Jeff Slate is a busy guy these days. Aside from writing about music for various publications (check out his recent interview with Jimmy Page), Slate is also a musician who is playing a Bob Dylan birthday tribute this weekend in New York. He kindly answered a few questions about his thoughts on Dylan, and what people can expect at his Dylan Obscura show Saturday night.
Jeff, for those reading this who are not familiar with your work, can you introduce yourself with a brief summary?
I'm a New York City-based sing-songwriter and music journalist. I've been around for ages -- I founded the mod/punk band the Mindless Thinkers in the 80s and later the band The Badge, who did quite well in Europe and Japan, but especially in the U.K. -- and I've been working solo for about five years now. The Who’s Pete Townshend acted as executive producer on my first solo release, and I even opened for Sheryl Crow. I released a single that featured Earl Slick and Carlos Alomar in 2010, a solo album in 2013 that featured Steve Holley and Laurence Juber from Wings, Gary Van Scyoc and Adam Ippolito from Elephant's Memory (who also backed John Lennon and Yoko Ono), Gene Parsons from The Byrds, and Simon Townshend of The Who, among others. I released another album in 2013, featuring songs inspired by my love of Elvis Costello, and I'm working with Slick, Holley, Juber, Kenney Jones, Ian McLagan and a load of other great people on a new album for release later this year.
I also write for Esquire, Guitar World, Guitarist, TapeOp and even Beatlefan, as well as a host of great publications (I'm also the Rock Culture Examiner) about rock 'n' roll, film, books and culture in general.
Bob Dylan's 73rd birthday is coming up on May 24. Tell us about this weekend's tribute.
I've been doing a show around New York City and New England called Dylan Obscura with guitarist Jimmy McElligott, bassist Rick Mullen, Steve Holley on drums and even sometimes Earl Slick on guitar, that features some of Bob's least known or rarely played songs. We recently played at Joe's Pub on the coldest night of the year, and the show was even simulcast, but the pipes burst in the midst of the third song and the FDNY shut the place down and put us all out in the cold. We've done it since to great success. We'll be playing at Hill Country Live! this Saturday in celebration of Bob's birthday. It's actually a free show, but they're encouraging fans to make reservations. We also hope to have some "very special guests.”
What can people expect when they attend?
The description the club put up is pretty great, but for serious fans I think they might get to hear songs they don't get to hear Bob play that they love and miss. Some are really obscure, but to any fans who know his material really well they should know them all. That said we do also try to play songs that casual fans know, like “Knockin' On Heaven's Door,” for instance, but I'll mix around the lyrics so there are verses from perhaps the Rolling Thunder tour, or whatever, to keep it interesting for everyone.
Is there anything you've learned by covering Dylan songs?
I've learned a lot playing Bob's music. I don't usually play covers, actually, but it's been a real education. It's funny, when I was first getting to know Pete Townshend, he gave me a copy of “Freewheelin’." I was kind of offended and said, "Oh, I have this." But he just looked at me and asked, "But have you ever really listened to it?" It was kind of a challenge. Pete holds Dylan in very high regard, so I took his challenge pretty seriously. Twenty-some years later, by doing these songs myself I've again realized how amazing Bob's songwriting and performing really is. I've also realized that, for all the myth and things people say about how cryptic Bob's songs are, most of them have a great story beneath them and they're actually pretty easy to remember once you get down to it.
- Hill Country Live Presents: Jeff Slate's Dylan Obscura
- Saturday, May 17, 2014, 10:00 pm
- Hill Country NY
- 30 West 26th Street
- New York, N.Y.
- No Cover.
- For dinner reservations, phone 212 255-4544 and ask to be seated on the club level.
Keep up with Bob Dylan Examiner news. Just click on Subscribe above, or follow @DylanExaminer on Twitter. Harold Lepidus also writes the Performing Arts column for Examiner.com. Thanks for your support.