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Nashville-based singer, songwriter and guitarist Dave Perkins is best-known as one of the talented musicians behind the critically-acclaimed 1990s alt-rock band Chagall Guevara. That band’s lone 1991 album has become the stuff of legend and earned all those involved in its creation status as “cult favorites.” Perkins had better than a decade of experience in the trenches under his belt before helping form Chagall Guevara, however, beginning his career as a blues musician and solo artist, and later making a living as a guitar-for-hire for such a diverse range of artists as outlaw country legends Guy Clark and Jerry Jeff Walker, bluegrass great Vassar Clements, and pop chart-topper Carole King. After a prolonged hiatus, Perkins has returned to music and released his first solo effort in nearly 25 years with the blues-rock barn-burner Pistol City Holiness.
The acclaimed album was a labor of love for Perkins, a fact that has struck a chord with every listener that has heard Pistol City Holiness. Recording the album was no snap judgment for Perkins, but rather an effort that began over a decade ago. Dave Perkins’ Pistol City Holiness “What had happened at that time,” says Perkins of the creation of Pistol City Holiness, “was that I was going through one of those times that you're sick of the music business. It was one of those things where I was tired of record companies figuring new and old recycled ways to not make good on a lot of hard work and good ideas. It was just frustration with the business, and I had decided that I was going to take a couple of courses at Vanderbilt Divinity School” (in Nashville). “I started doing that and I really got into it,” he remembers. “I got into it so much that I thought, 'wow, this is going to be my life from now on, I'm going to do religious studies.'
So the idea came that I was going to do one more music project, and I'm going to do the kind of music that I came in doing,” says Perkins, referring to the album’s blues-rock sound. “That was the genesis of that project. It sounds a little terminal, but it was actually a joyful place to get, to shake off years of industry-mindedness and say 'I'm going to make a record of the stuff that I love the best and I'm going to do it with the people I love making music with’,” he remembers. In The Studio “We started the project, and we got a few tracks recorded,” Perkins says, “and we had started to play live. Richard, the bass player at that point in time, was living with Lucinda Williams, and was in her band when Lucinda's record Car Wheels On A Gravel Road just began to take off. He said 'we're going to run out and do this tour for four weeks, then we'll be back'...well, he didn't come back for almost two years. That was kind of the end of the band mentality for that moment. I ended up finishing a Master's Degree and got offered a fellowship at Vanderbilt to come back and do a doctoral, a PHD.” Sadly, fate would intervene in the recording of the album. “I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma,” Perkins remembers. “That started a hellacious year of surgeries, and treatments, and I'm grateful to be able to say that I'm now doing very well. In the course of going through all that stuff, I went back to music-making heart and soul, that's all I wanted to think about. Slinging that guitar and writing songs, reading about music, listening to music, and watching music DVDs, so for months while I was in treatment...
I wasn’t good for much else…my head got back into music-making.” Preparing For The Worst “For a while there we were not sure what was going to happen for me,” says Perkins, “so I began the process of getting my house in order, so to speak. Getting all of my music, all of my masters, consolidated and localized so that my wife would know where everything was. In the course of doing that, I re-discovered the tracks that became the basis for Pistol City Holiness. I got inspired when I heard those tracks, so I finished the recording on those, and then wrote the other half of the record and recorded that while I was undergoing treatment. Some days all I could work was literally 20 minutes a day, but I spent months working on it and finished it up.” Fortune would end up smiling on the beleaguered bluesman. “Something wonderful happened,” says Perkins, “my friend Shane Wilson, who is an excellent mix engineer here in Nashville, asked about the blues stuff that I had played him years ago, and I told him that, interestingly enough, I was working on it. He said that he wanted to mix it, so having him come alongside turned it into a community project, and it kept on going. Other people got in on the action and volunteered their musicianship, and art direction, and it became a really beautiful experience for me, and turned out, in a lot of ways, to be the most honest musical project that I've done to date because it taps into my musical DNA like nothing I've done.” Blues Born Of Turmoil “Like all good blues records, it was born out of some pretty intense turmoil,” says Perkins of Pistol City Holiness. “I just let all of that existential angst; I gave it full vent through the music. I chose not to dwell on the particulars too much, but to let the darkness of the times drive the musical spirit in ways...you get these odd moments of freedom when you're living under a death sentence.” The songs on Pistol City Holiness unleash a storm of passion and emotion, each performance backed by a jagged blues-rock soundtrack. “Even though it's an electric record for the most part, I never really had a taste for the country blues,” says Perkins. “Although I was a tremendous blues consumer, it wasn't on that side of things.” Fighting with his illness, Perkins re-discovered the charms of the Delta blues. “That's the stuff that I was listening to, and reading about, and soaking up on DVDs during that whole time of being sick.” “On a spiritual level, I was tapping into the religious blues of people like Son House and Fred McDowell, and even the more superstitious stuff like Robert Johnson...that kind of strange courtship of religion and spirituality.” Much like those early bluesmen, Perkins’ songs came out of a place of tension and conflict. “I see both of those forces and qualities in my life,” he says, “living in tension with theologies and philosophies and worldviews...that stuff became devotional music to me. I found, for me, living in a place of tension, that's the holy place, I think, and that's kind of where the title of the record comes from.” Perkins’ Blues Roots “I grew up in a musical family,” Perkins says. “My mother was a fine singer who won a national voice competition when she was in high school and she received scholarship offers and wound up at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where she met my dad. That's where he was from, my father was a really fine keyboardist; starting at age 16 he played the interlude music at what was then the biggest radio station in Philadelphia. So I grew up in a family of music makers, so I was tuned into music.” “I heard rock 'n' roll and I was a goner,” he remembers, “it caught my rebellious spirit. One of the big turning points for me...I had become a real folk music consumer. In 1965, I bought an Elektra compilation called Folk Songs '65 and I was totally unprepared for cut one, side two, which was the Paul Butterfield Blues Band playing "Born In Chicago." I heard that harmonica...that was probably the most life-changing moment, musically, that I can recall.” “There was something about the sound, something about the spirit of the music, and something about the sound of that harmonica,” says Perkins. “I make no bones about it, as a guitar player, the thing that I've chased all my life is not another guitar player, but Paul Butterfield's playing. I wanted to play guitar and make it sound and feel like that harmonica. What was cool, later on, when I lived in Woodstock I became friends with Butter and opened up shows for him, so that was a fulfillment of a magical moment.” With Pistol City Holiness, Perkins has come full circle, and satisfied his need to make honest, sincere, and powerful music. “My first professional sensibilities in music-making were in blues and blues-rock, and that's what I've come back to...but my journey has been wildly diverse, between here and there.” (Phone interview June 17, 2009) Source:
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