PRESS

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There's actually drool running down the front of my shirt

SF Gate

S.F. songwriter Chuck Prophet looks back

Chuck Prophet isn't in a reflective mood today. It's early Wednesday morning and the San Francisco singer-songwriter has just returned from a hectic European tour in support of his latest album, "Let Freedom Ring." In just a few days, he'll launch the American leg.

"I don't know why you want to talk to me, I'm totally brain dead," he says by way of greeting. "I've gotten about three hours of sleep in the past 72 hours. There's actually drool running down the front of my shirt."

The former Green on Red front man, who plays at the Great American Music Hall next Sunday, is nearly two decades into his celebrated solo career and still taking huge risks. "Let Freedom Ring" was recorded in Mexico City with co-producer Greg Leisz this year just as the swine flu pandemic hit.

"Our timing couldn't have been worse," Prophet says. "Within three days of arriving, the city shut down. So we put on our blue masks and got to work."

The musician and the members of his band - including his wife, Stephanie Finch; guitarist Tom Ayres; bassist Rusty Miller; and drummer Ernest "Boom" Carter - were able to avoid the H1N1 virus but not the ensuing paranoia, giving his roots and rock tunes added edge.

"It was definitely an adventure," he says. "But it was recorded under such duress, it made a band out of us."

We asked Prophet, who has released more than a dozen full-length albums on his own and with his former outfit, to reminisce about his recording sessions.

Green on Red, "Gas Food Lodging" (1985)

"I just got my first passport and all we wanted to do was make a record and go out and play our songs. We met our producer Paul Cutler through a mutual friend, who was a pot dealer and worked five days and nights. It was totally effortless. We had a van and the label gave us a gas card. Those were good times."

Green on Red, "The Killer Inside Me" (1987)

"That was the record that split the band. It was bombastic and humorless. I remember on that tour we played in Athens, Greece, and Dan Stuart attacked somebody in the audience with his guitar and broke it. So we got a note from a doctor and canceled our final gig at the Astoria in London. It was something I never felt good about, so three years ago, when we had our reunion tour, we rescheduled that gig, and anybody who was supposed to be at that original gig could get in for free."

Chuck Prophet, "Brother Aldo" (1990)

"I just had my kite up, and the wind changed direction at the right time. It just kind of happened that myself and Stephanie and a bunch of other local songwriters were all sort of in bands that had gone out of business or collapsed or folded. We started a poker night at the Albion, and there was a healthy competition among us. We would play a gig one weekend and come back the next week and do the songs differently. But people ended up stealing each other's girlfriends and guitars, so it was scene that didn't last long."

Chuck Prophet, "Feast of Hearts" (1995)

"It's the record that cost the most and made the least. If I stand back and squint, it's got some pretty good songs. But it's where I just hit a wall. It was probably the first record where I worked with an outside producer (Steve Berlin), and we never really got in a groove. He just worked out of one side of his brain - I'm not sure what side, but it was the opposite of mine."

Chuck Prophet, "No Other Love" (2002)

"That was when we seriously started to think more about the States. Stephanie said I needed to dumb it down a little bit, so I wrote `Summertime Thing' using the first three chords everybody learns on guitar. We were on tour with Lucinda Williams, and I was at a salad bar and heard it coming out of a speaker. It was a very strange feeling. From there it started getting some airplay and climbing past people like Sheryl Crow, the Wallflowers and Springsteen on the adult alternative charts. Heart later recorded `No Other Love.' That record has more than paid the utility bills."

Chuck Prophet, "Age of Miracles" (2004)

"It was a fun record to make. I recorded it in a lot of different places. That song `You Did' has been in `True Blood.' It's just got a bunch of weird stuff on it - songs about marriage, miscarriages of justice and midgets. And that's just the M's."

Chuck Prophet, "Dreaming Waylon's Dreams" (2007)

"It's not an official record. One weekend. we got locked in the studio, and I was bragging how I could recite Waylon Jennings' `Dreaming My Dreams' record by memory. So we started with one song, and by the end of the weekend we recorded the whole album. My friend, who was on tour with a bunch of new country acts, told me he bought it and put it on the tour bus and a fight broke out."

Chuck Prophet, "Let Freedom Ring" (2009)

"I found a studio in Mexico that was state of the art for 1958. In today's economy, that had it's appeal. In terms of perspective, I was writing that album just as the bottom was falling out of the wet sack of the American dream. We didn't really go for mariachi horns, but we were hoping to feed off the energy there. It's a city that hustles and bustles and vibrates beneath your feet. I thought, `With these songs, why not?' " {sbox}

Chuck Prophet: 8 p.m. next Sun. Great American Music Hall, 859 O'Farrell St., San Francisco. $15. (415) 885-0750, http://www.gamh.com.

To hear Chuck Prophet's music, go to

chuckprophet.com.

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by Aidin Vaziri on November 3, 2009 COMMENTS • Filed under Interviews (¡Let Freedom Ring!)