May 12, 2008
Peter Blast: Interview with the “Best of the Worst”
By Victoria Cross of the New York Waste
All the way from the Windy City, veteran Chicago rocker Peter “Best of the Worst” Blast is blowing into the Big Apple town this month (Desmond’s Tavern 6/21 and Otto’s Shrunken Head 6/22) in support of his new album “A Plush Horse… with a Monkey on a String”. The latest collection of bar room rockers and broken hearted ballads finds Mr. Blast settled more comfortably than ever into the Cream, Hendrix and Humble Pie grooves he grew up with, vintage sounds that, like Les Paul guitars and single barrel bourbon, just get better with age. I asked Mr. Blast a few questions prior to his arrival and subsequent destabilization of the city’s liquor and cigarette supplies. Here then in his own words is the rock’n roll gospel according to St. Peter of Chi-town.
How did you get the nickname "the best of the worst"?
‘Cause I am: 110 lbs, taking nothing from no one. For ¾ of my career I was the daredevil, catch me if you can, freewheeling, front man, Peter Blast. I was the front for the best of the worst, the original front man for the original Punk group Degeneration, documented as the first Punk group to perform the fabulous Las Vegas strip, 1978, the down and dirty Blast Factory and junebug. As I started to do solo CDs I had a lot of really great musicians playing the songs I wrote. Well, when I went in to do my solo record, “Explode”, I had all these great musicians lined up to do another record. The engineer mentioned on the side to me that he thought maybe I should play my own rhythms instead of the hired guns because no body was really gonna cop the Peter Blast vibe more than Peter Blast. So it was the end of an era and I came to find, as we were working the songs and the engineer recorded my tracks, that it was the Peter Blast vibe I had always been searching for. Which I guess in turn made me “the best of the worst.”
I’m not a Steve Vai or something like that. I’m skin on bones, raw -- it is what it is. Not to mention, I’m an Italian, a Chicago South-sider, but then again, that would be another story. I’m loud and I’m proud and I ain’t stopping now. Billy Dior of D’Molls aka Billy McCarthy (Author) among others came out to the record release party of the CD “Explode” and told me after the show that “I must have been born with a guitar in my hands.” Maybe I was no silver spoon. But I’ve known Billy for a lifetime so when he said I was the “best of the worst” I think I understood what he meant because for more than half of my career I was the front man that also wrote all the songs but I never thought I was as good as the cats I had playing with me. I still don’t. But there is certainly a vibe that they did not capture and I did. It’s not about the quality of their playing because they’re great, but a feel and a vibe is sometimes more important than note for note. A real band makes mistakes. I do, so I guess I’m the best of the worst.
Even though you’re from Chicago you are pretty tight with the New York Dolls. What's up with that?
The Dolls, back in the `70’s around the same time the “New York Dolls, Live in Texas” Bootleg showed up, were playing around the Midwest. I don’t know if they played Chicago but they did play Hammond, Indiana right over the border. It was the first time I met Johnny Thunders and I found it ridiculously funny that the local kids were helping move their gear. I don’t know if they had roadies or not but I find it hilarious that the same people that would call you a fagot today were the same people that were helping a band that definitely did not fit their culture, embraced them. I think it’s pretty cool and uncool at the same time, but that’s Indiana for ya.
Later after Thunders and Nolan left the Dolls to form The Heartbreakers we met again. This time sitting in on a college interview with Thunders, we smoked a joint and talked about the past Dolls days. Afterward, we hung out several times with different Johnny Thunders line-ups including Johnny and Wayne Kramer (of MC5) with Gang War. Johnny showed up in town with Gang War without a guitar, the Dan Armstrong that he used that night just screamed like a motherfucker. Watching Wayne hold his ears is a moment in itself. I met Wayne again later when he was doing “The Wild Bunch” sponsored by Camel, funny they let me back stage because they thought I was Ronnie Wood, how outlandish is that? Anyway, now it’s 2008, the Dolls have Steve Conte as Johnny’s replacement and we clicked the same as Johnny & myself, I’m pleased to say Steve and I have done a cover recording of Johnny Thunders’ “Dead or Alive” as a tribute to Johnny Thunders for my new CD “A Plush Horse…with a Monkey on a String”. This one’s for You Johnny. Oh and by the way, the new Dolls really kick ass live.
What sort of day gigs have you had?
Oh my, my, my, well I went to school to be a horticulturalist and I designed many landscapes for Hospitals and stuff like that but that doesn’t mean I’m a landscaper, I’m not. I would blueprint a design, manage the outcome, and garden the design I created. I even designed and built butterfly gardens. I still love doing it today when weather permits and if a favor is asked.
So how is the new CD different from your others?
Well “A Plush Horse…with a Monkey on a String” is different just in the fact that I’ve gone into a few unknown territories. Definitely it has its rockers as always but I’ve also wondered off into a little bit of the psychedelic, reminiscent of the late sixties to sounds of the seventies. From the time I had my first release junebug “Ticket to Hell” to the time of my second release “This Side of Shang-hi” a huge change was already upon me. Though the label wanted a second junebug record I was already on to the big next thing. So “This Side of Shang-hi” I released as my first solo CD because the material didn’t fit the world of junebug. The term “crossover” didn’t exist yet, but that was exactly what I was doing. The label’s telling me that ain’t rock and down south they’re telling me this ain’t country. I guess it was crossover. I was mixing different styles together kinda like The Stones “Let it bleed” or a Rod Stewart “Gasoline Alley” meets Johnny Cash with the instrumentation of like a KD Lang.
Then with my second solo release “Explode” I rocked my way into the night and at midnight I’d go back down to my Southside Chicago roots to do some slow Chicago styled blues along with what some may call alternative adult contemporary. In 2006, Poptown Records released the Peter Blast anthology “Pure Organic Junk” which pretty much covered a lot of past ground right up to the present because I included two brand new rockers for “Pure Organic Junk” that were actually recorded for “A Plush Horse…with a Monkey on a String” and I added them onto the new CD as Bonus Tracks.
So now this new up coming CD has a few styles that I haven’t written before or performed. I’ve really had a Blast with this one. It seems that I have a certain signature to my material so as an artist I can venture off more often and experiment with the sounds and vibes that came out on pirate FM radio. It’s definitely Peter Blast like you have and haven’t heard before. I find it funny that everyone today is worried about stealing or borrowing sounds and as I look at the back of the old “Beck-Ola” album, by Jeff Beck, it says, “Today with all the hard competition in the music business, it’s almost impossible to come up with anything totally original. So we haven’t.” And when did that LP come out? It was 1969.
You seem to have two bands: one to record and one to tour. How did that come about?
It’s always been that way. In the past a lot of the cats I recorded with were under contract and not really supposed to be involved with other projects. Some of the guys even used phony names to protect themselves. So in the end it was impossible for them to do any tours, which usually left me pretty fucked. So what do you do? You go find some other cats and they better be really fuckin good. I’m really lucky on both ends of that stick, just when you thought you were screwed, you meet some really great musicians to perform the live dates. And you carry on. I hail my tour group! Spyder Darling, on Gibson Bass, was once with the New York based group The Young and Fabulous until lets say, there were musical differences. He was also with the Road Vultures and in 1996 formed Detox Darlings with the fabulous Jet Set Jenna. I also have another New Yorker, Charles Liss on Guitar, who’s been a New York studio musician for years but has also worked with the likes of Pat Travers, Edgar Winter, Latoya Jackson, and a band that used to open for the David Johansen group but I can’t remember their name for the life of me. And last but not least I’ve got my Chicago drummer Dan Curry who is an ex member of the Rockabilly group Hi-Fi And The Roadburners that were signed to Victory Records. So the “Peter Blast Live Dive Bar Tour” continues on today with a new CD on the way. I really wanted to play live and record with musicians that I had never met before so its really cool that I’ve got this great tour group and had the opportunity to record “A Plush Horse…with a Monkey on a String” with the likes of Steve Conte, guitarist for the New York Dolls, and Brian Wilson’s five string bassist Bob Lizik along with R.P. Michaels on blues piano, Chip Z’Nuff on four string bass and Dan Curry on drums.
Which do you prefer: recording or playing live?
I love both. I really get off on dreaming the songs up, showing them to others, recording them, and then hearing them come back at you out of the speakers. My thoughts blasting back at me with all the parts that I heard in my head is a trip. How can you not love that? And live… is a whole different animal. Controlled chaos, you never know what’s gonna happen next. It’s always fun to play the songs a little different as well. Not a different format just a little different to keep it interesting. I don’t wanna go see a band that plays the CD just like the CD. I could have saved money and listed to it in perfect form at home. I’m an entertainer so let’s have some entertainment and I don’t mean the light show. I mean a real rock show.
You’ve got some crazy titles on the new CD. Where does “Plush Horse” come from and what the heck is a “Chinese Dragonfly”?
Yeah, there’s a lot of “read between the line” titles. I guess the title of the new CD in itself is a little strange “A Plush Horse…with a Monkey on a String” is well, like, a Plush Horse could be a cute cuddly stuffed animal made of the finest fabric but then again a Plush Horse could be a man who is luxurious, a horse of another color with great strength and power which would enable him to have control over others who are a little farther down the food chain per say like the Monkey on a String. Then in turn, the Monkey becomes a Plush Horse who pushes around someone smaller than him. So in the end everybody is a Plush Horse and everybody is a Monkey on a String. We all answer to somebody. We all have to serve somebody. In answer to the second half of your question I have to laugh. I’m sure there is a Chinese Dragonfly or two because there’s so many different species but this Chinese Dragonfly is a guy flying and buzzing around out in the yard getting all Chinese Eyed, in hence… a Chinese Dragonfly.
Ever think about hanging up the Gibson and going back to designing & gardening?
Yeah right, when the rainbows come before the rain. No, I’m only kidding. I love doing my thing out in the yard. A lot of good time spent dreaming up lyrics and song structures but my dad always said I must have got a little gypsy blood in me somewhere along the line because I do get bored being at home too long and after spending so much time in studios and recording, ya gotta take it to the street. Ya gotta take the show back out on the road. So now my tour family and I are getting back together to do a string of shows this summer from the mid-west to the east coast. Since the New York Waste is on the east coast and I’m looking at my itinerary, I can tell ya that I’ll be back in New York headlining at Desmond’s Tavern on Park Avenue on Saturday, June 21st and performing at Otto’s Shrunken Head & Tikki Bar on Sunday, June 22nd.
Do you have any advice for a kid crazy enough to start a band these days?
Well that would be a whole other interview. I could say practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent so watch how you go about doing things and remember that in most cases it’s a labor of love. Far and few between survive to collect their due credit. If you’re only in it for the money, either you’ll end up rich quick or slowly slip away off to the mental ward. Trust no one and watch your back and for God’s sake have a great lawyer, preferably one that doesn’t work for the label you’re with. Remember, he’s their lawyer first. It’s OK to be a big fish in a little pond or a little fish in the big pond, either one means at least you’re in the game and obviously both are better than being a fish out of water. The most important thing of all is to have fun and live to tell about it.
Finally, since man doesn’t live by sex, drugs and rock’n roll alone, who’s got the best pizza, New York or Chicago?
Ya know, you’re kinda mean, putting me on the spot like this. OK then, I love Chicago Pizza, I mean come on, I’m from Chicago! Everyone told me for years how different New York pizza was. So it’s great hanging out in New York to find out for myself. New York has great fuckin pizza and why wouldn’t it? The Italians had to go through New York to get to Chicago so in the end it’s really not that much of a difference. People act like one is better than the other; I think it’s kinda silly. Most Pizzerias are in competition with each other, for one may have a little sweeter sauce than another but still have the same basic ingredients. Sometimes it’s thinner or thicker crusts, but basically I hail New York and Chicago Pizza and for sure California and New Mexico may have the worst. I remember taking a bite out of a pie in California thirty years ago and instantly spitting it out and chucking that pizza right into a garbage can... If they only knew what they were missing, I know I’m missing Chicago and New York when I’m thinking about pizza. Don’t get me wrong, and don’t go getting your feathers ruffled because I love that bright orange sunshine of the west coast. She’s a rainbow… yes… but not a pizza.
For music and more info on the “Best of the Worst” blast over to:
www.peterblast.com and www.poptownrecords.com