Charlie Peacock: Accepting the Gift of Freedom
CP: That's amazing how that can become a hook, huh? That was a tune that started as a jam between Tony, Kip Kubinwho was manipulating everything we were playing through an ARP 2600 [synthesizer]. He was taking a feed of what we were playing. I was playing Rhodes, Jerry was playing guitar loops, Tony was playing laptop. We built that piece as an improvisation and then immediately overdubbed over the top of it. I sang Jerry those guitar lines; they just came to me as soon as were done with the improvisation and we put them right on. That all happened super-quick. The next day Victor [Wooten] came in, sat with it, and provided the foundation and also picked up on that blues line, played with that. And then it kind of [laughing] grew from there! The ones that we did here in Bellevuethey were all started with that configuration of Jerry, Tony and I, with Victor coming the next day to do bass lines.
AAJ: Sometimes it's the small touches on these songs that fascinate. It's easy to say how great [guitarist] Kurt Rosenwinkel is on "Be Well Johnny Cash or how great its theme isthat theme's very busy-street-on-a-sunny-day to me. But I think I get the most from the way you end the song with that breakdown that fades out with some backward effects and that repeated drum pattern. It sounds so right, but I don't know why it does.
CP: Well, probably because the tune didn't sound right before. I played around with the ending; it had a natural ending on it and it just didn't seem to give the listener the processing time of what had gone before. You know how that is sometimes when you're listening to a performance and you just think, "oh my gosh, that shouldn't have ended there. Or you're watching a film and you go, "it's over? So I kind of had that feeling about that improvisation, and so I kept playing with it, and finally thought "I just want to have this static loop that's got these ideas that are pulled from the song, so they suggest that, they bring the listener back into the content they've heardbut on the other hand, they bring in something new. I'll just let them fade on that, and that will give them time to process what has happened before. You know, this is the way a pop producer thinks. And maybe that's the uniqueness of my doing this, of having made hundreds of records and then being able to bring this to improvisational music.
AAJ: If there's anything else you might bring from that background, it's also how good your themes are. They're really memorable.
CP: That's something I struggled with, because I have these two qualities. I'm a populist and a rebel at the same time, so there's a part of me that's always wanting to make something new that's never been heard and a part of me that doesn't want to leave anybody out of the conversation. So there's always a tension and a struggle, and I wondered about the heads. I wondered, "are these too simple? Are they too singsong-y? Should I show more of my compositional chops? Then I just would think, "man, get over yourself! Leave them as they are!
AAJ: Well, they're not that simple.
CP: Sure, sure. But there is a level of jazz composition that is extremely sophisticatedsay, if you take of [Michael] Brecker's records, or even the first Wynton Marsalis group records. Or some of Dave Douglas's compositions for quintet. Okay, there's a bar of 3/8, there's two bars of 4/4, there's a bar of 7/4. It's intense! It's like math. So I was trying to find some happy medium where it felt like it was sophisticated enough, but there's something people can grab ahold of. Because I felt like in the midst of all the improvisation, there just needed to be some anchors.
AAJ: What about the title of "Be Well Johnny Cash is this your farewell to the Man in Black?
CP: Yeah, because I think that when I was working on that was when Johnny started getting sick and people were starting to wonder, well, is this that time when perhaps our greatest icon in Nashville is going to move on? We were having an event here at our house and Bono came here. So there was the idea that maybe Bono would want to have Johnny come to the event, so I had talked to a friend of his, Duane [Allen] of the Oak Ridge Boys, about bringing Johnny to the event, kind of escorting him and making sure he was okay. And I had a really great conversation with Duane where Duane said, "I got a really good feeling about you, Charlie, and I suspect Johnny will too.
[laughing] So I was thinking, "wow! Johnny Cash is going to come to my house; this is going to be so much fun. And he ended up passing away. But before that, I had already put this sentiment in the song title. It's kind of a wish and a prayer for him to be well. And I also thought there was something right about getting Kurt [Rosenwinkel] to play on itto get this giant of guitar vocabulary playing on this song that was named after this iconic country artist. That's not even fair to call him a country artist, is it?