Recovering from the smash hit Fall Tour 2014. Frank Zappa. Prokofiev. James Brown. Whatever happened to radio? Real DJs and The Electrifying Mojo?
Roger CortonSo now that you’re back from Fall Tour 2014, how did it all go? I saw some cell phone video and you were really playing the piano. What was that?
JCH(laughing) People always seem so surprised. I don’t get it.
RCWell, you do some virtuosic stuff on record, but it’s always in these short bursts. It’s just different when…
JCH…when it’s more than fifteen seconds. (laughing) No I get it. I just read an old Frank Zappa column…
RCMay he rest in peace.
JCH…yeah I forgot you’re one of those acolytes. Anyhoo, in it Frank admits that he’s just not that great a player and…
JCHYeah, yeah, yeah. As I way saying, he basically talks about how he’s trying to tell a story with his solos and he’s got some notes that are like guideposts along the way, but how he gets between them? He doesn’t worry about being all that precise. And he never practices. Which was obvious, by the way (laughs).
RCWhich is surprising considering how legendary he was for being so demanding of his players.
JCHLast time I checked, the word ‘hypocrisy’ isn’t in the Harvard Dictionary Of Music. But anyhoo, I know that attitude is how most ‘prog’ people think. They think there is a lot of noodling going on. And it’s an easy perception to have since most guys who still do prog really aren’t very good musicians. The only way around that perception would be to do a Keith Emerson move… you know… do some arrangement of a classical piece for ‘prog orchestra’. Which was great for them but not for me.
RCSo… why do you do that live? By the way, what was that thing you played at the shows?
JCHA bit from Prokofiev’s Sonata #7. Hi wow factor. Unfortunately, you can’t cheat. Like at all (laughs). It’s just tonal enough so unlike most ’20th Century’ music people can smell any clams a mile off. But unlike a lot of romantic stuff… you know Chopin… there’s almost no pedal so you can’t just hold down the pedal.
RCAnd let the wash of sound cover everything in new age waves of sound.
JCHIt’s a wash alright. I literally put a towel on the pianos to protect against all the embarrassing flop sweat.
RCThoughtful. But again, if you’re not trying to impress people with your chops, why do it?
JCHA bunch of reasons, actually. First off, it does establish a bit of ‘cred’. People see you in a different way when you do something that is obviously gymnastical, it’s just the truth. When I used to do a ninety minute solo guitar thing it wasn’t an issue. Every song was, frankly, a sweat factory so people could see it was no bullshit, I was ‘really doing it’ and I know that it focused their attention on the song.
RCI remember meeting you after a gig and you didn’t want to hang out, which I thought was… you know… ‘the artist needs his space’.
JCHMore like, ‘the artist needs his shower!’ It just felt gross meeting people feeling like a giant steaming Japanese hand towel. But second, as you know, I don’t do covers. However I wanna give people a break from ‘me’. Especially with the machines now, it’s good to have a shift. Some contrast.
RCSo is it like Bruce Hornsby (who inter-weaves 20th century piano in between his ‘hits’ at solo concerts) where he tries to show you how it ‘all relates’?
JCHDefinitely not. I’m not trying to be ‘piano guy’. And I’m not trying to show you my references. That Prokofiev has very little to do with my stuff. And I get through it OK, but let’s be clear: it sure ain’t Horowitz-quality. Or even Hornsby-quality. It’s just a magic trick. What I don’t want is to do a James Brown.
RCMay he rest in peace.
JCHWhat is with you? But James, for all his greatness, used to do this schtick where, during one of those long grooves, would run around and take a stab at every instrument… drums… then organ… then guitar. It was the one part of his game I thought was kinda pathetic. I hope that’s not how it comes off.
RCSeriously? You’re concerned about that?
JCHSeriously. I literally have dreams like in ‘Princess Bride’ where some old lady starts booing: ‘Fake! Fraud’.
RCYikes. Then I’m still confused. If you’re not trying to show your influences…
JCHNo I’m not. If anything, it’s a small ‘music appreciation’ deal. Maybe that’s arrogant or pretentious but remember when there used to be -radio-? There were guys like John Peel…
RCMay he rest in peace…
JCHJust couldn’t let it slide, could ya? Like John Peel on the BBC who would jump radically from one genre to another.It exposed one to stuff you might never run into otherwise. Which was absolutely the best. I still remember him. You’d have like The Carpenters one minute and then Tangerine Dream or some African folk dance the next. Or Buddy Holly. And everywhere I lived: New York, Detroit, Minneapolis, there was always at least one guy like that who turned people onto cool and unexpected stuff. Those were the real DJs.
When you hear kids talk about ‘great DJs’ today they talk about how the guy blew everyone’s mind by the way he selected tunes for a set. A -set-? That’s nothing. A guy like John Peel changed lives over the course of years. Hell, remember that funk tune you asked me about a few months ago?
RCAre you ready to throw down?
JCHYeah. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say the whole Detroit House scene was kickstarted by this guy ‘The Electrifying Mojo’. He would do these mixes where he’d put Kraftwerk back to back with some funk thing. Or maybe even Yes… He’d strip tracks down. Like Afrika Bambaata and Planet Rock. He played Prince before anyone knew who Prince was. It just blew people’s minds for years the way he was constantly mixing things up.
RCI get it. There really aren’t any ‘variety shows’ now. Even on college radio, it’s an hour of Celtic and then an hour of Chinese.
JCHExactly. I pick something like that Prokofiev because it’s something that I know not a lot of people have heard and… increasingly… I know they’re even less likely to ever hear it because we now live in these little ‘silos’. We tend to watch the same crap and listen to the same crap because there are 500 channels and no John Peel to through us a curve ball. That’s all I’m trying to do.
RCMore choice but less variety. It is ironic.
JCHSo my job, when I do these little ‘interludes’ is just to make sure I execute competently so the guy leaves the show and wants to go out and get the Maurizio Pollini version. You know, to hear the real thing. The best I can hope for is to be like a cool song, played through an AM radio.
RCAnd you’re the AM radio.
JCHMore presets. Less static.
RCSo we never got to how the tour went?
JCHFine. It was fine.