Garage King Greg Prevost gets off on raw blues
Among the bands leading the great garage rock charge backwards in the 1980s, perhaps The Chesterfield Kings stood tallest.
Ostensibly originators on the scene that took the best from the '60s and refashioned it for contemporary purposes, The Chesterfield Kings hailed from Rochester, New York State, and revolved around thew twin axis of singer, underground music journalist and avid record collector Greg Prevost, and teenage guitarist Andy Babiuk.
Forming in the second half of the '70s and borrowing heavily from punk and the early Stones, the Kings were championed by the likes of Greg Shaw's Bomp label and remained true to their roots throughout their existence. They powered into the early 2000s before running out of steam. They did leave behind a legacy of 10 albums. Prevost went back to his record collection and played golf.
Greg Prevost has re-emerged. Adoptjng the stage name Greg "Stackhouse" Prevost and peddling an album of raw blues rock guitar ("Mississippi Murderer"), in 2013 he has re-connected with music and rock and roll's all the better off. Well credentialed occasional I-94 Bar writer DAVE LAING looked him up recently and here's the result.
Greg, congrats on a fantastic record. The Stones should record something as tenth as good these days... So, to start off, what happened to the Chesterfield Kings in the end? You certainly had a big revival of interest over the last decade, and put out some great records that maybe a lot of your fans from the '80s never heard....
GREG: The band, like most bands came to an end. We did our last show in 2009 and in my opinion, it was disastrous. Lackluster, just shitty, really bad vibes. I had personally come to the point where I was just bored with what I was doing in the band and where the band was going ... the band just 'existed' more or less. I didn't see it going any further. Everyone pretty much lost interest and we didn't do anything for like two years. I started the band, had a vision, and didn't foresee in that vision where we were at that time. I saw the writing on the wall. I left.
I had no interest in playing music after that, and only wanted to play golf. Then during my golf mode I started playing guitar again - like I did in all the bands I was involved with before the Chesterfield Kings. As you know, I played riffs on The Chesterfield. Kings records over the years here and there, and when I wrote songs I always used a guitar so it wasn't like a new thing to me. Anyway, I got into playing more slide, started using fingerpicks and experimenting with capos and various open tunings and just totally fell back into music again.
Your new website is full of great reading, especially the stuff that goes through all your background. It is fairly revelatory stuff, especially for someone who I guess a lot of people would have pegged back in the '80s as a blinkered '60s garage rock purist. Can you explain why you and the Chesterfield Kings took that stance, when you obviously loved a wide range of stuff, from blues to powerpop to hardcore punk?
GREG: At the time I started the Chesterfield Kings between 1976 and 1977, punk (Sex Pistols, Ramones, Damned, Clash, etc) was in full swing and I was heavy into that scene. As you know I had several bands that led up to the forming of the Chesterfield Kings-I was doing psych/punk/Dolls/MC5-Stooges stuff-and the 'powerpop' phase - I was heavy into bands like Big Star, Dwight Twilley, Scruffs … all those kind of bands like that-I tried doing that scene after doing Dolls-like stuff and it wasn't a vibe that worked for me. I also liked bands like Television, you know, when Richard Hell was still with the band-and they were doing the Elevators' "Fire Engine" which knocked me out.
There were all kinds of bands doing the Ramones trip, great stuff, really. I was in the Tar Babies at the time and it was in the Dolls/MC5/punk mode … but it was just sort of blending in with all the other thousands of bands on the scene, you know, just another punk band ripping off the Stooges. I was friends with Jeff (Monoman) from DMZ and loved the trip they were on, you know.
Anyway, as I said, I was in the Tar Babies, which soon merged into Distorted Levels at some point, almost the same band really, and we were psych-punk or whatever. I was really into all kinds of trips, music-wise, but started thinking, 'How can I put a band together that has a cool vibe but isn't too synonymous to all the other bands around?' I figured that being in a Stooges/Ramones kind of band was a cool thing to do, but it would be difficult to get anyone's attention. So I came up with the concept of being a band strictly out of the mid-60's, you know, the whole '1966 Rules' trip. Look, sound, strictly covers of then very obscure mid-60's numbers.
Bands like the Crawdaddys, Unclaimed and Tell-Tale Hearts, we all had this similar vision around the same time. A scene started to develop and the purist vibe we were on worked in our favor. Things started to happen, but then, like all things, you had to move on and develop as a band instead of staying on one trip and getting locked into that particular thing and not being able to get out.
Any thoughts on that '60s revival scene now?
GREG: My friend Mike Murray, a DJ at WRUR in Rochester put it perfectly to me in a recent conversation: It's cool that young bands are doing this style of music and you have to give them credit for their dedication and enthusiasm towards great Rock n' Roll and not going along with the mainstream.
Not to mention there are some really cool bands out; the Absolutes from here in Rochester are dynamite. All members are in the 20 to 21 year-old range. Alex Patrick who produced my new album with me (and engineered it and played bass on it as well) is the leader/lead singer/guitarist/main writer in this band. Alex is a great talent, a great songwriter, and this band is one to be reckoned with.
St. Philips Escalator (also from Rochester) are also dynamite-they have been around a little longer as you know, and did an album which I produced (with Andy) many years back. Zach Koch, the drummer in this band, played drums on my album.
Were you aware of any of the Australian bands of the late '70s/early '80s that were doing that stuff, albeit with a stong Stooges/Mc5 influence as well? Radio Birdman recorded 'You're Gonna Miss Me' around the same time as DMZ did, and were playing the Remains 'Don't Look Back' in '76. (Birdman's Deniz Tek ended up on Greg Shaw's Battle of the Garages comp). Then there was the Lipstick Killers, and early in the '80s in Sydney bands like the Lime Spiders and the Wet Taxis...
GREG: Totally. I was tuned into the entire wavelength of what was happening at the time. Yeah- I was into Radio Birdman, Lipstick Killers, Lime Spiders-all those bands. Bill Shute put out an EP decades ago with the Lipstick Killers doing the Elevators "(I've Got) Levitation" on it, which knocked me on my ass. Really dynamite. Not to forget the Hoodoo Gurus with whom we did a bunch of shows with in the mid-80's. I also like Brad Shepherd's Fun Things and The Monarchs.
I loved it when the Chesterfield Kings jumped to a mid-70s hard-rock sound once the '60s scene proliferated a bit later in the '80s. That must've confused a lot of your fans...
GREG: At first it did. Especially with the 'Berlin Wall Of Sound" album, which was somewhat metallic. All these cats were like "Oh they are just heavy metal shit" and all that kind of nonsense. It didn't matter. We didn't give a shit what anyone thought. We were just like 'Fuck you if ya don't like it'. We just moved on, did our own trip.
KERRANG magazine, a big metal magazine out of the UK back then, loved the album. Though some purists got turned off by this album, we drew in some new cats that would not have been aware of us had we not done this album. I still like the album, you know, some of it I may have done differently, but who cares now. People who didn't like this album forgave us when we did the 'Let's Go Get Stoned' and 'Drunk On Muddy Water' albums which were straight '67-'72 Stones/Dolls. Anyway, we had to make a drastic change at some point in time to get on the right track of just being a rock n' roll band, and not being confined to one genre of sound, or condemned to being the Sha-Na-Na of 60's garage rock.
That line-up also recorded with Johnny Thunders - the one studio track that was eventually released, 'Critics Choice', was probably the best Thunders thing since 'So Alone'. Can you explain how that came about and what the experience was like.
GREG: At the time we were under the same management that handled Johnny Thunders. Thunders at the time, was trying to kick smack as well as wanting to do a new album. Management suggested that we merge for a project which would render a new Thunders solo album with us as the backing band as none of us were junkies (some of us weren't, anyway) and they assumed that that influence would help keep him clean and get an album done in the process.
This went down the week of March 3, 1991. In the end, we had to score him some junk because in reality, he could NOT clean up and was totally strung out. Anyway, after this, he was very productive, a nice guy, really. We began to record, things were going great-then the studio owner had a run in with Johnny, Johnny didn't want to record any more at this studio and that was that. One song was finished and basic (bed) tracks were cut for like four or five other songs. Never finished. It was a scene that was difficult to deal with at the time, but an experience I am glad I went through.
The new album follows up on a style you first worked with in the Chesterfield Kings on the crazed 'Drunk On Muddy Water' set. Tell us about your approach to blues?
Obviously you dig all the original blues guys - what do you think of subsequent generations of blues guys, including the white guys? Obviously you love the Stones.. What about things like Johnny winter, Ten Years After? Led Zeppelin? any more recent stuff? Is there anyone around now doing blues stuff you like that you'd want to play with?? Daddy Long Legs is cool...
GREG: Funny-originally I was going to record this new album as strictly acoustic blues-National Steel, acoustic guitars only. Enric Bosser at Penniman/Mean Disposition Records inspired me to take it up a step-he casually told me that the primitive Vocal/Guitar acoustic approach on the "Mr. Charlie" 45 I did on his label was like a demo from 'Exile On Main Street' and he could only imagine this same thing with electric guitars, bass, drums … that stuck in my mind … I electrified the sound, then obviously added drums, bass, piano, and it became what it is.
Yeah, guys like Muddy Waters, Skip James, Howlin' Wolf - I love these guys. I was on a Lightnin' Hopkins trip, really. Then when I electrified the guitars it became very Keef-Ron Wood-Johnny Thunders like. Besides the original blues masters, Johnny Winter, Alvin Lee of 10 Years After (I'm bummed he just died), Mick Taylor, Clapton, Jimmy Page, Luther Grosvenor, Joe Walsh when he was in the James Gang - all these guys and an endless list of others. I was always heavy into them since the late '60s and early 70's. As far as doing shows with anyone now, I have no preferences. I've heard of Daddy Long Legs. I've never heard them but they are on Norton so I'm sure they are a pretty heavy band.
Will you indeed be playing out with in your new guise?? Tell us about the guys in the band.
GREG: I'm doing a show in a couple of weeks here in Rochester. I'm just showing up onstage un-announced in between St. Philips Escalator and the Moviees, both great bands, friends of mine. Paul Morabito as you probably know, was in the Chesterfield Kings during our last phase and he reunited with his band the Moviees, the band he was in directly before he joined us. I'm no longer involved with a band of any sort.
As mentioned, Alex who played bass on the album, he has his own band the Absolutes, and Zach who played drums has his own band, St. Philips Escalator. I will continue to work with them on future recordings as they are great guys, on similar trips as I am musically, but I am not forming a band.
When I play 'live' I play solo-I play electric or acoustic - me and a guitar. Like Lightnin' Hopkins, Son House, Skip James. Me alone. Or like Johnny Thunders did a number of times. Real loose. No 'oh we have to be professional' crap. Recording is different as I want to get a Stones/Dolls/Yardbirds sound. Live I can play barbaric and crude blues and rock n' roll on my own. I should also point out that Alex co-produced the album with me and engineered it. As stated on the back of the album, one of the best engineers I've ever worked with.
Okay, name 5 artists you dig that people would not ever figure you'd dig?
GREG: Herb Alpert, Frank Sinatra, Don Ho, Francoise Hardy and Doris Day.
…and your five favourite records so far this decade?
GREG: The Stones 'Bigger Bang', both albums by Mike Stax's band the Loons, both albums by the Absolutes, St. Philips Escalator's album, both albums by the Infrared Radiation Orchestra, Richie Scarlet's new album.
Mississippi Murderer is out on Mean Disposition Records and is reviewed here.
First published June 25, 2013