people…people who love peeples
Not a coincidence that as I was walking through Washington Square last week on a crisp and sunny blue sky day that I noticed a kid playing a guitar in drop-D and singing with this twang that made me pause for a second and smile. Another kid from the suburbs trying to stand in the spot that Dylan stood, and although he was making sweet sounds, he was surrounded by not one soul, as all the action was across the path with the four old guys playing the Dixieland beats now popularized by Treme and the whole post-flood romance NOLA thing. Later that night I checked my email and Donna who I don’t know sent me a “hi, how are you and would you like to hear the new album by Grant Peeples” message and of course I said yeah because he and I have traded comments a few times here on the site, and I already had one of his songs on my iTunes that hardly ever pops up on shuffle, but it’s always been good to know where it is if I need it. You know what I mean.
Donna is a very good promoter, with excellent follow-through skill sets. She must have hit me up a couple times before I even made it back home to California to send me lyrics, a bio, graphics and just to say hi again and even once more on the day of my arrival to see if the package came. It did, it’s here on the desk and I’ve spinned (old school term) Prior Convictions a few times now. I warned Donna that I don’t usually like to write reviews and probably wouldn’t do it for Grant, but I do like to listen to new music and I’m not working these days and can’t afford to buy stuff like I used to, and I do love getting free stuff in the mail….bla bla bla.
Thing about Peeples is that he’s a much better writer than I could ever be, and it would make more sense if he just wrote his own damn review. He looks like a central casting Southern biker type who would have no problem breaking your neck while putting a bullet into the head of your partner, but if you read his bio (which he wrote himself) or listen to his lyrics, you kind of get that there’s more to this dude than his muscles and ink. He’s fifty-five from Tallahassee and seems to have put a lot of living in those years. He heard Dylan’s songs for the first time when he was, let’s see…I guess fifteen or so, and this is his description of the event:
“After that, everything—I mean every God damned thing—was different. Especially me. That whole sensible linear cosmology I had embraced so naturally was transformed into a metaphoric island hub, where I stood with a thousand roads before me, spoking and forking and forking again into infinite space, challenging and confounding the grasp of my newly hatched imagination. The colors, the textures, the meanings of words were all now immediately subjective. It was revelatory to the point of vertigo. I saw ideas as the mortar mix of my inner identity, the defining components of my soul. Activities, actions, were the bricks this mortar held together, forming walls that separated the good from the bad, truth from lie, redemption from oblivion. I was fifteen years old. And in a word, what I felt was a budding responsibility—the cornerstone of artistic sensibility. But I wasn’t smiling like before.”
I have no clue what the hell he’s saying but I love to read it. And his whole damn bio (go find it on his website) is a rolling Neal Cassady third rail poem. For those of you who are too lazy to do what I tell you to do, the deal goes down like this: he picks up a guitar and starts to write music, Hank Cochran hear’s a song of his about a fat girl and gets him to move to Nashville for a job at a publishing company, he leaves after a year, owns a club a few years later, plays a gig there doing his own stuff with some locals on a quiet Sunday night and shuts the thing down, flat ass broke. Plays some more gigs, keeps writing, does some recording at a studio in Sopchoppy called the Possum Club. In 1995 he moves to a small island off of Nicaragua for reasons I’m not sure of, but he says that it seemed like a good place for him and his Martin to write some songs.
“Unbeknownst to me, I was beginning the longest non-songwriting period of my life. Go figure. But after ten years of…living…I started thinking about songs again, and I opened the case of my guitar. It was ugly in there. The bridge was pulled up, the neck had moved, I could hardly turn the tuners they were so rusty. Too many years of salt air, tropical heat and humidity. I thought the guitar might be ruined but I decided I would take it with me on a trip back to the States to see about getting it fixed.”
There’s more to the story but I’ll fast forward: he started writing and recording, has an EP and three full length albums (before this new one which makes four) you can find on CD Baby or iTunes or better yet you can get from Grant by sending him an email and using his Trust Method: “Tell me which record you want and give me an address to send it to… and that’s what I’ll do. I’ll include an envelope addressed back to me. Once you get the CD you stick a check or some cash in that envelope, put a stamp on it, and send it to me.”
So probably poor Donna is sitting in her office wondering when I’m going to mention this new album called Prior Convictions. I should probably tell you that the last one, Okra and Ecclesiastes, was produced by Gurf Morlix, got some traction at Americana radio, was written up on a bunch of blogspots and places where y’all like to hang out to learn about this type of music. I like the interview he did on Uncommon Music so much, I’ll rip some of it off for here:
Q: Can you give our readers a short bio?
A: I’m a self-described LeftNeck, whose muse is the scrubland of the Florida Panhandle. That land; those people. I wrote a song one time called Liberal With A Gun. That’s pretty much me. I’m a tree hugger that’ll take a swing at you, a vegetarian that watches NASCAR. I lived on an island off the Coast of Nicaragua for eleven years. I grew up on country music, and can’t stand the crap that’s called contemporary country music today.
Q: What’s on your mix tape?
A: Sam Baker, Greg Brown and Mary Gauthier. And Dylan, of course. Lefty Frizzell and Lucinda Williams. Ray Wiley Hubbard. And the latest from Son Volt and Leonard Cohen.
Q: How do you come up with ideas and new songs.
A: I wait and watch and listen and…ignore.
Q: How has your music and style evolved over the years you’ve been performing?
A: I’ve learned to let the song breathe, to sing left and right of the beat, instead of riding it like a hobby horse. I don’t let melody get in the way of phrasing. I finally got that thing about the notes you don’t play being as important as the ones you do. I’ve never quit going back to songs, never look at them as finished, even after they’ve been recorded. I’d give you 10 adjectives for the right verb ANY day. Adjectives are for losers.
Q: Are you a full time musician or do you have a side gig?
A: This is it. But I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be able to hold out.
Q: If you could sit down for an hour and play with any musician who would it be and what would you ask them?
A: That’s easy. Merle Haggard. There’s five things in this business: writing, playing, singing, performing, and taking other people’s material and making it yours. Nobody else has nailed all five like Haggard. I’d ask him to sing “Valentine,” which Willie wrote, but that Haggard sings like Louis Armstrong sings “Wonderful World.” I’d want to hear some Lefty Frizzell stories, too.
Q: Is there anything people listening to your music need to know about you?
A: Yea. I don’t make this shit up.
Prior Convictions is out on May Day, produced again by Gurf and features a Ruthie Foster vocal on “Things Have Changed”, the Dylan song. The original tunes here and the title of the album are tied into a story that only Grant can explain, but it’s based on writings by a guy named Dave Hickey who was a friend of Hugh Roche’s brother Jimmy. Hemmingway, vertigo, Santa Claus, music and poetry are also involved but damn if I understand any of it. All I can tell you is that the album is full of amazing lyrics, great songs and arrangements, Grant’s voice that sounds like a restored ’57 Chevy with glass mufflers, and is infused with as much Bakersfield as it is with Texas and Florida. If you’re on the edge of taking it for a spin, try this one….”Pole Dancing to Gospel Hymns”:
She was a Bastard baby from Alabama,
Mama named her Sugar Kane
Growed-up, become a dancer,
never had to change her name
Hug that pole like a serpent,
run her tongue across her lips
Bend over and squeeze her ankles,
give a wink and squeeze her tips
Then one day she seen the light,
and Sugar become spirit-filled
Faced the paradox of all Believers:
How to serve the Lord and still pay your bills
Now she’s…Pole dancing to Gospel hymns
Rockin in the bosom of Abraham
Pole dancing to Gospel hymns
Rockin in the bosom, of Abraham
Yea. I don’t make this shit up either. Grant Peeples will kick your ass.