PRESS

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Then there's Chuck Prophet, an antidote to both nostalgia and such pigeonholes.

Real animal

Chuck Prophet never needed a revival

by Jason Cohen

The Paisley Underground revival is upon us. The Dream Syndicate, the Rain Parade and the Three O'Clock have all returned this year. Mazzy Star, led by Rain Parade co-founder David Roback, is back with a new single. And the Bangles have been reunited since 2003. Then there's Chuck Prophet, an antidote to both nostalgia and such pigeonholes. All the term "Paisley Underground" ever really meant in 1982—if it meant anything at all—was, "look, a bunch of post-punk bands who also still like classic rock and folk and psychedelia and songwriting!" And while the LA/Arizona band that Prophet played in, Green on Red, also reunited briefly in 2006, he's been making solo records out of San Francisco for two decades plus, a rich and ragged catalog of music you could summarize by saying, "look, a post-punk kid who also still likes classic rock and folk and psychedelia and songwriting!"... and Memphis soul and glam and cosmic country and whatever else you might call rock 'n' roll. An equally magnetic singer, songwriter and lead guitarist, the 50-year-old Prophet has been particularly prolific in the past five years, putting out two records under his own name (2009's ¡Let Freedom Ring! and last year's Temple Beautiful), plus one by his bandmate, spouse and ace-in-the-hole Stephanie Finch (2010's Cry Tomorrow). There were also two collaborations with Austin's Alejandro Escovedo—Prophet co-wrote some of last year's Street Songs of Love, and co-wrote and played guitar on all of 2008's Real Animal (that record's quasi-hit, "Always a Friend," is a staple of both mens' set, as well as a song Escovedo has played live with Bruce Springsteen a few times). On top of that, Prophet co-fronted a Clash cover band, the Spanish Bombs (taking the Strummer role) and landed his song "You Did (Bomp Shooby Dooby Bomp)" over the closing credits of an episode of "True Blood." Like a ballplayer who's not a superstar but makes the lineup every game and still plays on a winter team in Mexico, Prophet never stops working. He does it because the constant action (and variety) make him a better artist and because, well, that's the only way to make a living playing music in this day and age. When they take the stage on Sunday afternoon at the River City Roots Festival, Chuck Prophet and the Mission Express will have played 22 shows in August, including a Thursday-Friday-Saturday swing from Big Sky to Great Falls and back to Bozeman.

Chuck Prophet's band Green on Red was associated with the Paisley Underground in the 1980s, but it's his solo albums that have made him a lasting artist.

  • Chuck Prophet's band Green on Red was associated with the Paisley Underground in the 1980s, but it's his solo albums that have made him a lasting artist.

You'll still find "(formerly of Green on Red)" next to Prophet's name more than occasionally, which at this point is like saying "(ex-Nirvana)" of the Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl, or putting "(from the Yardbirds)" on an Eric Clapton poster. It's true, but incomplete. Prophet's own website has the right perspective, listing the Green on Red catalog under "side projects" on the discography page. GoR broke up in 1992; Prophet's second solo album, Balinese Dancer, was released in 1993. At the time, it was actually a little shocking that such a good guitarist was also such an appealing, multi-faceted singer-songwriter and frontman. It's even more shocking that I'm still listening to him in 2013. Undeniable truth: If 90 percent of all musicians only ever made three records, we'd be missing out on nothing. But Prophet's last two records, No. 9 and No. 10 respectively, may well be the best of his career, which, after 30 years, including 20 solo, is a rare thing to achieve, and something you can't even say about Springsteen or Bob Dylan. And comparing Prophet to Springsteen feels increasingly appropriate. He covered "For You" while touring behind ¡Let Freedom Ring!, which the Village Voice called "a Born in the USA for our time," and his tastes are similarly ecumenical, if more punk rock (read: better). But what really stands out is the sense of showmanship. Earlier this month in Philadelphia, Prophet sprinkled "Willie Mays Is Up At Bat" with an entertaining mid-song yammer about the inferiority of soccer (and cricket) to baseball. "Ladies and gentlemen, I don't have to explain to you what's going on right about now ... We play this song in [the United Kingdom] and they don't know what's going on! ... In [soccer], it's a lot like our Giants, there's a good chance that you can watch an entire game and neither team will score a point!" It's as kitschy a verbal riff as Bruce's storytelling, sans the teleprompter, but almost certainly repeated other nights. It then explodes into a Thin Lizzyesque guitar duel (if you don't mind Internet spoilers, you can listen to it and the whole show, which also features an especially raging "Cortez the Killer"-style "You Did" at archive.org). And this carnival barker persona is nothing new. "Ladies and gentlemen, step right this way," Prophet sang way back on his debut album, 1990's Brother Aldo. You still should.

[ LINK ]

by Jason Cohen on August 28, 2013 COMMENTS • Filed under Artist Profiles (Temple Beautiful)

the gift of a great storyteller: to make memories public, to make friends out of strangers, to take something specific and transform it into something universal

Time Out Chicago

Chuck Prophet at SPACE

In some parallel dimension Chuck Prophet is a star, though for the real-world fans he's amassed over the past three decades, beginning with his stint in Green on Red through his well-regarded solo career, he may as well already be one. Certainly Prophet stands as a revered writer's writer, earning the respect of such peers as Lucinda Williams and Alejandro Escovedo—the latter's last three records were cowritten with Prophet.

One wonders whether Escovedo's pronounced trips down memory lane partly inspired Prophet's latest, Temple Beautiful, a tribute to his San Francisco roots that's populated with figures both familiar and forgotten, from Willie Mays, murdered politician Harvey Milk and legendary stripper Carol Doda to an ode to the colorful characters gathered to watch the annual Castro Street Halloween parades. The music itself combines the provincial street poetry of Lou Reed with roots-riffs and the jangle of power-pop, all propelled with a passion and soul that lifts the project well past its personal scrapbook blueprint. And that's really the gift of a great storyteller: to make memories public, to make friends out of strangers, to take something specific and transform it into something universal. Or, in the case of the oblique AIDS chronicle "Museum of Broken Hearts," to turn the tragic, dirty or damaged into something beautiful.

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August 1, 2012 COMMENTS • Filed under Artist Profiles

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a minor god in the roots-rock pantheon

Washington Post

In ‘Temple Beautiful,’ Chuck Prophet reflects on his Bay Area home

Chuck Prophet's catalogue is overflowing with insightful character studies, jangle-pop perfection and energetic barroom rockers. And that accounts for just some of the songs he has written, recorded and forgotten. In his 25-plus-year career, the 49-year-old has established himself as a minor god in the roots-rock pantheon — a sharp, prolific singer-songwriter who always seems to have a new batch of tunes ready to go.

Prophet didn't have to look far for inspiration for his new album — it was all around him. "Temple Beautiful" is a tribute to Prophet's longtime home of San Francisco. As Prophet and songwriting partner Kurt Lipschutz were working on new material, the idea of a San Francisco-centric album dawned on them, and they went with it. They had secluded themselves in an Internet-free zone, so there was no digging for details and the album is more interpretive history than history lesson.

"We couldn't really research anything, so we started leaning on the more mythical side of things," Prophet says of the songwriting process. "You get to have fun with the characters. In the case of Willie Mays, we put him in a song with a bunch of people that he would never be caught dead with."

Prophet is referring to the song "Willie Mays Is Up at Bat," which serves as a tidy centerpiece to an album that marks another creative high point in his career.

"I hear the church bells ring, Willie Mays is up at bat / I hear the crowd go wild, all he did was touch his hat / Meanwhile Carol Doda stood up and said I won't be ignored / She showed 'em everything she had then she showed 'em all a little more," goes the first verse, placing the baseball Hall of Famer in the same company as the famous 1960s Bay Area stripper.

From there, notorious cult leader Jim Jones interacts with legendary concert promoter Bill Graham. There are more peeks into the seedier corners of town before the song ends with a Thin Lizzy-level guitar flourish. It's the kind of tune that has become synonymous with Prophet — a rollicking story-song with lyrics both wistful and funny and no shortage of impressive guitar runs.

Prophet's career began in the mid-'80s when he joined Green on Red, then one of the leading bands in a robust L.A. psychedelic pop scene. In the early '90s, Prophet embarked on a solo career that has put him in a place where he's neither a household name nor in danger of toiling in obscurity. The likes of Bob Dylan, Alex Chilton and Tom Waits may be obvious influences, but Prophet also cites Woody Allen as an inspiration for his auteurism and devotion to making a new film each year. Prophet similarly keeps chugging along. And although at this point songwriting seems to be second nature, he's still thrilled when a new creation comes to fruition.

"I try to explain what it's like to just be addicted to the buzz of wrestling a song to the ground," Prophet says. "And that's what it is, a buzz. And as soon as I do get a song to behave and it's a good song, I'm pretty depressed after that. I never really know where the next one's coming from. I think I understand the craft. . .but the [last] part of the process is the mystery — what makes someone want to listen to it again?"

"Temple Beautiful" is overstuffed with songs worthy of repeat listens. It also serves as an ideal gateway into what can be a daunting discography. The title track (named after the old punk club where Prophet saw life-changing gigs, including the Dead Kennedys) is a boisterous roadhouse rocker with sax blasts and hand claps. "Castro Halloween" is a shimmering slice of guitar pop that Wilco fans should love. If this isn't the best album of Prophet's career, it's definitely one of the most invigorating. And he has San Francisco to thank.

"I've been lucky enough to travel around playing music," he says, "and I just always look forward to coming home."

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by David Malitz on May 21, 2012 COMMENTS • Filed under Artist Profiles (Temple Beautiful)

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Magnet

W&A With Chuck Prophet

On his 10th studio album, Temple Beautiful (Yep Roc), Chuck Prophet found his muse in the city he's called home for 30 years. Exploring the local landmarks and myths with friend and poet klipschutz, Prophet winds his way through San Francisco, stretching tales even taller along the way. But this guided tour isn't a detailed and prefabricated concept album, so much as it's the product of spontaneous inspiration, and it's not a document of the city's past as much as it is of its present. MAGNET caught up with Prophet to explore some of the things that inspired the making of Temple Beautiful. Prophet will also be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week.

MAGNET: Temple Beautiful has been dubbed your "ode to San Francisco." What inspired this album-length exploration of the city?

Prophet: I was writing songs with a friend of mine, Kurt; his pen-name is klipschutz. We were just kind of messing around, really, and we tapped into this vein where I was just like, "This could be a San Francisco record." And that's really it. It kind of floated to the top, then once we tapped into that, everything started flowing.

I know ¡Let Freedom Ring! had a bit more of a political tone or thread. Do you feel like giving yourself these sorts of conceptual frameworks helps the album come together?

Yeah, for me it does for sure. I know some things about writing songs. I know how to put things together. But really, I'm kind of in awe of the whole process. Mostly, I feel like I don't know anything, so I guess it helps to be pushing an idea along. Then it's like, you have an idea in a room with somebody, and you're playing some chords, and you're shouting at the walls and bouncing sounds around, and, you know, somebody says, "Well, we're going to have to see if Willie Mays will show up in one of these songs." That's kind of the way it goes, you know.

Is it a deliberate thing for you, to come up with an idea for the record before you start really getting into the meat of the song?

I mean, I can write songs, like love songs or relationship songs or whatever. But I feel like at some point something emerges. At some point you stand back and squint and say, "Well, this is kind of where this record's going." I dunno. Maybe it's something you figure out when the record's done.

I wonder sometimes, too, how much is just critics projecting.

People only have so much time. So, if somebody says that they went to Alaska and lived in a teepee for a year and wrote these songs, that might be the best way to describe it. I really don't know. I know that when we tapped into the spontaneity and the kind of energy that brought me here in the first place, then we had songs I was excited about. I guess that's it. And you gotta understand, too, I was born in Whittier, Calif. I was born only a few miles from where Nixon had his first law office, and for all intents and purposes, I should probably still be down there pushing a lawn mower or something. I didn't really grow up very culturally aware, so most of it came from listening to records and stuff. I started traveling, then when I moved to San Francisco I started getting my own sort of self-education in different people of different races and colors and sexes and shit, punk rock and arty stuff. For me, coming here kind of opened my eyes. When we tapped into that, I felt like we were tapping into something I could get excited about.

When did you move to San Francisco and what brought you there?

I basically moved here to go to college in the early '80s, and I never left.

How many of the characters in the songs are real? I recognized a lot of the places, or have found out about them after hearing the songs, but how much are the people in there actual people of San Francisco?

We kind of leaned a little more toward the mythological side of things, but, I mean, Willie Mays is very real. There's also a whole host of characters on the record, from the Mitchell Brothers to Redman to Jim Jones—a lot of people who probably wouldn't be caught dead with Willie Mays, or Willie Mays probably wouldn't be caught dead with them. We knew he was going to be on the record somehow, and he's a very real person, and he's sort of the hero of the record. He's a kinda quiet guy, and he's a man of substance and stood up to racism. There's probably a lot of thick books written about him, but all we knew about him is that he always swung for the fence.

The reason I ask is I read an interview from January, where you'd said, "I'll always take the myth over the truth." When you're writing creatively, that's always kind of what you're doing, shaping the truth or the memory, but do you see mythmaking as part of your goal in writing these songs?

No. Well, if you're lucky, sure. I'm trying to think of the guy from the Silver Jews (David Berman). He has an expression that somebody told me. He calls it "Google Pure." If you can Google something and not find it, and it doesn't come up anywhere, he calls it "Google Pure." A lot about this record is sort of "Wikipedia Pure." We didn't really know. We were definitely in a woodshed when we wrote the songs, in the sense that we didn't have any Internet. Even a song like "Castro Halloween," that we snuck out about the parade that happens really only a couple blocks from my apartment every year, I thought two people were killed, but it turns out that really two people were shot and nine people were injured. The first line of the song is "When the shots rang out/And two men died," so somebody corrected me, like, "Actually, Chuck, you know, nobody died." Spoilsports.

That's how storytelling works, though. Through memory or accidents things change and become something new.

It's also rock 'n' roll; it's not journalism. Sorry. Sorry you got the short end of the stick when it comes to the fun.

I was interested to see that you had done some gigs playing London Calling front-to-back. That's been one of my favorite records forever because there's so much variety in it. It seems like maybe that's an attribute you value in your music.

Oh, absolutely. I think that the Clash are very roots rock and world music and all that stuff with London Calling. For me, prior to that, punk rock was pretty narrow, and that record showed what was possible. I still feel like that's probably the record I've been trying to make, in many ways. They were just discovering American jazz and rockabilly and ska, and they had a deep well of music history that they were drawing from, and they dipped their bucket down into that well, and they weren't afraid to drink it. Even if you listen to "Train In Vain," which was a very contemporary-sounding track at the time, they weren't afraid to play with disco, which was really just contemporary black music. It's an adventurous record. I think if it wasn't a direct influence on me, it at least showed me what was possible.

You've worked with a lot of people. Whether helping Sonny Smith put out a record or helping Alejandro Escovedo write one or playing guitar with god knows how many folks at this point. How important is collaborating, and getting fresh insight from people?

I like it. I appreciate writing songs by myself, but I sometimes like having somebody in the room with me. With somebody like Alejandro or klipschutz, it's easy company. It's probably also my social life, in a lot of ways. What I like is I like a shared experience. I've been playing with my wife, and I've been playing with my friends, and that's why I got into playing music. I didn't really get into music to be by myself. I like the shared experience, and I think that's something that helps me to work with other people.

Would you say that you're actively searching for new sounds and new influences?

I don't know if I'm actively doing much of anything really. I have a pretty healthy appetite for music, so yeah I like to listen to records.

You've complimented the new crop of garage/psych bands in San Francisco, bands like Thee Oh Sees, Girls and Fresh & Onlys. What about that do you relate to, or find inspiring?

I like to see people playing guitars and making noise with their friends. It's inspiring to see a new crop of bands from my hometown. And just the energy of it, I really like. It's inspiring because there's energy and that thing, you know?

Do you feel like you're, by virtue of being in the same place, a part of that in any way?

I don't know. Like I tell people, I've been duct taped back together so many times I don't even know what I'm a part of. I'm probably not a part of it. They do their own thing. When Green On Red was playing `60s music and into psychedelia and stuff, that was just our way of saying fuck you to everything else that was around, and that's pretty healthy, I think ... In a lot of ways, the money ruined everything in the `90s. Money makes people stupid. I think a lot of bands around here got signed, and I think there were these unrealistic expectations, and there were a lot of bands that ended up signed to major labels in the wake of all that, when the music business model was just massive. I didn't think of that as an inspired time, but now I see people recording records in their closets and people building studios in their basements, and people making records with just the sheer desire to do it. I think that's always really inspiring.

With Temple Beautiful, what would you hope people hearing it get out of it?

I'd hope they didn't need an owner's manual to get into it. I hope that when it hits you, if you like rock 'n' roll, that it'll speak to you.

—Bryan Reed

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by Bryan Reed on February 6, 2012 COMMENTS • Filed under Artist Profiles Interviews (Temple Beautiful)

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When the shots rang out/ And two men died/ You took off your mask just to see me cry.

SF Weekly

Exclusive Premieres Exclusive Premiere: SF's Chuck Prophet Pens a Breezy, Longing Ode to the Old Days of Castro Halloween

Who remembers the old days of Halloween in the Castro? It wasn't that many years ago—only the mid-2000s—that thousands of revelers of all genders, orientations, and shades of nudity would gather in the city's most fun-loving hood for a massive street party. Castro Halloween parties were huge and wild enough to go down as legendary—they helped define the area's spirit over the years. Then, after four stabbings one year and a massive shooting that wounded nine people another year, the big, official party died. But S.F. singer-songwriter Chuck Prophet remembers. For his new upcoming album about San Francisco, Temple Beautiful (Out Jan. 24 on Yep Roc), Prophet wrote an ode of sorts to Castro Halloween parties the way they used to be, while sadly noting the violence that caused the city to stop the event. His first line is, "When the shots rang out/ And two men died/ You took off your mask just to see me cry." The song itself is a gleaming, breezy rocker, anchored by Prophet's everyman voice. We're happy to premiere it this Halloween on All Shook Down—so download the song and read Prophet's lyrics after the jump. Chuck Prophet - "Castro Halloween" by Yep Roc Music Group "Castro Halloween" by Chuck Prophet When the shots rang out and two men died, you took off your mask just to see me cry Did you dream you up Or did you dream me? Is there any place else you would rather be? Halloween was here, but now it's gone Men in skirts and heels are marching on Halloween is gone Is the pain all your yours Is the pleasure mine? Don't you think it fitting we trade sometime? When the merchants close the sidewalks down With the leaves on the trees still golden brown Halloween was here but now its gone Men in skirts and heels are marching on Halloween is gone Halloween was here but now its gone Men in skirts and heels are marching on Halloween is gone... Halloween is gone ——Follow us on Twitter @SFAllShookDown, follow Ian S. Port @iPORT, and like us at Facebook.com/SFAllShookDown. Tags: Castro Halloween, Chuck Prophet, Halloween

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by Ian S. Port on October 29, 2011 COMMENTS • Filed under Artist Profiles (Temple Beautiful)

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SF Examiner

Chuck Prophet still ‘chasing the San Francisco dragon’

It's no secret that former Green On Red axeman Chuck Prophet is something of a fixture around his native San Francisco.

You could set your watch to his appearance every Tuesday morning at the old Tower Records on Market Street. If he wasn't touring, that's where you'd find him, combing through that week's new releases. 

Now, he's penned an entire album-length ode to The City with "Temple Beautiful," which hits stores Jan. 24. It's named for the defunct music venue where Prophet saw countless shows when he first moved here 30 years ago.

Prophet — whose gruff, gravelly growl has been heard in the soundtracks for such hip cable-TV shows as "Californication," "True Blood" and "Sons Of Anarchy" — penned tributes like "Castro Halloween," "Emperor Norton In The Last Year Of His Life (1880)," and the title track, which boasts a cameo from local legend Roy Loney, of Flamin' Groovies/Phantom Movers renown. 

About San Francisco, Prophet employs tongue-in-cheek drug metaphors to comment, "It can suck you under. That first hit. It really does a whammy to you. And if you're like me, you can find yourself chasing the San Francisco dragon for the rest of your life. That's what this record is about." 

For more on our prodigal son, visit www.chuckprophet.com.

Read more at the San Francisco Examiner: http://www.sfexaminer.com/blogs/backstage-pass/2011/10/chuck-prophet-still-chasing-san-francisco-dragon#ixzz1bu8q5zb6

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by Tom Lanham on October 26, 2011 COMMENTS • Filed under Artist Profiles (Temple Beautiful)

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Like many of Sings Like Hell’s returning faces, Chuck Prophet embodies the notion of laidback California cool.

Chuck Prophet Talks London Calling, Fog City, Sings Like Hell

Troubadour Co-Headlines the Lobero this Saturday with Wife Stephanie Finch

Like many of Sings Like Hell's returning faces, Chuck Prophet embodies the notion of laidback California cool. In conversation, he's all self-deprecating humor and Dude-like drawl, and in song, he exudes a swagger and Telecaster-heavy reverence for Americana that calls to mind that other Golden State-inspired great, Tom Petty. On Saturday, Prophet returns to the Lobero's monthly concert series for another go at it, this time with wife-cum-opening act, Stephanie Finch.

While the show is just one of two currently scheduled dates for the San Francisco songwriter, he's got no shortage of tunes—and stories—to share with fans this time around, namely his recently completed tribute tour to The Clash and a follow-up to his 2009 neo-political rocker, Let Freedom Ring! And though the singer is hesitant to nail down any concrete plans for a new record, he's more than forthcoming with its details.

So your manager tells me you're headed into the studio after we speak. Is that right? [Laughs.] I mean, I kind of have a studio that I... I'm always wrestling something to the ground or another, but I don't think it's necessarily a full, card-carrying album.

Where are you in the process? I've been writing a kind of San Francisco record. I made my last record in Mexico City and the previous one in Nashville, so I've just been [trying to] tap into the weirdness and energy and spontaneity that brought me here in the first place. It's a pretty deep well of stuff to pull from. But I've made some demos; I'm kicking the songs around.

Folks called Let Freedom Ring! a "political album for nonpolitical people." If you had to attach a slogan to what you're working on now, what w

ould it be? I don't know if I could come up with anything that clever; that was pretty good, the political music for nonpolitical people. I might have actually started that rumor. I don't know what I'm doing right now, though. I'm definitely looking backwards through the looking glass. San Francisco's a place where people come from all over to wave their freak flag. The city itself does a kind of whammy on you when you're young and you first come here. It's a feeling that you can sort of end up chasing for the rest of your life, you know? The first hit.

Chuck Prophet, Stephanie Finch, and The Company Men

  • Where: Lobero Theatre, 33 E. Canon Perdido St., Santa Barbara
  • Cost: $35
  • Age limit:Not available

Full event details

You spent most of last month in Spain with this Clash tribute. Can you tell me a bit about your history with London Calling? I got it as a kid—I was already playing guitar; I was about 16. I didn't have a library of music. Kids today can seek out any kind of weird culture or weird music that they can identify with, and that's great, but when I was young, [that album] was a big deal. I bought it used, and at first, I didn't really crack the code on it, but as I stuck with it, it became more mysterious, really, but every time I listened to it, more was revealed. It really was a perfect record in so many ways. As a kid, I was as interested in Bo Diddley as I was in contemporary music, and it was The Clash that opened that up. They were always one of those bands that had one eye on the road ahead of 'em and one eye on the rearview mirror.

You've played the Sings Like Hell series a number of times now. What keeps you coming back? We played it with Alejandro [Escovedo] one time, we played it another time with Kelly Willis, and I think we played it yet another time with The Gourds, so this might be our third or fourth time. I think the theater itself is glorious in its own way. It's a great setting to hear music, and because it's a community thing, I think people are more open-minded in a way. With a series, people get turned onto music that they might not normally be aware of. It's fun in that way.

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Chuck Prophet plays the Lobero Theatre (33 E. Canon Perdido St.) this Saturday, February 19, at 8 p.m. with Stephanie Finch & The Company Men. Call 963-0761 or visit singslikehell.com for info.

[ LINK ]

by ALY COMINGORE on February 16, 2011 COMMENTS • Filed under Artist Profiles (¡Let Freedom Ring!)

I know it's not exactly the Virgin Mary on toast

SF Gate

Chuck Prophet doing 'London Calling'

San Francisco singer-songwriter Chuck Prophet is fearless. After recording his most recent album, "Let Freedom Ring," in Mexico City in the midst of the swine flu pandemic, he's currently out on the road with fellow local musician Chris Von Sneidern performing the Clash's classic "London Calling" album in its entirety. Their pickup band, Spanish Bombs, plays the Great American Music Hall on Jan. 29, after a brief European tour (a portion of the proceeds from the show will go to the Food Not Bombs organization). We checked in with Prophet recently while the group was making its way across Spain.

Q: You're covering the Clash's "London Calling." The whole thing?

A: Yep. It's crazy. Figured if the Coen brothers can remake "True Grit," why not? So we cast it like a movie. I thought, if Chris von Sneidern will do the Mick Jones bits, I'll do it. I thought I knew the record inside out. It's a lot more words and chords than I remembered. It's like learning Shakespeare.

Q: Do you even have to do the songs you don't like?

A: Oh, yes. I know it's not exactly the Virgin Mary on toast, but we're staying true to the record in that respect. We're not tinkering with the story. We're not changing the ending. We're not changing one comma. But we have changed the grooves under the songs' feet.

Q: Did this idea come about after seeing all the bad `80s cover bands sell out shows week after week while actual singer-songwriters struggle to get gigs?

A: Singer-songwriters inhabit a certain ghetto, for sure. It's not pretty out there. But "London Calling" is nothing to apologize for. Wonky `80s nostalgia or not, it really does remind me of why I got into playing music in the first place.

Q: Do you remember buying the record?

A: I do remember buying it. I originally bought the cassette used at Rasputin's record shop in Pleasant Hill. Listened to it repeatedly. That record is the Rosetta stone of the punk apocalypse. It's all in there. Figure out the language it's written in and you've got the keys to the highway. I was young. My brain was soft. I soaked it up.

Q: Will you be sporting a Mohawk for the occasion?

A: Probably not the most flattering haircut for me. I'm already a bit long in the face, don't you think? I mean, why would I want to open myself up to that kind of ridicule?

Q: Do you remember what happened to Pussy Galore after they covered the Rolling Stones' "Exile on Main Street"? They broke up. How do you plan on breaking up with yourself?

A: I've been duct-taped back together so many times already, what does it matter?

Q: What other classic albums do you think you might take on next?

A: "London Calling" is rare. I doubt I'd ever be tempted to do something like this again, but if I did, I wouldn't pick a double album. {sbox}

To hear Chuck Prophet's music, go to www.chuckprophet.com.

Follow Aidin Vaziri at twitter.com/MusicSF. E-mail him at .

This article appeared on page Q - 34 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/01/15/PKLC1H5O4Q.DTL#ixzz1BniL7RvO

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by Aidin Vaziri on January 22, 2011 COMMENTS • Filed under Artist Profiles

“I’m trying not to leave the neighborhood.”

Memphis Appeal

CHUCK PROPHET'S ADVENTURES IN MUSIC-MAKING LEAD BACK TO MEMPHIS

By Bob Mehr

Published Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Chuck Prophet

Whether recording in Memphis, Mexico City or various points in between, singer-songwriter Chuck Prophet has always been one to turn the process of making an album into a journey — musical as well as geographic.

The Bay Area-based roots rocker's ninth, latest and arguably finest solo effort, ¡Let Freedom Ring!, was created during a tumultuous 10-day period south of the border that included power outages, natural disasters and pandemics.

"I am definitely attracted to the adventure of making records. It probably comes from watching too many Werner Herzog movies," says Prophet, who plays the Hi-Tone Café on Sunday.

Last year, inspired by the 2008 economic crash and the turbulent international climate, Prophet penned a batch of "political songs for non-political people." He decided to head to Mexico City to make the album, eventually settling on a studio that was "totally state of the art... for 1958," jokes Prophet.

Prophet and his studio band, which included producer/pedal steel player Greg Leisz and former E Street Band drummer Ernest "Boom" Carter, weathered a series of frustrating technical problems during the recording.

Those issues were merely a teaser to the massive earthquake that rocked the region during the sessions, and the explosion of the swine flu epidemic, which practically shut down the country.

The tension and uncertainty of that experience finds its way onto the record with songs like the cutting "Sonny Liston's Blues," and the jagged funk number "Where the Hell Is Henry." Elsewhere, Freedom finds Prophet dialing back on his cut-and-paste cleverness, and dialing up the guitars and backbeat to brilliant effect.

Although it's been four years since Prophet's last appearance in Memphis, he's no stranger to the Bluff City, having been a frequent visitor through the latter part of the 1980s, when he was wielding a guitar for Los Angeles hell-raisers Green on Red.

For Prophet, a student of the twisted legends, dark underbelly and dusty corners of rock history, Memphis proved to be a perfect place to learn.

"We got signed to a label in England and started working with Jim Dickinson," recalls Prophet of the late producer. "We cut some stuff in LA but Jim really encouraged us to come to Memphis. We arrived and basically camped out at the Midtown Holiday Inn."

"At the time," says Prophet, "there weren't a lot of people who really had an awareness or appreciation of the history here and what it meant. I mean, when we worked at Ardent (Studios) we wanted to use the Mellotron that was on (Big Star's) Sister/Lovers album, and they were confused as to why we would even be interested in that."

After the original Green on Red lineup imploded following the release of 1987's The Killer Inside Me, Prophet and singer Dan Stuart continued with the group, returning to Memphis to cut the 1989 classic Here Come the Snakes. "Part of that process was going to Sam Phillips Studio and recording ideas and fragments and songs with Jim and (veteran Phillips' engineer) Roland Janes," says Prophet.

"I remember being in the studio and meeting Roland in the control room and I innocently asked how many tracks we'd be working with. He said, `Well, we've got 16 on a good day.' And then he looked over at the machine and some of the tracks had tape covering the vu meters. `Well, we got 14 today,'" says Prophet, laughing.

For Prophet, making music in Memphis was an experience that was at once concrete and ephemeral. "The thing about the air hanging heavier in Memphis and all that, that's definitely true," he says.

"There are technical things too. In, Memphis the bass drum, the kick drum is a little bit louder. That's a taste thing. They'd didn't go in for things like long fades. It was a classic view. They were classicists in many ways. I mean, Jim was somebody that was into pushing the boundaries. But there was some tradition that always seeped into the way things were done."

Since transitioning into his own solo career in the early-'90s Prophet has indulged a variety of styles, creating a dazzling mix of albums from 1997's dark roots opusHomemade Blood to the funky spaced-out blues of 2007's Soap and Water.

In addition to his own career, Prophet's proved a prolific foil of late having co-written much of fellow roots rocker Alejandro Escovedo past two LPs. Prophet also produced a new album for his wife and bandmate Stephanie Finch.

As Prophet rolls into town, he'll be carrying a little bit of Memphis with him. Local musician Paul "Snowflake" Taylor has been manning the drum kit in his backing group, The Mission Express, since earlier in the year. "He's been a shot in the arm for the band in a lot of ways," says Prophet. "The secret language of rock and roll — he speaks it fluently."

After wrapping his current tour and finishing some commitments overseas early next year (where he'll perform the Clash's London Calling album in its entirety at Spain's Primavera Sound Festival), Prophet plans to start work on a new album.

This time, however, he says he won't be indulging in any far flung adventures. "I'm thinking of making a hometown record, a San Francisco record," says Prophet. "I'm trying not to leave the neighborhood."

Chuck Prophet and The Mission Express, The Jeremy Stanfill Band

9 p.m. Sunday at the Hi-Tone Café, 1913 Poplar Ave. Tickets are $10 and are available in advance at hitonememphis.com. For more information, call 278-86

[ LINK ]

by By Bob Mehr on November 19, 2010 COMMENTS • Filed under Artist Profiles

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God bless the kid, Prophet joked. He's my meal ticket.

Spinner

Chuck Prophet Takes Portland to 'Bangkok'

Chuck Prophet was already serving up a smoking take on Alex Chilton`s grimy, hiccuped 1978 single `Bangkok' on the road last winter. Now he plays the Memphis legend's "painless lesson in geography" (as Prophet called it Friday night at Portland's Mississippi Studios) in memoriam, five months after Chilton's death.

"I'm still kind of numb about it," Prophet told Spinner. "The thing about Alex is he always did take pretty good care of himself. He was one of the first people I knew that was kind of like health-conscious. It's not the way it's supposed to turn out."

Prophet showed off his triple-threat ability—excellent songwriter, killer lead guitarist, charismatic frontman—in Portland, Ore., with a set that included the 20-year-old songs `Queen Bee' and `Balinese Dancer,' as well as crowd-favorites `Summertime Thing' and `I Bow Down and Pray to Every Woman I See,' both from 2002's `No Other Love.'

There was also a solo acoustic version of the title track from Prophet's current album, `Let Freedom Ring,' and a sweetly soaring version of Alejandro Escovedo`s `Wasn't I Always a Friend to You,' which, like many of the songs on Escovedo's last two records, Prophet co-wrote. It's also one of the tunes Bruce Springsteen played with Escovedo at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park last month. 

"God bless the kid," Prophet joked. "He's my meal ticket."

Prophet also unveiled `Hot Talk,' a "dialogue song" about phone sex. 

"If you are bootlegging this show tonight, I would only hope you show us the courtesy we deserve by including this next song," he told the crowd. "We've been locked out of radio."

[ LINK ]

by Posted on Aug 21st 2010 11:56AM by Jason Cohen on November 18, 2010 COMMENTS • Filed under Artist Profiles (¡Let Freedom Ring!)

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North Shore News

Riding the riff to its logical conclusion

Chuck Prophet finds more than one way to make music

 

"He came to San Francisco and we spent about a year writing—a lot of talking, a lot of laying around listening to Mott the Hoople records in the dark and long, long naps but eventually we wrote an album's worth of material and recorded it around Christmas."

The 13 songs on Real Animal document Escovedo's life and times with a narrative flourish. Ideas went back and forth to get the right approach, says Prophet. "Often times Alejandro would tell me a story and I would say something like, `Well it would be great to capture some of that Chelsea Hotel mythology in a song. You get a riff and you ride on the back of it and you just kind of follow it through to its logical conclusion."

The album was produced by Tony Visconti giving Prophet a chance to watch firsthand the man responsible for some of David Bowie and T. Rex's early successes. "Tony has a real gift for using a fine brush," he says. "When we were tracking it was one thing to get the groove together but later when it came to the strings and things like that I could really see Tony's gift for getting in there. He's been doing it for a long time. We used to watch him put his hands on the faders and kind of massage the console. He can take a seemingly uninspired mix and with just a few moves make it sound like a record. He's like a master painter in that respect."

Soap and Water takes a similar storytelling approach but that's where the similarities end. "For me it's really liberating to try and make records that work outside of the singer/songwriter box," says Prophet. "There's probably enough songs out there about people's coffee getting cold. For me, if I can pick a character and breathe life into him and capture the way they talk that's a lot of fun for me. But there must be some of me in there as well, even if some of these characters I don't really like that much."

Traditionally Prophet and his band have played more in Europe than in the U.S. but North American audiences are starting to come around. When Prophet is asked where they most like to perform he responds: "I think the British audiences are some of my favourite audiences. We spent so many years just ignoring North America hoping it would go away. We toured in Europe and it didn't go away. Seattle, Minneapolis and Austin, Texas were some of the early beachheads—we've got a place in our hearts for those towns."

Working with Warren Zevon:

"He used to drink so much Mountain Dew halfway through the day he would get these migraines. He could really be a contentious guy, almost in a perverse way—so funny and so smart you didn't want to miss anything. I did a lot of sitting around but I tell people it was the best internship I ever had."

Writing with Escovedo:

"We wrote a song called Nun's Song where we talk about our first groups and just the thrill of being in a band. Al started playing the 96 Tears riff on his guitar and I just started shouting and screaming until I was hoarse and I recorded it all on a handheld cassette. We listened to it back and took the best parts, typed it out and that was it."

[ LINK ]

by John Goodman on July 10, 2008 COMMENTS • Filed under Artist Profiles (Real Animal)

INDIANAPOLIS TIMES

Folkster finds inspiration in music's margins

 

INDIANAPOLIS - Chuck Prophet has touched many an itinerant soul with his quirky, loosely-compact folk music. But to call him an influential genius is to get an opposite response from him.

"I don't know what any of that means," Prophet said of that description. "I think I've gotten away with murder. I can't believe I sell as many records as I do."

He's no household name, but Prophet did provide a blueprint for the alt-country movement, starting with his Bay Area exercise-in-excess, the band Green on Red in the 1980s. It's continued with numerous solo albums, the most recent being last year's "Soap and Water." The release features more of Prophet's signature mood swings - the loutish rollick of "Freckle Song" to the spectral chill of "Doubter Out of Jesus (All Over You)." That essentially defines Prophet, an artist as comfortable writing simple chord progressions as he is elaborate sound collages.

"Some songs just don't want to behave," he said of the latter. "Some songs become so married to a certain arrangement that you've gotta take `em out and rotate the tires. It's elusive about what people respond to. That's really the greatest part about any art form. You can be the greatest craftsman in the world, but you don't know what people are really going to respond to."

It was the `80s punk movement that Prophet and his friends were enamored with. Though Prophet may not have translated the buzzsaw guitars and truculent speed, the iconoclastic spirit remains intact.

"The goal was just to have a band," he said of those early days. "We didn't do much, just sat around fantasizing."

It could be said that's what Prophet continues to do. He still frequently tours ("I'm probably one of five people who doesn't complain about it"), produces others' records, and runs his own label, (((belle sound))). Yet he still won't fully admit to being a professional musician. He's never had a business plan. Rather than measuring success by any economic indicators, Prophet's reason for performing has always been for his own amusement.

"I just have a dark need to write songs and wrestle them to the ground in the form of records and play," he said. "That's what I do. You're really only competing with yourself. The goal is to do something that keeps you interested in what you're doing."

[ LINK ]

by Wade Coggeshall on May 27, 2008 COMMENTS • Filed under Artist Profiles

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Hopedaddy

Alejandro Escovedo's "Lust for Life": Real Animal

Austin, Texas isn't known as the "live music capital of the world" for nothing, and you don't need a SxSW wristband to partake. On any given weeknight, a live music addict wandering 6th Street or South Congress can step through the nearest pub door and find a quick fix of blistering rock and roll—one-off live shows that would shame more anticipated and choreographed productions taking place only on weekends in other cities.

 

Even by Austin's standards, though, Tuesday nights in particular must seem a bit special of late. Beginning last year and continuing through January, Austin's Alejandro Escovedo (link) took up a Tuesday night residency at the famed Continental Club. In listening to the concerts, Escovedo and his band (his frequent mix of string quartet and buzz-saw guitars) sound muscular, confident, and ready to take to the road.

Of all of the residency shows, however, none were more anticipated than a special show last Friday night, when Escovedo and singer-songwriter Chuck Prophet debuted material from their highly-anticipated release, Real Animal. Real Animal, an album of songs reflecting on Escovedo's life, including the title track, a tribute to one of his biggest influences, Iggy Pop, is slated for release in June. In fact, last Tuesday's show not only "debuted material," but, following a set by Prophet and his band (touring behind Prophet's 2007 release Soap and Water), Escovedo, Prophet, and band roared through through Real Animal in its entirety, track-by-track, in order...

[ LINK ]

by Hope Daddy on January 28, 2008 COMMENTS • Filed under Artist Profiles (Real Animal)

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sly and sexy lyrics set to music that surprises as it slides between amusing and moving

Houston Chronicle

High praise for a musician's musician

Relatively unknown singer-songwriter Chuck Prophet gathers kudos from artists, critics

 

Chuck Prophet's been playing music for a good 30 years.

Maybe you've heard of him?

He picked up a guitar as a child and started out in punk as a teenager in Southern California. There were about eight years in Green on Red, the country/rock/Americana band of the 1980s that inspired acclaim from critics and fans in the know. Then he went solo and created eight albums including his most recent, Soap and Water.

Nothing? No bells going off?

How about Lucinda Williams, heard of her? He toured with her. Kelly Willis? He produced her last album, Translated From Love, and has collaborated with her, writing songs and performing on her albums.

He's worked with Warren Zevon, Jonathan Richman and Alejandro Escovedo and the band Cake.

In other words, Chuck Prophet's a man with the kind of insider résumé that has earned him praise from musicians and listeners - the ones who are listening, that is.

"I think he's brilliant," said Willis, who has worked with Prophet since 1998, when she was working on her album What I Deserve.

"I think he's one of those few people who is really and truly a musical person. It isn't hard for him. It's instinctual and natural."

For committed fans and the curious, Prophet, 43, will perform tonight at the Continental Club as part of his tour for Soap and Water.

Like Willis' assessment of Prophet, the tunes on Soap and Water sound anything but hard. They feature sly and sexy lyrics set to music that surprises as it slides between amusing and moving.

Take the opening track, Freckle.

I like the way you freckle

I like the way you peel

I love to see your hair in a mess

It's been a long September

It's gonna to be a longer winter

Let me help you out of that dress.

Before you catch a cold.

Or the children's choir singing, "You could make a doubter out of Jesus" on a rock `n' roll song with a large dose of vulnerability.

But even with a career that boasts longevity in a burn-bright, burnout kind of business, Prophet says he's still not convinced he's making a living as a musician.

"Especially when I do my taxes at the end of the year," Prophet said in a telephone interview from a van on its way out of Denver after a show.

But he's been playing since he first traveled from his home in Orange County, Calif., to Los Angeles to hear punk bands and figured he and his friends could do that. He was 13.

Nearly seven years later he "was blown away" by Green on Red at a club in Berkeley, and asked to sit in with the band.

"Not only did they have a van, but they had a gas card," he said. "In the punk-rock economic strata, I thought that was positively bourgeois."

He joined up and performed with them for about eight years. That union produced some MTV airtime and eight albums.

"If I stand back far enough and squint, some of them are pretty good," Prophet said.

The group was "a groundbreaking thing, combining elements of country music with harder rock-roots stuff in a way that seemed kind of fresh and new," said Willis, who first became acquainted with Prophet's music when he played with Green on Red. "It was aggressive and country-ish at the same time."

After the band "just disintegrated," Prophet said, he started a solo career with his now wife, Stephanie Finch. From a home base in San Francisco, he also performed and wrote songs with other musicians.

He came in to Willis' music as a hired gun to play guitar on What I Deserve, she said. But he proved an attentive, professional and sensitive writing collaborator.

Since then, he has performed, produced or written on her albums.

"The key is he has a lot of respect for other people," Willis said. " ... He doesn't have the huge ego where it has to be all about him."

Critics have provided good buzz for Soap and Water.

Earlier this month, he and his band performed Doubter Out of Jesus on the Late Show With David Letterman.

For Prophet, this album "wasn't nearly as difficult to midwife as the others," he said. He chalks that up to years of experience teaching him how to write songs suited for his voice.

The result was an ease that comes across on the album and a "devil-may-care spirit to it," he said.

"I think," he said, "that boxing in the dark with your demons and assuming that is going to be interesting to people, that is a young man's game."

[ LINK ]

by TARA DOOLEY on January 23, 2008 COMMENTS • Filed under Artist Profiles (Soap And Water)

Houston Press

Lately, former Green on Red guitar hero Chuck Prophet has been getting as many props for his producing talents as his own music. That's both good and bad. Prophet, lately working on a new album with Alejandro Escovedo, produced Kelly Willis's Translated from Love, a departure for her that made numerous 2007 best-of lists. Prophet's own very smart Soap and Water, meanwhile, received much less ballyhoo from the press - a real shame, because for my money Prophet continues to make some of the smartest, relentlessly thoughtful and aggressive music on the scene. It only takes one look at the amateur YouTube video of his recent performance at the Americana Music Association convention in Nashville to realize few compare to Prophet or his crack band when it comes to live energy and revitalization of the rock idiom.

[ LINK ]

by Micheal Smith on January 22, 2008 COMMENTS • Filed under Artist Profiles

San Francisco Chronicle

"San Francisco," says Chuck Prophet, "is a great place for a musician to live." He backs up his claim, in typical fashion, with numerous diversionary tales of San Franciscans he's known, music he's heard and places where he's been, washed dishes and parked cars. He loves the gravitational pull the city has on "people with a freak flag to wave." If a lot of artists on the fringe were driven out during the dot-com era, he reckons that that's starting to shift.

 

Prophet, 43, was born and raised in Orange County until his family moved north. He went to high school in the East Bay and college in San Francisco and never left. "I don't like to brag, but Stephanie and I do have a rent-controlled apartment," he says. It's in the Lower Haight, or if you're a real estate agent, Duboce. "And I have done the math and I've come to the conclusion that to have a rent-controlled apartment has about the same value as a Ph.D. over time."

Stephanie Finch, Prophet's wife, a singer, writer and keyboard player, is also part of the city's music scene. Recently the pair spent a month touring Europe with Prophet's band, in a van. "I tell you, you drive 2,000 miles in a Ford Econoline at a stretch and it's either gonna bring you together or pull you apart," he says. The couple, who first recorded together on Prophet's 1990 debut album, "Brother Aldo," celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary this year.

They're back home for just a couple of days, to repack, convert their euros to dollars and play a special hometown show at the Make-Out Room, with free Mexican food (Prophet, who hired a taco truck, says, laughing, that he's still paying it off). Then it's back on the road for a U.S. tour to promote Prophet's new album, "Soap and Water." It's been picking up accolades here and abroad from the British music press, where he's long been a star, to mainstream American media (Entertainment Weekly called it "excellent").

"I wouldn't - maybe it's superstition - utter anything like that out loud, but people have been reacting to this album," Prophet says. "It's an elusive thing, making records, and I don't know what it is, but I do know that records are never really finished, they're just abandoned. At a certain point it's like `I haven't got any more time or money, I give up.' Or I could push it around on my plate until I lose my appetite or I could just cut it loose and it can fend for itself. But then you do make a point of killing yourselves (with touring) at least once behind every record. You know, give it the college try."

"Soap and Water" was recorded in two very different music cities, San Francisco and Nashville. One has the bay and Rainbow Grocery; the other is landlocked and has Christian supermarkets. "Aside from the country music community, it does have a lot of churches," Prophet says. And gospel singers. That's why when he suggested to his producer that they overdub a choir - "I'd been listening to `Jesus Christ Superstar,' `Godspell' and a group called the English Congregation who, it turns out, were neither English nor a congregation" - Nashville was the place to go.

But Prophet wanted a choir without real singers. They got 27 schoolkids into the studio "with the aid of only some M&Ms;and pizza. The extra level of irony they give to songs like `Let's Do Something Stupid' just made the whole record that much more perverted somehow. I loved it."

For the past couple of years, Prophet has been spending an inordinate amount of time in Nashville. He produced and guested on the acclaimed new album by country singer Kelly Willis ("Translated From Love"). He has also been co-writing country songs. "I'm Gone," written with Kim Richey, was a Top 40 hit for Cyndi Thompson. "I've got the gold record in the bathroom to prove it."

It was his music publisher who first suggested he go to Nashville and write country songs, "when it became pretty clear that they weren't going to get much of their advance back from the record I put out." His response was, "Yeah, and after that I can go to Hollywood and write a screenplay," but he did and he liked it.

"It's a funny community; I do find myself writing with people that in real life I probably wouldn't have anything in common with at all. But I've since made some friends out there and been lucky enough to write with some really great writers."

What drew him back was that his record label had dropped him. He burnt out from touring with "Age of Miracles," the last album he recorded for it. "Things kind of started unraveling and I didn't know if I even wanted to do it again," he says. He spent the next year "trying to figure out if there was other stuff to do." There was.

Besides Nashville, there was the reunion of his roots-rock band Green on Red and a collaboration with Austin, Texas, singer-songwriter Alejandro Escovedo, with whom he has been writing and recording an album. He signed a publishing deal for a book "chronicling life in motion - gathering road stories from different artists; whether you stay in five-star hotels or whether you have a tennis shoe for a pillow in the back of van." He brushed off his own small label, Belle sound, usually reserved for his and Stephanie's projects, and released an album by East Bay singer-songwriter Sonny Smith ("Fruitvale"). He tried writing a screenplay with Happy Sanchez. He landed a role in San Francisco filmmaker Miles Matthew Montalbano's "Revolution Summer," "playing this deranged drug dealer. I was just doing my best Dennis Hopper, really."

"I have an addictive personality, but music is probably the healthiest addiction I've had." He's kicked the rest. "And I think my biggest fear is I'd have to stop. After all this manic activity, it turns out that I do have a dark need to make records anyway - because we made this record without a record deal, just pulled it together - and I have a dark need to drive around the world in a van like I'm 22. And to be honest with you, I'm good at it, too. I'm good at staring out of a window for long stretches."

He smiles. "People always ask me, `Don't you think you should be bigger?' I don't even think of that, I just think of the next record.

"When we first started playing music and we were living like community college students, our goal was always to live like graduate students, so in that sense, we've held on."

But, he adds, "it's still hell trying to find a place to park the van."

[ LINK ]

by Sylvie Simmons on November 22, 2007 COMMENTS • Filed under Artist Profiles

JamBase

Chuck Prophet ain't no household name. Despite putting his shoulder into rock & roll since the late `70s with proto-Americana pioneers Green On Red, he remains a San Francisco treat known to a devout following and a coterie of fellow musicians who recognize what a true blue rocker Prophet is. He's released three of the finest albums of the new millennium -- 2000's The Hurting Business, 2002's No Other Love and 2004's Age of Miracles - and his latest, Soap and Water [released October 2 on Yep Roc Records], looks to make it four. With Prophet, everything is in its right place. In the past decade he's taken his roots rock beginnings into increasingly experimental terrain, juxtaposing boogie riffs with turntables, acoustic guitars with fuzzbox vocals. Like the man himself, the curves are always subtle and infused with a sense of divine laughter.

Prophet holds on tight until material is ripe, only releasing a new slab every couple years. His albums are creepers, where you might not realize just how good they are until you start pulling off individual cuts and see how they shine next to the work of others.

"I know I never let go of them until there's a fair amount of blood on the floor. But that doesn't make `em better! Music's funny like that. There's a kind of abstract-expressionist-cubist-blues approach where if you don't connect all the dots and use a ruler there's still some mystery left to the record. I think that's the thing that makes people return, where more is revealed each time. I think good pop music sounds great the first listen but oftentimes you burn out on it. There's no mystery to return to," offers Prophet. "I like The Cars and ABBA and stuff like that but albums like Music From Big Pink or Tonight's The Night are the ones that come into your mind and you continually return to."

These are albums that ask the listener to make a leap with them. Every sentence isn't strictly declarative and fresh, personal associations emerge over time. It's music that rises above mere entertainment or distraction into the realm of philosophy and psychology. And in the best instances, we can still dance to it.

"As long as there's something concrete there it's fine. The music I like least is the purposefully obtuse indie rock or soundscapey stuff. That's just me, but I still listen to Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen and Some Girls [Rolling Stones]. In general, there's just too much recording going on. Not everything needs to be preserved," says Prophet. "It's happening with filmmaking, too. At the same time, with the advent of video cameras and desktop editing you started to see movies like Hoop Dreams, which wouldn't have existed otherwise and are just beyond words. I guess it's just a whole lot of work for the consumer now [laughs]."

We're rising and we're falling

Falling and we're rising

Lost on the invisible sea

A thousand stolen kisses

A crime without a witness

Throw me overboard captain would you please

I just can't stand myself

Soap and Water draws palpably upon love and lust, which are given equal gravity in Prophet's work, blasting off with the one-two punch of "Freckle Song," a bright spot of late `70s Stones chug, and "Would You Love Me?," tattered gospel for the faithless. While the tendency is to focus on either love or sex exclusively, Prophet commingles the two in a truly Gnostic fashion.

"Mothers need to hold their children. They need to feel that skin-on-skin thing, otherwise you breed some real monsters," muses Prophet. "There's a thing with my songs where they could be about women or about God or mom in an interchangeable way. It's all there if you step back and squint at the songs. `Would You Love Me?' was one of the last songs that went on the record, and was inspired by Anna Nicole Smith. She was everywhere in the media, and she was tragic. She died of a broken heart. Kinda reminded me a little bit of Elvis. [These type of figures] help us get out of ourselves. We think, `I'm fucked up but I'm not THAT fucked up.' We need those people. We need to drag them out into the city square and stone them. Everybody will feel better."

Prophet's tone is mocking but there's a sliver of ugly truth to his words. One wonders if we're on our way back to coliseums where the rejected and downtrodden are forced to bloody themselves for the amusement of a desensitized world. "It's already happening," says Prophet. "Bin Laden or whatever, the boogie man is something people just have a need to create. It's a scary part of our human nature. We can't love ourselves enough to love mankind."

One of the chief lures of Prophet's work is a sense that all the fundamentals of strong musicianship - arranging, songwriting, performance and production - are always in place. There's a rib-sticking fullness to everything he does that's grown progressively stronger with each solo release.

"I cast each song like its own movie, and I try to find the characters to make it come alive. I hope there's something about it that can keep me interested," Prophet says. "I get a lot of ideas, start a lot of songs or push things around on my plate, but I don't always have the energy to wrestle it all the way to the ground [laughs]."

Mothers need to hold their children. They need to feel that skin-on-skin thing, otherwise you breed some real monsters. There's a thing with my songs where they could be about women or about God or mom in an interchangeable way. It's all there if you step back and squint at the songs.

This reminds me of "Tough Company," the opening poem from Charles Bukowski's Play The Piano Drunk Like A Percussion Instrument Until The Fingers Begin To Bleed A Bit, where unfinished poems are "like gunslingers" that mill around his apartment waiting for him to finish them. Prophet chuckles and says, "I love that! I think early on he was more prone to pour a poem from beaker to beaker more times, and I love it. But I also love his later years where he was more impressionistic. That's kinda the way I feel about Lucinda Williams right now. I love it all. I heard her sing `Pineola' [from 1992's Sweet Old World] the other night but I also love the stuff off her new record, which isn't as chiseled."

As he regards his own evolution, Prophet candidly responds, "I'm just getting the hang of it. I write better for my voice now. I think I've just grown into myself. I suppose early on I was more Dylan-esque or whatever but now there's a straighter line that runs through the songs. I have great admiration for John Prine and Randy Newman. I try to write more the way people talk. We're in an era where entertainment is just killing us. I think people have a need to be told stories, and that won't ever change. It's part of human nature and will continue to be. Keeping that in mind, it's easier to make relevant records. Or records that are fun."

"I asked my friend Dr. Frank of the Mr. T Experience - who've probably made 20 records - if he thought in the year 2007 it was possible to make relevant rock & roll. He's a bit of an intellectual and he said, `Well, if it's fun it's relevant, right?' And I had to agree," says Prophet.

As a songwriter who lives in these troubled times, Prophet tries to avoid delivering political polemics but doesn't shy away from present circumstances either. "I write from a personal place that's definitely in the moment. I don't go out of my way to use archaic language or anything," says Prophet. "If you listen to my records, aside from the sort of vintage music going on, you'd think, `This guy knows what time it is [laughs].' That's my fantasy of myself! Like when Prince went on the Super Bowl and whipped out a Foo Fighters song. I'm not a Foo Fighters fan but I thought that was so hip. It was a way of saying [Prophet's voice rising slightly], `Prince knows what time it is!'"

Homemade Blood

While it's often easy to pick out a musician's influences, it's hard to get a clear grip on where Chuck Prophet came from. The man himself responds enigmatically, "Well, they're out there [laughs]. You have to have faith in yourself. If something sounds derivative at first, as you kick it around it'll morph into something of your own. Good writers, painters and artists tend to be pretty big fans of other people's work. There's filmmakers like Jim Jarmusch who are also great music fans. And there are great guys in music that are great fans of film, and painters who can only paint when they listen to music. There's inspiration outside of your chosen field."

This spills into a discussion of Jerry Garcia's love of painting, which he'd done all of his life but only shared publicly in his later years. "He was an incredibly creative guy, a complicated dude, actually, though not when he was selling ties at Bloomingdales," cracks Prophet. "I've worked with some musicians who worked with Garcia and they all described him, out of everybody, as the guy who was out of the house ten minutes after the alarm went off. He loved the creative process."

Prophet, a native Californian, was born and raised in Orange County until he was 16, then moved to San Francisco after college and currently resides in the Lower Haight area. Prophet's live shows have a healthy pinch of the Garcia Band's good time swing and instant bonhomie, where the playing is superb but they never forget they need to engage your feet, too. A couple years back at High Sierra, Prophet played twice in the same day, offering totally different moods that fit the Vaudeville Tent and Big Meadow, respectively, to a tee. Like Garcia, he knows how to read a room and give it just what it craves, even if they didn't know what that was going in.

It doesn't hurt that Prophet is a bonafide guitar shredder capable of Beatles-like eloquence and brevity as well as the bold expression and playful pyrotechnics of Tom Verlaine (Television) and Richard Thompson.

"I definitely got my head fucked up when I first heard Richard Thompson. No doubt about it," Prophet says. "It just all came together for me when I heard his records from the `70s especially. I like how he wrote from his own voice and could go from this weird bagpipe thing straight into a Chuck Berry lick. I would probably sit on the Chuck Berry lick and just hint at something else. I'm an inverted version of that [laughs]. If Richard hadn't been such a great record maker, songwriter and singer then I don't think I'd have been as drawn into his guitar playing. That other stuff came first. You wouldn't hang around for the guitar if not for the other. The reason I heard Marc Ribot was because I listened to those Tom Waits records and hung around for the guitar breaks. I think most of the guitar players I like are singers like Jimi Hendrix and Tom Verlaine. That's why I love Chuck Berry so much. Everything he does punctuates his songs, it's all one thing."

Men frequently struggle to articulate their feelings and thoughts about women. Even the best songwriters often unconsciously veer into misogyny or thickheaded simplicity (see Dylan's oddly beloved and oft-covered "Just Like A Woman" for an examples of both). Prophet manages to spring over these pitfalls, writing woman odes that use the distaff among us as genuine muse for tunes of real depth.

"It's a delicate thing," cautions Prophet. "There's a delicate thing to the blues where it can go either way, where you can go downwards or celebrate the glory of having the blues. It's a glorious thing to have the blues because it starts with love. It's better to have your heart broken than to never have loved at all. That's the part you have to stay in touch with if you want to sing these songs over and over again."

His songs openly acknowledge the sway women have over many of us boys in a very honest way. "Yeah, absolutely," enthuses Prophet. "On `A Woman's Voice (Will Haunt You)' [from Soap and Water] I cut verses. I have an editor's sense to take out the parts that I didn't think were true, even though they sounded really good [laughs]."

While women remain central to Prophet's creative process, he's often pretty solitary when working up new material.

"I don't really run it by people. I'm superstitious," says Prophet. "When I'm in the process of writing a song I don't go out of my way to solicit anything. I'm just happy when it's fucking over. At a certain point that's enough. They take up space in your psyche. Some songs can be really difficult. It's almost like I don't feel like starting them but it feels good when they're finished."

Taking his time means that what ultimately emerges has a craftsmanship and sturdy endurance that stays around for decades. It's a trait missing from a lot of modern rock, which too often has the staying power of Pop Rocks. Shortsighted rockers could never come up with a chilling lyric like, "I always did the right thing, what did it get me?"

"[laughs] I love that line, too. I really do. That might be my favorite part of the record, that bridge [on `Let's Do Something Wrong']," says Prophet, who excels at lines you can't walk away from once you've been exposed to them. "It's a fun character study of someone who always played by the rules and never left his small town. I think what makes the song really come together is the children singing, `Let's do something wrong, let's do something stupid.' They sing it in such an earnest way because they don't understand the implied costs, the repercussions as an adult for all your actions. When they sing, `Let's do something wrong, let's do something stupid,' they sing it with all their heart and soul, without any sense of regret."

For many older fans, Prophet will always be associated with Green On Red more than any of his ten solo records. While the band does the occasional reunion gig it does seem fraught with the kinds of regrets Prophet was discussing. "It's like spending a weekend with the kids from your first marriage [laughs]. It's a mixed thing," admits Prophet. "We did one show and we were all really surprised how fun it was. We'll do it from time to time."

For now, his focus is his own work, a quiet, ceaselessly excellent string of recordings and performances that speak for themselves. All the praise in the world can't measure up to the intrinsic pleasures awaiting one, in both the long and short term, inside Prophet's music.

"I feel like I'm just getting the hang of it, so I hope I'm getting better. It's hard [to get records into people's hands] but my biggest fear is that I would have to stop. Ultimately, that's the thing any artist fears more than anything," says Prophet. "Economically, none of this has ever made any sense for me but you just make the records and play the shows. That's really all there is to do."

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by Dennis Cook on November 21, 2007 COMMENTS • Filed under Artist Profiles

Harp

Looting the Bins With Chuck Prophet

A walk through the used record bins of some of the country's finest music stores with musicians, both famous and infamous.

 

"You hear that?"

Standing outside Open Mind Music on an impeccably beautiful sunny San Francisco day, Chuck Prophet points down Market Street, cocks his ear and waits. A few seconds later, a siren blares in the distance.

"Every Tuesday at noon, the city tests their emergency warning system," Prophet explains. "It goes for like ten or fifteen seconds and then it's over, but I like the idea that everyone in this neighborhood hears that. It's a part of anyone's life who lives around here."

Prophet's knack for these kinds of intimate details -- pervasive in his songwriting -- is the mark of the long-time Bay Area denizen. Though he was born and bred in Southern California, the singer-songwriter has lived in San Francisco since joining cult-favorite Americana rockers Green on Red in the mid-1980s as a prodigious 18-year-old guitar talent. After the band dissolved in 1992, Prophet focused his efforts on his burgeoning solo career, recording a string of albums beginning with 1990's Brother Aldo and culminating with Soap and Water, his latest opus released in early October on Yep Roc Records.

"Hanging out in record stores was pretty much what I did growing up," Prophet says as he swings open the door to Open Mind Music and tosses a casual hello to Henry, the store owner. "The Music Box in La Habra, California was where I bought my records. Back then, they usually cost $3.98 and I remember agonizing over the decision on which record to buy every time I went in there. It would take me all week to decide what I was gonna get."

Growing up in Whittier, California, Prophet wasn't too far from either the rock and roll of the Sunset Strip or the surf spots that dot the coast along the Pacific Coast Highway.

"I lived in a neighborhood in Orange County growing up that if you shook a tree, five guitar players would fall out. Everybody played guitar and everyone surfed. It was that type of culture back then," he says. "My girlfriend in the seventh grade bought me Hunky Dory for my birthday. Bowie records were definitely big around my house. I had an older sister was an old-school hipster and we got all the new records when they came out. What's astonishing about Bowie during that time period is the diversity of his albums You can go from Hunky Dory to Ziggy Stardust to Aladdin Sane to Diamond Dogs and then you blink and he's in Philadelphia doing Young Americans. The breadth of the music he created in only about three or four years is just astonishing, especially when compared with what's going on today. And it's not like he fell on his face doing it either. Bowie was big in our house, no doubt about it. Still is."

Like so many other young guitarists, Prophet cut his teeth by playing along to records in his bedroom.

"I learned a lot about playing guitar by listening to old Van Morrison albums," he says, holding up a copy of Morrison's 1967 debut, Blowin' Your Mind. "`T.B. Sheets' is the song I really learned how to play guitar off of. A lot of that double-stop, `Brown-Eyed Girl'-like guitar that I play I mostly picked up from by listening to old Van Morrison stuff. I think a guy named Eric Gale, who was an old jazz guitarist, did the guitar playing on those albums. His playing was big for me as I started playing guitar."

While Van Morrison may not be an influence Prophet readily wears on his sleeve, Bob Dylan certainly is. Whether it's in the detailed imagery of his lyrics, the blues-flecked energy of his guitar playing or his not-so-mainstream nasally voice, it's pretty obvious from his music that Prophet is a Dylanphile.

"We all know he's the master; no one's gonna argue with that," he says, thumbing through the Dylan vinyl. "I really liked Under the Red Sky a lot. No one really gives him credit for the albums he did in the `80s and early `90s. I like Dylan when he's in his devil-may-care place. That's why Dylan is a great live show -- even when he's at his worst, he's incapable of being uninteresting. It's not so much that he's the greatest living American songwriter, though that's part of it certainly. But it's also the ease with which he does it and how cool it is. You never really see Dylan ever work that hard. I admire that about him a lot. I've probably bought all of Dylan's albums at least three times. I enjoy the thrill of getting something I like the second time. I probably own five copies of Leonard Cohen's Greatest Hits. Sometimes I buy it just to make myself feel good."

J.J. Cale's Naturally is another record Prophet puts on a pedestal. The Oklahoma troubadour's 1971 debut album followed on the heels of Clapton's version of Cale's "After Midnight," but Naturally does not pander to the blues-rock of Slowhand's successful cover. Instead, Cale issued a sublime, country-rock classic that focuses more on the boogie and less on the bravado.

"Naturally may be the greatest auteur record of all time," Prophet professes. "J.J. wrote all the songs, played on it, put the band together and produced it. I think he may have even engineered a lot of it himself as well `cause it's got this strange sound to it. I love that record `cause J.J Cale never turns his solos up. I always get a lot of shit for not turning my solos up. J.J. is a real abstract expressionist. All of the songs on Naturally are like two-and-a-half minutes long, but it's the perfect record."

Perfection is a concept Prophet returns to time and time again throughout our trip to Open Mind Music, whether it's in regard to Dylan, Cale or Alex Chilton, frontman for The Box Tops and Big Star. Calling Big Star's 1978 classic album Third/Sister Lovers "the perfect marriage of the street and the regal," Prophet remembers the first time Green on Red opened for Chilton's post-Big Star trio at Atlanta's 688 Club in the mid-`80s.

"The 688 was one of those clubs where the back door behind the stage opened up into the parking lot. As we're wrapping up our soundcheck that day, I see this '72 Buick Skylark pull in blowing huge plumes of blue smoke," he recalls. `These three guys roll out of the car and pull a little jazz kit out of the trunk along with a tiny Peavy bass amp and a Fender Super Reverb and set them onstage. Alex reaches in the back of the Super Reverb, pulls out a clean shirt -- his gig shirt -- and takes his other shirt off and stuffs it into the back of the amp. He straps on a harmonica rack, tunes up, clicks his heels four times and just made everything that we did completely forgettable. I can't remember what music I was into at the time -- maybe Tom Verlaine or Neil Young -- but at that moment, it was all about Alex."

With both his new album and the Kelly Willis' Prophet-produced Translated from Love garnering critical praise, Prophet isn't resting on his laurels. With his Mission Express band in tow, Prophet recently returned from a European tour and just embarked on a U.S. tour to support Soap and Water. In between gigs, he's been squeezing in writing sessions with old friend Alejandro Escovedo for a future album.

"Writing with Al has been so much fun," Prophet says with a laugh. "One of things Al and I like to do when we write together is sit down and just tell each other stories and usually a song will appear out of it. If that doesn't work, we turn off all the lights, lie on the ground and put on the Mott the Hoople. Ian Hunter is such a brilliant lyricist. All the Young Dudes is worth the price of admission on the title track alone."

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by Andy Tenille on November 4, 2007 COMMENTS • Filed under Artist Profiles

Cleveland Free Times

Singer-songwriter Likes A Continual Challenge

Inspiration can come in many forms for the receptive rock musician, but it's a fairly safe bet that very few of them have ever milked any hit songs from jet lag. Leave it to Chuck Prophet - former Green on Red frontman and longtime solo roots-rock sonic texturalist - to transform an experience that most of humanity attempts to minimize into a creative opportunity.

 

"When I was touring behind Age of Miracles, I did come back from one of the European tours and I did this thing where I resisted adjusting my body clock so I'd keep waking up at four in the morning which is like noon over there," says Prophet. "That's the magic hour, according to the monks. That's where you're closest to God right there. And I'd play around with songs at the kitchen table."

Prophet's pre-dawn kitchen excursions netted him a trio of interesting songs that didn't seem to be connected to anything he had worked on previously, so he set them aside. He then took the subsequent year to ponder a life-altering decision - whether or not to continue his role as a working musician.

"I was trying to figure out if there was anything else I wanted to do besides make records and drive around in a van," says Prophet with a wry laugh. "I couldn't really think of anything. I demoed some songs with some friends of mine and we got excited about it and said, `Let's just make the record like this, let's do it.'"

Although some might consider Prophet's year to be a casualty of writer's block, it really was just a period of introspection and reassessment, something that he's done throughout his career. Once he realized that he was meant to continue down a musical path, the songs began to flow freely again and he was well on his way to the completion of Soap and Water, his latest album and first for Yep Roc, his new label.

Oddly enough, Prophet's lengthy period of self-examination resulted in a group of songs that he characterizes as the polar opposite of that.

"Sometimes, if I look back at the older records, in a way, I remember every last detail, and in another way I look back and think, `Who was that guy?'" he says. "So I think maybe these songs might be a little less introspective somehow. I think the world's come in a little bit more. It's hard to say."

For Prophet, there were a couple of points of departure in the creation of Soap and Water. The album was recorded in two locales: first in Prophet's home base of San Francisco and then wrapped up in Nashville. Veteran roots producer Brad Jones worked on the album all through the process in a co-producer role, a situation Prophet hadn't opened himself up to for quite some time.

"I met Brad a few times and he got excited about the songs, so he came out and worked with us," says Prophet. "We thought we would go back to Nashville and work on the back end of the record and I was thrilled to do it. I enjoy myself in Nashville and I have a lot of friends there that I can borrow equipment from and a lot of couches I can sleep on. There's a kind of strange community where people have come from all over and on the edges of it. Besides country music, there's a fringe element that's really pretty cool. I like Nashville."

Prophet also liked Jones enough to accept him as an outside producer, something he hasn't embraced in his solo career. As he explains, that notion doesn't necessarily spring from his unwillingness to work with a producer.

"I used to joke that I was the best producer that I'd ever worked with in my price range," says Prophet with a laugh. "In Green on Red, I worked with a sideman, and I worked with guys like Jim Dickinson and Glyn Johns and some heavy hitters. And on this record, I wanted to be free to spend more time on the other side of the glass and less time in the control room. Brad Jones ended up being a real complement to my style. I paint with a really wide brush and Brad can get in there into the details and keep me between the lanes, in a gentle way. He's a no-nonsense Midwestern guy; he's not one for emotional outbursts."

One area where Jones was most beneficial to Soap and Water's eventual outcome was in securing a children's choir for a couple of the album's tracks. Prophet had a particular sound in mind and Jones offered what turned out to be the perfect solution.

"I think immediately most people think of gospel singers and I tried to explain, `No, I want it more like a high school production of Godspell,'" says Prophet. "The thing about the kids is that was an exact interpretation of what I was hearing in my head. The kids just sing, they don't try to sound like they're singing. They just hit the note. They go straight to the note, and they don't fuck around. They added another level to the record that I really like."

Although Soap and Water seems to incorporate just about every sonic characteristic that Prophet has explored over the course of his career - rootsy Americana swagger, electronic folk experimentalism, Stonesy blues chug, pop balladeering - he insists that there was nothing overtly preconceived about the songs on the album. As always, Prophet is just doing best what he's doing at the moment.

"I think that I do have a wide range of feels as a musician," he says. "Coming out of a country/rock or alternative country reality, I've been accused of working in a lot of cross-morphed genres, but it seems pretty normal to me. I think one of the reasons people play country rock is that it's just really easy to play. My heroes are people like David Bowie; I can only imagine David Bowie driving around in limos in America on one of his glam rock tours and hearing the O'Jays and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes and saying, `Man, we've got to do this shit!' and making a record in Sigma Sound in Philadelphia and just stepping up to the mic and owning it and winning everybody over. I think it's fun to get out of your bag and out of your comfort zone."

While Soap and Water clearly exhibits all Prophet's best qualities as a performer and songwriter, it's equally apparent that he's not rehashing old glories or reclaiming old ground for the sake of a new album. Prophet has always been happiest when he's challenging himself, and that doesn't look to be changing anytime soon.

"If there was something about a song that I felt was somewhere I'd never been before - it just might be a small detail or a guitar lick or some sort of a figure or something in the lyric or point of view - those are the songs that when I'm writing, I get excited about," he says. "I think those are the songs I ended up putting on the record. Of course, if you stand back far enough and squint, you're like, `I don't know, it just kind of sounds like a Tom Petty record.' I don't see what's so strange about it. It sounds pretty normal to me. But in my way, those are the songs that keep me interested enough to wrestle them all the way to the ground. You know, ideas are pretty much free and they're everywhere and I get them all the time but I don't always have the energy to turn them all into songs."

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by Brian Baker on October 23, 2007 COMMENTS • Filed under Artist Profiles

San Francisco Chronicle

On the Town with Chuck Prophet

Chuck Prophet, a former member of famed cosmic rock duo Green on Red, has just released his eighth solo album, "Soap and Water" (Yep Roc). The critically acclaimed singer-songwriter recently made his acting debut in the independent film "Revolution Summer" and signed a deal with Chronicle Books, which next summer will release "Shoulda Stayed in School - Road Diaries From the Rock `n' Roll Trenches." We asked the longtime Duboce Triangle resident for a tour of his favorite neighborhood haunts. (Prophet plays the Make-Out Room tonight).

Golden Produce, 172 Church St. "It's a family-run produce market right across from Safeway on Market. If you like pears, they carry about eight different kinds. I love the folks that run it - three generations from Cambodia. Golden Produce has got soul."

Jack's Laundry, 196 Noe St. "I just adore the woman who runs this laundry. She always laughs when I ask, `Which one of you is Jack?' Aside from the usual dry cleaning, wash and fold stuff, she's a great seamstress - mends, hems and puts love and care into everything she does. In fact, she hand-sewed each patch on the Green on Red trucker hats. Bonus points for overnight work, too."

Rosamunde Sausages, 545 Haight St. "Tuesday is burger day. It gets slammed in there and they can get irritable behind the counter if you don't order properly. So get there early or you'll be handed a sausage. Wait in the Toronado Bar next door, get a real draft root beer and drop some quarters in the jukebox that's stocked with `deep cuts' for days."

Cliff's Variety, 479 Castro St. "I almost forgot what I came there for: I found myself staring at a unicorn pencil sharpener when a friendly clerk asked if there was anything he could help me with. I was directed to the fabric annex next door and left with a couple yards of Velcro for my pedal board and a spare key for the touring van."

Peacock Music, 2200 15th St. "Maybe you just want to replace one string on that banjo that never gets played or pick up a bow for your kid's violin. OK, so you'll never be Pete Seeger. If all else fails, go on and tune all four strings on that banjo up to one note and play it with a bow. The owner, George, told me recently his church choir could use a baritone singer. I was deeply flattered. Might take him up on that someday."

Amoeba Music, 1855 Haight St. "In Holland, where I'm touring right now, they've turned churches into venues. In San Francisco, they've turned one of the last bowling alleys into the Amoeba record store. It's only the largest new-and-used record store in the nation."

Philz Coffee, 3101 24th St. "Located in a funky storefront at the corner of 24th and Folsom, each cup of Philz Coffee is ground and made by hand. Phil himself is a real character: an expansive personality, compact, fedora-sporting, mustachioed bundle of energy. You can't get a latte or a mochachino, but you can get one of the many painstakingly blended combos that Phil has perfected in his 30-plus years in the business. Don't be surprised if he pulls out a long spoon, turns to one of the gals there, spoon feeds her some foam off the top and says, completely seriously, `Don't swallow it down, swirl it around, make love to it.' The mint leaf garnish is a nice touch."

Schauplatz Clothing & Furniture, 791 Valencia St. "I'm a lanky guy. I have what you might call an elongated torso. It's hard to find jackets that fit. Some days, the thrift store gods are smiling more than others: I found a nice sport coat in there recently, and the fellow behind the counter in his German accent said, `Oh yes, very good choice, this just came in, 42 long don't stay long.' Their stuff is always clean and wrinkle free. Note to other vintage clothiers: Go ahead and splurge for some dry cleaning. Tack it on to the price if you have to. Thrift stores can be hit and miss. Takes someone with an acute eye to run it. It's a gift. Some people have the gift. These guys always dig up good stuff."

P.O. Plus, 584 Castro St. "This is the mailing joint in my hood. It's a FedEx, DHL, UPS and USPS hub all in one. Ahmad is the man there, a good guy. I like it when I'm done with my packages or whatever, he'll ring his bell on the counter and shout, `Next customer!' even when there's no one there."

El Tonayense taco truck, 22nd and Harrison streets. "Tommy Guerrero turned me on to these guys. I hired them to cater our gig at the Make-Out Room. Yes, you heard right. Free tacos for all my friends! I'm a carne asada man myself, but they do a killer al pastor, which is sort of like a Mexican doner kebab. It's slow-cooked pork, thinly sliced off the spit with a large knife."

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by Aidin Vaziri on October 20, 2007 COMMENTS • Filed under Artist Profiles

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