STORY WRITTEN BY GARY GRAFF
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He may be a punk rock pioneer with X, but on his own John Doe doesn’t mind going after high concept sometimes.
And with his latest album, “The Westerner,” he found one that was both meaningful and deeply personal. Doe perform at World Cafe Live Philadelphia on Friday, June 10.
The album, Doe’s 10th solo effort, was inspired by a desire to spend time with his good friend, author Michael Blake (“Dances With Wolves”), before he passed away in on May 2. “It was a four-, five-year process,” Doe (nee Duchac), 63, says by phone from his home near San Francisco. “Michael got dementia. Interestingly it turned him from a storyteller and relating to people with his brain to losing a lot of his knowledge and having to relate to people with just his heart and intuition.
“It was at times sad but at other times it was ridiculous and kind of funny because he’s be frustrated, but he had to change. And that’s a good lesson.”
The time the two spent together at Blake’s home in the Arizona desert was understandably profound. And it gave Doe plenty of inspiration for “The Westerner’s” 10 tracks.
“You write songs about what you know,” Doe explains, “and he was going through this stuff and I started writing songs using him as a main character, and it would fit in the narrative of the record.” And the desire to be near Blake before he passed also led Doe to work with Giant Sand’s Howe Gelb and record most of “The Westerner” at his Wavelab studio in Tucson, later adding guest appearances by Blondie’s Debbie Harry and Cat Power (aka Chan Marshall).
“It all kind of came together as far as making things really economical,” says Doe, who also published his first book, “Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk,” in May and will be touring with X later this year. “I’m a big fan of Howe and the sound he gets out there. We both make song intuitively rather than in a brainy way. I’m much less intellectual than I might have been — even though I wasn’t that intellectual in the past.
“But, like, me, (Gelb) doesn’t want to sit around and pick something apart. It’s either working or it isn’t. His biggest contribution was just playing guitar and bringing that crazy kind of psychedelic, deserty, weird, outside kind of sound to it, which I think really enhanced everything.”