Sunday, April 22, 2007

THIS IS NOT THE ROLLING STONE INTERVIEW WITH GEORGE BRIGMAN!

And while I'm at it, let it be known that I am not Ben Fong-Torres or whoever it is who conducts those silly sycophantic interviews that STONE at least used to run way back in the day! (You can tell just how outta-da-loop I am with regards to what actually goes on in that hallowed buttwipe-of-record, as if I'm really interested in their whole PEOPLE magazine for the aging armpit hair crowd these days!) Naw, this is not one of those seventies get-togethers where the participants at hand do a few tokes before getting down to biz, this here's an e-mail interview with none other than Pennsylvanian white-blues guitarist (and underground hero in his own right) George Brigman that was conducted by myself (with the help of Bona Fide records chief somethingorother Rick Noll tossing in a few questions of his own...I think even the dullest of readers will be able to discern as to who asked what!) over the past few weeks in order to push Brigman's latest for the label which is entitled RAGS IN SKULL (scroll down, as they say) which is a pretty bona-fide (heeee!) winner as far as recent self-produced hot-flash goes. And while you're at it, Bona-Fide has some more Brigman-related Cee-Dee ware that I'm sure you'll want to have and hold for your very own such as his bopping debut (and all 'round low-tech guitar monster) JUNGLE ROT as well as the followup I CAN HEAR THE ANTS DANCING, both of which should be essential listening for the serious BLOG TO COMM reader, or peruser, or whatever.

So w/o further ado...

BLOG TO COMM: Howcum it took you twentysome years to do a new album?

GEORGE BRIGMAN: Well, we had our first child December 20, 1986. A boy, Taylor, who was two-and-a-half months premature. He was seriously ill and actually was clinically dead twice in his first two weeks. He had his baptism and last rites on Christmas Eve 1986. He was in the NIC unit for his first four months. We had him home for one week and he went to Johns Hopkins for another week.

He was on oxygen for over four years and suffice to say I was significantly in debt. I mean major league dept. My oxygen costs alone were around $25,000 after four years. At eighteen per-cent interest. That was MY share. Just for oxygen. That doesn't account for the myriad of doctors, specialists, medications etc. I owed so much money I never thought I'd get out of it. At the hospital he was known as the million dollar kid. I worked (software design) sixty/eighty hours a week for years to pay it down.

I never stopped writing or playing at home. I just didn't have the time or the money to be able to afford a band. The boy came first. As it should be.

BTC: So, what made you do your new one after all these years?

GB: Well, I never wanted to stop. My son's illness pretty much changed everything. Now that he is out of school and doing well allows me to come back and do what I do best. I also can't lie to you but I was pretty fed up with dealing with musicians who just didn't get it. Not trying to sound arrogant, but I'm not a follower. Never was. Never wanted to sound or look like everyone else. Never wanted to use every rock cliche and play covers in bars around town.

I always had my own ideas about how I wanted to sound and what I wanted to say. It's pretty hard here in Baltimore trying to do anything original. Everyone wants to put you in a box i.e. heavy metal or thrash metal or punk etc. The box thing is not just for Baltimore but everywhere. They have to say you sound like some other band. You can't have your "own sound." But I do have my own sound. Always have. Always will. So for me it was time to come back and do some more music. RAGS isn't the last one. It's like starting over for me. There's plenty more to come.

RAGS would have been out even sooner but as you can see by the credits it took four drummers to get it done. John (Spokus) and I must have auditioned and/or tried over fifty-plus drummers who couldn't play what I needed for the album. I miss Rick Williams!!! Rick would have done RAGS without any problems. I've lost touch with him. So that explains the drummer problem!

BTC: As for RAGS IN SKULL, any interesting asides or bits of information you'd like to relay about it?

GB: Well, the coolest thing was that John wanted us to do the mastering at Invisible Sound here in Baltimore. When we went into the studio the first thing I noticed towards the end of the mixing console stood a stuffed groundhog!!! (NOTE FROM CHRIS: those who do not realize the significance of this seemingly strange occurrence please read on!) Who would have thunk it. Talk about getting a good vibe! That's the one from the picture in the jacket. I knew right then that it was a good thing. The sad thing was I also found out that my guitar and equipment technician and good friend Grant Franklin had just passed away. I'll miss him for sure. So will my guitars.

BTC: Tell us about the people backing you up on RAGS IN SKULL.

GB: John Spokus, bass and engineer. Originally I was going to do the bass parts myself until I met John during an interview. He was doing an article for an internet blog or something and we clicked right off the bat. This was over the phone. Then he came over to take some pictures and finish the interview. I s tarted playing him some of the newer material and he really liked it. I then asked him if he'd like to take a shot at some of the new stuff and he absolutely nailed them. John did an amazing job. He was instrumental in getting RAGS done. He's also quite accomplished as an engineer so with him I get the best of both worlds.

Jay Spiegel I knew through Richard (ANOTHER NOTE FROM CHRIS: this is the formal name for Rick Noll). Jay played with the Velvet Monkeys and Gumball and I met him hanging out at Richard's. He's a great partier and a fine drummer. Fun to be around and work with.

Tom Rollins came through an ad John ran and did a great job on his tracks.

Joe Wilkens was playing with John in one of his "side" bands and also did a good job on his tracks. He's since moved to North Carolina.

Billy Callaway also answered an ad John had run and has a Masters in percussion. He was teaching at a private school in the Baltimore area. He too moved, this time to Louisiana. A real sweetheart of a guy and a pleasure to work with.

BTC: Tell us about your associations with Rick Noll---how did he meet up with you and what kind of guy is he to hang around with?

GB: Richard and I met around late 1981. I received a letter from BMI (my performance rights organization) which was his request to try and get in touch with me. It included his contact info so I called him and he came down to Baltimore and we've been good friends ever since. He's also handled the business management side for me both as a manager and now being on his Bona Fide label.

At first I was a big skeptical but he kept going on about how great JUNGLE ROT was and wanted to sell whatever I had left. Just my luck, but my original partner in Solid records made off with most of the pressings so I only had about a hundred or so left. Richard sold them and for once in my life I got a bit of money from him.

As per the second part of the question he's a blast to be around. I like it best at his place because he has so many records. I mean thousands and thousands that I could stay there for years and not listen to them all!

That's not counting all the movies, books and other music-related stuff he has. So he has wound up being one of my closest friends.

BTC: How are the Bona Fide reissues doing? RAGS?

GB: The reissues are doing well. I think if we didn't have the Radioactive/Synton bootleg bullshit it would have been even better. We've also had a bunch of problems with illegal downloads. That's hurting everybody in the business, myself included. I need to eat too! But all in all better than expected. RAGS too is doing better than expected. I'm hoping it outsells all my other releases combined!

BTC: When and where did you first hear the Groundhogs and Beefheart?

GB: I first heard of the Groundhogs while in eleventh grade (1970-1971). I was in so much trouble that I was only allowed to go to school for half a day. If I went earlier or was on the grounds they let me know in no uncertain terms that I'd be arrested. So my brother drove me to school one day and we were listening to the progressive rock station WAYE-AM and I heard the intro to "Darkness Is No Friend" from the 'hogs' THANK CHRIST FOR THE BOMB. I begged my brother to wait until the end so I could hear who it was and the album it came from. I was hooked from the get. I loved that quirky rhythm and hadn't heard anything quite like it. Then I was on the hunt to get that album. On a Saturday that same week it took three-and-a-half hours of bus rides to get to this one record store that was huge. It was also totally different in that you looked up a reference code for the LP you wanted and wrote it down on a slip of paper and then gave it to a clerk. Kind of like looking up stuff in the library. A couple of minutes later I had my first Groundhogs album. Then it was another three-and-a-half hours to get home to hear the entire thing. Believe me, it was worth it. I still think it's one of the best albums ever.

Beefheart I read about in ROLLING STONE. Being a Zappa fan I picked up a copy of TROUT MASK REPLICA and then spent a great deal of time and effort locating and buying all of his stuff. When I heard TROUT MASK I was floored. I never heard anything like it (and doubt that I will again). He truly is in a "zone" all his own. I don't really have a favorite Beefheart album. They're all my favorites (except the Phonogram stuff).

BTC: How about Johnny Winter?

GB: I kept up with all the music magazines and it was hard not to hear about Johnny Winter. I picked up a copy of PROGRESSIVE BLUES EXPERIMENT and then his first Columbia LP and saw him in concert. Amazing. Just amazing. I always call him "The Motherfucker." Every time I saw him play I'd stand there shaking my head and saying "That Motherfucker," just totally amazed at the way he played. Just an incredible guitarist. I saw Johnny at least six times in concert. Always blew me away.

BTC: I hear there's a video from the album posted on Youtube.

GB: Actually it's an interview I did in 1985/1986 not long before my son was born (and my long hiatus). It was on a local college cable TV show where we were interviewed and we lip synched to an unreleased tune called "Make It One Day." We had a good time doing it. We did play along with the track.

BTC: What do you make of the constant comparisons of your work to the Stooges and Jimi Hendrix? have you ever seen either one? What was the best concert you saw?

GB: Well I'm very flattered of the comparisons to both, especially Hendrix. He was an amazing talent. Contrary to popular belief I wasn't a fan of Iggy and the Stooges. I'm not dissing the band at all. Just not my cup of tea. I saw the Stooges do a live show on TV which was pretty crazy. Iggy jumped off the stage and ran out into the audience and kissed some guy on the mouth who promptly punched Iggy in the mouth! That seemed to me what they were about. Just being crazy but I didn't see a lot musical-wise. I also saw Hendrix in Baltimore not too long before he died. He pretty much gave the impression that he was bored. You could see his heart wasn't in it. Something clearly looked wrong. He did a short set to boot. I went to the Hendrix show with a friend who was always having the "Who Is The Best Guitarist" and he always said Hendrix and I took Johnny Winter. After the show he said "Winter" and also said don't rub it in. Of course a few years later when I started reading about what was going on in Hendrix's life at the time it was like...why, no wonder! Still a great player who had an off night. I don't know how he could have dealt with all the stuff that was going on in his life at that time.

The best concert was Captain Beefheart during the SHINY BEAST/BAT CHAIN PULLER tour. I went with my roadies and another friend to see him at The Bayou in Georgetown in DC. Sitting up in the loft and I look over the side and lo and behold there was Van Vliet. I told my roadies I'm going over to meet him. They thought I was crazy but decided to follow. I tapped him on the shoulder, excused myself for interrupting him and said it was an honor to meet him. I also told him that I was hugely influenced by him and hand been waiting forever for the chance to see him play. He shook all of our hands and was most gracious. What a guy! What a show! Don and the boys just nailed it. I can see why they're called the Magic Band. The best part was when they finished their set Van Vliet fought his was through the crowd and came up to our table and very humbly asked "Well...uh...what did you think?" I told him it was the best show I had ever seen and asked him not to make us wait another twelve years to see him again. He kept his word when I saw him at the same venue for the "Best Batch Yet" tour.

BTC: Is "Some Of My Best Friends Are Snakes" about anyone in particular?

GB: Yes, and it's not my wife!

BTC: How did you develop your unique style of using your thumb instead of a pick?

GB: Well, I never had any guitar lessons. I self-taught myself. I tried using a pick but didn't like the "click click click" of the pick. I started trying to use my thumb and noticed all of the nuances of different angles with the thumb, using the "meat" of the thumb or some "meat" and the thumbnail and noticed all of the different sounds, tones that it brought so I dumped the pick and have been using my fingers ever since.

BTC: How is RAGS IN SKULL different from I CAN HEAR THE ANTS DANCING and JUNGLE ROT?

GB: Well pretty much night and day. JUNGLE ROT was me with a bunch of songs written while I was still in high school. I was just learning to play guitar and record when I did JUNGLE ROT. ANTS DANCING was my group Split "live" in the studio. RAGS is a culmination of thirty-eight-plus years experience in the business. I think it's the best thing I've ever done and have high hopes for it.

A SPECIAL THANKS TO GEORGE BRIGMAN AND OF COURSE "RICHARD" FOR ALL OF THEIR HELP IN MAKING THIS INTERVIEW A POSSIBILITY! A WHOLE BUNCHA BUGS BUNNY KISSES TO THE TWO OF YA!

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

who asked what?

Anonymous said...

Hey, I just recently discovered George's music (despite having grown up just outside Baltimore) and promptly bought all three Bona Fide CDs. Though I love Jungle Rot, I agree that Rags is his best! He's on a very short list of artists who get better over many years instead of forgetting what was good about their music in the first place. Thanks for this informative interview, and ROCK ON GEORGE!

--- Loco Mofungo

Anonymous said...

Great interview, Chris.
Mr. Brigman is EXACTLY the type
of artist that BLACK (BLOG) TO
COMM was created to champion!
Keep up the good work!

Bill Shute

Christopher said...

Thank you Bill. As far as who asked what, all but the last three questions were mine!

Rick Noll said...

Hey Chris--great interview but, ahem, I thought everyone knew George is from Baltimore. He usually only makes it to pee-yay for slot car racing or to hang with me for important business discussions. Good to hear from the perfessor too, he should get in touch if he wants a copy.

As usual, George was dead on about his seeing the Shiny Beast tour. I saw it in Trenton at this decked out disco club called Emerald City where the floor lit up with flashing lights, The band was bathed in colored lights(as was the floor) and appeared to be moving together as a multiheaded organism. As Beefheart sang in Tropical Hot Dog Night about stepping into the striped light, he was, and the weaving and bobbing band, coupled with ghostly marimba playing and otherworldy horn arrangements transported me above the astral plane and I will never forget that ride!

Christopher said...

I guess everybody but me knew that Brigman was from Baltimore! Actually, in the heat of transcribing the interview (coupled with my ever-advancing mental retardation) I forgot about his Maryland upbringing, and to prove what a self-depricating type of guy I am I'm not even going to change the above error thus proving that I too can be humble and accepting of guidance from those "less" than me! (Of course, if you had only reminded me via a private email I wouldn't have to stoop so low in public, so I guess some of the brunt of the responsibility is on your shoulders as well! Haw!!!)

Anonymous said...

Great interview. I'm glad I found it.
Also love the new cd. Rags In Skull is his best yet. Hopefully we won't have to wait as long for the next one !

Thanks Chris.