Thursday, March 5, 2020

Guitar Legend Marc Ribot Coming to The Green Room

Posted By on Thu, Mar 5, 2020 at 10:14 AM

click to enlarge Marc Ribot
  • Marc Ribot
Guitarist Marc Ribot has worked with everybody. He started out in the early 70s in the garage band scene in his native New Jersey. He studied classical guitar and composition with his mentor Frantz Casseus, moved to New York, and became an early member of saxophonist John Lurie’s Lounge Lizards, the long-running avante garde jazz ensemble. In 1985, he was tapped by Tom Waits to play on his seminal Rain Dogs album. Ribot’s role in creating Waits' strange soundscapes (that’s his furtive solo amidst the junky groove of “Clap Hands”) attracted the attention of producers and players alike, and he’s been in demand ever since. He’s picked for Elvis Costello, Elton John, and played on Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ 2008 Grammy-winning album Raising Sand. He’s helped out Neko Case, Diana Krall, and Marianne Faithful. He’s grooved with alt rocker Cibo Matto, New Orleans legend Allan Toussaint, and the Cuban son ensemble Sierra Maestra. He’s improvised with bebop piano pioneer McCoy Tyner and accompanied Alan Ginsberg. He’s a regular in the studios of super producer T-Bone Burnett’s studio and New York free jazz madman John Zorn. And that’s just scratching the surface.

I caught up with Ribot on the phone while he was getting on the bus with bandmates to drive to a gig in Seattle. I asked the consummate collaborator what makes a good musical collaboration. “You know, that’s a good question,” he says. “It’s very mysterious. I don't know that you ever know until after the fact. I can sit down with somebody I've never met, and we don't speak a word of a language in common, and it can be a great collaboration. I can sit down with somebody who has a wonderful voice or plays wonderfully, and who I agree with on every single thing in the world, and it could be terrible.

“I don't think I've ever played in Memphis to my memory, but I did go to Memphis because I had to go. You can't be a musician and not go to Memphis!” he says.

Ribot recalls a trip to the Bluff City in the 1980s. “We drove through Memphis, so I stopped in to visit Rufus Thomas,” he says. “I was in this group the Real Tones, and we were the house band for a soul revival that was mostly Stax/Volt based. We backed up Rufus and Carla Thomas, Syl Johnson, and Otis Clay and Soloman Burke. We had a couple of week-long runs with Rufus at this club called Tramps in New York. I had his number, so I called and asked if I could come over. Carla was not home, but Rufus showed me his pictures of him with Elvis. It was great…Basically, everybody who was playing in the Stax/Volt rhythm section was a huge inspiration to me — Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn, the whole crew.”

When Ribot plays the Green Room in Crosstown Arts on Saturday, March 7th, it won’t be as a collaborator. He’s recorded and released 25 albums of his own in the last 40 years, most recently the 2018 Songs of Resistance 1942-2018. A passion project inspired by the 2016 election, Songs of Resistance features a cast of collaborators that include Waits and Steve Earle performing songs inspired by political movements of the last century. Ribot paid for the recording out of his own pocket. “I was so deep in the hole after all that that I had to fire my shrink, which was actually a really bad idea,” he laughs. “I had the idea with this record that I wanted it to be based on the idea of a popular front. In other words, when something comes along that really, seriously threatens democracy, everybody has to pull together against it. Like in World War II, it wasn’t just liberals who joined the Army. It was everybody. Roosevelt sat down with both Stalin and Churchill, who was very conservative in a lot of ways…I wanted that to be the politics of the record. I didn’t include on the record stuff that I had known for years that were labor songs. There’s a lot of great stuff from the I.W.W. songbook. Those are not really a part of that…I also wanted this to be about the United States. I didn’t call friends who were English or Canadian or from a lot of different countries. The singers are all from the U.S., and I wanted them to be in English. I translated ‘Bella Ciao,’ which is a song from the Italian resistance…The way we do ‘Bella Ciao’ is like a ballad, but the original is more like a march. It’s something you sing at a soccer rally. I changed the vibe considerably. I wanted it to make sense in the current situation.”

Marc Ribot plays The Green Room at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 7th.

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