Best Single Set:
Chuck Prophet at the Ale House, 11 p.m. Friday. That the room was about two sizes too small for the crowd—and for the increasingly ambitous scale and scope of Prophet's music—only served to amplify and intensify the glorious performance turned in by Prophet and his four-piece band. While he's always been a compelling live performer, Prophet seems to be stretching beyond himself these days, reaching heights he's never quite hit before. The vocal balance between him and keyboardist Stephanie Finch is precisely on target, while the rest of the crew just keeps driving all the dramatics and dynamics and grooves of Prophet's songs to tighter and trippier end-results. The peak moment: "Let's Do Something Wrong", a mission-statement for breaking the daily grind that had the crowd chanting along by song's end: "Let's do something wrong, let's do something stupid!"
The lead singer of this San Francisco band was born a Prophet. "Hell, if I was going to pick my name, I wouldn't have picked Prophet, that's for sure," Chuck Prophet says of his surname. "As for the Mission Express, no one remembers." When it comes to being a musical visionary, Prophet also had no choice. He was born with the gift of a golden voice. His tower of songs goes back to his Orange County childhood, when he inherited his sister's acoustic guitar and learned to play "Heart of Gold" by Neil Young. "I've been trying to find a guitar that stays in tune ever since," says Prophet, who played in punk rock band Green on Red before going on to collaborate with folks such as Warren Zevon, Jonathan Richman and Cake. In 1990, Prophet released his first solo record, "Brother Aldo," on the British label Fire Records. "They gave me 500 British pounds (about $800). I couldn't believe it." Prophet more recently has played the talk show tour (including Letterman and Carson Daly) for his newest a
lbum, "Soap and Water." Now he is stoked to get back on a San Francisco stage. "I do still get a kick out of playing," he says. "I call my mom every week and say my prayers every night. I still love traveling around and meeting people - to wake up interested in what you're doing is really a blessing. Music is the healthiest addiction I've ever had. And I've had a few."
Lineup: Chuck Prophet, vocals, guitar; Stephie Finch, singing, Farfisa organ; Kevin White, bass guitar; Todd Roper, drums, vocals; James DePrado, guitar, sweater vest.
1. Chuck Prophet and the Mission Express' music should be filed between:
You mean alphabetically, right? All roads lead to Dylan, I suppose. To be filed between Bach and Dylan would be a real honor. That's where you'll find the Beach Boys ... and the Beatles, too, come to think of it.
2. The soundtrack to what movie would your music best match?
You mean like "Easy Rider" or "Sunset Boulevard"? Inspiration is in everything, in everyone. ... How about "Midnight Cowboy"? Boy, that's a great soundtrack. I'd be a fool to put myself next to that soundtrack. I could only aspire to such greatness.
3. If you could collaborate on a song with any person, living or dead, who would that be?
4. If a junior high school asked you to play a cover song at the next talent show, what song and school would you choose?
Washington Junior High, La Habra (Orange County). "Louie, Louie" - that song should be the national anthem. In a way, it already is.
5. What is the meaning of life?
Still searching. You can't see me right now, but if you could you'd see that I'm deep in thought. Deep, deep thought. I'd be happy just to get bumped up to first class on a transatlantic flight once more before I die. It happened a few years ago on Virgin. I was convinced if the plane went down, all the passengers in first class would somehow float away unscathed. It was a glorious flight; I almost didn't want it to end. I thought I saw God in my fresh squeezed orange juice. It was brief, but intense.
Alejandro Escovedo's "Lust for Life": Real Animal
Austin, Texas isn't known as the "live music capital of the world" for nothing, and you don't need a SxSW wristband to partake. On any given weeknight, a live music addict wandering 6th Street or South Congress can step through the nearest pub door and find a quick fix of blistering rock and roll—one-off live shows that would shame more anticipated and choreographed productions taking place only on weekends in other cities.
Even by Austin's standards, though, Tuesday nights in particular must seem a bit special of late. Beginning last year and continuing through January, Austin's Alejandro Escovedo (link) took up a Tuesday night residency at the famed Continental Club. In listening to the concerts, Escovedo and his band (his frequent mix of string quartet and buzz-saw guitars) sound muscular, confident, and ready to take to the road.
Of all of the residency shows, however, none were more anticipated than a special show last Friday night, when Escovedo and singer-songwriter Chuck Prophet debuted material from their highly-anticipated release, Real Animal. Real Animal, an album of songs reflecting on Escovedo's life, including the title track, a tribute to one of his biggest influences, Iggy Pop, is slated for release in June. In fact, last Tuesday's show not only "debuted material," but, following a set by Prophet and his band (touring behind Prophet's 2007 release Soap and Water), Escovedo, Prophet, and band roared through through Real Animal in its entirety, track-by-track, in order...
High praise for a musician's musician
Relatively unknown singer-songwriter Chuck Prophet gathers kudos from artists, critics
Chuck Prophet's been playing music for a good 30 years.
Maybe you've heard of him?
He picked up a guitar as a child and started out in punk as a teenager in Southern California. There were about eight years in Green on Red, the country/rock/Americana band of the 1980s that inspired acclaim from critics and fans in the know. Then he went solo and created eight albums including his most recent, Soap and Water.
Nothing? No bells going off?
How about Lucinda Williams, heard of her? He toured with her. Kelly Willis? He produced her last album, Translated From Love, and has collaborated with her, writing songs and performing on her albums.
He's worked with Warren Zevon, Jonathan Richman and Alejandro Escovedo and the band Cake.
In other words, Chuck Prophet's a man with the kind of insider résumé that has earned him praise from musicians and listeners - the ones who are listening, that is.
"I think he's brilliant," said Willis, who has worked with Prophet since 1998, when she was working on her album What I Deserve.
"I think he's one of those few people who is really and truly a musical person. It isn't hard for him. It's instinctual and natural."
For committed fans and the curious, Prophet, 43, will perform tonight at the Continental Club as part of his tour for Soap and Water.
Like Willis' assessment of Prophet, the tunes on Soap and Water sound anything but hard. They feature sly and sexy lyrics set to music that surprises as it slides between amusing and moving.
Take the opening track, Freckle.
I like the way you freckle
I like the way you peel
I love to see your hair in a mess
It's been a long September
It's gonna to be a longer winter
Let me help you out of that dress.
Before you catch a cold.
Or the children's choir singing, "You could make a doubter out of Jesus" on a rock `n' roll song with a large dose of vulnerability.
But even with a career that boasts longevity in a burn-bright, burnout kind of business, Prophet says he's still not convinced he's making a living as a musician.
"Especially when I do my taxes at the end of the year," Prophet said in a telephone interview from a van on its way out of Denver after a show.
But he's been playing since he first traveled from his home in Orange County, Calif., to Los Angeles to hear punk bands and figured he and his friends could do that. He was 13.
Nearly seven years later he "was blown away" by Green on Red at a club in Berkeley, and asked to sit in with the band.
"Not only did they have a van, but they had a gas card," he said. "In the punk-rock economic strata, I thought that was positively bourgeois."
He joined up and performed with them for about eight years. That union produced some MTV airtime and eight albums.
"If I stand back far enough and squint, some of them are pretty good," Prophet said.
The group was "a groundbreaking thing, combining elements of country music with harder rock-roots stuff in a way that seemed kind of fresh and new," said Willis, who first became acquainted with Prophet's music when he played with Green on Red. "It was aggressive and country-ish at the same time."
After the band "just disintegrated," Prophet said, he started a solo career with his now wife, Stephanie Finch. From a home base in San Francisco, he also performed and wrote songs with other musicians.
He came in to Willis' music as a hired gun to play guitar on What I Deserve, she said. But he proved an attentive, professional and sensitive writing collaborator.
Since then, he has performed, produced or written on her albums.
"The key is he has a lot of respect for other people," Willis said. " ... He doesn't have the huge ego where it has to be all about him."
Critics have provided good buzz for Soap and Water.
Earlier this month, he and his band performed Doubter Out of Jesus on the Late Show With David Letterman.
For Prophet, this album "wasn't nearly as difficult to midwife as the others," he said. He chalks that up to years of experience teaching him how to write songs suited for his voice.
The result was an ease that comes across on the album and a "devil-may-care spirit to it," he said.
"I think," he said, "that boxing in the dark with your demons and assuming that is going to be interesting to people, that is a young man's game."
Interview With a Prophet
Thinking man's rocker Chuck Prophet rolls into the Continental Club Friday with Alejandro Escovedo, and I caught up with him Monday night as the van was traveling down I-10 near Fort Stockton, on its way toward Central Texas. We spoke about his latest disc, the indefinable Soap and Water (Yep Roc); his recent appearance on The Late Show With David Letterman; and the new album of songs he's written with Escovedo.
Geezerville: I saw you on Letterman a week or so ago. What was that experience like? Had you appeared on that show before?
Chuck Prophet: We'd never done the show before. It was a cool experience for a number of reasons. We're kind of a blues band. I don't mean that we play the blues, but we travel in a van, and if your amp's too heavy [and] you can't carry your own shit, don't bring it. So we ended staying at a hotel around the corner, coming in the night before. We were in the studio at 10:45am. Loaded in the gear. Right around that time there was a guy loading in the tubular bells, and I watched five union guys arguing over where to put it. Then they argued over how to mic the thing. That was really kind of funny.
G: That version of the song you did, "Doubter Out of Jesus (All Over You)," was pretty different from what's on the record. Is that the way you're doing it live?
CP: It's hard to get a definitive version of any song on a record. But that song has been one of the sleepers in our set. It's the song from the record that just ended up asserting itself. It never got left off the set list, and we've been on the road for a few months. I thought it would be cool to have some horns on it. That was Tom "Bones" Malone who did the horn charts, who you might remember from the Blues Brothers, so that was kind of a thrill.
G: You had kind of a dazed look in your eyes when the song was over and Dave came over to shake your hand.
CP: Yeah, I didn't know if I was allowed to engage [laughs]. "Dave there are a few things I've been meaning to ask you ..."
G: It's been three years since the last record. Was there a dry period, or did you just want to take your time?
CP: I kind of burnt myself out touring behind Age of Miracles. The tour probably went on for two or three weeks too long, I think, and that was a crucial two or three weeks. After that I fell out with New West. Being on New West was a bit like, after a while, like driving with the brakes on. They dropped me, and I spent the next year just goofing off and finding other stuff to do, which I think was great in the end.
G: Did that help you with this record?
CP: Dan Stuart from Green on Red and I used to say, whenever we were asked what came first, the music or the lyrics, "The advance came first." It wasn't like anyone was waving an advance at me, you know. But I didn't know if I would make another record. I never really do know if I'm going to make another record.
G: How much of this record was made in the studio?
CP: It was made in the studio just the way a film is made on a film set, I suppose.
G: The arrangements and sounds, are they something you had in your head when you were writing the song, or was it something you came upon when you were recording?
CP: Sometimes when I'm writing, I can hear the full arrangement in my head, and I get excited about it. But once you get on the film set and you're making the movie, I have to be prepared to let go and take advantage of whatever gift you get from being there. It had a spine to it, but a lot of it was spontaneous. Brad Jones, who co-produced the record with me, and I would take a day to record one song and then spend two weeks arguing about what the one overdub should be. I was like, "I'll get an all-boys Methodist choir in here tomorrow." That's pretty typical of the way it was.
G: I'm glad you mentioned that, because I wanted to ask you about the inclusion of the choir on "Let's Do Something Wrong." It's a pretty funny moment when they join in.
CP: I've been listening to a group called the English Congregation, the Godspell soundtrack, things like that. The English Congregation made a couple of albums in the 1970s with a lot of group singing. I was playing some of that for Brad, and we were talking about choirs, and he said that when we got to Nashville, there were a lot of gospel choirs, and I said I was looking for people who could sing, but I don't want people that sound like they're singing. It was his suggestion to get the children's choir, and it really added to the song in a way I didn't see coming, because "Let's do something wrong, let's do something stupid" is so much more perverse when the kids are singing it. Kids don't know that their actions have repercussions. They don't have things like regret. You'll find very few kids in recovery. They're just pure. So I thought that was pretty fun.
G: How important are the lyrics? Some of the songs seem inscrutable to me; I'm not sure what you're singing about, and I'm wondering if that's intentional.
CP: I always have some kind of context, I think, even if only I know what it is. I guess that's a struggle for anybody, whether it's lyrics or writing or painting. You want things to make sense; you just don't want them to make too much sense.
G: The combination of the different ways you arrange instruments and the lyrics is what makes the album attractive. You were trying to do something different or trying to stretch from what you've done in the past. Would you agree with that?
CP: Sure, the songs have their own needs, and if you cast each one of them as a movie, you can't help but think it'd be great to have Wilford Brimley walking in right about now. You also try to mix it up in a way that keeps you interested in what you're doing. So if I sort of tap into something that I haven't done before, then I get more excited about it.
G: You recently wrote a bunch of songs with Alejandro Escovedo.
CP: We wrote an entire album together over the last year or so. We recorded over the holidays in Lexington, Kentucky, with Tony Visconti producing. It's Al's record, but I think he had me around as an insurance policy to make sure that everybody got the chords right.
G: Did he invite you to write with him?
CP: We've known each other for years, and we played a gig together. He said, "I'm going to make a new record, and I thought that maybe you and I could get together and write some songs." So I went out to Wimberley, Texas, for three or four days, and after three days, we hadn't written one note. Then Al decided he wanted to go into town, and he stopped in this little antique store, and he was buying baskets and scarves. I was starting to get a little nervous. After we got in his pickup truck and started it up, he looked at me and said, "Hey brother, don't worry about it; it's all part of it." He's got a lot of faith. I think that's one of his biggest gifts. He's got this enormous faith that we will pull something out of the air. And he was right; we always do. If we don't, we just lie on the carpet and listen to Mott the Hoople records. That generally gets us through it. It's going to be a great record, because the songs are pretty concrete. We name a lot of names.
G: It's the story of his life, right?
CP: Well, we immediately found out we had things in common. We both grew up in Orange County. We both surfed the Huntington Pier. We both saw our first shows at the Golden Bear in Huntington Beach. It's sort of an exploration of song through geography, love, life, death, loss, and whatever.
G: Are you going to be playing with him at the Continental Club on Friday?
CP: We haven't spoken about it, but I'm hoping to. I have the feeling that's the idea. I'm hoping that he's up for as many of his new songs as possible.
Lately, former Green on Red guitar hero Chuck Prophet has been getting as many props for his producing talents as his own music. That's both good and bad. Prophet, lately working on a new album with Alejandro Escovedo, produced Kelly Willis's Translated from Love, a departure for her that made numerous 2007 best-of lists. Prophet's own very smart Soap and Water, meanwhile, received much less ballyhoo from the press - a real shame, because for my money Prophet continues to make some of the smartest, relentlessly thoughtful and aggressive music on the scene. It only takes one look at the amateur YouTube video of his recent performance at the Americana Music Association convention in Nashville to realize few compare to Prophet or his crack band when it comes to live energy and revitalization of the rock idiom.
Late-Night Follies: Chuck Prophet's Christian Rock
WHO: Chuck Prophet
WHAT: "Doubter Out of Jesus (All Over You)" (The Late Show With David Letterman)
WHY: Another 2007 album unceremoniously and undeservedly ignored by both normal people and - surprisingly - many critics was Chuck Prophet's wide screen roots-rock epic Soap and Water. The record found the journeyman songwriter expanding his sonic palette, slyly adding a children's choir to songs about casual sex and employing machine-made beats. On the album, this song is an ominous oddity full of chiming bells, chintzy drum blurts and Prophet's cryptic and wary words about a certain female who holds a god-like power over him: "You could make a doubter out of Jesus," he repeats, eventually accompanied by the evil-sounding kid choir. On Letterman, the song's creepy strings are replaced with boisterous horns as it's transformed from a writhing warning into a full-fledged rocker. Prophet is a scarily solid old-fashioned songwriter - he's the type of artist the Grammys should love. Unfortunately, Soap and Water was released one week after the Grammy deadline last year. Maybe next time.
After interviewing Chuck yesterday and then last night and this morning capturing and compressing a whole show's worth of video, I'm satisfied that he's one of the few great original characters and knucklehead geniuses playing rock and roll today.
A quick trip to iTunes and the 150 great songs that are there to audition and dutifully buy relieves you of any excuse you have that resembles or begins, "Oh yeah, I've heard of him, but..." Because if you're sick of all the crap that's just a bunch of morons imitating each other imitating somebody great, listen to somebody great instead.
He's really funny, too, both onstage and in conversation. Between questions, sometimes the pause would be so long that I wondered if he'd hung up on me or was doing something unmentionable with the receiver. But when he'd finally return, it was almost always something good, sometimes something funny. I laughed a lot, loudly.
The interview is online here:
Journeyman producer-songwriter and wife, Stephanie, sound so much like Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks, we checked to see if the two had ever sang together. They have. This is better. (Grooming)
"San Francisco," says Chuck Prophet, "is a great place for a musician to live." He backs up his claim, in typical fashion, with numerous diversionary tales of San Franciscans he's known, music he's heard and places where he's been, washed dishes and parked cars. He loves the gravitational pull the city has on "people with a freak flag to wave." If a lot of artists on the fringe were driven out during the dot-com era, he reckons that that's starting to shift.
Prophet, 43, was born and raised in Orange County until his family moved north. He went to high school in the East Bay and college in San Francisco and never left. "I don't like to brag, but Stephanie and I do have a rent-controlled apartment," he says. It's in the Lower Haight, or if you're a real estate agent, Duboce. "And I have done the math and I've come to the conclusion that to have a rent-controlled apartment has about the same value as a Ph.D. over time."
Stephanie Finch, Prophet's wife, a singer, writer and keyboard player, is also part of the city's music scene. Recently the pair spent a month touring Europe with Prophet's band, in a van. "I tell you, you drive 2,000 miles in a Ford Econoline at a stretch and it's either gonna bring you together or pull you apart," he says. The couple, who first recorded together on Prophet's 1990 debut album, "Brother Aldo," celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary this year.
They're back home for just a couple of days, to repack, convert their euros to dollars and play a special hometown show at the Make-Out Room, with free Mexican food (Prophet, who hired a taco truck, says, laughing, that he's still paying it off). Then it's back on the road for a U.S. tour to promote Prophet's new album, "Soap and Water." It's been picking up accolades here and abroad from the British music press, where he's long been a star, to mainstream American media (Entertainment Weekly called it "excellent").
"I wouldn't - maybe it's superstition - utter anything like that out loud, but people have been reacting to this album," Prophet says. "It's an elusive thing, making records, and I don't know what it is, but I do know that records are never really finished, they're just abandoned. At a certain point it's like `I haven't got any more time or money, I give up.' Or I could push it around on my plate until I lose my appetite or I could just cut it loose and it can fend for itself. But then you do make a point of killing yourselves (with touring) at least once behind every record. You know, give it the college try."
"Soap and Water" was recorded in two very different music cities, San Francisco and Nashville. One has the bay and Rainbow Grocery; the other is landlocked and has Christian supermarkets. "Aside from the country music community, it does have a lot of churches," Prophet says. And gospel singers. That's why when he suggested to his producer that they overdub a choir - "I'd been listening to `Jesus Christ Superstar,' `Godspell' and a group called the English Congregation who, it turns out, were neither English nor a congregation" - Nashville was the place to go.
But Prophet wanted a choir without real singers. They got 27 schoolkids into the studio "with the aid of only some M&Ms;and pizza. The extra level of irony they give to songs like `Let's Do Something Stupid' just made the whole record that much more perverted somehow. I loved it."
For the past couple of years, Prophet has been spending an inordinate amount of time in Nashville. He produced and guested on the acclaimed new album by country singer Kelly Willis ("Translated From Love"). He has also been co-writing country songs. "I'm Gone," written with Kim Richey, was a Top 40 hit for Cyndi Thompson. "I've got the gold record in the bathroom to prove it."
It was his music publisher who first suggested he go to Nashville and write country songs, "when it became pretty clear that they weren't going to get much of their advance back from the record I put out." His response was, "Yeah, and after that I can go to Hollywood and write a screenplay," but he did and he liked it.
"It's a funny community; I do find myself writing with people that in real life I probably wouldn't have anything in common with at all. But I've since made some friends out there and been lucky enough to write with some really great writers."
What drew him back was that his record label had dropped him. He burnt out from touring with "Age of Miracles," the last album he recorded for it. "Things kind of started unraveling and I didn't know if I even wanted to do it again," he says. He spent the next year "trying to figure out if there was other stuff to do." There was.
Besides Nashville, there was the reunion of his roots-rock band Green on Red and a collaboration with Austin, Texas, singer-songwriter Alejandro Escovedo, with whom he has been writing and recording an album. He signed a publishing deal for a book "chronicling life in motion - gathering road stories from different artists; whether you stay in five-star hotels or whether you have a tennis shoe for a pillow in the back of van." He brushed off his own small label, Belle sound, usually reserved for his and Stephanie's projects, and released an album by East Bay singer-songwriter Sonny Smith ("Fruitvale"). He tried writing a screenplay with Happy Sanchez. He landed a role in San Francisco filmmaker Miles Matthew Montalbano's "Revolution Summer," "playing this deranged drug dealer. I was just doing my best Dennis Hopper, really."
"I have an addictive personality, but music is probably the healthiest addiction I've had." He's kicked the rest. "And I think my biggest fear is I'd have to stop. After all this manic activity, it turns out that I do have a dark need to make records anyway - because we made this record without a record deal, just pulled it together - and I have a dark need to drive around the world in a van like I'm 22. And to be honest with you, I'm good at it, too. I'm good at staring out of a window for long stretches."
He smiles. "People always ask me, `Don't you think you should be bigger?' I don't even think of that, I just think of the next record.
"When we first started playing music and we were living like community college students, our goal was always to live like graduate students, so in that sense, we've held on."
But, he adds, "it's still hell trying to find a place to park the van."
Chuck Prophet ain't no household name. Despite putting his shoulder into rock & roll since the late `70s with proto-Americana pioneers Green On Red, he remains a San Francisco treat known to a devout following and a coterie of fellow musicians who recognize what a true blue rocker Prophet is. He's released three of the finest albums of the new millennium -- 2000's The Hurting Business, 2002's No Other Love and 2004's Age of Miracles - and his latest, Soap and Water [released October 2 on Yep Roc Records], looks to make it four. With Prophet, everything is in its right place. In the past decade he's taken his roots rock beginnings into increasingly experimental terrain, juxtaposing boogie riffs with turntables, acoustic guitars with fuzzbox vocals. Like the man himself, the curves are always subtle and infused with a sense of divine laughter.
Prophet holds on tight until material is ripe, only releasing a new slab every couple years. His albums are creepers, where you might not realize just how good they are until you start pulling off individual cuts and see how they shine next to the work of others.
"I know I never let go of them until there's a fair amount of blood on the floor. But that doesn't make `em better! Music's funny like that. There's a kind of abstract-expressionist-cubist-blues approach where if you don't connect all the dots and use a ruler there's still some mystery left to the record. I think that's the thing that makes people return, where more is revealed each time. I think good pop music sounds great the first listen but oftentimes you burn out on it. There's no mystery to return to," offers Prophet. "I like The Cars and ABBA and stuff like that but albums like Music From Big Pink or Tonight's The Night are the ones that come into your mind and you continually return to."
These are albums that ask the listener to make a leap with them. Every sentence isn't strictly declarative and fresh, personal associations emerge over time. It's music that rises above mere entertainment or distraction into the realm of philosophy and psychology. And in the best instances, we can still dance to it.
"As long as there's something concrete there it's fine. The music I like least is the purposefully obtuse indie rock or soundscapey stuff. That's just me, but I still listen to Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen and Some Girls [Rolling Stones]. In general, there's just too much recording going on. Not everything needs to be preserved," says Prophet. "It's happening with filmmaking, too. At the same time, with the advent of video cameras and desktop editing you started to see movies like Hoop Dreams, which wouldn't have existed otherwise and are just beyond words. I guess it's just a whole lot of work for the consumer now [laughs]."
We're rising and we're falling
Falling and we're rising
Lost on the invisible sea
A thousand stolen kisses
A crime without a witness
Throw me overboard captain would you please
I just can't stand myself
Soap and Water draws palpably upon love and lust, which are given equal gravity in Prophet's work, blasting off with the one-two punch of "Freckle Song," a bright spot of late `70s Stones chug, and "Would You Love Me?," tattered gospel for the faithless. While the tendency is to focus on either love or sex exclusively, Prophet commingles the two in a truly Gnostic fashion.
"Mothers need to hold their children. They need to feel that skin-on-skin thing, otherwise you breed some real monsters," muses Prophet. "There's a thing with my songs where they could be about women or about God or mom in an interchangeable way. It's all there if you step back and squint at the songs. `Would You Love Me?' was one of the last songs that went on the record, and was inspired by Anna Nicole Smith. She was everywhere in the media, and she was tragic. She died of a broken heart. Kinda reminded me a little bit of Elvis. [These type of figures] help us get out of ourselves. We think, `I'm fucked up but I'm not THAT fucked up.' We need those people. We need to drag them out into the city square and stone them. Everybody will feel better."
Prophet's tone is mocking but there's a sliver of ugly truth to his words. One wonders if we're on our way back to coliseums where the rejected and downtrodden are forced to bloody themselves for the amusement of a desensitized world. "It's already happening," says Prophet. "Bin Laden or whatever, the boogie man is something people just have a need to create. It's a scary part of our human nature. We can't love ourselves enough to love mankind."
One of the chief lures of Prophet's work is a sense that all the fundamentals of strong musicianship - arranging, songwriting, performance and production - are always in place. There's a rib-sticking fullness to everything he does that's grown progressively stronger with each solo release.
"I cast each song like its own movie, and I try to find the characters to make it come alive. I hope there's something about it that can keep me interested," Prophet says. "I get a lot of ideas, start a lot of songs or push things around on my plate, but I don't always have the energy to wrestle it all the way to the ground [laughs]."
Mothers need to hold their children. They need to feel that skin-on-skin thing, otherwise you breed some real monsters. There's a thing with my songs where they could be about women or about God or mom in an interchangeable way. It's all there if you step back and squint at the songs.
This reminds me of "Tough Company," the opening poem from Charles Bukowski's Play The Piano Drunk Like A Percussion Instrument Until The Fingers Begin To Bleed A Bit, where unfinished poems are "like gunslingers" that mill around his apartment waiting for him to finish them. Prophet chuckles and says, "I love that! I think early on he was more prone to pour a poem from beaker to beaker more times, and I love it. But I also love his later years where he was more impressionistic. That's kinda the way I feel about Lucinda Williams right now. I love it all. I heard her sing `Pineola' [from 1992's Sweet Old World] the other night but I also love the stuff off her new record, which isn't as chiseled."
As he regards his own evolution, Prophet candidly responds, "I'm just getting the hang of it. I write better for my voice now. I think I've just grown into myself. I suppose early on I was more Dylan-esque or whatever but now there's a straighter line that runs through the songs. I have great admiration for John Prine and Randy Newman. I try to write more the way people talk. We're in an era where entertainment is just killing us. I think people have a need to be told stories, and that won't ever change. It's part of human nature and will continue to be. Keeping that in mind, it's easier to make relevant records. Or records that are fun."
"I asked my friend Dr. Frank of the Mr. T Experience - who've probably made 20 records - if he thought in the year 2007 it was possible to make relevant rock & roll. He's a bit of an intellectual and he said, `Well, if it's fun it's relevant, right?' And I had to agree," says Prophet.
As a songwriter who lives in these troubled times, Prophet tries to avoid delivering political polemics but doesn't shy away from present circumstances either. "I write from a personal place that's definitely in the moment. I don't go out of my way to use archaic language or anything," says Prophet. "If you listen to my records, aside from the sort of vintage music going on, you'd think, `This guy knows what time it is [laughs].' That's my fantasy of myself! Like when Prince went on the Super Bowl and whipped out a Foo Fighters song. I'm not a Foo Fighters fan but I thought that was so hip. It was a way of saying [Prophet's voice rising slightly], `Prince knows what time it is!'"
While it's often easy to pick out a musician's influences, it's hard to get a clear grip on where Chuck Prophet came from. The man himself responds enigmatically, "Well, they're out there [laughs]. You have to have faith in yourself. If something sounds derivative at first, as you kick it around it'll morph into something of your own. Good writers, painters and artists tend to be pretty big fans of other people's work. There's filmmakers like Jim Jarmusch who are also great music fans. And there are great guys in music that are great fans of film, and painters who can only paint when they listen to music. There's inspiration outside of your chosen field."
This spills into a discussion of Jerry Garcia's love of painting, which he'd done all of his life but only shared publicly in his later years. "He was an incredibly creative guy, a complicated dude, actually, though not when he was selling ties at Bloomingdales," cracks Prophet. "I've worked with some musicians who worked with Garcia and they all described him, out of everybody, as the guy who was out of the house ten minutes after the alarm went off. He loved the creative process."
Prophet, a native Californian, was born and raised in Orange County until he was 16, then moved to San Francisco after college and currently resides in the Lower Haight area. Prophet's live shows have a healthy pinch of the Garcia Band's good time swing and instant bonhomie, where the playing is superb but they never forget they need to engage your feet, too. A couple years back at High Sierra, Prophet played twice in the same day, offering totally different moods that fit the Vaudeville Tent and Big Meadow, respectively, to a tee. Like Garcia, he knows how to read a room and give it just what it craves, even if they didn't know what that was going in.
It doesn't hurt that Prophet is a bonafide guitar shredder capable of Beatles-like eloquence and brevity as well as the bold expression and playful pyrotechnics of Tom Verlaine (Television) and Richard Thompson.
"I definitely got my head fucked up when I first heard Richard Thompson. No doubt about it," Prophet says. "It just all came together for me when I heard his records from the `70s especially. I like how he wrote from his own voice and could go from this weird bagpipe thing straight into a Chuck Berry lick. I would probably sit on the Chuck Berry lick and just hint at something else. I'm an inverted version of that [laughs]. If Richard hadn't been such a great record maker, songwriter and singer then I don't think I'd have been as drawn into his guitar playing. That other stuff came first. You wouldn't hang around for the guitar if not for the other. The reason I heard Marc Ribot was because I listened to those Tom Waits records and hung around for the guitar breaks. I think most of the guitar players I like are singers like Jimi Hendrix and Tom Verlaine. That's why I love Chuck Berry so much. Everything he does punctuates his songs, it's all one thing."
Men frequently struggle to articulate their feelings and thoughts about women. Even the best songwriters often unconsciously veer into misogyny or thickheaded simplicity (see Dylan's oddly beloved and oft-covered "Just Like A Woman" for an examples of both). Prophet manages to spring over these pitfalls, writing woman odes that use the distaff among us as genuine muse for tunes of real depth.
"It's a delicate thing," cautions Prophet. "There's a delicate thing to the blues where it can go either way, where you can go downwards or celebrate the glory of having the blues. It's a glorious thing to have the blues because it starts with love. It's better to have your heart broken than to never have loved at all. That's the part you have to stay in touch with if you want to sing these songs over and over again."
His songs openly acknowledge the sway women have over many of us boys in a very honest way. "Yeah, absolutely," enthuses Prophet. "On `A Woman's Voice (Will Haunt You)' [from Soap and Water] I cut verses. I have an editor's sense to take out the parts that I didn't think were true, even though they sounded really good [laughs]."
While women remain central to Prophet's creative process, he's often pretty solitary when working up new material.
"I don't really run it by people. I'm superstitious," says Prophet. "When I'm in the process of writing a song I don't go out of my way to solicit anything. I'm just happy when it's fucking over. At a certain point that's enough. They take up space in your psyche. Some songs can be really difficult. It's almost like I don't feel like starting them but it feels good when they're finished."
Taking his time means that what ultimately emerges has a craftsmanship and sturdy endurance that stays around for decades. It's a trait missing from a lot of modern rock, which too often has the staying power of Pop Rocks. Shortsighted rockers could never come up with a chilling lyric like, "I always did the right thing, what did it get me?"
"[laughs] I love that line, too. I really do. That might be my favorite part of the record, that bridge [on `Let's Do Something Wrong']," says Prophet, who excels at lines you can't walk away from once you've been exposed to them. "It's a fun character study of someone who always played by the rules and never left his small town. I think what makes the song really come together is the children singing, `Let's do something wrong, let's do something stupid.' They sing it in such an earnest way because they don't understand the implied costs, the repercussions as an adult for all your actions. When they sing, `Let's do something wrong, let's do something stupid,' they sing it with all their heart and soul, without any sense of regret."
For many older fans, Prophet will always be associated with Green On Red more than any of his ten solo records. While the band does the occasional reunion gig it does seem fraught with the kinds of regrets Prophet was discussing. "It's like spending a weekend with the kids from your first marriage [laughs]. It's a mixed thing," admits Prophet. "We did one show and we were all really surprised how fun it was. We'll do it from time to time."
For now, his focus is his own work, a quiet, ceaselessly excellent string of recordings and performances that speak for themselves. All the praise in the world can't measure up to the intrinsic pleasures awaiting one, in both the long and short term, inside Prophet's music.
"I feel like I'm just getting the hang of it, so I hope I'm getting better. It's hard [to get records into people's hands] but my biggest fear is that I would have to stop. Ultimately, that's the thing any artist fears more than anything," says Prophet. "Economically, none of this has ever made any sense for me but you just make the records and play the shows. That's really all there is to do."
Leave it to the ever-interesting, never- sitting-still Chuck Prophet to begin a record with the wonderfully suggestive line, "I like the way you freckle, I like the way you peel, I love to see your hair in a mess." Also leave it to the ever-inventive San Franciscan to combine apocalyptic guitar with a cherubic children's choir and remind us what rock is all about with the hypnotic repetition of "let's do something wrong, let's do something stupid" or lay open a suave, quirky love vein by saying "I've still got that box of Band-Aids from the night we patched things up." Prophet absolutely leaves the imitators and posers behind on "Doubter Out of Jesus (All Over You)," whose live video on YouTube reveals why Prophet is currently The Man in rock. He hits that San Francisco Tenderloin zone on the hilariously sleazy "A Woman's Voice Can Drug You": "She'll roll you like Duct tape, entwine you in a modern dance." If the ongoing Maroon 5-ization of rock disturbs you, Chuck Prophet is your hope for the future and the man you should listen to immediately. From the nitty to the gritty, there's nothing else out there quite like this.
Are You Sure Waylon Done It This Way?
Chuck Prophet Re-records Entire Jennings Album
Chuck Prophet has re-recorded the entire Waylon Jennings album Dreaming My Dreams With You while accidentally locked in the recording studio of Tim Mooney (Red House Painters).
Apparently, one Friday evening last January, Prophet and his band were at Closer Studios in San Fran, and studio co-owner Sean Coleman had left and set the alarm code. But he forgot to give the musicians the disarm code or the phone number of the alarm company, and as it turned out he'd also left his cell phone in his vehicle when the locked-in people tried to reach him. Prophet was justifiably steamed, but eventually the need for food (and beer) got the better of him, and soon enough everyone decided to make the best of things. Someone cued up the Jennings album, which happened to be on hand, and after still more drinking of beer... you can guess what happened next.
As band member John Murry put it, "Yes. We would do the fucking thing. We would re-record the record with all new interpretations of the songs. We were half drunk, didn't want to argue because peanut butter makes your mouth REALLY sticky and it kinda starts to hurt if you try to talk too much, and so we gave in. J.J. had all the gear up and running in no time. Guitars, amps, mandolins, basses, drums, a Casiotone key-tar thing, and assorted crap was gathered together. We started recording, beginning with "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way" and going straight on through to "Bob Wills Is Still The King". Sean came back late Saturday night. We scared him; not looking so good and all: smelling like peanut butter, cigarettes, and beer and what not. The rest is history. Recorded history."
Go to the Dreaming Waylon's Dreams website for the complete story. (Don't forget to click on the box that reads "View Photos Here"—it takes you to a page at the ever-eclectic Brink.com site wherein you can look at images from the sessions.
The music is currently being streamed at the website. Meanwhile, a limited, hand-numbered edition of 1000 has also been manufactured with artwork by Bruce Licher of Savage Republic and Scenic fame, plus photographs and a chapbook detailing the recording.
Freckle Song, Chuck Prophet: A Stonesy stomp stamps Prophet's sexy rocker, one of several R&B-kissed tunes on his genre-hopping Soap and Water album
Chuck Prophet has been cranking out sly, soul-tinged Americana for more than two decades, and he's long overdue for an FM breakthrough. Soap and Water, his ninth solo offering since his days fronting Green on Red, is unlikely to earn him that. The dozen tracks gathered here have hummable hooks and brisk backbeats. But there's always some element that pushes them too far for the Arbitron zombies who run mainstream radio. On "Would You Love Me," it's the creepy keening of a children's choir. On "All Over You," it's a haunting assembly of violins.
Or consider "Something Stupid" (the song, not the cultural circumstance). It's the exact kind of insanely catchy number John Mayer might have crooned to Jessica Simpson for a VH1 special, and which would then wind up topping the charts for the next six years. But Prophet turns the tune into a kind of mini symphony, summoning a wall of sound that includes strings, keyboards, assorted background voices, and his own sinuous work on the Stratocaster. Radio might not want to risk this kind of majesty, but you should.
Homemade Blood (1997).
Forgive the lengthy post, but this masterpiece warrants it. The album that not only provides the yardstick for Chuck Prophet's own work, but which could do the same job for any and every album that falls into that enigmatic Americana bracket. Chuck's rehab album found him returning to the parental home to get himself straightened out. The result, artistically, is summed up in the title of the album: it's blood-red raw, heart on sleeve stuff; it sure ain't pretty, but it's starkly, often scarily beautiful.
Track by track:
"Credit": ("just last week a little card came in the mail, it was gold and thin as Kate Moss")... the best riff Keef never wrote, witty, self-deprecating lyric, and some terrific strangled guitar solos. The perfect encore.
"You Been Gone": ("the fair-haired boy is bald as a peach and the reprobate's got a sermon to preach"): one of those effortlessly catchy songs Chuck comes up with for every album, great backing vocals from Stephanie Finch on the chorus.
"Inside Track": ("the money-sniffing dog's barking up a child's skirt/The energizer bunny's lyin face down in the dirt"). The closest Chuck has come, IMHO, to his idol Dylan's stream of consciousness, whacked out, 65-66 lyrical style ("Laid up with a fever I'm on fire from head to toe/Before my heart bursts into flame there's something you should know..."). Great phased guitar, and a great rock'n'roll scream (around 2.20) makes this one a highlight on an album that has no lowlights.
"Ooh Wee": ("I was nine years old in 73, strung out Ritalin and colour TV"): one of those funky, swampy numbers with a jaw-dropping guitar solo around 2.41 -- 3.16. Not sure how autobiographical this one is, but, especially around the solo, it sounds ripped straight from the heart.
"New Year's Day": ("you gave me everything I wanted, now all I want's a substitute"): just one of the greatest songs Chuck's ever written. Heartbreaking lyric, haunting slide guitar, beautiful harmonizing from Stephie, and perfectly poised between hope and despair ("don't cry, it's new year's day again...").
"22 Fillmore": ("take a picture, take the whole f***ing roll...") crazed rifferama built around a maddening, obsessive, repetitive lyric. Not a favourite of mine, but a regular showstopper.
"Homemade Blood": ("pretty soon I'll be drinking, I can feel my own heart sinking, down into a sea of homemade blood: homemade blood, cheap red wine..."): appropriately spooky, treated vocal for a spooky song. Comes alive on stage more than it does on the album, with Chuck regularly letting fly with squalling solos. The one on record is fine, but really just provides a blueprint for the concerts.
"Whole Lot More": ("where the dark hall leads to a room full of doors..."): a sweet love song set on a bouncy rhythm and catchy riff. Not exactly filler, and a nice way to pass four and a half minutes.
"Textbook Case": ("he was a textbook case, but he could not read at all"): not quite as manic as 22 Fillmore, but just as crazed; an insistent, ascending riff, slashed open with fierce guitar and another desperate vocal.
"Kmart Family Portrait": ("Down to the mailbox, stand around and stare / Up into the kitchen, ain't nothing cooking there / On to the bedroom, stare at the mirror on the wall. / Well, the mirror cracked a grin and said, there's nobody here at all"): stone cold genius. Muted rhythm track, isolated vocal, a lone electric guitar. The writer of Longshot Lullaby, dissecting others' desperation and pain, looks in the mirror and stares into the abyss ("you turn your head, blink your eye, and there's nobody there at all..."). Halfway through, the gorgeous melody opens into a piercing, weeping solo. And it's a first take. Stunning.
"Til You Came Along": ("looking out for trouble, I could never find enough/ Til you came along"): see "Whole Lot More". My reading of these songs is to understand them as dedications to Stephanie Finch, sticking with Chuck through thick and thin. The lit side of the road to counterpoint the album's dangerous shadows.
"The Parting Song": ("Rider won't you pass me by now, rider won't you stop for me..."): I may be way off, but it sounds to me like the equivalent of Keats's "half in love with easeful death". I guess addiction makes you walk that fine line. Whatever: it signs the album off with an appropriate sense of unease and unresolved-ness, as the repeated chorus ("you could be a friend to me, you could be my enemy") and climb-the-wall guitar fade into a gathering, foggy gloom.
Homemade Blood was the end of an era for Chuck Prophet, it seems to me. From here, he would experiment far more freely with technology and other musical styles (notably loops and rhythm tracks), while keeping them in orbit around his rock, blues and country roots. Guitarwise, he would start to take his foot off the pedal board, a cause of some distress for his ardent fans. I'm sure he's written better songs in the past ten years, but, as a coherent work, I'm not sure he's yet surpassed Homemade Blood.
***** out of 5 stars.
New York Daily News
Chuck's new album for fun and Prophet
Every sound has a say in a Chuck Prophet song. The bass, percussion, rhythm and lead guitars each compete for attention in his tracks, all crying out to be seen as the key hook.
Take but one cut on the new CD: In "Doubter Out of Jesus," first we hear strings in the distance, setting the parameters of the sound. Then comes a whittled-down fiddle, sketching the particulars of the piece. It's followed by a bit of clicking, new wave rhythm, setting a pace that's mirrored in keyboards and a bass. If heard all together in a car, it would nearly force you to break the speed limit.
Prophet has always shown such attention to detail. His albums impress as much with their arrangements as their tidy rock tunes.
He has had time to get the style down.
Prophet first came to attention in the mid-`80s when he joined the band Green on Red. Though initially known as part of the "paisley underground," Green on Red expanded to become a solid roots-rock act - a template broadened, and perfected, by Prophet's solo career.
He has been putting out his own albums since 1990 (nine so far), in between session jobs with everyone from Warren Zevon to Cake.
The songs on "Soap and Water" suggest a more spare Heartbreakers crossed with a shrunken Stones. It's rock, but told with the intimacy of a ballad. Prophet's vocals help with the last bit. He's got a Tom Petty-like hipster drawl, but with more sexy insinuation. Prophet's new lyrics stress romantic rejection at the hands of an emasculating, or at least exasperating, woman. He's a tight writer, able to use "freckle" as a verb and to slice his meters into terse bursts.
But it's really the arrangements that make the songs move. In "Freckle Song," Prophet makes the rhythm guitar parts cluck and crunch, while a lead guitar keeps taking the melody to a new place. In "Would You Love Me?" the bass steals the show with it own warm tune, playing off a tart guitar arpeggio.
With so many bright ideas knocking around, Prophet should consider not just making records, but producing them for others, too.
IF CHUCK PROPHET has honed one skill in his 20-plus-year music career, it's his sharp lyrical style that captures direct sentiments rather than linear narratives. On "Doubter Out of Jesus (All Over You)," a track on his new CD, "Soap and Water," Prophet growls, "You could make a doubter out of Jesus/You could make a monkey out of me," with such disdain that you don't need to know the song's back story to understand how he feels.
Prophet incorporates jazz ("Downtime") and blues ("Small-Town Girl") into his songs as he continues his genre-hopping tradition. But he is at his best when he does not stray far from his Americana sound: On "I Can Feel Your Heartbeat," Prophet's twang is echoed by Stephanie Finch's sweet voice, and the result is a catchy alt-country pop song. His dry vocals capture his wistful melancholy on "Would You Love Me?" and give him the air of a weary saloon-traveling balladeer.
Hero's influence is clear in Prophet's new release
Chuck Prophet says Alex Chilton wowed him in the `80s.
Chuck Prophet recalls the first time he met Alex Chilton, the enigmatic singer and guitarist late of the Box Tops and Big Star. It was 1986 and Chilton was sharing a bill with Prophet's then band Green On Red.
"I can remember the `72 Buick he pulled into the parking lot with, and he put his amp on stage and took his shirt off and put it in the back of his amp and pulled his gig shirt out and clicked his heels four times, and bang! He was in," Prophet says by phone from New York. "I just thought he was it. I don't know who my heroes were at the time, but at that moment, it was Alex. I wanted to be Alex."
More than 20 years later, Chilton's influence has bubbled to the surface in a big way on Prophet's latest solo release, "Soap and Water" (Yep Roc), which showcases Prophet's skills as a singer and songwriter, with coloring from years of listening to Chilton's soulful power-pop tunes.
"Alex is a really great guitarist, and he's also a great blues singer, R&B singer, in the same way that, say, Mose Allison is one of my favorite blues singers," Prophet says.
The same description applies to Prophet, who has wandered through solo albums, writing projects and addiction recovery in the course of his 20-year solo career
"I spent a year goofing off and trying to do other things, thinking maybe I wasn't going to make another record," he says. But a sudden songwriting jag changed his mind, and he soon found himself with 35 songs to winnow into a record.
Looting the Bins With Chuck Prophet
A walk through the used record bins of some of the country's finest music stores with musicians, both famous and infamous.
"You hear that?"
Standing outside Open Mind Music on an impeccably beautiful sunny San Francisco day, Chuck Prophet points down Market Street, cocks his ear and waits. A few seconds later, a siren blares in the distance.
"Every Tuesday at noon, the city tests their emergency warning system," Prophet explains. "It goes for like ten or fifteen seconds and then it's over, but I like the idea that everyone in this neighborhood hears that. It's a part of anyone's life who lives around here."
Prophet's knack for these kinds of intimate details -- pervasive in his songwriting -- is the mark of the long-time Bay Area denizen. Though he was born and bred in Southern California, the singer-songwriter has lived in San Francisco since joining cult-favorite Americana rockers Green on Red in the mid-1980s as a prodigious 18-year-old guitar talent. After the band dissolved in 1992, Prophet focused his efforts on his burgeoning solo career, recording a string of albums beginning with 1990's Brother Aldo and culminating with Soap and Water, his latest opus released in early October on Yep Roc Records.
"Hanging out in record stores was pretty much what I did growing up," Prophet says as he swings open the door to Open Mind Music and tosses a casual hello to Henry, the store owner. "The Music Box in La Habra, California was where I bought my records. Back then, they usually cost $3.98 and I remember agonizing over the decision on which record to buy every time I went in there. It would take me all week to decide what I was gonna get."
Growing up in Whittier, California, Prophet wasn't too far from either the rock and roll of the Sunset Strip or the surf spots that dot the coast along the Pacific Coast Highway.
"I lived in a neighborhood in Orange County growing up that if you shook a tree, five guitar players would fall out. Everybody played guitar and everyone surfed. It was that type of culture back then," he says. "My girlfriend in the seventh grade bought me Hunky Dory for my birthday. Bowie records were definitely big around my house. I had an older sister was an old-school hipster and we got all the new records when they came out. What's astonishing about Bowie during that time period is the diversity of his albums You can go from Hunky Dory to Ziggy Stardust to Aladdin Sane to Diamond Dogs and then you blink and he's in Philadelphia doing Young Americans. The breadth of the music he created in only about three or four years is just astonishing, especially when compared with what's going on today. And it's not like he fell on his face doing it either. Bowie was big in our house, no doubt about it. Still is."
Like so many other young guitarists, Prophet cut his teeth by playing along to records in his bedroom.
"I learned a lot about playing guitar by listening to old Van Morrison albums," he says, holding up a copy of Morrison's 1967 debut, Blowin' Your Mind. "`T.B. Sheets' is the song I really learned how to play guitar off of. A lot of that double-stop, `Brown-Eyed Girl'-like guitar that I play I mostly picked up from by listening to old Van Morrison stuff. I think a guy named Eric Gale, who was an old jazz guitarist, did the guitar playing on those albums. His playing was big for me as I started playing guitar."
While Van Morrison may not be an influence Prophet readily wears on his sleeve, Bob Dylan certainly is. Whether it's in the detailed imagery of his lyrics, the blues-flecked energy of his guitar playing or his not-so-mainstream nasally voice, it's pretty obvious from his music that Prophet is a Dylanphile.
"We all know he's the master; no one's gonna argue with that," he says, thumbing through the Dylan vinyl. "I really liked Under the Red Sky a lot. No one really gives him credit for the albums he did in the `80s and early `90s. I like Dylan when he's in his devil-may-care place. That's why Dylan is a great live show -- even when he's at his worst, he's incapable of being uninteresting. It's not so much that he's the greatest living American songwriter, though that's part of it certainly. But it's also the ease with which he does it and how cool it is. You never really see Dylan ever work that hard. I admire that about him a lot. I've probably bought all of Dylan's albums at least three times. I enjoy the thrill of getting something I like the second time. I probably own five copies of Leonard Cohen's Greatest Hits. Sometimes I buy it just to make myself feel good."
J.J. Cale's Naturally is another record Prophet puts on a pedestal. The Oklahoma troubadour's 1971 debut album followed on the heels of Clapton's version of Cale's "After Midnight," but Naturally does not pander to the blues-rock of Slowhand's successful cover. Instead, Cale issued a sublime, country-rock classic that focuses more on the boogie and less on the bravado.
"Naturally may be the greatest auteur record of all time," Prophet professes. "J.J. wrote all the songs, played on it, put the band together and produced it. I think he may have even engineered a lot of it himself as well `cause it's got this strange sound to it. I love that record `cause J.J Cale never turns his solos up. I always get a lot of shit for not turning my solos up. J.J. is a real abstract expressionist. All of the songs on Naturally are like two-and-a-half minutes long, but it's the perfect record."
Perfection is a concept Prophet returns to time and time again throughout our trip to Open Mind Music, whether it's in regard to Dylan, Cale or Alex Chilton, frontman for The Box Tops and Big Star. Calling Big Star's 1978 classic album Third/Sister Lovers "the perfect marriage of the street and the regal," Prophet remembers the first time Green on Red opened for Chilton's post-Big Star trio at Atlanta's 688 Club in the mid-`80s.
"The 688 was one of those clubs where the back door behind the stage opened up into the parking lot. As we're wrapping up our soundcheck that day, I see this '72 Buick Skylark pull in blowing huge plumes of blue smoke," he recalls. `These three guys roll out of the car and pull a little jazz kit out of the trunk along with a tiny Peavy bass amp and a Fender Super Reverb and set them onstage. Alex reaches in the back of the Super Reverb, pulls out a clean shirt -- his gig shirt -- and takes his other shirt off and stuffs it into the back of the amp. He straps on a harmonica rack, tunes up, clicks his heels four times and just made everything that we did completely forgettable. I can't remember what music I was into at the time -- maybe Tom Verlaine or Neil Young -- but at that moment, it was all about Alex."
With both his new album and the Kelly Willis' Prophet-produced Translated from Love garnering critical praise, Prophet isn't resting on his laurels. With his Mission Express band in tow, Prophet recently returned from a European tour and just embarked on a U.S. tour to support Soap and Water. In between gigs, he's been squeezing in writing sessions with old friend Alejandro Escovedo for a future album.
"Writing with Al has been so much fun," Prophet says with a laugh. "One of things Al and I like to do when we write together is sit down and just tell each other stories and usually a song will appear out of it. If that doesn't work, we turn off all the lights, lie on the ground and put on the Mott the Hoople. Ian Hunter is such a brilliant lyricist. All the Young Dudes is worth the price of admission on the title track alone."