Big Lazy is one of the most original and musically gifted bands out there! Please help them make this record! 😊
I was a huge fan of the Proletariat back in the early 80’s. While they were part of the Boston area punk and hardcore scene, they always stood out to me. A mix of rage, talent, intellect and politically charged lyrics, the band sounded different from every other band. A unique blend of hard and melodic, coupled with songs that actually meant something. They quickly became one of my favorite bands.
I was lucky enough to see the Proletariat play their first show in 30 years in October 2016 and it solidified my view that these guys are as talented as I remembered and a band that should have been a much bigger deal in the music scene than they actually turned out to be at the time, other than to those of us in the know.
I’ve been anxiously awaiting their latest music to be released and it did not disappoint.
The newest release, “The Murder Of Alton Sterling” , sounds like the Proletariat, but with a new maturity and depth of character that only comes from knowing yourselves as musicians and human beings and taking that into the art you create. Anyone that knows the band will immediately recognize singer Rick Brown , his vocals full of emotion and rage . Rick has always had the ability to express emotion through his vocalizations. In the punk and alternative scene, this is a rare gift. You can’t listen to a Proletariat song without feeling. This is even more pronounced with these two new songs.
The subject matter on this latest release is not frivolous but deep and dark and thought provoking. “The Murder of Alton Sterling” is about a 37 year-old unarmed black man killed by police in Baton Rouge in July of 2016. The song is full of rage and messages of social and racial injustice and police brutality. “Push Back” the second song released , is just as political, with calls for not turning the other cheek and fighting against the madness we are facing in this world today.
As far as the talent in this band, The musicianship is more solid than I’ve ever heard then. Thomas McKnight and Peter Belivacqua are an amazingly cohesive unit, playing together without missing a note and with such ease that it seems almost impossible. Guitarist Don Sanders adds another layer of originality to this group, playing a unique blend of hard and melodic.
The Proletariat have an entire album they are getting ready to release ( Produced by Lou Giordano) and will continue to tour around the country. In a time when an awful lot of bands from the 80’s are making “comebacks”, the sheer number of old bands and new releases can cause us to miss the great new music that’s still to be found from a precious few of these bands. The Proletariat are among those ones you just have to take another listen to.
This is the first in a series I’ll be doing about open jam nights in Fairfield and New Haven counties. We’ve been having a wonderful time attending them and look forward to trying out the few we still have to attend.
The Horseshoe Tavern is a Southport landmark. They hold an open jam every Monday night. The first thing we noticed was that energy in the bar is great and the patrons seem to genuinely be having fun. The crowd is certainly older, mostly 50’s and 60’s and there isn’t much diversity in the music being played. But if it’s straight ahead classic rock and roll you are looking for in a very welcoming setting, this is a really fun jam to attend. It had a lot of really good musicians and the crowd was dancing and laughing and having an all around great time. The crowd and other musicians seemed to be very welcoming and inclusive, but if you are young and if your style of music is anything but classic rock, this jam may not be your best bet.
The Acoustic, Bridgeport, CT
This is by far my favorite of the open jam venues we’ve attended so far. Nestled in the heart of Black Rock, among a treasure trove of great little bars and restaurants, The Acoustic is a hidden gem. The open jams are held on Tuesday Nights and from what I’ve witnessed, the diversity in genres and age ranges is the most impressive I’ve seen. Bands sign up and get about 10 minutes to showcase their talent. Occasionally, a band will be featured and they will get a 30 minute set. And talent is in no short supply. We watched musicians ranging in age from 20’s- 60’s playing pop, funk, rock and everything in between. This place is a music lovers paradise and features some of the most talented artists that come through the Connecticut area. There is no grandstanding, no nepotism and no narcissism. You won’t be subjected to the same 10 classic rock songs, sung by the same exact people week after week. Instead, you’ll be treated to a variety of music by those artists that understand that originality of expression is everything. The Acoustic really seems to understand this. And while I still have a few open jams to attend, it so far greatly surpasses all of the many other venues we have attended. This is the place to go if you are a real and true fan of music of all genre’s and are looking for something new and different.
I’ve spent 48 1/2 years on this earth and I’ll admit I’ve still got an awful lot to learn. There are some things, however, that I am just about certain of; punk rock is the most underrated form of music out there and has influenced just about every music genre , Donald Trump is the most dangerous thing this country has ever seen, and The Drive-By Truckers are the best live band on the planet.
Of course, you are free to disagree, this is still America, after all, (at least for now), but I will never waver on a single one of these statements, so any arguments will be futile. I realize that music is such a personal things and that we, as individuals connect with bands on so many different levels and for so many different reasons. And for a person that sees bands weekly and loves music so deeply, I am really saying something with the fierceness in which I express this opinion. For the love of music, if you have not seen DBT live, just do it. I don’t care who you are, your mind will be blown.
I’ve been a huge fan of DBT for about 15 years, and every single year my love and appreciation for the band and this incredible music they make grows deeper. Their lyrics mean more and their convictions are ones that I hold true to my own heart. But despite the beautiful left leaning and socially just messages in their lyrics, despite the fact that they’ve been together for over 20 years, they play harder and better than anyone out there, possibly ever.
I am always excited by the prospect of bringing a new member into the ever growing legion of DBT fans. I invited the man I’d recently begun dating to the show. He’s a musician and although he had previousloy had no idea who DBT were, had enjoyed the music I’d shared with him so far. I had a photo pass for the show, and even though it was in DC, I knew I’d meet up with a few fellow “Heathens” (DBT fans) down there. So the two of us embarked on what should have been a 4.5 hours drive and it wound up taking 8 hours.
We arrived at the show with only minutes to spare, and there is no designated photo area at the venue. But by some miracle, just as we walked in, a space opened up right along the rail. This would be a clear and accurate predictor of how the rest of the weekend would go.
The night opened with a stellar performance by Hiss Golden Messenger, but truth be told, I was tired and could hardly wait for the headliners. Whenever I wake up on the morning of a DBT show, it feels like Christmas morning, as silly as that seems. I was so excited I could barely stand it.
This show was the second night of the DC stop and the end of this leg of the tour. The energy in the room was a living, breathing thing, I was certain magic would happen that night. The boys certainly did not disappoint. Nobody plays a show like Druve-By Truckers. They put their entire soul into it. They clearly live their music and it’s evident that they love their fans and have an incredible time playing for us.
We danced and sang and hollered our way through about 2.5 hours of one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. The band played some of their best in addition to covers by Prince, The Ramones, John Lennon and Neil Young. The room was alive that night. And when the band exited the stage, I turned to my new boyfriend. He was sweating and smiling and exhausted. But he looked me right in the eye and told me that was one of the best live shows he’d ever seen. Right before my eyes, another Heathen was born.
That was 11 months ago. We are still together and going to see our 4th DBT show as a couple in Brooklyn on Friday. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Drive-By Truckers will be at the Brooklyn Bowl on 3/29 and 3/30. Hope to see you all at the rock show! We will be right up front!
The coast of Connecticut is rife with incredible music. From Stamford to New Haven, there is great listening to be had 7 nights per week. From large venues like College Street Music Hall to tiny little gems like Cafe Nine in New Haven, some of the best bands and musicians in the country are here to play for music fans of every genre.
One of the most fun ways to enjoy music interactively around the coast is to attend open jam nights. They are everywhere and if you so desired, you’d be able to find them just about every night of the week.
Some are wildly entertaining and very open and inclusive, some are up and coming, and some, unfortunately, are teeming with those “musicians” that are self serving, unwelcoming and abundant with mediocrity.
The best of the bunch offer a place for musicians to feel welcome and unafraid to be who they are. Newcomers are welcomed onstage without hesitation and blend right into the fold of fellow music lovers, regardless of who they know and who is running the show. Many types of music are explored and everyone is always looking to hear something new and fresh in addition to the classics.
On the other end of the spectrum, we find venues that host the same people weekly and offer little to no diversity in what’s being played. While having the same crowd at an open jam night is not in and of itself a bad thing, it often lends itself to self importance and self indulgence. These are the type of venues where you are most likely to hear all of your favorite classics, played the same way and by the same people week after week after week until you silently hope that you’ll never have to hear any of them ever again. They are the places that shame bands and musicians for being too loud or too quiet or in some other way not up to the cookie cutter crap that comes out of them week after week. Where people running the show are so narcissistic and so full of nepotism that you’ll watch the same fools drone on and on so blindly unaware of their second ( or third)-rate performances that it floors you that anyone ever lets them sing anywhere other than the shower.
I believe that anyone with an instrument and a desire to play, should be welcomed, regardless of stellar or not so stellar talent. But when a venue and those running it are so mean spirited and so clueless as to what a music scene should embrace make others feel inadequate, when the same tone deaf woman or man refuse to allow anyone else their own time on stage it’s no longer about the music, but about the ego.
I’m going to be reviewing these venues in the coming weeks. Please send me your suggestions and please, please go support your local venues. Stick to the ones that make you feel welcome and inspire you! They are all over the place!
This list is always very difficult for me to put together. Because I enjoy so many different genres, the decision-making becomes nearly impossible. I’ve scaled it down to these gems, because they are the ones that I turned to most often this year.
5. Valerie June: The Order Of Time.
Valerie opened for Drive-By Truckers at the festival at which I had my first press pass. Her music is a gorgeous and ethereal mix of blues and soul and the bluegrass she grew up singing on her front porch. June is that rare mixture of old soul and innocent child. Her songs exhibit both a beautiful and deep understanding of the world around her as well as a child-like innocence. “Astral Plane ” is a perfect example of this. June is a star on a meteoric rise. There is no stopping her. And thank goodness for that.
4. The War On Drugs: A Deeper Understanding.
This album is studio perfection. Its dream-like sound sweeps you up and surrounds you with lushness and depth and a quality of sound that envelopes you like a favorite old blanket. It’s familiar, yet incredibly new. This is, by far, my favorite War On Drugs album. Adam Granduciel never tells us the entire story. Instead, we are allowed bits and pieces of the narrative, flashes of what it is he is trying to tell us lyrically. But when you close your eyes and let the music wash over you, it all makes perfect sense.
3. Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett : Lotta Sea Lice
I’ve always been a huge fan of Kurt. His quirkiness, individuality and ability to craft exquisitely catchy sings that remain beautifully unique and different are the qualities that have always drawn me to him. Courtney Barnett is his perfect musical partner. This album marries their uniqueness in a way that shines a light in both of their talents without detracting a thing from the individual merits that make them both so listenable. While at first, it seems like a simple record, its complexities and musical depth are there in full force. I can’t stop listening.
2. The National: Sleep Well Beast.
This album is full of darkness, melancholy and reflection. It speaks to any one of us navigating minefields of desperation and sadness and pain. It makes one feel safe in the knowledge that even pain and longing and grief can be beautiful roads we navigate on our way to better and happier places. And don’t we all need that from time to time?
1. Jason Isbell and the 400 unit: The Nashville Sound
There was no doubt in my mind what album would be number one on this list for me. A fan of Jason since his days in Drive-By Truckers, his songwriting is my favorite on earth. Since he was 21 years old, his songs and lyrics have touched me more than those of any other songwriter. Isbell notices things. He is a keen observer of the world around him, noticing and feeling even the tiniest shifts in feelings and emotions. This album, which came at a time of such darkness for so many of us after the election of our current POTUS, touches upon community, love of family, humanity, and doing what’s right. It’s a glimmering light that guides us in from the storm. The song “If We Were Vampires” is one of the most beautiful love songs of all time and “Hope The High Road” talks us down off the ledge with lines like ” There can’t be more of them then us, there can’t be more.” I have a full review if this album in a previous blog post. Suffice it to say, to me, this album is a masterpiece.
I’ve been a huge fan of the Proletariat since I was a young teenager. As a lover of words and an even bigger supporter of justice and fairness as well as an enemy of political and religious corruption, they were one of the first bands that’s lyrics hit me right in the gut and right in the heart. Literate, witty and intelligent, they were a band that just spoke to me. And their music was no joke, either!
I was lucky enough to interview the band for the second time recently. And as usual, they not only welcoming and kind, but funny as hell. Additionally, they played a kick-ass show not to be missed.
J. Tell me what’s been happening with the band since I last saw you? Any new music coming out?
Rick: Yes! We have a single coming out and we plan on recording an album in January . It’s being produced by Lou Giordano, who produced “This Is Boston Not, LA ” and our two albums.
J. What was the songwriting process like this time?
Rick: Either Pete or Don would come up with something musically and I’d have lyrics already written.
Don: Rick’s got a whole notebook full of lyrics. So we will have the music, Rick will come over and we’ll just flesh it out some more. Rick will listen to the music and dig through his lyrics until we find what works.
J. Tom is in California, how does that work when it comes to the writing process?
Rick: We record it roughly with a drum machine and send it out to him in California.
Tom: Yeah, they try their best to get it right and send it out to me and I put it all together ( laughing)
J. The time I spoke with you guys, it was a few weeks before the Presidential election. Rick, you’ve always been political. Has the election of our current President influenced any of your new music?
Rick: At our last interview I remember talking about how there was no way in the world this guy was going to win. I think I said “Trump winning would be great for my songwriting”. But man , I could really do without it. It’s unbelievable that this guy is our President.
I still use politics in my writing. The single is the subtly titled ” The murder of Alton Sterling”. Politics will always influence my writing.
J. When I saw you last it was the first show you’d done in decades. How has touring been and how many shows have you done?
Rick: This will be our 85th show… no. It’s our 17th.
Don: We do a string of shows together and then take a couple of months in between.
J. How does that fact that you’re in California factor in, Tom?
Tom: I usually fly up a couple of weeks before we go out so we get to practice and make the whole thing tight again.
Rick: And technology really helps.
J. What have your crowds been like? Old school fans? Younger kids or more of a mix?
Rick: We consciously try to put newer bands on the bill so that we can get more of a mixed crowd. That way we get a newer set of ears listening to our stuff and our fans get to hear some good new music. It’s kind of a win-win. We don’t want that vaudevillian nostalgia act. For the most part we’ve been about 60 percent successful with doing it that way, but some promoters want to do it differently.
Don: At our show last night, the oldest kid was about 18. We’ve also played shows where it’s mostly people from back in the day.
Rick: The youngest kid last night was about ten. And he knew all the songs on Soma Holiday. He said his Dad liked us and he’d watched us in you tube. It was wild.
J. Tell me some of your favorite stories from the road?
Peter: Well, Stiv Bators wanted to beat up Rick once. We were opening for them and the crowd was just not into us. They were acting up and not really into it.
Rick: So I got pissed and I said, ” You guys are waiting on these fat, overblown, hippie rock stars…”
Pete: Yeah, and after that the crowd was better… they got more riled up and the second half of the show was better. But when they show was over, Rick had taken off already and Stiv walked up to me with these two big guys looking for him.”Where’s your singer?”. He was already gone, but they wanted to find him! ( laughing)
Don: And there was the time you got chased by Rob Halford.
Rick: I got hit by a tomato thrown by Rob Halford. Judah Priest was looking for a local band to open for them and they were auditioning this band. I guess that was probably kind of cool, but at the time I was pissed. It was pushing back the set and delaying everything. So when I got up on stage I said something like “Oh, we have to kiss the great Judas Priests ass? Ruin our show so we can listen to this hippie bullshit?? I just went off. Then all of the sudden, I get hit by a tomato. I guess Rob Halford was pissed as hell that I was ripping his band. So he goes upstairs to the restaurant, grabs a tomato a chucks it at me. I grabbed it and chucked it back in the audience. Some kid came up to me after the show with tomato all over his clothes and glasses and told me he liked the show, but why’d I have to hit him with a tomato?”
Don: What a British thing to do. Here I am, in my leather chaps, chucking tomatoes at the singer of another band.
J. So you have a history of pissing off the other bands?
Rick: Yeah. I’m not a good opening act!
The Proletariat will be releasing a new record in 2018 and will be touring as well. I’ll keep you posted on tour dates as well as posting a record review as soon as the album is out. Don’t miss them, but maybe bring your raincoat!
Seeing the Dead Boys play live was a dream I’ve had since I was thirteen years old. I just never expected it to come true. Last year, when I got to interview Cheetah Chrome for the first time and see he and his band perform an awesome set list that included some Dead Boys classics, I thought it was as close as I’d ever get. When I heard that Cheetah and Dead Boys drummer Johnny Blitz would be going on tour with a new Dead Boys lineup, I have to be honest in saying I had really mixed emotions. Jason Kottwitz, who’s been playing with Cheetah for years, had already earned my respect, and Ricky Rat has been a mainstay in the punk world for decades. I suppose the real question in my mind was who the hell would ever sing? Who on earth could possibly fill the shoes of Stiv Bators? Stiv was my hero. He had more charisma and more stage presence that just about any other singer I could ever name. There was something so raw, so fucking real about him. You just couldn’t stop watching. So I’ll be honest when I say I had real and serious doubts about this. Who was this Jake Hout, and how would I ever stomach watching him front one of my favorite bands of all time?
The thing was, after interviewing Cheetah, I knew what Stiv meant to him. I knew how important it would be for Cheetah to preserve his legacy and let all dignity associated with the Dead Boys remain intact. Because of this, I went to the show expecting something decent. What I got instead was a performance that blew my mind. This lineup is no joke. Cheetah and Blitz played like they’d never stopped playing together. Kottwitz and Rat were solid and very talented additions to the band. Jake Hout, however, was the one that impressed the living hell out of me. I’ve had many friends comment that the band is “Not the Dead Boys” or something similar. I get it. I’ve seen bands that were reincarnated with new front men just to earn a few bucks. And they normally make you cringe. This is not the case here. Hout exhibits a stage presence and charisma that’s rarely seen. And despite being so charismatic, remains humble enough to know how lucky he is to be fronting a band that he’s loved and admired for so long. The music industry is not normally a place dripping with humility. Jake Hout is that rare artist who is incredibly talented, but also very grateful. So before you judge, go take a listen. Trust that these guys know what they are doing and would never settle on doing this half-assed. The band means too much to them. The Dead Boys are on tour now and I’m excited to say I’ll be seeing them again at the Bowery Electric in NYC ( January 28 and 29). Stiv is looking down with a smile, gentlemen. I know he approves.
J. Please tell us the story about how you wound up in the Dead Boys lineup.
J.H. I’ve known Jason Kottwitz for years. He and Cheetah have been playing together since 2013 and Jason always thought I’d be a good fit. Cheetah was doing his own thing at that time with his solo album and newer songs. But when the 40th anniversary was coming up, they scouted for singers for a Dead Boys set and Jason thought of me. Misty, Cheetah’s girlfriend, showed him some video of me as well and eventually I won the job.
J. I understand you were in a Dead Boys cover band. What was it about these guys that drew you in and made you such a fan?
J.H. Yeah , for years every Halloween me and a crew of Bay area musicians would do a zombie Dead Boys cover band called the Undead Boys. I’ve loved the Dead Boys since I was a kid. It was my favorite band when I was young and just never faded for me, really. It’s the sweetest spot right between Rock and Roll and Punk Rock of anybody in my opinion. It’s got the magic of invention in the music. Something was beginning! You just can’t fake that feeling. Also, for reasons I’m not sure of really , I’ve just always made people think of Stiv. I’ve played in several different bands, different kinds of music, and his name always comes up. I’ve got that kind of wild, rascally, sexual way of performing. I didn’t mean to be doing Stiv you know. It’s just we’re similar in some ways.
J. What was it like to step on stage with Cheetah and Blitz for the first time as a Dead Boy?
J.H. Oh man, it was crazy! We played the Whiskey a GoGo in Hollywood. Beyond my wildest dreams type of thing. I was so over come and high on life I totally wasn’t paying attention to how much I was drinking and was just pounding back the Jameson’s and Guinness. Cheetah didn’t know how well I can handle the drink yet, and was like “Holy shit, this bastard is wasted!” Hahaha! I wasn’t nervous at all though. I know the material inside and out. I nailed the gig and right there and then Cheetah knew it was gonna be me.
J. How do you think Stiv would feel about this lineup?
J.H. Well, Cheetah and Blitz say he’d be proud. All his close friends at the gigs tell me he’d love it. This always makes me tear up to think about it. Obviously, we all wish it could be him up here. He just can’t make the date, ya know. I think about it everyday. I mean to honor him.
J. What’s life like on tour?
J.H. Madness! We all jump in a little van and run in circles all around the country. We are always on the run and we’re all wild. We party like monsters. We just did 14 dates straight, with only 1 night off and then it’s on to the next.
There’s always some logistical nightmare. Floods, hurricanes, bomb threats, con men, terrorists & of course, insane Dead Boys! Its a very full lifestyle.
J.The Dead Boys are such an iconic band in the punk genre. When you look out into the audience, do you see mostly older fans, younger ones or a mix?
J.H. We draw all ages. Its great! Every gig there’ll be some real ol’ timers right down to the fresh faced kids and everyone in between. I think the majority is on the younger side. It’s amazing to see how the music still resonates. I love giving the old school that feeling again, making the time all fade away for a moment. But what really gets me going is knowing we’re passing the legacy on to the new generation.
J. What’s the plan going forward?
J.H. After this West Coast run we’re gonna meet up in New York in January for a couple gigs then head to UK for a couple weeks. We’re gonna do Europe later in the year and more American dates I assume. We’ve talked a bit about writing new stuff. Cheetah’s got some riffs. I’d love to just get him and Johnny together in a basement like the old days and rock ’em out till we come up with somthing. It’d have to be really goddamn good with a legacy of such weight. But we’re experts at the sound so on the one hand it’d be kinda easy. Cheetah was playing this sweet, kinda tragic lick the other day at soundcheck and Johnny just busted in with a super aggressive beat to it, I sang some suicidal dirty talk & it was like… Wow. That sounds like Dead Boys! Exciting! Got my fingers crossed…
There are certain people in this world that were just meant to be stars. They have that spark, that charisma, that makes you want to watch, listen and see what is coming next. When I first saw Johnny Pisano playing bass for Willie Nile, I knew he was one of those people. His smile and energy are infectious and his talent unreal. When you watch Pisano play, sing and do his signature split jumps on stage, you just want to laugh and dance and sing. The man knows how to keep an audience happy.
Johnny hails from Brooklyn, NY and has been playing bass since he was 13 years old. During his varied and eclectic music career he’s played along side such artists as Marky Ramone, Willie Nile, Bruce Springsteen, Ryan Adams, Joan Jett and Cheetah Chrome. He’s appeared on television, in movies and played both electric and upright bass on a soundtrack for a Bruce Willis movie. In addition, Pisano has appeared on Broadway in “50 Shades : The Musical” and with the Charlotte and Omaha symphony orchestras in “A Tribute To The Rolling Stones.” To say this man is talented is an understatement, but it’s his capacity to entertain you within an inch of your life that makes this man a star.
I sat down with Johnny recently at Cafe Nine in New Haven, CT when I was there to interview Willie Nile. Pisano was affable, kind and welcoming. As a fan for ages, I asked if he would allow an interview and he most benevolently complied.
Johnny Pisano’s Punk Rock Pizzeria is playing with Tommy London at the Gramercy Theater on 9/27/17 after the record release show. Please visit http://www.johnnypisano.com and http://www.facebook.com/johnnypisanospunkrockpizzeria
Johnny Pisano’s Punk Rock Pizzeria: Everbody Gets A Slice album review:
Johnny Pisano has finally made it to the head of the class. The veteran musician, who has spent decades playing alongside of some of the best artists in the industry has always held his own. When an artist is this talented, there is never much question that eventually his own star will shine through. That being said, this album was one that just had to be made. With Johnny at the reins you hear the music he was always meant to play. Comedic, melodic and infectious, this album stands apart and stands on its own. Pisano never needed to fall back on the famous names he’s worked along side for recognition. His ability to sing, play and entertain you have always been a talent he has possessed fully, no help necessary.
The album has hints of Iggy Pop, The Clash and even The Dead Kennedy’s, but it also reeks of straight ahead rock ‘n’ roll. It takes you for a wild ride, with comedic intro’s that segue into true punk rock anthems. Not surprisingly, because of the title of this blog, Midlife Crisis was the first track I listened to, and it quickly became my favorite track on the record. You can hear all of Pisano’s punk influences throughout the song, but make no doubt about it, this is a Pisano original. It is all his own. All Fucked Up From Growing Up is a song all of us can relate to. The Know It Alls is a punk anthem at his finest, with catchy riffs and a chorus that just makes you want to scream along. Just when you think that this album remains solidly centered exclusively in the punk rock genre , Maloveilove and One Guitar Mon show Pisano’s diversity.
A punk rock feast for the ears, this album truly delivers slice after slice of a rocking good time.
There are few musicians in this world that are as intent on giving their audience everything they’ve got every single time they go out on that stage as Willie Nile. There are many more that play by rote, doing the same set lists over and over and not seeming to take any joy in the fact that they are living the dream of so many in being blessed enough to actually make a living as a musician. Although Willie Nile has been in the industry for 40 plus years, he continues to play every show as if he is having the time of his life and makes damn well certain that the audience is having the just as much fun as he is. If you aren’t smiling and clapping and singing along at a Willie Nile show, you may as well just go home and stay there. With Nile, there is just no way to avoid a good time.
I’ve seen Willie countless times and I always feel like I’ve been invited to the best party in town. A secret one that not everyone knows about but should. He never lets his audience down. Willie’s show at Cafe Nine in New Haven was different from the other shows I’ve been to. It was just Willie and his band-mate, bassist Johnny Pisano, and it struck me that the show may be more subdued and have less energy than what I was used to. I could not have been more wrong. The duo rocked the house down, solidifying the fact the Nile (as well as Pisano) is one of the greatest performers in the industry. The show was heavy on songs from his newest release Positively Bob : Willie Nile Sings Bob Dylan, but also included many of the tremendous gems Willie has created over the years. I brought a friend that had never seen Nile play live before and he knew immediately that Willie is a one of a kind act that you need to see at least once or twice in your lifetime if you really do love rock n roll.
I was lucky enough to sit down with Willie before the show to discuss his new release, touring and where he gets his inspiration.
Crisis: What inspired the Positively Bob album?
Willie: About a year ago they were doing a celebration of Bob’s 75th birthday at City Winery in Manhattan. I got a phone call asking if I’d come and sing 4 songs and close the show and I thought, Let me think about that for a bit. My feeling was that If I could bring something to the songs and have fun with whatever it is I was playing, it could be a lot of fun. I looked some albums over and I found songs right away that I thought would be fun to play, Hard Rains Are Gonna Fall, Rainy Day Women, Blowin’ In The Wind. As I was looking them over I realized how current and how relevent these songs still are today. It was so much fun doing that gig, playing those 4 songs and listening to all of the other great Bob songs played that night I thought, man, I think I could make a really joyful record. And a lot of these songs, you don’t hear them anymore. Love Minus Zero/No Limits, is one of the best love songs ever, and you don’t hear it anymore. So I thought I’d put some energy into this and really have some fun. Pretty much took us only two days. We knocked it put real quick.
Crisis: I know Bob is one of your inspirations and someone you really admire, and I have to be completely honest with you. Dylan is a genius and his songwriting is beyond compare, so I wondered if I’d like this record. The minute I gave it a listen, I was so taken aback. Some of these songs sounded even better to me through your interpretation of them. You put your own spin on them while still making it obvious that you were respecting the master.
Willie: We had so much fun doing this record. These songs are all masterpieces. I went into the studio and it fell together fast. When you have great songs and great people going in to create this music, and you do it with reverence and respect and when you pay homage to the artist, I guess it really all comes together. One of the best parts is that my grandchildren now know who Bob Dylan is. That’s just so awesome. I have a videotape of one of my granddaughters in the back seat of the car and she is belting out Hard Rains Are Gonna Fall, at the top of her lungs, she’s two! That makes it all worth it right there.
Crisis: Have you heard any feedback from Bob?
Willie: Well, Bob’s facebook page put a beautiful blast out about the record, which is awesome. I sent it to Bob, through his office with a note, with love and I think at this point Bob has earned the right to remain silent about things. His son Jacob is a buddy of mine. They are great songs and its a joy to sing them. I’m just lucky to be able to do it.
Crisis: These songs are so incredibly relevent, even today, It’s so rare to have a song span decades and remain as timely and true today as they were when they first came out. We are in some crazy political times and Bob has always been very outspoken politically. Where do you stand on the current madness in the world and do you think music should play a role?
Willie: I think music should be a part of our lives no matter what. There is a lot of tension and stress today and injustice. It’s absurd and should be better than it is. Whether or not mankind learns from history, it hasn’t yet. So I just wanted to put these out into the ether, very mindful of the fact the world is in such chaotic shape, It’s not all bad, there are many places full of love and kindness and goodness, but the refugee crisis, the nuclear bullshit between Trump and North Korea’s leader. It’s like really? Are you both ten years old? It’s a pissing match and as human race we can do better. I grew up when Kennedy was president and he taught us that compassion and doing for others meant something. I believe in that. I believe in compassion and I believe in people. Most people are truly good, but the bad guys get a lot of attention. I think we need to do our best, treat each other with kindness, and for me, put songs out that I believe in.These Dylan songs, they speak to all of this. I sing music that I care about and means something to me. I think music can force and enable change to happen, not always, but there is certainly no harm in trying.
Crisis: Everyone I’ve played this new album for has loved it. It was me listening to Dylan in a fresh new way and it made me really sit back and listen to how incredible these songs truly are. Are you happy with how it turned out? It was obvious how respectful you were to the artist and how much his music meant to you.
Willie: The album is about him. It’s about his songs. But I thought we could bring some good energy to it. We did, and I think it’s clear that we love the music and his great, great songs. All the vocals on it, 10 songs were done with no overdubs in just two or three takes. It was just my guitar and singing, it’s all live, and that wasn’t planned. I’m not full of myself and I approached this album in a way that I think was respectful of the genius of Bob. It was so much fun, a real joy to make. My heart was really in it.
Crisis: I’ve seen you play live countless times and your live shows are just legendary. I’ve never seen you play as a duo. Should I expect the energy levels to be different?
Willie: Oh no. The energy will be there. Johnny Pisano is a great artist, he plays the bass and sings. We have a ball playing. It’s not as loud, but you can hear every word. I can tell more stories. It’s never about volume, it’s about character and the songs. Sometimes I think a duo can be even better than a night with the full band.
Crisis: I take anybody that will listen to see you play live. In fact, I’ve got someone who’s never seen you live before here with me tonight. How do you keep playing with such energy without it getting stale? I’ve never once seen you put on a mediocre show.
Willie: When I play I will not walk out on stage, even if I’m sick, unless I am going to try to make it special for the audience. I can tell in two seconds when I’m at a live show if the band is phoning it in, and I just never want to do that. I’m having a ball. If it ever stops meaning everything to me, that’s when I’ll stop.
Crisis: How many days a year do you tour?
Willie: I really don’t know, I guess I’ve stopped counting. I think probably about a hundred shows or so a year. And we play every kind of place. We are playing Yankee stadium on September first. A Red Sox/ Yankees game. Take that Babe Ruth! It’s for Little Steven’s Underground Garage, which is this great show on Sirius radio. We will be singing Blowin’ In The Wind at Yankee stadium. That’s pretty cool. From stadiums, to dive bars, bring it on. We play them all the same. For me and Johnny, it’s always about the songs.
Crisis: What kind of legacy to you want to leave your Grandchildren?
Willie: That’s a great question. I’ve got four of them now. I guess I just want them to know that they are loved by their grandparents and parents. They know I’m not a normal grandfather. I want them to know that it’s okay to be a little different. To think outside the box. And that they really can realize their dreams. And now they know Bob Dylan. It doesn’t get any better than that.