PETER CASE: Makes His Case

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

The Caseload was sufficient enough to have inspired a three-CD tribute, A Case For Case.  Three? Wow. So, there’s clearly no shortage of material in Peter Case’s lengthy and tuneful resume that includes time spent with cool bands, and as a solo dude. With 11 solo albums amongst his vast repertoire, Case’s latest is Let Us Now Praise Sleepy John, on singer/songwriter-friendly label Yep Roc. But instead of extolling the late Mr. Estes, let us instead paraphrase the career of the present-tense troubadour.

The Caseload was sufficient enough to have inspired a three-CD tribute, A Case For Case.  Three? Wow. So, there’s clearly no shortage of material in Peter Case’s lengthy and tuneful resume that includes time spent with cool bands, and as a solo dude. With 11 solo albums amongst his vast repertoire, Case’s latest is Let Us Now Praise Sleepy John, on singer/songwriter-friendly label Yep Roc. But instead of extolling the late Mr. Estes, let us instead paraphrase the career of the present-tense troubadour.

Like so many millions of others, Case followed Horace Greeley’s advice and exited the right coast for the left, finding affordable rent-room-less with a view and 24-7 air conditioning-while living on the streets of Los Angeles in the early ‘70s (evidently a more romantic situation then than it is now).

Homeless being unrelated to clueless, the fledgling folkie busked for beer and other necessities and made connections that found him fronting a couple pop/rock bands-The Nerves in 1976 and The Plimsouls two years later. Remembered fondly for cool tunes such as “Zero Hour” and “A Million Miles Away,” The Plimsouls could sing better than mom-scaring peers like The Germs, Circle Jerks, X, The Weirdos, Black Flag and all the rest operating in Punk Rock Central, which was Hell-A at the time. Evidently, Case took good notes, and he has written a book. The good ol’ days evidently were just that.

“It was great, but it’s just a memory…just a dream now. But I learned a lot from it. I showed up in L.A. in ‘73 from Buffalo and I basically lived on the street. I just wandered around and played guitar and tried to learn music from people. It wasn’t like I had a record contract or any of that stuff at all. It didn’t even occur to me that you could…I was from Buffalo, you know?”

But MTV dreams are just as real, unreal or surreal in Buffalo as they are in Hollyweird or Nash-Vegas or Your Town, U.S.A., and rock star wannabes pretty much all want the same thing-money and chicks or whatever else it was Dire Straits was singing about.

Though Case occasionally gets the band back together, he’s been a solo guy for many years, beginning with a Geffen Records deal in 1986. “I haven’t made an album in five years, which is the longest I’ve gone since I started making records in ‘76, and it’s kind of refreshing, to tell you the truth,” he says. “I continued to play on the road and did a lot of other stuff too. I’ve got a lot of songs, so it wasn’t like I didn’t have the songs to play. People for years have been asking me, ‘Which album sounds like the stuff you just played?’ So Now Let Us Praise Sleepy John sounds like what I just did. It’s exactly what I do live but with all new songs. It’s recorded really well and I like that big, sort of inside-the-guitar sound that’s kinda hard to get.”

Inspired by old-time bluesy singer/songwriter Sleepy John Estes, Case’s new offering is another link in that illustrious folk tradition-incestuous though it may be-but in a good way. And The Fixx was right: one thing leads to another.

“I am definitely steeped in the tradition. You know how when you’re a kid and you get into heavy metal? It didn’t even exist back then, but Led Zeppelin came out and I liked their first album, then I got out of it. But when I was 14, I got into the Stones and early Dylan. Then I saw McKinley Morganfield one time and I thought, ‘Shit, what’s that? Who’s Big Joe Williams? Or Bukka White and Jimmie Rodgers?’ So I started tracing back the roots of these guys and all that kinda stuff. So, where do I fit into it? I’m just a musician trying to make strong music out of everything I’ve learned.

“Music lets you feel things that you can’t feel. Music is a way of being alive. It’s about triggering memories and feeling alive.” To that end, Sleepy John has never felt better.


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