About: Peter Case
In early 2009, like thousands of artists, 3-time Grammy nominee Peter Case found himself ill and without insurance. Following sudden open-heart surgery, Case walked out of the hospital with two things: a renewed vigor for life and music, and a six-figure medical bill he couldn’t pay. Case’s fans and peers immediately rallied to organize a benefit concert to help with his obligations. Recovered physically and emboldened by the generosity of his fans and friends, Peter recorded the raucous and dirty electric blues rock of Wig! in only three days.
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"The guitar makes a band," says singer-songwriter-guitarist Peter Case. Let Us Now Praise Sleepy John is Case's direct shot from the frontlines of our times, delivered by one man, a guitar (and a handful of friends).
"It's the sound of freedom, possibility, companionship, adventure, sex, romance, anti-authoritarianism, life against death, positive social action, satire of the powerful, humor through trouble and despair, with no need for boxes of metal beats, or for filling in the blanks with by-rote-rock-arrangements, your-message-here, walls-of-deadening-sound."
Can somebody please get a witness? Leave it to Case to say what we've all been thinking. Ever since he grabbed on to rock's roots as a teenaged street singer, he's used his guitar to tell it as he sees it and reported from the margins and outskirts of society for 30 years.
"I've always wanted to make a true solo record in the tradition of the ones I love, from Jimmie Rodgers' Never No Mo Blues and Robert Johnson's 29 songs to Woody Guthrie's Dust Bowl Ballads and Dylan's first four albums, on through Bert Jansch's and Nick Drake's solo recordings," he says. "Sleepy John Estes's Broke and Hungry has been an inspiration to me ever since I started playing."
It was with that spirit he took to the studio in San Francisco a couple days before the November '06 election with producer Ian Brennan (Ramblin' Jack Elliot's Grammy-nominated I Stand Alone), finished up on a few warm West LA days in early '07 and came up with his most pointed album yet. Case covers the waterfront, from the vast cultural shifts on "The Open Road" and law disorder in "Million Dollars Bail" to the personal and social dilemmas posed by the ne'er do well in "Palookaville" and the homeless woman he wishes well in "Underneath the Stars."
The mystical "Every 24 Hours" features guitar and vocals by folk-rock giant Richard Thompson whom Case has long admired from afar but has become acquainted with over time in the folk wars as a fellow traveling guitar man. "One of the best gigs I ever saw in my life was Richard and Danny Thompson, just the two of them, at McCabe's a few years back. He's one of the greats. I showed the tune to him at the session, and we immediately recorded it, I think on the second take."
Bluesman Carlos Guitarlos, an old friend of Pete's from LA punk days as well as a fellow seasoned street singer joins in on "Underneath the Stars." "I met the subject of this story in a park near our house," says Case. "It's for the ones who quietly made their way to the bottom of U.S. society."
He's accompanied on guitar by Norm Hamlet (leader of Merle Haggard's the Strangers) on "That Soul Twist," and by Chicana singer-songwriter Lysa Flores who adds her voice to "Sombrightmorninblues."
"Ain't Gonna Worry No More" is at once a dream and nightmare of our times; its full version was originally 20 minutes long. "This performance is the first ever captured on tape," reveals Case.
Case says, "Million Dollars Bail" the story of two kinds of justice, goes down well in the bars and taverns he plays throughout the United States. "Maybe the Two Americas thing is driving people to drink," he says.
The album also features two vintage picks: "Just Hangin' On" the first "real song" Case ever wrote, back in 1970 and "Get Away Blues," a traditional tune that Case adapted from the 1920s Robert Wilkins recording.
Case departed his rock'n'soul band the Plimsouls in 1984, just after they hit with the jangle-rock standard "A Million Miles Away," with the intention of retuning to the traditional music he loved. The first from the punk generation to get back to basics and perform roots-oriented music as a solo performer, he was ahead of the oncoming singer-songwriter explosion by miles.
"I felt like I was reinventing the wheel," says Case of the switch, but smart audiences came along for the ride and he'd opened the door through which other rockers would soon follow. His self-titled T-Bone Burnett-produced solo album (featuring contributions from Ry Cooder, David Hidalgo and Jim Keltner) earned yearend honors and a Grammy nod for its songs detailing the failure of the American Dream. Set to a tribal folk percussive blend of blues, country and rock'n'roll, echoes of its theme and sound run through his entire songbook.
From "Poor Old Tom" and "Two Angels" to "Beyond the Blues" and "Blue Distance," Case's songs resonate for artists as diverse as Robert Earl Keen, the Flamin' Groovies and Chris Smither, to Alejandro Escovedo and James McMurtry, all of whom have covered him. Over the last two decades, Case has recorded nine solo albums including the highly acclaimed and influential The Man with the Blue Post-Modern Fragmented Neo-Traditionalist Guitar, the dreamscape Torn Again and the rock solid Case classics Full Service No Waiting and Flying Saucer Blues. His own label, Travellin' Light released two beloved collections of stripped down roots music: Peter Case Sings Like Hell and Thank You St. Jude and the 21st Century has seen the psycho-Delhi-blues of Beeline,and 2004's politically motivated tracks, "Wake up Call" and "My Generation's Golden Handcuff Blues," compiled on the best of set, Who's Gonna Go Your Crooked Mile. Grammy nominated again in 2001 as producer of Avalon Blues, a tribute to the music of his country blues hero, Mississippi John Hurt. In 2003 his peers honored him with A Case for Case, a three-disc set of forty-seven singing-songwriters, including Dave Alvin, Victoria Williams, Joe Ely, and Amy Rigby, among others, saluting Case's peerless songcraft. In early 2007, the first installment of his 4 part memoir As Far As You Can Get Without a Passport was published in book form, telling of his life as a San Francisco street singer, busking for beers and living in a junkyard. Case calls it "The anti-Chronicles, referring to Bob Dylan's book. "Dylan went east and made it to the top. I came west and went straight to the bottom."
Eventually working his way up, after countless nights of roadwork, Case has met not only the ghosts of a thousand truck drivers but plenty of real people, from Mississippi to Montana who appreciate a true song when they hear one, folks who treasure the words of a writer who speaks truth and directly to their dashed hopes, deferred dreams and the promise of a some bright morning on the horizon.
"Vinyl records playing in the sunrise or late at night on teenage apartment phonographs, also heard on the sacred Sunday evening 'Folkscene' broadcast," says Case. "That's what this music started as, for me: a key to the highway, an opening of the doors on the world. It's a sound that left my heart room to grow and a connection from today's world to a past that's vanished, but never that far away."
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