Sourdough's Playboy Interview

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Posted by Hugh Hefner on June 23, 2006 at 19:46:18:

Hef: 1) Tell me about your background a bit - educational, musical, professional, political.

Sourdough: I'm a pure-blooded Italian American, my grandfather,
Finau Guerino Piatanesi, is the builder of the first
piano-accordion(Buckwheat Zydeco style) in America.
This took place in San Francisco around about 1914. So
my family always had musical instruments around. I
didn't really get that interested until I saw "The
Benny Goodman Story" on TV when I was about 12 or 13.
The romance of the big band era and the sound of Harry
James' trumpet woke me up to music. Unfortunately,
being a product of the parochial(Catholic) school
system, the music programs were minimal, and my
personal studies of the trumpet, without a marching
band or orchestra to play in, left me pretty deficient
in my abilities. By the time I was in college, I was
totally frustrated with the trumpet, but more obsessed
with all types of jazz. I switched to the saxophone,
inspired by tenor greats like Dexter Gordon, Lockjaw
Davis, John Cotrane, and Michael Brecker. My mentor
was a relative and journalist Gordon Raddue who lived
and worked in the city of Richmond, California. He
wrote liner notes for Concord Jazz records(including
Rosemary Clooney), and took me to concerts where I met
jazz greats like Ray Brown, Teddy Wilson, and Herb
Ellis. I learned a lot of musical theory in college,
but I still couldn't participate in performing the way
I wanted to. To make a long story short, after playing
professionally but frustratingly(because of technical
deficiencies) as a saxophonist, I continually picked
up the guitar, bass, drums, piano, and forced my way
into being able to sing songs that I wrote and
recorded on my 4 track recorder.
After a stint in Junior College band and vocal
ensembles in the 90's, I found my self more
comfortable with putting musical groups together and
performing. A trip to Nashville, and
Memphis(especially) in the late 90's inspired me
towards the sounds of vintage country, blues,
rockabilly, gospel, bluegrass, zydeco and all the
music that crashed together in the town where Martin
Luther King was murdered. Plus my obsession with Elvis
gave a non-black person like me permission to sing
different styles without feeling I was just some kind
of wannabe. This, and a desire to have a
low-production band that could accurately use some of
the vintage sounds captured on those old Sun Records
and take it consistantly to the clubs, really pushed
me into playing the guitar and singing cover tunes
more seriously. This is how "The Sons of Emperor
Norton" were born.

Around the last turn of the century, I became the
saxophonist at "The Resurrection AME Church" in
Richmond CA. Being steeped in this African American
musical and cultural experience gave me even more
tools to make music with deeper roots. All these
experiences led to the creation of bands,
compositions, and recordings, some of which are on
"Putid Minds Anthology" CD.
As a northern Californian, I feel I am fairly
conservative. My Catholic upbringing left me very
rigid about sexuality and substance abuse, and I did
"get it" about treating others as you would like to be
treated. But the full swing of the corporate takeover
of the gov't and the influence of the military
industrial complex, as well as the prison industrial
complex, has pissed me off for years, as well as a lot
of my friends. The dumbing down of the media, and the
complete lack of journalism, outside of independent
media like the Pacifica Network, Air America, Robert
Fisk, etc., just motivated me in an anti-corporate,
anti-fundamentalist, anti-hypocritical direction. I
wish I was more active, but I'm still honing my
musical skills, and booking steady work for my bands.

Hef: 2) Traditional country/rockabilly might to some seem a curious soundtrack for explicit, progressive political messages. Thoughts?

Sourdough: I'm so tired of political songs being in the tired,folky, "wanna-be Bob"(Dylan or Marley) framework.
Some artists do it well, but it's the same problem with th evening news.
When Walter Cronkite says things are
fucked up, everybody listens. If some kid in saggy
pants and a ring in his eyebrow is screaming probing
political thought, a lot of the people who need to
hear this stuff won't. Those artists have their
audience, and that's great. If people buy it, even
Walmart will sell it, and that gets it out there. I
think we need some honest communication in other forms
and styles. My song "Ol' E's Comin' Back" for
example...what if he were here and used his popularity
to help change things? The Beatles did it, so did
Dylan. I just think art, culture, and society are
cycling to a place where the real messages have to
come in forms that aren't so influenced by the
constant flow of low-attention span technology. Plus,
a lot of the forms used for political expression don't
lend themselves very well to humor and/or satire(thank
you Monty Python an second City TV). Also, rockabilly
has become so stale. Even Brian Setzer made a comment
once about how many more songs could he write about
drinking and cars. Shit(shoot)...Carl Perkins, Johnny
Cash, Elvis, and others, in the heart of the
repressive 50's, were singing about subjects that for
the time were highly controversial. Sinatra couldn't
use the "cocaine" lyric in Cole Porter's "I Get a Kick
Out of You". Now, anybody can go on Springer and out
something or a private part, but you can't say the
gov't is destroying our freedom on National TV.

I think overproduction and too much stylization ruins
clear communication. For example, the over-used MTV
camera work...if the subject is boring, move the
camera more so people won't switch channels...but this
technique has made its way into documenteries in a way
that is the equivalent of skimming through a book
rather than reading it. Rockabilly evokes a simplicity
of energy and communication that I think society might
be ready for in these times.

Hef: 3) One critic (I read reprinted on your site) faulted a lack of subtlety in the lyrics. Thoughts?

Sourdough: He confirmed that I succeeded at what I was trying to

Hef: 4) What's your present like - gigs, studio, etc?

We play a lot with "The Sons" and "The Beat Meters".
We play 4 set gigs at a variety of clubs, and do 80%
covers, slipping in originals and political music when
appropriate. I love playing all night for an audience.
We stretch out the solos when the dance floor is
packed and have a great's like a jam band,
but with real songs and not just simple forms and
grooves...definately from my jazz backround and
anaffinity for Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys who
did the same.

We've hardly showcased beause you spend 90% of the
time setting up and 10% of the time sounding like
fertilizer through an ill sounding PA run by inept
wanna-be musician soundmen. There are great soundmen
out there, but they're either in the studio, or at
Carnegie's a thankless job on the indy
circuit. At some point, we need to showcase, but it
would kill the motivation of my players to do it

Hef: 5) Who are you playing with, these days?

My partner in "The Sons of Emperor Norton" is bass
player Scott "Ulysses S. Balzac". We conceived the
idea and name of the band in a famous bar called the
Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City, Nevada sometime in
'98. He does our flyers, and is an avid history buff,
especially as it relates to our bands repertoire.

My main guitarist is blues-meister Gary "Indiana"
Bauman, who loves the guitar styles and gear that
promotes our authentic lineage.

Our main drummer was Paul "Dr. Smithsonian" Shambles,
who has moved out of the country. He built our
website. The good news is that our pal George
"Tecumseh" Smeltz has moved from constant sub, to the
main drummer. His ability and sense of humor are
perfectly suited for the bands future endeavors.

Our horn players are excellent(I should know!). Rob
"Harlan" Evans and Ed "Quicksilver" Randol are both
excellent saxophonists. Jeff Hobbs plays fiddle and
cornet(when he's available).

Female vocalist and bassist Eva Mae Skaggs rounds out
our sound when she's not busy performing in other
ensembles and painting pictures.

Hef: 6) Future plans/activities?

We need to put out a non-political album, especially a
gig demo, but also an official "The Sons of Emperor
Norton" release with originals. The compilation seemed started when the war began in '03.

The reality is that life goes on in our insulated
world. People can still go to a bar and listen to
songs about relationships and partying...maybe because
the bombs aren't dropping here, and not everyone has
lost a friend to the war yet. I'm confident that the
Bush Whitehouse will do everything it can to keep the
corporations giving the Republicans(and Democrats)
funding in order to keep them in control of the worlds
wealth and resources in any way they can, in spite of
what happens to the average citizen of the world.

Hef: 7)There's a saying: 'This will get worse before it
gets better.' As bad as things are politically -
war/PATRIOT ACT/surveillance, etc - things may
indeed get even worse. But do you believe they'll
get better? Ideas on how?

Sourdough: I think Air America is a good sign. Also, political
commentator and talk show host Ed Schultz is a real
middle-American guy, who might get some truth to the
people who are glued to the Fox "News" Channel. But
people have to see the connotations of their
lifestyle. Reject the Walmarts and the seductiveness
of the product driven materialsitic society. If we all
supported independant businessmen and organic farmers,
and didn't buy the crap built by slave labor overseas,
it would change things. It's hard, but so many people
think that acknowledging these problems constitute
treason or "terrorism". As long as the powers that be
have us eating crap and likin' it, we're not going to
get any real nutrition.

Hef: 8)Would you like to meet some of the playmates?

Sourdough: No offense Hef, but I don't want to be linked with the same kind of scene that might be associated with Charlie Sheen, James Caan, or some of the other "scenesters". I've got my own thing happening. It's taken a long time to get it there, and it's pretty fuckin' cool.

Hef: You know, after the first few decades, this stuff can get pretty old.

Sourdough: That's what I'm talking ever watch California's Gold with Huell Howser?

Hef: Can't say that I have.

Sourdough: Dude, you don't know what your missing. A saturday afternoon with some good PBS and a couple of Anchor Steams...tell the bunnies to pick me up a pizza on the way home from the mall.

Hef: I've thoroughly enjoyed this interview.

Sourdough: Back at 'ya, Hughie!

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