Chuck Prophet & The Mission Express
Chuck Prophet describes his new disc BOBBY FULLER DIED FOR YOUR SINS as “California Noir.” He says, “the state has always represented the Golden Dream, and it’s the tension between romance and reality that lurks underneath the surface in all noir films and paperbacks, and that connects these songs. Doomed love, inconsolable loneliness, rags to riches to rags again, and fast-paced violence are always on the menu on the Left Coast.”
Who is Bobby Fuller? He’s the star of the ultimate Rock and Roll Babylon feel-bad story.
The title track came out of an obsession Prophet shares with co-conspirator klipschutz. Prophet explains, “One day we were sitting in my so-called office South of Market listening to LPs, when out of frustration –I picked up a guitar and shouted, ‘I hear that record crackle, the needle skips and jumps!’ and klipschutz shot back, ‘“Bobby Fuller died for your sins!’”
One thing led to another, and ten months later he found himself at the legendary Hyde St. Studios in the heart of the Tenderloin “slaving over a hot two-inch tape machine, cutting tracks with Brad Jones, Paul Q. Kolderie, and Matt Winegar riding herd.” And pumping it all into the echo chamber. No computer in sight and two-inch tape boxes stacked up to the ceiling.
Prophet realizes that the title track makes a heavy claim, and laughs at the suggestion it might shine new light on the mystery long surrounding Bobby Fuller’s early demise. Fuller, who migrated from El Paso to L.A. in the early 1960s, has been described as “a greaser in a world of Beach Boy bangs and Beatle boots, hopelessly out of step with the times.” Found dead in his car at the age of 23, to a devoted coterie of fans, old and new, he’ll always remain the skinny guy singing “I Fought the Law,” on countless teen dance TV shows, and radio playlists. Ruled a suicide, his death has haunted investigators (and biographers Miriam Linna and Randall Fuller) since 1966. “Some resolution would be nice,” Prophet says, “but I run a band, not a Cold Case squad.”
The Mission Express, Prophet’s band, which includes his wife Stephanie Finch, provided the backing. “Talented, difficult people who all played their hearts out. You can hear it,” he says. And recording at Hyde Street – walking distance from his apartment – was a homecoming of sorts. “I did my first session there, in high school no less,” says Prophet. He even dragged out his ’64 Stratocaster, a guitar that Jonathan Richman said sounds, “like gasoline in the sand, like a motorcycle at a hot dog stand.”
Prophet says, “there’s a serious Link Wray jones that you might not hear in here too. But it’s there. Guitars and drums. Rock and roll. I just haven’t found anything that hits me the same way. That two guitar, bass and drums feeling.”
With titles such as “Bad Year for Rock and Roll,” “Post-War Cinematic Dead Man Blues,” “We Got Up and Played, and, “If I Was Connie Britton,” Prophet allows that, “there just might be some songs on this one. John Murry, who is never at a loss for words, says the goal is to make a record you can be proud and unsure of at the same time. Naked and belligerent, but sweetly so… I can’t improve on that.”
“Bad Year for Rock and Roll” is a timely homage to rock greats lost this year, Prophet name-checking David Bowie in the opening lines: “The Thin White Duke took a final bow / there’s one more star in the heavens now…I’m all dressed up in a mohair suit / watching Peter Sellers thinking of you.”
The album closes with the blistering “Alex Nieto,” which Prophet calls “my first protest song. I know you’ve listened to me rant about Twitter and how I believe San Francisco is under siege by techie man-children and billionaires.” But still, he never dreamed he’d be in the middle of a culture war with real bodies. Born and raised in the City, Alex Nieto was on his way to work as a security guard when he ended up with 59 bullets in and around him, all fired by the police. There’s a lot more to the story, and the details are available to anyone who wants to know. The song is a two-chord homage to a good man who should still be alive.
Just one more sign of the apocalypse.
The Bottle Rockets
“A combustible combination of the Replacements and Buck Owens.” – ESQUIRE
“Before the Drive-By Truckers got in gear, when Ryan Adams was still settling in Whiskeytown, the Bottle Rockets were setting off musical M-80s as perhaps the most underappreciated roots-rock/Americana band of the mid-‘90s.” –REUTERS/HOLLYWOOD REPORTER
“If Uncle Tupelo is the Beatles of the alt-country movement, the Bottle Rockets are certainly the Rolling Stones.” –SPARTANBURG HERALD-JOURNAL
When The Bottle Rockets hit the scene in the mid ‘90s, the world wasn’t quite sure what to do with them. With their punk-rock pedigrees and arena-rock energy, their tougher-than-Springsteen storytelling and their romantic hearts sewn bare on their denim sleeves, the pride of Festus, MO confounded musical generalities as they laid waste to clubs across the Midwest and then, soon enough, the nation.
Back in a time when the critical language and resulting idioms for mixing underground rock with country was in its infancy, The Bottle Rockets were fearlessly – and quite loudly – playing rootsy weepers alongside howling rave ups, with singer/guitarist Brian Henneman leading the charge as some sort of Roger Miller of the indie set. It’s a sound propped up (and hopped up) just as much on the pillars of Leslie West & Mountain as it was on those of the Ramones and the Clash.
The Bottle Rockets’ first and second albums, Bottle Rockets and The Brooklyn Side, are widely revered as not only two of the band’s finest releases, but also two formative, flagship recordings in the nascent era of a now-broadly recognized genre. The band was unceremoniously birthed in 1992 and they very quickly became a forebearer for the new style alongside Uncle Tupelo, Old 97’s, and Whiskeytown.
The songs, stories and sentiments found on these groundbreaking albums sound just as fresh and relevant now as they did when they were first released. The Bottle Rockets never did it the easy way and never compromised their sound or themselves. Always too punk for country audiences, too genuine for the smug irony of the hipster scene, and too smart for the outdoor one-hitter rock festival crowd, The Bottle Rockets remained The Bottle Rockets, and this is a document of where it all started.
Bottle Rockets and The Brooklyn Side are collected here as a remastered two-CD deluxe reissue set of the long out-of-print albums, with an additional 19 previously unreleased tracks. The package consists of an extensive 40-page booklet detailing the band in full context of the ‘90s alt- scene, with editorial contributions from respected peers and fellow musicians such as Steve Earle, Patterson Hood,Lucinda Williams, and many others. Both reissued albums and bonus material have been meticulously remastered under the supervision of famed producer and musician Eric “Roscoe” Ambel.
Bottle Rockets was originally released in 1993 and was the first true showing of the band’s signature country-aware, rough and ragged rock ‘n’ roll style, matched with Henneman’s blue-collar songwriting skills, with lyrics depicting the life, struggle and dark humors of everyday people. The eponymous album notably features back-up vocal performances from former members of Uncle Tupelo: Jeff Tweedy (now of Wilco) and Jay Farrar (Son Volt). Bonus tracks include original demos from Henneman, both solo and backed by the members of Uncle Tupelo, acoustic demos, and Chicken Truck/pre-Bottle Rockets-era recordings.
In 1994, The Brooklyn Side came out to a relatively greater amount of significant success, marked both by its stature in the now burgeoning alt- movement and as The Bottle Rockets’ most popular effort to date. Following the album release, the band later signed with major label Atlantic Records, toured widely, and reached a national audience with an appearance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien. Bonus songs for The Brooklyn Side reissue include acoustic demos, unreleased tracks from the album sessions, and live recordings from the era.