Monthly Archives: December 2008

WRITING SOUNDS Petra Haden

The wordless melodies
of the gifted vocalist weave magic.

 

BY JENNIFER KELLY

 

In her latest, Hearts
and Daggers,
a collaboration with Miss Murgatroid (aka Alicia J. Rose),
Petra Haden loops baroque swaths of vocal sounds around the twining drones of
violin and accordion. There’s melody, emotion, depth and complexity there…but
almost no words.  

 

“Anytime I write a word, I hate it,” Haden admitted in a
recent phone interview, adding that she has only recently, in collaboration with
Yuka Hondo called If By Yes, begun to experiment with lyrics. Still, she is not
using words in the conventional way, to tell a story, to get a point across. “When
I say a word, it’s just something that I think fits. I’m not even thinking of a
theme. I’m just, the note that I’m singing, in my head, sounds like the word
‘silhouette.’  And that word ‘silhouette’
sounds like the note.”

 

But if Haden is just now figuring out the words, her
familiarity with music goes back much further. The daughter of free-jazz
bassist Charlie Haden, she remembers classical and jazz music playing in the
background since before she could walk. She started playing violin at 8, then
stopped for a few years in high school. In college, she  picked up her instrument again, just in time
to join That Dog with her sister Rachel. “I quit Cal Arts, and just ended up
going on the road and making records. And still, I’m kind of doing that,” says
Haden.

 

Indeed, Haden is juggling a full plate of projects, many
nearly a decade in the making. Her collaboration with experimental guitarist
Woody Jackson and the album with Yuka Honda are both near completion, and this
September, the Charlie Haden Family &
Friends,
finally came to fruition. Charlie Haden, the instigator, dusted
off a collection of his favorite Carter Family songs and brought the whole
family together in Nashville. He invited a slew of guests-Ricky Skaggs,
Roseanne Cash, Elvis Costello, Bruce Hornsby and Pat Metheny.

 

“The best part was that I got to sing on a song with Pat
Metheny,” says Haden. “He’s my favorite guitarist of all time. ” There’s a bit
of hero worship in play. Haden admitted to spending long afternoons trying to
learn Metheny’s solos on a mandolin as a young musician. “He showed me his
arrangement. It was 13 pages long,” she adds. “He had his guitar, and   he just
started playing what he had laid out. It was perfect.”

 

Not that Haden usually works from charts. Her a cappella
recording of The Who Sell Out was
created mostly by ear, with Haden singing along to an eight-track cassette
recording that Mike Watt had lent to her. Watt had heard Haden singing a cappella
and remembered D. Boon’s plan to record his favorite Who album in this way. He
suggested that Haden give it a try, and she did, working at her kitchen table,
and mostly as a favor to a friend.  No
one was more surprised than she when Bar/None decided to release it.

 

Still, the experience stayed with her, and she decided to
record some of her favorite film music in the same way, this time in a real
studio. The theme from Psycho was so
high that she couldn’t talk for two days after singing it. But no matter, it
was a labor of love.

 

“I remember when I was in high school having this music in
my head all the time, Psycho and Superman,” she says. “I’m so close to
this music, that I almost feel like I’ve written it. I know I haven’t, but I
feel that way.”

 

 

[Photo Credit: Onno Seimens]

 

LET'S GET LOST Gary Panter

 

The
underground artist’s influence on punk and beyond is the stuff of legend.

 

BY A.D. AMOROSI

 

 

RAW and Slash magazine. Album covers for The
Residents, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Frank Zappa. Pee Wee’s Playhouse and its lurid wild design aesthetic. The
playful experimental look of Riddim mag’s “Dal Tokyo” and the famed Jimbo character – a bruiser if ever there was.

 

These are but a few of the things
painter/illustrator/musician Gary Panter is best known for – the scratchy
lines, grotesque expressionism, purposely scuffed images and violent colors
(lots of pen and black ink) that made him paramount to the comix world since
his big start in the punk ‘70s. He was crucial to the form in a way no one
since R. Crumb had been. All that, and he’s only just received the accolade of
a mammoth monograph/career collection of paintings, illustrations, pencil
drawings and new softer works, courtesy Picturebox Inc, Publishing (2 volumes,
688 pages, $95) as well as entering the digital age courtesy his collaboration
with Steve Niles for the Zune Arts graphic novel The Lost Ones. I found Panter en route to his home in Texas.

 

***

 

When people think of
your inspirations they think of the roughness of Jack Kirby and R. Crumb. But I
feel Klee in your art, Egon Schiele too. Where did the first Expressionists fit
into your work?

 

It’s true that my interest in Kirby has been emphasized.
You’re correct that especially Paul Klee and other artists are at least as
important to my sensibilities: Picasso, Kandinsky, Posada, Arthur Dove, Francis
Bacon, Peter Saul, Jasper Johns, Oldenburg,
Nauman, Flavin. I started looking at art in magazines and in the library in
about 1961. I was a sponge for modern art and primitive art and the odd corners
of English and Chicago pop art too.

 

 

 It’s funny. Seeing so much of your painting and sketch work in the
monograph erases – maybe “blinds” is a better word – the viewer to your more
well-known work: the Jimbos, the Pee Wees. Was that intentional? Do you desire
to move your audience away from what you made famous?

 

I’ve painted all my life, went to art school, studied
painting and printmaking. I never expected that my comic experiments or
illustration work would define me, so it has been fun to get all these
paintings in front of people in the monograph. Even an obscure comic book or
magazine illustration is seen by more people than see my paintings in painting
shows. A TV show like Pee Wee eclipses all. But still I make paintings and other kinds of personal art.
Commercial art is not as quite as much fun as personal art to me.

 

 

What still draws you
to the comix world- the fantastic stuff in Riddim for instance? What side of you do you feel that world inhabits as opposed to
the painterly?

 

“Dal Tokyo” and Riddim is a long term home for my experimental comic ideas. Thanks for liking it. Mr.
Ishii encourages me to do what I want and doesn’t try to control it. I can be
as literal or as abstruse as I please. It’s a comic strip that operates more
like painting did in the 20th Century than comics do today. My paintings are
usually preceded by a drawing and my paintings have cartoony outlined elements.
Comics are trying to tell stories. Paintings are frozen situations of some
sort. I do all kinds of drawings. Some want to be paintings, some want to be
cartoons, some just want to be drawings.

 

 

Though you weren’t
mentioned in the film, no sooner than the name Slash magazine came up in What
We Do is Secret
I thought of you. I don’t know how long it had been since
you left Texas and started doing stuff on the west coast, but what was it like
jumping into the fire of the ragazine world? The music world? Was there any
particular jump, rightly or wrongly, in doing record covers for Zappa to
sketching gnarly stuff for Slash?
Were the punks less than pleased with your Zappa past?

 

I moved to LA from Dallas
in 1976. I showed my portfolio everywhere and quickly got hired to do album
covers and magazine illustrations. In 1977 the first generation of LA punks had
practically all been to art school or were runaways. There was not a lot of
lock step action. People were coming from all over the place. Experimenting
weirdo kids, smart kids, reject fat kids, ugly kids. Many of us had Eno, Roxie
Music, Sparks
and Zappa and the Velvet Underground in common. When I saw Slash in Gower Gulch in 1977, I suspected that I might have found a
place for the cartoon experiments I’d been doing since 1968. Almost everyone on
the LA punk scene was fun and nice. Even Darby Crash, as long as you didn’t get
in his or his friends’ way on the dance floor, near the front of the stage,
later called a mosh pit. I have always been surprised that punks like Jimbo.
I’m glad they do, when they do.

 

 

 What made you want to bring elements of the light show to your art?
That’s so Fillmore East.

 

I got to be a hippie and a punk record buyer. I love
psychedelic music, posters and light shows. But I only saw light shows in
magazines in the ‘60s, except from a million miles in the back when Hendrix and
the Soft Machine played Dallas.
Hippie light show ideas came out of art world experiments. There were a few
punk light shows. Punks couldn’t be hippies, because the disappointments of
hippie culture [were] too fresh, so they were disaffected questing youth in
punk uniforms instead of hippie uniforms. Light shows are like painting with
light to interpret music: an effervescent medium, like live music.

 

 

 How did you happen onto the work of Steve Niles and how is it you two
decided to collaborate? What were the parameters set by his stories?

 

I only know Steve’s work from this project. I’m pretty
ignorant about mainstream comics, movies and even straight-edge punk rock. What
I did for it is similar to the Marvel comic I did for Jonathan Lethem’s Omega. Simple. Not as slick as
mainstream comics. The script was better told, with a straightforward style.
Inked with brush; little cross-hatching or patterning; flat colors.

 

 

The idea of doing
this massive monograph feels like an endgame of sorts. After doing this now “professionally”
for 30+ years, is there a restless want to change something up radically within
your work, your delivery system or aesthetic?

 

If this book is the only nine pound art book I get, well
that’s a lot. I know a lot of fantastic artists and it is hard to get a giant
art book for the deserving artists of the world – I very am lucky. But if I’m alive
and unleashed for a few more decades, I will make more surprising art and maybe
art books, too. I have a mountain of ideas to test out.

 

***

 

 

Niles Smiles: Panter collaborator Steve Niles
weighs in.

 

 

Four friends living the X-treme sporting life of leaping
from planet to planet goes terribly wrong. Aliens want to kill them. Their
worlds are exploding. Dinner is getting cold. If that sounds thrilling, welcome
to the work of Steve Niles – the author of such dark, wry celebrated fare as 30 Days of Night. Now the horror-core
heroic Niles
has unleashed his newest graphic novel, The
Lost Ones
, onto Microsoft’s Zune Arts’ digital division with the help of
the likes of graffiti artist Dr. Revolt, design mystics Kime Buzzelli and
Morning Breath – and Gary Panter.

 

 

How was working with
Panter different from anything else you’ve done? I don’t associate him with
horror narrative.

 

Working with Gary
was a bit intimidating to be honest. He’s a legend and I sort of froze when I
heard we’d be working together. That’s what I love about this project. I mean,
what were the chances Panter and I would ever work together? Pretty unlikely.
Thanks to The Lost Ones, what Gary came up with looks
amazing.

 

 

How did it work? You
guys speak. They do their thing. You send story/sketches… What was the process?

I worked up the stories working closely with Roger Gastman, and then the
artists took them and ran. Dr. Revolt was the first to have a go at the
characters so he set the template that the other artists would take and run
with. When I first started writing I didn’t know who the artists would be. That
kind of helped me get started and then once the artists came on I went into
high gear and started having a lot of fun. That’s the main thing I hope people
take from The Lost Ones. I hope they
see and feel the amount of fun that went into creating the book.

 

 

As a kid were you
equally addicted to horror magazines – Famous Monsters – as you were
comix?  Did you dig the whole Eerie/Creepy
stable of illustrated mags?

I was hooked on Creepy, Eerie, Batman and The Hulk. Those four comic titles
had more of an effect on me than anything else. I also loved Famous Monsters, but I was one of those
kids who grew up and started cutting up my FM‘s
to make flyers for my band. I destroyed my FM collection, but our band had the coolest flyers in town.

 

 

What interested you
in Zune to begin with? How does Zune change the game for graphic interplay and
graphic comic commerce too?

 

What interested me in the Zune project: The Lost Ones was the freedom I was being offered and at the exact
same time, the very different parameters and direction. There aren’t many
projects on my plate where Sharing, Caring, and Creativity are the main points
to be stressed. Usually it’s Murder, Monsters, and Mayhem. And I won’t lie, The Lost Ones offered me a chance to hit
a wider and very different audience for me and I just couldn’t resist the
challenge.

 

 

20 YEARS OF XMAS JAMS Warren Haynes

You sure as hell can
go home again, son. And the Gov’t Mule mainman keeps proving that year after
year.

 

BY FRED MILLS

 

 

 

For a long time I had a habit of referring to Warren Haynes
as Asheville’s second most famous
native son, after the famed author Thomas Wolfe, who of course has long been
identified with this town located in the mountains of western North Carolina.
But in recent years, there’s almost no question that the guitarist’s fame has
eclipsed the writer’s – as frontman for Gov’t Mule and guitarist for both the
Allman Brothers and the Dead, he’s one of the most recognizable presences on the
international music scene nowadays, and the fact that Haynes, along with his
wife Stefani Scarmado, also return to Asheville each holiday season to mount
the Warren Haynes Christmas Jam as a fundraising event for the local chapter of
Habitat For Humanity hasn’t hurt his profile locally, either.

 

Having attended the last six Christmas Jams, I can
personally testify to how special they are – another habit of mine is referring
to a Haynes Jam as a kind of “mini-Bonnaroo.” 
He started the Jam in 1988 at a now-defunct club called 45 Cherry and
while back then it was just a low-key gathering of friends and fellow local
musicians, it quickly earned a reputation as a must-attend event. As it
expanded in size and scope it moved first to a now-also-defunct, but fondly
remembered, club called Be Here Now, then to the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium (cap.:
around 2500), before winding up at its permanent home, the Civic Center, which
can hold between 7000 and 8000 punters depending on the event. Compared to
pretty much every modern-day arena, the Civic Center
is small, and Haynes also told me once that they’d occasionally pondered what
it would be like if they relocated the Jam to a nearby city with a larger, more
up-to-date facility. But again, his organization felt it was important to keep
things local.

 

Why is the Jam musically significant? Aside from it being
for a damn good cause, and the fact that return-attendees help give it almost a
gather-round-the-communal-fire vibe where old friends are able to reunite year
after year, the selection of artists is always an eclectic one, and the potential
for mind-bending onstage collaborations is always high. From Haynes sitting in
with most of the acts (last year found him and Peter Frampton, no less, in a
pretty fiery guitar duel) and an ad-hoc supergroup one year featuring Marty
Stuart and members of Widespread Panic and Gov’t Mule, to an even wilder set
that same year with Haynes, Stuart, Dave Schools, Bill Kreutzmann and Trey
Anastasio (pictured above, in fact), there’s never a dull moment and always a slew of surprises. And by some estimation
it beats standing out in a humid, sun-scorched field in Tennessee in the middle of the summer, too.

 

Haynes has also consistently demonstrated an uncommon
intuition in picking up-and-coming acts to play at the Jam who go on to become
major artists in their own right. A few years ago a young singer-songwriter
going by the name of Ray LaMontagne came out and won over a Civic Center crowd
with a brief-but-memorable set; last year Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
brought the house down on successive evenings at both the Jam and the
invite-only Pre-Jam party the night prior; and also last year, attendees were
introduced to a band from Athens called Dead Confederate who at the time were
just readying their debut EP and have since released a critically-acclaimed full-length.

 

This year the Jam, celebrating its 20th anniversary, has been expanded to two nights, Dec. 12 and 13. You can go to the
official Christmas Jam website for ticketing info (a few tickets are still
available) and full details, but among the notable performers are Steve Earle,
Ben Harper, the Allman Brothers, Gov’t Mule, Coheed & Cambria, the Del
McCoury Band, Johnny Winter, Joan Osborne, Michael Franti, Travis Tritt and
John Paul Jones.

 

There will also be the usual Pre-Jam  – celebrating its 10th anniversary,
no less – held tonight, Dec. 11, at the Orange Peel venue. For folks who can’t
make it to Asheville
for the Jam proper, the Pre-Jam, featuring many of the performers that will
take the stage on Friday and Saturday, will be broadcast live over local radio
station WNCW-FM
, starting at around 6pm EST. (It’s scheduled to be rebroadcast
on New Year’s Eve.)

 

Meanwhile, around town a slew of other Jam-related events
will be taking place including daytime shows at local clubs the Emerald Lounge,
Stella Blue and Jack of the Wood, the latter a singer-songwriter showcase
curated by Kevn Kinney; these typically feature a smorgasbord of performers who
either are also on the bill at the Jam or have strong ties to someone who is,
so surprise appearances tend to be the order of the day in addition to those
officially listed. Over at the Fine Arts Theatre films such as the Flaming
Lips’ Christmas On Mars, Blasted: The Gonzo Patriots of Hunter S.
Thompson
and Electric Purgatory: The
Fate of The Black Rocker
will be screened Thursday through Saturday, and
there will even be an art/photography display at the Satellite Gallery
featuring works by Danny Clinch, Jay Blakesberg, Don Van Cleeve and others. Initially
a Comedy Jam had also been announced but for various reasons that had to be
cancelled. Details on all this can also be found at the Christmas Jam site.

 

 

As always, proceeds from the Jam and surrounding events will
go to benefit Habitat For Humanity, Haynes’ charity of choice. In Asheville there’s even a Warren Haynes Drive
located on the west side of the city (in the Enka Hills section) that leads to
a beautiful country enclave of Habitat-built houses. To date the Jam has raised
over $650,000.

 

To mark the occasion, Haynes spoke to BLURT from his current
home in New York City,
reflecting on how far the event has come and talking about some of his more
vivid memories from over the years. (He also talked some about Gov’t Mule and
the changes that have been going down with the band of late; you can read that
portion of the interview on the BLURT site HERE.) Each time I’ve talked to
Haynes he’s never been less than a gregarious interview subject, and while he
obviously has a stake in shining the best possible light on his 20-year old
baby, it’s clear that the Jam – and Asheville, and Habitat, and the performers that
come to town to play the benefit without compensation – is one of his proudest
achievements. Quite possibly the proudest.

 

You can go home
again. And each year, Warren Haynes proves it.

 

 

***

 

 

Last year when we
spoke you told me there was already discussion about doing the Christmas Jam as
two nights in 2008 – but perhaps doing one in New York and one in Asheville.
And I know that the idea of moving the event to a larger venue has come up too,
but that would require moving it away from Asheville
since the Civic Center is the largest place here.

 

WH: Yeah, and my thought has always been we should keep it
in Asheville. And
for the 20th Anniversary – I’m not sure if I’d want to do it two
nights every year – we wanted it to be a big blowout, and the only way seemed
to be two nights to make it happen.

 

 

Who on the lineup
this year have you never played with, or never shared a bill with? I see that
Buddy Cage, Robben Ford, Ruthie Foster and Tal Wilkenfeld have been added to the
bill…

 

WH: You know, that’s a good question. Buddy, I’m really
looking forward to seeing him. I’ve never played with Buddy. Tal Wilkenfeld,
she’s Jeff Beck’s bassist and she is taking the jazz world by storm. She is
amazing. Ruthie actually sang on “A Million Miles from Yesterday” and also on
the radio remix we did of “Mr. High and Mighty”; she sang with us in New Orleans this past Jazz
Fest when we did the Deepest End anniversary. And she’s singing on a solo record that I’m working on right now.
Robben is coming… who else. I should look at the list here. I actually played
with Coheed & Cambria recently. Johnny Winter I’ve played with the Allman
Brothers, at the Beacon. Travis Tritt, I’ve never played with.

 

 

Originally the lineup
was announced as Travis Tritt and Marty Stuart together.

 

WH: Marty has a family situation that wanted to be close to
home for, and since he’s come two years in a row…  I was obviously psyched that he wanted to come
at all, but when that came up – you have to do what you have to do.

 

 

John Paul Jones is
coming: I know you’ve played with him previously.

 

WH: Yeah, we played together at Bonnaroo. I’m extremely
excited he’s there. And of course Ben Harper, I’ve played with many many times.
Del McCoury and the McCourys, I’ve played with.

 

 

Putting Coheed and
Cambria and then the Del McCoury Band on the same bill has to be one of the
more intriguing contrasts you’ve ever had at a Jam.

 

[laughs] I think
it’s cool! It makes for an interesting evening of music. If people are going to
sit and watch a show for seven hours, it’s nice to take ‘em on a ride, you
know? A lot of different styles and genres of music. Think back to when we had
Ralph Stanley there – and we’ve had [John] Scofield and Branford [Marsalis].
The scope runs really wide, in other words, of the types of music we like to
include.

 

 

You start planning
the Jams out well in advance, and this year even more so I’d imagine. Yet
you’re on the road most of the year too. So – how many Hard Heads does it take
to screw in a lightbulb for the Jam?
[Note: Hard Head management, based in New York, handles
Haynes, Gov’t Mule and several other bands, plus the Christmas Jam.]

 

WH: You know, it’s a lot! For months in a row our entire
office is consumed by Christmas Jam. And we start making phone calls six or
eight months in advance, checking people’s schedules, letting people know what
the dates will be once they are confirmed: “Hey, keep this on your radar..” But
it’s a sensitive time period because it’s a big family commitment time, and
it’s also a time when a lot of artists are still working and juggling those two
things – and things tend to change. A lot of people think they’re going to be
available but their schedule changes and they then find themselves unavailable,
and vice versa. So we just have to stay on it, trying to coordinate it all. And
as you say, this year more than ever.

 

 

Some of the artists’
commitments grow out of informal backstage conversations too, right?

 

WH: Oh yeah. Casual conversations, cellphone calls, whatever
the case may be. More and more people are becoming aware of the even and are
calling us: “Hey, we’d like to be part of the Christmas Jam!” A lot of people
are like Ben Harper, who’ve expressed interest for years but it’s been hard to
fit it into his schedule – family, business, the fact that he lives on the West
Coast.

 

 

You’ve always managed
to pluck some up-and-comers for the Jam too – I’m thinking Ray LaMontagne
several years ago. I remember watching Ray do a handful of songs to a Civic Center
crowd that for the most part probably was not too aware of him yet.

 

WH: Yeah – this year we’ve got Ivan Neville’s Dumpstafunk,
Ruthie Foster, people that are amazing that deserve to be heard. And we hand
pick people who really want to be there, too. You know, looking back at Ray’s
set, he had not quite made the impact at that time that he would shortly after,
and I think a lot of people regret not knowing who he was at the time.

 

 

And then starting
last year you began having daytime events around the downtown Asheville area – films, the photos at a local
art gallery, the day shows. Did you have a chance to drop in to any of those
shows last year?

 

WH: Yeah, I was able to check out a couple of things. I
dropped by the Stella Blue show and me, Matt, Andy and Bernie Worrell did a
short little impromptu set. And this year the lineup looks really great. Our
office along with Kevn Kinney are working really hard to just keep that getting
better and better. I’m also finding that a lot of the Jam artists and special guests
are expressing interest in dropping by.

 

Plus, Asheville
itself is just becoming a place where a lot of great music is coming out of and
becoming one of the cities that everybody wants to play. Just the vibe, the
overall perception of the town itself and what it represents. I think it’s just
turned into quite a cool little music capital of the South!

 

 

You originally moved
away from Asheville
around 1980, and you once told me that at the time you didn’t feel you had much
choice if you wanted to get your music career kicked up a level. Did you ever
imagine the music scene here – the bands, the clubs, the studios, the overall
infrastructure – would turn out the way it has?

 

WH: No, I would have never predicted it. It’s a whole
different city than it was when I left. I’m so proud to see how it’s grown.

 

 

Aside from family,
what keeps drawing you back here? It’s one thing to return for visits, and an
entirely other thing to become a key local patron, so to speak.

 

WH: Well, Asheville’s
in my blood; it’s my home, and it always will be my home. It’s part of who I
am. I think musicians in general tend to look at the concept of “giving back”
makes a lot of sense because we’re all blessed to do what we do for a living.
That makes it easy not to forget where you’re from. One of the great things
about Christmas Jam is that the spirit of the music is playing for free – like
we all started out. Just playing for the music and for no other reason. Making
music, making people happy. And now there’s the added bonus of building houses
for families that can’t afford homes.

 

So it’s an absolute win-win situation. People find
themselves kind of tapping into the reasons they started playing music in the
first place.

 

 

Do you still remember
the very first Christmas Jam, 1988, at the 45 Cherry club?

 

WH: Oh yeah. There were four or five bands, probably a
couple of hundred people. We raised a fair amount of money and gave it to
charity, and it was a cool thing to do – a lot of fun. But nobody had any idea
it would grow beyond that.

 

 

At what point, then,
did it stop being a one-off and something you thought you could do every year?

 

WH: Well, it was just one of those organic things. We did it
once: “Oh, let’s do it next year…” Then after that: “Let’s do it again next
year…” It never seemed like something we have to do every year, but it kinda turned into the one opportunity for musicians to
get together and play so it took on its own life.

 

 

How about the moment
when you realized it wasn’t specifically a local event but something that was
on the national radar?

 

WH: I remember the first year it expanded beyond just Asheville musicians.
Bobby Keys, who plays saxophone with the Rolling Stones, drove down from Nashville, and Toy Caldwell from the Marshall Tucker Band
drove in from Spartanburg.
Having both of those guys there was a really big deal! Then shortly after that
I did this America Street
benefit with Edwin McCain, and Kevn Kinney was there; the three of us played
together, and I talked to those guys about being part of the upcoming Christmas
Jam, which was going to be at Be Hear Now [defunct Asheville venue that hosted the Jam for
several years]. They helped raise the profile of that gig. Then Derek Trucks
started coming a lot. Allen Woody had been coming a lot too. Those people were
really volunteering their time and energy to raise the profile of the gig. So
it just kept going like that.

 

 

Any standout memory
or memories from past Jams?

 

WH: Oh…. There’s so many. It’s hard for me to choose
favorites to be honest, because there are so many highlights each year. I’ll
tell you one: watching everybody on stage, all the musicians, all the artists
coming up on the stage to watch Ralph Stanley [in 2005] was pretty amazing. I
think that’s the only time that every musician that was part of the show was onstage to watch any particular artist.
That was pretty incredible.

 

Another one: doing “Cortez the Killer” and “All Along the
Watchtower” with Dave Matthews and Branford Marsalis [2006]. That was such an
impromptu thing. Dave and Branford had never played together before. And it
just fell into place so naturally!

 

That’s one of the things I love about Christmas Jam is that
people wind up onstage who have never performed together, and in some instances
have never met before and only know each other through reputations, but somehow
wind up making some amazing, spontaneous music that most people would think
must be rehearsed.

 

 

I’ll tell you one of
mine: 2004, when Jorma Kaukonen effectively fronted a supergroup of you, Matt
Abts, Dave Schools and Charlie Musselwhite…

 

WH: “Baby What You Want Me To Do” – yeah!

 

 

2005: Marty Stuart’s
first appearance at a Jam and also the Pre-Jam, doing Dylan and Byrds songs
with you, Abts, Schools, Danny Louis and Audley Freed.

 

WH: That was really, really special. And there are so many,
like I said. Having Phil Lesh and Friends there was great. The Allman Brothers
all decided one by one that they wanted to come, even though it started out
just me and Gregg, that was really cool. Building the band behind Bob Weir,
behind Jorma, behind Peter Frampton…

 

 

You say “building the
band”: how does that happen? Do you have to sketch out a lot of this before the
players get to town?

 

WH: Absolutely. We start talking way in advance about who’s
gonna be there, and let’s see if we can come up with the ultimate band to put
behind so-and-so. And then hopefully talking about song selections and stuff.
That happens a lot, and I really enjoy it because you see artists playing with
different bands, which kind of forces them to take on a different personality,
you know, by proxy. And everybody rises to the occasion. In some cases you see
some really amazing chemistry happen that never happened before.

 

 

Well, has there ever
been a moment when somebody said, “No, no, I can’t go out there, I’m not
worthy…” That sort of thing? You, of course, are used to flying without a net
anyway.

 

WH: Nothing that leaps to mind at the moment. I’m sure that
might happen. But a surprising amount of the people involved are kind of adept
at that as well. I guess that’s one of the common threads of the artists and
musicians in the bands that are represented: they’re all prepared for whatever
happens; they’re all good improvisers. Some thrive on it more than others, but
once people kind of get in tune with the spirit of the event, they refocus
their energies and their thoughts on what to perform and how to perform, based
on that spirit.

 

 

Some artists seem naturally
inclined. I’m thinking, for example, in 2006 when you and Branford Marsalis
played with the New Orleans
Social Club. Branford obviously has roots in that scene, and you’ve always had
a strong affinity for New Orleans
music too. That seemed a natural fit.

 

WH: That was an amazing set. And of course Branford can play
with anybody! And legitimately and convincingly – he’s not one of those guys
you can just label “a jazz musicians.” A lot of jazz musicians, as amazing as
they are, wouldn’t be so comfortable playing with something like the New
Orleans Social Club, John Popper Project, etc.

 

Speaking of New Orleans –
we’ve done the Funky Meters and the Neville Brothers too at the Jam – I think
musicians in general tend to acknowledge how important New Orleans is to American music. It’s our
richest musical city, and the fact that we haven’t rebuilt it yet is, I think,
a disgrace. I want to include as much New
Orleans music as possible in the Jam each year. You
know, we take some of the money [raised at the Jam] and designate it to go to
the Musicians’ Village in New Orleans.
Musicians need to spread the word about the need to rebuild New Orleans.

 

 

Do you have a
personal wish list of artists you’d like to get for the Jam or have tried to
get for the Jam and for whatever reasons they haven’t been able to make it yet?

 

WH: Oh sure, there are several we’ve been talking to that I
still feel will be able to come within the next few years. I don’t know if I
should mention them all just yet… I’ve been talking to Willie Nelson about
coming. I would love to see him be part of it. We’ll just leave it to that for
now.

 

 

 

Was there ever a point
in the event’s evolution when you encountered resistance from the powers that
be? In some towns, folks in authority and even local merchants might take a dim
view on rock ‘n’ rollers and hippies descending on their fair city. In Asheville, there’s a local city councilman that regularly
goes off on his own anti-drug crusades; he came back from a Phil Lesh concert
reporting that the venue was like “an Amsterdam
hash bar.”

 

WH: I read something about him! [laughs] For the most part
everybody has been wonderful, going above and beyond the call to make the event
happen and to make everyone feel welcome. Hopefully the fact that it’s a
charity event has a lot to do with it! You know, it’s funny. I’ve watched Asheville grow into such
an open-minded city. As with any city there’s going to be holdouts, people that
don’t want it to change too far.

 

 

 

Change: Asheville and the
surrounding county turned just a little bit bluer last month in the election…

 

WH: That did my heart so good – not only to see North Carolina and Virginia
to go blue, but to see Ralph Stanley campaigning for Obama. I thought that was
just tremendous.

 

 

In closing, there’s
something I’ve wanted to ask you for a long time. In 2002, I interviewed you in
your hotel room at the Haywood Park Hotel. When I came up to your floor and
found the room number, yours was the only door that did not have a “Smoke Free” sign on it. The two rooms adjacent to
yours both had the signs. And when I walked in and saw the towel on the floor
next to the door… let’s just say I knew what was up. So my question is: was that a coincidence about the door sign?

 

WH: [innocently]
Oh really? [starts laughing] Ah… can
we go off the record here? [answers off
the record
]

 

***

 

 

 

[Photo of Haynes, Trey
Anastasio, Bill Kreutzmann, Marty Stuart and Dave Schools
by Dave Lores
]

 

 

***

 

 

Links to our (when we
were called Harp) previous coverage of Christmas Jams 2004-07:

 

 

 

 

16th Annual Jam (2004):

www.harpmagazine.com/reviews/concert_reviews/detail.cfm?article=10317

 

 

17th Annual Jam (2005): www.harpmagazine.com/reviews/concert_reviews/detail.cfm?article=10350

 

18th Annual Jam (2006):

www.harpmagazine.com/reviews/concert_reviews/detail.cfm?article=10395

 

19th Annual Jam (2007):

www.harpmagazine.com/reviews/concert_reviews/detail.cfm?article=10486

 

2007 Pre-Jam Jam:

www.harpmagazine.com/reviews/concert_reviews/detail.cfm?article=10485

 

 

 

GET BEHIND THE MULE Gov't Mule

Warren Haynes breaks
in “the new guy” in his long-running combo.

 

BY FRED MILLS

 

Together since the mid ‘90s, Gov’t Mule – initially
comprising Allman Brothers guitarist Warren Haynes and bassist Allen Woody,
plus erstwhile Dickey Betts drummer Matt Abts – is considered in many quarters
to be one of America’s
premiere bands du jam. The group’s
popularity on the summer festival circuit has a lot to do with that of course;
the Mule is part of a long tradition of jam-minded outfits that include the
Allmans, Phish, the Grateful Dead (with whom Haynes also performs, as the
Dead), Widespread Panic, etc.

 

But you know all this. 

 

More important is that anyone who’s ever listened closely to
Mule records or seen the group in concert has sensed that within the beast also
beats the twin heart of hard-edged rock ‘n’ roll and extemporaneous jazz. Just
one glance at some of the covers that Haynes & Co. pull out in concert will
offer ample proof of that: Humble
Pie, Hendrix, Traffic, Black Sabbath, John Coltrane, Mongo Santamaria, Neil
Young, and more. (Prince, even. Go figure!) Now imagine all those influences
coalescing within the boundaries of a single Mule original.

 

 There’s no way one
can walk away from a Gov’t Mule show and not be awed at both the free-wheeling
virtuosity and the pedal-to-metal aesthetic that’s been on display for the past
two (or three, or four…) hours.

 

There have been changes over the years of course: in 2000
Allen Woody passed away, and a long period of reorganization referred to
nowadays as “The Deep End” era followed (a reference to the two sprawling The Deep End albums released in 2001 and
2001) that found Gov’t Mule performing with a who’s-who of bass legends. During
this time keyboardist Danny Louis came into the fold, and eventually a
permanent bassist was found in the form of Andy Hess. That lineup recorded the
group’s most recent studio albums, 2006’s High
and Mighty
and last year’s guest star-studded dub-reggae record Mighty High. Then this past September it
was announced that Hess was leaving and would be replaced by Swedish ex-pat
Jorgen Carlsson, who subsequently toured with the group on the band’s fall
“Kinder Revolution” tour.

 

BLURT got Haynes on the horn recently to talk about his
annual Warren Haynes Christmas Jam, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2008 with a two-night blowout this week (Dec. 12 and 13) in
Haynes’ home town of Asheville, North Carolina. That conversation will appear
on the BLURT website tomorrow, Dec. 11. But in the meantime we wanted to get
the scoop on where things stand with Gov’t Mule – playing both nights at the
Jam, incidentally – at the moment. For more on the band go to the official Mule
website
, and for the latest updates on the Christmas Jam, go to the Christmas
Jam website
.

 

 

***

 

 

Tell me about the new
guy – how are things looking with him and the Mule?

 

WARREN HAYNES:  Jorgen
Carlsson, originally from Sweden but living in Los Angeles for 15, 16 years or
something, we were referred to him by our friend Jeff Young, who was the
keyboard player in my band pre-Gov’t Mule. Jorgen and Jeff are close friends
and do a lot of work together in L.A.
So when Jeff heard we were auditioning bass players, he called and said, “Hey,
I know this guy I think you guys should check out.”

 

So we added him to the list of people we were going to
audition. And we only auditioned about a dozen bass players, all of which came
extremely highly recommended through close friends; we didn’t want to open up
the door to a cattle call kind of situation where we were auditioning a hundred
people. Everyone we played with was great, and several of them were quite
amazing, but Jorgen had the spirit of the music. In an odd way, he brought some
of Woody’s personality back into the music. See, he plays very aggressively,
plays with a pick part of the time, and it just seemed like the right fit.

 

We had made an agreement with Andy that he would go into
September so we could take a six-month period of working with Jorgen on and
off, having him learn songs and rehearsing when we could, to make it a much
smoother transition. Because there are so many songs in our repertoire in this
point… [laughs]

 

 

That’s kind of an
understatement…

 

WH: … and the last thing we wanted to do was take a huge
step backwards and go back to playing the same setlist, or even anything close
to that, every night! One thing people may have noticed is that on the last
tour with Jorgen, we played about 120 [different] songs. Which is a lot to
throw on someone that early in the game! But he’s been great.

 

 

Were people surprised
that you didn’t go with someone who’d previously worked with the band, say
during the Deep End period?

 

WH: I’m sure some people were surprised that it was someone
they’d never seen us play with, yes. But we were looking for the right fit,
having gone through an enormous searching process prior to Andy. And the right
fit’s not always going to be someone that people expect.

 

 

What has Andy been
doing since he left the band?

 

WH: You know, I’m not really sure. I think he’s just moving
on doing his own thing.

 

 

It must be daunting
for anyone to take on the mantle of Gov’t Mule bass player.

 

WH: Jorgen is a very versatile musician and can play a lot
of different styles, but he’s very much a rocker. His natural spirit is very
much a rock ‘n’ roll one, and that’s one of the things he has in common with
Allen Woody; his natural tendencies are similar to Woody’s, probably more so than
anyone we’ve played with since Woody passed. And it might have been a little
too close to home to have brought him into the fold earlier on, but with all
the time that’s passed now, it seems like it’s a nice thing.

 

 

You just wrapped up
this year’s leg of “The Kinder Revolution” tour – any moments that really stand
out in your mind from it?

 

WH: Well, I really loved
the Halloween show [Boston]
where we did the 90 minute Pink Floyd set for the second set. We brought in
quad sound, lasers, the works. It was quadraphonic, we had a laser show, Ron
Holloway played sax, and we had three girl singers – two of which that had sung
with Pink Floyd in the past.

 

 

I saw Floyd on the
tour of America
where they brought the quad sound system with them to do Dark Side of the Moon. Any feedback from Roger Waters on your show?

 

WH: [laughs] No,
not a thing. We were already thinking that way, for a Halloween show, before we
got the news that Richard Wright died. So when we got that news it just confirmed
in our minds that it was the right thing.

 

 

You can do something
like this every year, like Phish used to do.

 

WH: Well, we’re trying to avoid doing the same thing and we
don’t want it to be predictable. Halloween 2007 we did Houses of the Holy. But we didn’t want to do a Pink Floyd record,
and we don’t want it to turn into we’re doing a different record each time. So
we just picked a group of songs that made sense together, that spanned about 5
or 6 Floyd records, and I thought it flowed really nicely. [Note: Floyd setlist: One Of These Days >
Fearless > Pigs On The Wing Part 2 > Shine On You Crazy Diamond )>
Have A Cigar > Speak To Me > Breathe > On The Run > Time > Money
)> Comfortably Numb > Shine On You Crazy Diamond reprise > Wish You
Were Here
]

 

 

Are you working up
anything new in the studio? Obviously that’s the next step with a new member in
the band.

 

WH: Yeah, we have been, and I’m hoping to get into the
studio sometime in January or February. We had started a record with Andy, so I
have a feeling that the next record is going to have Andy and Jorgen on it.

 

 

In the meantime you
have the traditional end-of-year run of Mule shows in New York. Why did you have to split that
between two venues?

 

WH: We normally do three nights at the Beacon, but the
Beacon’s closed for renovation. So had to move to the Hammerstein, which is a
bigger venue; two nights in Hammerstein [Dec. 30-31] is like three nights at
the Beacon, so when you add in the two shows at the Angel Orensanz
Center [Dec. 27-28] I think
it’s going to be a really good week of music. The two small shows are acoustic,
and we don’t do that very often so it’ll be a lot of fun.

 

 

 

[Photo Credit: Jay Blakesberg]

 

 

ZODIAC DRUM KILLER Zach Hill

With Hella on hiatus,
the unconventional percussionist makes an unholy racket.

 

BY DAVID DOWNS

 

 

“I got to be honest,” Zach Hill says, exhaling a puff of
Natural American Spirit Light into the searing sun. “Me and Spencer just don’t
get along.”

 

Tall and thin and blond, the 29 year-old Hella drummer wears
Nikes, tight jeans and a stained T. He squats in the shade of an alley just off
Commercial St.
in Nevada City, CA, sipping Cafe Mekka coffee and squinting
toward wakefulness this Saturday noon. Highly regarded in the weirdo prog metal
world, Hill is on the verge of recognition far beyond this hometown hippie
retreat; population 3,001. His longtime metal prog collaboration with Spencer
Seim imploded last year, culminating in a panic attack during Hella’s expanded,
five-man 2007 tour for There’s No 666 In Outer Space.

 

“Basically I didn’t imagine what it would be like to
play with all those guys. It just didn’t work,” Hill says. “I hadn’t
gotten a panic attack like that since I was, like, 14.”

 

After four albums and fifteen years of accumulated baggage,
Hella is on indefinite hiatus, yet the future is light indeed. Both Seim and
Hill have new solo albums: Seim’s sBACH which goes in a more pop direction and
Hill’s Astrological Straits, which is something else entirely.

 

The self-taught drummer’s debut (issued in August on Mike
Patton’s label Ipecac) is a wild, cryptologic ride – part jazz, metal and
electronic music. It is absolutely pummeling, uncompromising and authentic.
Thirteen bizarre, percussive trips both alienating and exhilarating include
contributions from Les Claypool, No Age, The Deftones, Tyler Pope of LCD
Soundsystem and !!! and others. Future Hill collaborators include Prefuse 73
and the Mars Volta. “I didn’t set out with a list of artists I wanted to
have on it. Things just sort of happened along the way,” he says.
“I’m not interested in making anything middling. I want to draw a
line.”

 

Indeed, the quiet, young man does. Straits speaks
dead languages via percussive braille. It’s music for listeners in the year
2100 – when ear drums are thicker and classic structure obsolete. If you buy
one difficult record this year, buy this one. Your grandkids will respect you
more.

 

Unseen forces dictated the recording of the album, says
Hill, who was a delayed speaker as a child but an avid illustrator. His
blue-collar family didn’t play instruments, and he wanted to be Walt Disney.
“I liked making my own world,” he says. However, an older neighbor
was a basher and, as Hill puts it, “I don’t want to say I heard voices,
but the drums spoke to me.”  Hill’s
a strong believer in UFOs, astrology (born December 28), and other aspects of
the occult. He won’t vote this Fall, thinking either way we’re trending toward
a New World Order. Hill doesn’t drive, never got his license, and was horrified
by the randomness and personal nature of the recent Greyhound bus beheading in Canada. (“Police
say the guy hasn’t spoke since. They have no idea why he did it. Do you know
how many buses I’ve passed out on?”)

 

At age 15, Hill dropped out of a violent, gang-ridden Sacramento high school
after a pregnant girl got stabbed. His parents split, and he became the Huck
Finn of inland California – pretending to be
homeless and sleeping on the streets of downtown Sacramento for days. He and a friend got
their first drum kit for $150 in yard sale money. Solo training gave him a
bashing, dense, asymmetric style all his own.

 

Hella’s four albums between ’02 and ’08 took him all over
the world and introduced him to many who would collaborate on Straits.
Patton and Hill met backstage at a Queens of
the Stone Age show and played some shows together, agreeing to a future Hill
release. Hundreds of Bay Area drummers lost to Hill in an open audition to play
with Primus’ bassist in 2001. The two saw eye to eye and have jammed
intermittently ever since, culminating in Claypool’s appearance on the title
track – a near-summation of the album. Pope is a neighbor who was home on a
holiday. No Age proved philosophical kin and the evidence is the beautiful “Stoic
Logic”, comparable only to the 8-bit insanity of “Dead Art.” All the pieces
fell into place by March of 2008, when the record was finished.

 

In the early afternoon, Hill heads into the Sierra
Foothills. We’re in gold country, following switchbacks to the South Yuba
River. Down below,
swimming holes line the bottom of the wooded canyon, along with families, dogs
and girls in Volcom bikinis. Ironically, the basher feels at peace in this
wooded silence. His feet shuffle into the cool green pool just one shoe size
smaller than Michael Phelps. Their arms look similar – lean and tan with veins
like cabling and tendons etched in concrete. Hill surfaces in the middle of the
deep end without a sound but a smile. The most thundering, chaotic drummer in a
300-mile radius is a recovering stoic.

 

“I’ve never been good at small talk,” he says and
disappears back into the river.

 

 

[Photo Credit: David B. Torch]

 

RINGMASTER George Carlin

To the late comedian,
the world was a circus.

 

BY ED CONDRAN

 

 

The whole world is a
freak show. When you’re born you get a ticket to the freak show. It’s a circus,
a cavalcade of entertainment. You should have fun with it.
-George Carlin

 

 

      Whenever I
connected with George Carlin, he would mention how much he got off on the freak
show during each of our dozen interviews. The late legend, who passed away in
June, loved bizarre events.

 

      Just before the Beltway Sniper case was
solved in Montgomery County,
Maryland in 2002, Carlin riffed
off the cuff about the surreal murder spree, which petrified D.C’s Beltway
area.

 

     “Fun,
interesting, good news story, great to watch,” Carlin said as he pondered the
grave situation from the safe confines of his Los Angeles home. “Funny to watch these
cowardly Americans. I’m telling you, more children get killed in fucking
minivans going to soccer everyday than there are going to be killed by this thing.
The people in Washington D.C. are pussies.

 

     [The sniper’s] an
interesting dude or they are. I hope he stops suddenly. I wish that he hadn’t
written them (the police). I was hoping he would stop suddenly and then show up
in San Francisco in about six months and then just show up somewhere else six
months later and just keep fucking with them. Interesting stuff.”

 

      It was a great
rant that Carlin never used onstage. But the ace provocateur ticked me off. I
was living three hours from the inexplicable slaughter and I had the willies.
If those in D.C. were wimps for running serpentine after leaving the grocery
store, what did that make me?

 

       I played a
little “Twilight Zone” with Carlin. He was no longer a famous entertainer but
an average, everyday citizen living at the epicenter of the twisted murders.

 

       “Alright, I
would buy a Stairmaster and stay indoors until they catch the motherfucker,”
Carlin admitted.

 

       Carlin
explained to me that what he delivered on stage was heightened oratory and he
would do the same during interviews. It was all for dramatic effect. He used
words like no other entertainer. Rappers don’t hold a candle to the monologist.
Carlin utilized language as a hilarious and insightful weapon.

 

        There was never
anyone quite like Carlin. With all due respect to television journalist Tim
Russert, who passed days before Carlin, how could a political talking head’s
death trump arguably the greatest and most influential comic in history?

 

      “Are you really
surprised by that in a world where corporate media controls all cultural
discourse and bloviating talking heads are self-appointed deities,” DEVO’s
Jerry Casale asked my incredulous self. “George Carlin was the embodiment of
the true spirit of free speech and free thought in our supposed free society.
He inherited the mantle from Lenny Bruce, another brilliant funny man with a
tortured soul.”

 

      Casale would
know, since much like Carlin, DEVO is counterculture. That’s another reason
Russert was celebrated and Carlin was just a blip on the TV news.

 

       The diminutive,
balding Irish-American didn’t look like a rebel. But he didn’t need a Mohawk or
a tattoo for membership into the badass society. All Carlin needed was words.

 

     His jokes were
often inventive and amusing, but what impressed me the most was that Carlin was
one of the few people I’ve ever met who pronounced the word coupon (coo-pahn)
correctly.

 

      Carlin
attributed his mother for his love of language. “She also pronounced coupon correctly,”
Carlin said. “She used to say, ‘different from, not different than and compared
with, not compared to.”

 

      All of those
lessons were nearly not learned since Carlin’s mother nearly aborted the comic
genius. “She had at least one abortion we knew about,” Carlin said.

      The lover of all
things entertaining was planning to turn his near abortion into a Broadway show
dubbed New York City Boy.

 

      “I think that
would make for an interesting production,” Carlin said. “She [his mother] was sitting
in the abortion office with my father, who was reading the sports section,
according to her. Her own mother had died six months previously. While she was
sitting in there waiting to get this open and scrape procedure, she looked at a
painting on the wall and she thought she saw her mother in it. She took this as
a sign not to have the abortion. I was 50 feet from the drainpipe. That’s the
opening of my Broadway show: ‘I thought I would never get here.’ That would be
the cherry on top of the sundae.”

 

       Carlin’s quirky
cherry never hit the Great White
Way but the fast-talking and even faster thinking
standup, accomplished a great deal. Comedy Central’s number two comic of
all-time behind Richard Pryor (‘I think Lenny Bruce should be number one and
Richard number two,” Carlin said. “As long as I’m in the top 12 I’m alright.”)
was the first ever host of Saturday Night
Live
and was a frequent guest host on The
Tonight Show
.

 

     Unlike Bruce,
Carlin was one of those rare underground figures that tasted commercial
success. But somehow during our conversations, the negative was accentuated.

 

     Carlin was bummed
that he didn’t get much of a look as an actor. “They usually want me to play
the ex-hippie college professor who is liberal and has a conservative
daughter,” Carlin said. “How unimaginative.”

 

      However, Carlin
did find a patron saint in Hollywood.
Director-writer-actor Kevin Smith grew up a huge Carlin fan and cast him in his
films. Carlin as the wacky Cardinal in Dogma,
is the most inspired figure in Smith’s uneven flick.

 

       “He was a
terrific actor,” Smith said. “I might be a bit biased since I’ve been a big fan
for years.”

 

      Whenever Smith’s
name was mentioned, Carlin lit up like a pinball machine. “I told Kevin after Dogma was completed that if he ever
needed a guy to strangle six children in a film, I’m your man,” Carlin said.

 

     Carlin didn’t
strangle children in Smith’s disappointing Jersey Girl but he did steal some scenes from Ben Affleck.

 

       “It’s a shame
that Carlin didn’t do better in films,” comic-actor Jim Gaffigan said. “He was
one of the greatest comics ever. He has a huge legacy. I don’t think he’s
getting as much credit as he should right now but I think he’ll get it later. A
lot of well-known comics will be forgotten 50 years from now but the world will
still remember Carlin.

 

      Carlin did win
the Mark Twain Prize for humor. He’s the first to score the hardware
posthumously. “He deserves it,” Gaffigan says. “He set the bar awfully high.
You can’t forget someone that did that. He was hilarious no matter where you
saw him.”

 

       Indeed. Carlin
was very funny at casinos, which isn’t an easy place for comics or rockers to
play since quite a few members of the audience are only there courtesy of
comps.

 

   However, Carlin had a way of dealing with
folks, who were slipped freebie tickets. “I realize that at these show some of
the people might be there just because they have a coupon to see me and know
just a little bit about me,” Carlin said. “Sometimes I have to give them a
remedial speech. I tell them that I don’t care if they don’t know me. You don’t
figure into my equation. You’re here for me. I’m here for me. Nobody is here
for you. And then they start laughing loud.”

 

       Carlin might
sound like a selfish prick but he was all about the comedy, regardless of the
source. During a chat about murder, I told him that I was sick of all the
coverage about urban crime. What about all the weird suburban slayings?

 

     Two hours after
our chat, Carlin called and left a voicemail and asked if he could use my bit
in his next to last HBO special, 2005’s hilarious Life Is Worth Losing.

 

     The common thread
that linked his HBO specials and the work that Carlin delivered during his
52-year career are words. Carlin is remembered by many courtesy of his use of
obscenity.

 

        “I remember
being a kid during the ‘70s and adults at my parents’ parties would talk about
Carlin and his cuss words,” the Breeders’ Kelley Deal said. “They talked about
how brilliant he was.”

 

        Carlin didn’t
use obscenities as a crutch, like many comics. He used them as a tool and
perhaps his most famous bit is his famous seven words you can’t say on
television. Carlin waxed about obscenity and broadcast television. “It’s funny
how things have changed a little,” Carlin said. “You can’t say balls but you
can say nads. You can’t say fuck but you can say freakin’.” He then laughed at
puritanical America.

 

        Unlike many of
his peers, Carlin was surprisingly relevant during his last few years. Most
comics in their ‘70s play a handful of dates and usually offer “best of
material” but not Carlin, who was always working on new bits. I don’t ever
remember his razor sharp mind having a senior moment during those senior years.
“I’ve been very fortunate,” Carlin said, when asked about his keen 71-year old
mind eight months ago. “Nothing has failed me.”

 

       Except his
heart, in the literal sense. Carlin suffered three non-fatal heart attacks. His
ticker was ultimately the cause of his untimely death, which sounds like a
Carlin joke. You can almost hear him asking, “What death is timely? Bob checked
out at the perfect time.”

      When we talked
about passing on, Carlin, a staunch atheist, was certain about the great
beyond. “We’re just a bag of garbage,” Carlin said. We’re not going on to
anything else. You may as well enjoy the freak show because this is it.”

 

      Carlin would
love to still be around just to see what happens next. He believed that the
great American Empire was falling apart and hoped to write a book about it. “It’s
called Circling the Drain,” Carlin
said. “It’s just crazy what’s going on now. America is making a lot of curious
choices. Going into the Middle East was not a good idea. What they’re doing is
like getting into a bar fight with a guy who has scars all over his face. The
guy has nothing to fucking lose but you do. They haven’t had the enlightenment
yet. They don’t care if they get blown back into the Stone Age. The rest of the
world is filled with cultural cancer cells. China is driving up the price of
oil. What America
needs is a benevolent dictator and we’ll never have it.”

 

      During his final
tour dates, Carlin waxed quite a bit about his country and the world. “I’m
compelled to talk about what’s happening now because it’s getting really
interesting,” Carlin said. “We have a President who believes that he’s on a
mission from God. He believes in the end of days crap. There are these nasty
bombs out there. Pakistan has 15 nuclear weapons. India, France, England,
Germany, Russia and China have nuclear weapons. Someday somebody is going to
push a button just because he’s ticked off. We’re at the beginning of a really
interesting chapter. It’s just time to sit back and watch.”

 

       Carlin’s
forecast for the future was dour but it bothered him about as much as the
Beltway Sniper. “I don’t get disturbed by anything,” Carlin said. “To me it’s a
big circus. It’s all a big game. This country is in its decline. You look at
the decline of the English Empire or go to the Roman Empire and you’ll see the
common denominators. There is too much division of wealth.”

 

       Carlin was well
off but he didn’t flaunt it. He was never part of the Hollywood
set and I’m certain that’s part of the reason why deserved tributes weren’t
rendered.

 

      “I never had
showbiz friendships,” Carlin said. “I live inside my head. Me and Sally [his
second wife] are all we need. You know what’s nice? I love to say we don’t go
over to anybody’s house and we don’t have anybody over here.”

 

      When I told
Carlin my father was the same way, he laughed. “Tell your dad, he’s a smart
man,” Carlin said.

 

      But I always
sensed that deep down, Carlin cared since he wasn’t just a comic but a social
engineer. He often offered solutions along with punch lines. However, he
claimed he was a detached observer.

 

       “The reality is
that I don’t give a crap,” Carlin said. “I’m way out past the orbit of Pluto in
my mind. It’s all a distant event, a drop in time. You know none of this
matters at all.”

 

 

A PIECE OF POP Teddy Thompson

Richard and Linda’s
kid revs it up a gear.

 

BY ROXANA HADADI

 

For Teddy Thompson fans, the up-tempo feel of the English
singer-songwriter’s latest album, A Piece of What You Need,
may be somewhat of a shock. Thompson, however, couldn’t care less. “I get sick
of moping around, having lots of slow songs. It still sounds like me, but there
are some people who prefer different sides of what you do,” he says. “So
there’s a few people who want to hear slow songs all the time, but… fuck them.”

 

Don’t get Thompson wrong-he loves
his fans, but with A Piece of What You
Need
, the son of Richard and Linda Thompson (and Rufus Wainwright running
buddy) thinks he’s made a record that is “just a lot more realized” than most
of his work, thanks to “a lot of forethought [and] preproduction, which is
often an excuse to just hang out and spend money, but in this case, it worked.”

 

Thompson’s right-hand-man for the
11-track album was producer Marius de Vries, who has previously worked with
Madonna and Bjork-both of whom Thompson jokes he slept with (“They were all
there,” he insists). But de Vries didn’t just get Thompson a fictional piece-he
made Piece pop.

 

“He’s very sort of George Martin,”
says Thompson, “very sort of proper English: ‘Let’s get together noon tomorrow,
don’t be late, chop-chop!'” But… we’re both very English, so we’ve never had
any big fights-we’ve had some gentlemanly disagreements that resulted in a
stiff martini, and then we got back to work.”

 

Thompson will tour later this year
in England and in the United States,
spending September on the west coast and October on the east. After that,
Thompson’s not sure what’s next-it depends on what fans think of his new sound.

 

“If this sells a million copies, I
might keep moving in this direction; I could go either way, honestly,” Thompson
says. “I actually feel quite lucky. I am capable of making a record with just
myself and my guitar if I so choose, but I certainly have bigger ideas in the
other direction, so I don’t really know. I’m going to wait and see what
happens.” 

 

GONZO COMES ALIVE Don Fleming on Hunter S. Thompson

The famed indie rock
producer/musician talks about his experience producing
The Gonzo Tapes box set.

 

By RANDY HARWARD

 

The late Dr. Hunter S. Thompson had-has-a reputation. You
know him, even if you haven’t read his adventuresome gonzo writings on Hell’s
Angels and the Vietnam War, because he made such an impression with his work
that others brought him into theirs. Most of you have seen Johnny Depp’s
portrayal of Thompson’s (slightly exaggerated) alter-ego, Raoul Duke, in Alex
Cox’s film adaptation of Thompson’s most famous book, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Perhaps you’ve caught The Venture Brothers on Adult Swim, and
laughed at Brock Samson’s cross-dressing mentor, Hunter Gathers. Thompson also
inspired Uncle Duke in Doonesbury, and
Bill Murray to date has most accurately portrayed the good doctor himself-no
pseudonym required-in Where the Buffalo
Roam
.

 

Yet Thompson is most known as the party animal, the eccentric
Colorado curmudgeon with an armory at his disposal, and the central character in some of the wildest, yet
well-written and enlightening, stories they’ve ever heard. He certainly was a
journalistic rock star-but it’s the latter part most people identify with,
probably because while some of us appreciate a craftsman, we all love a
spectacle. To truly appreciate Dr. Thompson, however, one must understand him
as a whole.

 

This year director Alex Gibney released Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (released on DVD
last week by Magnolia Home Entertainment), the most accurate portrait of the
man to date. The interviews with Thompson friends and accomplices as well as
his writings and archival footage are nothing if not revealing, but audio
recordings made by the man himself while researching and writing his greatest
works shed more light on him-even if it was just to confirm what many already
knew.

 

Those recordings came straight from the Thompson estate,
courtesy of his widow Anita and son Juan, who allowed Gibney access to some 200-plus
tapes Thompson made as an obsessive chronicle. Gibney hired Don Fleming-member
of early-1990s band Gumball and producer of Sonic Youth, The Posies, Screaming
Trees and Teenage Fanclub-to digitally transfer the tapes for his film.
Fleming, in turn, produced The Gonzo
Tapes: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson
(Shout! Factory), a five-CD
audio companion to the film.

 

The Gonzo Tapes document
the wild genius, and real-life adventure, that fueled Thompson’s written works,
and expose a professionalism and craftsmanship that somewhat belie the wacky
surreality of Fear and Loathing in Las
Vegas
, Hell’s Angels, and Fear
and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72
, while also confirming the bad
craziness of the world, as with his 1975 jaunt to Saigon and Laos (also
chronicled on the set). Fleming spoke to Blurt about his experience holed up in the guest house of Thompson’s Colorado estate, delving
into the good doctor’s analog adventures.

 

 

***

 

 

BLURT: What did you
think when they called you to do this project, “Are you kiddin’ me?”

 

Don Fleming: Pretty
much, yeah. I was like, “Oh my god… I must’ve done something right to get this call. I was very excited because I am a
very big fan of Hunter’s work. It was kind of mind-blowing.

            I didn’t
expect it to be on my career trajectory. I mean, I’ve known Alex Gibney, who
made the film, for a while. And I’ve been working at the Alan Lomax archive for
several years now. [Gibney] just came to me on it because he needed some help
for the archival side of [Thompson’s] whole estate. They told him they’d give
him access to the estate, but they wanted somebody with some kind of
credentials to come in and do the work. So that was why I got the call.

So yeah, that part of it was just
amazing. I mean, I’ve worked on other things that I’ve been into, but this was
one that was just… kind of a dream.

 

 

So you’re holed up in
the guest house ready to play the tapes for the first time…

 

I didn’t know what to expect, if it was just gonna be some
random noise-no idea. It was so much better than I could’ve imagined. It was
pretty wild to be there and be doin’
the work, and just to hear how thorough,
and how detailed, he was. He did a really good job from just the archival point
of view. Every tape had a date on it, and often on the tapes, he’d set a scene.
He’d say, “It’s 4 a.m. in the morning,” at this address, and just give great,
great details.

            And then
just to hear it-it’s him talking the way you hear him in print. The first
couple of times through on some of these tapes was just phenomenal. ‘Cause it
was hearing stuff that I knew was directly in the books, but in a twisted kind
of way. With the Vegas tape, there’s a scene where Oscar is describing a guy
who worked at the hotel, and he describes him as a Samoan. [I thought], That’s it! That’s where he got that. He
took the real-life adventure and sort of twisted it around in certain ways to
make the story. So it was very factual on a lot of levels, and then he would
take these tidbits and turn them into the book.

            I probably
transferred a little over 200 of the cassettes, and most of ‘em are like 90
minutes long. And I listened to every
second
. Also, I was making a lot of notes for Alex; the idea was that they
would use excerpts of them in the film. So I kept a really good log of what was
happening on every tape and times when certain things would be said and things
like that. Ultimately, that’s what I went back to, to do this CD box set, was
those original notes, then kinda mapped it out from there.

            He
basically [taped himself] all the way up to the end. The box set only covers
that period that’s covered in the film, but he never stopped doin’ it. He just
continued and he taped all his phone
conversations. There’s many more hundreds of tapes that are still untouched.

 

 

So we might see
another set?

 

There’s material enough for it. We’ll see how this one does.
[laughs] There’s certainly a lot more
there.

 

 

You’d never met him
before-as a stranger to him, but a fan, that had to be beautiful. Think about
how many Thompson geeks would kill to have just met the guy, or dream of dropping acid with him. In a way, that’s
what you got to do, but better. You got to ride along on these legendary trips.

 

Yeah, that part of it was definitely mind-blowin’, to think
these tapes really haven’t been heard. And to sit there doing it alone was
definitely trippy. Right from the start, I definitely felt like this would make
a great thing, people are gonna hear this, but only bits of it, in the film. I
was very much encouraged by Juan Thompson, his son, and Anita, his widow. Both
of them were really encouraging me to do this as I played stuff for them as it
was digitized. Early on, I kinda put the idea out there that this would make an
amazing set of CDs. They were both just great and said do it, go for it, let’s
make it happen. Without that, it wouldn’t have happened at all.

 

 

Speaking of trippy: Were
you tempted to indulge, in order to get in the right frame of mind?

 

[laughing] I think
I probably was, but I didn’t have access to the materials I needed to do it.
Yeah, Hunter definitely had his work drugs that were important to him and that
comes through very strongly on the tapes.

 

 

You say in your notes
that he is who we thought he was: there was no affectation, no bullshit, with
him. Is there anything you learned about him from the tapes that you didn’t
know about him already?

 

He really did live it out that way, but what impressed me
most was that he was very thorough as a journalist. I felt like this wasn’t
just him making it all up, which you kinda never knew… The Hell’s Angels one, he was still in this mode of being a serious
journalist. He’d worked for years, he’d gone all through South America doing
political stories-he’d spent a lot of time bein’ sort of a straight-ahead
journalist. And it shows.

The taping was very much a tool of
his trade. There are certainly notebooks and notebooks, but you can see that he
did rely pretty heavily on the tapes. That was impressive. He was pretty
serious about the way he documented everything. You can see how much he worked
by hearing those things, how he kinda crafted that stuff. And part of it is not
just him taping those interviews, him and Oscar out in the car and all that.
But those monologues. There are so
many long monologues. After he’d drop [Hell’s Angel] Terry the Tramp off, all
the way back home, he’d be talking into the mic, just a spew of his thoughts. I
never expected that.

            As it went
on over the years, it became harder for him to show up and be a part of the
scene without being the center of attention, but he still would do these long
monologues on tape.  

 

 

So how many
convulsive belly laughs did this project elicit from you?

 

[laughing] Quite a
few. There’s a pretty good ratio, I think, to the heavy stuff. Certainly, then,
with whatever the trip was, certainly the Vegas one was kinda that way. The
last CD, the one in Saigon, that was more interesting. It’s not funny; it’s
pretty compelling. To me, that’s what was really interesting about trying to
use all the material on the last two CDs: That was the stuff he never wrote.
There’s only shards of it that you see in the letters and some of the really
short articles that he did later, and some of the books. Those were fascinating
in a different way because you got to see he was actually there and he was
working on the story in the same way he taped earlier things. It’s just that he
didn’t finish it, he didn’t deliver it. But it shows he was there doin’ the job
the way he usually did it. So those are different. It’s not quite as funny, but
fascinating.

 

 

Well, there are two
types of Thompson fans: Those who aspire to be gonzo journalists in the cheap, self-aggrandizing
way, they churn out first-person adventure stories while high and affect
eccentricity. Then there are the ones who understand that while there was a fun
side to Thompson, he was also a hard-working craftsman.

 

Yeah. I think that, too, with the movie, that was something
that Alex really from the beginning wanted to show: He was a great writer. Most
people think of him more as the wild and crazy Hunter Thompson-that was there,
too-but that tends to overshadow, myself included, the people who think he
stands up there with the great American writers. That was one thing I wanted to
show: This is it. This is how he did it. This is one of the tools he used to
get there. That’s what’s compelling about it.

            There’s
definitely tapes of him drivin’ through Colorado on mescaline and just hootin’
and hollerin’. That’s great, too; there’s room for that. And some of these
recordings are like that. He just starts cackling at times, because he’s high
as a kite. But I think it’s good to show that as crazy as he was, he was very
serious about his work. That’s one of the reasons he was such a great writer.

 

SOUL TO ROLL Catfish Haven

The Chicago band steps out if
its own R&B shadow and brings on a raging rocker.

 

BY KENNY HERZOG

 

The hardest-working bands, the ones that stay truest to
their vision, even as that evolves in unexpected ways, are often the most under-appreciated.
But like their native city of Chicago’s
beleaguered Cubs, the boys from Catfish Haven soldier on.

 

Their latest, Devastator (Secretly Canadian), is their fourth release and third full-length. It’s both
miles away from the run-of-the-mill, rough-hewn jams of 2005’s Good Friends and crucial inches apart
from 2006’s Please Come Back mini-album
and subsequent Tell Me LP. The mere
choice to title their new record with such a declaratively aggressive
descriptor segregates it thematically from the warm-and-fuzzy days of Good Friends.

 

“It most certainly
was [intentional],” singer/guitarist George Hunter says of the tough-guy title.
“We knew this record was gonna raise hell from listeners expecting some soul
revue. It was a nice departure with a kill ’em all feel to it.”

 

 

In other words, unlike the dominant sense of yearning on Friends‘ two follow-ups, Devastator is announcing loud and clear:
Our music, and our band, are no longer going to sit around and wait for your
validation. We’re going to bring the fucking rock ‘n’ roll ruckus right to your
front door. The soul hasn’t left their earthly vessels, but Devastator has a distinct ’70s radio, Dazed and Confused sort of vibe. Which,
of course, could lead to its own equivalent pigeonholing.

 

“We’re not fans of
the classic rock tag,” Hunter warns, “but the tunes on Devastator
definitely reflect a sign of the Catfish times. It was time to get loud.”

 

 

And in that
regard, the album essentially pulls a Jekyll and Hyde act. The first six-pack
of songs contains familiar elements: a faux-Apollo Amateur Night-style intro, a
total J.B.’s funk workout on “Set In Stone” and no-nonsense garage
riffing/romantic ruminations on “Invitation To Love.” But then comes the
startling, Thin Lizzy-worthy instrumental intermission track, “Halftime Show,”
which serves as the perfect Side B starter before kick-starting into some
serious latter-sequencing licks.

 

 

“That was the idea,” confirms Hunter. “Call us old fashioned. We sequenced
the tracks
to be compatible with vinyl. We still believe… we approached it like a dance
party and a rock ‘n’ roll show in bed together. Side one slips under the covers
with side two.”

 

And they stuck to
their suddenly steroid-fueled guns, aware that Devastator‘s decidedly hard-rockin’ flipside – even relative
ballads like “No Escape” rely on tuned down, hard-blues riffs, rather than
approachable boogie or acoustic reprieves – could draw a line in the sand
amongst the fans they’d accrued up through Tell Me.

 

“Considering our
past, we were fully aware that songs like ‘Halftime Show’ and ‘Full Speed’
would stick out like sore thumbs,” Hunter states matter-of-factly. “But with Devastator, we just couldn’t keep a lid
on some of our influences. Hell, Motörhead and Little Richard can share a bill
anytime if you ask me.” (Hunter also dreams of a one-time get-together between
Teddy Pendergrass and The Detroit Wheels.)

Of course, the close-knit trio (which rounds out with
bassist Miguel Castillo and drummer Ryan Farnham) had their hiccups of
insecurity along the way. When you’re a band who’ve suddenly been christened as
the indie rock second-coming of Otis Redding, but your personal background is also
informed by all strains of punk, classic and indie rock, it can be tough to
discern when your latest creative path has been carved out of unshakeable
impulse or the desire to exceed others’ expectations.

 

“It’s
tough to say,” Hunter concedes of such a quandary. “I know we played our balls
off and wanted to solidify everything we do best, but there’s always something
you feel you forgot to say or do when making a record. Like a worried mother.”

 

However, whatever
conscious strides toward individuality the collective has forged, they’re still
going to be considered amongst the larger lexicon of contemporary indie
culture. But those artificial quantifiers, which are largely out of their
control anyhow, don’t seem to interrupt the threesome’s mission and chemistry.
Which may explain the consistent appeal of their albums and romper-stomping
live shows, as well as their veritable homelessness in the world of what’s cool
for a passing moment.

 

“Music today is so
saturated that even extremely successful artists are a needle in a haystack,”
Hunter explains. “You can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself.”

 

That, in a
nutshell, is all Catfish Haven plans on as they continue their march into the
musical memory of future generations. What they do is, and has always been,
timeless, so it’s hard to imagine a concise chronology for what lies ahead.
Even for the band members themselves.

 

“We’re proud of
everything we do, but the hunger to reach further than before will always be
there,” says Hunter. “We’re gonna keep movin’ and shakin’ the only way we know
how.”

 

 

[Photo Credit: Jim
Newberry]

 

 

 

 

 

PETAL TO THE METTLE Laurie Lindeen

The Zuzu’s
Petals frontwoman tells her story anew.

 

BY
BRIAN BAKER

 

In
1988, Laurie Lindeen, Coleen Elwood and Linda Pitmon made the fateful decision
to start a band. Relocating from Madison, Wisconsin to scene friendly Minneapolis, Minnesota,
the ladies made a holy racket as Zuzu’s Petals, the name taken from pivotal
scenes in It’s a Wonderful Life,
where George Bailey’s existence is both denied and reaffirmed by the remnants
of his daughter’s wilting flower.

 

Zuzu’s
Petals birthed a few singles, two albums (1992’s When No One’s Looking and 1994’s The Music of Your Life) and toured relentlessly. What wasn’t known,
beyond the band’s family circle, was that Lindeen, at 24, had been diagnosed
with multiple sclerosis months before Zuzu’s Petals’ launch. After losing sight
in one eye, sensation in one side of her body and a long period of intense
physical and steroid therapy, Lindeen strapped on the guitar she was still
learning to play, stepped on stage with crippling stage fright and tremulously
began her rock adventure.

 

A
dozen years after Zuzu’s Petals’ unheralded dissolution, Lindeen completed Petal Pusher, her incisively candid 2007
memoir. The book’s rave reviews led to this year’s Petals’ anthology, Kicking Our Own Asses, issued by Rhino
Handmade. With Atria Books’ paperback edition of Petal Pusher hitting shelves in September, Lindeen prepares for
another road stand-doing book signings with a fresh perspective on her
accomplishments. “For the first time ever,” says Lindeen, “for something I’ve
done creatively, I want to tell everybody because I think it’s pretty good.”

 

Clearly
one unique aspect of Lindeen’s life has been her long relationship with Paul
Westerberg. They dated during her Zuzu’s Petals tenure, married shortly after
the band’s break-up and welcomed their son Johnny in 1998. Westerberg’s slavish
fan base was often problematic for Lindeen, who didn’t want to exploit her
paramour’s notoriety to advance her band then-or her book now.

 

“My
agent and everybody were like, ‘You’ve got to use whatever you have,'” says
Lindeen. “I was like, ‘You don’t understand. This is going to draw negativity
to me.’ I’m trying to establish myself as an artist in a different realm
because I couldn’t do it in the same realm as him. People are so weird and
culty about him.”

 

At
Petal Pusher‘s end, Lindeen recounts
Westerberg’s disinterest in a publisher’s request for a rock life essay and his
suggestion that she take the assignment. It totally altered her perception of
what she should be doing. “I finally found my niche,” she laughs. “That was so
much more satisfying than the songs I wasn’t writing. That was the beginning of
me figuring out that maybe I should sit in a room by myself and write.”

 

Although
Zuzu’s Petals did reunite briefly to promote
Petal Pusher‘s initial hardcover
release, Elwood has otherwise dropped out of music entirely, Pitmon now drums
behind Steve Wynn in the Miracle 3, and Lindeen scuttles the idea of a more
permanent reunion. She does, however, admit that she still picks up the guitar
on occasion and enjoys it more these days. “Paul bought me a Strat for
Christmas,” she says. “Last summer I did a little playing when the book
launched and Steve Wynn threw me a Stratocaster and all these dudes said, ‘You
don’t suck. You just had the wrong guitar.'”