We got a huge response to our call for questions to Rolling Stone senior editor and “Fricke’s Picks” columnist David Fricke, so blame us for the fact that he can’t answer them all — we still need him to write for the magazine and website. Without further ado:
How many hours a day do you generally spend listening to music?
Scott Steuck, Wautoma, WI
I don’t count the hours. There is music around me all the time. That’s all I can say. It may be the radio (as it is right now — a morning show on WKCR in NYC about Charlie Parker, which I listen to religiously with my coffee). It is most often records (vinyl as well as CDs) at my two desks, at home and at RS. I also have a CD Walkman and an iPod for travelling. And I go out to shows as much as time and late-night deadlines permit. Last night, it was the Black Crowes in Central Park, with a killer encore cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well.” I just love music; I try not to be anywhere where there is none.
What was the first piece you were paid for, how much did you get paid and where did it run? When did you realize you could do this full time as a career and have you ever considered doing something else?
Keep up the excellent work,
The first story I was paid for was a review, in 1973, of an album of scathing protest songs (with liberal doses of x-rated language) by folk singer Patrick Sky, entitled “Songs That Made America Famous.” I sent the review, unsolicited, to the local underground weekly in my hometown, Philadelphia, The Drummer. To my surprise, it was published. The check was for $5.00 (that is not a typo). The next piece the paper ran was my review of the first New York Dolls album. That was another $5.00. I never cashed the first check, but kept it as a souvenir — although I lost it awhile later. I used the five bucks for the Dolls review to buy records.
Before I moved to New York, I also worked as a radio DJ (volunteering at a non-commercial station), a publicist (for a great Philly-area club called the Main Point) and for a Philly concert promoter, Midnight Sun. I was determined to make a life in music — writing was the work I came to love best and the one that, in time, where I could make my living. I consider myself very fortunate. As I often tell people who ask me about RS, I don’t always love my job. I always love my work.
Just to get this out of the way, I just wanted to let you know you’re my favorite rock critic of all time. I have always been pleased when I check out the bands on “Fricke’s Picks,” especially Thee Michelle Gun Elephant.
After hearing Gear Blues for the first time, I was amazed with the guitar player, Futoshi Abe. So here’s my question: have you ever heard a guitar player with a more dextrous right wrist than Futoshi Abe? If anyone knows, its you!
Thank you for the kind words. In return, I wish I could tell you more about Futoshi Abe’s “dextrous right wrist.” But when I saw Thee Michelle Gun Elephant at a Cavestomp festival in New York a few years ago, I was too distracted by the band’s total assault — especially their mod-yakuza look — to notice Abe’s wrist, other than it did fab, violent things on his instrument. I play guitar myself, but I’m not that technical.
To answer a question you didn’t ask, my favorite Japanese rock album of all time is Satori by Flower Travellin’ Band, originally released in 1971 by Atlantic in Japan and consisting of one long suite, “Satori,” divided into five parts. (I have a rare US Atlantic promo single with two of the sections.) Flower Travellin’ Band were total Black Sabbath freaks (their 1970 debut, Anywhere, included what is thought to be the first known Sabs cover, “Black Sabbath”), but the guitarist Hideki Ishima was very much his own demon — his lead lines have a curdled-distortion quality, like mad-cat wails, that contrast dramatically with his Tony Iommi, Jr block-fuzz chords. Satori is out in a quality Japanese reissue, and has also turned up in a less-expensive (and not as snazzy) British import version on the Radioactive label.
Do you ever have disagreements with or ill feelings toward Rolling Stone when the magazine chooses to give more attention (cover articles) to pop figures such as Ben Affleck or Jessica Simpson instead of musicians who may not be famous but you believe are worth the readers’ attention?
Thanks for your time,
I was a Rolling Stone subscriber for many years before I started freelancing for the magazine and, ultimately, joining the staff. And I had issues with the cover choices back in the Seventies — what I once called “the Jessica Lange Years.” That was not meant as a stab at a fine actress. But as a reader, I sometimes resented the frequency of movie stars on the cover and in the feature well, when what I wanted was a lot more music.
But I recognized, from jump street, that Rolling Stone was a magazine covering popular culture. Music is a big part of that culture, but not the only part that matters. And covers serve two purposes — they are a mark of arrival for the man, woman or band on it. And they sell the magazine, and by extension, what’s inside. I once wrote a major feature on the jazz great Ornette Coleman, which ran in an issue with Bono on the cover. Someone asked me if it wouldn’t have been more appropriate justice for Ornette, a genuine jazz legend, to be on the cover., I replied that if he had been, the issue would have sold to about a dozen jazz freaks. With Bono on the cover, a few hundred thousand people might pick it up — and discover the music and story of Ornette inside.
Also, you get the culture you ask for. When two million people went out and bought the N’Sync album Celebrity in its first week of release, that was news — and we cover news. You don’t want to know about boy bands or American Idol? Don’t buy the records, don’t watch the show. As for the Boy Band Era (which was nothing new — I once interviewed the Bay City Rollers), I always took solace from Bruce Springsteen’s line in “Rosalita”: “Someday we’ll look back on this and it will all seem funny.” N’Sync is gone. I’m still here, and I’m laughin’.
When you rated Beck’s Sea Change five stars, did you regret that someone else had rated Odelay, considered Beck’s magnum opus by many critics, four stars? Would you have rated Odelay differently?
I gave Beck’s Sea Change five stars because I felt it was his strongest albums of songs. Odelay, to me, is a triumph of concept and bricolage. But as a writer and critic, I am simply trying to convey what I think, how an album hits me and what I’m getting from the songwriter. This is a subjective pursuit, in which you try to be as objective as possible ? a contradiction before you even write the first sentence. It is worth remembering, too, that Beck started out as a folk singer. To me, Sea Change is the truest record he’s ever made ? with melodies and instrumental settings that sent me back to my favorite English-folk records by Nick Drake and Bert Jansch. Odelay may be Beck’s magnum opus, by critical consensus. But Sea Change is the Beck album I go back to most. That’s worth five stars.
I always enjoy your reviews and articles, after reading the Monterey (40th anniversary RS summer of love) article and thinking about the vast differences between what was going on in LA and San Francisco at the time in culture I was curious why the coolest band from LA at the time was not on the bill? The Doors. I think they would have bridged the gap a bit better than the other LA bands. If you have any idea please let me know.
There isn’t much insight I can give as to why the Doors weren’t at Monterey, other than to suggest they didn’t have a very swift booking agent. During Monterey weekend — June 16-18, 1967 — the Doors were on the East Coast. According to The Doors on the Road by the late Greg Shaw (a day-to day chronicle of the band’s gigs), the Doors appeared at the legendary Action House on Long Island on the 16th and 17th. They never actually played on the 17th — Morrison was apparently so tanked he was led offstage as soon as he walked on. According to Shaw, the Doors made up for it on the 18th at Town Hall in Philadelphia with a roaring version of “The End.” The opening act was Nazz — with Todd Rundgren. Alas, I was not there.
What would you consider 50 of your all-time favorite albums that you can’t live without in this lifetime? Thanks for taking the time to hopefully reply back to this email as I’m a big fan of your rock journalism and respect your opinions.
Thanks very much for the generous compliment. It would be impossible for me to pick five, ten or fifty all-time favorite albums. Such a list would change daily. I can tell you one album that I still love as much today as when I first heard it in the late Sixties: the self-titled 1967 debut by the San Francisco band Moby Grape. It is my idea of perfection: five great singers, three dynamite guitar players, thirteen tight songs somehow combining the best of American popular music up to that point (garage rock, acid rock, blues, country, deep soul). I have three copies: including the original “finger” cover (drummer Don Stevenson flipping the bird) and a mono version. And I play that record all the time. It is being reissued on CD and vinyl by Sundazed in October.
One other thing I can tell you: the first five albums I ever bought:
Paul Revere and the Raiders, The Spirit of ’67 (Columbia) They were a commercial pop band from the Pacific Northwest that made their bones on the frat-rock, dance-party scene there in the early 60s. By the time of this album, they were making tight, crackling garage-guitar records flecked with psychedelia. The best “first” choice I could have made.
A boss-jocks compilation put out by the Philly station WFIL. It was twenty tracks of Top Forty hits, which I got because it was two bucks and had both “Pushin’ Too Hard” by the Seeds and “She’s About a Mover” by the Sir Douglas Quintet.
Jefferson Airplane, Surrealistic Pillow (RCA) In mono.
The Rolling Stones, Flowers (London) Also in mono. A made-up record, a random batch of songs thrown together by the Stones’ U.S. label. But it has some cool, then rare gems, such as “Ride On Baby” and the freaked-out Bo Diddley of “Please Go Home.”
Jimi Hendrix Experience — Are You Experienced? (Reprise) — Nuff said.
I still have them all. I still play them.
,I’m 47 and a lifelong music fan. I have been buying records since I was 6, the first being “Paperback Writer”. I started with the Beatles and branched out from there. When you started writing liner notes for various bands I liked I always wondered “Who is this David Fricke guy and what makes him so smart about the music I grew up with and loved?” I always liked The Byrds and was surprised when you were the one writing the liner notes for the CD reissues. I hated having to buy them all over again but I wanted the bonus tracks and was amazed at the David Crosby songs left off of 5th Dimension and Younger Than Yesterday. What is your favorite Crosby Byrds bonus track and why?
That is a good question but a tough one to answer without having my entire Byrds collection at hand (which I don’t right now). I’ll just say that if forced, at knifepoint, to pick a favorite Byrds/song track, it would be “Eight Miles High” — for the atmosphere, the melody, the harmonies and the raga-Coltrane dynamite of Roger McGuinn’s Rickenbacker and Michael Clarke’s underrated drumming. It was a special buzz to hear/see Robyn Hitchcock and his band the Venus 3 play the song at a New York show some time ago, with Peter Buck of R.E.M. doing the McGuinn thing on his own Rickenbacker. One more reason why I love my work.
Do you still have a personal collection of music at this point, or has your collection and what’s at Rolling Stone just blended together over the years?
The Rolling Stone office does not have its own record collection. It did have a library of vinyl LPs, in the previous Fifth Avenue office, but that was liquidated before we moved to the current digs. Fortunately, I was able to save a few gems from dispersal, which now have a good home in my collection. My own library consists mostly of LPs, but with creeping towers of CDs. I also collect vinyl singles and have several cabinets of bootleg cassette tapes, as well as a few 78s, including an original Sun pressing of Johnny Cash’s “Ballad of a Teenage Queen” which I got for a dime at a farmer’s market in Allentown, PA, when I was in college.
A lot of records come to me in the mail. But I buy a lot of music — partly from recommendations I get from friends and colleagues, often from reviews and items I read in other specialist-music magazines and, with dangerous frequency, on impulse. I go to records stores in every city and country I visit, whether on assignment or vacation. I have no idea how many records I have. I don’t count ’em. I play ’em.