Beauty and Chaos; Interview With Guitarist Jim Duckworth

On 10/27/2012, I had the honor of interviewing one of the highly influential pioneers of underground punkabilly blues, lead guitarist Jim Duckworth. We talked about his work and friendship with Alex Chilton, Tav Falco (Panther Burns), and Jeffrey Lee Peirce (Gun Club), as well as his new group Buffalo Jack & The Parlor Snakes. Here is what he had to say.

T Tell me about the new recording you did as Buffalo Jack & The Parlor Snakes.
JD Well, they let me do anything I wanted to do…I sure hope they aren’t sorry!

T I notice a trend in the type of music you like to play. Can you elaborate and tell why?
JD Well, this “style” which you allude to is probably traceable to my listening closely to and subsequently playing with Alex Chilton. I really listened very closely to “Like Flies on Sherbert” and as much as I would like to seem worldly and sophisticated, I had never listened to the Carter Family, or Ernest Tubb or any of the roots music that Alex deconstructed on that record. The whole notion of deconstruction was new to me (this was not a term we used at the time, but I recognize it as such now). I heard Big Star’s Third album and was deeply moved by his ability to bring forth beauty and chaos at the same time (I also liked the sort of wounded-visionary quality that his vocals had). Then, I saw him playing with the Panther Burns and it was completely mind blowing. As I walked up to the club, I heard this squalling, shrill, constant feedback (some of it was produced by an old monophonic synthesizer-the rest came from the guitars being too loud and too close to the amps). It was astounding, what they were doing! I laughed, I grooved, I changed. Soon, I would meet AC and he brought me into the Panther Burns, and shortly thereafter I toured with him on the East Coast. Now I was reworking Rockabilly, Blues, and other roots forms with a very great artist. I suppose I added something of my own to it and carried it forward into the Panther Burns, Gun Club, as well as on a record with the great Charlie Pickett. I was listening to Sister Rosetta Tharpe a lot and Tommy Johnson and Gid Tanner’s Skilletlickers and a shitload of roots music that I had found through the guidance of people like AC and Jeffrey Lee Pierce.

Panther Burns with Tav Falco

T So far, I’ve only heard “Walking You Home” and “When I Change.” Where is that overheated and exciting sound coming from?
JD A little Fender Deluxe Amp and the same Gibson guitar I’ve had since high school-the one both Alex and I used on Behind the Magnolia Curtain.

T How did you all (Buffalo Jack & The Parlor Snakes) meet?
JD Via long distance.

T We all know of your work in The Gun Club. What was it like to work with Jeffrey Lee Pierce and the group?
JD Here’s kind of how I saw music. I could play in the Panther Burns and the Gun Club because it was all kind of like the Yardbirds to me; in the Panther Burns I started listening to Howling Wolf; in the Gun Club I started listening to Tommy Johnson. I had a basic idea that was improved on by a greater knowledge of roots music and the freedom to do pretty much what the fuck I wanted on guitar. Jeffrey let me do what I wanted and he really liked the guitar loud…real loud. I thought Fire of Love and Miami were great; I was really excited to play in that group.
caption id=”attachment_36″ align=”alignright” width=”250″] The Gun Club with Jeffrey Lee Peirce[/caption]
T You still like to play live around Memphis?
JD Oh yeah, all the time. I pick up different gigs-playing churchy music for a recovery from abuse, 12 step program in a church every few weeks. I play in a pretty specialized cover group with one of my early local heroes, Van Duren. I play poorly attended gigs with my own group-we have about 10 hardcore fans, but some of them are in the band itself.

T Okay, you are known for underground rockabilly, but tell me about the ultimate, which is Panther Burns with Tav Falco. They sound wild!
JD Well, it was interesting. When we made Behind the Magnolia Curtain we brought in a drum corps that had Jessie Mae Hemphill in it, they had a bass, and two snare drums. I played trap drums facing them. What I heard through my headphones on Bourgeoise Blues was other worldly.

T The underground news about Buffalo Jack & The Parlor Snakes is that the CD coming out “Where Judus Left His Boots” is going to be really good. What are your thoughts and what does it remind you of?
JD I sent a couple of tracks to a dear friend of mine from the Gun Club days and she said, “Jeffrey lives!” I’m always glad to play in that style. I filled in on a rockabilly gig on Beale Street on the 4th of July. I thought, “Fuck, I can do that-I know all the tunes!” The problem is that I have kind of developed what I do into a pretty specialized version of that music. Those guys weren’t glad I came. Although, they did call me back recently.

Patrick Coleman, aka Buffalo Jack

T Could your hard core fans expect you guys to continue on?
JD I’m sure Buffalo Jack & The Parlor Snakes will continue…I just hope they liked my contribution.

T I know they do! In your opinion, has music gotten better or worse in these past many years?
JD Music is always getting better…there’s always something to discover and enjoy; however, one must be selective. I’m old enough to remember that while some of my favorite music in the world was being released, a shit-ton of crap was also out there. We tend not to remember the bad…but focus on the good. Also some stuff that seemed like total shit back in the day has some strong listenable qualities….in retrospect.

T What music are you listening to now?
JD My taste is rather broad, but I assume that you mean newish music. I like the Black Angels, Sigur Ros, Dead Meadow, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Tame Impala, Grizzly Bear….there are a load of contemporary jazz musicians I like: Darius Jones, Endangered Blood, I follow Wadada Leo Smith with great interest….I listen to a lot of music!

T Do you still gravitate toward the underground and blues music out there?
JD In the words of Sonny Sharrock, “You’ve got to remember that I’m 55 now.” I have outlived several generations of music club denizens and I am not growing any new ones. There is no interest in what I did 30 years ago, nor 20 years ago, and relatively little in what I do now….

T What’s the overall mood of this new CD coming out sounding like to you and how would you describe it? Johnny Cash and Elvis drinking in the swamp?
JD Jeffrey, Lux, and Charlie Feathers come back to make the record they always should have made.

T What do you want to do in the future with music?
JD I wouldn’t mind finding an outlet for the shit I write and the music that I play….if you came to one of my gigs you probably wouldn’t be impressed with what I now do to keep working.
#Tamar Campbell