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Nels Cline: Intrepid Guitarist

By Published: August 19, 2004
The Nels Cline Singers

With the forthcoming release of The Giant Pin , Nels Cline's current trio, The Nels Cline Singers, has evolved even further from their first record, '02's Instrumentals. The trio includes percussionist Scott Amendola, well-known for his work with artists including Charlie Hunter and TJ Kirk, but also carving a name for himself as a leader with his own band, The Scott Amendola Band, including last year's remarkable album, Cry , which Cline also played on. The third member of the trio, bassist Devin Hoff, may be less well-known in a larger context, but is one of the busiest bassists in the Bay Area scene.

"I met Scott Amendola," Cline explains, "when I played my old concert series that I used to have on Monday nights at The Alligator Lounge in Santa Monica for four years. My old trio anchored the series, and one of the first people to really bounce back and forth between L.A. and San Francisco, and who was pretty much the single most important person in getting me acquainted with who was playing in the Bay Area, was this man Phillip Greenlief, a woodwind player. And Phillip brought various bands down, and one day he called me up and wanted to bring a duo with a drummer, and the drummer was Scott. Scott totally blew me away. Then Phillip came back with a trio, with Scott and Trevor Dunn, and we did a double trio at the end of the night; his trio plus my trio, and Scott and I, there was just a good feeling there.

"Gradually he started doing more and more things that I was aware of," continues Cline. "We ran into each other when he was on the road with TJ Kirk, and then one day my friend G.E. Stinson was putting together an improvising group for a gig, he wanted to have Steuart Liebig on bass, and me and him and a drummer, and I suggested Scott, because he wanted somebody who could groove and somebody who could improvise, and Scott's got a deep groove and beautiful sound. G.E. said, 'well do you think he'll do it?' because although I knew that G.E. loved Scott's drumming, he'd have to drive down here to do it and make virtually no money. So I said, 'Well, all he can say is no.' So he came down, he did it, and that's what became L. Stinkbug. So Scott and I started playing together in L. Stinkbug, but that was sort of a rare event. As time went on Scott and I would start emailing each other, and he would always say, 'You know, I want to do more with you, I don't want to do just L. Stinkbug, we never play enough.' And I thought, 'How can he be saying this, he's the busiest man in show business.'

"After The Geraldine Fibbers," Cline continues, "I was kind of waiting for Carla Bozulich to come up with another project; we had a duo we were doing, but it was really esoteric, so I was kind of biding my time. My trio had fallen apart, I'd done one project in the meantime called Destroy All Nels Cline , and it was just a very specialized and limited idea, a very unique project. But it wasn't a real working band. I finally decided, after I hadn't done anything of my own for like three years with my own band, that was really a working band, that I should do another trio. Scott finally sent his millionth email saying we have to do more together, he was actually on the road then with Jack Walrath in Europe, and he was like, 'We have to play some music!' So I said, 'Does this mean that if I start another trio that you'd want to play drums?' And he said, 'Absolutely!' followed by three hundred exclamation points.

So I thought," continues Cline, "OK, this'll be interesting because he lives in Oakland, but I just didn't care anymore, I wanted to play with whom I wanted to play with, and I thought Scott was one of the best so I asked him, 'Who should play bass, I want an upright bassist, it may as well be somebody in your town because I don't know anybody who'll do it down here in L.A. on upright.' He said, 'Well, there are two guys I can think of, but the guy I think would be perfect is this young guy named Devin Hoff, not only because he's good, but because he already loves your music, he has all your records.' I'd never heard of him, but I said, 'OK, fine,' and we booked a gig, got together and played the gig.

"People can't believe I didn't audition people," Cline concludes, "but if Scott thought he was good I thought he was good. Turns out that I had met him before, he was playing with Joel Harrison one day in L.A. at my brother's concert series, and we had had a whole conversation about Mike Watt. He was all into punk rock, was a complete jazz head, and basically fit the bill and that's the story. He's done a lot of things, he's played with Graham Connah, and still does quite a bit, Connah's a genius composer and pianist in the Bay Area, kind of an elusive cult figure, has some records out on Phillips Greenlief's label, Evander Music, all available from He has a duo with Ches Smith, this brilliant drummer who still plays a lot with Carla, the duo's called Good for Cows and they have three CDs, a bass and drums duo, it's fantastic. He's currently playing guitar in a band called Seven Year Rabbit Cycle, it's ex-members of Deer Hoof, and he has his own group with Carla Kihlstedt on violin, from Tin Hat Trio, and players from Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. Ches and Devin are like the rhythm section in the Bay Area, they're everywhere now."

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