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The Austin American Statesman

Chuck Prophet couldn't predict radio would play him

Chuck Prophet doesn't need a map to get around in Austin. He's so familiar with the city, it almost sounds as if he lives here.

The San Franciscan has done his share of South By Southwests, and a reference to South Congress Avenue slides easily off his lips. But the bigger deal is his affiliation with Austin- and Los Angeles-based New West Records, which just released "Age of Miracles," his second album under that label.

New West propelled Prophet's irresistible "Summertime Thing," from his pinnacle album, 2002's "No Other Love," into an adult album alternative radio hit. (KGSR 107.1 is the local representative of that format). After seven years of playing guitar in the hard country-rock band Green on Red, and another 12 years trying to crack North America as a solo artist in the soul/pop-rock/funk/dirty blues/mild hip-hop/etc. vein, Prophet had no expectations of even getting airplay.

Chuck Prophet, who stretches over many eras and genres, has a new album out and a gig Oct. 9 at the Continental Club.

"We had a brief meeting about how to market it and promote it. I suggested we all stand in a circle and hold hands and pray," he laughs. He was stunned when the New West gang told him they were serious.

"Getting on the radio was the kind of advice my Dad gives," Prophet says. Imitating his father, Prophet intones, " `Son, what you need to do is get on the radio.' It's like, `Thanks, Dad. Maybe we can get together and have a panel at South By Southwest. Or better yet, you go and tell me what you learned.' "

Ah, there's that Prophet wit. He shares doses of it throughout the interview, as well as in his songs. His explanation of what happened after "Summertime Thing" took off goes, "Instead of seeing five guys with beards, we started playing to, like 25 girls in tube tops. And nobody was complaining. Not even Stephanie, my wife."

Stephanie Finch is the band member behind the Farfisa organ, from which she evokes the unmistakable sound that filled so many `60s hits. Prophet, a seriously wicked guitar player who loves his wah-wah pedal and other effects, often revisits that era for inspiration. Prophet lists Bob Dylan, Randy Newman and Leonard Cohen as his major influences; Brill Building scribes such as Carole King and Jerry Goffin clearly had an impact as well. On "Age of Miracles," he's got a song called "You Did (Bomp Shooby Dooby Bomp)," complete with "shoop-shoops" and triangle dings.

For this album, Prophet had an even more direct link to that era; he co-wrote a song with the legendary songwriter and producer Dan Penn, author of the Box Tops' "Cry Like a Baby," and several Aretha Franklin hits, including "Sweet Inspiration," "Do Right Woman" and "Dark End of the Street."

Years ago, Prophet's acting manager sent him to Nashville to try songwriting (an "incredibly original idea," he notes dryly).

The first time he went, he had a gig at the famed Bluebird Café.

"It turns out I was booked the night of the CMA (Country Music Association) awards, which is like the Super Bowl of country music," Prophet explains. "I was just about ready to take the stage and perform for the doorman and the soundman when Dan Penn showed up. I guess he was the only guy who didn't know it was the CMA awards."

They wound up writing the new album's "Heavy Duty."

Kim Richey is another collaborator; she co-wrote "You've Got Me Where You Want Me" and "Pin a Rose on Me."

"I think it's still a pretty special thing when two people can get together and do that. It doesn't work with everybody," Prophet says. "(But with) somebody like Kim Richey, it's just like fallin' off a log. She has a natural gift for just drawing a straight line."

When Prophet finds he needs a second opinion, he's not shy about asking for help.

"Sometimes," he says, "I have to do what Dan Penn describes as bringing in a couple of people to perform a miracle. It increases your odds."

Prophet does all right by himself, too. "Summertime Thing's" brilliance has as much to do with its vivid lyrical images as it does an incredible melody. For instance:

Go ask your dad for the keys to the Honda

Can your sister come along, how could she not wanna

Put the Beach Boys on, wanna hear "Help Me Rhonda"

Put the Beach Boys on, wanna hear "Help Me Rhonda"

It's a summertime thing ...

Though she's not credited as a co-writer on any songs, Finch has to be a major collaborator as well.

They've been on the road together for so long, he can't remember whether it's been 10 years, or 13 or 14. (His "long-suffering" wife, as he often refers to her, probably gave up expecting anniversary gifts ages ago.)

"Sometimes, it's less of a marriage and more like we're Army buddies," he says. "We get along better the more difficult it is, really. The road kind of brings that out in people."

As his New West/"Summertime Thing" experience proves, it might take a lot of miles, but eventually you can find the place where you belong.

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by Lynne Margolis on October 6, 2004 COMMENTS • Filed under Artist Profiles