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John Doe Finds His Blues

Ex-X singer salutes Elliott Smith, Howlin' Wolf on "Forever"

December 22, 2004 12:00 AM ET

Though known as both a founding member of Los Angeles punk band X and, later, a rootsy solo artist, John Doe's Forever Hasn't Happened Yet, due March 22nd, is his unabashed love letter to the blues.

"Current music like the White Stripes and Black Keys -- the blues-oriented stuff -- it kind of inspired me to channel my energy that way," says Doe. "I'm a huge closet blues fan, from Arthur Crudup to Howlin' Wolf. I think Howlin' Wolf is probably the best ever: the way all the instruments are interplaying, they're like pop songs."

The other source of inspiration for Forever was Doe's new guitar. "It's an old Guild hollowbody electric guitar, a 1959 Aristocrat," he says proudly. "It was given to me by [Beck and Tom Waits guitarist] Mr. Smokey Hormel. He said, 'Here, why don't you mess around with this.' And so I did."

Guests on the record include Hormel, the New Pornographers' Neko Case, Americana godfather Dave Alvin, Grant Lee Buffalo's Grant-Lee Phillips and Throwing Muses' Kristin Hersh -- all former tourmates and friends handpicked by Doe. "That's pretty much the only way I know how to choose guests. The greatest benefit you can have out of this fucking show business life is that sense of community," he says. "I can't really call up Missy Elliott and say, 'Yo, want to come sing a folk song?' Although I would love to sing with Macy Gray. She's the shit."

Doe's sixteen-year-old daughter Veronica Jane also contributed to the album, singing a high harmony to the track "Mama Don't." Despite it being her recording debut, she remained unphased by the process. "I swear, she would just do one run through and say, 'How was that?' And I'd say, 'That was pretty damn good.' And it was done, that quick," explains her father. "She kind of looked around and shrugged her shoulders, like, 'That was no big deal.' Sometimes I'd get a little choked up thinking, 'Oh, there's my kid.'"

Among the other ten tracks is "Ready," a tribute to friends who died young, such as Germs singer Darby Crash, Gun Club singer Jeffrey Lee Pierce and, most recently, Elliott Smith.

"I have a little bit of an older-brother feeling about [Smith] because I got to know him years and years ago when he still lived in Portland," Doe admits. "I always felt kind of protective -- I think everybody did about him. And in the last year, I would hear all this bad shit and try to call him and say, 'You okay?' Of course, he would just pass it off. I mean, you knew it was all fucked up. A sad end -- but he sure talked the talk and walked the walk."

 

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