A TALE OF TWO LIVE ALBUMS
DANNY GATTON (LIVE IN 1977: THE HUMBLER STAKES HIS CLAIM)
ROY BUCHANAN (LIVE: AMAZING GRACE)
INTERVIEW WITH TOM PRINCIPATO: PART ONE (1/9/11)
A man of many styles, guitarist Tom Principato makes a point of keeping busy on multiple fronts. First, he's released his first album of all-original material, A PART OF ME, on his Powerhouse Records label (see www.tomprincipato.com/ for details). A PART OF ME features several key D.C.-aea figures who have played with Tom, including Josh Howell, Tommy Lepson, Jay Turner and Steve Wolf...and some "out of towners" in Brian Auger, and Chuck Leavell...we'll get back to that topic later.
Secondly, Tom has released live albums by Danny Gatton (LIVE IN 1977: THE HUMBLER STAKES HIS CLAIM, for which I wrote the liner notes), and Roy Buchanan (LIVE: AMAZING GRACE), which will shed further light on what both these late, departed guitar masters did on the live music trail -- where they did some of their best and brightest work, to be sure. With all this activity, I found it natural to call Tom, and shed further light on the making of these projects -- starting with the two live albums.
CHAIRMAN RALPH(CR): So, anyway, the purpose is to go over some of these things...let's take 'em one at a time. To do the Danny live album [LIVE IN 1977: THE HUMBLER STAKES HIS CLAIM], did we have to do anything extraordinary to make that a release-quality record?
TP: Not really. That was the easier of the two, because it was all recorded by the same guy. Part of that is owed to Chris Murphy, Danny's soundman of the time – who set up a couple mikes in the audience, and recorded them that way, rather than the usual sterile (sound) board mix.
CR: Which pretty much suffocates any signs of life of the band, as we know. So was he the main man on most of these recordings?
TP: Right. He recorded all of it. I had been in touch with him sporadically, and kept saying, “Hey, Chris, you got any tapes of Danny?” Because I knew he must have something – he was very good. He's the same guy that taped BLAZING TELECASTERS. I knew he usually had that machine running. So, every now and again he'd go, “Well, yeah, I don't know – let me dig me around, I'll let you know.”
CR: And he'd kind of hem and haw.
TP: Right. Then one day, he called up and said, “Yeah, I got some stuff, let me come on over.” He had a briefcase full of cassettes, and I went through a lot of 'em. There was quite a bit of looking, and searching, and poring over – listening, and evaluating.
CR: For the Roy album [LIVE: AMAZING GRACE], how did we go about approaching that?
TP: That was considerably more involved. Well, there's a guy that I know, Bob Davis. He's a big, big music collector and Roy fanatic in New England. I've sort of used him as a consultant, because I don't know of anyone who has more live and bootleg recordings of Roy Buchanan. I mean, I consider this guy the foremost source for Roy stuff in the world. So I'm always asking him to funnel me stuff.
And I also have done some archiving searching, so I was aware – through some searching I had done at PBS, in New York – of this “Vibrations” TV show that Roy did [in 1972], right after the PBS special that Bill Graham hosted. And somebody already had the audio. Actually, a lot of this stuff, we aware of – because Judy Buchanan had a lot of tapes that Roy had been given, and copies have been circulating...from Judy.
So I was aware of these two killer takes of “Malaguena” for this “Vibrations” PBS show – and I knew that if, and when, I was ever able to strike another deal with Judy Buchanan for a second album, “Malaguena” had to be on it. So I just picked the shorter [version] of the two, because they're both pretty long, anyway.
CR: I think one of my favorite single takes is the one from Pennsylvania [“Good God Have Mercy”: Chestnut Cabaret, 1978], where you can actually hear the beer bottles clinking.
TP: Yeah, that's something, and I'll tell you what. Sonically, that song barely made it to the album. It really is the crappiest-sounding cut, but the performance is so cool, I just don't care – because, you know, these kind of albums are about the music, anyway, it's not for audiophiles. So, fuck it, put on the good shit (laughs). And I think most people are happy that I take that approach. They just want the music. If you wanna release something that's Roy at his peak, you're gonna have to go with the limitations of whatever you found in the '70s. I'd rather [hear] him wailing away on a sonically “not as good” performance, than some nice pristine thing that's not as cool musically.
CR: The version of “Green Onions” that closes the CD is kind of an example of that, too.
TP: You know what's the nice about the source for that? That's Eddie Wilson, at Armadillo World Headquarters, in Austin – and he's an eccentric, but a pretty cool guy. And I'll tell you, he's sitting on a motherlode of stuff, because he's really one of the few guys in the '70s that was making quality videos and audio recordings of some of the real greats...he keeps telling me, “Yeah, I'm gonna get around to this,” and, “Yeah, we're doing that.”
He seems to have a lot of trouble focusing and getting stuff done, but whenever I ask him for anything, he's always very generous with it. There's a bunch of great black and white videos of Roy at the Armadillo. A couple of them have filtered through to Youtube – there's one of him singing “C.C. Rider.” But there's at least a half a dozen others I've seen – there's a couple with Billy Price, [the late Dick] Heintze's on the organ, Robbie Magruder on drums...so it's some cool shit.
CR: Once you resolved all the different sonic issues, how did we approach the strategy of the compiling and sequencing of this material?
TP: Well, the sonic condition of the songs has something to do with the way I sequenced [LIVE: AMAZING GRACE] – and I did choose the best-sounding stuff to go first, the stuff from the '80s [“Hot Cha,” and “Amazing Grace,” Lone Star Cafe, New York City, NY, 1983]. Those really were the best-sounding recordings. I found that was a lot easier to start out good, and sort of filter down to the lesser, rather than just start out weak, and filter up to the better, you know (laughs)? I can you tell this – I have scoured the world, and there is an extremely limited amount of stuff from that ['70s peak] era that's available. One unfortunate thing, too, is, he pretty much did the same set every night.
But, you know, I'll tell you honestly – we dug up video of four songs from “Musikladen,” in the early '70s, on German TV. The audio from one of those [“The Messiah Will Come Again”] is on the CD – but it's color, it's beautifully filmed, it's Roy at his peak. The band is great. There's one song that's not one of the usual things for him. I'd love to do a DVD of those four color clips, and a few of the Armadillo black and white clips. That would be a really great DVD, but I haven't been able to convince Judy to do that yet.
CR: People tend to forget the human dimension that gets tied up in this...I mean, she didn't just lose a great guitar player, she lost her husband.
TP: Not only that, and it was under really terrible circumstances, too.
CR: Of course, the “strange Roy” stuff – that's part of the folklore, too, isn't it?
TP: Oh, yeah, right. Right. Well, you know, isn't it odd, too, that he and Danny were probably bipolar, or at least suffered from depression of some sort? It's odd. Danny kept it hidden very well.
CR: Yes, he did...and I suspect, with Roy, it was probably the same way, too.
TP: Actually, I get the opposite [impression]. You know, the one night that I played with him at the Bayou, I sat in the dressing room with him – he didn't say a damn word. He really was an introvert, a loner type, and Danny wasn't like at all. He was very affable, very approachable, very outgoing – but Roy was very dark, and looked down at the floor, and didn't say anything. It was pretty different.
CR: So was that a letdown for you, to experience that?
TP: Well, no – I mean, I used to go see him play. I saw him do a couple shows where he turned his back to the audience, and that kind of stuff – he already had his reputation for being quirky. Early on, I had a really bad experience with Larry Carlton, where I tried to approach him at a gig one night, and he just reamed me a new asshole. So with Roy, I've always been very, very cautious about even appearing to bother anybody. And it's such a disappointment when one of your heroes turns out to be a big fuckin' jerk.
CR: I think that's why I an Hunter likes to say, “Trust the message, not the messenger...” I think that's a very good way to put it.
TP: Right. Oddly enough, I had a song demo – I was just starting out to write songs, and they were instrumentals. I gave Roy a cassette of two or three songs that I thought he might be interested in, and he just thanked me, put it in his pocket, and that was it.
CR: And that was the last you ever heard of it. Typical, right?
TP (laughs): Yeah! But even then, when I gave it [the demo tape] to him, he really didn't say anything.
CR: There are, of course, those two distinct phases of Roy, and people either like the '70s, or the '80s, but a lot of people don't necessarily like both [eras]. So, if you were on a desert island, and you were taking one of those live tapes with you, what era would you come down on, Tom? And why?
TP: '70s – because of the accompaniment, and freshness of the impression. There started to be this gradual rise and peak for Roy, starting around 1970, with the Bill Graham PBS special. He had a really great band in the Snakestretchers: he starts to rise, and he's really sort of catching on. A couple of albums [later], he's a bonafide guitar hero. Then he did lose the Snakestretchers, but the next band he had after that with Malcolm Lukens, Byrd Foster, and the bass player – that was a great fuckin' band, too. That's the band on the “Austin City Limits” video, which is really one of the best films of Roy. So – '70 to '78, I think, is really Roy's peak. He's still playing the '53 Tele, and just wailing his ass off.
CR: So what do you think changed for him, that makes the other ['80s] era not as desirable, from your point of view?
TP: Well, once you start using pickup bands, there's a lot less of that interaction – with Roy as a backdrop. The delivery sort of tends to become a little generic, I think. For example, on that “Rockpalast” European video – I think Roy is having a pretty decent night as a guitarist, but the band is really, really sort of inhibiting what's going on, because it's just so disconnected from him...I mean, you can see they're all excited to play with him, but they just can't pull it off. And also, too, they're not really his peers – whereas his other bands...
CR: They were. To be fair, I think Roy suffered from the same syndrome [as] a lot of guitar heroes of that era suffered from, which was inconsistent material...because, if you don't write your own stuff, or don't write a lot of it...then you tend to be dependent on what people give you. And you either can make something of it, or you can't.
TP: Well,yeah, his Atlantic period was disappointing. Even what on paper should have been great – like, a pairing with the Tele player from Booker T [& The MGs], Steve Cropper, doing “Green Onions” – sounds like that would be fantastic. But it's actually pretty long, and boring, and rambling. Also, fusion was starting to be popular, and they were trying to sort of, turn him into that...just have him be something that he wasn't.
CR: A lot of people didn't really know how to deal with the onslaught of fusion.
TP: Yeah. But he had a bunch of real lame material forced down his throat in the Atlantic years. I mean, what are you gonna do? Even if you're not that excited about it, after you've recorded it, you're sort of beholden to go out and perform it live, anyway. It's your current stuff.
Danny Gatton Corner
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