Prophetic Rock

Chuck Prophet plays Sunday Roadhouse series, Thursday night at Waiting Room At 18 Chuck Prophet left his native Whittier, Calif. for San Francisco, where he almost immediately became a major part of cow-punk legends Green On Red. Prophet spent eight years with the band and in the process of touring and recording developed more than a few self-destructive tendencies (heavy drinking, crack cocaine). His stories are the stuff of rock ‘n’ roll legend: one night Prophet tried to jump from one rooftop to the next to impress a girl and fell three stories through a glass skylight and onto a concrete mechanic’s floor. As the years progressed he found himself fine-tuning his six-string skills, mellowing his demons and becoming a relevant and successful solo artist. “I didn’t really think I’d still be doing this,” Prophet told me, with a small chuckle. “When I was younger I didn’t know anybody who had done it that long. I learned a lot from that early punk ethos in San Francisco, the whole do-it-yourself thing. But then I guess as I got older I became a little more of a craftsman with my playing. It was the songs that carried me through. I feel lucky to still be doing this. At some point I just had to question my faith and it was the music, the songs that always kept me interested in doing this.” Dating to 1990 debut Brother Aldo, Prophet has quietly made some of the most sincere and grittiest rock ‘n’ roll around. With blues guitar flourishes complimenting his unique, laidback lyrical style, his songs have been covered by the likes of Heart, Alejandro Escovedo and the late Solomon Burke. He may very well be the consummate musician’s musician, an artist teeming with musical skill and not afraid to follow his artistic vision at the possible expense of limiting his exposure and record sales. In the early part of this decade he released two stunningly gorgeous records on New West, No Other Love and Age of Miracles which brought him a flurry of critical and peer praise but didn’t result in the kind of sales expected from such thoroughly engaging albums. For his 11th record, Prophet wrote a batch of songs while the nation’s economy tanked. And while the record is not overtly political, the emotions and despair of the times definitely influenced the tone of the record. Let Freedom Ring! (Yep Roc) is Prophet’s most accessible work, a sprawling musical manifesto of worry, tension, dreams gone awry, misunderstood cultural villains and a sly sense of redemption wrapping it all together. He enlisted producer Greg Leisz (Wilco, Beck, Emmylou Harris), found an outdated studio in the bustling heart of Mexico City and went to work. “There [were] a number of reasons I recorded down there,” he says. “One is that making records for me has never been about the money. I never thought I’d buy my parents a yacht or anything like that. For me it’s mostly about the adventure. The money you spend but the experience you put in the bank. I’ve been saying this album is full of political songs for non-political people. I was writing most of the songs during the worst part of the financial meltdown and I had my windows open and that kind of creeped in. There was a certain amount of angst and tension for sure. I went to Mexico City to visit a friend and it really gave me perspective on my own country. It was also inspiring in a lot of ways. So I found a state of the art studio down there, and by state of the art I mean state of the art at one time. It was perfect. “Being down there definitely affected the recording,” Prophet adds. “There’s something theatrical about the material. It’s more of a guitar record, where the last few were more layered. I realized that was what I wanted when I was writing the songs and [I] framed the album in a raw way.” Prophet’s encyclopedic knowledge of American music deeply informs his writing and playing. And while he’s no stranger to rock, blues and Americana, he professes a somewhat surprising love of Bob Dylan’s often-maligned work from the 1980s. “I’m one of those people that think Dylan is incapable of being uninteresting. There’s a devil may care spirit to some of those ’80s records that I really like. There’s some great stuff in there and taking the ride with Dylan, that’s the fun of it.” Chuck Prophet plays Sunday Roadhouse Presents at The Waiting Room, 6212 Maple St., Thursday, Oct. 14. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $ADV, $15 DOS. Visit onepercentproductions.com.

posted at 12:25 pm
on Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

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