Guitarist Matt Piucci discusses roots
I met Billy years before we were introduced, about 1970, 1971 as I recall. My older brothers had the first Neil/Crazy Horse LP, and I vividly recall wearing that disc out. My brother bought one of those portable setups with a turntable and two speakers that folded up like a suitcase, you could take the speakers to both ends of the room, or, as I did, lie on the floor and make your own headphones. Was caught in that position by Pop more than once, who correctly suspected that I had just burned one outside and was cranking the devil’s music. Oh yes. Not long after that, I fell in love with guitar and returned to the music with a fury, coaxing its secrets from more than one copy of Sticky Fingers, and of course, Crazy Horse.
The music bug was fatal, I loved guitar and played acoustic by myself and friends until college in 1975 and, after punk’s final inoculation, it was clear that college was not gonna work at that time. Eventually, I ended up in LA and formed Rain Parade with a college roommate. We did fairly well in an underground sense- part of a scene, made records, toured the US, Europe and Japan. I still play with those guys today and plan on recording new material in 2016.
Also in LA, in about 1985, I fell in love with a beautiful woman, and we are married still. That same woman was a good friend with Billy’s brother in law, Larry Troiano. He was a big Rain Parade fan and suggested to Billy that he should check me out. I showed up at a gig he had with Sonny Mone somewhere in the Valley and just plugged in, and that 14-year-old kid remembered the tunes.
Billy must have dug it, as we recorded a fair amount between 1986 and 2008. To me, he is a combination of Yoda and an older brother. He revealed many new secrets of the process to me, not the least of which was his mantra to try find people who already did what you liked, rather than try and force people to play what you need.
Recorded at Rodent Studios, November 2008
Chronicling the specific tunes, what is good and what is not, is the purview of the critic, it is not mine.
What I do remember was how hard we all worked to realize Billy’s vision. Dylan said fairly recently that no one knows how to record a band anymore, today everything is recorded separately and individually. That is the anti-Crazy Horse way. You gotta have what my pal Ralph Molina (and Billy’s musical twin brother) calls the swim, which is the entirety of the recording in a space together, rather than a bunch of tracks in their own separate, non-similar places. Everybody plays together, just like the old days. We have the ability to fix more things now than we did back then, but the principles remain the same, including another Billy lesson that says you fix the biggest problems and the little ones disappear.
Threads of talent and songwriting's intersection.
The last project that was involved in with the great BT was “On the Road to Spearfish”. Since I’ve known Billy forever, and he is not shy about playing his tunes to those he trusts, I was familiar with most of them. It was beautiful and horrific, as we were recording his record and trying to piggyback another boatclub record on top of the session, as well as maintain families and make ends meet. No one did this for money, not that there was any. boatclub was a group of three songwriters- Tom Carns, Mark Hanley and myself, plus Stephan Junca on drums and in the beginning, Jeffrey Chase on bass. All played on Spearfish with Billy. It is Billy’s way to incorporate his friends into the group, and so the Spearfish sessions were the result of pooling of everybody from the past. Several years before Spearfish, Billy (and Ralph) helped me record a few songs for a solo record of mine (Hellenes) and I introduced Billy to my pal Tom Carns, who I met in Oakland. He came up to the session in Mendocino and played absolutely nothing, but was therein the booth commenting on everything and involved in the process On the way out, I apologized to Billy that he never heard Tom play. Billy’s response was classic Billy “ I heard him listen,” signifying his approval. Since Jeffery had moved back to the East Coast, Tom, who is a marvelous singer and all-around musician, was recruited to play bass and he is on recordings prior to Spearfish. It was only a matter of time before our other boatclub pal, another super talented multi-instrumentalist/songwriter, Mark Hanley, was added to the group for the Spearfish sessions. Rounding those out were Ryan James, a fabulous singer/songwriter from South Dakota, and the guy who plays more instruments than ANYONE, Eric Pearson, aka P Bro. Pretty much everybody plays guitar, bass and keyboards, Tommy is a wicked banjo player, and Mark is an accomplished mandolinist. But Eric plays all of that plus sax and flute…and probably Koto and Gamelan, if you asked.
Now, fire that all up and you have a seven-piece band that can play anything. But remember what we had was six songwriters and a drummer. That is an extraordinarily difficult set up, as each is capable of, and used to running a band on their own. But, perhaps due to the umpteen children that he has (well, seven. I know them all and they are each delightful), Billy is a very patient man.
I am super proud of the record we made. My main thing is lead guitar, and I do get to cut loose on the song Spearfish, but it was a treat to play harmonium and a little piano on these songs, as well as sing a bit.
I regard him as family, and I love him deeply.
Matt Piucci, Berkely, Ca. February, 2016
The physical CD package of ON THE ROAD TO SPEARFISH includes a 3-ink CD for ON the Road to Spearfish as well as the Unkindess of Ravens EP packed with it as a bonus. The music from the EP is available through the links below.