Alex Chilton and “Sister Lovers” (A.K.A. Big Star’s “Third”)

Last Christmas, my mother-in-law got me the new Big Star boxed set as a gift. I put it in the CD player in the car and headed over for some holiday partying. I totally spaced out, missed my exit and had to double back under the freeway (twice!), listening to an acoustic demo of "Jesus Christ." Still geeking out on Alex Chilton and Big Star after all these years.

There are records I get smitten with. And then there are the few I return to again and again; my fingers seem to find them before my brain starts up. I don't know how many copies of Big Star's Third I've owned. It's been reissued a bunch of times. I think I bought it each time. But the copy Jim Dickinson gave me is pictured below. More on that in a minute.

This is Alex's abstract expressionist masterpiece. With Jody Stephens behind the kit, John Fry behind the board and Jim very much in his corner, Sister Lovers never lets me down. They say that by the time it came around, Alex was described as bitter. Hell, I don't hear it (the bitterness). I hear beauty. The performances are loose. Effortless. Wild and free and off the cuff. But there's nothing half-assed. It's a mystery that stays a mystery.

When Alex sings, "I first saw you/You had on blue jeans," that's entertainment. Poetry, too. From the heart, from the soul. Compositionally, it's actually quite sophisticated. And with Alex's 3-a.m. first takes and the beautiful Carl

Marsh strings, it's really the perfect marriage of the street and the regal.

The story I got was that Ardent (the studio that put up the time and money) pressed up some of these white label LPs to try and get a deal for the record. They even sprang for a tailored suit (and a designer scarf) and sent Jim out to L.A. to play it for some A&R people. One famous response from Jerry Wexler that Jim seemed to take great pride in: "Jim, baby, this music you sent me is making me very uncomfortable."

While Jim was producing my old band Green On Red, he showed up one day to a session wearing a colorful scarf, and I asked him about the scarf. And he was like, "That's about all I have to show from Sister Lovers."

On the acetate below, 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."

Much has been written about how ahead of its time Sister Lovers was. And that got me to thinking about one more thing I want to share. A few years ago, Green On Red played on a festival in Spain with Big Star. Alex introduced a new song and said, "This is off the new record. People hate it. The critics say it's horrible. Don't worry, in 30 years you'll love it!" Alex did his time on earth, but his time has never been up.

Photo after the jump.

Alex Anderson

Rocky The Flying Squirrel, Bullwinkle, Dudley Do-Right and Crusader Rabbit. If you recognize those names, they assume a certain, almost holiness for you: sitting by the TV as a kid, in simpler days, when only the Russians were out to get us. My manager, Dan Kennedy, lost his father, Alex Anderson (not to be confused with Big Al Anderson), in 2010. Anderson created all of these characters. It is another one of those great American stories that started in a garage. Way back in the day, Anderson and his childhood friend and eventual business partner,Jay Ward, worked out of a studio apartment and a duplex garage in Berkeley, Calif., to crank out some 195 episodes of Crusader Rabbit.

While Anderson, a laid-back guy, was always generous toward his partner in crediting him with the business side of Rocky And Bullwinkle, it took a lawsuit against Ward's estate for Dan's father to get recognition as creator. (Though not all that publicly; you won't find his name at the beginning of any of the films released by Universal. Rather than seeing "Created by Alex Anderson" you will see "Developed by Jay Ward.") In conversations on the topic, Dan, himself a mild-mannered dude, is always quick to say, "Jay Ward created nothing! That's like me taking credit for Chuck's songs."

When his dad passed away, I sensed Dan was pretty determined to set the story straight. As it turned out, he didn't have to do much, since the press kept the family phone ringing for days. The family went into high gear filling in details on Anderson's life, and Dan frantically scanned family photos, running to Kinko's to meet deadlines.

Dan's put up with more than his share of my hi-jinx over the years and always leans on what's right for me as an ar-teest or whatever you want to call it. And all these years later we're still doing it: making records and making the gigs happen. Sometimes we wander into grandiose territory, other times we're just trying to keep the van running. Dan credits the relationship with his father for his affinity for artists, and his father's lack of full recognition for why

he is so hell bent on being fair. And he is fair. Sometimes to a fault if you ask me. But, oh well, I suppose that explains why we affectionately refer to him around here as "Iowa Boy."

Anyway, it's an all-American saga. A Sam Phillips/Elvis/Sun Records kind of story. About a guy laying it out there in an effort to connect with people and express himself and his ideas. And what could be cooler than that? When Dan wanted a logo for his management company, he asked his dad to draw one. The Mummyhead Music logo pleases me to look at. It's on all the record's we put out now.

Video after the jump.

[ LINK ]

Klipschutz, Songsmith and Poet

Once when I was playing on some tracks for this actress, I told her Klipschutz was my favorite poet. Later when she mentioned it to him, he turned and asked me who my second favorite poet was. I couldn't think of one. Uh ... Smokey Robinson? I first met klipschutz (pen name of Kurt Lipschutz) in the early '90s at the Albion (pictured above). He was an "offstage member" of Bone Cootes & The Living Wrecks. They had something going on. Fast forward and he got a few co-writes on my second record.

Since then we've written a lot more, with a 10-year interruption when we had a falling out over "creative differences." I'd always wanted to have a falling out over "creative differences," and it was everything I hoped it would be. A while back, klip was very much unemployed and we ran into each other. A year later, we'd written Temple Beautiful. He doesn't like having his picture taken.

I'm not exactly a tech head, but I feel like one around klip. He doesn't have a cell phone (but borrows mine), is not on Facebook or Twitter, doesn't have a laptop. Still and all, even though Steve Jobs said he often wished he'd been a poet in Paris, klipschutz actually is one, in our own little Paris of California: San Francisco.

Klip has books. You can find them if you look, hard. (Don't talk me about rock and the underground. Try poetry sometime; you'll need a shovel.) His first one,The Erection Of Scaffolding For The Re-Painting Of Heaven By The Lowest Bidder is a true collector's item (100 copies).

You can read his stuff in magazines here: Evergreen Review, Fogged Clarity andPedestal.

In 2006, klip started Luddite Kingdom Press and folded every page in 150 copies of All Roads...But This One. You have to see it to believe it. Unfortunately, klip was fighting an illness for the last six months and the website disappeared. But wait, he just called and said it's back up, thanks to a hero in Colorado named Jeff Bahr. (Now he says he's joining Facebook.) Apparently, the PayPal button on the site is broken.

Video after the jump.

[ LINK ]

Jack’s Record Cellar and Roy Loney

You've probably heard of the Haight Ashbury. Well, the Haight Ashbury over time became simply the Haight. Then it was the Upper Haight. At which point Haight & Fillmore turned into the Lower Haight. It's not all that confusing as it sounds. Anyway, the Lower Haight is where you'll find Jack's Record Cellar, open on a schedule it takes a minute to wrap your head around. ("Open to the public on Saturdays, on other days by reservation only.") Someone once said that the first thing you'll notice in Jack's is that record-store smell. The kind of smell that lets you know you just might find something mind-blowing here.

Behind the counter at Jack's, if you're lucky, you might find Roy Loney. Yes, the Roy Loney. I was there recently and Roy, DJing from behind the counter, played a bunch of Elvis and Hank Williams 78s: all titles I'd never heard before. They sounded like they were recorded last Friday.

I'd seen Roy on the street for years and always been too shy to introduce myself. But when I'm making a record, I can't be shy. We were recording the song "Temple Beautiful" when I reached out to and told him, "I don't think we've formally met. But I feel like I know you. Any chance you'd be willing to come by the studio and lend your thing to the title track?"

A couple hours later he was standing in front of me, singing and being Roy Loney. Fifteen minutes after that he'd chewed right through the tape. He was nice enough to sign my lyric sheet before he disappeared back into the fog.

Temple Beautiful was made in San Francisco by San Franciscans about San Francisco. The song itself started as a title, and that's all it was for months. It doesn't exactly rhyme with anything but somehow it survived. It's set in a long-closed punk-rock club located in the old Reverend Jim Jones's People's Temple. I saw my first gigs there, and I still have a Temple poster with Roy Loney at the top of the bill; opening the show was Black Flag. Roy was there. He's always been there.

Dig this Dirk Dirksen clip. (I really think Dirk says it all: "People laying it on the line in an effort to express themselves." Yeah!) He embodied the golden era of S.F. punk. There was no dogma. No uniform. It was a freak show. Dig your inner weirdo. Wave that flag as high and as proud and high as you want.

Another photo after the jump.

Just Fucking Do it.

A couple a few years back I did an interview with with with the unfortunate title of "What I know now I wish I knew when I was getting started in the music business". (Not my idea). I went back and re-read it recently. Even though I say things I sometimes don't mean, I still stand by this. So I'm posting it here. Plus I refreshed the thing with a new title "Just Fucking Do it". Enjoy, C

What I know now I wish I'd known when I was getting started. Advice for musicians.

I wished I'd have guzzled lots less alcohol less and fucked lots more. I sort of wish I hadn't bitch-slapped a promoter who cheated me. It seemed so important at the time. But what good would any crystal ball have done me?

Maybe try not to take yourself too seriously. Try not to be terribly precious —but it doesn't hurt to be obsessive and dogged. To have some inner drive to get it right.

"Take the time to get things right." Ike Turner taught me that.

I was always an Ike Turner fan. Especially his obscure solo records from the 70's. In 1990, I saw an Ike Turner Soul Revue gig in San Francisco at the Last Day Saloon. There couldn't have been more than 20 people there. It was gloriously unorganized. Ike and his band played Proud Mary like five times and then left the stage. Ike came out for the encore by himself and sang Alice Cooper's Only Women Bleed at the Fender Rhodes. It was perverse, but oddly moving.

Odd. Moving. Cool.

We chatted him up, told him we were fans, musicians ourselves. Ike autographed a record for my friend Stephen Yerkey; he wrote: "Dear Steve, Always take the time to get the right people. Comeback next time, it will be much better. Sincerely, Ike."

Seriously, it's hard to say what I wished I'd known then... One thing that occurs to me is that I feel sorry for kids today with crappy MP3's. When I was a kid I really had to seek things out. To seek out the music and find a culture weird enough for me to identify with. And most of that came from listening to records. It really opened up my world. And the literature and films and all that came with it...

It was the records that pointed me in those directions. From Ry Cooder to Wim Winders to the German Expressionist filmmakers... and Dylan to Woody Guthrie and Townes Van Zandt to Robert Johnson... The Clash led me to Joe Ely and the Sugarhill Gang back through the looking glass and inside myself.

I come from a fairly conservative, non-musical family. I begged for guitar lessons, got golf lessons instead. I just don't think there's much of anything dangerous about dropping out and joining a band these days. But if it's fun, then I suppose it's as relevant as ever.

What to look for / watch out for in managers, attorneys, band members

You mean like, ask for five references and call the last one first? Heck, I don't know anything. You can hire lawyers and managers and all manner of sleazy ten per-centers/experts to help you navigate these decisions, but ultimate nobody else knows anything either. Some of the best guys are still one third bullshit....

It's true. The best thing might be to just find someone you trust. If you have someone who's a true believer in your corner, that's worth more than an army of so called experts. You have to have blind belief in what you're doing. Making a decent record is a lot like coaching high school football. You've got to be smart enough to do it and dumb enough to think it matters. It does matter. And it's the music that fuels the business, if there's any business at all to be had. But the buzz of doing it should be enough to get you off. If you're out to make a quick buck steal car stereos for chrisakes.

As daft as that sounds, I really believe it's true. Try not to be an asshole. But it doesn't hurt to have an asshole friend or two who's willing to shake it up for you. When people around me begin a statement or request or whatever with "In the future," my guts churn. I guess the best advice I can give is to listen to from within. Shit, that's what the Quakers do and they won the Nobel Peace Prize. If it doesn't feel right, it's probably not.

No man is an eyelid, and as much as everyone would like to cut out the middle man, there's nothing like the power of a gang; in guys that have your back. So surround yourself with cool people. Work with the label. Don't be afraid to take suggestions. You're all in it together. There's the writing, and the recording and the live show to worry about. And that's a lot. Fact is, you'll end up getting in bed with some good people and you'll ending up getting in bed with some people you'll come to find you don't want to wake up next to. And really, it's hard to tell until you're in the heat of battle who's got your back and who doesn't. So, in order to get your music out there, just fucking do it.

I've done both, woken up in both of those beds. But ultimately it's about the music. Every great musician has some bad decisions in his past. Don't get too tangled up in the business side of things. Who wants to be in a band to listen to a cash register? Wait: don't answer that one.

You need much more than a good lawyer. You'll need luck. You'll need lightning. Then you can pay a lawyer to give you his opinion if it makes you feel better. If you can stay awake.

Just pay attention to the lightning.

And listen for the thunder.

The advantages or negative impact of technology on the business

MP3's are crappy sounding. That's a fact. Vinyl has always sounded better. But I try not to get too hung up on how the music is delivered into my psyche. It's easy to forget that it's all about the song, the mystery, the magic in the grooves.

That's the dope that you want. It's the dope that's important. It's not the needle. If you got to have it, you just got to have it. On cassette, vinyl, CD or whatever. If you need to hear Dusty Springfield singing The Look of Love ,you'll seek it out.

And it'll echo forever.

Advice you would give your favorite independent artist or band

I think I'd be more likely to seek advice from them. How'd they get to be my favorite. They must be doing something I can learn from.

Which reminds me, that it helps to be a fan. Learn other songs. Learn them, then unlearn them. Substitute your own life, your own absurd observations, your own point of view or lunacy into the frame.

Everyone needs to work to get by. Try to get a job where you have some isolation to think. Thebest job I ever had was parking cars. I once had a job parking cars at KMEL radio station in San Francisco, "America's Most Hip Hop" radio station. After I'd climb in behind the wheel, out of boredom more than anything else, I'd routinely root around the cars' contents. Don't know what I was looking for. I swear I never took anything more than an Altoid mint (or two). But I loved that job, it afforded me: I had a lot of time to think about songs and scheming and plotting new records. It was actually a very happy time for me. And the structure was healthy. Or so I think.

Step away from the computer. If you're to inspire people, you'll need inspiration. Inspiration is in everything, in everyone. Take the time out to visit the odd Hunting Lodge. The more taxidermied animals on the walls, the better. Also, find a guitar that stays in tune. If you can't, find a guitar you love and play it every day. You'll get to know it. And you'll get it to behave and do things for you after a while. Get intimate with its personality.

I still play the same 1984 Fender Squire Telecaster that Green On Red bought me when I joined them. Yeah, yeah, yeah: I know there's some kind of irrational attachment going on. I own others, but I've never played any other guitar than the Squire on a gig. Not sure why, maybe because it knows all the songs and I don't. Like Excalibur's Sword, it gives me power; or like that lucky pen—when I play it everything just flows through me. If just everybody had one of these things, I'd probably still be folding underwear at Nordstrom's. But really, I can't stress this enough: Seek out your own culture and your own music.

Seek things out.

Once, in a studio in Scottsdale, I ran into Lee Hazlewood. He was working in an adjacent room producing demo's for a local New Country singer and he'd assembled a group of housewife vocalists out of the union book to sing a background part imitating a train whistle ("Whoo whoo"). One woman turned to me and asked, "Is this some kind of joke?"

"Is this guy for real?"

Yeah, he was. Lee seemed to enjoy holding court for us, he gushed enthusiastic over Bobby McFerrin's Don't Worry, Be Happy (a big hit at the time) and told us "Gram Parsons would have shot watermelon seeds it he thought it'd get him high."

Years later, Nancy and Lee did a reunion tour and Lee refused to give any interviews. But, man he spilled it that day around the water cooler. I still have the business card he gave me in the top drawer of my desk.

I'm a fan first. For me, every time I make a new record, it's the same process. I assemble of group of talented, intense, difficult people. Many of whom I've work with before and a few I'll probably never work with again and I pray to the gods we can capture more than just the music. Maybe a little spirit. But you need luck.

Never quit being a fan. I don't really have any advice for my favorite artists. They're more like teachers to me. And never quit learning even if you have to unlearn everything first.

The value of music and musicians

Oscar Wilde wrote "All art is useless." And Oscar Wilde was a fine artist. It's okay to believe both. Music's art. After all, Andy Warhol said it: You're getting people to spend money on something they don't need. Chew on that concept.

I mean, if you can entertain yourself then there's value. And if you're having fun doing it, that's something too. I'm not totally behind the everything should be free theory. I mean, if I really wanted to put that to the test I'd move into Chris Anderson's house. There's really no value. There's a point between every other point, isn't that what they teach you in school? Infinite. But does that mean you can't walk home from school?

I know that in recent years there's a been an increase in well-adjusted musicians out there. Fuck, even I might have become one of them. But I'm not sure that returning every e-mail or MySpace message makes anyone more interesting. And as much as I love the freedom the internet provides, I do miss mono-analog-vinyl culture. I like it when records bring people together. And I do agree with Robert Christgau when he says that people generally do a better job if they're getting paid. These days, I see journalism really taking a rabbit punch and that's sad.

I never really thought of music as a vocation. In fact, I don't have a job. I'm not sure I'm actually making a living. You think you're in control? Are you sure that computer doesn't have YOU by the balls?

Just listen to what your guitar is telling you. Unlearn your songs. Then learn them again.

And watch for the lightning. It'll come.

Come back next time, it'll be much better. Sincerely, Chuck.

Chuck Prophet

Autumn 2009, on the road

Somewhere in England

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