At the center of any discussion around the achievements of Nick Cave sits this central truth—that to reach those great and rare moments of devastating artistry, one must be willing to risk horrible, ghastly, failures.
And this is the career of Nick Cave, in a nutshell. When he is great, he is frighteningly, bravely, fearlessly great. And when he is not great, he is embarrassingly terrible.
Your interest in, and appreciation of, the music of Nick Cave will inevitably hinge on how good you think his good is, vs. how unbearable you think his bad is.
I believe in his good music, because I will always take a brave musician over a careful one, provided there is craft, intention, and skill at the heart of the brave endeavor.
Song for song, I think this is Nick Cave’s strongest collection. Its romanticism borders on gothic, vampiric excess, and it’s doomful seriousness rides along the edge of pretension, but ultimately, this is a powerful and violently saturated tragedy that plays out over its 12 songs as a sort of Shakespearean tribal blues symphony; one that manages to restrain its self-conscious theatricality enough so that its raw roots can show through.
Truth be told, my steady at the BBQ is fast becoming one of my favorite gigs I’ve ever had.
Don’t get me wrong, those days on stages in front of 200-person audiences, 2000-person audiences, even the occasional 10,000-person audience; those days are something to remember, and to treasure.
I’ve been very, very, very lucky in that regard.
Imagine, I turned 30 on stage in front of some 1000 Londoners as the opening act for Shane MacGowanl! I played the San Francisco Blues Festival with John Lee Hooker as the headliner! I toured 17 countries with Eagle-Eye Cherry! I played Glastonbury, and got to see my name on the same poster with Bob Dylan, Nick Cave, and Portishead! I’ve played Sonny Boy’s in Helena, BB’s in LA, and Buddy’s in Chicago!
I tell you, I’ve been lucky.
But in all honesty, the music I grew up on, the music I learned by, the music I still play today, the music I will forever return to when I’m lost, it didn’t grow up in clubs. It didn’t grow up in theaters or arenas. It didn’t grow up at festivals. It didn’t grow up on radio, or tv, or the internet. It didn’t even grow up in concert. It grew up in backyards, on porches, in fields. It grew up around food, around drink, around people. It grew up on chairs, in corners, on the floor. It grew up in places just like Aptos St. BBQ, where people of all kinds come to eat, drink, talk, and listen to music.
I’m very, very lucky to have this gig, and I’m proud to share some music with you from my shows there. Please see below, and I hope you enjoy!
Q: Where does the name Preacher Boy come from? A: Well, it started out essentially as a demi-derisive nickname a good friend used to call me when I’d get to soapboxing too much; sort of a Hazel Motes call out.
Q: How many Preacher Boy albums are there? A: 6, if you include the 4-song Tenderloin EP:
Preacher Boy & The Natural Blues (Blind Pig Records)
Gutters & Pews (Blind Pig Records)
The Tenderloin EP (Blind Pig Records/Wah Tup Records)
Q: Best gigs ever? A: Too many to count! How about favorite acts I’ve gotten to perform with? Some highlights:
Opening for Taj Mahal in Denver, Colorado
With Los Lobos at The Catalyst in Santa Cruz, and then with JJ Cale at The Catalyst
Opening for Shane MacGowan (The Pogues) at his annual X-mas show in London, ON my 30th birthday!
The San Francisco Blues Festival, the same day and stage as John Lee Hooker
Guesting in the set with Eagle-Eye Cherry, for his live concert film at Shepherd’s Bush, in London
Opening for Clarence Gatemouth Brown at The Great American Music Hall
With Sonny Landreth at The Great American Music Hall
4 different shows at Slim’s in SF, opening for Bob Geldof, Peter Wolf, Jimmy Vaughan, and The Texas Tornadoes
With AJ Croce at Moulin Blues in The Netherlands
Opening for Cracker at The Warfield
Playing the Glastonbury Festival on the same bill as Portishead, Nick Cave, and Bob Dylan
Opening for CJ Chenier in LA, and for Buckwheat Zydeco at Bimbo’s in SF
Opening for Chris Whitley in Portland, OR
Playing opposite Chris Isaak at The Paradise Lounge in SF
Opening for Charlie Musselwhite at The House of Blues in New Orleans
Q: How old is your National? A: 1936! And actually, I’m so fortunate, I have two now, both from 1936!
Q: What tunings do you use on your Nationals? A: Well, as I said, I have two, and I use them differently; what I call “The National” (the one my Grandpa gave me) is my slide instrument, so on that one, I use primarily Open G and Open D, and the minors of each as well. My second National (the one that belonged to my Grandpa, and was passed down to me when he passed) I keep mainly in standard, though I’ll occasionally do Drop D or something like that. I have one tune for which I use a really strange tuning (Open C, essentially, but with no 3rd: CGCGCC), and I generally do that on this second National as well.
Q: What do you think about all the Tom Waits comparisons you’ve received over the years? A: Well, two things, I suppose: 1) High praise, and 2) A lot of people need to go listen to Blind Willie Johnson, Bukka White, Charley Patton, Dave Van Ronk, Lemmy, Louis Armstrong, and Captain Beefheart.
Q: What’s the most successful song you’ve ever recorded? A: Depends on the criteria for judging, really, so, four answers:
If you ask my bank account, it’s “Long Way Around” which I wrote with Eagle-Cherry. We recorded it at The Magic Shop in New York with Rick Rubin producing, and Eagle-Eye’s sister Neneh sung on it, and it went on to be certified Gold in Europe.
If you ask iTunes, it’s probably the version of “Old Boyfriends” I did for a Waits tribute album. Per the question above, I was a little put out by the request initially, but decided to do it as I found what I thought was a clever way to circumnavigate the vocal comparisons; Waits never sung “Old Boyfriends,” Crystal Gayle did, on the One From The Heart Soundtrack. So that’s the one I covered!
If you ask my discography, it would probably be “I Won’t Be There” from Gutters & Pews, as I think that’s the one that’s been anthologized the most. Or perhaps “This Is New York,” because that made it onto the Approaching Union Square soundtrack.
“Dead, Boy!” Because that was the first “professional” song I recorded with my National, and it was for my debut album, for my first record label! Thus, the beginning of it all …
Q: What got you into this music in the first place? A: Simple. Side 1, song 1, of a Vanguard Twofer that collected all the great country blues performers who had performed at the Newport Folk Festival in the 60s. I put it on my record player with NO idea what to expect, and along came the first song: Mississippi John Hurt playing “Sliding Delta.” And that was it, man. I heard it, and I said, “I’m sorry Joe Strummer, but THAT! I want to be able to do THAT!”