Gearing up to promote his new Command Performance album over a series of UK dates, TAV FALCO shares some thoughts with us on his relationship with Alex Chilton and the formative stage of Panther Burns:
“When Alex and I started to make music, I turned him on to something he’d really never considered, which was blues. It was around in Memphis, but you know, the sort of music can be around you, you’re just not particularly drawn to it; it’s not that Alex didn’t like it, he just hadn’t been drawn to it for any particular reason. And also some of the avant-garde music I was listening to, he got into that and he got into the video tapes we were making, that was another thing that drew him into our interest in the blues. And then Alex turned me onto rock’n’roll. Prior to that I never thought about playing rock’n’roll, I’d wanted to learn a little blues guitar, but didn’t think about doing much with it, I’d done a little bit with blues artists in Memphis, in a folkloristic kind of way, and I’d also studied folklore. And was very much into John Fahey… and the folklore work of John Lomax, and his research and books. John was the real theoretician in Harvard on folklore. Anyway, Alex showed me some simple things in rock’n’roll, I never thought I could play rock’n’roll, to me that required a real musician. For me, blues, you didn’t have to be a musician. You didn’t have to be a musician that knew how to read music or a chord chart, you didn’t have to be a trade musician, is what I’m trying to say. You could do beautiful things. I tried to teach myself music notation, I tried to read it, learn it, I couldn’t do it on my own. And I never got in the position to study music. So when Alex started to turn me onto rock’n’roll, he didn’t read music either, at that time. And Frank Sinatra only knew the intervals, like a lot of jazz people. So I tried to make a couple more stabs at it once Panther Burns started. And thought, well this is gonna hang me up, I wanna play music intuitively and I know I’m gonna be limited in what I can do, but it’s gonna be my work and it’s gonna be more a stamp of who I am. So that’s what I did in Panther Burns, I have had the privilege to work with some trained musicians, and that’s also part of the explosive nature of some of our work. Because, it’s like Marshall McLuhan said, if you get two clichés and you rub ‘em together, you get an explosion. Take a trained musician and you take a musician who is untrained, a musician who plays intuitively, you get something you do not get otherwise, whether all-intuitive aboriginals, or all trained musicians working together.
“So to further that on the first album, Behind The Magnolia Curtain, we had developed musicians in the group; we had Alex, we had Jim Duckworth the jazz player, we had Ron Miller on avant garde jazz bass, a symphony player who knows music very well and studied with some great jazz artists, who knew Pharoah Sanders and all those people. We had them on the sessions and we brought in the Mississippi Fife and Drum Corps, only the drummers, that was Jessie Mae Hemphill on marching snare drum, and she came from a musical family, her father Sid Hemphill was a blues artist in the area. Later she became known as the She Wolf, on guitar, she played drums on that record with two marching snares and one bass drum, and this music has more African retentions than any American music.”
Tav Falco and Panther Burns play Stroud UK Goods Shed Artspace on Tues 9th, Cardiff Moon on Weds 10th, Manchester Ruby Lounge on Thurs 11th, London Oslo on Fri 12th, Edinburgh Mash House Sat 13th, Glasgow Poetry Club on Sun 14th and Middlesborough Westgarth Social on Mon 15th. See the current issue for further conversation with Tav.