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Bad Livers

A Conversation with Danny Barnes (continued)

PM: And for a guy who paid well-earned dues all those years with the Bad Livers, things seem to be going pretty dang good for you right now, don't they?

DB: Yeah, things are going good now. It took a lot of work and a lot of determination. You know what it took was a lot of faith. Because the music business is kind of weird, especially as a freelance thing--when you finish one job, you're out of work. And if you talk to somebody on the street and you ask them, "What's the most uncomfortable thing that you can do?" a lot of them will tell you it's to look for a job.

PM: Yeah, being out of work.

DB: It's one of the most uncomfortable things there is. Just looking for a job can be soul crushing. And in music you have to look for 150 or 200 jobs a year. But the last couple of years have been really good for me.

PM: Because now, these days, you've parlayed some very interesting work with people like Bill Frisell into real steady gigs.

DB: Yes.

PM: Robert Earl Keen, and now doing tons of dates with Tim O'Brien.

DB: I'm just out for a month with Bill.

PM: Oh, really?

DB: Yeah. He won a Grammy this year for Best Contemporary Jazz Album.

PM: Really? What record was that?

DB: I think it was a Hal Wilner produced record. I forget the title at the moment. But it's awesome.

PM: He's an unbelievable artist, that guy.

DB: He's the real thing. It's been really neat kind of studying how he looks at music.

PM: Well, he calls you a mentor, too.

DB: [laughs] Oh! That's kind of weird, right?

PM: That just shocked the hell out of me when I read that. I mean, even for a hard-working guy like yourself, that's got to be pretty mind blowing.

DB: Yeah, that's pretty amazing. I mean, he's really one of the guys.

PM: Big time! I did an interview with him a while back. And I hope in retrospect it didn't piss anybody off, because usually I would edit the hell out of any interview, and take out the linguistic filler that people litter their parlance with. [Like all the "likes."] But in Bill's case, the way that he kind of half steps and stammers his way through a conversation was special to me--there was such a musical pacing to it that I couldn't bear to take any of that out because--

DB: Wow, that's interesting.

PM:--it was important to the rhythm of the conversation.

DB: Yeah, his manner of speech is interesting. Did you ever notice how sometimes the way people play is similar to the way they speak?

PM: That's what I was talking about in the setup, I think. The interview with him was just like that--the way he loops things with his guitar, and then plays them around, and then he plays off that, and then it'll come around again...                 

DB: Sometimes when you play with him...well, some guys just kind of charge ahead. And Bill, sometimes when I've done shows and recordings with him, he sort of waits to see what happens. It's like playing defense. He waits for something to happen, and then he reacts to it.

PM: He's a counter puncher.

DB: But even within a bar, even within a bar of music. [laughs] To me, he sounds like a small orchestra. He sort orchestrates the guitar rather than plays licks on it. It's sort of like little orchestrations of music.

PM: He's the best. Anyway, I hope I didn't piss anybody off when I took that approach with that interview.

DB: Nah.

PM: I've got to get in touch with that group again, because that was such a unique bunch of folks he was working with in Berkeley. [A real class act, to say the very least. Check it out.]

DB: Lee and Phyllis?      

PM: Right. [Lee Townsend and Phyllis Oyama.]

DB: Lee is a good old boy, and a good guy. He produced that record that Bill and I did, The Willies.

PM:The Willies was such an important record for me. I'll go back to "Sittin' On Top of the World" again and again and again. [In fact, I found it on the iPod and put it on as I continued to proof the interview this morning. It's amazing!]

DB: A lot of people mention that song on that record. It's funny, that record, I noticed that none of my people that I ran into said anything about it for about a year after it came out. And then I kept hearing over and over that it seemed to take people a while to catch it or something.

PM: Yeah. It was a very subtle record. What was it like making The Willies record? And what's the hang with Bill like? What's the nature of your hang together?

DB: Well, mainly we just talk about music all the time.

PM: Right.

DB: Other music that we like, and guitars. We talk a lot about guitars and records, and "Listen to this, check this out." Like I'm learning with Bill, that if he ever says "Here, check this out," you got to spend some time with it. Recently he turned me on to that CD, Sonny Rollins, Live at the Village Vanguard. [A Night at the Village Vanguard]

PM: What year is it from?

DB: I'm not sure, because I just got it. I just downloaded it from iTunes, and I didn't get the cover.

PM: I think it's old, like '60s.

DB: It's old, yeah, it's like back in the day. And there's no guitar. There's just sax, bass and drums. No piano.

PM: No piano. [laughs]

DB: And no guitar. And man, I've been listening to it a lot. It's really awesome.

PM: Yeah, talk about the Bad Livers having no guitar, right [laughs] and no piano, either.

DB: Yeah, that record is really awesome. And I think there are some extra tracks, too, they reissued it. Anyhow, mainly Bill and I just talk about music and guitars. [laughs]

PM: I remember in the interview with him, it just came back to me, that once we'd gotten comfortable, he was kind and friendly enough to talk about what he liked on TV, for instance.


PM: I remember we talked about Six Feet Under. That was a fun part of the conversation.

DB: Wow. Last time I was there he had this really cool Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane video that we watched.

PM: Wow.

DB: It was an outdoor concert. It was one of those...not a kinescope, but something like that, where it was very grainy. And you know how Coltrane always wore that blue suit?

PM: Yeah.

DB: And I think on a couple of tours he left and only took that suit and his horn and a half of roll of LifeSavers or something.

PM: [laughs]

DB: And left for Europe.

PM: [laughs]

DB: But like there was something going on where there was just--smoke was coming off of him, like he was really hot and sweaty, and the dew--and it was colder as the evening wore on, and in the lights they were all like smoke was coming off of them, as if they were on fire, kind of. It was a cool video.

PM: The only guy I've ever seen that happen with was with Peter Garrett of Midnight Oil.

DB: Oh, yeah, that guy is amazing.

PM: And I remember seeing him in concert, and there was smoke coming off of his bald head.

DB: How does that work?

PM: I think--well, being shaven of head myself currently, I'll tell you that--and you probably have been in your time as well--when I sweat now, it's so different. Your hair absorbs so much of the sweat. But when you sweat and you're shaven on top it just collects there in a whole different way.

DB: Oh, wow.

PM: And there are properties of temperature and light that come into play. [laughs]

DB: It's got something to do with the temperature dropping, right, and reaching the dew point.

PM: That's a really funny phrase, the dew point. [laughs] I got to remember that.

DB: They looked like they were going to spontaneously combust in this video.

PM: [laughs] So, aside from The Willies, what was the other record with Bill that you made? There was something else.

DB: That record with Wayne Horvitz, Mylab.

PM: Mylab, yeah, with Tucker Martine and them.

DB: Yeah. That record did real well, too. That was on Terminus also. New Yorker picked that as one of the top ten jazz albums of the year that year. [Check it out at www.terminusrecords.com]

PM: Wow. I got to get up with Tucker because he's playing with this artist that I want to interview named Laura Veirs.

DB: Yeah, I know Laura. I'm on a couple of her records.

PM: Ah. That's some trippy music she's doing.

DB: Yeah, she's the real thing. continue

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