inkwell.vue.164 : Stew, "Welcome Black"
permalink #76 of 338: My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Sat 26 Oct 02 19:24
    
Thanks for participating here stew, i've really enjoyed reading this topic.

I have Joys and Concerns and Guest Host, I enjoy them both and listen to
them frequently.  However, I know absolutely nothing at all about you, so my
questions are more personal.  (apologies if you have already been over this
bio stuff in other venues)

What is your musical bio?  Did you grow up in a musical family?  Sing in a
choir when you were a child?  When did you first realize that you were a
musician? A composer?  Did you learn music through some sort of formal
context?  Or through picking up stuff by ear?  What was the first instrument
that you learned?  When did you first start writing music?
  
inkwell.vue.164 : Stew, "Welcome Black"
permalink #77 of 338: Stew (blackstew) Sun 27 Oct 02 03:26
    
>Rhino Records store on Westwood

I made many a life changing purchase at that store...and caused a
gigantic scene once when I took back a Clash record the day after I
bought it (can't remember if it was Sandinista or London Calling). It
was a scene right out of high fidelity. Rodewald always tells stories
about hating to shop there cuz of the asshole collector vibe. I
actually kinda liked it at the time. I bought Metal Box there.
  
inkwell.vue.164 : Stew, "Welcome Black"
permalink #78 of 338: Stew (blackstew) Sun 27 Oct 02 03:51
    
Bio Stuff:
My family wasnt really all that musical but they dug music deeply and
supported my insanity. My parents liked to brag that when they lived in
Kansas City their biggest saturday night question was whether to see
Basie or Ellington since they'd often be playing across the street from
each other. 
I sang in a youth choir which to this day is probably the wildest
bunch of folks i've ever made music with. They prepared me for rock
bands.
i first realized i was a musician when i came home from school one day
and there was a piano sitting in the living room. the next day i was
in a cold dusty wing of USC music school in a room full of dorks with
pianos in front of them along with this melodramatic, borderline
psychotic teacher who'd missed his calling as a sadistic drill
sargeant. 
I became a songwriter around age ten. At 12 I took guitar lessons from
a hippy who tried to make me a better music reader -- but every time
we'd start some boring reading lesson I'd tell him I'd just bought,
say, Band of Gypsys and next thing you know we'd be jamming. Playing
with him helped me learn to play by ear.

Also, I dont know how anyone in their youth could watch Hard Days
Night and NOT want to be in a band. 
  
  
inkwell.vue.164 : Stew, "Welcome Black"
permalink #79 of 338: Berliner (captward) Sun 27 Oct 02 04:05
    
Indeed. That vision of all the "Panthers" sitting around your bedroom
listening to records brings up another "black rock" phenomenon:
Funkadelic. Were they a part of your early listening, since back in
their early days they really were a rock phenomenon known mostly to
black college and (some) high-school students?
  
inkwell.vue.164 : Stew, "Welcome Black"
permalink #80 of 338: Stew (blackstew) Sun 27 Oct 02 04:08
    
>(and let's face it, the Disco Sucks movement had strong racist
>overtones,)

Dan, how right you are! Those were creepy times. I'd forgotten all
about that stuff. That said, i despised most straight up disco back in
the day i.e. Fly Robin Fly will never sound good to me. The best disco
for me was the R&B or funk stuff that simply got "disco'ed up" a bit.
Disco Inferno, for instance, is just a great r&b tune to me. And since
its 4am and no ones around lemme say Miss Ross' Love Hangover is one of
my favorite cuts ever. And TNP has ended many a show with the great
Sylvester's "You Make Me Feel Mighty Real."
  
inkwell.vue.164 : Stew, "Welcome Black"
permalink #81 of 338: Stew (blackstew) Sun 27 Oct 02 04:23
    
>Funkadelic. Were they a part of your early listening, since back in
>their early days they really were a rock phenomenon known mostly to
>black college and (some) high-school students?

i cant even explain early Funkadelic's mythological stature at my
juniour high school in 75/76. They were THE hardest of the hardcore for
all the real music freaks. Not everyone knew about them. Those that
did know would say stuff like "I dont think yer ready for this yet,
son" until you'd be going insane with curiousity. Maggot Brain
terrified me - the music, the artwork, the liner notes. It was one of
those many records i was buying around that time that i sorta hid from
my parents. i just didnt wanna have to explain. Mainly cuz i was trying
to figure it all out for myself.
  
inkwell.vue.164 : Stew, "Welcome Black"
permalink #82 of 338: Berliner (captward) Sun 27 Oct 02 04:31
    
And yet your work definitely shies away from both the hard funk of
Funkadelic and the hard rock of a lot of the Black Rock Coalition
folks, and instead is in a more pop/cabaret vein. I can see how the --
as you put it -- "fey" influence of Love was involved there, but how
did you start moving in this direction instead of what might, at the
time, have seemed the more logical rock direction?
  
inkwell.vue.164 : Stew, "Welcome Black"
permalink #83 of 338: Stew (blackstew) Sun 27 Oct 02 05:32
    
>I can see how the --
>as you put it -- "fey" influence of Love was involved there, but how
>did you start moving in this direction instead of what might, at the
>time, have seemed the more logical rock direction?

you probably mean more "obvious" direction, not "logical."
But even "obvious" aint the right word. maybe "expected" is best.

To me, regardless of my color or class, i'm a Western person. That
means
i have access to this big wild library which includes Bach & James
Brown, The Partridge Family and Richard Pryor. 
And i get to call on them, claim and personalize them. Not in ways
that goofball musicologists would recognize. But its all in there.
I've always been curious. I always took the limit of library books
home.

I honestly dont know why I write the way i write. But i do know that
I'm not special. I'm just curious. And i'm lucky enough to have access
to a big world library. I'm not trapped in a class or a culture. Lotsa
people have tried to pin the "Yer so much more melodic than most black
writers" tail on me. Its bogus. All five of my records could fit into
one of Thelonius Monk's afterthoughts. Lets not even speak of Stevie
Wonder's melodic flights of fancy before he went AT&T. 

If the question is "Why aint it funky-er" I'd just say my definition
of funky is broad enough to include phone bills, glances from ex's, red
patent leather shoes, "Ghetto Godot" and Agnes Moorehead. 

sorry its late and i dont think i answered your question.

Sometimes stuff just comes outta nowhere. Has anyone really addressed
the deeply interesting fact, the deeply telling fact, that Fela Kuti,
thought by many to be the quintessential african artist, was influnced
by James Brown to the point of directly copping james' vibe all the
while making it his own? Fela admitted this. James blew Fela's western
educated mind. There is not a Fela cut I've ever heard that didnt have
ooodles of James in it. So The King of African Music learned how to
become more "african" from a man who'd never been to Africa. Isnt that
special? 
Doesnt that teach us that when we are talking about western music
minds, maybe stuff like class, race and background arent really as
crucial factors as we'd often like to think they are?







   
  
inkwell.vue.164 : Stew, "Welcome Black"
permalink #84 of 338: David Gans (tnf) Sun 27 Oct 02 06:31
    


> Also, I dont know how anyone in their youth could watch Hard Days Night and
> NOT want to be in a band.

Ay-fucking-MEN.
  
inkwell.vue.164 : Stew, "Welcome Black"
permalink #85 of 338: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 27 Oct 02 06:44
    
That makes me think of the Bachir Attar album, _The Next Dream_... Attar 
being one of the Master Musicians of Joujouka... and on this album he's 
riffing with Maceo Parker on three tracks... and Maceo Parker also played 
with Jane's Addiction somewhere along the way, and Prince, and Ani DiFranco. 
Just an example of the stewpot (no pun intended, but hey!)

When I heard your music for the first time, I thought about Kurt Weill, which 
is who I think we all have at the back of our heads when we talk about 
cabaret music - and his music was a synthesis of opera, folk, jazz, and 
whetever else. Was he an influence?
  
inkwell.vue.164 : Stew, "Welcome Black"
permalink #86 of 338: David Gans (tnf) Sun 27 Oct 02 07:26
    

I am taking great inspiration from this conversation (and from your records,
too, as you know), Stew.

I used to feel so inadequate because my musical roots were so unhip.  I grew
up in the Valley and didn't know jack shit about country music, traditional
folk, the blues, etc. until well into the '60s, and I didn't find out about
it until I started to trace the roots of the artists I admired when I started
playing music.  So my melodic sensibility comes from the broadway soundtracks
and mainstream classical music my parents listened to, and from the Al Jolson
records I bought after seeing "The Jolson Story" on KHJ's Million Dollar
Movie six times in one week.

It all changed in 1962 when my older brother turned on the radio and we
started listening to KRLA.  And in those days, you didn't necessarily know
what color the artist was, or what genre it was -- it was just music.  Ketty
Lester, Mr Acker Bilk, the Dovells, Tommy Edwards...

I interviewed David Lee Roth for RECORD Magazine when "Crazy from the Heat"
came out, and once I managed to get him to take off the big loud mask and
tell me about his real self, he told me that his first show-biz hero was: Al
Jolson.

I think there are a lot more of us than there are pure children of the cool
genres.
  
inkwell.vue.164 : Stew, "Welcome Black"
permalink #87 of 338: Berliner (captward) Sun 27 Oct 02 07:28
    
And, of course, ignoring race and class is *supposed* to be an
American hallmark. Not that it actually is these days, but it's what
the rest of the world is supposed to have learned from us. 

And yeah, I love that nobody's ever looked at that Fela/James
connection from the other side of the mirror. The other obvious one is
the Fania Allstars touring Western Africa for the US government in the
early '60s and the folks in the Congo going "Oh, yeah, we know those
rhythms" and playing them on electric guitars instead, giving birth to
the great pan-African rhumba "international style." 

I don't find it odd that you say that you don't know why you write the
way you write, because if it's working for you, you tend to just go
with what you're doing, and when/if it starts making trouble you try to
fix it, but you don't fix what's not broken. But I am curious about
some of the stories in your songs -- "Miss Jones" springs to mind.
Every neighborhood's got one, but is she based on someone real? Is the
naked Dutch painter? 

Of course, the reasons why these songs work for me is I've known Miss
Jones, and the naked Dutch painter's happened to me, only with all the
details changed. But there's also something else happening there
whereby you think these are stories/events/people whom/which you can
make universal. 

Uhh, that's not exactly a question, I guess. I'll make like a teacher:
discuss. 
  
inkwell.vue.164 : Stew, "Welcome Black"
permalink #88 of 338: Scott Underwood (esau) Sun 27 Oct 02 07:32
    
> i have access to this big wild library which includes Bach & James
>  Brown, The Partridge Family and Richard Pryor.

I read that and I heard, clear as a bell, a cover of "I Think I Love
You" by The Negro Problem.
  
inkwell.vue.164 : Stew, "Welcome Black"
permalink #89 of 338: Scott Underwood (esau) Sun 27 Oct 02 07:33
    
Slip. Does anyone else hear the Los Lobos vibe in "Miss Jones"?
  
inkwell.vue.164 : Stew, "Welcome Black"
permalink #90 of 338: Betsy Schwartz (betsys) Sun 27 Oct 02 08:09
    
Interesting interview with Don Byron from the Wall Street Journal:
http://www.inch.com/~jerwolff/very/byron.htm

Byron's a black kid from the South Bronx (his phrase, I think) who
went to the New England Conservatory of Music and plays a mean
Bulgarian Klezmer, among other things.

He points out that 100 years ago, people used to be tied to ethnic
music because of where they were born - they simply weren't exposed to
other sounds. But now, musical ethnicities are more like flavors that
we can all share...

For me, though, it takes a certain amount of immersion to be able to
appreciate a new genre, and that's where the neighborhood still comes
in. The first two or three times I heard a polka, or a bagpipe, or a
cacaphonious free jazz piece, it all sounded alike. Only after some
hearing was I able to "tune" my ears to the sound and start
appreciating differences. (I note with some amusement that my Dad was
able to tune *his* ears to rock and roll enough to start telling me who 
the artists were snitching from...)
  
inkwell.vue.164 : Stew, "Welcome Black"
permalink #91 of 338: the invetned stiff is dumb (bbraasch) Sun 27 Oct 02 08:51
    
Stew, last year I saw you play at Cafe du Nord and this year I saw you 
at the Metro in Oakland.  Next time you're in the area, I gotta come and 
see you again.  It's not just the music. its also the stuff you to 
between songs.  Seems like you're totally relaxed up there doin an 
improvised riff that brings the audience into the show.  In Oakland, 
that included the flower guy and those guys in suits who wandered in 
late in the show, the guys from the record company.  

How do you get so relaxed on stage?  Is it legal?
  
inkwell.vue.164 : Stew, "Welcome Black"
permalink #92 of 338: Stew (blackstew) Sun 27 Oct 02 14:34
    
>I think there are a lot more of us than there are pure children of
>the cool genres.

i hear you, mr gans.

as for Miss Jones, yeah shes very real. there were tons of Miss Jones'
in my life. she was the one coming home from work passing us on the
sidewalk when we'd be playing football on the lawn. she'd always have a
purse and maybe a bag of groceries and a newspaper and she'd always
have something to say like "Now I know all you little Jim Browns must
have already finished your homework, am I correct?" or stuff like that.
And if her son was playing with us she'd always embarrass the hell
outta him by saying he should hurry home cuz she was making his
favorite casserole or something. shes a composite of all the intense
single women with kids from my old neighborhoods. 

>I read that and I heard, clear as a bell, a cover of "I Think I Love
>You" by The Negro Problem.

its bound to happen!

>Does anyone else hear the Los Lobos vibe in "Miss Jones"?

thats an extremely funny question for me. i've never listened to a los
lobos record but i have lived for many years in predominantly spanish
speaking neighborhoods (believe it or not, silverlake/echo park aint
all white bohos). so my influence was the neighborhood soundtrack.
Cumbias were cool at the time and we took a know nothing anti purist
approach to that music which was surrounding us.


>Don Byron
>He points out that 100 years ago, people used to be tied to ethnic
>music because of where they were born - they simply weren't exposed
>to other sounds. But now, musical ethnicities are more like flavors
>that we can all share...


Whoops, there it is!

>How do you get so relaxed on stage?  Is it legal?

God, i wish i was cool enough to get stoned before playing. Last time
i did was summer 1984 at a music festival in Kreuzberg, a neighborhood 
in Berlin. I did the classic stupid hash cookie trick: "I dont feel
this...i'd better take another one..." by the time i hit the stage i
wasnt able to put a B-minor triad chord together. For those of you
lucky enough to not be musicians, a triad chord consists of only, you
guessed it, 3 notes. its a pretty basic thing we're talking about.
But my hash-brain approached that little chord as if it were Hegelian
in depth. i was useless.

I'm relaxed onstage because i think what i'm doing is worth sharing.
And thats very different from saying what I'm doing is worth HEARING.
The audience alone must decide whether its worth hearing. Thats what
was so beautiful about the UK audiences when we toured with Love. The
places were usually 70 to 80% full when we'd get onstage. And they
always gave us a shot. They waited to see if we were good before they
started talking. And thats why we had nothing wonderful shows there
because the UK audiences gave us chance to share.

Even in Bilston where nobody was getting it they were still quite
attentive and curious. This was our fave show because the crowd was SO
unresponsive that Rodewald and I actually started giggling during
instrumental breaks and between songs and having a ball. 

I should also say here that we always talk about the Love tour over in
the UK but a big highlight for us was opening for Counting Crows at
the London Astoria and at the Bristol Academy. Those were the largest
crowds Rodewald and I had ever done the duo thing in front of. It was
very goosepimpley to play for that many attentive folks who didnt know
who the hell we were.  

oh, i have tried drinking before shows but my adrenaline seems to
cancel it out. Oh, wait a minute, in Oakland I WAS stoned...off that
BBQ from across the way.
  
inkwell.vue.164 : Stew, "Welcome Black"
permalink #93 of 338: Scott Underwood (esau) Sun 27 Oct 02 14:41
    
You seemed to really enjoy yourself in Oakland, though I've never seen you
in your home turf. As if Oakland had a particular resonance for you.
  
inkwell.vue.164 : Stew, "Welcome Black"
permalink #94 of 338: Stew (blackstew) Sun 27 Oct 02 15:01
    
>You seemed to really enjoy yourself in Oakland, though I've never
seen >you in your home turf. As if Oakland had a particular resonance
for >you.

thats a great question and i'm gonna answer it when i get back. but
without question, Oakland did have a particular resonance. Thats very
observant of you. Or maybe I just didnt know how much it showed. Maybe
it had something to do with the old fashioned signboard out from on the
sidewalk announcing the show. i dug that.
  
inkwell.vue.164 : Stew, "Welcome Black"
permalink #95 of 338: Stew (blackstew) Sun 27 Oct 02 17:53
    
ok, so the Oakland thing really wasnt a question. but still, yeah,
playing in Oakland meant something to me. Probably something to do with
its underdog status, the feel of the place driving around that day,
the amazing vibe of the Metro staff, my being a Raider fan for 30
years, the Raider rally that was happening as we pulled in, the BBQ
across the street, etc. And also it felt great to be playing in the bay
area in an amazing space in front of a great crowd and having it NOT
be San Francisco!
  
inkwell.vue.164 : Stew, "Welcome Black"
permalink #96 of 338: Scott Underwood (esau) Sun 27 Oct 02 19:38
    
I saw you play at the Tower in Berkeley and you didn't seem nearly as
at ease.
  
inkwell.vue.164 : Stew, "Welcome Black"
permalink #97 of 338: Scott Underwood (esau) Sun 27 Oct 02 20:46
    
I read somewhere you're no fan of guitar solos. I guess that means
Vernon Reid won't be doing a guest shot on one of your albums, BRC
connection notwithstanding. But tell us if that's true or not.
  
inkwell.vue.164 : Stew, "Welcome Black"
permalink #98 of 338: Stew (blackstew) Sun 27 Oct 02 20:49
    
>I saw you play at the Tower in Berkeley and you didn't seem nearly as
>at ease.

oh lord, for me "ill at ease" and "instore" are synonymous. i'm
seriously working on a comedic approach to them which i havent fully
realized. i have to think of some approach which will make the process 
more enjoyable. Because they are generally awful affairs -- but i know
i will have to continue doing them because, like interviews & photo
sessions, they are part of the job. But i'd rather shoot under hot
lights all day and talk to 100 journos in one day rather than do one
single instore. Are you listening my dear record company!?
  
inkwell.vue.164 : Stew, "Welcome Black"
permalink #99 of 338: Stew (blackstew) Sun 27 Oct 02 20:58
    
>I read somewhere you're no fan of guitar solos.

i dig a good guitar solo. being a child of punk rock i just started
taking a hard look at them around 77 and started to ask myself if they
were really worth all the bother and hoopla. Seemed more about
following stupid rock rules rather than really saying something with
the instrument. I got really bored with the sound of the instrument is
all.

One thing we didnt get around to on this last TNP record was something
we'll get around to on the next one: we wanted to bring in a bunch of
soloists. I really love stuff like the sax solo at the end of "touch
me" by the doors. and obviously, george martin helped us all see the
value of throwing the odd horn or wind instrument into a pop song to
give it a lift. 
  
inkwell.vue.164 : Stew, "Welcome Black"
permalink #100 of 338: something named (stdale) Sun 27 Oct 02 21:25
    
Stew, can you talk about Heidi a bit?  Her contribution to Welcome Black was
more evident than previous TNP albums, but having seen you work as a duo, I
hardly think about Stew as a solo act.  You seem to have found the perfect
collaborator artistically, and she was an absolute sweetheart to meet.

So, is there a solo Stew without Rodewald?  And when do we see Stew on the
road supporting Rodewald's solo act?
  

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