Travis Somerville, Painter

I root for the home team; it's how I'm wired. This isn't exactly a disclaimer—I don't know what it is—but here comes another friend of mine I want to pimp a little.

His grist is the mythical South. On canvas he mixes it up: part litho, part collage, part oil paint, part found photographs. His name is Travis Somerville. Here's the thing: Everybody comes to San Francisco from somewhere else. And Travis, a preachers kid from Atlanta, is no exception.

In this world of one-percenters and 99-percenters, you don't have to stare long at his paintings to see Travis knows that oppression and greed is nothing new. Meanwhile, Travis keeps one eye on the road ahead and one on the rear view mirror for juicy road kill. Like Malcolm X in Nike shoes. One of my favorites Somerville titles is The Raft Of The Grand Wizard.

When the Catherine Clark Gallery had the good taste to pick up Travis back in 1995 or so, I was there. Since then, the rest of the world—as the rest of the world will—has slowly caught on. He's picked up some deep-pockets collectors along the way too, Whoopi Goldberg among them. Could Ted Danson be next?

If you're in S.F., pay Travis a visit at his studio. He's out there in the toxic wasteland of Hunters Point. I've hung out with him in his studio and I can tell you one thing: He's always got great music playing.

Rock out with your brushes out!

Video after the jump.

[ LINK ]

Mom, Spitting in Her Hand (for Van Christian)

Van Christian (Naked Prey) reached out to me for some quotes for his new record. I listened to it. And it moved me.

By the way, not that it totally matters, but Van's record was completely financed by running pot cross country for Mexican National's. Shortly after Van finished his opus he got busted and served 3 years. He's out now. And flying straight.  Anyway, seek out the record. It's worth the seeking.


Mom, Spitting in Her Hand

Trust me here - that weird title is a good way of thinking about Van Christian. Maybe I'll be able to explain that. First, you know, we all ought to be a little bit more grateful. Maybe quit worrying so much about being graceful. Is there any single creature who made the Tucson scene more interesting, more fun? And am I grateful for him? Damn straight I'm grateful. Now you go and be grateful.

Seriously, did anyone make Tucson cooler? No. Any one more than Van fucking Christian? Name one and I'll go down on you with the cameras rolling at the 50-yard line at half time on the Super Bowl where everybody in America is waiting for the high-dollar commercials and wardrobe malfunctions.

Way before Desert Rock was shanghaied by careeristas -shit-snipes who in a (forget perfect) merely fair world would be teaching Jazz Band at a second-rate community college in Los Posole, New Mexico or Glee Club in Pacomia - before there were even matches at Burning Man...

Before any of that, there was that crazed son of a doctor Van Christian. My opinion here. My opinion this time out is flat fact.

In the Zonie tradition - from Alice Vincent Cooper to Hector Molina - you'll find the true Desert Rock where, I guess, people couldn't go any further on the 10. Desert Rock: the skuzzy stuff, the truly good stuff, the skanky and skeezy right-off-the-bone real stuff. Rock and Roll. Loose, tight. Sloppy, precise. Clear-eyed and fucked up. Messy, Greasy. Revelations from the desert. The deep fried nausea, the pass the fucking bong I really think I'm Elvis lunacy.

That's Van Christian. I don't have to say this. I seldom get paid for anything and I damn sure don't expect a paycheck from Van. No, this praise isn't because of all the things he knows about me I wish he didn't - and that grizzled dishwasher better take those tales to his grave. No. I want to say this because, hey! this time out he means business. He financed this record about the hardest of ways - but also sort of traditionally.  When Black Flag were broke, Henry delivered Dominos in Venice. Or so they say. Van did his time as a deliveryman, but there weren't many pepperoni with extra cheese thin crusts involved.

He stayed alive. That's business. There's an amazing - true - story about how that madman got called into his day-job boss' office for a spanking at best and a firing at worst. The crazy fucker saluted his boss who was baffled by how Van looked - sort of like a chipmunk who'd been eating peyote buttons. But he started laughing. Couldn't keep a straight face. And when he grinned, his boss saw that Van had somehow managed to get an entire hand grenade between his jaws and onto his tongue and then close his lips. But he started laughing. And his boss fled from the room.

There's some sort of movie about Tucson music out there, censored/uncensored. What the fuck ever. But the Van Christian movie won't ever be made. And for that I'm grateful; Van's life has been a free flick you want to see over and over. Somewhere, those idiot desert rat new born transplants like Larkins are laying down that country club/high country groove. And for that the world shows it's gratitude with rolled up twenties. But Van is under that radar. His new record says it all. Van is a natural, and his henchmen are perfect for the heist. Guitars into Memory Mans. Fuzz in just the right places. I can taste broken strings and I can imagine the bent spoons it took to cook it up. I smell the perfume of brain cells in the ozone.

This record is Van's movie. It's like Mom spitting into her hand to try to lay your cowlick down. It's defiant. Stubborn. Perfect. The violin's just enough out of tune to pull your ear. The record's an assault in some ways, yes, but it's tender and chaotic at once. Mostly, it's sweet, the sweetly definitive Tucson record.

Maybe it's better than sweet: it's poignant.

I salute you, Van Christian.

Chuck Prophet, San Fransico/Los Angeles/Baja

Jim Dickinson (1942 - 2009) R.I.P.

(PICTURED: Left to right: David Hood, CP, Calvin Russell, Jim Dickinson, Roger Hawkens)

Have faith in the process. Trust the producer. Listen to the songs. Never, NEVER, stop rolling! Don't answer the phone in the studio, it could be the company telling you to stop! Don't let anybody make you feel bad about what you're doing. You can burn out but that doesn't mean you can't get lit again. I've seen in happen.

- Jim Dickinson (1942 - 2009)

I just learned that Jim died. I'm punched in the chest.

Jim's presence here may be gone. And it was a big presence. But his music, his spirit? Well, hell, you know how this sentence ends.... I'm sad. Deeply. But the memories that swirl tonight under the ceiling fan aren't sad at all.

Jim's health hadn't been good for some time. I reached out to his son Luther last week to see how Dad was doing. They were preparing for a benefit show for Jim and Luther sent me a text, "Dad woke up at midnight after sleeping all day, and started barking orders. Still producing!"

Dickinson: you might know him as the guy who produced Big Star's 3rd, or the guy on the back of the "Paris, Texas" soundtrack rolling what looks like a round of duct tape across the keyboard of a Steinway grand piano (they opened tuned that piano, by the way. "It took days!"). Or playing with Dylan. Or maybe you know him as the man who played those three notes of tack piano on the Stone's Wild Horses. Jim was a magnet. The people that stopped by the sessions were unreal. Sputnick Monroe? Sure. And Ry Cooder coming by and sharing a chat with us. Casually picking up every one of the 15 guitars laying and playing a half riff. Always searching.

He was a sensitive man. But full of mischief and fun. Corny as it sounds, he was like a father to me. I was definitely a student. I always feel his presence. He left his mark.

Jim was also a dedicated man, dedicated to the art of record producing and to his family. He believed making records was a fight of Light vs. Dark—but he refused to work Saturdays so he could watch his Memphis Wrestling on TV. A tangle of contradictions, his gruff exterior never hid his huge heart.

As a producer, when he sensed that Green on Red lacked faith in ourselves, fearing it was all hollow, a scam, Jim said, "Never let anybody make you feel bad about what you're doing" . He offered belief. And made you feel your work was important.  It was clearly important to him. What a gift he gave us.

Makes sense that Jim once wanted to teach history. Every session, every van journey, was a history lesson with Jim. Often in the morning of a session—and Jim was old school: he was punctual—Jim would play music to inspire us. Might be scratchy vinyl of Kerouac recitations, or Mac Rice demo's on 7" reels he'd cribbed from Stax. (Tina the Go Go Queen was on there.) Or Black Oak Ark sessions Jim produced back when Ardent was still 8 track. Back when Jim engineered. "Sure, I used to go out and do the hand claps with the band." It was all part of our extended education.

I made several records with Jim, including two-and-a-half Green On Red slabs, and the odd session Jim hired me for. With my band, we backed Jim on a live record. Jim had been a constant presence in my life. A mentor. A friend. Just the other day a Radio 6 DJ accused Jim Dickinson of producing my last record. She was wrong, but I said, "Yeah, well, it's like he's always in the room." I told the truth. "Jim was always excited about new music. He loved The Cramps. He never got old.

"Yeah, you're right this Johnny Dowd record is DANGEROUS. Gives me faith it can still be done this late in the game, Chuck."

Some of my favorite Dickinson memories:

Green On Red picking Jim up at LAX back in 1986 or so, to take him to the studio. Jim mentioned he'd like some weed. No problem. We took a slight detour to Alvarado St. where you hold a ten dollar bill out the window and a kid runs off with it. Out of nowhere someone lowers a basket from a rooftop on a fishing  pole with a bag of weed in it.

Jim later said to me, "Boy, you guys. I have to say I was really impressed."

How happy Jim was when Dylan started performing Across the Borderline in concert? "Bob Dylan singing MY words!"

On over-dubbing the solo on GOR's Morning Blue: "Come on Chuck, grow up, play something cohesive!"

Over-dubbing the backing vocals on GOR's Zombie for Love, Jim said "make it sound like one of the black extras for the cheap horror movies: Eye's a  S-s-s-s-ombie/Eye's a  S-s-s-s-om-beee". With Dan Stuart singing, Dickinson playing drums without sticks but those paint stirring things from the hardware store instead.

On showing me his version of Shake Your Money Maker, I asked `Is that on Elmore's version Jim?' "Hell no, that comes from the Fleetwood Mac version. It SMOKES over Elmore's" . The immortal Jim Dickinson: Fleetwood Mac could smoke Elmore James.

The biggest honor (but I was mighty honored when he covered my songs) was that I was his first one in—calling me as soon as he got back from the Time Out Of Mind sessions. Sharing Dylan stories; Dylan needling Lanois: "Maybe if I took some more advice on how to sing I'd have a career by now." On the passing of Sam Phillips:  "They say God created all men equal. Still, I think God created Sam with just a little extra." On tuning: "Tuning is a decadent European habit bordering on the homosexual." Said with no malice, just his grin. And again on tuning but years later: "This auto tune is great. I'd run the drums through it if I could."

On producing the Replacements: "Did you know Paul Westerberg wears make up?"

In the studio producing—David Hood and Roger Hawkins were the rhythm section—listening to those guys reminiscing about the Stones at Muscle Shoals. Hood: "Who was that chick with the camera that hung around?" And Hood again:  "Jagger wore the same clothes five days in a row. Until Wexler showed up and Jagger came out of the hotel elevator wearing that white suit."

Jim giving me a white label copy of Big Star's Sister Lovers. 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 tailored suit and sent Jim out to LA to play it for some A & R people out there. Jim showed up one day to a session wearing a colorful scarf and I asked where he picked it up. "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."

Rehearsing with Jim for a couple of gigs that later turned into the Thousand Footprints in the Sand live record, I asked, "Is that a major or a minor chord you're playing there?". Jim looked down studied his fingers at the keyboard and said, after a pause, "I don't know, I just kind of float it."

Once when Dan Stuart and I made the trek to Hernando for dinner at the Dickinson house:  Jim said,  "I was hoping you might be willing to go down in the basement and fuck with my kids". And so we did. Went down there and fired up the Marshals and jammed with Luther and Cody on some thrash metal. When we resurfaced, Jim was really pleased. Just beaming. Jim and Mary did something right, because they raised two boys who are a couple of the kindest and most gentle men you'll ever meet.

That was a long time ago. The dot where Memphis is on the map became a tunnel and a journey and a life's work. And now the new heroes are the business men. It's a mixed up shook up world. Indeed.

Don't answer the telephone in the studio, it could be the company telling you to stop...

God bless Mr. Jim Dickinson. God blessed us with him.

—Chuck Prophet, Baja California, Mexico, August 2009

Open Mind Music: RIP

Good times don't last forever. Open Mind Music RIP.

Yes, my friends, once again we must report that due to changing times, rising rents and greedy "super size me" developers, Henry Wimmer's Open Mind Music closed it's doors once and for all.

Before they toss up a Staples in its place, we celebrated with a kegger. I dragged my PA down, and we had a cluster-lunch of bands playing in the shop all day. The kegger shin-dig turned out to be a cool event. Crazy Horse minus Neil was riveting. Meri St. Meri came out of retirement. Tom Heyman played, Ray played, the legendary comedian Barry Sobel had us slapping our thighs. Hayes Carl and his gang came down the sidewalk wearing their guitars like gunslingers after their soundcheck down the street at the Du Nord, John Murry, Eric McFadden, Mike Therieau, Phil Crumar, Penelope Houston all brought it.

I wasn't able to make my way through to the Soundtrack section, or the Country section at all. I had planned to get back to the store. By the time I did, it was tumbleweeds man. (see picture).

It was a great send off. It could have been a lot worse. A LOT worse. It could have rained! John Murry could have stiffed me on the Milkshake he owed me (he didn't).

We could have run out of beer!

I might have a new career as a sound-man. I did get a lot of encouraging compliments on the sound. Thanks very much. 

Power to the people,


Randy Newman at the Symphony

Kelley Stoltz and I were off to see Randy Newman at the Symphony Hall.

I picked Kelley up on the way; when he climbed in the car with a stack of Randy Newman records, a Sharpie and a camera, I was like, "Kelley, what are you DOING with that stuff? I don't roll like that ". Kelley said, "I can't help myself, I'm a record geek, we HAVE to get autographs."

And pictures too, it turns out.

We told Randy that we cut one of his unreleased songs on Stephanie Finch. He said, "Really? Take my picture now, I look happy, I'm thinking about money."

I'm certainly no singer compared to Kelley, but clearly I'm the better photographer.

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