MB: So how did you keep the food on the table?
Just other things like painting houses‚ selling stuff‚ growing stuff….
MB: Sounds like Vermont.
A lot of odd jobs…. Well‚ I really started to get ahead when I started selling my paintings. It was after I starting going down to New York City to play at Folk City when it was still there in‚ like‚ the early 80's‚ I guess. I brought about twelve of my watercolor paintings in these gallery frames matted and under glass and hung them up behind the stage. I sold eleven of them. Then I left that place with more money than I've ever had in my pocket in New York City leaving a gig.
So after that‚ I was bringing paintings to my gigs‚ and that was a big difference in my life financially. I guess it was a year of two after that I stopped painting houses and doing farm work. If someone said that they wanted a painting‚ but couldn't buy it right now or I didn't have what they wanted‚ I took their name and address and followed up on it and located them finally and said‚ "I have a painting for you now." So that was going on for a few years. I think the music moved ahead somewhere along the lines. Anyways‚ I'm painting less and there's a big demand for my paintings‚ but there's no supply. [Laughter]
MB: Are you just less interested in it now‚ or you just don't have the time?
Less interested‚ I guess. What I do now is cartoons‚ which are always good‚ and album covers for myself and others‚ and posters… and a few paintings. I do just a few‚ but I would much rather play music. Instead of painting I goof off‚ or write more songs‚ or learn more covers. I think that my creative centerpiece is music; I'll do it no matter what. If I'm alone in my home‚ I'll be doing it.
NJ: You've probably been writing music for almost 40 years…
Longer‚ actually.
NJ: When you sit down to write a song‚ do you feel all of those songs are kind of standing over your shoulders or any sort of pressure like that? Or is it just‚ "I'm going to write another song."
Usually I've kept something running through my mind‚ like I figure I would like to do a song with this‚ or use this as part of a song‚ or develop this into a song. It could be words‚ some phrase‚ or it could be little musical notes. Sometimes a whole lot of melodies run through my head. I think it was once last year I dreamed a song‚ and I woke up and sang it into a little recorder early in the morning as soon as I got out of bed so I wouldn't forget it. Then I could listen to it later--because I definitely forgot it a minute later--and figure what's this melody about? From that melody‚ what is this song about? Sometimes I just pick up an instrument and start strumming and this whole verse and a melody‚ I make it up right there. Like this song‚ "Light Green Fellow‚" I wrote that a long time ago‚ about 1965. I had a reel-to-reel tape recorder and I think I just thought‚ Well I'll record something. So it's on‚ and I just start playing and I played the entire "Light Green Fellow" onto the recorder. That very recording is on my MySpace now.
MB: It was just the first take--you hit record‚ and it just all came out?
Yeah. Most people who listen to my music that's a favorite‚ the "Light Green Fellow." It still gets people who come to gigs asking‚ "Will you play the 'Light Green Fellow'? Will you play the 'Light Green Fellow'?" [Laughs]
NJ: Is it weird to have something you didn't put much effort into‚ or time at least‚ be something that everybody likes? Does it make you think you don't have to work so hard?
Well I don't know. I like the song a lot. Some of these tunes I would have forgotten if it wasn't for people who keep asking for them.
MB: Is "Light Green Fellow" the only time you had that experience where a whole song came in one shot or did it happen more than once for you?
"Werewolf" was like that too. You know‚ we were sitting around jamming‚ just about six people jamming sitting around in a circle‚ playing all these songs and we figure we don't know any more songs. We probably played for three or four hours‚ and we don't know any more songs. [We thought] Well‚ there should be more songs; there should be a song about a werewolf…. [Laughter]
MB: That's great. You've recorded that song a few times haven't you?
MB: And other people have recorded that song quite a few times.
Yeah‚ more than I have‚ most notably Cat Power.
MB: What did you think about her version of it?
It's very cool. It's really a different composition. There's kind of a yodel break in there and when she does it‚ it's totally different than what I had. Her chord progression is different. One time I heard it on the radio in San Francisco and I remember she's not singing it in the right tune‚ she's not even playing the right guitar for what she is singing‚ but it's totally okay the way it comes out‚ it came out just fine. I like that. It's in a movie now called Powder Blue.