EDMONTON JOURNAL (Edmonton daily) – Positive show preview with artist photo
Folk-rock legend Peter Case headlines Edmonton festival
Winter Roots & Blues Roundup heads into Year 3
By Roger Levesque
EDMONTON – At a critical time in social history, just how much can music matter?
For Peter Case, who was just hitting his teens in the mid-1960s, it mattered enough to set him on the never-ending path of the troubadour.
“It seemed like important things that were being said were also being said in music,” recalls the Los Angeles folk-rock veteran. “The amazing talents that certain people brought to music, that made life worth living for me. I was completely committed at 14.”
Case grew up in Buffalo, N.Y. with one ear drawn to the blues — pioneers like Mississippi John Hurt and Lightnin’ Hopkins — and another bent on exploring rock ‘n’ roll after the early examples of Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry. With the encouragement of his musical family, he was destined to traverse America, crossing a few boundaries in the fertile sonic landscape of the times. That creative spark is still with him today as a listen to his most recent songs will prove, even if music’s role in the world has changed.
Case offered a few musical insights as he packed his guitars to play Edmonton’s third annual Winter Roots & Blues Roundup this weekend.
Even as he started out playing in rock ‘n’ roll garage bands, Case was developing a knowledge and respect for other musical and literary traditions.
His parents were left-leaning democrats who instilled a social conscience and while he avoids getting too topical or preachy, social commentary is still part of his songs. Check The Case Files, his recent collection of outtakes and you’ll find a few numbers that play well to the current economic downturn and divisive politics.
“I don’t think I was ever naive enough to think that music alone was going to change the world, but back then, what was being done to change things was present in music. It was really exciting and important, and emotional and strong. There was almost a mystical knowledge in the music. People like Jimi Hendrix or Bob Dylan were like superpowers.”
Case was just 19 when he made his way out to San Francisco in 1973, searching for his California dream in an era when the east and west coasts still offered more obvious contrasts musically and culturally.
“I loved California and I still love it. There was every kind of music out here.”
After starting out as a street busker, he moved to Los Angeles and co-founded an early new wave band, The Nerves, in 1975. The Plimsouls followed in 1980, finding some brief, minor success before a quick breakup. Case found his way back to a solo career, and made an self-titled album in 1986. He now sees his time in the two bands as a temporary diversion from the deeper things he wanted to accomplish.
“It was sort of a natural evolution really. It was a lot of fun but after doing the rock ‘n’ roll thing for a few years I had a real desire to get back to what I was doing before and to pull it all together. I quit playing with the bands right when I hit 30, in 1984. It was just standing up and wanting to do something that I continued to feel real strongly about. I had stories I wanted to tell and I wanted to write better, more complete songs.”
Some 30 years and 15 albums later, Case still feels the need to write about important issues, though he’s more doubtful about the music’s ability to reach an audience.
“Music is still important but it’s up against so much now. It’s been demoted and its impact with kids is watered down because there’s so much competition from other things. Big business have done their best to water it down too. In the wake of Nirvana, I felt like they had the heaviest feeding frenzy ever in the history of the music business. They signed all these bands and then destroyed them, doing a huge disservice to the music.”
Case is also a part-time musicologist whose tribute albums to Mississippi John Hurt and Sleepy John Estes have both garnered Grammy nominations.
On the health of roots music, Case holds some faith in the underground and independent music scene today and praises Canada for its eclectic folk festivals.
“People who don’t have a lot of money behind them can come out and get heard by large crowds of people and I think that’s fantastic.”
Case says he has to tour more nowadays just to get his music out there.
The Plimsouls have reunited a few times over the years and Case has planned another tour with his old Plimsouls collaborator Paul Collins this spring, after which he wants to record a “hybrid” that would bring together his competing interests. Some day soon, the poet and the rocker in Case may find their peace.
Part of: Winter Roots and Blues Roundup
Where: Royal Alberta Museum Theatre
When: Friday at 9 p.m.
Tickets: $20 from Tix On The Square (www.tixonthesquare.com, 780-420-1757) or at the door
VUE WEEKLY (Edmonton weekly) – Positive show preview/feature
These old sounds
Folkways keeps the past alive with the Winter Roots and Blues Roundup
Thu, Feb 23 – Sun, Feb 26
Winter Roots and Blues Roundup
Moses Asch formed and lost two companies before he found his place in the recording world.
They were Asch Records and the Disc Company of America, respectively; neither lasted particularly long, but the latter, while initially more promising than the first, collapsed rather spectacularly when a Nat King Cole Christmas album it was distributing failed to materialize on store shelves before the holiday season. Conflicting stories blame an early winter snowstorm or a truck driver’s strike but regardless of the reason, the loss of his second record company had a lasting effect on Asch’s intentions in recording.
“He lost his shirt,” explains Lorna Arndt, “and decided, according to his son, that he was no longer going to chase the big seller, that he was going to produce niche recordings for niche markets, and decided to record people who would not necessarily be given a voice anywhere else.”
The name he gave his new project, formed in 1948, was Folkways. Some of its earliest recordings were the likes of Leadbelly, Pete Seeger and Woodie Guthrie. Folkways still wasn’t much of a financial hit, but it’s become the Asch project that’s lasted, shaping the man’s own place in history and, more importantly, becoming a vital life preserver for early regional musical culture.
“A lot of who we think about now as traditional folk musicians, who were telling a story or revealing an injustice of some kind, those people had a voice on Folkways,” Arndt explains. She works at the University of Alberta’s Folkways Alive! Project. Partnered with the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, they together vanguard the Folkways’ legacy and are cataloging and digitizing the entire oeuvre—some 2000 LPs, none of which have ever gone out of print (Arndt notes that, to Asch, “If it was worth recording it was worth keeping forever,” and that that stipulation was one of the reasons why the Smithsonian is now the primary source for the collection’s maintenance: an insitute of its ilk can uphold the demand.)
Arndt originally took a one-year leave of her job in the Registrar’s office to help set up the project. That was back in 2003, and she’s still here. Her time working with the small Folkways Alive! team has been as much about about ensuring that the traditions and sounds the label represents remain vital as it has been about archiving these old sounds. The U of A had a massive collection of Folkways recordings—all of them, actually; every one of the initial Folkways pressings—sitting mixed in with the rest of the university’s music collection. The Smithsonian owns the rights to the recordings, and thus a partnership was struck and, in addition to helping digitize the archive, Folkways Alive! has expanded awareness of it, bringing connected artists into town to perform, record and talk about their past, influences and connections to Folkways. For the past few years, though, its biggest outreach event has been the Winter Roots And Blues Roundup, about to embark in its third year of dedication to celebrating artists that have a direct connection to Folkways, and those that carry a kindred banner or pull inspiration from its roster.
Mark DeFresne (of Roomful of Blues) and Roy Forbes will perform, among others, this year; Holger Petersen will run a Blues of Folkways workshop alongside other thematic musical events; Peter North has curated a film component of five full films (see sidebar). At the Yardbird Suite will be The Woman of Folkways concert—all of these events, Arndt notes, sharing a connection with Asch’s label.
“Bringing in a performer for a concert, we like them to have some kind of connection to Folkways, either in actual fact that they’re on the label, or that they have some sort of philisophical connection,” she notes. “There’s lots of traditional musicians who really feel an affinity for what Folkways was all about, so it makes sense to bring them.”
Over the phone from his home in California, Peter Case—this year’s festival headliner, plus a participant in the Folkways workshop—starts reading aloud an essay entitled “Concerning a Black Guy’s $45 Lottery and a Large Business Corporation Swindling The Public.”
“I wrote this when I was about 15 or 16,” he offers, before launching into its opening lines: “People talk about crime as if it’s the problem. I think crime is caused by ‘fear on the streets’ as much as the fear is caused by the crime: both are just part of the way that everything is messed up.'”
The essay goes on to compare street thievery to corporate thievery, discuss how the system of punishment lets the latter off easier, and consider the extent to which people are responsible for their actions—it could, as Case noted on his personal blog, have been written by someone in the Occupy Movement, not a decades-younger version of himself.
It’s indicative of Case’s early engagement with the bigger questions of the world around him. If anyone shared a kindred spirit with the outsider existence that Folkways sought to capture, it’d be him. He certainly seems to adhere to the same ideals: his songwriting seems to capture the world he sees around him in immaculate detail, in whatever forms it takes. His own music has spanned from New Wave to Folk, from work with his power-pop band the Pilmsouls to solo, singer-songwriter guitarcraft.
Case seems to be a careful archivist of his own past. Not only did he just find his decades-old essay “in a pile of papers,” at home he’s spent the past few years skimming his own past: The Case Files, released in 2011, is his dig through the closet, unearthing sounds that span the length of his three-decade career. Everything from major hits to deeper cuts—spoken word pieces he never commercially released, songs with the Pilmsouls, his own solo releases—are represented across its 12 songs.
“I have quite an archive here, of stuff I hadn’t really been willing to take the time to approach. And then I started looking at it,” he says, pausing for a moment to gather his thoughts. “It was interesting, ’cause you forget certain periods of time, and you go back, and listen to it. It can be surprising. … I tried to make a record that mirrored the interests I have now, y’know. It felt like a good record for now, so that’s what it is.”
Digging through his past, Case notes, helps reveal which ones have staying power for himself.
“It is fun, though, to have a big catalogue of songs and go on the road and be able to sing ’em all, y’know,” he continues. “There’s something about the songs … when I go out and play ’em for people, the ones that I’ve kept and really keep working at, you really keep finding new things in them, too. They keep revealing themselves. And that’s why they’re fun to sing. And that’s what you’re looking for.”
That seems to be another parallel to the Folkways spirit, there in Case’s words: archiving the past, not just holding it in memory but in a physical recording, means it can be revisited to reveal new, unexpected dimensions of itself. Or maybe it changes because we do—but if it goes unarchived, the chance for us to understand it in new ways all but vanishes, and we’re left with disintegrating memories. Asch’s success with creating Folkways was one of legacy: none of these sounds he pressed to wax have vanished. And the university’s reward for keeping the archive alive and engaging with an audience is the same: the preservation of a living, active history, to revisit and draw inspiration from, music or otherwise.
“The other thing that Moses said that gets bounced around a lot in relation to Folkways is that ‘anything that is sound is worth recording,'” Arndt recalls. “So not only is there folk music and blues and jazz and a lot of what we now think of as world music [in the collection], but there’s sound effects, or the sounds of the junkyard, or the office, or a lot of instructional things: how to play five-string banjo, for example, or mandolin. There are speeches—the “I have a dream speech,” for example—the Watergate hearings are on Folkways. It’s all about sound, not only music.
GIG CITY (Edmonton online music site) – Positive show review with photo
CONCERT REVIEW: Peter Case shows roots far deeper than punk
February 25, 2012
By Robin Schroffel
The only sign of Peter Case’s punk background was the fact that he wore a denim jacket underneath his pinstriped blazer. That, and some well-chosen anecdotes from back in the day.
No surprise, really: the veteran songwriter has four entire decades of material to draw from – which fans heard just a slice of when the Los Angeles-based musician performed at the Royal Alberta Museum Theatre Friday night as a part of the Winter Roots and Blues Roundup.
The blazer didn’t last long. After a song or two, Case folded it neatly over the monitor in front of him. The performance had a casual feel, like we were all just hanging out in someone’s living room; Case had his guitars spread out on the floor beside him and occasionally got up to bang out a tune on the grand piano.
Songs like his own Put Down the Gun, May This Be Love (Jimi Hendrix Experience) and Lead Belly’s Thirty Days in the Workhouse were interspersed with stories and remarks that had the crowd howling with laughter. His deadpan sense of humour scored with such one-liners as “the free download of that album went platinum” and “Rick Santorum – one of the great minds of the 13th Century.”
Even though no Nerves or Plimsouls songs made it into the set, that doesn’t mean the audience wasn’t treated to any early material. A tale about Case’s early years in Buffalo, NY, led into a song he wrote about Woodstock at age 14, with the lyrical sophistication to match. Later, Case talked about practicing piano at a Unitarian church, and performed a number written at 15 and only recorded recently.
At one point, Case read an excerpt from As Far As You Can Get Without a Passport, his memoir of leaving Buffalo for sunny California in the early ‘70s. He’s clearly a storyteller at heart, in his lyrics, his books and his onstage banter.
“Are there any questions?” he asked, referring back to a joke he’d made earlier in the night about growing up with schoolteacher parents. No questions, but a handful of requests resounded through the room. Case happily played them all: Poor Old Tom, love song Two Angels – “The greatest thing that can happen to a musician in 2011-2012 is to have their song featured in a popular vampire movie,” in this case, the TV show True Blood – and Icewater, based on a Lightnin’ Hopkins’ riff.
Case really hammed it up, too – while ending songs, between songs and even during songs. “This is how your rock out in a hotel room,” he said at one point. He brought the audience a solid two hours of music and stories, and while a sonic nod to the Nerves would have been welcome, the omission is forgivable – he’ll be playing that material for the next two months on the band’s reunion tour.
(Read a more detailed Peter Case road story here: Escape from the House of Pigs)
GIG CITY (Edmonton online music site) – Positive show preview with artist photo
TRUE TALES OF THE ROAD: Peter Case escapes house of pigs
February 22, 2012
By Mike Ross
When you’ve been on the road more or less continuously since 1973, as Peter Case has, you meet a lot of people – a lot of famous people, in this case, so to speak, and he doesn’t want to be a name-dropper. Case is one of these unusual figures in the music world who are famous for not being as famous as they should be for great work the equal of any superstar, but for some unexplained reason, never caught that big break. Case’s work has garnered respect from a who’s who of big names, even as it remains relatively obscure.
“I guarantee you were we trying to make millions of dollars,” Case says of his critically-acclaimed yet largely obscure bands the Nerves and the Plimsouls, and their poke at the big-time in the ‘70s and early ‘80s. “We were trying to get a hit song. We really got close, you know? Close is no cigar, is it?”
It’s not over yet, of course. Like many lifetime singer-songwriters for whom the term “singer-songwriter” is a genre unto itself that transcends all others, Case gives his works human attributes.
“You never know. A song can go anywhere. It goes out there and has a life of its own,” he says. “They’re like people. Some make millions of dollars, some have something to say and don’t make any money. But they’re all worthy of being songs.”
Still “trying to write that perfect song,” Case plays Friday at the Royal Alberta Museum Theatre as part of the third annual Winter Roots and Blues Roundup. If you’re wondering what a punk rock guy is doing headlining a folk music festival, he explains that “punk is just where I came up to the surface where people could see me.” His roots go far deeper than punk rock.
Under the radar is where the best road tales come from, of course. Case has written two books on the subject and is working on a third – about any road at all, metaphorically or not.
Of the many tales he’s collected, one stands out. It was at a gig at a little club near a beach in the “middle of nowhere” in Southwestern New Jersey, he recalls. Case and his teenage son had been robbed of all their clothes in New York City the night before and had purchased matching “stupid-ass seashell beach shirts.” His friend Bruce Springsteen – a big fan of Case’s solo albums – walked into the club and complimented Case on his production values.
The gig was weird enough, Case says, but what happened afterwards was like something out of a David Lynch movie.
He says, “The club owner’s putting us up at his house, so we get in his truck, take the main road, down a side road, down a dirt road, and then he pulled through this barbed wire fence on a track going through the forest and my son is like, ‘what if this guy is going to kill us?’ So we get to this big white farmhouse with all the lights out and the guy says, ‘go inside and make yourself comfortable.’ We open the door and the house is all dark and you can hear all this grunting in the house. It was kind of shocking. We hit the lights and the house was full of pigs.”
Case and his son are assured that there’s nothing to worry about, that pigs are cleaner than people and actually make great pets. The guy introduced a pig named Jerry Lee and asked if they wanted to see it play piano. How could they refuse?
“So the guy pulled out this little piano and the pig started playing piano – and it was good, too. For a pig. Then the guy went upstairs to get the rooms ready and we’re there with the pigs, and there was a like an electric pig, like it wasn’t grounded. Every time you touched it, it would hum. And on the wall of the room, there was a newspaper clipping of what looked a lot like the guy, saying he’d been acquitted of horrible crimes in the Midwest. So he puts my son in one room and me at the other end of the hall, these rooms with huge overstuffed dusty mattresses that hadn’t been used in 100 years. So I’m lying there, I’m trying to sleep, I’m kind of nervous, and all of the sudden the door opens up and it’s my son. ‘A pig tried to get in my room,’ he says. ‘I’m sleeping in here.’
“The guy was gone the next day. He left a note: ‘Great gig, guys. Help yourself to anything. There’s bacon on the stove.’”
There’s a song in there somewhere.
In addition to Friday’s concert and film presentation, Case will be participating in talks and workshops throughout the weekend. Click here for details.
EDMONTON EXAMINER (Edmonton online A&E site) – Positive show blurb in fest feature
Edmonton’s got the blues
Third annual Roots and Blues Roundup runs this week
By Kevin Maimann/EXAMINER STAFF
Musical acts include three-time Grammy nominee Peter Case, who started out playing alt-rock and new wave and in the last 20 years transformed himself into an influential folk musician.
CBC RADIO (Canadian national radio) – In-studio session Fri. Feb. 24th at 12:30pm (to air in May on their Saturday Night Blues show)