Peter Returns With a Case of the Blues--The Peter Case Interview
By Terry Roland
Peter Case , fully recovered from open heart surgery, began a U.S. tour with a solo performance at Claremont's Folk Music Center Saturday, June 26, followed by an already sold-out show(a second show was added) at McCabe's on July 9th. His new record Wig on Yep Roc Records will hit the streets on June 29th.
In his first interview since
his surgery in 2009 Peter Case talked with a sense of urgency and irony.
He talked like a man aware of the precious nature of his own life. He learned
his lessons well as a street singer in San Francisco during the 1970's.
When in doubt, when the pressure comes on, get back to basics. Lean on
the streets. Who says you can't go home? If his hometown is a fresh and
raw blues-rock, Peter Case has done so with a vengeance with this new record.
Recorded in three days live in the studio with guitarist and songwriter
Ron Franklin and X drummer, DJ Bonebrake, there were no computers in sight
and only minimal overdubs. At times it harkens back to the spirit of Dylan's
classic Highway 61 Revisited. In the following interview, Peter
talks about the making of the record, his life after surgery and his desire,
as he said, to just keep rockin.' And after all, that's
Roland: How's your health?
Case: It's going good. It was a kind of a surprise. I was out of action. It took a while to get up to speed. I was really out of it. I couldn't go on the road, nothing. Fortunately, this record company (Yep Rock) took my old recordings and I re-mastered and prepared them for release. Some of it goes back to '76, you know, The Nerves and then some Plimsouls. It was a surprise for me. They're really rockin' records.
Roland: How did going back like that affect you?
Case: It turned me on. Got
my energy going. It woke me up. I had to get it down, get back to making
records. So this new record was made. I produced it. It came natural. A
few years ago I was working with these guys, DJ Bronebake and Ron Franklin.
We were working on the same record. We enjoyed playing together. It was
easy to do. You know, I
Roland: You recorded it live?
Case: Yeah, it's live. Just two guitars and drums. I went back and added the bass. We recorded it on two inch tape.
Roland: It was all analog?
Case: Yeah. No digital, no added echo. We were in the visual realm. We captured something thick and real. A lot of it was early takes, or things we came up with in the studio on the spot.
Roland: There's a feeling like Chess and Muddy Waters on this record. Like the first time I heard Fresh Cream.
Case: Yeah, that's good. That's one of my favorite records. You know like "Cat's Squirrel." We got this "Rollin & Tumblin" feel. Chess records was the inspiration.
Roland: How did you come to love this music?
Case: In my family, there was a sixteen year span with the kids and I was the youngest. I inherited the singles collection. So, when I was a little kid, I was listening to Chuck Berry and Link Wray, you know, blues. I mean, it's rock and roll, but basically it's blues.
Roland: On Wig, did your approach to songwriting change?
Case: I really didn't change much about my writing. I just reached a point where I'm thinking, 'I gotta rock and roll.' It's mostly all original. We cover one Leadbelly song. The rest is new. We went into the studio and just hoped for the best. I had no idea how it was going to go down. But, I just revved up.
Roland: Will you be touring with the band?
Case: Yeah. I'll kick it off in Claremont solo. The band will play with me at McCabe's. In Claremont I'll play acoustic some and electric too.
Roland: How were these songs written? Acoustic or electric?
Case: Both. I'd work on a riff on electric and then transfer it over to acoustic. It was fun to play on this old acoustic. It was this Gibson. It has this buzz, kind of a Robert Johnson thing.
Roland: Did you write them while on guitar or just in your head.
Case: I had the songs in my head for quite a while. Sometimes I didn't even know it. They'd just come out when we'd plug in to play electric. A lot of it happened in the studio as we recorded. It took shape there. Then, I'd write something and Ron would change it around, change a few lyrics. There was this visceral feel to it. It's kind of weird how songs take shape. You just try not to force it.
Roland: For a while you were doing songwriting workshops.
Case: Yeah, you can't teach
songwriting. All you can do is help them along, start the fire. It turns
out there's no one set way. Songs come in all different ways. There was
one song, “Somebody Told The Truth,” from 2005. We recorded it then Duane
Jarvis died. It was a really heavy period. The weird thing is the song
sounds like it was written
Roland: How did you hit this fresh raw sound in such a short time with minimal production?
Case: Well, you could go
in and make a super-layered record. You know, people get really intense.
You know some great records have been made that way. But a lot of time,
they'll spend two and half years and it comes out like a bad movie. I learned
something from Chess Records. How they did it. They didn't force things.
They just experienced the
Roland: Like the stories about the spontaneous recording of Elvis' "That's Alright Mama."
Case: Yeah. You know, I was born the day that was recorded.
Roland: So, you've had a published book?
Case: Yeah. I had a book published a while ago. I want to do more. I've been working on one. It's gonna be pretty big book. Right now I'm at just before The Nerves in 1974.
Roland: Are you trying for a Dylan Chronicles kind of thing?
Case: No. I mean, he's Bob Dylan. He was writing about everything, the times, the period. No mine's kind of an anti-Chronicles. Dylan and I went like opposite directions. He went to the east and made it to the top and I went west and made it to the bottom. (Laughs) You know, I was about life on the streets then.
Roland: What changed for you after the surgery, your perspective?
Case: Man, I don't want to
bum people out with this, but there is this sense of life and death. It's
real. An awareness. I've had it really since I was a kid. But, then you
go and you forget about it. Then, one day, I have heart surgery and it's
a reminder. They were saying I was on the verge of a massive heart attack.
You go into the surgery and the light goes out, then you wake up and it's
there again. There's this sense of being alive. It really hit me. It made
me question things. You know, I took this break in my life. I couldn't
go on the
After, I just got this feeling
like we're gonna die...so let's do some rocking. Be in the moment. I'll
tell you what it was like. The world was beautiful. It was like I was on
this huge precipice seeing the sunrise across L.A. Everything was very
beautiful. And I was on this huge cliff ready to fall, but I enjoyed the
beauty of it. That's what it's about, man.