Songwriter, rocker, author, producer and bona fide bohemian Peter Case has had his share of accolades, including a Grammy nomination for 2007's Let Us Now Praise Sleepy John. That album showcased his potent acoustic folk blues. So, naturally, he blows the whole thing up on this year's Wig!, as primordial a slab of rock & roll wax as he or anyone is going to cut at this late hour. Backed up by drummer DJ Bonebrake (of X) and guitarist Ron Franklin (of Gasoline Silver), Case cuts his voice and songs loose like a hungry hound freed from a back-porch chain. Case checked in with B-Sides from his home in Santa Monica, California, for a conversation about the tricky art of rock & roll.
B-Sides: Would it be fair to say this is your hardest-rocking solo record?
Peter Case: Let me think. I guess it would be fair to say that.
In some ways it's a 180-degree turn from the last record; in other ways it's not.
They're like bookends of my style. I wanted to do strong versions of the two sides of my style. I've always had those sides. As soon as I learned to play, back in Buffalo, Friday night I'd be at the Moose Lodge playing rock & roll, and then Saturday night I'd be at the Unitarian church basement playing acoustic or something like that. One reason to play rock & roll is because you can. And that's a good reason to play the folk side. I bounce back and forth. If I'm on the road supporting a rock record, I'm probably listening to Bert Jansch. If I'm out supporting a folk record, I'm probably listening to Howlin' Wolf.
Had you worked with DJ Bonebrake and Ron Franklin before?
I know DJ from doing gigs with my band and X. And Ron is a friend. I brought them in for a record I'm producing for this duo, Dead Rock West. They wanted to do a gospel record. So I brought DJ and Ron in as the rhythm section. The record is called Bright Morning Stars. We had a great time playing it. DJ is a real artist on the drums. He really tunes in. And Ron and I felt like the left and right hand of a piano as far as our guitar styles.
Primitive rock & roll or electrified blues can be misunderstood or misused. It seems easy, but it's hard to get right.
I think that's true of all music. It's the spirit. Just knowing a lot about it doesn't mean you can come in and do it. It's like shooting the curl or something. It always feels like a stroke of fortune when it comes out well. When it all mixes down right, and it feels fun to listen to, it just surprises you in a way. It's tricky. Good records are often done quickly. When the Plimsouls did "A Million Miles Away," we cut that and the B-side in one evening. That's how it was with this one. It was done quickly. It was like, "Action!" you know? There wasn't time to consider anything.
You sound like you're having fun with the singing.
All the singing was done live on the record. Just let it rip, express yourself, have fun doing it. In that sense it's an old-time record. I love to sing, but sometimes you listen, and you're just laboring over the singing, and you wonder what happened. On this one, we just hit it.
You had a health scare last year.
That's what they say in the bio, but it's beyond a scare. They drilled through my chest, went into my heart, bypassed a couple of major arteries.
How is your health today?
I think it's good. You don't know what's going to happen. I'm on the road again and feel pretty good doing it. It took me by surprise, but I knew I had a reckoning coming. Both my grandfathers died right before 60 of heart stuff, so there's a genetic component. My father had a problem too at that age. I've lived really hard, doing all the stuff you're not supposed to do, and then I was doing all the stuff you are supposed to do.
I can't imagine a doctor saying take two pills and play rock & roll for a month.
I don't think they do. On the road, there's a lot of tension. You have to stay up to make it to the gig then have the energy for the gig. Steve Earle says every night is Saturday night, and every day is Monday morning. I think that's an old Nashville saying.