Interviews

Kevin Bowe on the making of Songs For Slim

Photos from the Songs For Slim website, unless otherwise specified.
 
February 14, 2013:
 
 
The Replacements' guitarist, Slim Dunlap will be hearing some of his favorite songs, cut on a modern day vintage vinyl, by his bandmates, Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson. There are a limited number of copies on vinyl available and they are being auctioned off, as we wait for the fan release next month. Kevin Bowe, (Okemah Prophets, solo artist, songwriter, (Etta James), Westerberg's touring guitarist) and Kevin's bandmate, drummer, Peter Anderson, joined Westerberg and Stinson, to pull together a commemorative set that will benefit Slim's family to assist with his healthcare following a massive stroke that he suffered last Feb 2012.
 
In advance of the release of Songs for Slim, Kevin Bowe was kind enough to give Bluebirdreviews some time in an interview. Kevin's wide range of songwriting, performing and touring with many legendary artists, makes for a great conversation about music in general. Bowe's appearance on the Songs For Slim album is a huge honor. Kevin toured with Westerberg and carries with him, an understated humility, that lets the music take the spotlight. He is also a major Replacements fan. I could only imagine the stories he'd have after it was cut. I couldn't wait to talk with him about it all.

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BBR: I was looking up the track list for Slim's tribute album. I wanted your take on the history of these song selections. Some of them were really cool! That Hank Williams one (that was originally Leon Payne), that's a good one.

Kevin Bowe: Yeah, they are all cool songs. The way it went down was like, "all things Paul" - completely unplanned. I found out I was going to do it the morning it happened. Because I had stopped over at his house, for something else, I don't remember what ... Oh, I know! A friend of mine fixes guitars. This guy named Woody. He fixes guitars for Wilco and Sean Lennon. Actually, he invented a bridge for the Jazz Master guitar that's really caught on and sells a lot. He's really an amazing luthier. Me and Woody, if I remember this right, were returning a couple of Paul's guitars that Paul needed fixed. Either that, or I was picking them up to have them fixed, I can't remember. Anyway, I just went over there, and Paul was like, "Hey, I'm doing this thing today, Do you want to do it?"

BBR: Wow.

Kevin Bowe: Yeah. I didn't even know who'd be the drummer on it, but I think he found out like five minutes before I did.

My drummer, Peter Anderson, works as an engineer at the studio where we did the recordings. For all I know, Peter may have been thinking that he was going to be the engineer, you know what I mean? I'm guessing they must have asked Chris (Mars) to do it first, but he must have been busy or something. Anyway, like I say, it was definitely not planned. So I said, sure. We drove over to the studio it is pretty close to the neighborhood where me and Paul live. I didn't know what songs we would play or anything. I just went and got some guitars and an amp and stuff. We went in there I didn't know any of the songs that we were going to do. I didn't know any of them, it was just random. The only song that was tough was "Everything Is Coming Up Roses" the Ethel Merman thing. It's a show tune and it's got a million chords in it, and I was kind of a loser on that one. (laughs).

BBR: That's a wild song just to listen to. I was listening to it this week to get ready for our talk and yeah, it has a lot of chords and change ups.

Kevin Bowe: (laughs) I felt like an idiot! I'm not the kind of guitar player that can play 'Oh, A minor on 14 ...' I was pretty useless on that one ... but the rest of it, I think I was OK.

BBR: How long did it take you guys to pull this all together, especially with short notice?

Kevin Bowe: The studio is called Flowers. Flowers Studio. And the engineer/owner is Ed Ackerson. He's a big dude around here and he is really, really good. We were 'old school' all set up live in the same room, all vocals live.

BBR: That's great to hear.

Kevin Bowe: I don't think I was there for more than a total of four hours. It was quick, But you know, you get guys who are good and if they know what they are doing, it's not rocket science. It was all good, except for that Roses song, that was rocket science, but the rest pretty simple. But we played our songs and they produced us and told us what to do and we just laid it down.

BBR: This is great stuff.

Kevin Bowe: Gordon Lightfoot. My favorite may be the Gordon Lightfoot song.

BBR: "I'm not saying." That's a great song. I'm a huge Gordon Lightfoot fan.

Kevin Bowe: Me too.

BBR: It's good to hear that this was all in the same room. As a fan, this means a lot. It's cool that it wasn't a situation where you guys were passing the studio tracks around.

Kevin Bowe: From what I gather from talking to Paul recently, he's on a kick where, he doesn't want to do that anymore. We did a couple of takes, no overdubs, and that's it. He could be getting this from early Stones records or Dylan records but he is definitely not into overdubs. He is into the live performance, capture the live performance. If it's a live band and a great band, that's a good idea. But if it's a bad band, a shitty band, then that's a horrible way to go. If you've got a great song and a great band, then that will work better than anything.

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BBR: So you haven't heard the recording yet.

Kevin Bowe: You know what? I haven't. A lot of people have, but I haven't. Well, I've been busy, but also I don't want to stick my snout into it or get into anybody's business. I've done a couple of other benefits for Slim and so I guess one thing about this session, which I think is important to remember is that immediately after it happened the press is all like ... you mention the "R" word and they just go f--ing crazy.

BBR: I know ...

Kevin Bowe: And the point of this session, I don't think in my mind was a Replacements reunion. That's just silly. The point was to just bring in some money for Slim, because his ongoing care is going to be super super expensive. So I think the focus should stay on that rather than (the reunion) ... I mean obviously ... it was great to see Tommy and Paul work together, because the energy that they have is great ... the energy they have between them is a chemistry that happens in no other way ... it doesn't happen with many other people and that's just magic and that's cool ... but the goal is to raise money for Slim, and that's what everybody should focus on I think.

BBR: Yeah, and I respect that. That's why I wanted to talk to you too, because I mean, I'm a fan, I'm a Replacements fan, I'm a Westerberg fan, I'm a Kevin Bowe fan, but I'm seeing all of this pressure on you guys, questions about the reunion, yet I'm thinking - Wait a minute, this was a fundraiser to help a guitarist in need.

Kevin Bowe: Yeah, exactly.

BBR: A lot of the media that's come out about it, they keep asking that reunion question over and over again.

Kevin Bowe: They always will though, I mean, if you think about it. The Replacements are the only band that's never done it. What band who is that cool, from that time period, hasn't gotten back together and done stuff. They are the only ones.

BBR: Then you get yourself into the discussion of who are the originals, who should be there for a true reunion and do they call themselves 'The Replacements".

Kevin Bowe: It depends on what you care about. I don't care about any of that. I was teasing Peter, I said to Peter, look it ... I'm covered, because I'm just filling in ... so I'm legit ... So Peter, you're the one with the target print on your ass ... (laughs). Peter ... you are in for a world of hurt! You're gonna get a bunch of shit ... I'll be fine!

BBR: How is Slim doing? What's his condition now? How is his recovery going?

Kevin Bowe: I think it changes day to day. Last I heard he was home. It's bad, it's rough. It was a massive stroke as far as I understand and this is one of those medical things that the doctors try to predict, but who knows how far his recovery will come, you know what I mean, or not come, there's no way of telling. It's brutal, it's very sad, it's a tough thing. It's a horrible thing to have happen to your body. He's in home care, so that's where the money really helps out. I think it's about making it the best it can be for him.

BBR: So what was it like to stand in as the guitarist. I mean, you've toured with Westerberg and done some Replacements songs on tour.

Kevin Bowe: Yeah, we did a bunch of them.

BBR: But this must have been different.

Kevin Bowe: It was fun, it was like I was trying to keep up and not look like a fu--in idiot, ya know what I mean? There were so many songs thrown at you so quickly, so I was concentrating really hard. But at the same time, it felt like hand and glove, it was easy. I used to play with Peter, he came all the time with the Prophets and Alison Scott, so me and Peter, that was nice. I tell you, it was really nice to have Peter there. We are like two peas in a pod. We don't even need to talk. And I think that's pretty much the way that it is with Paul and Tommy too.

BBR: I liked Peter on your album, Nachez Trace, I remember making some comments about his timing.

Kevin Bowe: He's great. And he's a lovely human being too. He's just a lovely human being. Again, you know, with this kind of music and with people this age, you either get it or you don't, you know? And this is four people who've had the same musical coming of age reference points, so again, it's not rocket science. I'm not saying it's easy, but it's not about going to Julliard or whatever, it's about growing up listening these bands, you know. Loving The Dolls and Nico and The Replacements and Gordon Lightfoot and that whole "thing". If you have the right bunch of guys, it's deceptively easy. But finding the right bunch of guys is deceptively hard.

kevinbowepw

Photo Courtesy of Kevin Bowe

BBR: How did you meet Paul Westerberg?

Kevin Bowe: We grew up playing the same clubs together. I was in this band. I think this story is out there, but when I was in rehab, they let us out on the weekends to go to these dances, and you've been sober for like 5 minutes, and they let us out to go. It was awful. And one of these ones that I went to, some idiot hired The Replacements to play a 'sober teen dance.' Whatever guy that was, I don't think he had a future as a booking agent. But it was The Replacements first gig ever under the name, "The Replacements."

BBR: Wow.

Kevin Bowe: I was 18, and I watched and they were doing a ton of Johnny Thunders' covers under "All By Myself" (crash crash) ... (laughs) ... I remember thinking that if they end up getting really good, they will be the best band I'd ever seen - bar none. I remember realizing that they WERE the best band, but I realized two things: A) That they weren't very good. and B) That they were the best band I'd ever seen. They actually ended up getting really good, and then they WERE really good and the best band I'd ever seen. And that's how I saw them. And then I got out of the joint, and I was in a band and The Replacements would open for us, or we'd open for them. We were a horrible band called, "The Dads" like 'Dad's Root Beer'. After a certain point in time, we'd only open for them, and then after a certain point in time we weren't good enough to open for them anymore. (laughs) That's how I met Paul.

He came over to my apartment once, and we had a chat about songwriting and we'd talk about guitars and stuff like that. And I just really liked him. And then I didn't see him for a long time, you know I'd run into him on the street every once and a while. And then I moved into Paul's neighborhood, kind of, 8 or 10 years ago. I think I wrote him a letter saying, "Hi I'm in your neighborhood." By this point, I had made my living as a songwriter for a few years and I was doing pretty well.

I kind of wrote him a 'thank you' letter, you know, saying thank you because he was the first person to ever really introduce me to the real ideas of songwriting. Then all people really focused on was bands and guitars, stuff like that, nobody really talked about songwriting. But he did.

He taught me what it was, by writing all of those songs and having me listen to them. You can't hear that stuff and not wonder, 'Why is this so good?' So that's kind of what turned me into a songwriter. So I wrote him a thank you letter and he called me right back and said, 'Hey let's do something.' And then, eventually over a couple of years time, it turned into that tour. And then we did a record together, wrote that song, "Everybody Lies", on my record and stuff like that. So it's kind of just like one of those things, again, not planned. Some of the best things are unplanned.

BBR: The man without ties. That's a wonderful story. I was reading about The Replacements, some of the history and how more and more Paul took control over the band toward the end. Often I listen to more solo Westerberg than Replacements and it is because of the songwriting.

Kevin Bowe: I get what you are saying and I kind of don't even make a distinction. You know what I mean? I'm agreeing with you because I don't make a distinction. Obviously, the 90's stuff is more of a grown up band writing. A guy in his 30's. I guess I just listen to the songs and I don't make a delineation. There are so much politics involved in that stuff, and I try to stay out of that. The politics that are imposed on music rarely have anything to do with music.

I remember watching that movie that interviews The Replacements fans called, Color Me Obsessed. There was some song with a guy in it,  I think he worked at Twin Tone, The Replacements first label and he's on there, very serious, like the arbiter of what's really honest in music ... He said, "The first three albums are really what it was supposed to be like ... and after that it was all crap ... (Oh? So the albums that he did that you were involved with were the good ones?) Don't tell me there isn't great stuff on every Replacements record! That's just stupid! Minneapolis is full of that. I'm sure every music town has this, I don't know because I've only ever lived here. But Minneapolis is definitely chock full of music politics and I've never been good at THAT. I probably could make a lot more money and be a lot bigger deal in Minneapolis, which I am definitely not a big deal in Minneapolis. If I was better at navigating those shark filled waters, I would be, but I am just not.

BBR: Well, maybe that's why Westerberg gravitates toward you, because he tries to get out of the limelight too.

Kevin Bowe: He definitely ignores music politics. It worked out well for me because that's kind of how I got inspired. I was kind of forced to look outside Minneapolis for things to do in music, because I was never really on the 'in'. I've always been on the 'outs' with those people, that's where the Etta James and the Johnny Lyons projects came from, because they don't have anything to do with the flavor of the minute that is here in Minneapolis.

BBR: It's better that way, because you get to be happy doing what you love, the reason why you are there, rather than be involved in the plastic scene of the politics of it.

Kevin Bowe: I used to get really flustered as a kid, and even as an adult, I've been frustrated from time to time, but not anymore.

BBR: We can benefit from growing up to have more fun, because you realize what's important.

Kevin Bowe: Well a lot of musicians never grow up and they just stay in their little back yards and play those games and I'm not a kid. I'm an adult, doing this for a living and I've done it for a living for many many years and I think that puts you in a different perspective or a different position than someone who is playing that local band game.

BBR: I'm going to stay away from the 'reunion' questions and just focus on what you guys are doing now. I think it's great. A lot of fans are really excited about the record and will bid on it or at least get the download when it's released. You're going to auction 250 copies and then the audio is available to the public at a later date?

Kevin Bowe: That's what I hear.

slimdunlap

Photo posted by Spinner.

BBR: So I guess Slim is a Hank Williams fan, right?

Kevin Bowe: Yeah, he's a fan of classic country. I know he's the world's biggest Elvis fan, I know that. He plays with a thumb pick which is signature to his guitar playing. That's what most other guitar players can't do. That's tricky, you know, playing with a thumb pick, that's not for kids. You wanna be one of the big boys you try to pull that off. That gives his guitar playing a certain sound to me. It's not something you can imitate, it's just his guitar playing. One of the best examples of it, I think, other than The Replacements stuff is, a legendary blue eyed soul singer in Minneapolis named Curtiss A. Curtiss A. made one unbelievable album in 1982. called Courtesy. It was Curtiss' first album. It was a great band. Slim is all over that record, you should listen to it, it's amazing. Just an amazing guitar player. 

Slim was a big name around here, he wasn't a nobody. Everybody knew he was the best guitar player around. Slim worked at First Avenue and his wife Chrissy eventually booked First Avenue. His wife Chrissy, a really nice lady, she's an angel.

BBR: I just love these stories of people's lives and how they get changed by music.

Kevin Bowe: Me too.

BBR: So, how come you guys didn't choose an Elvis song for Slim?

Kevin Bowe: Because it wasn't 'you guys' choosing anything, it was all Paul.

BBR: (laughs) And we never know what he's thinking until he says it, right?

Kevin Bowe: It wasn't a fu*in democracy, I'll tell you that. I was just trying to keep up.

BBR: So Paul chose all of the songs ... wow ... that's awesome ...

Kevin Bowe: I really like the Slim song, "Busted Up." Paul played piano really well on it. We got an "Exile On Main Street" sound for it, which is my favorite Stones album. We used an open G tuning, rolled off the tone and used a heavy tremolo effect. I got to tune my guitar to the open G, Keith Richards tuning. It was fun.

BBR: This is all great stuff. This is what the fans need to know. How the album was made, why it was made and all that went in to putting it together. This is a point in time that no one's going to be able to recreate.

BBR: I'm reading on the Songs For Slim website that this is a series of music sessions which other artists are jumping in to do. That's great. The lineup is pretty awesome. (From the Songs For Slim website).

Steve Earle's version of one of Slim's greatest songs, "Times Like This." Earle's ace band of LA studio A-listers (Jennifer Condos, Jay Bellerose, Greg Leisz, Keefus Ciancia and Val McCallum) recorded the song in North Hollywood under the expert ear of Joe Henry. On the flip is a reinterpretation of Slim's "Isn't It?" by Craig Finn & Friends, a killer lineup of Minneapolis veterans featuring Kraig Jarret Johnson, Peter Anderson, Jacques Wait and Ed Ackerson. Like the Replacements EP, "Isn't It?" was produced, recorded and mixed by Ackerson at his Flowers Studio in Minneapolis. This is limited to 100 numbered copies signed by both artists. This auction will run February 15-22 starting at 10AM on the 15th. March will bring Lucinda Williams' soulful take on "Partners In Crime" b/w a heartfelt reading of "Nowheres Near" by power-pop legend Tommy Keene. Future artists to contribute will include: Jakob Dylan, John Doe, Joe Henry, The Jayhawks, Frank Black + The Suicide Commandos, Tim O'Reagan & Jim Boquist, The Minus 5 (Scott McCaughey, Peter Buck, Nate Query & John Moen) featuring Curtiss A, The Young Fresh Fellows, You Am I, Tommy Keene, Deer Tick, Ramblin' Jack, Elliott, Lucero.

 BBR: What do you think?

Kevin Bowe: Yes, thanks to Peter Jesperson.

BBR: Getting back to Westerberg. Did you hear the Ghost, Gloves, Cat, Wing, Joy, Boys. The EP, there was one song on that naming birds indigenous to Minnesota. I reviewed it a few years ago and I didn't realize that it was part of the pattern of lyrics in that song, but a fan wrote to me and picked up on it. That's what I love about this songwriting with all of you guys. It's so hard to track where it comes from, but when you discover the connections within the song, it's brilliant, it's great.

Kevin Bowe: I don't think the people who do it know where it comes from sometimes. Sometimes you do, sometimes you don't, you know what I mean.

BBR: We all just enjoy the music from wherever it comes! So hey, I guess we'll be seeing you on tour this Spring?

Kevin Bowe: Well we're really excited about it. We are actually doing dates in KC Mo on March 12 and Okla City OK on March 13 as we tour our way down to SXSW, then at SXSW we're doing a couple of shows under our own name and backing up Freedy Johnston for a couple of shows AND now we are backing up Gary Louris from the Jayhawks for a show so we'll be busy. Then home for a few days, and the tour to the East Coast and back starts.

BBR: Yeah, we'll catch your show at Club Passim in Cambridge on March 25th.

Kevin Bowe: Cool. Nice to talk to you again and I'll be seeing you soon!

BBR: Keep us posted on all the news that's happening with the album and your tour.

Kevin Bowe: You got it.    

BBR: Thanks so much!

From the Songs For Slim Website:

Phase One of the project – the auction of a limited edition run of 250 numbered copies of a brand new, deluxe 10" vinyl EP package by The Replacements, their first new release in over 20 years – went off with a BANG, raising $105,743.42 for Slim and his family! This staggering amount far exceeded any expectations; the Dunlaps, the Songs For Slim team and New West Records are deeply humbled by this overwhelming response of love and support. Nearly 6,500 individual bids were made and almost 4,000 people participated in the 10-day auction. Copy #1 went for an astounding $10,000 to a Replacements über fan in Brooklyn, a price that puts it in very elite company for auctions of rock era vinyl. Over half of the winning bids were in the $350-500 range, with 26 copies going for $500 or more. The average winning bid was $422.97 and the "price of entry" (i.e. the lowest winning bid) was $310.50 – again, numbers that far exceeded any sensible early predictions. As the auctions ended throughout the day on January 25 with all of the nail-biting excitement of a close horse race, it became clear just how far people were willing to open up their pocketbooks – and hearts – to support this eminently worthwhile project.

Future auctions will commence on the 15th of each month and run for 7 days
each.

To find out more about how to donate to the fundraiser, Songs For Slim,

Visit the Official Songs For Slim website.

Many thanks to Kevin Bowe for his prolific songwriting and generous time in supporting music productions worldwide.

Find his tour dates and recordings at www.kevinbowe.com

 

Out On The Tiles

Lynch Mob at The Chance in Poughkeepsie, NY. Feb 4, 2011

Whitey's Metal Rock Review:

One of the 80s true guitar shredders was out and ripping it up at the Chance in Poughkeepsie on Feb. 4th. George Lynch from the band Dokken was out with his band the Lynch Mob. George left the band Dokken in the late 80s  because of tension with Dokken lead singer Don Dokken. Nothing new in the music world. He formed the band the Lynch Mob shortly after. George was always known for his fast and ripping guitar playing. I have always been drawn to players who take the guitar to the next level. To push it further to find a new note or style. Eddie Van Halen is such a player. In Dokken Lynch's guitar playing was just that.

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