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The Employee Interview Part XIX: John Garcia

Posted by Miss Ess, October 1, 2008 02:20pm | Post a Comment
John Garcia
Over 10 years employment, spread across all 3 stores!
New Product Buyer

Miss Ess: What is your pick for best release of 2008 so far?

 
John Garcia: Well, so far it is probably the rather weighty 4-CD box set on Rachel Unthank & The Wintersetthe Cleanfeed label that brought together multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton and guitarist Joe Morris together for the first time (Four Improvisations [Duo] 2007). Each disc is one solid uninterrupted hour of improvisation between these two masterful performers. They are both busy players that ironically have a keen sense of space, but they use that space very differently. Listening to them attempt to resolve those differences on the fly is big part of the fun of the album. The critic Whitney Balliett is credited with calling jazz "the sound of surprise." Under the best of circumstances, all great music has that quality somewhere.
 
Also, I am also still quite taken with the new album by the British folk group Rachel Unthank & The Winterset, Bairns. I wrote about it in the upcoming Music We Like (Fall 2008) and just as the Braxton/Morris album is complex and flitting, Unthank & Co. are relatively simple, slow-moving and austere. These qualities asoft machinere their strength, vocally and instrumentally.
 
Oh yeah, and that Soft Machine DVD, Alive In Paris 1970 is pretty remarkable visually, musically and historically. It documents a performance by the rare quintet version of the band recorded for a then-new half-hour French TV music series. They were the first band featured in the series. Their set was so popular that they aired a second show using the unused footage they shot for the first show. Most of the cameras are onstage and backstage, so some of the angles are unusually intimate and intense. It is only slightly marred by the occasional overdubbed cheers and applause that, apparently, were used to disguise some of the sound editing that needed to be done. At least they resisted using the "psychedelic" special effects that intrude on so much documentary and televised footage of the period.

ME: Is there a label whose output you will always check out, regardless of if you have heard about the record or not?
 
JG: Yeah, they are mostly jazz or "new music" labels, like Hatology, Emanem, the aforementioned Cleanfeed, Songlines, Intakt, Tzadik, Balance Point Acoustics, Pi, Psi, Recommended. But, the Smithsonian, Water, Fledgling and Rune Grammophon labels [also] usually have items of interest. There may be a couple I am forgetting right now. There used to be a lot more, but mantom jonesy great indie labels have either gone under or slowed their release schedule down to a trickle.
 
ME: What music takes you back to your childhood?
 
JG: Well, my relationship to music was very sporadic during early childhood. It was something that would get my attention from time to time, but in essence it seemed very foreign to me. I remember being very uncomfortable in record stores as these crazy looking people stared at me from their album covers and posters in their outlandish glam and disco attire. These were the days of vinyl and the eight-track. I sometimes tried to make sense of it by imagining that the covers of the albums were telling some sort of story which would then be concluded, or at least continued on the back cover. Some albums told better stories than others, although I can't really remember any of them now.
 
When music was played at home it was usually Spanish-language radio pop. As far as recordings went, they were usually lounge-type albums which I hated (that distaste never went away), bullfighting music and the French-born Argentinean tango singer, Carlos Gardel (both of which I liked). Sometimes there would be some Tony Bennett, Perry Como, Engelbert Humperdinck, Tom Jones or Bing Crosby.
 
I seemed to break away fromcreedence clearwater revival my parents' tastes when I became enamored of the soundtrack to the first movie I ever saw in a theater, Pinocchio. I remember playing that a lot. I also remember being heart-broken when I'd inadvertently left the album in the sun and it got horribly warped. It just sat there undulating on the turntable, steadfastly refusing to let the stylus rest on a single groove. My father placed the album between a pile of large heavy books for about three months and it was at least playable after that. I had also acquired a 45 of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Down On The Corner/Fortunate Son" which I thought was great.
 
The other song I remember liking during those formative years was Ringo Starr's 'No No Song." I really had no idea that the song was about drugs and rehab; it was just really catchy. It sounded like a song for kids. It still does. I did not have the record, so I remember actively jumping from one radio station to the next searching for this song. It was the first time I had actively engaged a radio. I was about 10 years old.


 
Somewhere in there, I heard a radio show about music from India and I remember liking that very much, but it would be quite a while before I would pursue that avenue.
 
ME: Somehow all of Ringo's songs sound like they were made for kids! Was there a particular live show you attended that changed your life?
 
JG: I didn't see much live music growing up, but the few acts I did see made a big impression. The first live music I saw was a Flamenco troupe that played in Oakland, CA. Sadly, I don't remember who theyjohnny and june carter cash were, but they were remarkable to a 7-year-old. And it was more than just music, there was singing and dancing and there even seemed to be some sort of plot involved, so, it was dramatic in every sense. And it was very loud. The fast guitar strumming, the castanets, the movements and percussion the dancers provided and this seemingly otherworldy singing were stunning, even a little frightening. We even got to go backstage! But, shy as I already was, I was struck dumb as I gazed upon these god-like beings.
 
The first concert I ever saw was probably a couple years after that at the Circle Star Theater in San Carlos, CA where I saw John and June Carter Cash and the whole family band in the round. This was very different from the Flamenco troupe, but in some ways no less dramatic, in part because the stage of the venue slowly revolved throughout the show. They seemed more friendly and less forbidding than the Flamenco folks, and they joked around and told stories. I knew most of the songs they played because I used to watch Johnny Cash on TV all of the time, on his own show and as a guest on other shows. I also had the Live At San Quentin album, which was also the first time I'd ever heard expletives deleted and always wondered what words they were bleeping out. The one song I didn't know beforehand was "The Man In Black," which he performed towards the end of the show and whose lyrics were printed on the program that I still own. Anyway, it was all very enjoyable, but music was still something I felt was a bit beyond me. That feeling has never fully gone away.
 
ME: Do you remember the moment when you suddenly really really got into music? 

JG: In I976, for reasons only a twelve year old in search of something seemed to understand, I started to listen to (almost) NOTHING but country radio. KNEW-AM. So, I became familiar with works of Tom T. hank williamsHall, Dottie West, Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Jim Stafford, Waylon 'n' Willie (and the boys), Johnny Paycheck, Ray Stevens (Ray Stevens!?) and many others. Perhaps it was Johnny Cash's influence, or the fact that Hoyt Axton co-wrote the "No No Song," but I really got into it and this went on for over two years. It wasn't until the early eighties that I learned about the Stanley Brothers, Hank Williams, Charlie Poole or Bob Wills (although there was that Merle Haggard song…).
 
Around the time Elvis died in 1977, I realized, like so many others did, that I had always liked Elvis, from his movies and from the radio, but never owned his records, so I started listening to and collecting his records. The next year I went to live in Panama for a short while. When I returned, I stayed with my aunt and cousin. My cousin had what seemed at the time to be a huge record collection. He said I could listen to whatever I wanted. Most of it seemed very strange, but I do remember listening to the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper for the first time. I didn't particularly like it, but it did cause me to want to listen to other albums by them; besides, that Ringo guy was in the band. It was somewhere in between being obsessed by Elvis to being obsessed with the Beatles, while still listening to country radio, that I felt a connection had been established. I gradually started listening to other radio stations (I even did my own informal top ten songs of the week chart for a while), checking out unfamiliar music from the library, and reading any number of magazines, biographies and criticisms.
 
ME: Who are some of your favorite jazz artists?django reinhardt
 
JG: So, the above searching led me to various kinds of Rock, particularly Prog, older Blues and 20th Century Classical, among other things. I didn't get into Jazz until college. I thought that horrible lounge stuff I heard as a child, and the work of certain artists like Tom Scott, John Klemmer, and David Sanborn was what Jazz was. So, I wanted no part of it. A drummer friend of mine had started a band that was based on the style of the aforementioned players and I concluded upon hearing them that I hated the saxophone.
 
A few months later, another friend of mine played me some of the Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli Hot Club stuff. I could relate that to some of the bluegrass and even some of the Rock I had heard. Then I jumped into John Coltrane's Giant Steps. I liked that, too, particularly the tunes and Art Taylor's rather aggressive drumming, especially on "Mr. PC." Then I listened to Coltrane's Meditations from the mid-Sixties, and that made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. It brought me back to the frightened excitement that I john coltranefelt at the Flamenco troupe's performance. Things snowballed from there.
 
I'd like to point out here that although I know that genres are important in retail and commercial environs (and even in this interview) for the purposes of organization, they really have nothing to do with creativity or the creative process. They are a false construct which ultimately boxes in artists, usually unfairly, into a context that gives validity only to the conventions (or clichés) of that context. If an artist tries to express his or herself in a manner that does not conform to those preconceptions they are generally viewed negatively, if they are regarded at all.
 
I have come to realize over time that I could not truly give my allegiance to those parameters. Even as a listener, those parameters are not your friend; they will let you down. There is so much in every genre that I find objectionable that I can no longer think in terms of "kinds of music," aesthetically speaking. There really is just "music," as confounding and as broad and as obtuse as it sounds.
 
On the other hand, individual artists/people, once they have touched me, I will follow to the ends of the earth. I will follow the arc of their career, and be forgiving of their seeming missteps [just] as I exult in their seeming triumphs. And I say "seeming" because my perception of art can and will change over time, and eventually I might find something I like about something I thought inferior or reverse my view of a alice coltranemasterpiece in the context of the overall output of an artist.
 
Having said all of that: artists whose work is primarily viewed as jazz that I will always revel in are (in no real order): Anthony Braxton, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, James "Blood" Ulmer, Johnny Dodds, Ronald Shannon Jackson, Eddie Lang, Tal Farlow, Marilyn Crispell, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Wadada Leo Smith, Julius Hemphill, Michael Moore (the reed player), Tim Berne, Thelonious Monk, Alice Coltrane, Irene Schweizer, Steve Lacy, Bill Evans, Evan Parker, Michele Rosewoman, Charlie Parker, Lol Coxhill, Henry Threadgill, Leroy Jenkins, George Lewis, Abbey Lincoln, Sonny Sharrock, Albert Ayler, Billy Harper, Eric Dolphy, Peter Brötzmann, Charles Mingus, Billy Bang, the Art Ensemble Of Chicago, Pee Wee Russell… I better stop there, otherwise this will start spilling over onto your other blogravi shankars.
 
ME: Which artist was the one who got you interested in world music in the first place?
 
JG: Well, those Flamenco cats were pretty persuasive. And as I said, I grew up listening to Spanish-language pop, like Raphael, Peret, Lola Beltran, Carlos Gardel and Armando Manzanero. But, hearing the recordings Ravi Shankar made with Yehudi Menuhin and also with Ustad Ali Akbar Khan made a big impression. There is a historic and musical connection between the music of Northern India and Flamenco, that whole Silk Road thing, so I must have heard that on some level. The way I approach the music of other cultures (and music in general, I suppose) is that I listen for the traits that they have in common with each other. I am not very interested in the differences, which tend to be very obvious and often superficial. I also do not like the idea of having a world music specialty; I love many things about many of the world's musics, but there is much I don't like, particularly when fusions go wrong.
 
But, as I said before, there are artists I will always follow. In this case a small list would include: Amadou & Mariam, Wu Man, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, Tom Zè, King Sunny Ade, Hossein Alizadeh, Simon Shaheen, Rachid Taha, Kayhan Kalhor, Dafnis Prieto, Valentin Clastrier, Planxty, Raul Marrero, R. king sunny adePrassana, Lucilla Galeazzi, Mala Rodriguez, Michihiro Sato, Oumou Sangare, Fosforito and so, so on.....
 
I will forever be a student, as there's always so much to learn.
 
ME: You made your much talked about Amoebapalooza debut this year.  Do you have a fantasy Amoebapalooza band? Who would you cover or pay tribute to? What would you play?

JG: Playing both the SF and Berkeley Amoebapaloozas was very nerve-wracking but enjoyable. I am very honored and grateful that the other fellows in Proxy Music let me play with them, considering I had not played in public in 15 years and most of them didn't know that I even played an instrument before we had our first rehearsal! So, it was quite a leap of faith on their part. The crowds were very generous at both events. I do wish things, particularly my tuning and playing, had been better at the Berkeley store 'palooza, which took place in Oakland. Fortunately, a lot of the kinks were worked out by the time we played the SF event a week later. That was much better musically. The Roxy Music tribute band was a fond wish come true. That was always the biggie and I rather doubted it would ever happen.

I have toyed with various line-up possibilities in my mind over the years, but I won't embarrass anyone by robert wyattbeing specific here.

So many great cover bands have already been done at these events, it is somewhat difficult to come up with things that haven't already been done. Some possible cover notions would be the songbooks of Nick Lowe, Lou Reed, Amadou & Mariam, Pete Ham, Robert Wyatt, Peter Green, Caravan, James "Blood" Ulmer, John Cale, Kevin Ayers, Richard Manuel, Graham Parker, Richard Thompson, Martin Carthy, Ray Davies, Tom Verlaine... there are others, but just jotting down these names is daunting.

I imagine I would play guitar. If the situation were right I might dust off a vocal cord or two.
 
ME: What music-related movie do you watch over and over again?

the last waltz, joni mitchell, the band

JG: Probably The Last Waltz, despite the criminal under-utilization of the great Richard Manuel. From the movie, you'd think he was some weirdo sideman that they brought along for comic relief, rather than the integral soulful vocalist/writer he was. So, when I watch I enjoy most of the performances and collaborations, which are great, even though the "live" nature of the movie is compromised by all of the post-production overdubbing that went into it. Then, once it's over, I usually silently curse Robbie Robertson & Martin Scorsese for excluding Manuel. And I peru negro 2008 amoeba instoredo understand that Manuel's lifestyle may have taken its toll by then, maybe he wasn't in peak musical form, but marginalizing him was still wrong.

ME: I think you're right about that. Richard Manuel is the unsung hero of The Band. What has been your favorite instore here at Amoeba SF?

JG: Probably Bobby Previte and Peru Negro.
 
I feel I've gone on too long. So, I thank you for your time.

ME: Thank you for your time!

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