the virus’ transmission in the continental U.S., McNeil notes the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which carry the Zika virus, are mostly concentrated in Florida and the Gulf Coast. But, he adds, the fact that the virus can be transmitted sexually means that Zika has the potential to spread more broadly. “Scientists are just gobsmacked” by the virus’ sexual transmission, McNeil says. “Viruses mutate like crazy, but one thing they don’t normally change is how they’re transmitted. … You don’t expect a mosquito-borne virus to become something that can be transmitted through an act of unprotected sex. But this one is.” MORE
NEW YORK TIMES: Buddy Ryan, pro football’s famously combative defensive innovator who helped propel the Jets and the Chicago Bears to Super Bowl championships, died on Tuesday in Kentucky. Although listed as 82 in some accounts, he was 85 at his death, according to his son Rex in a memoir. In his seven years as a head coach, with the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals, Ryan never won a playoff game. But he had already solidified his legacy as an assistant coach with his shifting and blitzing defensive alignments, which confused and clobbered opposing quarterbacks. His bruising “46” defense, in particular, took the Bears to their 1986 Super Bowl victory. For all his football intellect, Ryan embraced pure aggression.
“It got mean, cruel,” defensive end Gerry Philbin, who played under Ryan at the University at Buffalo and on the Jets, once told Sports Illustrated. “I’ve never seen anyone better at bringing the animal out of you. If you didn’t hit as hard as he wanted, he’d humiliate you in front of everyone. Guys like me loved him, though. He was just so brutally honest.” When Ryan became the Eagles’ head coach in 1986 and subjected his players to punishing drills in training camp, he spoke of his mind-set. “They probably think I’m a no-good so-and-so,” he told The New York Times. “But that’s all right. That breeds closeness as a team. That way they can all dislike the same guy.” MORE
BY LUKE ROBERT HOPELY Cormac McCarthy writes spectral Western epics that both examine and embody (and, some would say, revel in) the savage beauty of man’s inhumanity to man. There are many Cormac McCarthy books you should read before you die, but if you only read one, make it Blood Meridian. This book does two things, and it does them with the same pitiless efficacy that makes his prose crackle. First, it gets its point across, and that point is how goddamn awful humans are, how we lust lust for violence, how we always have and always will. McCarthy underscores that last point by prefacing the book with an excerpt from an anthropological paper reporting that a 300,000 year old skull found in Ethiopia had been scalped. In other words, humans have been slaughtering each other for at least 300 millennia — that’s a long history of malevolence. Secondly, this book is jaw-droppingly beautiful. Even though Blood Meridian traffics in unspeakable violence set in impossibly bleak landscapes, you will find yourself turning each page giddy with anticipation of what gorgeously rendered bloodbath lurks on the next page. As such, McCarthy proves his point: mankind is inescapably drawn to the pornography of transcendental violence.
The first line of the novel is a command reminiscent of the epic introduction of Moby Dick, but instead of “Call me Ishmael” McCarthy urges us to “See the child.” In just a few pages this unnamed child grows into the unnamed kid who is the protagonist of the story, a cold-blooded killer who can “neither read nor write and in him broods already a taste for mindless violence.” This is about as much backstory we learn about The Kid. McCarthy has never been big on back story, preferring instead to define characters by their actions in the present. By the age of 15, The Kid is already a shady drifter with a history of violence. After killing a bartender in Texas with a beer bottle after a financial dispute, he beats feet and winds up joining a hapless band of Army irregulars looking to start shit with Mexico. These guys are totally unprepared for the arid deprivations of the desert and would have surely died of thirst even if they had somehow eluded massacre by a raging horde of blood-crazed Comanches (who sodomize their prisoners before decapitating them) in one of the most terrifying and unforgettable passages of the book. Read the rest of this entry »
VANITY FAIR: I’m watching a video of 12 of the most famous people on the planet naked in bed together. The material is being guarded so closely that the people in possession of it have refused to send me a link in case it gets hacked. Instead I’m looking at it via Skype, with the person on the other end of the line pointing the camera at a laptop screen on which the footage is playing. You can understand the desire for secrecy. As the camera’s ghostly night-vision lens pans slowly, hypnotically over the mostly sleeping bodies, their identities are revealed as follows: George W. Bush. Donald Trump. Anna Wintour. Rihanna. Chris Brown. Taylor Swift. Kanye West. Kim Kardashian West. Ray J. Amber Rose. Caitlyn Jenner. Bill Cosby. MORE
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: West commented on the artist’s inspiration during an event in Los Angeles’ The Forum in conjunction with the video premiere. Desiderio is a New York-based painter and sculptor, and currently a senior critic at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the New York Academy of Art. The stimulus for Sleep, first presented in 2004 as a work in progress, was his struggle with a rare form of nasal cancer. “I began being visited by this image of a continuous band of sleepers,” Desiderio told The Virginia Quarterly Review. He added, “I mean, it’s not all that mysterious how such a notion might have originated for me, all alone like that, feeling so terribly vulnerable and separated from the world of healthy people, this primitive longing for company, the fantasy affording me a sort of comfort.” West’s recreation of the painting for “Famous” uses the likeness of himself, his wife Kim Kardashian West, Rihanna, former President George W. Bush, Caitlyn Jenner, Bill Cosby, Anna Wintour, and more. Regarding the nudity, he told Vanity Fair, “We were very careful with shots that had [something] sexual to take them out.” MORE
NEW YORK TIMES: Though widely regarded as one of the founding fathers of bluegrass, Mr. Stanley said on numerous occasions that he did not believe his music was representative of the genre. “Old-time mountain style, that’s what I like to call it,” he explained in a 2001 interview with the online music magazine SonicNet. “When I think of bluegrass, I think of Bill Monroe.” Mr. Stanley, Charles McGrath wrote in The New York Times in 2009, “is one of the last, and surely the purest, of traditional country musicians.” “He’s such a stickler that he has no use for the dobro, let alone electrified instruments,” Mr. McGrath wrote, “and he’s not overly fond of the term bluegrass.”
His reservations aside, the Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys, the group that Mr. Stanley and his brother Carter led for two decades, was among an elite triumvirate of pioneering bluegrass bands that also included Flatt and Scruggs and the founders of the genre, Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys. Renowned for their otherworldly vocal harmonies and an instrumental style that was more soulful than showy, the Stanleys were the most traditional-sounding of the three.
Continue reading the main story Mr. Stanley sang high tenor and played banjo in the group. His brother sang the lead parts in a melancholy timbre and played guitar. Performing a mix of blues, ballads, hymns and breakdowns, the Stanley Brothers popularized a number of songs that would become bluegrass standards, among them “Mountain Dew,” “Little Maggie” and “Angel Band.”
Another staple in their repertoire, “(I’m a) Man of Constant Sorrow,” was updated, in a Grammy Award-winning rendition, by an ad hoc group known on screen as the Soggy Bottom Boys in the 2000 movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” The song was performed, in voices overdubbed for George Clooney and others, by the bluegrass musicians Dan Tyminski, Pat Enright and Harley Allen. Mr. Stanley’s ghostly rendition of the dirge “O Death” also appeared on the multiplatinum soundtrack to “O Brother.” The song won a Grammy in 2002 for best male country vocal performance and afforded Mr. Stanley more mainstream exposure than he had ever had before. MORE
ROLLING STONE: Born on February 25th, 1927, in Stratton, Virginia, Ralph Edmund Stanley teamed up with his guitar-playing sibling Carter in 1946 and began incorporating the folk traditions of the region and Carter Family-style harmonies into their duo the Stanley Brothers and their backing band the Clinch Mountain Boys. Initially the Stanley Brothers performed live on radio stations in Virginia and sang Bill Monroe’s songs, but began writing and arranging their own material and recorded sessions for Columbia, Mercury and King Records that established them as key figures in the early growth of traditional bluegrass music. Their 1951 recording of the traditional song “Man of Constant Sorrow” has been adapted and re-adapted numerous times in the following years and they found favor with the folk movement of the Sixties. Sadly, Carter died in 1966 at 41 years old, and Ralph was forced to carry on as a solo artist.
Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys remained a popular fixture at bluegrass festivals for another 50 years, and the band was an incubator for country and bluegrass talent with members including — at various points — Larry Sparks, Keith Whitley and Ricky Skaggs. In 1976, Stanley was awarded an honorary doctorate of music from Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee — hence his usual “Dr.” prefix. He also performed at the inaugurations of presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and was given a National Medal of Arts and a Living Legends medal from the Library of Congress. Amazingly, he didn’t join the Grand Ole Opry until 2000. http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/bluegrass-great-ralph-stanley-dead-at-89-20160623#ixzz4CWV9smxa
“Apothecary Love,” an old-timey charmer from The Low Anthem’s drop-dead gorgeous Smart Flesh LP, has been making me smile for since it came out in 2011. It vibes like a summery cross between The Band’s Music From Big Pink and Beck’s Mutations – all mournful, moonlit country lilt and coal mountain melody waltzing matilda across the fruited plains and purple mountain majesties of the warm, narcotic American night. Its like old time country lemonade for your ears. The singer sounds like an Appalachian Cat Stevens telling it on the mountain, the harmonica wheezes like a far-off train whistle in the night and hearing that ghostly pedal steel, in my considered opinion, the closest you will ever get to God.
Set in the olden days — when women wore bonnets, men wore britches and everything was sepia-toned — the lyric concerns two soon-to-be lovers that meet cute in an apothecary (sort of like an old-fashioned CVS). He’s just minding his own business, browsing the potions, pills and medicines, when he notices a sad-eyed lady of the lowlands. He quickly determines that she is tormented by the darkening voices in her head, the “conspiracy delusion that her boyfriend kept fed” and tells her that he’s got the cure for the shape that she’s in. Understandably she’s suspicious of his intentions, but he assures his intentions are pure and all that he wants is to be the friend she so obviously needs. He has a voice you can trust.
By the second verse, they are back at his homestead and she’s already feeling better. She shoots him with whiskey and then chases him with gin, she calms and comforts him, and stills the tremble in his hands — turns out she’s got the cure for the shape that he’s in. Cue scratchy, silent film footage of mortar grinding in pestle, train going into the tunnel, etc. All’s well that ends well, you would think. But by the last verse, she’s left him, he’s “reeling with that time-release feelin’” and so he heads back down to the apothecary, hoping to find a new cure for the shape that he’s in. In a word: perfect.
The Low Anthem are currently on tour in support of a wonderfully kaleidoscopic new album out called eyeland which brings them to Underground Arts on Sunday. We have a pair of tickets to give away to the 36th person to email us at Phawker66@gmail.com with the correct answer to this Low Anthem trivia question: What is the title of the Low Anthem song that Tom Jones covered? Put the words NATURAL SELECTION in the subject line. He’ll know what to do. Please include your full name and mobile number for confirmation. Good luck and godspeed!
DANGEROUS MINDS: Led Zeppelin’s appearance on Danish television in 1969 is one of the classic moments of rock music history. It was Zeppelin’s second time on television but their very first playing a full live set of songs in front of a studio audience—they had previously lip-synched to “Communication Breakdown” for Swedish TV. What is surprising watching this superb concert is the audience’s lack of response to Zeppelin’s fully charged performance. They sit listening intently showing little enthusiasm for what they’re hearing. For guitarist Jimmy Page this sort of apathy was part of the appeal of launching his newly formed band in Scandinavia: “They don’t cheer too madly there, you know? We were really scared, because we only had about fifteen hours to practice together. It was sort of an experimental concert to see if we were any good. I guess.” MORE
LOS ANGELES TIMES: Also Tuesday, Anderson tried to rebut earlier testimony from an economist who estimated “Stairway” had brought in millions of dollars in profits for Zeppelin and the various music companies affiliated with the band. Tim Gardner, a British accountant who helps to keep the band members’ financial books, testified that the roughly $60 million suggested earlier in the trial had been grossly exaggerated. The song, he said, had earned Page a relatively paltry $615,000 and Plant $532,000 since mid-2011, a cutoff called for under copyright law. Infringement cases can proceed decades after the original release of a protected work, but the period subject to damage awards is limited to three years before release of the latest iteration of the work in question.
The much larger amount offered up by the economist, Gardner said, was misleading because it included payments for all 87 songs in Zeppelin’s music catalog, among other reasons. Similarly, the chief financial officer for Rhino Records, the record company that has reissued many of the band’s albums, said that after deducting the costs of making and distributing “Stairway,” the company made $868,000 on the song during the period in question. The debate over profits is significant. If the jury does find that Zeppelin lifted a part of “Taurus,” the amount of money it could award Wolfe’s estate would depend on how much “Stairway” has earned. MORE
ROLLING STONE: As its primary expert witness testifying to the musical similarities between the Spirit and Led Zeppelin compositions, the defense called Dr. Lawrence Ferrara, a full professor of music and “director emeritus” at NYU and an esteemed musicologist with an impressive list of music-legend clients – Billy Joel, Paul McCartney, Elton John, Marc Anthony, Enrique Iglesias, Lady Gaga, Gloria Estefan, Bruce Springsteen, Brad Paisley, Jay Z, Usher, Dr. Dre, Kanye West, Eminem, Prince and James Brown among them. On the stand, Ferrara made a sophisticated analysis as to why “Stairway to Heaven” did not plagiarize “Taurus.” However, his academic approach proved confusing, and at times patronizing; when asked about his credentials, Ferrara bragged about owning all 29 editions of the Grove Dictionary of Music and stated, “I have authored or co-authored three books, one of which is in its fifth edition.” […] Ferrara invoked was the Modern Folk Quartet’s 1963 version of the public-domain Appalachian folk traditional “To Catch a Shad.” When Ferrara played the first part of “Stairway to Heaven” followed by “To Catch a Shad” on the piano, it proved one of the trial’s most startling revelations yet: it was almost impossible to tell them apart – they sounded like the exact same song. The tactic was intended to demonstrate the unoriginality and ordinariness of the musical techniques shared by “Taurus” and “Stairway” – that they can be found utilized in music compositions in many forms and genres going back hundreds of years. Instead, Ferrara’s example may not have been received as intended. To some ears, it suggested another possibility – that Led Zeppelin had no qualms bogarting whole chunks of preexisting compositions in the songwriting process that led to “Stairway.” MORE
MOTHER JONES: In a special Senate session on Monday, US lawmakers once again voted down gun safety regulations introduced in the aftermath of a mass shooting. Each measure needed 60 votes to pass. The Democratic proposals were brought by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who led a nearly 15-hour filibuster last week to pressure Republican leaders to hold Monday’s vote. Feinstein’s proposal would have made it possible for the Justice Department to stop anyone from purchasing a firearm if the purchaser has been on the federal terrorist watchlist in the prior five years, a measure backed by the White House. […] The votes were deja vu all over again. Last December, Republicans (and a single Democrat) blocked the Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2015 amendment in the Senate; brought by Sen. Feinstein, it would have empowered the attorney general to use the FBI-administered terrorist watchlist to deny the sale of a firearms to suspected terrorists.
Also in December, a NRA-backed measure brought by Sen. Cornyn aimed to implement a 72-hour delay for gun purchases by people on the watchlist so that the government could investigate them. It also failed. According to the New York Times, as of September 2014, there were 800,000 people on the consolidated federal terrorist watchlist. Feinstein said in her remarks on the floor on Monday that there are currently around 1 million people on the list, less than 1 percent of whom are American citizens. MORE
NRA:Today, the American people witnessed an embarrassing display in the United States Senate. President Obama and his allies proved they are more interested in playing politics than addressing their failure to keep Americans safe from the threat of radical Islamic terrorism. We all agree that terrorists should not be allowed to purchase or possess firearms. We should all agree that law-abiding Americans who are wrongly put on a secret government list should not be denied their constitutional right to due process. These are not mutually exclusive ideas. It is shocking that the safety of the American people is taking a backseat to political theatre. MORE
FOX NEWS: Trump had discussed what might have happened if others in the club were armed, during a campaign rally in Texas on Friday. “If some of those wonderful people had guns strapped …right to their waist or right to their ankle and this son of a bitch comes out and starts shooting, and one of the people in that room happened to have it and goes ‘boom, boom,’ you know what, that would have been a beautiful, beautiful sight,” Trump said. NRA officials were questioned repeatedly Sunday on the remarks. NRA Executive Director Chris Cox, speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” said “of course” club-goers should not be armed. “No one thinks that people should go into a nightclub drinking and carrying firearms. That defies commonsense. It also defies the law,” he said. Wayne LaPierre, NRA executive vice president, also told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that he, too, does not think “you should have firearms where people are drinking.” LaPierre clarified afterward on the NRA Twitter account that he wasn’t referring to restaurants. MORE
Al Qaeda spox urging wouldbe western jihadists to exploit America’s ridiculously lax gun laws to buy guns and kill Americans.
BY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR THE DAILY NEWS In the course of Marc Ribot’s critically acclaimed four-decade career, the chameleonic guitarist has mapped a steady path from edgy lower Gotham upstart to Zen-like American master. Long a fixture of New York’s downtown improv scene, Ribot is probably best known as Tom Waits’ longtime side-man, having played on seven Waits albums and corresponding tours since 1985’s Rain Dogs.
He has lent his six-string sorcery to recordings by Elvis Costello, Robert Plant, the Black Keys, John Zorn, Philadelphia-born soul legend Solomon Burke, and the late, great beat poet Allen Ginsberg. The 22 albums in his discography span splenetic jazz (Electric Masada), noisy avant rock (Ceramic Dog), vintage No Wave (the Lounge Lizards), Haitian folk (the Rootless Cosmopolitans), Cuban son (Los Cubanos Postizos), and soundtracks for imaginary films (Silent Films).
His latest venture is the Young Philadelphians, a collaboration with vaunted Philadelphian jazz masters Jamaaladeen Tacuma and G. Calvin Weston that radically weds vintage Philly soul to the experimental punk-funk sonics of Ornette Coleman’s legendary Prime Time band, which featured Tacuma on bass. The Young Philadelphians will celebrate the release of their debut album, Live in Tokyo, with a free performance Saturday at the 40th Street Summer Series in West Philadelphia. We recently spoke with Ribot about the band, the album, and how it feels to bring this music to Philadelphia.
Huge honor to speak with you, sir, longtime fan. Just let me – just to be clear here, I have to tell you this by law, I’m recording this conversation. Just so you know.
I won’t say anything I don’t want the FBI to know.
First question: can you please clear the air on how your name is pronounced? I’ve heard everything from Ruh-boh to Ry-boh to Rub-oh to Ribb-oh to Ry-bot.
Well, my mom said REE-boh but I’ve heard others say Ra-boh which is also acceptable, but you know, they’re all acceptable. Just don’t call me late for dinner. Ba-da-dum.
Before we go any further, in the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that when I was in college in 1985 I took Rain Dogs out of the public – out of the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania Public Library and kept it for three years. Listened to it almost every day. When I finally returned it they told me I had been stripped of my borrowing privileges for life. My response was, “totally worth it,” and I still feel that way 31 years later. I do feel bad that others couldn’t hear it, though. But not that bad.
I like that story.
That was, if I’m not mistaken, you’re first gig as a session player. At least your first gig as a session player that was released on a major album?
Yes. It was by no means my first gig as a session player. My first recording was with the [Ivory Coastian kalimba player] Emilio Han. The name of the record was Emilio Han, a Man and His Music because he liked Frank Sinatra. But, I don’t believe – I’m not sure if that was ever commercially released. My first commercial releases, I don’t know if I was credited, were this series of children’s records that were made by the late – produced by the late [John Braden] and they were things like “Barbie and Ken Go to the Rodeo,” and “Learn to Count with Strawberry Shortcake.” And before you laugh, you should be aware that those were the, even though they were never sold in record stores, they were sold in like, you know, toy stores and stuff, they were the second or third best selling mechanical in the year of Saturday Night Fever. So you can find my early stylings on that. My first commercially, really major–
You mean mechanical royalties, right? That’s what you’re referring to?
Well, I mean, mechanical means the actual physical sold objects. The sales of physical objects were second only to the Bee Gees–
That’s really incredible, actually.
Yeah, yeah, and it didn’t even sell in record stores. Those kids buy – those damn kids used to buy a lot of–
Well, they have all the money.
Yeah, yeah, and then the first really record business notable record was with Solomon Burke Soul Alive! which I think is still available on Rounder or something like that. I think it was originally on Rounder and is still available.
You were the guitar player for that live Solomon Burke record?
Yes, I was.
Wow. I love Solomon Burke, I had the chance to interview him before he passed, and there’s another Philadelphia connection that we will be getting to in a second. But before we get into Solomon Burke, I have one more question about Rain Dogs if you don’t mind.
No, go right ahead.
Getting back to the first part of my question here that Rain Dogs was your first proper commercial release. Which is not too shabby considering that the other guitarists on that album are Robert Quine and Keith Richards. Thirty-one years later, what do you remember about making the record or how it came about, or how you came to be involved. [Photo by Dawid Laskowski]
Well, I was playing at the time with The Lounge Lizards, that record was made I think in ‘84 or something, ‘84 or ‘85. And I was playing with The Lounge Lizards and, by the way, the Solomon Burke Soul Alive! thing was in ‘82 I think. So that’s what I was doing before. And, yeah, Waits was living in New York at the time. I think he just wanted to get, he wanted to get – he wanted to pick up, he was aware something musically was going on in New York and he wanted to pick up on it. And he was going out a lot so I saw him at a couple of gigs I was at, both with The Real Tones, which was the band that went on to back up Solomon Burke and then later with The Lounge Lizards. He sat in with the – I remember he sang “Auld Lang Syne” one New Year’s Eve with The Lounge Lizards and we were all amazed that such a big voice could come out of such a frail dude.
I could totally hear him killing that.
I remember it was like at like 8BC or Limbo Lounge which were, you know, between avenues B and C in the Lower East Side at a time when that was kind of like a drug war zone. Only the most, well, it was a dedication – the fact that a lot of people showed up to hear the gigs was either proof of an extraordinary devotion to music or maybe it was just convenient because they’d just scored. I would say the audience was mixed. So anyways, Waits was picking up on New York bands and I guess he heard me play with The Lizards and he wanted me to play on that record and we actually did a rehearsal and I remember because that’s where I met, I think at the rehearsal I met Ralph Carney and Greg Cohen and I think Michael Blair was there, I’m trying to remember who was drumming on the rehearsals. But anyway, so we ran down the material, but not too much, you know, we just jammed on it a little bit. And then I showed up at the recording session and I remember a lot about the recording session. It was at, I think at the old RCA studios. I mean do you want me to talk about that?
Sure, please. Whatever, you – I’m happy to hear as much as you can tell me.
It was remarkable because the studio was one of these throwbacks to the time when the labels owned the studios.And it was a studio that had been going, clearly, at least since the 50’s. A big beautiful room and we were just set up in a little clump in the middle of it. You know, because I guess Tom wanted to get, like, a live feeling going in the recordings but the room was built to record orchestras and the technology – so the room itself was beautiful, but like the technology hadn’t been quite updated, like I remember I was trying to find an extension cord so I could plug in my amplifier in the middle of the room and nobody seemed able to find one so we had to send downstairs. And the amps were these big old Ampeg amps, that you know, I mean, they were not what you think would have been in a studio, anyways, or not what was in most of the other studios at that time. So, yeah, I just remember the, you know–
So, were a lot of those songs were tracked with the band playing all together or, I always assumed there was a lot of overdubbing.
No, it was tracked with the band playing together. There was some overdubbing but it was mostly the band playing together and I think sometimes Tom went in and re-did his vocals. That might have happened. Although, I think, my memory is that the basic tracks went down with all the bass marimba and all that stuff was on the basic track. Ralph Carney, the sax, was on the basic track.
One last question on Rain Dogs and we’ll move forward. “Jockey Full of Bourbon” is probably my favorite Tom Waits song and your solo on that song is probably my favorite guitar solo of all time after, of course, Dave Davies solo on The Kinks’s “You Really Got Me” which is the essence of rock and roll distilled down to 15 seconds.
What can you tell me about how that song came together? Did he play you a version of it that was close to what it turned out to be? Were you guys kind of making this all up on the spot or was it somewhere in between?
Well, I think, it was a long time ago, but generally I think Tom just played a rhythm on congas you know, or strummed it on his guitar. Once he was convinced we had the right groove, I mean the chord structure on that tune is not really complicated. It’s basically, by the way, it’s a kind of a Caribbean bomba you know, it comes from Caribbean music.
You can hear the Cuban in there.
Yeah, Cuban, it’s a lot of Caribbean party music. You can hear plenty stuff, tunes with similar structure so. And at one point he might have even played some scratchy cassette of some Caribbean artist, maybe, I don’t know, the Mighty Sparrow or somebody to give an idea of a groove that he was looking for but I don’t think it was on that tune. Anyways, so he gave us an idea of the groove, we played it, I think I maybe overdubbed parts of the solo but I don’t really remember. It was a long time ago.
Moving onward, actually moving backwards for second: Solomon Burke. Solomon Burke loved to tell stories. Do you have favorite story that he might have shared with you or do you just have a story about working with solomon Burke that you’d like to share?
You know, first of all, Solomon was great. Just the most magnetic performer, I mean, the most magnetic performer I’ve ever worked with and I’ve worked with a few. But, you know, like, he had this unbelievable ability to, I mean, you know how every performer says “everybody clap your hands,” or “everybody get up now,” you know, like cliches, right? When Solomon Burke said “everybody clap your hands,” everybody clapped their hands. When he said, “everybody get up now,” everybody got up. It was a little scary. Although, I think, when I first started working with him he was at least 250 pounds and I believe went north of that, women would come up during his performance and literally drape themselves on him and he would kind of gracefully, gently brush them off, you know, without, you know, interrupting his vocal at all. So, I mean, wow, the guy had a musical talent and personal magnetism that was awesome in every sense of the word. So, I don’t know if, should I tell you–
[off the record discussion of the Solomon Burke matter]
Onto the new album. The premise of the new album was to combine the Philly International Sound with, as per the liner notes, “the harmolodic mind-set of the saxophone genius Ornette Coleman’s electric Prime Time band.” Tell us about that band and why it’s important to you.
First of all, it knocked my socks off. I just loved the sound. If you want to hear what I’m talking about, check out Of Human Feelings, which is for me an amazing record. I hear it as his way of working with North Philly funk. He transposed the keys freely so you could play the motif in different keys, backward, forward, upside down.
Can you explain Ornette Coleman’s concept of harmolodics in layman’s terms?
It’s a very dense concept, and I would not be so bold as to pretend that I could explain it, but what I heard in Ornette’s music was the idea of emotive interpretation that leaves room for the new idea that seems to come from left field. So, it’s not a rigid system, it’s a system that incorporates inspiration, error, and chance. MORE