Howdy boys and girls, sit right down and yer old uncle's gonna tell ya a story about one of the greatest singer/songwriter/slide guitar stranglers that never made it big. And his equally unknown (and partially demised) cronies.
It started with big Barry and some sick lids, and ended (well, it never really ends, but for our porpoises...) with two unrecognized geniuses (and their somewhat hard-to-find handiwork), a few lives wasted (but life is a series of choices, right?) and a few brains fried (and I mean that as a compliment--the ULTIMATE compliment, really).
OK, before Gregg "Kruschev" Turner comes out of retirement, and kicks my ass, here's the real story. I first heard Charlie Pickett's music in 1981 or 1982. About the same time I realized there was a kick-ass rockin' garage band that existed in the same Florida that I existed in. Charlie was assembling the ultimate weapon -- a band that could take the best of the Velvet Underground, the Yardbirds, the Flamin’ Groovies, Stones/Kingsmen/Sonics/MC5, dip it in acetone, and spit out rockin' originals, tales of the common man (and the uncommon situation), surrounded by guitars that tattooed your brains, and backed up by Greenville's mutant cross between Charlie Watts and...awww hell...maybe....Jerry Nolan?
Charlie--I was born in Athens, Ohio and moved to Dania, Florida when I was two. I was born in 1953 and air conditioning didn’t come until about 1965, so when I was about 12 years old, you just sweated up one side of the bed, rolled over and sweated that part of the bed, rolled back over into the old sweat spot which was cool by then, and then back and forth all night long in the summertime. I mean it was brutal.
Jeff--What kind of music did you listen to?
Charlie--The very first song I remember was the Chipmunks song, "Alvin!!!". And then my first love was ('60s surf duo) Jan & Dean, something called Golden Hits Volume 2 (1965). It had Dead Man's Curve, Little Old Lady From Pasadena, all the stuff that appeals to an 11-year-old boy.
Dead Man's Curve--ohhhh, man, you take it at face value, ohhhhh, how cool. And then I heard the Stones' (1966 single) Have You Seen Your Mother (Baby, Standing In The Shadows?), and I thought, "Wow, that sounds really MEAN." The Beach Boys' (1964 single), I Get Around, which sounded so cool. And about the time you hit puberty, 12-13, it just became ... I liked the Stones, I liked the Kinks. I remember the first time I heard the Kinks, we were playing that game … what the hell was it? It was pool played with rings, little plastic rings (Carom). And my brother and I were playing in our underwear, because it was summertime, and we heard those first opening chords, those great chords, and we just started dancing around, and 30 seconds later we were playing air guitar on our little stupid pool sticks. I mean it was such great stuff. I remember loving the Animals; (sings 1967 single) "When I was Young"...that's so appealing to a 13-year old boy, it's like so masculine, so dangerous, it's just so great.
Jeff--Eric Burdon, man.
Charlie--Oh, what a singer! What a set of pipes. The best white blues singer.
Jeff--He just played here.
Charlie--Did he? I didn't see him, I didn't even know.
Jeff--Did you have any music lessons when you were a kid?
Charlie--I tried to play guitar at age 14. And my parents didn't know. They got me one with action (space between the strings and the fretboard) about that high (holds hands a foot apart). I mean I just brutalized myself for several weeks, and then said, "I can't do this."
I was about 17. My cousin Mark Markham had a single release of the original version of Marlboro Country in 1966. (He also wrote If This Is Love, Can I Get My Money Back, and Meigs County.) The Stones' 1970 live album, Get Your Ya-Ya's Out had just come out, which re-inspired me again. And I had, if you recall, that sorry (Stones' 1969) San Francisco show that came out as (the bootleg album) Liver Than You'll Ever Be. And I listened to that, over and over. And then Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out came out. And, I was 16 and I said, "Man, this is SO great."
So, my cousin Mark loaned me a Japanese electric guitar, but the action was right. So I learned to play that. Bobby Mascaro (Charlie's roommate, who later managed the Cichlids pronounced sick-lids, more on them in a minute) showed me some chords, and I messed around with those chords for a while, and all of a sudden I was playing. And I’d say it took me about three weeks, and from then on, I just had fun. It wasn't practice, it was just fun.
(Looking at my notes) I graduated in 1971.
Jeff--How much experimenting with drugs did you do when you were younger?
Charlie--Only pot. You know, it's a funny thing, and I say this very seriously. I'm just afraid of drugs. I got shot up with Valium in a dentist's chair in 1979, to put me out, to get my wisdom teeth taken out. And I loved it so much I said, "I cannot ever try this cause it was SO good that I just said, I can't do this because I'll be a drooling, Quaalude junkie type of person." And, I was always afraid to try coke. It seems like it would be great for my personality, but I was just afraid of it, frankly.
I like being in control, and knowing what's going on, and being aware of things. I liked pot. I smoked plenty of pot between the time I was 14 and 22 or 23. You know, I've been totally blasted drunk, but just no drugs. Despite that, there was an article out of the Tallahassee paper that said I was a junkie in Atlanta (Tallahassee Democrat, I believe), that's absolutely not true.
Jeff--When did you start playing slide guitar?
Charlie--(Laughs) I went to the University of Florida in 1974, and I realized about that time, that I was never gonna be the lead (guitar) player I wanted to be. And I'd been playing five or six years, and was a good Chuck Berry-type player. So I said, "I better do something ... I wanna do something that makes me unique." And so I learned open-tuning slide, which will take most players ... they will pick up your guitar, and they will be lost, and you'll feel a little superior, at least in ONE way. This little corner of the world is mine. And it's something you can play all by yourself, and really have a good time with it. So that's why I did it.
Jeff--What was your first band, first time performing?
Charlie--Well, Bobby Mascaro and I played some clubs. We never practiced, we ... Bobby just did it all, and said "C'mon, and let's do something." I think we played maybe five or six shows, ever. And we played once in Hollywood.
Jeff--That was when you were 17 or 18?
Charlie--Yeah. Maybe even 19, for one or two of 'em. And then I got married and blah, blah, blah, and messed around with the Cichlids, and ... this band IS my first band, always was my first band, so I was very lucky. The whole idea was just to play (the Velvet Underground's) White Light/White Heat one time, in Hollywood, Florida, and say, "Wow ... White Light/White Heat was played in Hollywood, Florida ... into the air, and it existed, it existed, for a moment, in Hollywood, Florida." That was the whole idea, just to do that. White Light/White Heat, and to play the Pirates (amusement park, Bowie played there in 1972) in Hollywood, Florida, you know? And the guy at the club loved us. He said, "You guys come back every weekend." So we opened every weekend for the Eat, or the Reactions (Miami punk/ska band, Johnny Salton was the bassist), or one other band. I forget who it would be, but we opened all the time. So we were there every weekend, and everyone else was there every other weekend. Yeah, it was really great.
Jeff--I saw a quote from Eddie (O'Brien, guitarist for Miami punkers the Eat, and Charlie's current bassist), where he said the Cichlids were one of the first bands playing originals around here, and that they opened the door for the Eat, the Reactions and you.
Charlie--Yep. No doubt about it. Bobby Mascaro was my best friend. Like I said, he showed me how to play guitar and all that stuff. He realized at one point that he wasn't gonna be the frontman he wanted to be, so he said, "I'm gonna do the business side." He started promoting some bands, and then he said, "You know, I could take a girl band, and do it." At first he wanted to make it an all-girl band, along the lines of the Runaways (included Joan Jett and was one of the first '70s all-girl groups), or something like that, except different.
So I was trying to help him out, but I was married at the same time, so I couldn't really get involved that much. But when I got divorced, we all went out together, and HE found, not me, he found the two people he needed to make the band. It was two guys. So then he went out and got another girl, so it looked like a double-date, you know?
And it was just a GREAT outfit, and he pushed Debbie (Mascaro, Cichlids' vocalist/guitarist, Bobby's girlfriend) to write. He helped her a little bit, but he pushed her to write. She was the artistic brains, and so was Bobby Tak (Cichlids' drummer who later toured with Charlie). And they were an outfit. To this day, it's hard to say about the four bands (in that time period). There were the Cichlids, the Eat, the Reactions, and my band. The Cichlids were probably always the best band, but the Eat were the smartest band, and the most original band. And the Reactions were probably the most fun band. And there was us. We ended up going further than anybody, but of the four bands, we were the least talented and had the least going for us, in terms of originality. (I doubt that, Charlie.) But what we did have was that blues guitar thing, and that's a good thing to have, and nobody else had that.
Jeff--Alright, the Eggs mk 1, with (Barry) Elliot (guitar), (Ken) Lindahl (bass), and (Leigh) Stoner (drums). How did you hook up with those guys? How much did you play out, and how long did it last?
Charlie--It was when Bob (Mascaro) said, "Let's do something with the Cichlids. Let's go record, let's learn how to record, let's learn how to multi-track." He found Barry's studio (Music Labs in Fort Lauderdale?), and we all went in there to learn how to multi-track -- me, Debbie and Bob and some drummer. We would do (Stones' 1969 song) Gimme Shelter, we would do one of those Eric Burdon things, I can't think of which one it was.
Jeff--You were learning how to use the studio.
Charlie--We were learning to do it, because multi-tracking is hard. It's sorta like the thing when you call a talk radio show, and there's a delay. Your mind won't let you do it or something, unless you can override it. It's tough; it's tough to do that. We went in there, and it's hard to sing with yourself, it's hard to sing with somebody else, if you're not doing it together.
Jeff--It's not the same as playing live.
Charlie--No, but we learned. We learned in five or six sessions and, anyway he (Barry) had the studio. Kenny Lindahl is my friend from high school. And Barry said to me, "Man you sing just like Mick Jagger, we have to start a band." And it was his idea; actually the whole thing was his idea.
Jeff--So it's his fault?
Charlie-Yeah, kind of, and I owe him. And Leigh Stoner was just a guy Barry knew, and he was an ok drummer, I thought he was good at the time, but I later learned about it.
Jeff--You guys tour at all, or play out of Lauderdale/Miami?
And Kenny Lindahl ended up in the Eat, which was even more to his liking. He had that tear-drop bass (guitar) on the back of that thing (the Feelin' single), yeah, I'd forgotten about that picture. That was actually (Bobby) Mascaro's bass. It was a weird bass. The neck was maybe that big, that wide (holds fingers about 4-5 inches apart).
Jeff--Yeah, it's a Vox like Bill Wyman’s bass.
Charlie--Yeah, exactly, tiny-hand bass.
Jeff--Yes, he's (Bill Wyman) got very small hands.
Jeff--So, Open Records ... Leslie Wimmer ... you recorded for them. Did you have a relationship with her?
Charlie--No. I wanted to have a relationship with Leslie real bad. Ted Gottfried and Leslie owned Open. They came to me about the same time I wanted to make records and said, "Let's make a record."
And it was just one of those fortunate things, like Galway came to me, just as I'm thinking "How can I beg this guy to be in the band?"
He comes to me, and comes over to my house, and says, "Hey, I wanna play with you."
Which gives you the opportunity to go, "Oh, well...yeah, ok." Instead of going (pleading), "Johnny Galway, listen, would you please help me out?" It puts you in a different posture.
Jeff--Yeah, quite a position of power, at least for a couple seconds.
Charlie--Yeah, well ... he thinks he's asking me. He has no idea I was getting ready to beg him. So it was basically the same thing with Leslie and Ted. They said, "Hey ... listen, we'd like to make some records, and we have this idea."
And they're like going on and on, and I'm going, "Wow, you know, WOW!!" I was ready to beg them to do this and that, and they're gonna do this. And so, that was really great.
Jeff--And they (the two Open singles) both sold out. 1,500 copies each, I read somewhere.
Charlie—Feelin’ b/w White Light/White Heat sold 1,000, the other one (If This Is Love b/w Slow Death) sold 2,000.
Jeff--So they got the total right, they just got the breakdown wrong.
Charlie--And Leslie was the inspiration behind me writing All Love All Gone (from Route 33, 1986, available at Twin/Tone) and But I Didn't (from Cowboy Junkie Au-Go-Go,Cowb EP, 1984, available at The Pete Moss Memorial All-Night Record Shop. (It's burned from vinyl, and the sound is not that great, but at least you can get it. And you SHOULD get it.) I ended up making out with Leslie one time in my whole life, and that was it.
Jeff--We talked about Johnny (Salton, long-time guitarist with Charlie, also fronts the Psycho Daisies) a little. He played bass in the Reactions. When did you hook up with him?
Charlie--I can tell you exactly. First of all, Kenny (Lindahl) and I thought Salton was a very dangerous character.
Jeff--And you were right, in a way.
Charlie--Well...dangerous to himself. I later learned if you ever wanted to get into it with Salton, you could grab the back of his shirt, practically, and like, just discard him for five minutes. He MIGHT come back and try to take you on. I mean, he never did, but...he's not a fighter. Despite what he likes to think.
I can tell you exactly what it was. Kenny and I thought he (Johnny) was the baddest, meanest guy we'd ever seen, so we were really afraid to even talk to him.
Jeff--So he had a reputation when he was with the Reactions.
Charlie--Oh yeah. One night we were at a place in Dania called the Balkan (Rock) Club which lasted maybe three months (circa 1980). And some poor guy I knew socially that was one of these record collectors who had his ENTIRE apartment, floor to ceiling records, you know. He had EVERYTHING. He was so smart, and was such a player too, like a Robert Fripp (King Crimson guitarist and more) type of player.
And the poor guy ... I happened to just see him, and I said, "Hey, how you doing?" And we went back to his place, after hanging out maybe half an hour, and we got back there, and somebody had backed a fucking truck up, and stole almost his entire fucking collection!!! Nobody saw it!
Jeff--They were all gone.
Charlie--All fucking gone, this is this guy's LIFE, Jeff, it was his fucking life. You might as well have just taken his life from him. I'm telling you, I felt SO fucking bad, and I kept thinking to myself, "What if I had not seen him?" I don't know ... he was devastated, I was devastated for him. So, we just hung out the rest of the day, this guy was catatonic.
Charlie--Sort of. We did the police thing ... they were as interested as, you know, nobody.
Jeff--Yeah, records, big deal.
Charlie--Who cares? So, we go to the Balkan that night, and the Eat were playing. The Eat got done (with their set), Eddie (O'Brien) went back up (onstage) on drums, and Michael (O'Brien, Eddie's brother, and Eat guitarist) went to bass, and Salton started it. The whole audience was not going home, they wanted more...and Salton just sat on the edge of the stage, and started playing blues. And you know blues as well as I do (probably not, Charlie, but I know some), not very many people can play very long, they start repeating (guitar) licks. Salton played 22 minutes, didn't repeat one fucking lick. And his tone (guitar sound), and his control, and everything, was absolutely devastating. And we're talking punk rock heaven, here, and the entire punk rock audience sat down on the floor, and watched Salton play.
Jeff--So after the first five minutes you realized that he was WAY under-utilized in the Reactions.
Charlie--I have to play with this guy. I HAVE to play with this guy. And within maybe that night, or maybe the next day, I called him and said, "Johnny ... why don't you come and play guitar with me for awhile?" And that was the beginning. And he just clicked right away.
One of our funniest shows ever was in Tampa. We came to that festival you guys have (HUGE annual benefit concert for WMNF, Tampa's non-commercial radio station. Charlie & the Eggs played there in 1981 and 1982, headlined in 1983, and Charlie and the Psycho Daisies returned to play again in 2004), and they put us in a club very similar to the one we played this year (the Orpheum). There was a not-permanent stage. It was a riser-type stage, and it was nice and big, and the crowd was good, the lights were excruciatingly bright, and I like at least decent eye contact (with the audience), so the lights were killing me, I couldn't see anything. So, you're trying to connect with people, and I just insist on keeping my eyes open, but ... anyway, I'm trying to concentrate on doing that, and I look over to Eddie to see how come he's not singing, 'cause it was some song where he was singing back-up (vocals). I look over there and I don't see him, so I start looking around for him like, "Where the hell is he? I don't see him at all, but I hear the bass." And I look at Sticks, and Sticks is laughing, and he's nodding at me to go over there, so I thought, "What the hell?" So I walk over to where Eddie is playing, and I see Eddie over there (laughs). He'd been drinking beer, and he was pissing off the back of the stage while he was playing. He's got his dick out, and he's pissing off the back.
And there was nobody there, nobody in the back, and he's just going, "Keep on, keep on playing!" So I went back, and we kept playing. We all kinda had a chuckle about that.
Well, that wasn't so bad (laughs). The haircut boy from Zenith Nader (very mediocre Tampa new-wave band) came by, and SLIPPED IN THE PISS!! (giggling)
And he's going, "What the fuck is this? A leaking roof or something?" He's looking up at the roof.
And the owner comes by, and he's looking up at the roof too like, "Hey, what the hell's that?" And we're all standing like (sympathetically), "I'll be durned, ooh-ooh-ooh." Salton liked to died laughing, he couldn't stand it, 'cause he hated that guy anyway. He slipped in the piss, beer piss, and thought it was a roof leak.
You said one of the things you wanted to talk about was my relationship with Johnny. You know, some of my friends, Jimmy Johnson (bass player with the Eggs briefly, DT Martyrs, and the Chant) and some of the other people, my ex-girlfriend Kim, and people like that, they used to say, "Well, you'd have gone so far without John." And what they fail to really appreciate is I would've gone NOWHERE without John. So, first of all, if you accept that kind of influence over the relationship, or over the music, then, the fact of the matter is I got as far as I did BECAUSE of John. And I refuse to believe I was ever limited by John.
Because what they forget is that, when we went touring, John cleaned up. All he did was smoke pot, because he had to. A band on our level could not go on the road, SCORING DOPE!!! Scoring pot, yeah. Scoring dope, no. Not with a Florida tag. Because you might as well roll down the windows, put the emergency blinkers on, and start screaming out the window, "please arrest me". Because you can't score, you can't do it.
And I said to everybody, "You know, we can't do this, we can't, we can't, that's all there is to it."
So, the first five or six days of any tour, he'd (Johnny) just curl up in the back, in almost a fetal position, and come out, you know, (croaking), "I can't play". And you would cajole him into playing; maybe three times I really had to cajole him into playing. One of them was at Skipper's Smokehouse (Tampa venue).
But he always played great, when he was coming down, and then he straightened out, once you're out a week or so, and he was great.
So I was never held back. And he was always a great foil (onstage). See, I always kept him to my right, because he doesn't play out to the audience. He'll turn, he turns a quarter of the way (away from the audience), or he turns almost all the way in (towards the drummer). So, what you end up doing, if I keep him to my right, the guitar comes out to the audience, the guitar is facing the audience, so they get to see what's going on.
And he added what I called gravitas, or weight. Because sometimes, depending on the crowd, or what I was feeling like, or the songs we were gonna play. Sometimes I go out and (growls) "ARGROOH", and sometimes I go out and (happy) "Hi, I'm Charlie Pickett, ha ha ha ha, let's go." I mean Marlboro Country, c'mon, who can take that seriously?
Jeff--Your (and Johnny's) playing styles go together so good.
Charlie--It used to, it used to go together really, really well. In part, because everything I wrote, was with him in mind, because I love the guitar. I couldn't give a flying damn about hardly any words, as long as they don't embarrass me. 'Cause I can't sing embarrassing, you know, "moon/spoon/June" kinda shit, it just is too embarrassing. So I wrote almost everything with him in mind. Sometimes you just write a song and say, "It's a good song, he's gotta make it fit".
Charlie--Yes, just before Froshnider. Played four shows. And that was kind of a good thing. It turned Jimmy on to playing bass. He'd never played bass before. He's one of the best people in the world that I know -- nicest guy in rock 'n' roll is what I call him.
Jeff--When did you meet (Dave) Froshnider?
Charlie--Frosh had a band called the Weasels, and he was around.
Jeff--The Weasels? No offense, but he looked kinda like a weasel.
Charlie--He did (chuckles). That was one of the things I liked about the Marco band. You know how guys look good, by who they're close to? (laughs) Well, I'm kinda one of these people, who looks good if I'm next to somebody that's good-looking. Marco was so good-looking, and if you hung Marco in there, all the rest of us looked good. Hang Frosh in there, looks like four guys that are not so good-looking.
Jeff--And Sticks played in the Bobs (Miami pop-rock outfit)...there was another one, a rockabilly trio? I saw a picture of them somewhere...
Charlie-- Larry Joe Miller (the Thingies and more) ... you have done a lot of work, man.
Jeff--When you started playing with Salton, Froshnider and Sticks, how many times did you play before you knew it was a really kick-ass rockin' band? How long did it take to start to gel?
Charlie--Didn't take long, once I got Salton. Once I got Salton, it wasn't long before I got Frosh ... and both of 'em knew how to do it. And it wasn't the first incarnation of the band, but I mean it was sort of Mach 1, really good. And that's how we did Live At The Button (Charlie's 1982 debut album, out of print, dammit--get one anyway, if you can find it). That's that period. And then we did a harder-edged period...
Jeff--Cowboy Junkie Au-Go-Go
Charlie--Yeah, that's the harder-edged period, the feedback-drenched stuff.
Jeff--I love it.
Charlie--I do too, but we got one notch better and different. When we went on the road, after that period. You know, I don't go into shows, trying to cut other bands up. I don't go in there trying to blow 'em away, stuff like that. That's not the object. My object is, when I go into a town that I have not played before, I try to pick up fans. That was my idea. In those days it was, pick up fans, pick up fans, pick up fans, and that was one of the things, but also, there was this thing of, do something that people have not heard before, or if they have heard it before, they haven't heard it in a long time. And that was our goal, and we did that.
On our tours, we got ... not blown away, but somebody (another band sharing the bill) had done better than us, I'm serious Jeff, five or six times, out of hundreds of shows, did anyone do better than we did. And we would just BLOW people away. We took the (Red Hot) Chili Peppers apart in San Francisco -- out there in their fucking turf, just BLEW 'em away. They're like ... before we played, (stern voice) "Well, sorry, (you're) not allowed in our dressing room." And after we get done, it's ..."You guys are great! C'mon in, and drink our beer! C'mon in! Golly, you guys are fabulous, and blah, blah, blah..."
Jeff--When was this? Late '80s, early '80s?
Charlie--That would've been 1984 or '85, something like that.
Charlie--And that happened over and over and over, and...
Jeff--It's just a little old band from Florida.
Charlie--Yeah, but that was that incarnation, that was a really good outfit.
Jeff--You guys did a lot of cover songs. Was it a group thing? Who decided what (songs) to do?
Charlie--I picked every song we did, with the exception of maybe one or two.
Jeff--And you were talking to me about Richard Shelter, your road manager. How long did he work with you? Are you still in contact with him?
Charlie--Yeah. He was a great soundman, a great businessman, and a very likeable guy. He was the "up" guy, though, in a group of depressed people (laughs), so he got a lot of flak that he shouldn't have. I didn't give it to him, mostly, but...
Jeff—Alright. Live At The Button. You said recorded over two nights in January 1982. Tell me about those gigs
Charlie--It was two nights, three shows a night.
Jeff--You mentioned something about there being a lot of lesbians in the crowd.
Charlie--Oh yeah, yeah ... at that point we had a big lesbian following, I have no idea why. I mean I can't imagine ... but it got a lot of people at the shows. And these girls were real demonstrative ... (and would) kiss each other on the lips, and all that right in front of you. It was these lesbian girls that started that screaming in the middle of Feelin' (on Live At The Button). They did it at every show, it wasn't just for the Button shows, they did it at every show. And it was a lotta fun. They quit (doing) it about three months later.
Jeff--Where was the album mixed and compiled?
Charlie--Sync Studio (Miami). They did the sound at the shows also.
Jeff--Who produced it?
Charlie--I did. Buck Freeman (pseudonym) is me.
Jeff--Buck Freeman is you. (facetiously) AH-HAH!!, now we're getting to some secrets! (Charlie laughs). I'm not gonna go song-by-song, but American Travelust is one of my favorites. It's a road song ... anything autobiographical in that song?
Charlie--No, no ... I love travel. I think it's in all Americans. Huckelberry Finn is a travel book ... (looking at my notes) Harris helped me write Phantom Train.
Charlie--Joe Harris, our ex-manager.
Jeff--Ok ... it's been awhile, I know the story of Arthur McDuffie. Why don't you talk about that. (Arthur McDuffie is mentioned in Phantom Train.)
Charlie--My dad and I were riding to work the next Monday, after the riots, and we're listening (to the news reports on the radio), and the whole thing was that this man had been handcuffed. And he died after he was handcuffed. So Dad says to me, "What did they expect people to believe? He committed suicide on the sidewalk, and flopped himself to death?" So that stuck to me, as (quoting the song lyric) "strangest case of suicide I've ever seen." It was Dad's line.
Jeff--The record (Live At The Button) came out, got some national press. Did you start to get out-of-state gigs at this point?
Jeff--Was it mostly in the south, or more nationwide?
Charlie--It took over a year to go on the road out of state after that (the release and regional success of Live At The Button). We got a long review from the managing editor of Melody Maker (British music weekly) and we should have went to England right then. But I was naive, and I didn't know, and nobody else knew.
Jeff--I still have the picture from (the review in) Creem magazine (US music magazine of the '70s/'80s).
Charlie--But you know Jeff, we just didn't know. You think you're smart, but you're not. I should've borrowed some money and gone.
Jeff—Alright -- the Tuned Up And Howlin' (import 12" EP -- good luck trying to find a copy of this also).
Charlie--Some guy called us from Germany and sent us some money. We re-mixed a little bit of Live At The Button.
Jeff--Who came up with the idea of the overdubbed vocal on Phantom Train?
Jeff--You said you were trying to sound like the guy from Savoy Brown? (English blues/rock band, still active)
Charlie--Oh, yeah, Dave Walker.
Jeff--I saw you at Tropical Heatwave in May 1983, and at the Tampa VFW Hall in January 1984, and at the Lonesome Coyote (short-lived St Pete club, the Psycho Daisies also played there) in February 1985. The first thing that jumped out at me, is how much better it sounded than Live At The Button. Now, Live At The Button is a rockin' album...
Charlie--Well good. I'm glad to hear that, because it was a better band.
Jeff--...but Salton, you and Galway, had clearly stepped up and brought it up to a new level. Especially Salton.
Charlie--Yeah, no doubt about it.
Jeff--Salton was at his 'slash and burn' finest. You sounded more Stones-ish to me,
Charlie--There was a lot of 'play' going on.
Jeff--Yeah, is it being on the road and playing together more? You were talking earlier about the stages the band went through. Is it just development as players and practicing together?
Charlie--Development as players, practicing together, playing the same songs, and then you...
Jeff--You start to explore them?
Charlie--Yeah, you realize this song needs more, or it needs this. And it's not like you sit down and say to yourself, at least we didn't. We didn't sit down and say, "Well, let's put this part in, let's do this." It was that, you suddenly would realize, cause all of us were from that Rolling Stones Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out era, and we all loved that … it was always there in the background. Salton doesn't listen to Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out, but it's right there in his mind.
Jeff--He has (listened to it).
Charlie--Oh yeah. What was I thinkin' ... what we used to do was sometimes we would get too sharp. And you'd feel like you're not trying, and you'd just be SHARP. And that's something we didn't wanna be, although probably it would've been a good thing for us, but ... looking back.
So what we'd do, is we'd go to practice, and we'd turn the light off. I mean it, and that room was dark, there was no window in there, I mean it was DARK, so damn dark you might fall down.
Jeff--Where'd you practice at?
Charlie--At Sync (studio). And so, when the lights are off, you can't watch your hands, you have to listen now. And that's where we learned to play blues. Better blues. And better songs, better rock 'n' roll, because now you're listening for the art of it only, and so that was something we did.
Jeff--The Cowboy Junkie Au-Go-Go EP, recorded late 1983, at Pompano Beach (Florida Vidcom). And produced by you, since Buck Freeman is you. Now, here, we have two junkie songs, and we have two 'Charlie Pickett having woman problems' songs.
Charlie--Right ... that's a good point. And of course me and Galway are the cowboys, even though Galway would occasionally do heroin. And Frosh and Salton are the junkies. That record is ... I like it, I really like it, but I'm almost embarrassed, because the weak songs are mine (laughs) and the good ones are Frosh's. With the exception of Liked It A Lot. Liked It A Lot, I'd put up against any ... you take the top 10 songs of 1984, and I'll put that in there, one way or the other. And even Robert Christgau (music critic), out of the (NYC paper) Village Voice (and Creem), agreed, for that year. (Christgau said "Charlie Pickett and the Eggs' Cowboy Junkie Au-Go-Go (Open) is ace country-punk that closes with one of the bitterest post-free-love songs you've ever heard.")
So that's sort of the only saving grace for me on that. I mean I think we did the songs well. Salton played the nylon-stringed guitar on But I Didn't, and turned the treble wide open on Marlboro Country. It's all very good, but Frosh's contributions were really good, and ... whatever.
Jeff--Johnny (Salton) was telling Bill Henry (Psycho Daisies historian, and guitarist for Psychic Fair) that the Tampa (VFW Hall January 1984) gig I taped was the only time you played But I Didn't onstage. (In retrospect, Johnny was probably telling Bill that it was the only existing recording of them performing But I Didn't onstage)
Charlie--Oh, really? It's very possible, very possible, we seldom played it. We seldom, seldom played that song. They loved it in Tallahassee, and so we'd sit in the car or something, and go, "Remember now, this is the way it (the song) goes ..." And Dave (Froshnider) wrote the bridge, so I always had to have someone show me the bridge again, 'cause I couldn't remember it.
And it was in Tallahassee that they used to sing it back to us as we would play it. They would sing it as, "Thought I had a squirrel" (instead of "Thought I had a girl"). It was a HUGE punk-rock audience, and they would sit there, and scream it back at me, "THOUGHT I HAD A SQUIRREL, BUT I DIDN'T", and it was SO weird.
Jeff--Trash Fever was a Daisies song?
Charlie--Yeah. Dave brought those songs in--Trash Fever and Overtown.
Jeff--They were already written?
Charlie--Dave wrote Overtown for the Daisies, and it just worked out that I had the slide part, and so that was a good thing. But yeah, Dave wrote it for the Daisies. Dave's a great songwriter.
Jeff--Yeah, why did he get out (of the music business)?
Charlie--You know, that was just one of the machinations of the band.
Jeff--Did you talk to him at all?
Charlie--Oh yeah, yeah. We all went to New York (City), on a long trip. And we ending up staying there for a little while. And Johnny, he was just so completely whipped on heroin, just completely ... you know, like a stupid comic book.
Jeff--What about (Dave) Froshnider?
Charlie--Frosh was just as bad, but Frosh would always land on his feet, like a cat. And so, Salton said, "I have to stay with you for three days." And I had Leslie Wimmer and Kim (ex-girlfriend) at my place. And Kim was supporting me. And so I said to Kim, "Well, Johnny insists I owe this for three days." And I mean, if your girlfriend's supporting you, and she says NO....
Alright, so I go to John, and I said, "John, you gotta find someplace else for three days." Sticks (John "Sticks" Galway,Eggs/MC3 drummer, now deceased) wouldn't let him stay with him. He'd even burned Sticks out. And Dave wouldn't let him stay with him.
So Johnny said, "Well, I can't, I gotta go home."
And I said, "Well, John, if that's the way it is, you gotta go home then." And he was all mad at me and everything, so he flew home. And so then I went to... (starts laughing)...we were leaving on tour, three days later....
Jeff--The Jockey Club (Cincinnati venue)
Charlie--To the Jockey Club, exactly right! Wow, man.
Jeff--I've been studying.
Charlie--Wow, you really have. Where did I tell this before?
Jeff--It's on the Pete Moss (Memorial All-Night Record Shop) web page.
Charlie--I'll be damned. Wow. But here's what you don't know. I went to Frosh's. Frosh was staying at this place over on the west side. They called it the rock 'n' roll hotel. And it was a fire-trap. I mean you talk about a place that you don't even wanna think about being in. And his room was so small that when you opened the door, it would hit against a bed, and the bed was against the other wall. And it was just wide enough to have one bed, and then another bed (at a 90 degree angle) to form an L, and that was it, that was the entire hotel room.
So I get there, I knock on the door, and I'm saying to myself, "Damn, you know, I don't know if we're gonna be able to make this trip. I gotta ask Dave if he wants to play guitar, and then I gotta ask Marco Pettit (MC3/Psycho Daisies bassist/vocalist, now deceased) if he wants to play bass." They were up there doing Daisies gigs. And so I get there... (laughing) Dave was completely naked, with his junkie/stripper girlfriend, Amy, completely naked, with this bass player from Screaming Sneakers (Bud Gangemi) completely naked, and I'm going..."Oh man, oh no!" (laughing)
I knock on this door, and Dave goes (croaking) "Yeah?" ...Walk in on three junkies! It was like "Oh, Man..."
Jeff--You walked into somebody else's movie.
Charlie-Absolutely, it was like this BAD movie. So Dave goes "Oh, Charlie, give me just a second." So I stood outside for a minute, he puts his clothes on...(croaks) "Yeah, what's up?"
I said "Dave, you gotta play guitar, Alright?"
"OK." So we went and got Marco and...
Jeff--You went and auditioned for Twin/Tone? (records)
Charlie--Yes, that was the reason it was so scary that Johnny went home, because literally, we played Cinncinnati, Madison (Wisconsin) and Minneapolis, to audition for Twin/Tone (based in Minneapolis). We had played two shows with this line-up before we auditioned for Twin/Tone. But the nice part of it was Marco knew the whole thing (Charlie's songs) and Dave knew it, 'cause he'd played it.
So we went up there, and the funny thing of it is, what got the Twin/Tone people was first of all, they liked it all anyway, but, if you recall, I used to do almost the same shtick every night. And you'd definitely do it on the road every night, and it was that shtick about ... you go sit on the side of the stage, get the microphone down close to you ... and Sticks would bring it down to that little "tick-tock-tick-tock". And it was a shtick about my ... grandmother ... told all of her daughters, when they were married, that if you want your man to be happy, "Give it TO him, and he will be satis-FIED." You know, and you SET UP that line. And then you go and say, "Lemme talk to the men." And back then I used to say, "Lemme talk to you MENS." Then I would turn it around and say, "You know, your woman comes in, she's been out with the girls all night, she comes slidin' up on you, you let her in the house, she comes slidin' in the bed, next thing you know, it's all kissy-kissy. Well men, wake up, GIVE it to her, and she will be satis-FIED."
And those guys were Minneapolis GUYS who had NEVER SEEN that kind of, "Lemme bring it down." Because I'd seen Ike Turner ... and ... every soul revue used to 'bring it down'.
Jeff--Husker Du never 'brought it down', the Replacements never 'brought it down'. (both bands I like, by the way)
Charlie--Right! But they'd never seen that.
Jeff--Froshnider has big old hands.
Charlie--He has the long, long skinny hands. He was a good player. He had more technique than John.
Jeff--He was like Mick Taylor to John's Keith Richards.
Charlie--Exactly! Johnny, though, had that ability to explode. Almost every song you would get an explosion, if you wanted it. He could just explode on a whole set sometimes. Imagine playing in a band with a Harvey Mandel (Canned Heat guitarist and more) or a Mick Taylor (Rolling Stones guitarist 1969-74). That was the way it was for me. When I was with Johnny, I had a great time, because I enjoyed playing my own guitar and singing, and Sticks pounding away, and everything would be so good, and then you add on top of that, this player, you're listening to him, and you're going, "Man...
Jeff--Now your favorite line-up (of the band) is with Marco on bass, and for me I prefer Froshnider on bass. When did you hook up with him?
Charlie--I saw Marco about 1983 and somebody said, "He beats his wife." And (said it) to Salton -- trying to pump me up to go beat up Marco. I later learned that his wife was a solid bitch and she probably deserved to be beat up. But I didn't like him at first and then I found out, within a week or two that he was a very nice guy. He played with the Daisies. He and I hooked up about 18 months later, in that story I was telling you (about their escapades in NYC).
Jeff--So, you were successful in auditioning for Twin/Tone. Froshnider and Galway played on part of Route 33, not the whole thing? Then you went on the road?
God ... I think we started the tour in about November or October. And we went out 110 straight days starting in November, and most of it was in the upper midwest, where it was just ... I mean, god. Here we all are Florida people, and we're just dying in Minnesota in January. Just dying. Well, we went through it, and we spent Christmas in LA. And played lots of clubs, played with a lot of famous people, and met a lot of famous people. So we came back, and played Ann Arbor (Michigan), and I committed the all-time musician gaff.
I had always said I would never do this, because somebody did it to me one time, and I said "Nobody should ever do this." I always told this anecdote, which was, "You should never show your anger with any other player on the stage." And I know the Lyres (Boston band) used to do that beat up thing (fight onstage), and other people do it, but I figured, bands implode, they don't explode. And, so, you're all in it together, and you know you're gonna have a night out of tune, and you know that the drummer's gonna break his snare drum, and it will happen. And you gotta cover for the other guy, you have to do that.
Jeff--...Or else it's not a band.
Charlie--It really isn't. And ... I don't know, we were in Ann Arbor, and Dave stepped on a lead break (guitar solo) that was mine. And, you know, it's such a nothing thing, it really isn't, it's nothing. We shared step-on's, if you feel hot, and good, do it, and I'll fall off (play rhythm). And the same for me. If I feel hot and good, I'll do it and (Dave would) just fall off. But I turned around, all pissed at him. Nobody in the audience saw it, but I turned around and... "GOD-DAMMIT!" (laughing) And so, we finished that show off, and we go to Denny's, and I know Sticks ain’t talking to me, and Richard Shelter ain’t talking to me, the road manager. Dave ain’t talking to me, Marco ain’t talking to me, and I'm doing the old (adopts super-pleasant tone) "So, where we going for breakfast?..."
Jeff--...Pretend like it didn't happen.
Charlie--(imitating the others, gruffly) "I don't care." And we get to Denny's, and Sticks says, "Hey, man, why don't you sit over there." (bursts into laughter)
I just went "OH, GOD!"
Jeff--Rejected by the drummer.
Charlie--Absolutely death, you know. And Sticks was like, the arbiter of cool. I mean he even made Salton ... Salton sought Sticks' approval. Long and short of it was that, Sticks said, "Hey man, we're gonna finish this tour off, but when we get home, that's it." And you know, it's a funny thing, nobody sulked, and nobody got mad, all the way home. We had a long way home. I mean we were six weeks from home at that point, probably. And everybody was happy. We all covered for each other, did all the usual things we always did. Got back home, and Sticks was, "I'll see ya, man." I was hoping they were gonna kinda forget it, 'cause it seemed like everybody had...
So I called Sticks a couple of days after we get home, and I said, "John, now you sure you wanna not play with me anymore? You don't wanna do this anymore?"
I said, "Alright, that's fine. I understand, I really do understand." The only thing I had to say was ... 'cause by then they were gonna do the Daisies thing again, it was gonna be (Marco) Pettit, Frosh, Johnny, and Galway. "You can tell 'em I said this. I'll tell them to their face. Who is going to look at the audience in the eye? Who's gonna do that? Everybody in the band can outplay me. There's no doubt about that. Think about it John. Who's gonna look people in the eye?"
Frosh always sang like this (looking down). John is the worst, he slides to the microphone, he sneaks up on the microphone.
Jeff--He faces the other musicians, or he faces the drummer.
Charlie--Absolutely. That's the only thing I said, and Galway didn't take any insult, he just said, "We'll get by, man, it's ok."
So they went out. (starts laughing) All the time we were together, there was never a fistfight, There were probably three or four shouting matches in EIGHT YEARS of playing together ... three or four shouting matches that lasted 20 seconds. It was done, done, over, 20 seconds. The only person I ever called out while I was in the band was (Richard) Shelter one time, in Colorado. But never ever threats, or any of that shit, never.
Those guys go on the road ... they are gone three freakin' weeks, and have a total, knock-out, side-of-I-95, fistfight. (laughing) Oh, and what started it? They were having a rolling fistfight (in the van), while Sticks was driving. There was a rolling fistfight going on with the three guys behind him. And so then Sticks stops the van and makes them all get out and fight. So anyway, they came back all mad at each other. And of course the first one to call me is Johnny (Salton).
"Charlie, listen-ah, let's play together." I said (enthusiastically), "Yeah, sure, of course, yeah." I'm right into that. I mean, I had a guy playing with me, a real good guy, and I just said "Hey ... Pat (Johnson, guitarist, the Chant, Royal Trux, Penelope Houston, the Maydays), why don't you move over to bass. I mean Johnny's a hell of a player..."
And he knew John, and he said "Absolutely. Right away. Yes, absolutely." And so he did that, and we ran around that way for awhile. We took Bobby Tak from the Cichlids and Pat Johnson and myself and went up north ... went clear to Minnesota, played in and around and down, down into Texas again...
(Bobby) Tak had a coke problem at the time. And always, one of the nice things about our band was that, every one of us was what I call slightly depressive, which makes for a calm situation. You go down the road, nobody's in the back, or driving, or anything, going (rapid-fire babbling) "And then I went to blublublublublublublublu, and then I went to blublublublublublublublublu, andblublublublublublu, andwhat'rewegonnadonowlet'sgetoutandplaysomefootball,laaaaaa." Nobody was like that, everybody was like this, going down the road (leans head completely back in chair, totally relaxed, not moving)...
Charlie--Yeah, REAL calm, and then somebody'd say, "Well, you know, remember this?..." Good stories, REAL good stories. But told easy, 'cause when you're traveling, you know how it is. Everything slows down, 'cause what's the point in blasting through a story in 90 seconds? When you got hours, you know? So everybody would tell the little nuances, and you learn a lot about each other.
And we played uh ... games, we played five regrets. And so people would have to think, "What are my five greatest regrets?" And of course, you sorta do it round-robin. You're not trying to top anybody. You're just trying to tell THE TRUTH about your five regrets. Funny, the only one I remember ... um, DEEPLY, is Salton saying he wished he'd spent more time with this girl Brandi. Which I was really surprised about, 'cause, she was a great girl, but I didn't know he really missed her. He had some great girlfriends, but...I was surprised about that.
Sticks was talking, one of his big regrets, he had a...black girlfriend. You know, Sticks was gay, but he had a black girlfriend when he was 17, 18. And he said they had this real shack of a place in Greenville (South Carolina). He said they'd wake up in the morning, and the sun would be peeking through the little tiny holes in the ceiling, and he said it would come back down through in the little dust in the air, and it would shine down on her back, and he'd just roll up on one arm, and look and look. He said--that wasn't five regrets--that was five perfect moments, we played that too.
Jeff--Wow....So he was bi (sexual)?
Charlie--Um...no, no, mostly gay. Although...
Jeff--He experimented when he was a teenager?
Charlie--Yeah, I guess, but he-ahhh...he slept with two girls in all the time we were together, that I remember. We would go out ... he slept with a girl in Florida State (University, Tallahassee), and he slept with some girl up in Boston. Just to, I guess to do something different. But, I mean, he didn't ... Jesus, Johnny was...you could tell gay jokes, he didn't give a flying damn, it just didn't matter. I mean, you didn't really wanna tell 'em, but if you did, it just didn't matter to him, he liked 'em. It had to be a good joke, in the first place.
Charlie--OH MAN! You know (Marco) Pettit used to say that Pete Moss (Psycho Daisies drummer, among a dozen other things, now deceased) was slightly better than Sticks, but the fact of the matter was, I always thought Sticks was just slightly better than Pete Moss, because, here's the thing. Sticks, night after night after night after night, played his parts EXACTLY the same, and they were EXACTLY perfect.
Jeff--He didn't speed up or slow down.
Charlie--NO! He was SO GOOD! And he was so...I mean, every place that you wanted to...YOU KNEW where Sticks was gonna be. You could be somewhere else, and you could plan to be somewhere else, because you knew Sticks would make everyone else go to this spot, at that particular time. So you could set up a LONG blow of feedback, 'cause you knew, when Sticks would get everybody there. And you could stop it. AND, he was the toughest one in the whole bunch.
Jeff--The first thing that jumped out at me, the first coupla times I saw y'all, and it was especially true for him, it was true for Johnny, and everybody too, I could see y'all's personalities coming out, from what they were on Live At The Button. But he would play every single song, and then just put a little bit more on top.
Charlie--Absolutely. He was so, so good, and he...during all the cold, really really cold, seemed like we would always target, to try to hit the road right when the college radio programmers got back to school in the fall. And we would always miss our target by about two months, which means we would hit the road about November, which is the worst for Florida people to try to get going, but what the hell...
So anyways, we would try, and we would fail, and that would be the deal, on trying to hit the target. But, Sticks was the one that loaded out (the sound equipment). We all carried stuff to Sticks, so we could go in and out of the warm club and out into the cold, but Sticks sat in the van, putting the stuff in while we brought it to him. That was just like one thing. He did many other tough things. It was just him...he was really something. And he liked to pack, and packing is a miserable thing, if you don't like it, so...he got everything, always got it all in there, perfectly done, (to) give us the maximum room.
Jeff--Ok, we got off track there, back to Route 33, how did that get finished?
Charlie--We went back...I went back up (to Minneapolis), with a guy from the Gun Club (legendary California post-punks,1980-96), Jim Duckworth (guitarist, also played with Panther Burns), and those two guys from up there (choose from Chris Osgood, producer/guitarist, Eric Hohn, bass, and/or Bob Joslyn, drums), and we added four or five songs, and Jim worked over the rest of 'em.
Jeff--So you re-did a bunch of the tracks?
Charlie--Yeah, and did some new stuff. That's (Route 33) my best writing ever, but it just doesn't sound good. I mean, they talk about Chris (Osgood) producing it, but basically I did it, and how in the hell it sounds like it's underwater???
I have the (master) tapes now, at home, and I keep thinking I'm gonna get to an old time 24-track machine, and see if I can mix the damn thing again.
Jeff--So you have the master tapes.
Charlie--Yeah, they sent 'em to me, I asked them to.
Jeff--'Cause they're advertising a cd copy of the album on the Twin/Tone website.
Charlie--Well, they have the album master. But I've heard the one they sell, they sent me one, just for fun, and it sounds just as underwater as the original album. But what bothers me is that it's my best writing, but...
Jeff--(the album) misses Salton.
Charlie--Misses Salton, and it also misses production values. It has no-good production.
Jeff--But you could get by with the production values. I mean, no offense to the other guitarists on the album, but it misses Salton.
Charlie--It misses Salton, sure.
Jeff--Ok, so you had to put together a new band after Route 33 came out? (1986)
Jeff--And you went out on the road. How much touring did you do?
Charlie--Quite a bit. (I) went out with three guys from Minneapolis. Actually Pat Johnson was from California, but I met him in Minneapolis. He was just there, same as I was. The other two guys (Jim Tolsrude and Randy Weiss, bass and drums?) were actually living there. We toured quite a bit … I don't know how many days...40 to 50 shows. And we did the media centers, except LA. It was a funny kind of band...
Jeff--Yeah, you were doing Louie Louie and...(the Sonics '60s classic) Psycho.
Charlie--Doing Louie Louie, and the Jolly Green Giant (the Kingsmen). And I liked Pat Johnson a lot. The other guys I liked fine too, but I really liked Pat quite a bit.
Jeff--So you did that tour, and you came back to Florida. Froshnider's left the business (and the state), the Psycho Daisies fizzled out, you hooked back up with Salton. Why do you think Froshnider left the business? (and when I'm talking about the business, I'm talking about the industry)
Charlie--I really don't know.
Jeff--You never talked to him about it?
Charlie--No. I should.
Jeff--He had such talent.
Charlie--He did, he really did.
Jeff--He was a good songwriter, good singer, good guitar player. He had no 'stage presence', but...
Charlie--His best song is Let Me Get Off On Your Porch (from Pushin' Up Daisies, the GREAT first Psycho Daisies EP, available at Psychodaisies.com, if you ask 'em nice), which is literally hilarious.
Jeff--That's a great song. Trash Fever is a great song too.
Charlie--I don't know, I should ask him. I'll probably see him, this next year (2005). I'll probably get out there (California) on business or something.
Jeff--To my mind, Twin/Tone botched the marketing for Route 33. It says on their website that they sold 3,400 copies (3,412, actually). Did you have a good relationship with them after it was released?
Charlie--You know, I'll tell you, something happened, and I have no idea what it was. But something happened, and I suspect...that they were starting to run out of money, and they needed to back somebody hard, and they chose to back that... who were those young men, after the Replacements....their lead singer dated one of those actresses?
Charlie--Soul Asylum. They chose to back Soul Asylum. Both of us (had albums) in the can (finished, ready to be released) at the same time, and they really, really did that.
Now, whether that's my perception, and I'm wrong, or whether that's the truth, I don't know.
Jeff--If you want this 'off the record', it's no problem.
Charlie--I don't care. I just don't wanna make any of them angry up there. 'Cause they are good people. That's the way I see it.....but I'm open to, if any of 'em ever said to me, "Charlie, here's what happened." I'd probably believe it. Because I don't have any knowledge about it, particularly. I mean, look, they might've just liked the Soul Asylum record better, and what the hell, that's fair. That's fair.
Jeff--They were WRONG, of course, but that's just my (one reporter's) opinion. So Sticks left after The Wilderness (Charlie and the MC3 1988 album, also criminally out of print for some time now) tour and joined the Silos? (Florida via NYC band that's still around -- Sticks was on board for 1987's Cuba)
Charlie--No, no. He left after the break-up I was talking about (1985), where Johnny (Salton) came back. And he went up (to NYC), and he played with the Silos. He went on tour with them.
Jeff--Well you can say anything about the Silos you want, but they did do the best Charlie Pickett song that you never wrote. Tennessee Fire, as soon as they start playing it you know it's Sticks, it's very much like a Charlie Pickett song, it's a riff. Now, The Wilderness.
Charlie--Best sounding record ever, of mine.
Jeff--Absolutely. Safety Net records is out of Miami.
Charlie--Yeah, really it's Jim Johnson and Bill Ashton, is really what it is.
Jeff--How'd you get hooked up with Peter Buck (guitarist for REM, produced The Wilderness)?
Charlie--Leslie. I always tell it this way, but in fact, it's not quite the truth. They (REM) came to the Agora (Ballroom, venue in Hallandale) in, I'm gonna say 1982. And Leslie said to me "Let's go." Leslie knew them, and so Leslie said "C'mon, Charlie, I want to introduce you to these guys." And at the time, I didn't particularly like the band, as a band. And so I reluctantly went backstage with her and shook some hands. They were very nice, and knew about us, and so...that was kinda the way it was. Now, I usually tell it like I was bigger than they were at the time, but in fact, they were bigger than me at the time. But they weren't very big, but they were bigger. They were very nice to me then, in 1982, and later when they were the biggest band in the world, they were still real nice to me. Every time they would come to town, they would ask for me, or something like that. And they would usually ask me to play with them, on an encore or something, so I would play. And it just happened time and time again. We would often be touring at the same time.
Jeff--They did the same thing with Roger McQuinn in St Pete (1985).
Charlie--Right. As a matter of fact, there is a tape out there, somewhere, in the ozone, because they played with Roger in St. Pete, and the next night played over here (Miami Arena). They said to me that night over here, "Hey, we played with Roger last night." And I was like "You did? Wow!"
'Cause they're like, "Wow! We played with Roger McQuinn." And so when I played (with REM), I went up to the microphone, and ... this is sort of a 2-prong story, but the part about Roger, I went to the microphone, and I had Roger in my head, and we're doing (the Velvet Underground's) There She Goes Again, and I started doing Roger doing There She Goes Again. He was on my mind, and so somebody had this tape of it, it's out there on the Internet somewhere, and I keep trying to communicate with this person who has this thing, to try to get it, 'cause I'd love to have it. So anyway, that's that story.
Jeff--Yeah, 'cause I have some of the St. Pete (REM) gig.
Charlie--Then the other side of that story is, that same night, when I went to the microphone to sing, I looked out at the audience to sing, and suddenly became EXTREMELY nauseous. I mean whipped with nausea. And I go "God almighty!" It was all I could do to do my little chorus and walk away from the mike. And I thought, "What the hell was that?"
Jeff--What was the venue?
Charlie--The Miami Arena. So I'm looking at the ground, trying to just find the ground, 'cause you know how it is when you get nauseous, you just gotta find something. And I went to the mike again, this time I'm approaching it very carefully, and I saw what it was. In a really, REALLY BIG hall, the people in front are on the upbeat with you, but the people so far away in the back of the audience are on the downbeat, 'cause it takes that long for the sound to get down there. And you get a wave effect, that if you aren't ready for it, your mind and your ears will get fucked up. So, the second time I went to the mike, I was ready, and I just was...cool.
So, back to Peter Buck. They (REM) were always real nice to me, Leslie ended up doing the approach. (She) said, "Charlie would like to do a record. We wanna know what you think." They were living in Athens at the time. Pete said yes immediately. Very, very, VERY nice man, absolutely total gentleman. I ran out of money halfway through, and this is before REM was really big.
He offered to pay for the rest of the sessions. But I said, "I can't do it. It's just not my way." So I went home and worked for three or four weeks, then we came back and finished it. But that's how nice he is. He was always there before we were, and always stayed at least 'til we left, and sometimes after. He did SUCH a good job on that thing (The Wilderness), and he made us play the songs over and over. Usually I had a good sense of how good we could get something. He made us play it 'til it was better. And he took some chances that I wouldn't have taken. He really, really, REALLY did a great job for us, and, unfortunately, it's my weakest writing.
Jeff--Awwwww, I don't know about that.
Charlie--No, no, it's just after In The Wilderness (title track), the writing falls off. The songs...the guitar stuff that I wrote was good, it's the songs that are not good. I mean, Party 'Til Noon is........I mean, I straightened it out NOW, 20 years later, but I mean that stuff about "party, party, party."
Jeff--It's a party song. So what if it's vacuous, it's rock 'n' roll!
Charlie--Gawd...I know it's supposed to be stupid, but it's not even as stupid as I wanted it to be.
Jeff--Don't be a neurotic musician. It's a great album! I like the writing. Destry Rides Again is a great song.
Charlie--Ahhhhh, I do like it, I really do.
Jeff--There's three different drummers listed on the Wilderness credits: Sticks, Courtland Joyce, and F. Clarke Martty. Why three different drummers for only 10 songs?
Charlie--I just don't remember. Frankly, I don't even remember Galway playing on it. Moreover, I recall Salton referencing the fact that we used Cory's (Courtland) picture and he didn't play on it either. Maybe Salton or Jill remembers...
Jeff--So anyway, after the record, you hit the road again, Sticks came back...
Charlie-- And that was my favorite band (Pickett/Salton/Sticks/Marco), God bless Dave (Froshnider), but that was my favorite band. I mean there's no doubt about it. I think we did 35 shows, up north and all around.
Jeff--And not one of them on tape, that's a shame, that's a crime.
The opening band had a coffin-bottom Marshall (amp), which is 8 10's (inch speakers), in a thing that looks like a coffin, with a head on it, 50 watt head probably. And....he got great tone...
Jeff--And...Johnny got inspired.
Charlie--He got inspired. And we were good, we were all good. We had been on the road awhile at that point and we were very good. And, you know, he just started going and going and going and going and getting badder and badder and badder and badder. And people are...usually (at) shows, there's people doing this, there's people ordering drinks, there's some people moving around, talking, a lot of people are paying attention, some, higher or lower ratio (of people paying attention to the stage versus people not paying attention). This ENTIRE place, I mean bartenders, were standing there with their mouths hanging down. They weren't looking at me. They were looking at John Salton. Johnny was elevating and levitating the entire place. Finally, I turned around to Sticks, and I looked at Sticks, and Sticks NEVER gave anyone a compliment. In all the time I played with him, he said one night to me "Pretty good show." That's what he said, one night, "Pretty good show." I looked at him, and I rolled my eyes. Sticks rolls his eyes right back at me.
And so...we go back, you figure Salton..."Hey, how long can it keep going on?" Three or four songs later, it's STILL going on...I turned back around at Galway, and I go "What in the world?"
And Galway just shakes his head and just goes, "I don't know." I mean because, you get used to playing with a guy being REAL GOOD, but then, it's just the top of the WORLD. He was unconscious, he was totally unconscious that night, he was so good.
Jeff--Did you talk to him about it afterwards?
Charlie--He knows, yeah I talked to him about that show, yeah.
Jeff--Did he have any explanation for it?
Charlie--Nah, his words, he "got into it", or something. But that's my favorite.
Jeff--I remember talking to you last year, and you told me that if you could've made a FIFTH (that's 20%) of what you make now (as an attorney), you would've continued playing music.
Charlie--It's true. Lack of reasonable money was one of the main reasons I stopped trying hard to make it (as a musician).
Jeff--Was there anything that was a sort of 'last straw' that caused you to get out of the business?
Charlie--Not really. I was getting older. I was 35-years-old in 1988, when I decided to stop trying to make it. My hair was going grey, and young folks have a much better shot (to make it in music) unless you're a very established (big-time) band or name.
Jeff--Was that the reason you went back to school?
Charlie--No, I like law and the study of it.
Jeff--So, you went to law school in Michigan?
Charlie--Yes, and I passed the bar in 1994.
Jeff--What area of law are you practicing?
Charlie--Retail securities fraud defense.
Jeff--Is it demanding work?
Charlie--Yes, but I've been doing it for a long time, so it is familiar.
Jeff--Has going out and playing live again caused any schedule conflicts with your work?
Charlie--No, I only play live 8-12 times a year, and they're all local, except for the gig in Tampa.
Jeff-- I met your wife Penny. She was really nice. But she did say she didn't know about your musical past. What does she think of you doing the occasional gig?
Charlie--She's been very supportive, because she knows how much it means to me.
Jeff-- Johnny has put out four Psycho Daisies albums (and one EP) in the last 20 years. What do you think of the Daisies' recorded works?
Charlie--Some is great, and in the Daisies' case, even all-world, and some is not so good. Usually too much reverb and multi-tracking (guitar overdubs), not enough note definition for me. But a (guitar) player's lesser moments don't detract from his great moments.
Jeff--And last year you played with Alex Mitchell (Circus Of Power vocalist) on a side project of his called Plastic Gator Machine. What did you do on that?
Charlie--Well, I contributed one or two numbers. Alex is a world-class talent as a frontman and a writer. It was big fun.
Jeff--When did you find out Sticks was sick? (Sticks died of AIDS in 1995)
Charlie--Oh...um...I was already married.
Jeff--You had already left the music business?
Charlie--Oh yeah. (very quietly) I found out he was sick in 1994. Jill (Kahn, current Psycho Daisies bassist) knew for a long time before I did.
Jeff--Was that when you and Johnny were estranged as well?
Charlie--No...I've been estranged from John very little, frankly. (long pause) And yeah, he's pissed me off a little bit over the years, at different times.
Jeff--Who doesn't? If you've known somebody for 20-odd years, who doesn't?
Charlie----And, here's the thing, Jeff, think about it. Imagine that I had his talent. HOW BIG WOULD I BE? Goddamn, I would be so rich. You know? I would be so rich it would be disgusting. And I might be a miserable prick by now (or something) too. But... GAWD ALMIGHTY!
He (Salton) wasn't born with that (talent), he developed it. It's not like I'm saying "Oh, he just was touched by God..." No he wasn't. He made himself what he was.
And my discipline on the guitar is...it's like, if I don't like what I'm playing, I will not apply myself, to get it done any better. And so, I've sort of just slopped into being a decent guitar player...back-handedly (if you've heard or saw him, even now, you see he's being WAY too modest here).
But he (Salton) practiced at what he did, and he got himself that way. And he's not that way anymore. And he did it to himself.
But you know what? I don't make my living off him anymore. When I put this thing back together, thinking to myself "You know what I wanna do? I wanna do one more project with Johnny." 'Cause I thought he was dying from Emphysema. And I thought "I'll do that." And, look, most of my songs are medium tempo, they're not flat-out fast, and he can't...he doesn't remember 'em, he can't blow the explosions he used to blow, and...he just can't.
Charlie--He absolutely is addictive personality. And, I can't tell him "Hey John, look, you know, you lay off, and...I don't care what you do after that, but you lay off for three weeks, and we'll rehearse for three weeks, and we'll go do one more live project."
He won't go for that, 'cause he can't do it, he'll lie and say "Uhhhh, I'm super-straight." And he'll try to act super-straight, but he won't be. I know...what he can play. And he CAN play it (Charlie's music), but he's just got the big curtain in front of him. But what the hell.
Jeff--He could lift the curtain at least part way, if he'd play the guitar more.
And I said, "When I hear Johnny let it rip, you know? When I hear Johnny rip again." What the hell's the point? Frankly, you take John out of this mix and bring in another "good player", bring in a REAL good player, bring in even a "chop-master" player, and you have a mediocre outfit. You just do. I really can't sing very well. YEAH, I play good rhythm guitar, YEAH, Mike Vullo's a helluva good drummer. Eddie adds a lot of depth on bass, and if we get SHARP again...he's a great singer, a great foil...
But the icing on the cake has always been Johnny Salton. And icing is what you taste. It's the sweetness, and it's what you see on the top. And that's what your ears pick up. Everything I've ever done is set up for Johnny Salton's guitar. And without it, what the hell? Where's the lasting value? It's not there, because Johnny Salton is the lasting value. It's what makes it worthwhile. Other than that, it's nice, it's ok. I had a nice time, it was a good night out, it was loud, I enjoyed it. All those things will apply, on a good night. But without Salton totally connected, there's no art. There's no art to this. It's just not there. I mean, why should I go out there....dump a coupla thousand dollars into trying to get a good sequence of shows out of him, when he can't do it? I have not played one good show with him in all the time I've been back playing, either with the Daisies, or trying to do this thing (Charlie Pickett & The Mothers of Immersion is the current name). There's no point in it. Anyway, that's my little rant of the evening.
Jeff--Who was that other guy that was playing guitar?
Charlie--Ah, that was Kevin MacIvor from the Bobs (Miami new-wave band, also contained [at various times] Johnny Galway and Bobby Tak). He's a real good guitar player. I mean, he's not blues-based, but he's real good. Yeah, he was like the driving intellectual force behind the Bobs, and ... what else? Imaginary People (??) was it called? ... I forget, real good band.
Golly, they played a show at the Ft Lauderdale Saloon, or someplace like that. We played it and we were just horrible. And those guys were so spot-on. It was the best show I've seen in maybe two or three years, and I don't mean (just) local. I mean the best show I've seen in two or three years. Actually, I take that back. I saw a band called Throw Rag (LA punk/garage/psychobilly band), when I took a trip to California, and that was the best show I've seen. They (Throw Rag) are absolutely great. They're on the road now, they're making a name for themselves, they're pretty much undeniably good. I don't know how far they can go, maybe just as big as the Cramps, and then stop, but ... fade ...
Why he (Kevin) doesn't create his own band, I have no idea. When I first met him, he rehearsed a band a couple of times, but...I think sometimes people who can really, really, REALLY play, but they're not hooked into a (specific musical) genre, they get a little scattered, or something...and it ends up coming out like Robert Quine (Voidoids/Lou Reed guitarist)...
Jeff--Late-period (Frank) Zappa (god bless him), fingers in too many pies.
Charlie--Yep. Too eclectic. You know, the days when Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock and the Jazz Crusaders made that brief blip into pop (music), which was probably around 1975 or 1973, I listened to that because rock was...pretty bad.
Jeff--And you were telling me that Bloodshot Records is supposed to release a Charlie Pickett compilation, so some of the stuff that's out of print will be available again?
Charlie--Yeah, they have the masters of everything but Route 33. I'm gonna remix some of the Route 33 tracks, and then the Bloodshot thing will be out after that.
Jeff—Alright Charlie, thanks for your time.
©2005 Jeff Schwier