Where Roger gets a status report on the upcoming Fall Tour 2014.
RCAre you ready to throw down?
JCH (singing) “YES WE ARE. When I start to rock no need to panic. It only means that I’m getting romantic.” I’m impressed. You know your Detroit House.
RCIs that what it is? I just heard that on Sirius XM. That’s crazy. And you even know the rap.
JCH Well, if Jeopardy has a Senior Repeat Edition, I’m all in. It’s Felix And Jarvis. I think Don Was produced it. There was this DJ in Detroit ‘The Electrifying Mojo’ who almost single-handedly made that stuff popular. It’s funny that there was a time when a DJ could do that. Anyhoo, it’s called ‘Flamethrower Rap’. If it’s on the interweb, you should put a link to it on the site.
RCWill do. So the tour starts in a couple of weeks. How are you feeling?
JCH Not bad. Better than Robin Williams.
RCYeah. I heard he had Parkinson’s?
JCHI dunno. But it’s the question.
JCHLook, I think he was the most talented performer of my lifetime.
JCHAbsolutely. I mean of any kind. Music. Dance. Acting. Like the joke: comedy is hard. But he had the talent to basically do anything on a stage. I wonder what that’s like. No limits. He was in a lot of crap, but the raw talent. He could’ve played Lear. I don’t think he was ever in a movie that was really up to his level.
JCHMy point is that everyone who finds out they have some chronic deal have a tendency to flip out.
RCYou have some experience with that.
JCHYes. But then if you’re a genius like he was? Oy. Everyone has a tough time figuring out what to do as they age but you’ll notice that people who did something fabulous when they were young; from Einstein to Charlie Parker, they all seem to have a particularly tough go of it. Some people just can’t fade way. Especially if they find out they have that to look forward to. So they ask themself -the- question.
RCOh, -that- question. My, my. Hey, hey. Moving on. Piano?
JCH Endless digressions. The one thing I have in common with Mr. Williams (laughs). Yes. There’s a piano at every gig and that’s the main instrument this time.
RCThat brings up a question. What do you tell people when they ask you, ‘what do you play?’
JCH I don’t want to sound pretentious but I don’t know the answer. I’m one of those guys who could play most anything equally badly. So long as I don’t have to blow in it. I have a tougher time with going thththththtppppppppppppppt (laughs). I suppose I’m known as a guitarist and that’s what I started on as a kid. That’s what I know idiomatically.
JCH Yeah. When you play an instrument exploiting all the ‘tricks’ that are unique to it. Rockabilly is idiomatic. Flamenco is idiomatic. Most jazz guitar is not idiomatic because the guy is basically trying to play like a saxophone. All the impressive junk that guitar players do: hammer-ons pull-offs, etc. are idiomatic. They sound hard but they’re easy ONCE YOU KNOW THE SECRET OF TV MAGIC! (laughs). Bebop jazz guitar is hard because you can’t do any of that crap. You actually have to play all the notes (laughs).
For what it’s worth, most concerti that are worth a shit were composed by guys who could actually play the instrument. It’s really hard to write solo music for an instrument you don’t grok. Where was I? Oh yeah, I play guitar idiomatically. But that isn’t what I studied in music classes so there’s this massive disconnect.
RCYou studied bass in college.
JCHCan I digress, now? Please, pretty please?
RCJust this once.
JCHNo, I studied electric bass (laughs). I had no ‘training’ on the guitar. When I got to college and took music classes I sure as hell wasn’t gonna study guitar.
JCH Too hard! I couldn’t read the sheet music to Mary Had A Little Lamb. Reading classical guitar music is rough. I didn’t own a classical guitar. I needed to find the absolutely easiest instrument in the world to learn to read music. They wouldn’t let you take music classes unless you had an instrument.
JCH Are you high (laughs)? As the kids say. I thought of that. But I did some quick research and realised that the absolutely toughest music to read is percussion. It’s either waiting 161 bars to come in to play your one little CRASH! Or it’s all this modernist shit with 412 time signatures in a piece with 413 bars. Screw that. And besides, there was already a guy studying xylophone so I didn’t have an instrument to play.
So I figured, bass was the easiest way to go. But I didn’t own a double bass. And they only had one double bass. And it was cracked. So the guy who ran the school orchestra who was like the archetype of a ‘conductor’ wouldn’t let me use it. But I had an electric bass. So I made this big deal about devoting my life to the electric bass. The teachers were like, “Sure thing, play electric bass.” They coulda told me to go fuck myself. Or maybe they needed the dough. Or maybe it was the 70’s and people were open-minded. But for whatever reason they were cool with that. So I was an ‘electric bassist’. It was like special-ed (laughs).
The point is that, my fingers didn’t connect playing the guitar with organised music for maybe ten years after I started learning how to do it. So I have almost no connection between song writing or composing and playing the guitar. When I play guitar I go to this hillbilly place. But when I compose, I’m almost never thinking about the guitar. I don’t sit on a porch and think up songs while strumming along.
RCAnd on the piano?
JCH I’m a functional keyboarder (laughs). That’s a real term. I never played idiomatically. My whole focus in taking piano lessons was to read music so all I did was like Bach chorales. I am super-easily impressed by mediocre Gospel licks or anything that I would scoff at if it were done by a guitar player because I never did that. All I ever practiced was score reading, so ‘normal’ stuff like OH, WHAT A FRIEND WE HAVE IN JESUS! just impresses the shit out of me (laughs).
So I can play these vaguely impressive lines as needed or whatever to do the shows, but it’s definitely not “piano playing” like Dr. John or even that guy at the airport Holiday Inn (laughs). I have to pre-plan everything.
RCYou’re not exactly selling the show (laughs).
JCHAll performance is kind of a magic trick. But there’s a reason I’ve wanted to give this spiel for a long time.
JCHWhen I used to do solo guitar shows it was just as contrived as doing it on a piano or with synths. I spend six months or a year coming up with a show. It was just as much effort to do on guitar because I had to arrange everything and learn to play in a way that I would never do in whatever you wanna call real life.
RCWell, you sound stoked.
JCHI am stoked. I have up days and down days, but I’m genuinely looking forward to it, as opposed to last year where I worried about it. You know that joke aboutsaying about ‘all we have to fear is fear itself?’ There’s a lot of truth to that. I was at the America’s Cup trials last year and I was so worried about the gig in San Francisco I didn’t enjoy it as much as I should have. It was like thatLenny Bruce joke.
RCThe guy who wins the contest to go on a cruise?
JCHExactly. He finds out he needs surgery when he gets back so he can’t enjoy the trip.
RCLiving in the moment is tough.
JCHThat is the undisputed truth, Ruth. Especially for me (laughs).
RCAnd Robin Williams. See you in BC.
JCHNicely done. Puts a nice bow on this discussion. So you’re coming to Vancouver?
RCYES WE ARE!
JCH(laughs) Very cool.