|"DEFYING GRAVITY" - JON POUSETTE-DART / JIM CHAPDELAINE INTERVIEW
JPD with 1959 Stratocaster
Intro: During the 1970’s, The Pousette-Dart Band was one of America’s busiest touring groups, working with such acts as The Byrds, Bonnie Raitt, Little Feat, Billy Joel, James Taylor, The J. Geils Band, Peter Frampton and many others. Led by singer, songwriter, arranger and guitarist Jon Pousette-Dart, son of the world renowned artist Richard Pousette Dart, the group recorded four excellent albums for Capitol Records before a change in the music industry resulted in the group’s breakup.
Since then, Jon has worked as a solo artist, collaborating for the past 10 years with guitarist / producer Jim Chapdelaine, perhaps best known for his work with Big Al Anderson and Phoebe Snow. Together they have produced Jon’s new album, Anti-Gravity (officially set for release April 5, 2011), a melodic, cohesive collection of tunes which will no doubt satisfy longtime followers while attracting new fans.
TG: Jon, Congrats on the new album “Anti-Gravity,” which is your fourth solo release…how did this one come about?
JPD: The previous record that Jim and I had worked on, “Heart and Soul” was a record that was kind of from all over the place, where I put no restraints on style, and it covered all kind of territory. Because of that, I wanted this record to have a really tightly focused sound, where everything fit together as a cohesive body of material.
TG: For the past 10 years or so, you’ve had a musical partnership with Jim Chapdelaine. How did that come about and how has it developed over the years?
JPD: I first became aware of Jim many years ago…I was at an event that a friend of ours was having, and he was playing and I just really, really loved his playing... I did a lot of session work in New York with all the guys that are staples of the industry, guys that can play everything stylistically who are monster players, but none of them hit me like Jim did. He just had a sense of the kind of stuff I absolutely love. He was channeling the feels that I really liked, some Clarence White, some Reggie Young, stuff that was very dear to my heart… So we contacted each other and said “Hey, let’s think about doing something together,” and we just really hit it off. That was around the time “Heart and Soul” came out, and we got together initially to do some production on that.
JC: I had opened for Jon when the original Pousette-Dart band was at the height of their popularity and even before that, when I was working the only “real job” that I ever had at the Harvard Coop, Jon would come in from time to time and we’d talk music.
JC with 1963 Gretsch
TG: Jim, a lot of folks know you from your part in Big Al Anderson’s band, can you tell us a bit about some of the other people you’ve played with?
JC: As of late I’ve been mostly a studio guy, and I also have been writing a lot for TV. Lately I’ve worked with Phoebe Snow, Big Al and Jon. I also had my own band “Feathermerchants” that played quite a bit. Going way back, I’ve played with a gazillion people ranging from Fountains of Wayne, Delbert McClinton, did a little tour with Mike Love and Jan and Dean, which made me realize that I don’t really wanna tour.
Lately I’ve been doing a lot of work as both a producer and mixer, working on projects that include Rusted Root, the Wailin’ Jennys, Ed Kowalczyk from Live, Leigh Nash from Sixpence None the Richer, and Dave Mason.
TG: You two are doing some actual jamming these days onstage…How do guys figure out who plays what?
JPD: The good part about that is we don’t. One of the reasons we work so well together is this unspoken understanding, sonically, musically and spiritually. We know where each other’s space is and we really don’t have to discuss much of anything, it just happens organically and it’s never the same one night to the next. I have a body of sounds that I’ve articulated including the things I’m doing with slide and I stay within that area, and Jim is really amazing at finding where that area is not, the counterpoint, and creates textures around that.
JC: Jon has a signature slide sound, he can play two notes and you know who it is… a hard thing to come by but the sign of a great player. It’s not the guy who sat in his bedroom and learned every guitar players licks, but the guy who can play a few notes and be instantly recognized. As a result, this is the only band I’ve ever played in where I DIDN’T play slide, cause I don’t want to get in the way of that. It’s almost as simple as – if he goes high, I go low, if he goes low, I go high (laughs).
JPD: We were doing this last night, it’s almost like we can keep two solos going simultaneously, like it’s a conversation…
JC: And as that conversation takes place, it gradually morphs into “oh, I’m playing chords now and he’s soloing”. It came together gradually but people are responding to it. I’m not saying we’re gonna be the next Grateful Dead.
JPD: All of these happen within the context of a short song, we don’t do extended jams. They are built off songs which have very finite structures, but we’re trying to find the place that can open each song up.
TG: Who else is in the latest incarnation of the PDB and why were they chosen?
JPD: Eric Parker on drums, who was one of the latter drummers in the original PDB. And Paul Socolow (bass) I’d known since my Boston days, and he was roommates with my original bass player, John Troy. He’s not only a great technical player but a very musical player, like Joey Spampinato. So when I started thinking about putting another band together, these guys were my first calls.
JC: And although Paul has played with everyone from Gato Barbieri to Mike Stern to most of the top Brazilian artists, he knows what is appropriate for this music. Everybody in this group plays for the song, and nobody overplays.
JPD: There is a cognizance of “the song” in this group. In the North, it’s typically about the feel and style but in Nashville, the song is the root. Even though I’m from the North, I can totally relate to that. I worship the song, and so do the guys in this band.
TG: I notice on the cover you have some cool old instruments, can you tell us about them?
JPD: Well, that red strat is my 1959 Stratocaster, I bought that from “We Buy Guitars” in NYC in 1977, and the National was given to me by a friend of ours in St. Croix. We were staying with an old friend Dave Filler who worked down there as a cook, and he told me “I have an old steel guitar hanging on the wall back home in Philadelphia, it’s been sitting there for 20 years, do you want it?” and I said “Yeah”. So the next time he went back home, he picked it up and drove it up to me in New Jersey. It’s a 1936 National Style O. The other Strat on the cover is a ‘59, I bought from Manny’s in 1974, and it was so worn down from the previous owner that the side of the neck was actually scalloped…he had played the absoIute shit out of the guitar, so had to build the neck back up with wood, and then I work that out and had to put another neck on it. At the time I knew a guy who refinished cars, and he taught me how to refinish the body, which I did myself. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life! It’s a great sounding guitar that has had every pickup known to man on it. I finally wound up with TV a TV Jones on the bridge and DiMarzio’s center and neck. I’m a big fan TV Jones stuff…
JPD with 1875 Martin
TG: Do you consider yourself a collector of vintage instruments, be it accidental or consciously planned out?
JPD: I was more concerned with vintage instruments years ago than I am now, but I do love older instruments. The oldest guitar I own is an 1875 Martin parlor guitar, made in NYC (see pic). It’s a great instrument and the neck is still perfectly straight. I have recently pursued a few old guitars, one being a 195* Gibson CF-100, and I found one just like Jim has, but the price evaluation of vintage instruments has gotten so stupid that it kind of turned me off from it. It’s gotten beyond the point of making any sense to me. When I was younger, you could get a hold of nice old instruments for a good price but not any more.
JC: I have a 1964 L Series Strat, and really like that era guitar. When I was in Nashville with Big Al (Anderson) recently, I went to Gruhn’s Upstairs, where all the good stuff is. I was telling him that I’ve been using mine for slide only for years, and thought that’s pretty disrespectful, maybe I should set it up for regular playing, and he said “I just got one in this morning” and handed it to me. I started playing it, and thought “this is great, how much is it” and he said “Seventeen and it's yours,” so I said “I’ll take it.” And as he was walking away to ring it up, I said to Al “Wow, Al, seventeen, that’s great” and Al said to me “Hey Asshole, it’s SEVENTEEN THOUSAND!”
It’s funny, because my Sadowskys, which I bought to replace my Strats, are now considered vintage. And the new kids coming up like ‘70’s Strats and Teles….so it goes on.
TG: Jon, your first pro gig was at age 13, playing with Soupy Sales TV…How did that gig come about?
JPD: Back in ’65-’66, I actually played with Soupy's sons, Hunt and Tony, on “To Tell the Truth” with Steve Allen, and then we did a series of “Hullabaloos” with The Rascals, The We Five, Lesley Gore, Barry and the Remains, Jerry Lewis, Peter & Gordon and The Cyrkle who had a hit with Paul Simon’s “Red Rubber Ball.” Although I was a guitar player, they needed a bass player so I just instantly became a bass player (laughs). Back in those days, they’d bring in all the bands together and do multiple segments at one time, so you’d get into the studio and all the bands would be there. As “Tony and The Tigers”, we did some road dates with The Animals and Soupy Sales, and Murray the K. I spent a lot of time with Soupy, Hunt and Tony as a kid because when we were playing, I’d have to leave school and stay with them.
TG: Do you remember your first guitar and amp setup, and what was it?
JPD: My first guitar was a black Silvertone, like a lot of kids back then. My Dad, who was a ham radio operator, found a ‘50’s no cutaway ES-125 for me, which was my second guitar. When I was playing bass, I had an old Framus bass and a Gibson EB3 bass, going through a Vox bass amp, which was really cool. One of the coolest setups I had was a 1965 Deluxe Reverb and a Gretsch Tennessean. We also found a Fender Jaguar which I had for awhile, and that wasn’t a terribly good guitar. My father and I painted it during the whole psychedelic era.
JC: And having Jon’s father paint it was a bit different was a little different than having my father paint it (laughs)… My first guitar that I ever had was a ‘60’s Guild F120 which I still have, and use on just about every record I work on to this day. I have it Nashville tuned, so it doesn’t hog up space on a recording.
TG: Jon, how did coming from a family of artists, and being the son of the world renowned abstract expressionist Richard Pousette-Dart, influence your creativity?
JPD: You know, I think our generation of fathers had a lot in common. The men went to work and the mom’s stayed home and raised the kids. He was very much in his own world painting, but he was exactly like the guys who go to work and come home every night. He was around all the time painting, but he was totally in his own world. I could walk in and enter it, but he was totally involved in what he was doing. I was completely left to my own devices and took to music because I didn’t really like the art world very much. There was a pretense and intellectual aspect to it that I didn’t care for. I love my father’s work as he was intensely passionate about the process of creation and it totally absorbed his entire universe. His work clearly shows that. The art world to me is now something I am committed to, to further his work and because my entire family including my son is involved in it. In my life, I was more concerned with the guy on the street… the working class guy, and music was a way to immediately reach people without any pretense whatsoever. My sister was five years older than me, and she’d bring back these records and I’d say “THAT’S what’s for me.” I’d just play those records and start learning the licks off of them.
TG: By the mid 70’s you had landed a deal with Capitol Records. In some ways, that seemed to be the heyday for the record business, which imploded shortly afterwards. Looking back on those times, what was that period like?
JPD: We signed with Capitol in ’75, and it imploded by the ‘80’s. The great thing you can say about the ‘70’s era is that it was like the Wild West. The labels were not keeping track of how much money they were spending…it was a great time to be in a band. We were on a 5 record deal, and I would go out to the rent a car places in Hollywood and Vine, and charge Trans Ams to the record company, stay at any hotels we wanted, and they wouldn’t even ask who I was signing for. I’d call up and say “I want an Otari (tape machine), some mics and equipment” and a truck would drive up and deliver this to me. No one from the labels were watching the bottom line, including us…we were spending money hand over fist. We would go do a record and be thinking about where were going to eat dinner that night and ordering cases of Cristal, it was just nutty. And it just had to implode, because it was stupid. You had Fleetwood Mac turning in “Tusk” for over a million dollars, and then shortly after, The Knack turned in “My Sharona” for ten thousand dollars, and that was really the beginning of the end. After that, Capitol said “everybody’s gone” and that period was on its way out.
JC with 1960 Gibson J50
TG: Jim, as a producer and a player, what do you look for in an instrument, and how do you slot a guitar to a particular song?
JC: It depends if it’s my music or somebody else’s…if I’m acting as a producer, I will do flat top demos with the artist for every song, and then we listen to it together rather than just playing it. We can listen to the demo and stop and start it without them having to re-think playing it. It takes them out of their own head for awhile. As we’re listening, I’ll make a little menu of notes saying “this should be the center of the song and let’s make this part conversational.” If you listen to the song, it usually tells you what it needs, like “I need some top end in this part of the song, how can we get it in without repeating a pattern?” I don’t want to be one of those guys who has “a sound”…the sound I want to have is “good.”
As a producer, you need to help with the direction, and listen to the song and see what it wants. You could do it grindcore, or you could do it EMO-pop…the artist usually has a direction already, and I just try to help them articulate that.
I never would think “I can’t wait to fit that ‘60’s Firebird in” (picks up ’66 nonreverse Firebird). Eventually it will find its way in, as this Firebird did in the song “Anti-Gravity,” which required some crunch under the signature lick…not Les Paul into a Marshall crunch but more of a Firebird into a Vox with a little bit of hair on it. We had been struggling with making that lick work, and that seemed to anchor it. It’s really all about finding little things that are going to sit in the mix without screaming “look at me, look at me,” unless you want a “look at me” moment.
TG: Jon, when is the new album “Anti-Gravity” officially coming out and will you be touring behind it?
JPD: It’s officially going out to radio on April 6th, and we’re shipping it combined with “The Best of” album as well, and I think it’s going to open up some doors. We are going to tour as heavily as we can. I have management and a press organization but we’re functioning now without an official agency. We are relaunching our website (www.pousette-dart.com) so we’ll have a much bigger web presence. One of the hardest things to find these days is good, legitimate agencies…the whole infrastructure of the industry has changed so much, and all of the good old school guys that were so effective and so good have all retired.
JC: And despite this, most of the places we are playing are selling out! Who knew we could still do that? It’s very cool that it is happening and Jon’s manager John Condon is doing an amazing job with the bookings.
JPD: Yes, my management is doing the booking vs. an actual agency, so we don’t have a tour of the United States lined up, but touring is happening with the dates as they come in.
I’m really excited about this group, and am looking forward to having people come out and see this band live.
NOTE: A condensed version of this interview can be found in Vintage Guitar magazine, October 2011.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: For the past dozen years, Tom Guerra has East Coast power trio Mambo Sons. For more information, visit www.MamboSons.com