Saturday, August 18, 2012

Peter Tork Performs @ The State Theatre

Peter Tork

In this Generation


 The Canyon of Dreams

Peter Tork was part of one of the most incredible experiments in sixties television, The Monkees. It was inspired by the Beatles landmark movie A Hard Days Night that took the world by storm in 1965. The Beatles juiced things up and oiled the creaky broken down wheel of American Culture through their over the top British charm a placebo of good will and escape from the dark days following the Kennedy assassination. It was as simple and complex as taking American music, transforming it with a big beat, mirroring it back to America and creating a youth culture with the power of a ten ton nuclear bomb. The lies of the governments here and abroad provided the scaffold for the ascendance of the fifties/sixties  anti-heroes and led to an artistic renaissance led Jack Kerouac, Aldous Huxley, Andy Warhol,  Bob Dylan, the Beatles  and so many more. The not-so-quiet revolution of the mind became the soundtrack for the youth culture in America. It was this internal landscape that created the conditions that led to a golden era of experimentation and freedom of expression. Peter Tork was part of this renaissance. Instinctively, he migrated to the west coast in search for the holy grail of sunshine, good vibes and incredible music. He was standing in the epicenter of new bohemia.  The beatniks gave rise to the hippies and Tork fit-in perfectly. He was a folkie at heart and he hung out in Laurel Canyon with hippie artisans like Van Dyke Parks, Tim Buckley, Steven Stills, Nurit Wilde and Joni Mitchell. In the beginning none were famous and no one had discovered their own unique voice – not quite yet. It was only a year or so later when a convergence of social and musical experimentation led to a kind of artistic epiphany, a freedom born of natural talent and a transformative enlightenment. The good vibrations flowed like the clear cool vision of the new tribal society.

As the Monkees phenomenon exploded exponentially, Tork opened his home to the new rock gods, jamming with Hendrix and hanging out with Zappa. He opened up his home for the early rehearsals for a new super group Crosby, Stills and Nash. Henry Diltz, a photographer and scene-maker was part of the hippie paradise. He knew Peter quite well and talks about Peter’s role in this hub of creativity;

“Peter’s house had belonged to actor Wally Cox. It was one of those substantial homes. It had a swimming pool. It had a whole wing off in one direction with rooms in it used for rehearsals. Peter was very social. He was like a commune type of guy - lot of people around. He was like a yoga and guru guy. In those days you could go over and could stay for a couple days if you wanted. You’d meet somebody there and fall in love.  It was a very open society.”

 Now 45 years later Peter Tork is older and wiser. He performs regularly with Shoe Suede Blues and is about to embark on a limited 12 date tour with the Monkees featuring Mickey Dolenz and Michael Nesmith.

May The Circle Be Unbroken

I listened to some Shoe Suede Blues songs and I liked the laid back sepia toned country blues vibe especially the remakes of For Petes Sake and Your Auntie Grizelda. The Dylan chestnut She Belongs to Me is a perfect country blues. It gave them a whole new feel. How would you describe your music?

I don’t know – perhaps it’s a mixture of the ‘50s and ‘60s blues and rock & roll. Of course the blues had informed pop music for nearly 60 years now. It helped me to really stretch out. Just the other day it occurred to me that maybe what I’m doing is blues music. It’s hard to know exactly, but very much the blues influence, definitely the blues influence.

After you formed Shoe Suede Blue you went on and you opened for the Monkees later.

It was funny being at both ends of that. I wore sunglasses and a Panama hat and as loud checked jacket, and I was the guitar player and one of the singers in the band…What we did in those days is the opening band came out and sang Daydream Believer with the Monkees, and so out comes the band and they bring me out my jacket and hat and sunglasses, and I put them on and there were gasps from the crowd. That was fun.

What convinced you to go forward with the project with Shoe Suede Blues?

Well, it was like I said we just …we got together. A friend of mine who plays blues, harp, and some keys suggested we do a benefit. He was like, “Let’s you and me and that guy over there plays bass. I know he plays bass pretty good, and we’ll do this benefit, this charity thing we’re doing.” I said, “Sure.” We got another guitar player and a drummer, and we did like three of these shows with different drummers and different guitar players, and we thought we sounded pretty good. So just about then a friend of mine said, “Look, I’m responsible for the entertainment at this promotional gig I’m doing at the other end of the country, and you should come, it pays pretty well.” I said, “Yeah, that’s good only it’s not enough. Can you get us a couple more gigs?” She did, and lo and behold we were a national act just like that. We just happened to click and we’ve done for over 12 years or something like that. We’ve rotated members but we’ve been continuous. It’s like the old farmer’s joke. “See this hatchet - it’s had eight handles and three heads, but I’ve had this hatchet for 45 years.”

Who is in the band, any original members?

Michael Sunday was an original, and basically I think he just hated to fly so badly that he just couldn’t take it any longer and resigned. If you look at the cover of Cambria Hotel, sitting there at the bottom smoking a cigarette is Arnold Jacks, AJ. He is still in the band. Richard Mikuls, bless his soul, has passed on. We have a new guitar player, a heavy guitar player named Joe Boyle, and a drummer, Sturgis Cunningham. These guys are both residents of the east coast. Since it’s where I am, it kind of makes it easier. Other than that, it’s the same band. We’re making a new CD. I’m not going to be able to give it to you now, it’s not ready to appear just yet, but when I do you’ll see what we’re talking about. There’s some wonderful stuff on there.

Have you written any new songs for the upcoming tour?

 There will be some new songs. They will go on the tour, not all of them because we love our standards, but there will be a few.

Your two CDs have a lot of great cover songs – original rock R&B and blues – Shake Rattle & Roll, Flip, Flop and Fly, Youngblood, Hound Dog, Route 66. Treat Her Right & so on. What was the process of determining the songs made the cut?

Basically it was whatever felt right -basically that’s all there was to it. Just whatever seemed to fit our style and approach music. There were a few songs that we played that were like other songs in terms of style, arrangements, chords and lyrics, so we couldn’t use them. We had to select one, pick one that we liked better. It was that kind of process of elimination

Are you going to perform any of your Monkees songs on this tour?          

Sure thing. Oh yeah. Absolutely. I love them. Almost a third of the show is Monkees songs – For Pete’s Sake, Auntie Grizelda, Shades of Gray. Last Train to Clarksville and a few others

 Before you joined the Monkees, before you got into the project, you were hanging out with some pretty heavy hitters, Steven Stills, Van Dyke Parks and others from Laurel Canyon. You were really a part of a young elite. How did that help you prepare for the Monkees or did it bump into the Monkees in some way?

Well I didn’t have any sense of that at the time. I didn’t know they were members of the elite until years later when they all had successful careers…so, you know, I didn’t know Richie Havens was doing really well. I didn’t know Jose Feliciano was making it, I didn’t know any of those guys were going to be good until they got good, so it wasn’t like I was hanging out with heavy hitters as far as I knew at the time…

As multi-instrumentalist, do you have an instrument that you prefer, one that allows you to really express yourself?

I like guitar because I’m standing up, and I get to dance, and I like piano because it has the widest, broadest rhythm and the sound of it, those great boogie-woogie songs need piano and also for the harmony range. I like bass. Electric guitar is probably my favorite…it’s more for melody than harmony. So I like those two the most, bass when I’m called upon to play bass. I enjoy it. I love laying down a foundation and then the banjo for the old folky and your folk hat because that’s how I came up, as a folky.

As you look back on you career with the Monkees can you identify what you’re most proud of?

Headquarters. So yeah because that was when the band fought and won…my skills and contribution was being the root. It was a great boost for me. I am extremely grateful that I was able to do what I did in the public arena. It’s a huge debt of gratitude. I owe the Monkees a huge debt of gratitude on that account.

You were the quiet, thoughtful member of the group and the more cerebral. Do you think these qualities helped you as a musician?

I think anything helps as a musician. I know guys who were…but did wonderful, sophisticated, delicate, rhythmic stuff, and I know guys who are marvelously intelligent who can’t play, so there’s  not a great deal of overlap there, but what you’ve got is definitely a help.

I always liked your vocals. I thought you had a great vocal vibe. The Shades of Gray was just wonderful. How do you rate yourself as a singer?

Not very well. No, I’m getting better. I know I’m getting better in every aspect of the thing, but the better I get, the more I realize how far from good I am in almost axis, along any line. My pitch doesn’t always serve me well.  I’m always concerned about my pitch, and I don’t know that I’m a natural singer but I just plug along because it’s important to do.

 What was your opinion of Head? Do you think it turned out well? What was the message?

The message in that one, as far as I’m concerned, the message is that you don’t…The message is always supposed to be how good can you get, what’s the work got to do, or maybe at the very worse, what do you want to avoid? This message says, “You’re stuck,” and I think that’s a bad message. I think that Rafelson did a good job, given the movie he wanted to make. He and Nicholson produced the movie.  I think there are some wonderful scenes, and I think Rafelson did a decent job portraying us, using us to portray us, but as I said, I think the message is a bad one.

I saw the Monkees show at the Fox Theatre last year and felt it was triumphant. You had a front and center role this time around. You talked to the crowd. Introduced songs, sang lead on your songs and played several instruments. It was as if you found your voice after all these years. How did you see it?

Yeah, I think I worked up to my total innate musical capacity. Like I said, singing is not what I do; it’s not my strong suit. I think I have a lot of other attributes as an entertainer… it’s like those guys finally recognized me for my genius. That would be just joking. (Laughter)

Well, you have had a great career, perhaps you are a genius

Define your terms…I really have to go, But if you have some other questions that you really need to ask, send an email to my agent...Peace

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Michale Graves Comes to White's Bar August 11th, 2012

Michale Graves

Penetrating the Dharma


Exploring Truth

Michale Graves is a survivor. He helped resurrect the Misfits and brought them to even greater fame after Danzig lost his groove. Graves is a man of conscience and joined the Marines in the aftermath of 9-11, only to be disheartened by the high level of violence and our government’s pursuit of hegemony. Since the new millennium, Graves has pursued a type of musical and spiritual enlightenment that includes speaking up against the Orwellian messages that are imbedded in mainstream media. His new songs have an element of political protest in the vein of Neil Young, Steve Earle and Flogging Molly. He’s in good company. Graves War of Information tour is a career retrospective with music and song that includes an affectionate tip of the hat to his early breakthrough days with the Misfits as well as his iconic solo excursions. Graves crafts musical textures like a kaleidoscope, creating colorful patterns that reflect his love of life and his search for truth.

Michale Graves headlines the Back to School Punk Fest @ White’s Bar on Saturday August 11th. Doors open at Noon. Advance tickets are $8 and are available @ White’s Bar or online @

You are in the midst of the War of Information Tour. It’s been on the road for a few weeks. How are you being received?

It’s now routed to New Jersey. The fans have been very receptive to the new band…a lot of good people, a lot of good friends.

Your tours seem to have political/spiritual themes, you know. Some of the past tours were Almost Home, illusions Live, Web of Dharma. Do you view your shows thematically and do you try to give your fans a particular message on each one of these particular themes, these shows?

I do. I believe that music is so powerful and it should have some sort of message. It should be saying something. It needs to be filled with something…. just so I have motivation and principles behind what I’m doing. Since I was young I’ve always been chasing something. I’ve always had this attitude to go out there and talk about life and about issues such as virtue and integrity. I don’t believe in just going out for the sake of going out.

There are some people who say politics and music make strange bedfellows, but you of remind me of the integrity of artists like Flogging Molly, Steve Earle. They say it out loud. Are you inspired by them? Do you feel that you all have important things to say?

Absolutely. There’s a problem in our country where everybody’s sleeping. They just come home from work and they turn the TV on and they’re hypnotized by Dancing with the Stars and worrying about their hair falling out and how they can make their eyelashes longer. It’s all an illusion created to distract us from the true nature of life and reality.  I’m doing my best out here on this tour to wake people up to the true nature of this country where we imprison so many - we have more people in our prison system than any other country on the planet.

It’s an unhealthy society for sure. You know do you think it’s risky for you personally to put your views out there in such a bold way?

Yes, especially now that people are saying things like 9/11 was an inside job and talking about government corruption. I have people that have certainly given me the rundown on it and have warned me and are looking out for me because there is certainly a certain element of danger. In certain circles, it is dangerous to talk about the causes of  9/11, people become angry and emotional, and I understand that. But again, that’s the thing. When you take the emotions away from it and you apply reasoning, you look at facts and try to see a clear picture.

I want to just touch this briefly, and I don’t know if you want to talk about it, but I read that you enlisted in the Marines. If that’s true, what prompted you to do that and then what was it like for you?

It was the same thing that prompted me that prompted so many other people after September 11th. We were angry. We wanted to go after the enemy. I guess for me it was a lot of different reasons. I was under the spell of fear. I come from a family that was trying to secure my future. I was getting married and I wanted to have a family. It was tough to be part of the music business and at the same time create a future for my family. I looked at my military service and decided that I could not be a part of them because of what our government was doing around the world. I didn’t want to be a killer in that way. I didn’t want to do that anymore. There are many people my age that fought in Afghanistan and Iraq and woke up and were angry that we were being lied to in such a huge way. A lot of people my age in their 30s and 40s are very angry, and that’s why you see such huge splits in the military for people like Ron Paul. That’s why you see these veterans marching up and down the streets in our cities because they’re aware and they know.

Yeah, and there’s a lot of PTSD going around too.

There is a terrible epidemic of PTSD in the guys that are coming back. You know in World War II the average soldier served maybe four or five days of combat. These guys are going over there for combat tours for over a year. It’s a terrible, terrible thing that’s happening.

 I was listening to some of your You Tube stuff. I was blown away. You’re really a great singer. I just didn’t know how great you were until I took a deeper look. You have this great range of fine timbre to your voice. Your version of the Dylan song, Positively 4th Street, was the best cover song I’ve ever heard of Dylan’s.  How do you describe your vocal chops?

Oh, I don’t know… in the late ‘90s I studied with a really great teacher in New York City…who taught me, again you really taught me how to get hold of my voice and the mechanics behind it and how to take care of it and how to get through when it’s tough. So again I was just blessed by God to have natural talent and my parents always made sure that I recognized that talent and did everything I could to continue to nurture it, so it was a lot of hard work.

Is it okay to go to the Misfits? I want to hit that just a little bit. It seems that you entrance to the Misfits in ’95 really held a new dawn for the band, reenergized them it seemed to me. You were ready to rock hard. What was it like for you as the newcomer, the young upstart?

It was tough because I was the new guy and I was young. I was 20 years old when we started to tour. I did it in a whirlwind of activity, hyper-energized. It was very exciting obviously because I’ve always had these rock and roll dreams and when I began to discover how important the Misfits are, the music became even more exciting I it was like a history lesson.  It was really a great challenge for me and it was a very difficult -  you know, how do you continue something that’s so great. As a young man, I wanted make sure that my contribution would always bring respect to that legacy. It was difficult hanging out with all these other people, being introduced to a big world of business and lots of money. It was very tumultuous. Again, my dreams have come true, so…

What was your greatest experience with them, with the Misfits?

Wow. I think my greatest experience was getting over to a lot of people and touring overseas and seeing that the world. It was a much smaller place than people realize and I was able to travel with that band and learn a lot of things. I think the greatest experience I got out of that back then was creating something that was timeless with those guys. We were trying to be creative and I think and we hit it right on the head. There were lots of good times we had. It was all about being creative and working and putting something really wonderful and beautiful together.

You’re really a great song writer and you take chances and you create lyrics that sometimes are … Sometimes Beautiful and Best of Me or Angry and Radio Deadly. How do you describe your lyrics or the creative processing in developing your lyrics?

Again, I’m just a regular man, like everybody else. I experience life and take things in. There is this constant longing, this ache inside of me to then regurgitate it back out and the only way that I know how to do it is through music. The creative process is just that, the things that are affecting me and moving me, you know, it’s very much an inspirational process because I do a lot of automatic writing where I just put words down on the page, whatever is on my mind in the moment. So I just put it down while I’m strumming my guitar and I then I go back later and I decode it. It’s almost like searching for the right moment and the right spot where I sit down and write. I’m searching for something that moves me and when I tap into that, it starts to build and I see the different pictures in my mind and then I know I’ve tapped into something that’s the magic. I don’t necessarily know where it comes from. It certainly comes from my soul. I do my best to remain truthful to my craft as I put it down to paper and it becomes a song.

 I think back to some of the earlier stuff with the Misfits. Now when I hear you, you’re more of a singer with a lovely voice than a Death Metal screamer. Was the change simply a function of embracing a different form of music or just embracing a different vocal style?

I’ve lived such a lifespan that there are so many styles and approaches I’ve used for singing a song. I like it hard and rough but then at the other end of the spectrum I could croon like Frank Sinatra or smooth like Jim Morrison. I love to listen to opera as well as grunge the other side - I like Kurt Cobain and that grittiness. I’ve jumped to different styles because of my wanting to write music that way, and again just to explore my voice as well. It’s fun to see what my voice can do and what it can’t do and, to test it and see what it will respond to. I love all styles of music and I equally enjoy creating and composing in those styles.

How do you take care of your voice? I’ve wondered if you, because I think you have a great voice, do you try to take care of it like through vocal exercises, diet, honey, tea, rest?

To be honest with you, I used to. I used to take really great care of my voice…I used to warm up before and after the shows. I don’t take such good care of my voice anymore because I think that I’m a little bit overconfident with it. I know when it’s stressed. I know what it can and it can’t do. I don’t warm up before shows anymore but in the studio I like to. Let’s put it this way. If my vocal teacher knew how I’ve sung on the road he’d be very angry with me.  (Laughter) You know I do my best. I do my bit in front of the piano and I stretch myself out and I see where my low is and I see where my high is. I still work through the vocal exercises from time to time. I just to stretch myself out and see where I’m at.

 You mentioned piano. I was going to ask you about all your years as a professional musician and singer, what instrument you’re most proficient with or most comfortable with, how many instruments you play and so on. Can you speak to that?

I think right now I’m probably most proficient on the guitar, you know guitar bass. I love playing bass, and I play the piano. I love to play the piano. I play some harmonica and that’s about it. I used to be able to play cello. I knew a cello player growing up and I used to be able to play a little bit.

What would you say, you’ve had a pretty long music career now. What would you say is your greatest triumph?

Wow. I’ve been doing it 17 years professionally… my greatest triumph? I always go back to creating music with Damien Echols while he was in prison and was facing a death sentence. That was an amazing, amazing time for me because getting to know Damien and corresponding and communicating that way with no sound. We were going through the creative process together. We weren’t speaking to each other though we were writing back and forth. It’s difficult to try to describe the things that we were thinking about and the music that we were trying to create. It was really important for me because Damien is a son of the south. I came down to Mississippi and Arkansas and spent a lot of time down here. I made some really great friends and played with some really amazing musicians and just learned what the south was about. I went out with some, there are some real hillbillies up in the Ozarks, and I guess I really got a taste of the south. So I always look back on those times, I mean as difficult as it was, and as tough as it was, I really look back on that fondly.

 Do you foresee a Misfit reunion?

I’ve been trying. I try real hard, even if once a year I talk to those guys. I do recheck with Jerry, and I recheck with Doyle and Chud, and we’re doing our best, you know, at least I’m doing my best to at least get us into a room and play. So many people ask me in interviews. It’s not on me. Of course I’d go back and play those songs. I know everybody else wants to see us and hear us. There’s a whole new generation of kids, a lot of people that wish that they had seen us and want to see us. We should never have stopped playing.

What do you want to do next?  Is there anything else that you’ve been thinking of creatively that you’d like to try next?

I’m really starting to, I’d really like to direct, get into film a little bit more and work my way up to directing. I think a producer of film and TV-type stuff. I’d really like to in the next couple of years start to make the shift of not being the guy that performs, not being the guy in the spotlight and taking a back seat in order to produce and direct films. I’ve been on that pathway for the past couple of years. So, you know, I’m ready for that.