A conversation with Bill Milkowski and
Rick Peckham about Left End
Bill Milkowski: I dug your record a lot. I like twisted
Rick Peckham: Hey...thats great!
BM: From the opening tune you immediately get the sense that this will
not be a Wes or Grant Green homage. Its a way over the top power
RP: Yeah, and people wonder if there are overdubs on it. There really
arent. I was using a rig where I had all the chorus and time delay
on one side and all the distortion on another side so I could pan back
and forth with an Ernie Ball volume pedal. Steve Morse talked about
doing that sort of thing years ago. I really wanted a big guitar sound
on this recording, no matter what happened. Even if I was just playing
a single note or a chord I wanted it to be big. I dont like small
guitar sounds. Jazz guitar is pretty famous for having poor tone. The
whole conception of tone and using that with jazz vocabulary is what
Im trying to do. Tone is a whole expression in itself and its
a big part of what I loved about my favorite players.
BM: I also liked that other cd you were on with that band Um (featuring
trombonist Hal Crook, drummer Bob Gullotti, bassist Dave Zinno and keyboardist
RP: Oh yeah, Straydog (Rope-a-Dope Records). I was hoping that album
would do more than it did, but it still was good. We played at Tonic
in New York and the place was totally packed. Medeski effortlessly fills
any place he plays.
BM: This new trio of yours on Left End features a fabulous rhythm section
in bassist Tony Sherr and Jim Black, who is such a musical drummer.
RP: Yeah, I love these guys. I used to play with Tony down in Texas
when he was at North Texas State. I was there too. And when I came up
to teach at Boston, thats where I met Jim. And so, I had never
played with the two of them together until we did the record but I had
played with them in different groups in each of those towns.
BM: When did you go to North Texas?
RP: I was down there from 81 to 85...so I was there right
as (producer-composer-saxophonist) Bob Belden was getting ready to leave.
It was his last year there so I got to see him some.
BM: Did you attend Berklee?
RP: No, never did. I got hired here in 86 and was hired into the
ear training department, then worked in performance studies with Hal
Crook and Jim Odgren. Then I got in the guitar department as assistant
chair of the guitar department in 92. And Ive been there
BM: Im interested in the fact that you obviously have a lot of
schooling in jazz and music and yet you embrace rock music to a huge
BM: Its got more to do with Billy Gibbons and Neil Young, as you
RP: Yeah, yeah, which is why I have that tune on the album called Gibbons
and the other one called Shakey, which is Neil Youngs
BM: ...and the James Gang.
RP: Oh yeah! I love Joe Walsh -- James Gang Rides Again and James Gang
BM: So there is a part of you that is embracing that rock aesthetic
as much as jazz or improvisational music. It seems like you have one
foot in one camp and youre looking around in other areas as well.
RP: Yeah, thats what Im trying to do. When I first started
playing jazz...I dont know how I got the idea but it really seemed
like part of playing jazz was that you had to hate rock. And so I sort
of bought into that for a while. I bought a guitar and put strings on
it that were too heavy to bend and just tried to get into Wes Montgomery
and Grant Green. But when it finally came time for me to make a record
I didnt want to jump into something that would be just another
jazz record, I wanted to get into the difficult work of integrating
Paul Kossoff and all the great classic rock guys that I always loved.
BM: And of course all those guys from that era were very experimental
in their own right...rock today behind devoid of that whole thing.
BM: Adventurous rock music with an open-ended improvisational thing.
RP: Yeah, thats what I want to get deeper into.
BM: Of course, Scofield and Frisell dip into that hybrid thing when
they play. And certainly there are many guitarists who are embracing
different aesthetics in their playing. But the Grant Green-Wes Montgomery
thing...thats the cliched profile of someone who teaches in the
guitar department at Berklee.
RP: Thats right.
BM: Thats what youd expect of someone...so this is totally
RP: Well, thats the idea. When Im making a record Im
not trying to document what somebody else has done, I wanna go somewhere
different. And I went through a whole period where I was going back
and listening to all the music that inspired me in the first place in
the 70s -- like Ritchie Blackmore with Deep Purple and Paul Kossoff,
who did all the open string tunings with Free on that great album Fire
and Water. All of those albums from that era are really great. When
I was in high school I would play along with the Stones Get Yer
Ya-Yas Out and Exile on Main Street over and over again, like so many
other people did. For a long time I didnt know which one was Keith
Richards and which one was Mick Taylor on Exile on Main Street. But
man, I can see why Mick was angry that he wasnt getting credit
because there was so much that he was doing on that album that was really
beautiful. Since then I really got into Mick Taylor and that open G
tuning of his. And recently I got that new DVD with him playing with
John Mayall. He sounds unbelievable on that! I think its the best
thing hes done since Exile on Main Street.
Track by track analysis:
Left End -- That was a band that I used to go see in Cleveland,
near where I grew up. And this was a band that was signed but they really
didnt go anywhere. There was a scene in that Kris Kristofferson-Barbara
Streisand movie, A Star Is Born, where they go into a place and somebody
has a Left End t-shirt on. Thats about as big as they made it.
They had a singer who could sing like Robert Plant and a guitarist who
was like Jimmy Page and even a bass player who played with his fingers,
which was the first time I had ever seen that. So in its way, this band
was kind of an introduction for me to some great players.
353-1001 -- I wrote that for Jim Black. That was his phone
number when he was living in Boston. Its a piece in compound meters,
which Jim handles beautifully.
Mr. Medium -- Thats my take on Mr. Big
by Paul Kossoff, the Free thing. I loved that band. So here I just tried
to improvise the melody and add a bridge. Playing with Tony on this
piece was so great because he has such anticipation for whats
coming. He has great instincts as a player and he helps create a special
Shakey -- I was just trying to channel Neil Young here...Cinnamon
Girl, Down By the River...his approach to rhythm and
tone in his voice and in his guitar playing. I think hes really
one of the great artists. I spent a lot of time growing up listening
to Harvest. I just love those huge, big sounds that he gets on his solo
records...that Crazyhorse sound...those big distorted things with interesting
rubs in the voices. Yeah, its just fun to hear those sounds.
Free 2 -- This is a collective improv piece just to let
these guys go and do whatever they want. Theyre both such accomplished
players and so creative. Jim is so musical. Hes a master of color.
And again, people think there are overdubs throughout on the percussion
but hes doing it all live right there in one day.
Gibbons -- When I went back and listened to all the stuff
I listened to in the 70s, I keyed in on Billy Gibbons works with
ZZ Top. His tone and melodic vocabulary is something that really resonated
with all I love about the guitar. That big sound and execution of the
time just really got to me. Mescalero is such a great record. And Rhythmeen
is one of the best guitar records of all time, to me. I love the guitar
sounds on there and what hes doing with the different tunings.
For this one I tuned down to D on the low string just as a way of starting
to get that idea. I want to do more of that kind of thing.
Soporific -- Mr. Rogers said that word while my son was
watching tv on day. Hes five and he was telling me about soporific,
and I had to look it up. It means sleepy and thats
sort of the vibe of this one.
You Know What That Means -- I wrote that for the Hal Crook
band. Right before that record came out with Hal I mentioned to him,
You know that records coming out pretty soon and weve
been getting more people watching us every week. Things look like theyre
going great. And he said, You know what that means.
So I wrote the tune around that vibe.
Hammer Damage -- I was in a new wave band during the 80s
called The Lines and I think we warmed up for Hammer Damage once. I
just think its a great name for a band. There were some terrific
bands in Cleveland in the late 70s and early 80s. I wish
I wouldve been following Jamey Haddad and Joe Lovano and Bill
DeArango and those guys playing around Cleveland at the time I was growing,
but I really was following all the different rock bands around Cleveland
and then eventually playing in one that didnt do very much. But
Hammer Damage was another one of those great Cleveland bands.
Hawthorn -- I wrote this and recorded it with Jim Black
on Human Feels first record, which Im told is something
of a collectors item around the world today. It was a tune that Jim
hadnt played since then and I hadnt played it much either
since then so I thought it would be a fun thing to do again. And it
shows that I was a lot more ready to play it this time than the last
Real Time -- I was trying to get more of an African 6/8
backbeat on this tune. And I was trying to get different times over
the top of it, a la Jeff Beck. I love Jeff Beck. I think he just keeps
getting better and better. He reminds me of Joe Henderson or Scofield
or Abercrombie...these guys just keep getting better every time you
Free 1 -- This is another collective improv piece that really
highlights the interactive nature of this trio. Jim sounds great here.
Hes such an amazing musician.
Evidence -- I taught a Thelonious Monk course at Berklee
for about ten years. This particular tune kind of boils everything down
that Monk did rhythmically and arrangement-wise...that idea of using
the melody all over the place. I saw Steve Lacy once playing that tune
solo and he said that that is THE Monk tune. So I figured if I was going
to do one, that would be it. Ive always loved playing Monks