Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Jim Basnight Interview, Part 2
We pick-up where part 1 of this interview left off: with a question about The Moberlys.
SPB: Steve Pearson (The Heats) and Jeff Cerar (The Cowboys) were both early members of The Moberlys, did either of them play on any of the recordings? Do you still keep in touch with those guys? I saw that you participated in the Ian Fisher Tribute Concert at the Tractor a while back.
JB: Steve never did, but Jeff played on that Mick Flynn session. I keep in touch with most of those guys and was really happy to be able to contribute to the Ian Fisher Tribute at the Tractor. Ian and I lived together a couple of times during the beginnings of The Moberlys and The Cowboys and have always had fun together singing songs. Steve and I have played a lot of gigs together. He’s always appeared on my gigs and I used to always get up with his bands. We recently played a number of acoustic duo gigs together. I’ve often thought that a spectacular show would be Steve and me on guitar and Jack Hanan from The Cowboys and The Rockinghams on bass doing songs from The Moberlys, The Heats, The Cowboys, The Rangehoods, The Rockinghams and other songs of ours.
SPB: I think you eventually had three different versions of The Moberlys, the first here in Seattle, the second in New York and then a third in L.A., hence the album Seattle–New York–Los Angeles which made writer John M. Borack's list of "The 200 Greatest Power Pop Albums."
JB: The first Seattle line-up I went over pretty well. The NY line-up featured a couple of guys from Seattle, Dave Drewery and Al Bloch (Fastback Kurt’s brother) and a NY guy named Jeremy Bar-Illan. Jeremy was in the band before the Seattle guys and also after both returned to the west coast. He and I have stayed good friends over the years, though I’ve lost track of most of the other guys, except bassist Greg Morongell, whose cousin Mike Morongell and I became really good friends while I was in LA. Greg also sang some back-ups on Pop Top. Jeremy and I played with a rhythm section of NY guys from a band The Locals that I met through Anne Deon. I later was married to Anne in LA for a year and a half. Anne was Alan Vega from Suicide’s girlfriend when I met her and after that David Johansen’s for a lot of the time that I was playing in her band The Cool Tigers. Through her and by bumping around NY I met a lot of musicians and played and/or jammed with a lot of folks, including Alan, Johnny Thunders, The Smithereens, The Fuzztones and many others. I remember Madonna as a girl that used to hang out at Danceteria, a club that I performed at and hung out at on a regular basis. She was in a band called Breakfast Club with the first bass player that I played with in Anne Deon‘s band. I also met Billy Idol through Anne and Vega. I worked in a few record stores in Manhattan and met a number of the early pioneers of hip hop and rap like Grandmaster Flash, Kurtis Blow and Africa Bambatta.
SPB: Recently I've really gotten into The Modernettes (Vancouver B.C. band, circa 1980) and The Moberlys cover my favorite Modernettes' song "Rebel Kind" on Seattle–New York–Los Angeles. Did you ever play any shows with the Modernettes back in the day? If so just how sexy was Mary-Jo Kopechne?
JB: The Modernettes are one of my favorite NW bands ever. I really like Buck and Randy’s songs. Mary was Buck’s girlfriend at the time and I never really looked at her as a sex object, probably for that reason. She was a “hottie” though. I should have named the album Vancouver-NY-LA, because almost all of the songs we recorded in the NW were up there. That band, with Dave Drewery, Toby Kiel and Glenn Oyabe used to play a lot in Vancouver. We were kind of outsiders in Seattle after I moved back there from NYC. We sort of carved out our own niche at the Central Tavern in Pioneer Square in Seattle because none of the main clubs that most of the bigger Seattle bands in the mid-80’s played at would let us work there. We really got the Central going in a direction that later spawned the grunge movement to flourish there in it’s infancy in the later 80’s. We moved to LA and were very prolific there, but never really got a push from the industry, other than recording a few songs with Peter Buck from REM producing for the EMI label. All 8 of the songs that he worked on with us were either released on Pop Top or Seattle-NY-LA. The band became again disappointed by the major labels reaction to our work and started splintering after we fired Drewery and replaced him with Fuzztones drummer Mike Czekaj. Mike and I were prolific writing partners in LA and knew each other in NYC, where I turned him on to The Sonics. He said that it was because of his performing "The Witch" with his band that he met the Fuzztones leader Rudi Protrudi. Mike and I wrote a number of songs that have become staples of my show over the years like “My Vision of You”, “What I Wouldn’t Do”, “Guilty”, “Red Light Moon”, “Love and Hate” “Don’t Wait Up For Me” and “Princess in Rags”.
SPB: After The Moberlys split-up you formed The Rockinghams, which like The Moberlys played a cool blend of punk and power pop but with a lot more distortion. Was that in reaction to the grunge sound that was prevalent in Seattle at the time?
JB: I don’t really believe that to be true. I started playing a Marshall because I finally got my hands on a good one. I did that more to emulate Johnny Thunders and all of the British punk guitarists like Steve Jones, Mick Jones, Captain Sensible and Tony James than any grunge artists. Thunders used to play the Marshall with the Fender Twin and that was what I did a lot of the time in the ‘Hams.
SPB: For the last ten years or so, with The Jim Basnight Thing and now The Jim Basnight Band, you've been playing a more sophisticated, more adult oriented style of pop music although it also has a certain childlike element to it. It's a very idiosyncratic sound but I think I hear bits of The Rolling Stones, Van Morrison and Jonathan Richman. What led you in that direction?
JB: I don’t know why I do the music I do. I really love all of those artists that you compared it to. That is very flattering to be compared with such important artists. I’ve been listening to those artists for a long time. I played “Gloria” at my very first gig. My favorite Jonathan Richman song is “I’m Straight”. The “Johnny Hippie” that he refers to there reminds me of Johnny Thunders. Anything to do with the Beatles or the Stones is both unique and spotless. We were talking on the way to a gig the other day how either of those bands could play any note and it would sound right, especially notes that everyone tells you are wrong.
SPB: You played briefly in Johnny Thunders' band. I assume he was sort of a hero of yours. What was that experience like?
JB: I played with Johnny in the summer of 1982 in NYC. The band consisted of Walter Lure, Billy Rogers, Johnny and I played bass. I guess his bass player was mad about something and I just filled in for a while. It was a meaningful experience to me. We played all of his tunes like “I Love You”, “Chinese Rocks”, “MIA” and “In Cold Blood” and covers like “Seven Day Weekend”, “These Boots” and “Ramblin’ Rose”. It was a blast. I didn’t make any money, but I had an amazing time. I saw Walter Lure when I was back in NYC playing solo a while back and it was really nice to see him still carrying on the torch of that incredible and unstoppable rock and roll band.
SPB: Tell me about Precedent Records. Is all of your music available now on CD?
JB: As a matter of fact we have all 6 of the CD’s available which include over 100 songs. There are also a number of songs that have been recorded but not released. I would say that there is a really fine album that would stand the test of time there amongst those 100 or so tracks. I’ve written about 500 songs and there are also a number of worthy songs that I only have cassette demos of that really have lasting appeal as well. I also have a number of films, videos and DVD’s that I’m in the process of compiling for use in a DVD. I’d like to release the DVD and the best of unreleased stuff as a two CD set.
SPB: Have you always made a living as a musician? Ever worked any day jobs?
JB: I’ve worked a few jobs in LA and NY in the 80’s, the last one in 1986. Since then I have only worked as my own boss. I was an investment broker in the late 80’s and early 90’s in LA. The next job I had other than playing gigs and selling my recordings was co-composing the musical comedy Little Rock. My next departure was booking and concert production in the late 90’s through about 2003. That was only so I could book my band as a side benefit and learn how to produce my own shows better. In mid-2005 I started running a sports site for Yahoo on the internet, which allowed me to travel. I published it and had a staff of writers. I owned the business, or franchise you might say. I just vacated that spot for someone else to run as of August 1st 2008. Having that extra income has allowed me to build up for my future and give me security, but now I feel that I can use the time better to promote my music full time again. It was also a good chance to learn a lot about the internet and web sites, while making money.
SPB: What are you working on now? Writing? Recording?
JB: I’m not writing much other than some songs with the other guys in the band right now. As I’ve mentioned I’ve got a lot of tunes and have written for all of my life. I’ve actually taken a break since I finished Recovery Room, but now that I’ve accomplished some important goals financially, I intend to start work on a whole new direction of writing as well as compile the two Disc set.
SPB: How about playing a show in Seattle? Anything scheduled?
JB: Right now we play once a month in Seattle, though we play about 15 dates or so a month in total. Right now those Seattle area dates are at the Twisted Cork in Bellevue, which is on the main floor of the Hyatt Hotel building. We will be playing much more in the greater Seattle area in the future.