I think I heard Eddie Clendening live first time at Green Bay Rockin' Fest 2006. Since then he has grown up to be top class guitarist and singer. I had pleasure to have a word with Eddie before his arrival to Europe next week at Atomic Vintage Festival in UK and put records straight with more than one thing!
Growing up in Colorado at age of 16, you started your own rockabilly band, Eddie and The Blue Ribbon Boys. I have found you surprisingly open and honest person. Is it the country boy in you or is that way you were brought up? Do you still have the same guys playing with you now?
Well I was born and raised in Colorado yes. I always had an interest in music, but had never picked up an instrument. Some friends I knew were getting together to play and try to form a Rockabilly band. At some point I found myself in the garage with them trying my hand at singing. This led to me digging out an old guitar that was in my closet at home and learning some chords. I also wrote different lyrics to the Glen Glenn song “One Cup Of Coffee” and that became our first original. We played a few gigs at private parties and eventually this became The Blue Ribbon Boys. However I was 14 when this all started not 16.
I eventually took over the band completely and it then became Eddie Clendening and the Blue Ribbon Boys as members left and changed and I was the only remaining constant for some time. I don’t currently play with any of the original guys. They have gone on to families and careers other than music. Sadly the original bassist Aaron Pope passed away some years back.
As far as my open and honest nature in conversation, I guess I really don’t know where that comes from, perhaps my folks, or perhaps a general dislike for extraneous bullshit? I couldn’t tell you, but thanks for noticing.
I remember Deke Dickerson telling about one of his gig and how you were sitting outside of the bar listening to it, as underage you could not get in. What it was about rockabilly music that moved you so much?
Yes, this is a story that Deke fondly remembers, and I will always be grateful to him and others for opening the window next to the stage for me. There were a couple of bars and clubs that wouldn’t let me in, and I had to be creative to see the bands coming thru town. I was much too young to get in but wanted very much to see these bands. I saw a lot of great bands this way (standing on a pallet next to the window by the stage) Ronnie Dawson, The Comets, etc… I was also lucky to have the Denver Rock ‘n Rhythm Billy weekenders in my hometown. This is where as a 12 and 13-year-old kid I got to meet and hang out with guys like Hardrock Gunter, and of course the great Barnshakers!
But getting back to your original question, I really don’t know what it is that moved me so much. I just knew it the first time I heard a note of Ritchie Valens, Eddie Cochran, and Elvis Presley that this was for me.
I did get my way into it more from listening to old country blues however, I was and still am a huge fan of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and guys like that. Its just music made with soul, specifically for your soul.
How did you learn to play guitar? What is your favorite guitar? What guitar you play now?
I learned mostly by watching other people play the guitar and copying what they did, and then building from that. But I have had a lot of help from great guitarists I have met along the way. I don’t really have a favorite guitar; I love a lot of different kinds for different reasons. However my main guitar has for some time been a Telecaster built up from parts. Its reliable, it travels easy and always sounds and plays great.
Do you prefer to do so called authentic 50's rockabilly music, or mix old and new? Is this your authentic sound done on purpose or is it just that you happen to sound like that?
Well I like music as long as it comes from a real place. Organic and with emotion. If it’s too forced or overblown it tends to lose me. Some bands have a very rehearsed set of antics… drop to my knees on this solo, scream and pound the floor for this solo etc… whatever. That is fine and has its place; I just find this approach feels disconnected from the real emotions of a song. I think that’s kind of silly and distending. I play music that I like, and try to make it sound how I would want it to sound if I was watching it or buying it. However that comes out is just how it comes out. I would still play the same way and the same things if nobody liked it. I have just been lucky enough to have some people enjoy what I do.
There is consistent naming at your full-length records. Bit like parts of the books! Is that done on purpose? Your first full-length recording was Eddie Clendening Is...The Rage Of The Teen-Age (2006) done with familiar names like: Nick Curran, Deke Dickerson, Beau Sample (Cave Cat Sammy/Modern Sounds), Ike Stoye, Jimmy Sutton, Paul Ward etc. Has anything changed from those years, as I see you still working with same guys in USA and Europe gigs/recordings?
The names of my records came from a long time ago when I was first putting together the idea of a full length. I had recorded a few songs with each of these bands that would come to town and stay at my house. Guys who were friends of mine that I liked. At some point I looked at it all and thought, well this could be worth putting out. I had seen some old trailer for a movie, I don’t remember what it was or who its was but it announced the star as “So and So Is… Frankenstein” or whatever. I liked the way that sounded, and adopted that as the theme for the titles. The idea is to I guess give a theme for every recording, or a consistent mood from front to back, and whatever is inside, it is always me… doing something.
As far as what has changed? Hopefully I have improved, but that isn’t up to me to decide.
I have a band that I work with as regular as possible. But I also have made many friends over the years, and some of those friends happen to be great musicians. I never miss an opportunity to make music with my friends if it’s possible, and that means that you might see a different band behind me in different places. I think this works, because of the talent of the guys I work with, and the fact that it keeps things fresh and fun. It keeps me on my toes even when it’s a song that I’ve played a thousand times. I’ve learned a lot playing this way.
Tell us about your friendship with Nick Curran
Im not sure what to say, he was one of a kind, and had so much effortless talent it is ridiculous. I met him when I was maybe 14 or 15 and was blown away, then we got to be friends, he would always stay with me when he came thru town and I would go to Austin and hang out at his place here and there. We always got into crazy adventures and drank more then our share. It was always like a contest to see how drunk we could get each other and then watch whatever dumb shit the other would do.
I never had a bad moment or a cross word with him, and I loved him very much. He was my friend and I miss him.
What kind of music you listen when you are not playing yourself? I do know you dislike so called country music that they do now.
You do collect vinyls. Tell us what are the records you are most proud to own in your collection?
I listen to a lot of things on my own, but lately I think its has been heavy on Classic country, things like Waylon Jennings and George Jones, Wynn Stewart and Faron Young. But I listen to whatever I hear that moves me, from Gospel, to bluegrass, to hip-hop. I really don’t care, if its well done and my brain catches on to it, then Ill listen to it.
I think limiting yourself as an artist or a consumer based on anything but what is aurally pleasing to you is just stupid.
I collect vinyl yes. I always have and always will. It brings me joy hunting for records and finding rare things or things that not many people know. I also find a lot of my cover material this way. As far as my prized records… I love them all. I have a few that I would never sell. My copy of Bobby Nelson Quartets “There Ain’t Nothing True About You” On Le Ron Records was a hard one to find and one of my all time favorite songs.
I also just found out I had a 60’s Carl Perkins record in a stack of junk records that was autographed on both sides! That was cool, and I’m glad I noticed before I got rid of it for a quarter.
I also have a 78 autographed by Hank Williams that was a gift. This is really a great prize for me. Its in a frame and hangs on the wall.
Oh and yes, I think the state of what is called “Country Music” today is a sad and barely recognizable mutated version of what it once was. I hope that somewhere along the way somebody gets it together and gets back to what Country music is supposed to be. Or at least just starts calling the shit they make now something other than Country music. As a lover of George Jones it offends me greatly to see Keith Urban in the same category.
You are often called handsome, is looks something you think as blessing or a curse?
In 2008, you moved to Chicago to star as Elvis Presley in "Million Dollar Quartet," the musical based on the 1956 gathering of rock legends Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Elvis in Memphis. You never wanted to be an Elvis impersonator. You were initially against playing Elvis in "Quartet." How did you get involved with it then? Is it so that you like to play Elvis songs, but in your own way?
I am often called “handsome”? I can't call that a curse. I will say that there have been times in my life when I think I have been written off as an artist because of a similar physical resemblance to Elvis Presley. For some reason being lumped in with “Elvis impersonators” means you cant be a real musician? I don’t know why. I think me and several other guys who really do that full time for a living are examples of why that’s not true at all.
I remember a review somebody wrote from when I played the Rockabilly Rave with Deke Dickerson’s band. The guy wrote something to the effect of “Eddie looks like just another Elvis wannabe, though to his credit he played no Elvis songs” or something like that. I liked that review, it was funny. It basically sums up what I am trying to explain. The guy didn’t even give the music a chance because he couldn’t get passed how I look. I have a dark haired pompadour and I wear an old suit, that’s the way it’s always been for me.
I got cast to play Elvis for a theater job yes, and I loved doing it. I could impersonate Elvis passably I think, and I have. There is good money in it. But what I do with my own shows and music has as much to do with my love of Hank Williams or Johnny Guitar Watson and for MYSELF as it does to do with a love of Elvis.
I will say in print once and for all Elvis was a badass motherfucker, he was handsome, he had moves, he had talent, and charisma. He was a great, once in a lifetime talent. But he had his time, he is dead now. We have a great legacy to enjoy. I am glad to exist in a small part of continuing that legacy. But I am very much 100% happy to be Eddie Clendening alive and breathing in the new millennium. I know I’m not Elvis, and I am glad for it. I know it’s not the 50’s and I am glad to be alive in this modern age.
I don’t want to go back to the 50’s any more then I want to go back to the old west or the dark ages. And that is all of me on my soapbox with that topic.
Back to the Million Dollar Quartet. This was a project that I was aware of for many years as it was coming together, and eventually life and circumstances found me with an offer to work in the first real full production of the show and make a good living wage playing music that I loved. I did it thinking it would last 6 months. I helped develop what the show was and became. I ended up loving it and enjoying the people I was working with. It lasted, and continues to last in other incarnations. It provided me some amazing opportunities and introduced me to some talented badass hard working people, it taught me a great deal about performance and the business of show, and it grew me up a whole lot. I played 8 shows a week for 5+ years along with doing my own gigs at night. I loved every minute of it. And in some odd way, I have Elvis to thank for it, and my resemblance to him… I have health insurance, thanks Elvis!
Your role in the show remained the same, though the venue consistently changed and you ended up in New York. Did you have time to anything else during those years?
Yes I played my own music everywhere I went, and used most all of my vacation time to play gigs around the world. I also recorded 2 full-length records and a 45 or two.
Million Dollar Quartet brought you lot of visibility and new kind of audience. We all know this scene is much more than Elvis, but he certainly is person who has affected to music and is also known by his first name only. You played him about 5 years, did that take it's toll? What did you gain, what did you loose (or miss) during that time? Did you miss doing gigs with The Blue Ribbon Boys? Did you ever get tired of playing Elvis songs?
I think I covered this mostly in the question above. I missed focusing on my own music of course. I missed touring and traveling more. I missed my family back home. I missed taking an actual vacation. I think playing Elvis for all that time took its toll in very small ways… I hope to never have to sing That’s All Right Mama again! But for the most part it was a great experience that I would not have traded for the world. I never stopped making my own music and playing gigs and if anything it only led to a deeper understanding and appreciation for the things that make me artistically fulfilled and happy and how important those things are and to never lose focus on them.
Do you still stay in touch with your co-stars and crew? Lance Guest (Johnny Cash), Robert Britton Lyons (Carl Perkins), Jared Mason (Jerry Lee Lewis) and people who make it all happen behind the stage.
Did you felt supported by them or is it envious environment where people stab you in the back like some claim entertainment business to be?
I stay in touch with most all the people I worked with in some way or another, the Internet makes it easier. Some of those guys however I think will always be in my life in some way. They were with me almost every day for years and years, thru crazy experiences and huge life changes. We moved around together and were each other’s homes away from home in a lot of instances. We stood in for friends and family during many events in each other’s lives. I love all of them, even the ones that pissed me off, because I learned something from them all. It might sound cheesy but that’s just the way it was and is. The show started as a small family type environment and stayed that way for most of my time there, it was only as it started to franchise out and become an established money making machine that that changed and I lost my taste for it. That has nothing to do with the cast and crew. They were all lovely people united under a common goal of making the show a success. The level of talent and hard work I have seen in that world of live performance would put most “musicians” I know to shame. It’s really quite humbling.
How do you feel about acting? Does acting appeal to you? Did you take any lessons for it? Would you consider doing acting parts only? Did the acting change you or are you still same Eddie Clendening as before?
I enjoyed acting as another branch of performance that has its own nuances and challenges. I would love to do more of it and hope to. I don’t think it changed who I am? I think I’m too hard headed to let anything like that change me. I started out a wise cracking sarcastic asshole and Ill finish that way. It’s just how Clendenings are. The ones who really know and love me, understand.
There was written: "On Broadway, Mr. Clendening, accustomed to engaging the crowd during sets with his band, often felt detached while playing for the big theatre like seating." Is it important to you get feedback from the audience during and after the gig?
I think that was an incorrect read on what I was explaining in that interview you quoted. I was commenting on how different it is to perform theater as opposed to a live gig. Theater means there is a wall between you and the audience. You can feed off their energy but you can’t interact with them or acknowledge them. In a bar I can do or say whatever I was, I can react to a cell phone going off or whatever. It’s just a different discipline and both require a certain level of being on your toes. I enjoy both.
But I grew up playing in noisy bars to drunks. I feel most at home in this environment because I know it’s my comfort zone. In that way I am as much a stand up comedian as a singer, as far as dealing with belligerent, drunken and occasionally hostile crowds.
2010 your second full length album “Eddie Clendening Is… Knockin’ At Your Heart” was done with Chicago based Modern Sounds, those guys really make brilliant sound!!! You have been blessed to play with some of the greatest musicians. Do you think they have made you better guitar player or singer? Do you practice a lot and have ambitions as musician?
The Modern Sounds are pretty much unbeatable. Of course my old friend Beau Sample plays bass and that was my connection into playing with them, I had known Joel Paterson in passing up to that point and was always in awe of how he played guitar, Alex Hall was new to me, but he’s pretty much good at whatever it is he wants to do,. He drums and engineers on that record, as well as plays piano and a few other things I think.
I was lucky to work with them, and will never pass up the chance to in the future.
I am sure playing with them made me better. How could you not rise to that occasion playing with guys that badass?
I have slowly started to accept the possibility that maybe the reason I get to work with such great musicians all the time is because I am not as terrible as I think I am.
However I do always aspire to be a better musician and practice often, though not as often as I should.
When you do a record, do you have a theme and build songs around it, or other way around? Is it a feeling that now I want to do new record, demand from audience or way to keep in the business?
Is making record more like teamwork? Is the singer the key person or just part of the team?
I have made all my records on a whim. Its always been
“This sounds great, we should record this, I think people would like it” and that’s as far as it goes, then I pick the material, or write the material, sometimes with other people. It’s always a collaborative effort and it really always should be I think. Why would you hire somebody on a session if you didn’t think they had something you don’t to add to the session?
If I hired Joel Paterson or Mike Molnar and made them play some shit I could do myself then what is the point of hiring them and what a shame to waste that talent.
With that said I think at least for me, I am the one with the ultimate idea and vision for what the end result should be. That’s why recording sessions typically have a producer. Too many creative minds all working on overdrive can be great and can also be its own worst enemy. Somebody needs to be there to step back and say yes and no and that’s enough… go it, DONE!
After "The Quartet" you starred also as Johnny Cash in the show "Ring Of Fire" and of “Good Rockin' Live: A Salute to Sun Records," tribute to the legacy of the Sun Records label on the Lucille's bandstand located inside B.B. King Blues Club. On your nights off you plugged into a locomotive rhythm section with Hot Rod Mike Graham (Electro Kings) and Jason Smay (Hi-Risers, JD McPherson). Was it easier to play Cash than Elvis?
It was just different. Its again, steady work with a good paycheck playing music that I love.
I was in Rochester New York working this last SUN Records tribute show and was lucky enough to coincide my time there with Jason Smay being home on a break from touring and recording with JD McPherson. So we put a combo together with Mike Graham who is a badass I remember when he played with the Frantic Flattops, a band I used to see as a kid and always loved.
We played gigs around Rochester while I was there and it was a fucking blast. I loved playing with those guys as a rhythm section, and they’re both just good solid dudes. Easy going, nice, and with no ego or pretension despite how great they are.
I hope we can do that again.
What is your favorite song(s) of your latest record "Eddie Clendening Is... Walkin' and Cryin'" with Blue Ribbon Boys (2013) and why? My favorite is My Song (I ain't that man). I like the raw guitar and mean Eddie!
I am really happy with the whole record. It’s a great line up and it came out well. I also enjoy My Song (I Ain’t That Man) because I wrote it at a time when it was very true in my life. I am glad to know you like it!
I got hooked on this idea of an anti-hero, and I still am a bit. This idea of a guy that really is kind of being a bastard, but you cant really be mad at him because he never presented himself as anything but that. He’s a jerk, but he’s so brutally honest you almost have to respect it and be mad at yourself for the end result.
I heard the song “That’s What You Get For Loving Me” on a Waylon Jennings album and I fell in love with its unapologetic theme. It’s a rare thing in a song, and in life, to get bad news straight from somebody when they’re the one who’s at fault.
We all have a bit of the devil in us, and I think its best to just put that on the table.
As far as the record though, I really love the way Turnip Greens came out, and Shake ‘Em On Down… which starts with a weird washy sound coming in, we have no idea what happened there, it was just a symbol hit left over on the tape from a take of another song or what, but it was so weird and cool we kept it. I like that. And again Joel Paterson on that one, this time as the harmonica player, is killer. That Weeping Willow Tree is a hard hitting tune that I had a lot of fun doing. I dunno, I am really proud of this new record. And just as proud that its released on my own record label “Inspiration Point’.
Also it’s exciting that I have teamed up with Goofin’ records to release an LP version of the album!
There is also a 45 coming up. When it that out?
You are booked to play in Europe at least to UK Atomic Festival in May and July in Finland to Race Coast Rockin' backed up by Barnshakers. We welcome you to Europe and are ready for good times!!!!
What are your plans for the future and how do you feel now after all the twist and turns life has offered to you?
I have a few new releases planned for this year, and hope to record a bit more as well. I have been writing more lately and trying to incorporate some of the great life lessons I’ve picked up these past few years into some music. I am excited for 2014 and for coming back to Europe as well. I am just as excited to be backed up by The Barnshakers. I recently worked on a song and music video for Ralph Laurens RRL brand of vintage inspired clothing and was lucky to have Lester Peabody with me in the recording studio and the video. I remember one of the first 45’s I bought was “Wiggle Like A Worm” on Goofin’, the same year I saw the Barnshakers play in my hometown. I have been a fan ever since.
I don’t think they will remember meeting me at 12, but I sat backstage with them and Hardrock Gunter and some of the guys from Ray Condo, and they were all very nice to me. It was a big thrill for me to meet them.
They are one of the best and I can’t wait to be on the same stage making music with them.
At "Quartet" play Phillips said to the audience, “I just wish my boys had a bit more happiness in their lives.” Well, Sun seems to follow you. Not necessarily a bad thing!
As far as happiness in my life, I’ve had my share and am always looking for a little more. I’m a happy man, and life has afforded me many opportunities that I am very thankful for. I appreciate everybody who has helped me along the way as well. Friends, family and otherwise.