Musician, May 1994

The Guitar Virtuoso Meets the Producer Who Lays on The Ground

by Fred Schruers

Page 4

JONES:  I meant the contest you went to.  I didn't want you to go there.

JONES:  Leo had a big trombone contest he'd been practicing for.

KOTTKE:  Oh, boy.  Yeah.  In Oklahoma, they have the state festivals.  You rehearse with a piano player and your teacher selects the music.  The last year, which coincided with this guitar, my teacher told me to play "Down Home on the Farm" at this festival. And it was the lamest, most contemptible piece of stuff.  I can't begin to exaggerate how goofy this thing sounded.  There's an academy form to those things.  You play the melody in quarter notes, then it repeats in eighth notes, and then, hold your breath, it repeats a third time in 16th notes, then in 64ths, cadenza, and you're done.  So it repeats three times.  I went on the stage and I said, "I'm going to play Down Home on the Farm."  Guffaws-- the judges laughed, and I knew I was in for it.  I picked up the trombone and I played the melody.  Now they really laughed.  It was the lamest. And all of a sudden they knew this was going to repeat a little faster.  And every time, they laugh louder.  It was God awful.  And that was really it.

MUSICIAN:  The Great Big Boy record has such an emphasis on lyrics, after so many instrumentals over your career.

KOTTKE:  It started with a tune called "Jack Gets Up" off My Father's Face.  I realized that I didn't have to stick to the AB/AB format, bridge and the repeat and all.  I could be looser if I wanted to.  I took bigger chances.  I admitted more to myself and about myself than I would normally.

MUSICIAN:  The humor takes off the curse of being self-revealing.

JONES:   People may be very curious about you.  I'm thinking of "Pepe Hush."  For me that song was about a person about to commit a crime, and he had checked -- I had this whole scenario -- into a motel and was going to get up really early to go commit a crime and the dog kept waking him up.  Finally I realized it was just about you sleeping next door to a dog that was barking.  But initially I had thought, "Wow, he's writing about a guy who is going to break somebody's arm and throw the dog out into the yard.  What an interesting person."  

MUSICIAN:  Rickie, you have said you heard Great Big Boy and abruptly regained an enthusiasm you 'd lost for songwriting.

KOTTKE:  Did you say that?

JONES:  Well, I go through long periods without writing anyway.   It was just one of those, a couple of years had gone by.  No direction had shown itself to me.

MUSICIAN:  And you were reminded of what a songwriter does?

JONES:  Yeah.

MUSICIAN:  Then did stuff start to issue forth pretty quickly?

JONES:   Exactly what kind of stuff are you referring to?

MUSICIAN:  Ummm, ah...

JONES:   Well, we've made a sexual innuendo.  Are you going to print that?

MUSICIAN:   If there're no objections raised in the next 30 seconds it's going in.

JONES:   Will you write down that you were blushing really badly after you said that?

MUSICIAN:  When you sat down to write did you feel almost too influenced by Leo's songs?

JONES:  No.  But I think I did keep them compact like his songs were.   I liked that they were three minutes, four minutes.  That they made the point and left.   So I think that, um, leaked out a little bit.  Once of the first ones was "The Altar Boy."  I know it doesn't sound anything like Leo, but I was heavily influenced by my feelings about Leo and to make a little compact statement that would impress him.

KOTTKE:  There's a line in that song about licorice seeds.  It just goes "Bing!"   Every time I hear that.

JONES:  Thank you.

KOTTKE:  And the way the piece closes on the guitar, when Rickie resolves it.  I attach a lot of that kind of thing to what you must have heard from your dad when he was playing.  Rickie's harmony is really good.  It's real satisfying and very surprising.  Yet on something like the resolve to "The Altar Boy," it's the way it should have happened.  It's very, very satisfying.  But you never expect it.  And I love that.  It's not like one, four, five or a three minor thrown in or something.   It's a real mobile harmony. There's a thing called voice leading, where the voice within a given chord leads it.  In other words, if you're going up a scale, and you are structuring it as a major sixth, with that harmony each chord is essentially the same.  It's as if that's what was going on, but it's not that. You get a combination of the tremendous kind of security that you get from voice leading, which is standard in jazz so that everybody can think together. But you're doing something different, which is really surprising.  So you get both at the same time.

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