The Sound of the Life of the Mind and Fire Red Moon : Chatting With Ben Folds and Craig Chaquico

This publicity image released by Sony shows members of Ben Folds Five, from left, Robert Sledge, Darren Jessee and Ben Folds.
This publicity image released by Sony shows members of Ben Folds Five, from left, Robert Sledge, Darren Jessee and Ben Folds. The band's latest album, "The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind," was released on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Sony, Autumn de Wilde)


Mike Ragogna: Hey Ben, How are you?

Ben Folds: I'm good, how are you doing?

MR: I'm pretty good. So it's obvious that the band is rocking again.

BF: Yeah, we tend to do that. That's one of the two gears. We play rock and then we play ballads.

MR: It's thirteen years since your last Ben Folds Five album. What was the creative reunion like?

BF: It didn't really feel like we'd been not playing together. I've been playing concerts and making records through the whole thing, so it felt pretty natural, really. It was natural up to the point where there's really nothing to say about it. We just got together and started playing. It was good.

MR: Let's look at your new album, The Sound of the Life of the Mind. There's a song titled "Michael Praytor, Five Years Later." Can you go into what jolted you into writing that?

BF: The hook of the song came from an improvisation. I freestyle songs quite a lot live and that's one that was made up on stage, a lot of it. As I crafted the song, I made it about the kind of person that you get stuck in a boy scout tent with, that you have to partner up with or you keep running into over and over again, years after you're out of school. It's like, "Why this guy? This is so random. Why would I run into this guy over and over again." That's really what it's about.

MR: The kind of guy that nature throws at you, and for whatever reason, you just keep partnering up with these people.

BF: Yeah, it's true. That's the way it works. Even on tour, I'm all over the country and usually I just run into people from high school--one or two of them over and over again.

MR: And you may be running into some more of them when you play New York's ComicCon.

BF: Well, probably not, I don't think I'll run into them there, but yeah I'll run into a lot of intelligent and interesting people there.

MR: I love that you're playing ComicCon. This isn't your first ComicCon, is it?

BF: It is, yes.

MR: Your first ComicCon! Okay, first day, you may be overwhelmed or disoriented, but by the second or third day, you're going to surrender to it all.

BF: Awesome, I can't wait.

MR: So, you're going to play at the event. How did the gig come together?

BF: It was an offer, it was someone's idea, and it sounded like a great idea.

MR: It is a great idea, and I think the audience is going to be very receptive to your music. Before we leave ComicCon, I have to ask you who your favorite comic or superhero is.

BF: Well, when I was a kid I like Captain Carrot.

MR: Captain Carrot!

BF: Yeah, and I liked Archie and Fantastic Four.

MR: Yeah the Fantastic Four had this sort of cosmic edge to them, and then, of course, we got the Silver Surfer out of their storyline.

BF: There was also Swamp Thing. He was pretty cool.

MR: What a great comic that was. Let's get back to the album. All the lyrics are pretty dynamic, especially on songs like "Erase Me."

BF: A lot of times, it's something that I can understand -- what I'm writing about -- but I don't often know why until years later, to tell you the truth. The music led to that and what I imagined was sort of a passive aggressive demand that since this relationship is over, the other person should just forget it all. "Forget me, forget the whole thing, erase the whole thing, delete our Facebook page together, delete our pictures, erase the entire thing, and I'll just walk like you never knew me." It doesn't work that way because the other party has picked up and begun seeing someone else immediately, and so the protagonist flips out.

MR: That's so right on. What's funny about that is it's almost like you expect a decent grieving period. You're both supposed to be grieving through the whole thing and then when the other person takes off and everything is fine, that kind of sucks.

BF: Yeah, that does suck, and it's hard on people. But at the same time, the character in this song sort of asks for it when they try to be too cavalier. You know, "Just don't worry about it. Erase me. Act like it never happened," and then the second verse goes right into, "What the F is this? You're crazy! Two weeks later and you're already with someone else? You'd better call the cops because I'm gonna kill you." He or she just flips out. I couldn't tell if the character I was writing was male or female. It also sounded like it was female sometimes, but I never got a gauge on that.

MR: It's definitely easier said than done to hit that delete button, isn't it.

BF: Yeah.

MR: All of the Ben Folds and Ben Folds Five projects are stimulating intellectually because of how you're approaching the lyrics, and musically because of the chord patterns. You create an interesting combination of old school and new school in that you're writing with a lot of the passion and maybe some of the imagery -- almost like classic movie story lines -- of different eras, with so many great twists.

BF: Yeah, and I take that as a huge compliment. It's a perceptive thing to note, and not the kind of thing that's often obvious to people until years later when you can see that it was mixed up. So many things that we do today are taken for granted. You don't have to make a reference to something modern in order to be seeing things through a modern filter. Someone who's living a modern life, contemporary with everyone else, might sit down with a violin and play a part from a string quartet that was written three hundred years ago and play through that filter. It's hard to judge those things. I like the tools that I grew up with, which are pretty basic: a microphone and a recorder, a piano, my voice, things to pound on, drums. This is a computer's age. It's almost considered, if you don't compose on a computer, you're of an older era. But I really think it's more what you do with it than it is the tools. It's fascinating what people are doing with the tools. I think computer music is fantastic.

MR: Yeah. I interviewed pianist/organist Werner Elmker the other day who, when he plays classical music -- like Bach or Beethoven or Rachmaninoff, whoever -- he starts off with the basics of what the composer intended and then takes off, he improvises. I said, "But you're not playing the classics as the classics they were intended to be," and he told me that's an element of classical music of its day. The page was meant to give you the basics, the bare bones, but when you played the piece live, there was an improv element. It seems we completely miss that point when most piano teachers instruct. During the education of classical music, in general, we're staying on the page. I would go as far saying that the demand on what to do live is to not mimic the record, it's to maybe improv on top of that, jam on top of that, express how this fine wine is breathing, how it's meant to open up, you know?

BF: Yeah, because you can even play fairly note-for-note, but the interpretation can be really different. One of the things that I didn't really dig from the evolution of the internet was where people would say, "Here's what he played," and then the next time, "He played the same thing, it's the same concert," and then, "He's played the same thing three nights in a row!" Really, they were truly very different. I think we have some idea of how much tone someone like Rachmaninoff would've had because there are recordings. You see a lot of Rubenstein and Horowitz. Horowitz was more on the page, Rubenstein was more of a loose cannon.

MR: Yeah, that's a good point. It's not taught in schools traditionally that you can actually have fun with the sheet you've got in front of you. It's logical that it's not supposed to be verbatim, because then it would be robotic or some regurgitation.

BF: Yeah, there are some artifacts that come along with a personality type that's willing to go against the grain completely and become a classical musician. They can be very rigid. The great musicians aren't, but a lot of the great classical and orchestral musicians are rigid in the thought of why music is made, how it's made, why we listen to it. They have a very defined idea of that, often. They certainly have an idea of when they start and finish... and that's rigid as well. I'm so glad that they keep it going. In a way, their note-for-note preservation, it is probably really important that they're doing that, and it's also good for people to point out that maybe there's a little bit more latitude expected in the piece. It doesn't have to be exactly like the way they're playing it, but I'm glad that they're doing it.

MR: That's exactly it. The preservation element is the notation, but the element of actually how you're experiencing it and how you're playing it, the flair of it... My feeling is that goes hand in hand with experimenting with the notation.

BF: I was playing Chopin Études when I was a kid and when I finally got to my teacher with it he was like, "No, no, no, no, no, no. Much faster than that! There's a much more brisk pace to this piece." He'd play it the way that he thought it was supposed to be played and it didn't move me at all. I was like, "Nope, sorry." Even recently, I finally found some guy's version that's about as slow as I'd like it to be. Someone out there's playing it like that, but most people consider it's supposed to go faster. I don't know how they really know that Chopin wouldn't have been okay with it slow. Why's he rolling in his grave? How do you know he's rolling in his grave? Glen Gould would ask the same thing. He'd be like, "How do you know Bach's rolling in his grave? I'm interpreting this stuff the way that I'm doing it." He has constant groans over it as well, so everyone can kiss his ass. [laughs]

MR: [laughs] Ya! And the thing is this is supposed to be about feel, too! There has to be latitude as far as grace notes and even just places where you might need to stray for feel.

BF: Just the Beethoven tone, "Sonatas should be played," or "Here's the tone that Beethoven intended. It's more manly! It's got Sturm und Drang," and you're like, "Really? I guess." It probably does. They know more than I do, but that's the problem with age, and it's a general problem. The oldest dude around, the oldest guy you can find who still knows where he is, hasn't got enough experience to know anything at all. I'm tired of old people telling me anything. I'm old and I know nothing. If I'm telling you something, I don't know s**t. There are a lot of these old people that are like, "I've been around a while, I'll tell you what, this is what's happening in America and this is happening in society." "Okay, dude, if you're five hundred years old, you can tell me." Five hundred years will get you through a lesser civilization's cycle. Then you can tell me what's going on. Nobody knows. Nobody knows at all. I think it's amazing that you can read these notes, that they can be written. Rachmaninoff was not that long ago, and look what he could do. It's absolutely incredible. I think we've lost that. We can't do that.

MR: Sweet. Ben, The Sound of the Life of the Mind features songs like "Sky High" and "On Being Frank" that are extremely... well, frank. Is this album, in your mind, the sound of the life of the mind?

BF: Yeah, where I relate to "The Sound of the Life of the Mind" is Nick Hornby's lyrics. I think we can all relate to going inside often because it's not so great outside, especially when you're a kid, which is what the song's about. Things aren't going your way or it's not a nice place to be; you can turn "in." In the case with the character in the song, she's turning in and she's spending time with her friends Abraham Lincoln, Frost, Glen Gould... This is what interests her, but on the outside, she's in a mall and there are a bunch of thugs and someone's getting beat up. They're just a bunch of silly kids. That's her escape. I think it's about escapes.

MR: Ben I've asked you this before, but what advice do you have for new artists?

BF: My answer stays pretty much the same. I thought VH1 had it right with their old moniker, "Music First." That's what I think for young artists. Keep it about your art. It's really easy for someone to say, "Well things change. Everything's changed because the music distribution system has changed." That doesn't change your music. You make great music first. That's the main thing. It's easy to take your eye off the ball. It's never been easier to take your eye off the ball. If I want to screw around on GarageBand writing something pretty, I might just kind of swipe over and see what my emails were or look something up on the Internet. You can do all kinds of crap. You can take a self-portrait. I think it's important to stay focused on whatever it is you do. Stay focused on your art. The distribution of what you do is not important unless you've done great work.

MR: Wow. "The distribution of what you do is not important unless you've done great work." Absolutely great. When I ask that question, I often get the art side, which is what you're talking about -- get your creativity together before you start marketing it -- but then I also get the other side, which is, "You've got to get on Facebook, you've got to get your social media together."

BF: Yes. By the time you write a great song or a great album, Facebook might not even be on the Internet anymore.

MR: [laughs] Yeah!

BF: We don't know, we just really don't know. Things have changed so much in my time, but the thing is with all the changes, it's almost like that change has stunted music in some ways. I think it's drugged people out. Really, a band that gets together thirteen years after they broke up shouldn't even be close to relevant. It should be a nostalgia act. I'm not saying that we are relevant; I don't think we ever were. But I don't think we're any less relevant now than we were. Consider 1948, and a band has been together in 1948, and they split up and they got back together in 1960? I would say they would be in for a big change. But I don't think between 1998 and now has been all that big of a change.

MR: Yeah, that's right.

BF: 1950 to 1952 you see it go up and accelerate for a little while, 1954 and then twelve years later, it's 1966 and acid rock has happened. You're going from before Elvis had even hit the stage to acid rock. Everything that was relevant is irrelevant. Now, I think some of the reasons for how slow things have evolved musically is partially technology. You have half of the people falling into the bed of "I'm going to spend my time making sure that my music is marketed online." You can't market something that doesn't exist or that isn't good. You can't even crowdfund your record unless someone knows who you are. You still have to get out and do it. You still have to have quality material and be the best artist that you can. I say stay off the computer and get good, and then use the computer to send emails.

MR: [laughs] Very nice. Ben, what I love about this conversation is that this is the same Ben Folds that was doing the same kind of thing on The Sing-Off. You are a consistent person, sir.

BF: [laughs] Thank you! Some would argue, but that's cool. Thank you.

MR: I have loved this conversation, and this has been great, Ben. I appreciate you spending time with me and being on solar-powered KRUU-FM.

BF: You know... about your solar powered thing, I was going to tell you, my father's electricity bill is ten dollars a month -- heat and everything -- either that or it's a dollar-eighty. He has solar panels all over his house -- PVs and passive and active solar panels, and our geothermal situation. He's really into it.

MR: Man, congratulations to your father!

BF: Yeah, he could run your radio station if you run out. He sends a lot more power back into the grid. If you guys need a couple extra watts, let me know.

MR: [laughs] You've got it, we'll reach out for those extra watts if we need'em! Ben, this has really been a pleasure. I appreciate your time so much. Let's do this again next time.

BF: Right on. I'll talk to you next album. Cheers.

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne


A Conversation with Craig Chaquico

Mike Ragogna: Craig, your career spans like five decades, you've been part of Jefferson Starship and Starship, and you have Grammy-nominated, No. 1 solo projects. Can you go into your new album, Fire Red Moon and can we also get some history?

Craig Chaquico: Well, as you said, Mike, my music career probably spans five decades when I think about it, because I joined Jefferson Starship back in the seventies, and I was the only one on every song and video and tour and album in that band from the seventies until the band broke up in '90. Since then, various versions have reformed but all the hits and all the recordings were me playing the lead guitar. How do I go from there to another musical iteration with more acoustic guitar and Grammy-nominated number one albums -- and I laugh because no one's more surprised than me about that. After I left the Starship, I started playing acoustic guitar mainly because my wife was pregnant and the acoustic guitar was much more welcome around the house. Little did I know that would lead to a whole other career for twenty years. Twenty years later, my son is 21, so I don't have to be so worried about playing loud music. My roots kind of go back to rock 'n' roll and even though I heard a lot of jazz and classical influences in all my years of playing, I always thought there were just two categories of music -- good and bad, and I always tried to play good music. Sometimes, I would cross categories as far as what people determined as different styles. The new album is, I guess technically, a different style; it's more of a blues-based album for me. I've always been a big fan of the label Blind Pig anyway. I have a huge record collection of theirs and luckily, some of the guys from the label have been coming to my concerts and have been mentioning me maybe doing an album with them someday. I finally said, "Hey, I would love to do that, but my blues roots aren't necessarily going back to the 1920s listening to original Robert Johnson. I'm not an eighty-year-old black guy that's going to make this traditional blues record." I would probably make a record that's blues-based, but my influence has kind of come from the second generation of blues, the way Clapton interpreted Robert Johnson and the way of Hendrix and all of the bands that I grew up listening to. So I said, "If I do a blues record, it's going to have a little bit of that rock 'n' roll in it, too." They were actually very supportive of that concept and lucky for me, it gave me a chance to do a record I've been wanting to do for a real long time as you can tell from that last one, "Crossroads" is heavily influenced by Cream. But I tried to add a more modern touch to it. Honestly, I'd like to think someday that there might be strippers dancing to it on a brass pole. I wanted to do a song that was kind of a ZZ Top rockin' biker version of "Crossroads," because it always sounded almost there to me anyway and this was a chance to kind of update it in a sense.

MR: I'm a little confused on if you were part of Jefferson Airplane at all?

CC: Technically speaking, even though my picture's on the cover of a Jefferson Airplane album, that was a mistake by the record company. I actually didn't join the band until 1973 really when the name changed from Jefferson Airplane to Jefferson Starship. From 1973 on into 1990 through Jefferson Starship/Starship, I'm the only one who was really there on every album as people came and went. But a lot of people confuse me as being part of the original Airplane because when I first joined the band, it was ninety percent Jefferson Airplane members with me replacing Jorma Kaukonen, and Pete Sears taking the place of Jack Casady otherwise it was kind of the Jefferson Airplane with a new guitar player and bass player. That was when I joined the band. It seems like only yesterday, sometimes it doesn't seem that long ago; but again, it's an easy mistake to make. Even the record company put a Jefferson Airplane Greatest Hits out and had my picture on the cover, which I crack up when I see it. I was probably in seventh grade when one of those songs was recorded.

MR: [laughs] So you also played on those post-Airplane albums before Jefferson Starship, like Sunfighter, ... Chrome Nun...

CC: Yeah, there was Sunfighter, and Baron Von Tollbooth and the Chrome Nun -- there's a tongue twister for you -- and there was also Grace's solo album, Manhole, that I played guitars on. Now, I wasn't the only guitar on those records. Jefferson Starship hadn't formed yet, but that's kind of how I got to know everybody. I was still in high school, actually, playing recording sessions, and it was a mindblower to me because I was in the studio with people like Jerry Garcia. Some of the people that appeared on those same albums were my heroes -- Graham Nash, David Crosby, Santana, The Pointer Sisters, members of Quicksilver Messenger Service, The Grateful Dead -- these were all people I grew up listening to, so it was awesome being kind of the new kid on the block and getting the chance to play guitar on some of the same records. That's kind of how we all got to know each other and by the time I graduated from high school, I'd already been on three albums as a guest guitar player and then we did a tour where my band opened for what was called "Jefferson Starship," so I played in both bands. I played in the opener and in Jefferson Starship, mostly stuff from those post-airplane, basically solo albums by Paul Kantner and Grace Slick. After that tour, I was asked to officially join the band at least for one record, so I thought, "Well, I can take a break from college and move to San Francisco, and then I can always go back to school after this first Jefferson Starship album." But it went gold, and they asked me to stick around, so I ended up being the only guy on every record from then on. From being the new kid on the block to being the elder statesman kind of didn't seem to take all that long, but it did take a couple of decades. It became my higher education, you might say, after I left college. I never did go back.

MR: I have to tell you, one of the things that impresses me is that you switched into the acoustic era for your solo recordings and you ended up getting Grammy nominated as a result. It was a new identity for you because everyone had associated you with being a rocker from Starship. When you made that transition, you understood the artist that you were?

CC: That's a good question. It was a blessing for me to able to explore new territory, but it was a little frightening at the time, too, because everyone that I had enjoyed playing with in Jefferson Starship, and Starship had already pretty much left during the years and it was just me and one of the singers, Mickey Thomas, just me and him. Musically, we didn't always see eye-to-eye even though I totally loved his voice. I was coming from a different musical perspective and I thought even though I'd been in the band through all these different changes, there was always a core band that had a camaraderie and a family spirit to it and by the end, it was just me and the singer with more or less of a corporate attitude about how we could use this name that's a franchise and hire a bunch of different people to make records and different people to tour. I started thinking, "Well that could work, but it isn't what I'm used to," having been in the band so long as one of the original founding members, and I thought, "Maybe now it's time for me to leave, too," because, like I said, everybody else I enjoyed playing with had left.

At that point, it got kind of scary. It was sort of like leaving your day job. That was kind of an established act, and I was basically saying goodbye to all that security. It was mainly a creative thing. I wasn't feeling like part of the creative formula anymore. There wasn't a family, there wasn't a band. So ironically, I ended up doing solo records without a band but with a family, my own family, and that's how it started because when my wife got pregnant, the acoustic guitar became more welcome, and I started recording these songs with Jerry Garcia's piano player. When Jerry would tour, he would use Ozzy Allers on some of the live tours, and Ozzy and I had been friends forever from the Bay Area, so we started doing these instrumental records. Everyone thought we were crazy, they were like, "What kind of music is that? Who's ever going to listen to that?" and we started thinking, "Hmm, you know, maybe they're right." We actually didn't get signed right away. A lot of labels passed on us. Labels that were jazz would say, "Oh, we hear some jazz but there's a lot of rock and blues and new age music. You should go to one of those labels. If you sounded like George Benson or something, we'd hire you for jazz, but you have all these other styles." Well, okay, so then we'd go to a rock label... same thing! They'd go, "Well we hear some rock in here, and if you sounded more like Eric Clapton or something we'd sign you but you should really go to a jazz label," and I'm thinking, "We just did that," "Or go to a blues label or go to a new-age label." The same thing happened at every label. We'd go to a blues label and they'd say "Well, if you sounded more like Robert Cray, we'd sign you, but you have all these other styles. Why don't you go to a new age label," and then we went to one of those labels and they went, "Yeah, we hear some new age, but you have all this blues and rock influence. If you sounded more like a new age artist we'd sign you."

It was odd because they'd always give me a specific artist they wanted me to sound like, and I thought that you're not supposed to sound like anybody else. We were very discouraged getting passed on like that, and then finally one label, Higher Octave, heard it, and said, "Wow! We like it because you don't sound like anybody else. You've got all these different influences, which is obviously you and it's heartfelt, and we'd like to put the album out the way it is. You don't have to change anything." That album became the number one independent new age album of the year at Billboard magazine and it led to a new album that was nominated for a Grammy. I'm not saying this because I'm bragging, I'm saying this because I was frightened that nobody dug my music and nobody got where we were coming from, so I point that out for a lot of people out there in a creative environment where they get a lot of "no"s before the first yes. All you need is the one right yes. It's hard not to get discouraged by all those other "no"s. And I only say that to actors and writers and musicians, it doesn't necessarily mean that if the first people don't get you that somebody else won't get it and you won't end up having a number one record like I did and selling a million copies and all that stuff. I only point that out because it can be very discouraging when you're creative and people don't get it right away, so we were very lucky that somebody got it and that we kind of stuck to it for a while. If it wasn't for Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship, Starship, my wife getting pregnant, my solo career, I wouldn't be able to do a blues record now, which is my latest record and the one I'm most proud of. If you stay on that road long enough, you find yourself going through the oldest living creatures on the earth, the Redwood Forest. You get in touch with that incredible beauty of nature in that living room of nature -- trees and wildlife -- and it's just the opposite of the neon lights and the rush hour traffic and yet it's the same road. My musical career really is the same road but on different scenic turnouts -- the rock 'n' roll and then the new age jazz and now the blues. That's where I am now on my musical journey.

MR: Craig, you already kind of touched on it, but what advice do you have for new artists?

CC: Oh boy. Honestly, the one thing I like to say is, "Don't give up." Some of my favorite authors are guys who had their books passed on like a hundred times before a college put out their first book, and now, they're like million-selling authors and I enjoy their work. Had they given up, it would have deprived all of us of some great work. So I always tell artists, "Don't give up." On one hand, I want to say that; on the other hand I really want to say, "Get another line of work," because it's hard, man! My son loves music but he really isn't pursuing a music career, and in a way, I'm kind of grateful because it's a hard road with the self-inflicted wounds along the way that people can get into with the lifestyle and some of the danger zones with drugs and alcohol and all that. It's also a dangerous occupation because I think creative people are more susceptible to getting ripped off since they're not really paying attention to some of the business and some of the shady characters. They're more interested in their music and they're vibrating on a different plane, really. As hocus pocus as that sounds, I just feel bad for people that are really resonating from a totally beautiful, artistic place and then, because they're not aware of some of the sharks out there, can really fall prey to the downside of the music business, which can be pretty overwhelming, especially when you're not used to that. You run into people that do things that you would say to yourself, "God, I would never think to do that!" because as a creative person, your mind just doesn't go that way. Anyway, it's a long story and I've been lucky pretty much, but you hear stories like that all the time about these great artists that end up getting ripped off or end up dying penniless, especially the jazz guys back in the day. I don't know when people ask what would I recommend it's kind of schizophrenic, because I would recommend "Don't give up, believe in yourself," but I would also recommend, "Don't even get started. [laughs] Get another job." My mom and dad always thought that I would have something a little more stable to fall back on, and they thought music was just a phase I was going through, and here I am doing it still.

MR: Getting back to Fire Red Moon you have another "team" with you. What was the process like?

CC: Well actually, we kind of joke around with the away team stuff because of my history with Jefferson Starship and Starship, and I'm a big science fiction fan anyway. But in a way, it's kind of similar to that. We have a core band, which is everybody on the record and everybody I tour with, and then we invited some guests to join us in the studio. Of those guests, we had the singer from Kenny Wayne Shepherd's band, who is an awesome singer, Noah Hunt recorded a song with us, as well as the keyboard player from The Rippingtons, who has joined me on a lot of albums. Bill Heller is an amazing keyboardist, so we invited him to join us in the studio under Fire Red Moon and another singer, Eric Goldbach, that I've known. This is my first album aside from all the Starship stuff that's had this many vocals on it. It was fun to do a record of sort of half and half, half instrumental and half songs with very distinctive singers. You don't get the three mixed up with each other at all. They all have their own vibe. That was pretty much the process of the album, having my core band that'll go out and tour with me, and my main singer Rolf Hartley sings the majority of the songs but joining him and the rest of us in the studio were two other fantastic singers and a killer keyboard player. That's why there's two different credits on the album, and you know "Fire Red Moon" comes from a Jimi Hendrix lyric. On one of his versions of "Voodoo Child," he says, "On the night I was born the moon turned a fire red." I've always loved that imagery, an image with supernatural voodoo overtones that you hear a lot of times in some of these blues stories. Even "Crossroads" was written by Robert Johnson and the crossroads theme itself is about Robert Johnson going to this sacred place in the swamp where the roads cross under a full moon and making a deal with the devil to let him play blues guitar. There's always this kind of undertone of black magic or some sort of spiritual, mystical thing. When Hendrix said that about the fire red moon, it always stuck in my mind.

On the other hand, I sometimes find myself between the angels and arithmetic, between science and spirituality, the math and the magic, because also, a fire red moon to me as an astronomer can mean that place where the moon passes into the umbra and penumbra of the earth's shadow during a lunar eclipse. So I thought, "'Fire Red Moon,' well that's pretty spiritual anyway, those eclipses were always thought to be magical, and yet there's a scientific explanation to it." So I always think music is that place in between the math and magic. It's mathematical and yet it's magical. It turns out that I was sort of looking into eclipses, and everyone in my family was born on a new moon, which is what happens when there's an eclipse, and everyone in my family, my mom and my dad and my brother, they all died on a full moon. I think that's a pretty unusual statistic, so if I'm going to die it's going to be on a full moon. Everyone in my family was born on a new moon, my son, in fact, on an eclipse. I got that wrong, a new moon is an eclipse of the sun, but still a fire red moon is the eclipse of the moon, and I got this vibe going on the album for the title. So there you go, that's where the title came from. Kind of a Hendrix connection, and going back even farther I was a roadie on a Hendrix concert in Sacramento. If you ever Google "Jimi Hendrix plays Cal Expo 1970 in Sacramento," there's a great article about some of the people who worked on that show. I was a young kid that was part of the road crew at the last minute. We had painted the backdrop of the concert and the promoter said, "Hey you kids with all the paint on you, we need you to move some amps." So we ended up being on the road crew and if you ever look at some of the photos from that show there's a famous picture of Jimi Hendrix playing in front of an American flag. I painted that American flag. There's a Hendrix-y karma cycle connected to this whole Fire Red Moon title for me.

MR: I'm afraid to ask you another question. My transcriber's going to kill me, poor Galen Hawthorne.

CC: I know! The editing is going to be a pain in the ass. You should talk to me before I've had my coffee.

MR: There's not going to be any editing, sir. You are doing perfectly fine. This is wonderful. I appreciate all of your time and all of your incredible answers. I was going to make a joke about "Born Under A Bad Sign," since we were talking about Fire Red Moon. When you were talking earlier about the second generation take on first-generation blues artists, I always think of "Born Under A Bad Sign." That's the perfect example of how well it can be done, and then you take it to another level, which I think is pretty cool.

CC: Well, thanks, I hope so, man. Every time you take a song that's already great and reinterpret it, you hope that you give it its own identity and that it still holds up. They've already risen the bar on that song, but that's why I wanted to stay true to some of the original recordings -- well, I say "original," the original recordings that Cream did, which isn't the original recording because it was written many years before that, but I wanted to add something new as well. If you listen to it, it's got more of an R&B or rap, modern groove with stereo synthesized keyboards as well as the organic instrumentation, because I wanted to give it kind of a modern sound but set against that traditional blues piece. If you keep listening to the second generation version that Cream did and listen to mine, you'll notice that one of the guitars I played really tries to duplicate all of the phrasing that Jack Bruce did on vocal, only on guitar. I literally studied his vocal performance as though it was a musical instrument, and did the guitar part the same way he sang it, only without the lyrics, obviously, because it's instrumental. I tried to stay totally true to his vocal melody as a musical instrument, and then, when it came to the electric guitar part in the song, which is the Clapton part in the Cream version, I even tried to stay pretty religiously close to Eric's version. I feel like I have a little bit of poetic license to do that because I think when I hear other bands cover Jefferson Starship songs or Starship songs, a lot of times, they'll play my solos note for note and I always thought that was a compliment, that they liked the song so much that they'd cover it, and they liked my solo enough that they thought it was part of the song in the sense that it's also a melody. That's how I look at my version of "Born Under A Bad Sign." I really stuck to the melody that Jack Bruce sang and quite a bit to the guitar part that Eric did, and then at the end, I tried to take it to a different place, which is more of a funky kind of finger-style telecaster-sounding guitar part that's a little bit more modern influenced.

MR: Can we get some more on the songs?

CC: Well, okay, one song that I enjoy playing is "Little Red Shoes," because the album has songs with women as themes, women as various characters. "Lie To Me" is you're talking to your ex-girlfriend and you're just saying, "Hey, I know you don't love me anymore, but just lie to me for one night. I don't care, just lie to me. Tell me everything's great and we'll have a good time." Then there's the song of the bewitching girl that you meet, that's a song called "Devil's Daughter." We've all been there, I think. She's got some kind of supernatural bewitching power over you and you like it, even though you're thinking, "This could be dangerous." There's "Bad Woman," which is, again, a song about somebody sort of complaining about that woman that did you wrong -- boy there's a theme in a lot of blues songs. But it's also a song, I don't want it to sound like all women are deceptive or witchy or dump you, so there's a song about respecting women for what they do in life that is oftentimes better than what us men do and what we stereotypically think is stuff only us do.

"Red Shoes" is really about woman musicians. It's about walking into a club and hearing this fantastic guitar and realizing it's a girl that's playing it, and you're like the lead guitar player thinking, "Hey, only guys can play that good," and then all of the sudden you go, "oh, man, women are really good at everything else, too, even playing guitar!" So with that in mind, once I started thinking about that as a theme, I remembered all the women that I've seen play and it seems to be a common denominator in this where you've got people in the jazz world like Joyce Cooling on guitar, Mindi Abair on sax, Candy Dulfer on sax, Bonnie Raitt in the blues version on guitar, Sheila E on percussion, there's just so many really great woman musicians, but if you think about it, they're all hot. They're all really hot looking, the ones that I'm thinking of. So this song is kind of a salute to the femininity. "Little Red Shoes" is kind of a double entendre of like their sexuality. Even though you're listening to them play guitar, you can't keep your eyes off their little red shoes and that means you can't help from thinking how sexy they are. "Yeah, they play great but look! She's a beautiful woman, too." So it just goes to show that stereotype, that you can be both. Women can be strong and powerful and beautiful. That song in a way was inspired by me going into a club and being amazed at how well this woman was playing and then my friend who isn't a musician just kept talking about how hot she was, and I went, "Wow, both are true. She's hot and she's playing great." So "Little Red Shoes" is a salute to all the women musicians out there that play better than me and look better than me.

MR: Never has so much gone into a pair of "Little Red Shoes."

CC: [laughs]

MR: Craig, this has been wonderful, we have to do this again. And when we talked about solar-powered KRUU-FM off mic, I really appreciate your sweet words that you had.

CC: Well I tell you, I appreciate what you guys do, too. We can all make choices to live lighter on the planet and give something back to our kids that'll be more than what we inherited. I always tell my kids, "Leave the campground cleaner than when you got there." That really applies to the rest of life I think. Solar power and anything like that that we can do. In fact, I have a guitar line that I did where they did Craig Chaquico guitars and part of the deal was that they had to plant a tree for every one of the guitars that they made. Thousands of these guitars were made with the Craig Chaquico name and thousands of trees were planted in their place as a renewable resource. I really appreciate what you guys are doing in that same spirit. Hopefully, my grandson will walk around with his dad and they'll be walking through a forest and my grandson probably won't know shit about the music I ever played but at least my son can tell him, "Hey, some of these trees are here because of your granddad and his music." So there's something really lasting about the environment if we can keep going. We're the guardians of Eden when it comes to that point and I really appreciate what you guys are doing. I've never heard of anybody doing a solar powered radio station before, so right on! Thanks for having me on your station.

MR: Thank you very much for those amazing words. All the best.

CC: Hey, thank you, and you too.

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne