Chuck Prophet

TrackAlbum
Summertime ThingNo Other Love
You Did (Bomp Shooby Dooby Bomp)Age Of Miracles
Temple BeautifulTemple Beautiful
Willie Mays Is Up At BatTemple Beautiful
The Left Hand And The Right HandTemple Beautiful
Who Shot JohnTemple Beautiful
Wish Me LuckNight Surfer
Guilty As A SaintNight Surfer
Ford EconolineNight Surfer
Bobby Fuller Died For Your SinsBobby Fuller Died For Your Sins

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Contributor: Calvin Rydbom

Chuck Prophet has been around a long time, making his debut on Green On Red’s 1985 album, and fifth release, Gas Food Lodging, as a young hot shot guitarist. Thing is, when I decide I want to listen to some Chuck, which I do quite often, I really never pick up something that wasn’t released until he had logged about 15-20 years in the business. Of course he was playing guitar as opposed to writing and singing his own stuff while in Green On Red during his nine album tenure that lasted from 1985-1992, so I suppose that really doesn’t count. But his solo work for me tells the story of an artist continuing to grow and really starting to peak in his mid 40s.

This isn’t to say I ignore his earlier albums. Heart Breaks Like The Dawn from 1990’s Balinese Dancer is a good song, although the album wasn’t released in the US until 2007. Prophet was always certainly more popular in the UK and Europe than he was in the states. Let’s Burn This Firetrap Down from 1995’s Feast Of Hearts is also a great cut. So I have some favorites, albeit not Toppermost favorites, on some early albums.

Prophet started recording solo work in the early 1990s as well as working as a sideman for a number of artists including Warren Zevon, Lucinda Williams, Jonathan Richman and Aimee Mann. He has a somewhat unique playing style and he and his guitar have long been in demand. Although solo work is an interesting claim as he has long sought after and worked with collaborators on works released under his name.

He released three more albums I don’t list among my favorites before he came out with 2002’s No Other Love in a year that also found him opening for Lucinda Williams on tour. I probably took notice of Prophet around this time because of the single Summertime Thing which is a great example of good rock ‘n’ roll that is fun, upbeat and at times a little tongue in cheek in the way his songwriting reflects his view of the world. There is certainly a bit of Ray Davies and Randy Newman starting to develop at this point, which many critics other than me have noticed.

“That summer heat has got me feeling lazy/the air is warm and the sky is hazy/People getting down, getting crazy/people getting down getting stupid, betting crazy/Hey, it’s a Summertime thing”. It’s a song that never fails to make me happy. And I guess in many ways that describes the turn in his music that made me a fan, a lot of his music started making me happy.

2004’s Age Of Miracles produced two songs on my first list of 15 tracks. The incredibly fun You Did (Bomp Shooby Dooby Bomp), because who doesn’t love singing with 300 other other people “Who put the bomp/In the bomp-shooby-dooby-bomp?/Who put the ram/In the rama-lama-ding-dong/You did/you did”. Nobody I want to know. Again, just fun. Just To See You Smile was another standout for me from the same album. By this time I was really paying attention to Prophet and waiting with anticipation for his releases.

Around this time he started branching out in collaborations a whole lot more and making some interesting business and artistic choices.

He produced Kelly Willis’s 2007 album Translated From Love while co-writing six of the album’s tracks and playing guitar. He and Willis have worked together quite a bit over the years as well, and not just on this album.

His 2007 album Soap And Water was released and he found himself with a fair amount of critical praise and appeared on some of the late night talk shows, including the David Letterman show where I first saw him perform, in a sense I guess, as it wasn’t for a few years that I first saw him live.

In order to get the passion he wanted, he gave a number of the musicians and engineers involved on the album a slice of the master recordings. Like the best musicians he seems driven to create something special. Let’s Do Something Wrong is a favorite from this album, a bit more melancholy than the previous picks but his sense of irreverence still shines through.

Also in 2007, Prophet and his wife Stephanie Finch, who has played keyboards in his band for years and is a solo artist in her own right, went into the studio and knocked out a song by song cover of Waylon Jennings’ 1975 album Dreaming My Dreams. Only 1,000 numbered copies were released of Dreaming Waylon’s Dreams, which is too bad as its a beautiful album much different in tone than Prophet’s usual work. I’ve decided not to include any songs from the album as they aren’t really Prophet’s and the album really needs to by heard in its entirety.

In 2008, Prophet collaborated with another favorite of mine in Alejandro Escovedo (see Toppermost #259). Prophet co-wrote the songs on Escovedo’s Real Animal and of course played guitar on it. He toured with Escovedo and it was the first time I saw him live.

2009’s Let Freedom Ring! I thought was another huge step forward for Prophet and the album was great from start to finish. My favorite cut though was the first on the album, Sonny Liston’s Blues. I especially loved the long musical intro to the song where he stretches out his guitar playing talents for everyone to appreciate.

In 2012 he released the amazing Temple Beautiful. It starts out with the pretty unique sound of his Fender Telecaster with a bit of twang to it, which is odd as the album is certainly a love letter to San Francisco. Temple Beautiful fondly remembers a great club that all the punk bands used to play at. Actually, he is more remembering a pretty lady getting into the music at the Temple Beautiful.

Willie Mays is Up At Bat has become a highlight of every Prophet show, no matter the town everyone finds themselves singing along to the heroics of the Say Hey Kid. Plus the song references Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny and Jim Jones, which makes sense when you listen to it.

The Left Hand And The Right Hand is about two brothers and club owners from San Francisco and how things fell apart when there close relationship ended and just stopped harmonizing together.

Who Shot John is another live favorite, just a good rocker and an interesting story. Albeit one somewhat hard to follow.

He followed it up with 2014’s Night Surfer which was also an amazing effort. The second song on the album is Wish Me Luck. How can you not love a song with the lyric “Now I’ve harvested your cannabis/Down the Yucatan/In fact I slept beside a Catholic priest one time/In Henry Rollins’ van”. Just a great tune full of the irreverence I’ve come to love in Prophet. But so very upbeat, a sing along in live performances as well and a pleasure to hear him perform.

Guilty As A Saint is a nice little ballad about an altar boy who has lost his way which I can listen to it over and over again. And of course no album would be complete without a homage to the late lamented Ford Econoline van while driving down the road with a pretty girl listening to the Talking Heads. Should be a law really.

Earlier this year Prophet released his “California Noir” album, Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins, with not a bad track on it. NPR reviewed the album as being “off riding shotgun down some mythic highway with a rock true believer who is not sure of much beyond the primacy of two guitars-bass-and drums and a handful of raggedly hacked chords”. The reviewer on the San Francisco Chronicle seems to be in my camp: “Prophet’s voice has grown richer with time and his melodies sharper.” It’s good to see a guy my age hitting his peak.

If I had to pick a favorite from the album it is probably the opener Bobby Fuller Dies For Your Sins although Jesus Was A Social Drinker is a catchy as all hell tune as well, although I’m sure many would find it sacrilegious. We Got Up And Played though is a good song about finding yourself in another dingy little club night after night for 30+ years, and getting up there and making music yet again as I’ve ever heard. Thing is, I’ve met Prophet several times before and after shows and the guy never shies away from talking to every fan who wants to shake his hand, even the stupid drunk idiots who wouldn’t leave him alone in the back bar at the Beachland Tavern where I saw him last, earlier this year.

Starting as a kid guitarist for Green On Red at 22, Chuck Prophet has turned himself, at 54, into a first class lyricist to go along with his always great playing. He has an irreverent and fun, yet somewhat world weary, way of looking at the world which does remind me a bit of Davies and Newman but he has certainly become his own man and songwriter. And a damn entertaining one at that.

 

Chuck Prophet official website

Chuck Prophet discography

Chuck Prophet on Yep Roc Records

Live from Daryl’s House (2008) Chuck Prophet “Summertime Thing”

Chuck Prophet biography (iTunes)

Green On Red official website

This is Calvin’s 34th Toppermost. His fifth book, “The Akron Sound”, will be released by The History Press this fall. In it Calvin will be telling the story of the “Akron Sound” a short-lived period in the 70s and early 1980s when Akron, Ohio was arguably one of the more important regions in the Midwest of the United States in the Punk Rock/New Wave scene. Devo, Chrissie Hynde and the Waitresses, as well as lesser known acts such as the Rubber City Rebels, Tin Huey, Unit 5, Hammer Damage, the Numbers Band and the Bizarros who found themselves on the cusp of stardom, dominated Akron’s music scene. Calvin is also the Archivist and Contributing Author for the Akron Sound Museum, which celebrates the history of Akron Music from the early 1960s to the present. He also likes bands outside of Akron, like Chuck Prophet.

TopperPost #655

1 Comment

  1. Peter Viney
    Sep 17, 2017

    The acoustic version of Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins was an interesting contrast to the recording. I only came on board with the new album … I loved the connection to Bobby “I Fought The Law & The Law Won” Fuller when I heard it on the radio and bought the album. It has a great stomping feel to the song. In the terms of 20 or 30 years ago it has “major hit” written all over it. So many thanks for this article which will guide me in exploring Chuck Prophet’s catalogue further.

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