Posts Tagged With: David Menconi

More from the supporting cast: Bob Ricker

BobRickerWhen I was interviewing folks for “Losering” a few years back, one of the people I tried but failed to track down was pedal steel player Bob Ricker, who did some stellar work on Whiskeytown’s full-length debut Faithless Street (in fact, I wrote that he was that album’s “unsung hero”). He’d been gone from Raleigh for more than a decade by then, and I asked around; but nobody I queried seemed to know where to reach him, so I had to move on.

Fortuitously, however, I heard from Bob recently after he read the book, and we chatted a bit about the old days. Now 57, Bob has been in Nashville since 2000, working as a telecommunications consultant when he isn’t playing and producing music. But the early ’90s found Bob living in Raleigh while working in Nortel’s Research Triangle Park plant by day, and playing pedal steel guitar around town by night.

At a bookstore in Raleigh one evening, Bob met local musician Jeff Hart — the same Jeff Hart who was ringleader of the 1995 show where I first interviewed Ryan Adams, as recounted in the “Losering” preface — who introduced him to some key people in the scene. Bob played a few shows with the earliest version of Chip Robinson’s Backsliders before falling in with Whiskeytown in 1995, one of a series of pedal-steel players who passed through the lineup as Ryan Adams tried to countrify the sound. Although he was nearly 20 years older than the rest of Whiskeytown, Bob fit in well enough.

“I think the thing that made Whiskeytown work as a band was that it had some pretty intelligent people,” Bob says now. “They’d catch on quick about sharing lead parts, what worked, what didn’t and accepting things that would make it work. And of course, Ryan was just full of songs, which is why he made it where a lot of others didn’t. Some of the parts on [Faithless Street] are just so original, they get to people. I was impressed with Caitlin, too, but most of all Phil. He really made a lot of stuff happen in the studio, and I was impressed at what he came up with at such a young age. There were parts I’d recognize from classic country that I was sure he’d never actually heard, and also some Beatle-ish stuff. That really helped make the whole picture.”

RickerSetlistBob also remembers Ryan coming out to his house to work on songs, and his wife’s reaction when he told her “this kid had it” — “Are you kidding?” But her skepticism ended as soon as she heard them playing together. Bob actually has tapes of some of what they worked on, which I would dearly love to hear. Someday, I hope!

Alas, Bob’s job at Nortel involved enough out-of-town travel that he had difficulty being around for Whiskeytown’s gigs. After the Faithless Street sessions, he stayed through the fall of 1995 (he was onstage at that October’s infamous Berkeley Cafe show where Ryan and Phil teamed up to destroy Ryan’s guitar), but had to bow out before the early-1996 release of Faithless Street. He recently found an old circa-1995 setlist from a Whiskeytown show at the Brewery in a road case, which is on the left. Going on two decades later, he still gets asked about Ryan with some frequency.

“At the time we first met he was still more punkish, but he seemed to want to be more country,” Bob says. “He was always really polite — with me, anyway. We’d work on things and he was like a sponge, taking it all in and adding to it. Nowadays, stories about Ryan are like stories you hear in Nashville from people who played with Elvis. You know, there’s what it was like in the band, and then the legends that grow. But you really could tell right off the bat with him that he knew what he wanted, and how to get there.”

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Whiskeytown is a lake, not just a band

WhiskeytownLakeToday is Memorial Day, the unofficial kickoff to summer’s get-away vacation season. People across America will spend the next few months scattering to far-off resorts, tourist attractions, parks and bodies of water — including Whiskeytown Lake. And yes, there is such a thing.

It doesn’t have anything to do with the Ryan Adams-led band from “Losering,” but there is indeed a Whiskeytown Lake in California, which is part of a National Recreation Area about 250 miles north of San Francisco; it even has an artist-in-residence program (talk about a missed opportunity for Ryan!). The lake is of relatively recent vintage, dedicated by President John F. Kennedy as part of a water project in 1963. But there is still a fanciful story about the name, which supposedly goes back to the mid-19th century:

WTLakeSignWhile no one really knows the origin of the Whiskeytown name, local folklore tells of a miner by the name of Billie Peterson who had a mishap in the 1850’s. While hauling supplies back to his mine, the pack on his mule’s back came loose and a whiskey barrel went tumbling down the hillside, breaking on the rocks below and spilling its contents into the creek. From this christening came the name Whiskey Creek, and the small settlement that established itself next to the waterway became known as Whiskeytown.

Apparently, Whiskeytown’s members didn’t know this story because I’ve never seen or heard any of them reference it as a source. And it does seem so quaint that I’m not sure I trust it as actual folklore. But good stories are often that way.

UPDATE (8/2/2018): Wildfires are devouring the area around Whiskeytown Lake.

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If you’ve ever drunk Cheerwine, tipped a cow and listened to Ryan Adams…you might be from North Carolina

NCPostcardMaking the online rounds this week is a listicle called “38 Signs You’re From North Carolina,” a trifle that makes the obligatory nods to sports rivalries, barbecue, NASCAR, cow-tipping, Cheerwine, Krispy Kreme and other Old North State staples — including music, although the artists cited don’t exactly seem up-to-date. As you can see in Reason No. 20 below, You like to brag about the North Carolina music scene, our man Ryan Adams gets namechecked even though he’s not lived here in more than a decade.

Also on the list is Winston-Salem native Ben Folds (ditto); rising Chapel Hill country-rock band Mount Moriah (the list’s one current name, well-chosen and very hip); old-school hip-hop group Little Brother (also not so current, alas, but great nevertheless); Massachusetts-born ringer James Taylor (well, um, even less current); and from way out in left field…Fred Freakin’ Durst? Dang, I had no idea he was a Tar Heel native. But yeah, Durst was born in Gastonia before going on to form the loathesome rap-metal band Limp Bizkit in that “other” Jacksonville the same year Whiskeytown got together, if Wikipedia is to be believed. Well, ya learn something every day

38WaysToTellNC

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From Kalamazoo to Timbuktu

Here’s a moderately cool little thing that I stumbled across recently: the University of Texas Press Influence Map, an interactive map that was made to show off the geographic scope of subjects and authors that the press publishes. Most of UT Press’s books originated in the United States, and it’s hardly surprising that a sizable cluster of those are within Texas. But they also go as far east as Turkey and Iraq; as far south as Panama and Ecuador; and as far north as Canada and England. Take a look; and if you click on the balloons on either my hometown of Raleigh or Ryan Adams’ birthplace of Jacksonville, North Carolina, my book “Losering” is what pops out.

UTPressReach

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Another award Ryan Adams is up for

OMusicLogoThe heck with the Grammy Awards. Ryan Adams is nominated in the O Music Awards, which “celebrate the best in digital music, from the top artist on Twitter to the most innovative music app.” Below is Ryan’s nomination spiel, which makes it clear that his on-again-off-again Twitter usage is what got him the nod (and it’s a pity he’s not still blogging, he’d be a shoe-in to win). Just today, Ryan was giving Twitter shout-outs to Ezra Koenig for debuting at No. 1 on the charts with the new Vampire Weekend album. I wish I had more first-hand knowledge of Ryan’s Twitter universe; but when I tried to follow @TheRyanAdams on Twitter, I discovered that I am among the many people he has blocked. Oh well, so it goes. Still, vote early and vote often. The awards will be presented on June 19.

RyanOAwards

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It’s all relative…

CalebOne happy side effect of “Losering” is that it’s thrown a bit of light and attention back onto my first book, a novel called “Off The Record” that I self-published way back in September of 2000. In fact, I recently happened across a review of “Off The Record,” the first one to appear in many years, on something called Caleb’s Book Blog. That seems to be Caleb over there on the right; and if I had to guess, I’d say he’s looking askance at “Losering” — which he panned last fall with one of the worst reviews I got anywhere.

But the upside is that “Losering” inspired Caleb to pick up “Off The Record,” which he seemed to like better; although it’s hard to tell, since he damns it with faint praise while going out of his way to heap still more scorn upon poor, hapless “Losering.” Here’s a representative paragraph from Caleb’s “Off The Record” review:

OTRI enjoyed “Off the Record” quite a bit more than “Ryan Adams: Losering, A Story of Whiskeytown,” for the simple fact that David Menconi is not in the book.  Unfortunately, in the Ryan Adams book, Menconi decided to make himself a figure in the history of the band Whiskeytown. Those who read my review of that book may note that I criticized Menconi for his determination to share his opinion, reviews of records, iPod playlists, and other extraneous trivia as though it was part of the band’s story.

Well, um…thank you — I think. Glad you at least liked “Off The Record,” even if it comes across as “liked.” But you’ll have to pardon me, Mr. Caleb, if I still don’t forward this one along to loved ones.

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Across the pond, kind words from R2 magazine

R2Review“Losering” has picked up another nice review in a far-away place, written by Jeremy Searle in the English music publication Rock’n’Reel magazine. Since it isn’t on the web, I’m afraid I can’t lay the whole thing on you via a link; so look for it on paper in the May-June issue, which has the always-entertaining Billy Bragg on the cover. But here at least is the concluding paragraph:

Menconi is great at capturing the special moment, and draws on contemporaneous interviews with the man himself as well as practically everybody who was there. Many music biographies are written by fans and suffer accordingly but while Menconi makes no secret of his love for Adams’s music, and is not unsympathetic to his protagonist, he is clear-eyed and mostly objective. It’s an essential read for Adams’s fans and alt.country fans in general, but also a fascinating account of the birth of a star.

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Something to hang on the wall…

In today’s mail at home, a little something from the postman in the wake of Monday’s announcement about the Hoffer Awards. I like it!

HofferCertificate

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More artifacts from long ago: Sadlack’s souvenirs

WhiskeysadsWith owner Rose Schwetz’s announced June 1 deadline for finding a new space fast approaching, the fate of Sadlack’s is still up in the air. Plenty of rumors are going around, stories of possible spots for a relocated Sadlack’s; but for now, none of them are substantial enough to report. In the meantime, I’ve been meaning to post a couple of things from Whiskeytown’s birthplace.

First, on the right is a flyer from one of the earliest Whiskeytown shows, back when their name was still two words. This wasn’t the very first Whiskey Town show, but it’s pretty close; it dates from late 1994, and appears to have been drawn by Ryan Adams himself. You can find it hanging on the west-facing interior wall of Sadlack’s, framed and just inside the back door at about eye level.

RyanAutographNext, here on the left we have a circa-2001 autographed photo bequeathed by Ryan himself after he hit it big as a solo act — and also after he learned a more stylish way to sign autographs. Back when he would get autograph requests in the early days of Whiskeytown, Ryan tended to employ more of an elementary-school scrawl. Anyway, this is also framed and on the same wall as the 1994 show flyer. If Sadlack’s does relocate, I hope both of these artifacts will find their way to the new spot.

Finally, below is a photo from the Sadlack’s Facebook page, taken on a pretty momentous night in Whiskeytown lore. This was Whiskeytown playing on Sadlack’s back patio on the night of the band’s first big lineup implosion in 1996. Following this show, bassist Steve Grothmann, fiddler Caitlin Cary and drummer Skillet Gilmore all quit, leaving Phil Wandscher to carry on with a rather chunky Ryan (see Chapter Six of “Losering” for more details). Caitlin and Skillet would both return; but this was Steve’s final show as a permanent member.

Whiskeyend

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Ryan Adams will always love you though, New York

Like lots of folks who grew up in small-town America, Ryan Adams has always had a crush on New York, as evidenced by his oft-covered song that takes the city’s name for its title and metaphor of a bittersweet farewell. And lately, a Ryan quote about Woody Allen’s favorite town has been making the online rounds as part of a Thought Catalog compendium of the “50 Greatest Quotes About New York City.” The list includes bon mots from Bill Murray, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Bob Dylan, Joan Didion, Charles Barkley and Lady Gaga, among other notables. That’s pretty heady company, and Ryan holds his own with a quite-nice summation:

RyanNYC

But I have to say, I still prefer what Ryan had to say about the city back in the fall of 1999, when he signed off an e-mail as follows (a quote that can be found in Chapter 11 of “Losering”):

new york is 58% and a dream. my best to you.

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