What was the first record you owned and do you still have it?
The Heart Of Stone single by SVT. I lost it. But I found another copy a couple years ago. The original 7’’ is killer. Great band. Brian Marnell was the frontman. He was an impossibly good looking dude. Black hair falling down his face. Typewriter paper pale white com- plexion. He played a Johnny Thunders Gibson TV Special. And Jack Cassidy from The Jeffer- son Airplane played bass. Jack ran his bass through some kind of phase shifter. Great lit- tle song. I played the hell out of that single.
What was your favourite record store when you were growing up? Is it still there?
The Music Box in La Habra, California. Classic place. Don’t know if it’s still there or not.
Is there any prized records you own?
I have a test pressing of Big Star’s Third. Jim Dickinson gave it to me. A cool artefact of a masterpiece of a record. There weren’t really cassettes back then. Ardent pressed up white label LP demos to try and get a deal for the cracked masterpiece that wasn’t to come out until years later. They even sprang for a tai- lored suit and sent Jim Dickinson out to LA to play it for some A&R people out there. Jim showed up one day to a session wearing a colourful scarf and I asked where he got it. “That’s about all I have to show from Sister Lovers”. On the acetate he gave me he wrote in his inimitably crude style with a felt pen: “Big Star Sister Lovers —produced by Jim Dickinson. Eng. John Fry. NOT 4 SALE.
What made you first pick up a musical instrument?
I was born and raised in Whittier, California, President Richard M. Nixon’s hometown. If you shook a tree in my neighbourhood, five guitar players would fall out. Someone put a guitar in my hands. And it made sense to me. It felt like a limb. Like someone I’ve known all my life.
When and where did you first hear one of your songs on radio?
Not sure. But I do recall hearing Summertime Thing in a supermarket in Philadelphia at a salad bar. It gave me a weird feeling. And I liked it.
What is your proudest moment as a musician/songwriter?
Probably the covers. Hearing Bruce Spring- steen sing my words was a thrill for sure. And the cover of No Other Love by Heart. Ann Wil- son’s voice. To me she’s like Elvis or some- thing. But every gig is like my last. Lots of proud moments along the way. And deep dis- appointments and despair as well. But, I’m still out here. Still standing over steaming manholes. Still kicking the chords and the riffs around. Still out here on the hillbilly high- way going from gig to gig.
While writing, do songs come to you or do you have to search for them?
They come to you if you’re lucky. But, you need to at least feel lucky. I don’t know where the ideas come from. But, I’m happy when they show up. I suppose they come from someplace deep inside — from my heart and soul and gut. From my nerve endings and memories and fears and nightmares. From living a full and uninhibited life.
What’s the best part of the songwriting process for you?
Recording is the best. I wouldn’t have written as many songs if I didn’t know that I might get to hear them coming out of the big speak- ers. The Studio is magic. Plus, I’ve met the most interesting people around the water cooler in recording studios. I met Sputnik Monroe the great wrestler. A man who re- ferred to himself as 230 pounds of twisted steel and sex appeal. Met Lee Hazelwood in a studio in Scottsdale once as well.
Where’s the weirdest place you ever wrote a song?
I lived in an abandoned sock factory. Wrote much of my first record there. It was in that place that I fell through a third storey skylight by accident. There was drinking involved. The hospital sent me away with a bottle of painkillers and a pair of crutches. Sometimes I think I did some permanent damage to my brain that night. But yeah, great place.
Who have you most enjoyed collaborating with?
Dan Stuart, Alejandro Escovedo, Dan Penn, Jim Dickinson, Peter Mulvey, Kelly Willis, John Murry… And I know I’m leaving a bunch of people out somehow.
What books/writers do you read and do they influence your music?
All the poets. I have a healthy appetite for mu- sic. And there are still records that I reach for like Alex Chilton. Dylan. Kinks… Tonight’s the Night by Neil Young… Flamin’ Groovies. And country music too. Waylon Jennings, Gram Parsons…
Who (dead or alive) would be in the line up of your dream backing band?
I’d like to play with Jerry Garcia. I once shook Jerry’s hand. No fooling. And it felt like shak- ing a catcher’s mitt. I’d just love to have Jerry around. And I like the way he plays pedal steel too. That’s him on Teach Your Children, right?
Is there anything about touring Ireland that sets it apart from everywhere else?
We had a great time in Kilkenny last time around. John Murray played with us, if I re- call. Which reminds me. John has been known to “go off.” (Ask the soundman from our last tour together – he’s got the scars to prove it.) We don’t get to Ireland enough. Looking forward to it.
What did you dream last night?
I was dreaming about Brad Jones. I’m on my way to see him now. For a session. He’s pro- ducing a Kim Richey record. I think of him a lot. Brad has strengths I don’t have. He has an incredible brain. He’s fast. And he’s totally ca- pable of anything. If I told him I wanted to record on the roof, but only on a full moon, he’d get out a weather chart and start crunch- ing numbers or whatever it is people do when they study weather charts.
What advice do you have for new artists?
Don’t take advice. Just make it matter. Just do it. If you’re an artist, be an artist. Making a decent record or playing a gig is a lot like coaching high school football or something. You’ve got to be smart enough to do it and dumb enough to think it matters. If it matters to you maybe it will matter to other people too.
What would your autobiography be called?
‘I should have stayed in school.’